By Ben Wiese | Jul 11, 2022
Brownsville, Texas and Jamestown, New York
If you can think it, there's a chance Jamestown Plastics can make it.
Since 1958, the New York-headquartered manufacturer has made the lives of customers easier through innovative approaches to product design, engineering, and production. Early in its existence -- when comprised of just two employees -- the company primarily manufactured preservation packaging for military bearings, durable commercial products, consumer goods, and retail. Today -- with a staff of more than 62 times that size -- its portfolio ranges from infectious disease control tools to interior and exterior vehicle trim components and from cannabis chocolate bar packaging to the reusable plastic container aptly named the “Clamtainer.”
The Baker family has a long history with Jamestown Plastics. Baker's parents purchased the company in 1976. Baker took over the role of company president when his father, James, retired in 1999. And in 2021, Baker assumed the role of CEO, while his son, Jessup, became the company's president.
Consistently, the Bakers have brought ample ambition to the workplace. Like his father before him, Baker routinely sought out opportunities to grow the company and break into new industries. This process has resulted in a work experience that is rarely dull.
"There's never been a boring day," Baker says. "Because we're involved in so many different markets, products, and consumers of our products, there's something invigorating every day. Whenever we have an opportunity with a new account, [we] try real hard to not just do [the same thing], but to ask ourselves, 'How can we tackle this in a fashion that improves things for everyone all-around?'"
In terms of client acquisition, Jamestown Plastics is both the seeker and the sought after.
"We have a vigorous sales force that reaches out to clients," says Baker. "We attend multiple trade shows, and we may look at things we're doing for somebody in an industry and see that there are five other players that this is a better solution for. We tell our sales team to reach out and go get them."
Baker notes that a recently updated website will allow the company to increase its advertising in trade publications. "A lot of it is also organic growth, especially in automotive and medical," he continues. "If you don't already have an established reputation, the barrier to entry with both of those fields is very high. But if you do, you'll have an engineer go from one company to another and say, 'I have somebody that can take care of this for us.'"
Jamestown Plastics manufactures out of two locations: a 100,000-square-foot facility in Jamestown, New York, and a 35,000-square-foot facility Brownsville, Texas, which opened in 1994. The spaces contain multiple ISO clean room facilities for the manufacturing of medical device trays, high-speed in-line thermoforming lines with robotic automation, and high precision robotic trimming employing router, water jet, and laser technologies along with multiple component assembly technologies.
At the start of the pandemic, like many other manufacturers, Jamestown Plastics pivoted in a flash. Within a week, they were producing protective personal equipment, including up to 60,000 face shields per day for frontline workers and consumers across the country.
Challenges: Currently, Baker sees Jamestown Plastics' greatest challenge as a shared struggle among all manufacturers: creating an infrastructure for future manufacturing.
"The biggest challenge for all American manufacturing is preparing future generations to understand the opportunities for modern manufacturing," says Baker. "We need to be introducing these opportunities at the middle grade level and having in-house programs at schools. It isn't even about bringing people in to plug and play -- people that are ready to go. We need people with basic skill sets, understanding, the right attitude, and some gumption. I don't know a manufacturer out there that won't take that candidate and train them up from there."
Opportunities: With the Clamtainer -- an easy, reusable, and effective form of packaging -- Jamestown Plastics has opened the door to new approaches to sustainability. According to Baker, the early results of its innovative approach to product packaging are quite encouraging.
“The Clamtainer is the most sustainable packaging solution on the market today. It hits on reduce, reuse, and recycle. We use less plastic -- which is wonderful. We divorce our advertising from the packaging, and we give the consumer something that's easy to open, re-use, re-close, or recycle. It isn't cross contaminated from mixing paperboard and plastic, and it's made from [polyethylene terephthalate] water bottles."
Additionally, Jamestown Plastics has partnered with a client on another promising sustainability program: "closed loop recycling." Jamestown Plastics creates plastic trays for the client to use when working with their consumers. The trays are durable and can be reused multiple times. Once they are no longer usable, the plastic trays are sent back to Jamestown Plastics. There they are ground into plastic flakes and recycled by plastic extruders, thus being prepped to be turned into new plastic to make more trays.
The next step for continued sustainability? To Integrate the closed loop recycling program with other clients and continue building upon the innovation and success of the Clamtainer.
Needs: Baker views reducing supply chain issues as the current greatest need for the company. Across the globe, the pandemic-induced supply chain issues have altered what is being manufactured, how things are manufactured, when things are manufactured, and whether any estimated timeline includes any wait. Nearly three years post the pandemic's start, it remains a struggle to lock in the necessary inventory.
"The idea of just-in-time inventory has been destroyed," Baker says.