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By Mike Scott
Big changes are coming to Gregory Containers in Kahoka. Big changes.
“In 31 years, this is our biggest year ever,” said General Manager Bill Coppage. “This is a recession-proof industry.”
Gregory makes front-load, rear-load and roll-off waste containers in a variety of sizes, styles and colors.
Every year, they ship about 2500 30-40 yard roll off containers (each weighing between six and seven thousand pounds) and about 3000 small two-yard dumpsters. And a lot of everything in between. The plant operates two shifts most of the time, and employs 60-75 people, depending on the time of year. More than 200 are employed at their sister Ft. Madison facility.
The inside of the current building is crowded with neat stacks of heavy-gauge sheet metal waiting to be folded, welded and painted, transforming them into waste containers. Containers of all sizes and in all states of production fill the room. Welders work wherever needed,
At the west end of the building, a freshly painted roll-off container was just coming out of the huge paint booth. Outside the paint booth, gray primed two-yard dumpsters hang on oversized racks, waiting for their final coat of paint.
“We need more space to meet demand,” said Coppage.
To meet growing demand, and to improve their product line, Gregory is expanding their current 40,000 square foot facility by a whopping 150 percent. The new facility will have 100,000 square feet under roof, as well as additional outdoor storage.
The expanded space will nearly double their production capacity.
There’s another big change involved, too.
“We have always struggled with the painting process. The climate here isn’t always conducive to painting, and the regulations are always changing,” Coppage added.
Starting sometime early in 2021, all of Gregory’s products will be powder coated. Powder coating is a finishing process using a dry powder that is electrostatically applied to the material, then cured with heat. It produces a harder, thicker, and more attractive appearance than ordinary paint. It will also speed up production.
“Right now, we have to give the paint on the products time to dry,” said Coppage. “Once powder-coated, the product will be ready to load and ship. The finished product is also stronger, and much more resistant to damage.”
“You can take a nail and scratch the paint on our current products. With the powder coat, you can still chip it with a hammer, but it’s just a much stronger, better finish,” Coppage continued. “And it will give us a huge selling advantage, and we expect additional growth from it.”
Gregory will be one of the only manufacturers in the country offering powder coated waste containers.
An added benefit is that powder coating is better for the environment. Paints create hazardous waste. Barrels of paint and protective clothing are stored on site, which must be disposed of properly. A hazardous waste company picks up the barrels regularly.
Powder coating eliminates the hazardous waste. In fact, Gregory expects to save between $50,000 to $100,000 annually in hazardous waste handling.
The newly expanded facility is expected to be in operation early in of 2021. With it will come more jobs, although Coppage declined to say exactly how many. He estimated about a 15 percent increase. If sales increase dramatically, it could be many more jobs.
“We will be adding jobs, and they will have a more specialized skill set working with the powder coating,” he said, adding that they are willing to train employees as needed.
Like other employers, attracting and keeping a quality workforce can be a challenge.
“When we started, the average age of our welders was probably 55,” said Coppage. “Since then, community colleges have done a much better job getting people into programs like welding.”
The expansion will also benefit Kahoka as a whole.
“We think it’s a great thing for the City of Kahoka,” said Kahoka Mayor Jerry Webber.
Webber said that about a year ago, the company approached the city about purchasing more land in the city’s industrial park.
“They bought a little under six acres,” said Webber.
The benefit to the City of Kahoka will be two-fold. First, new jobs should equal more money being spent in the community, which helps the city and local businesses. Secondly, the expanded facility will increase the demand for city utilities, including water and electricity.
“We made sure that we could provide everything they needed,” said Webber.
Over the past couple weeks, the frame of the enormous structure has taken shape on the eastern edge of Kahoka. This week, walls are being installed, and the new building will be enclosed soon.
Big things are happening.