Jackson business looks to expand despite operating in area for less than a year

Monday, March 3, 2008
Jerry Townsend and Adrian Aguila oversaw boxes coming out of the folder-gluer Friday at Signature Packaging and Paper LLC in Jackson. (Aaron Eisenhauer)

As the printed boxes zipped down the production line Friday at Signature Packaging in Jackson, rails on either side first bent the sides up, then folded the containers flat for stacking.

One hundred and eighty-four times a minute. Every minute. For eight hours a day.

And that was only a moderate pace, plant manager Jason Ricketts said. The machine can spit out up to 300 boxes a minute, but jams sometimes develop at that speed and Ricketts would rather keep up a steady pace than stop every 10 minutes to clear the machines.

Less than a year after beginning work in the 80,000-square-foot factory on Lenco Avenue, Signature is on the verge of expanding. If the company wins two new contracts pending with St. Louis area companies, owner Dennis Vinson said, it will add a second shift of 10 to 12 production workers.

Vinson made the announcement while U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Cape Girardeau, was visiting the factory. Emerson was told that the company purchases sheet cardboard from Pratt Industries, then processes it into the sizes and shapes demanded by customers. Signature settled in Jackson after Vinson, who originally founded his business in Conyers, Ga., won a contract to supply boxes to Procter & Gamble's paper products plant on Highway 177.

Dennis Vinson is the owner of Signature Packaging and Paper, LLC. (Aaron Eisenhauer)

During the tour, which imparted such facts as the average order size -- 13,000 pieces -- and the average daily production -- 50,000 pieces -- Vinson said he feels good about a bid the company put in for additional business.

The company employs 25 people, with 16 working in production and the remainder in sales and administration.

Vinson declined to name the St. Louis firms he's trying to win over.

There's room in the current plant to add another production machine, he said.

Vinson praised his employees as showing strong work ethic -- many are former Dana Corp. workers -- and said the welcome he received from neighbors at his home off Mount Auburn Road was heartwarming.

"The doorbell didn't stop ringing," he said, as people stopped by to introduce themselves and drop off welcoming gifts such as pies for him and his family.

Signature's plant is set up to eliminate wasted motion and wasted material. The cardboard is made from recycled paper; giant vacuum tubes gobble up scrap cardboard and feed it into a baler. About once a week, the several-hundred-pound bales of scrap cardboard are hauled away to be recycled, Ricketts said.

After viewing the plant's operation, Emerson asked Vinson what his biggest concern was as a businessman. Without hesitation, he said two words: "Health coverage."

While Congress may debate changes in health care this year, Emerson warned Vinson not to expect many changes until after the November election. The message from Emerson was talk this year, action next year.

Emerson also said she expects the most innovative changes will be state initiatives, not federal laws. "States at the moment are the best labs," she said.

And the expansion won't stop with the second shift. Vinson said his vision for two years from now will have the company running the second shift and expanding into 100,000 square feet of adjacent space that he's already paying for but sits unused.

During the tour, Ricketts said competition is fierce and finding the right people for the sales force is a challenge.

"A salesman who is successful in this business is a good salesman," Ricketts said. "It is hard to sell a plain brown empty box."

rkeller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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