Above: Tennessee Commissioner of Economic and Community Development Bob Rolfe addresses a crowd of around 200 in Erwin prior to the PlastiExports ribbon-cutting
A year ago, when Wisconsin-based Regal Beloit announced plans to shutter its Morrill Motors production facility in Erwin, Tenn., the news hit the community particularly hard. The impending loss of around 125 jobs was a blow to a town of under 6,000 residents that was only just recovering from a 300-layoff industrial closure a few years earlier.
J.P. Metcalf was the local manager responsible for telling those 125 people their jobs were going away. Metcalf was a second-generation employee of Morrill Motors who’d received special dispensation to begin working there before his 16th birthday. “It was not just shutting down another location. It was breaking up part of my family.”
So, when Metcalf told those employees that the closing of the plant would be complete by September 2020, he promised himself he would do everything in his power to find another company to replace those jobs.
So, it was fitting that Metcalf introduced his new employer, PlastiExports CEO Baldwin Britton, to announce the company’s plans to invest $7 million in the plant and create more than 100 new jobs.
“Today, PlastiExports Tennessee is a reality,” Britton said. “It was a dream I had when I started in the injection molding business 25 years ago. We started with old injection molding machines in Mexico, making yo-yos and spinning tops.”
“When we came to Unicoi County and we saw this plant, and I saw the people, the experience, and their values most importantly – the values of the people, their commitment to a company – I said, this is a people we want to be a part of our family. J.P.’s attitude convinced us – the way they thought, the way they believed in God, the values that they had as a person are the same values we have as a company.”
“We’re not a private equity. We’re not here for the money,” Britton said. “The customers we have, we ship to from Mexico. Probably the cost is cheaper. But the talent in this county is second to none. I have not seen the productivity I have seen in this plant. The people should be proud.”