MRC’s efforts earn high marks from Highwood

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Photo by Brian Pedersen:  Todd Tyson, left, and Cody Ulrich cut materials in the manufacturing plant at Highwood in Tamaqua.
Photo by Brian Pedersen: Todd Tyson, left, and Cody Ulrich cut materials in the manufacturing plant at Highwood in Tamaqua.

Though Manufacturers Resource Center offers a diverse range of services to manufacturers of all sizes, the end result is similar. The organization strives to make all of its clients not only survive, but thrive.

Highwood USA LLC of Tamaqua, a maker of synthetic wood for outdoor furniture and construction, is one such company that’s seen expanded growth each year since its opening in 2004.

“We expect to triple our sales in furniture this year,” said John Quarmley, president and CEO of Highwood. “We’ve signed up a lot of new retailers. I don’t think we would be doing a lot of these things, but for the MRC.”

Highwood’s products can now be found through its newest retailers that include Lowes.com and Amazon, he added.

The organization helped Highwood in three key areas, which included training, securing grant funding and client specific consulting, said Quarmley. The company is continuing to use the MRC’s training resources to increase the performance level of its employees.

“They opened our eyes to these things that are available,” said Quarmley. “They pull experts together from across industries.”

Grants through the Trade Adjustment Assistance program are one resource that Highwood used through the efforts of the MRC. Previously, Highwood was not aware of these grants.

Also, MRC helped the company apply for a $75,000 grant for market development work, and Highwood spent the majority of it on a marketing program, said Quarmley.

Training programs offered by MRC have proven successful for the company, and two employees are going through the Lean Master Certification program.

Quarmley said MRC offers higher level training that’s a step beyond the basics and more advanced than any other organization.

Highwood also had five employees participate in Manufacturers Leadership Institute training and is looking at which employees should next go through the program. The company has 62 employees at the Tamaqua site and is looking to hire several more, said Quarmley.

GREEN IS GOOD

With a goal of reducing its carbon footprint by 30 percent over five years, Highwood has a strong sustainability component. Through MRC’s client-specific consulting effort, Highwood has completed several environmental assessment projects and has other projects ongoing.

The company changed all lighting and reduced electrical consumption by about 52 percent each year, said Quarmley. While it cost about $42,000 to swap out the lights for more efficient lighting, the company saved about $26,000 each year in lighting costs since late 2009, said Quarmley.

MRC also helped Highwood orchestrate a solar panel plan triggered by the green assessment, which included helping with the application for the Pennsylvania Sunshine Solar Program grant for a panel project that went live in March 2011. Now, the solar panels generate about 15 to 20 percent of the company’s power to operate its manufacturing plant.

Highwood also is pushing to have no materials sent to a landfill.

“We are going through on a regular basis to see what can be recycled,” said Quarmley.

The company recycles all office and packaging paper, polyethylene bags and soda and water bottles.

“We are making about $20,000 annually on materials going out for recycling; we’re actually generating revenue,” Quarmley said.

The time spent baling the materials and sending them to the dumpster for a Hazleton firm to collect once a week is fairly minimal, he added. Even leftover construction material gets a new life.

“Virtually all of our scrap gets turned into a reprocessed lumber,” said Quarmley. “We recycle the sawdust off the saws to go into our lumber for our furniture.”

The outdoor furniture is made in an Amish builders shop in Loganton and the products are shipped to the Tamaqua plant, said Quarmley.

A LOOK AHEAD

Now, the company is continuing to work with the MRC on a lean manufacturing training program and benchmarks for information technology that will help the company upgrade networks and servers, said Quarmley.

The company’s main challenge now is keeping up with demand for its products.

“There’s so much to mine here that we don’t need to chase the export market,” said Quarmley.

While the company ships some products to customers in Spain, Australia and other countries, its main market territory is North America, including Canada and Mexico.

As a manufacturer of backyard spas, the company ships these products all over America and has 50 percent of the market. The company also makes fences, primarily for residential customers, and produces outdoor furniture for residential decks and patios. On the commercial end, most of the outdoor furniture Highwood makes is for the hospitality industry, including hotels, restaurants and amusement parks.

What makes the material different is the plastic component produced at the Tamaqua plant, which Quarmley said is an extruded foam technology similar to the material of an egg carton.

Since there is nothing organic in the material, it never rots, warps or molds, Quarmley said.

Brian Pedersen

Brian Pedersen

Reporter Brian Pedersen covers construction, development, warehousing and real estate and keeps you up to date on the changing landscape of our community. He can be reached at brianp@lvb.com or 610-807-9619, ext. 108. Follow him on Twitter @BrianLehigh and read his blog, “Can You Dig It,” at http://www.lvb.com/section/can-you-dig-it.

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