Talking Shop with Bill Burke, plant manager, Nordenia USA

Monday, May 17, 2010
Bill Burke is plant manager of Nordenia USA, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary in Cape Girardeau County. (Fred Lynch)

Nordenia will celebrate the 20th anniversary of its plant in northeast Cape Girardeau County this weekend. Plant manager Bill Burke says through the years the business has diversified and, in addition to making parts for neighboring Procter & Gamble's diapers, they also manufacture packages for other everyday items from pet food to fertilizer.

Q: What products does Nordenia USA make and in what quantities?

A: We make plastic film [sheets or big rolls of plastic], we print the film and many kinds of high-quality printed plastic bags. There are two categories of products: industrial and consumer. Industrial products are used inside of another product that is made by our customers. Examples are stretch side panels for baby diapers, printed front landing zone where tape tabs hold the diaper on the baby, inner pouch wrap for feminine napkins and label films that end up on packaging like jars, containers, etc. Consumer packaging is usually in the form of plastic bags used by major food or consumer product companies. These have many layers of printed plastic with closing features like sliders and press-to-close zippers. Examples would be printed bags for cooked frozen chicken, popcorn chicken, wings, etc. Tyson, Perdue and Foster Farms are some of our customers. Bags for lawn and garden fertilizer, potting soil, grass seed, etc.; plastic bags for pet food, which is our newest growing category.

In a typical day we process in excess of 140,000 pounds of plastic. This could be thousands of bags, or many square meters of film.

Q: Explain Nordenia's relationship with Procter & Gamble Paper Products.

A: Nordenia's relationship with P&G started many years ago in Germany. Nordenia was a key supplier of diaper bags and bags for Always feminine napkins in Europe. Our plant here in Cape Girardeau County was founded in the U.S. as M&W Packaging. The first mission was to produce diaper bags for the P&G Cape plant. Over the years, we have expanded product offerings to P&G to include diaper components, siliconized wraps for feminine napkins, bags, film for baby wipes and adhesive pad film for Swiffer floor care products. P&G is a great customer, and with their support we have set a high standard for performance on quality and service.

Q: In addition to P&G, who are some of your other main customers?

A: In addition to P&G, our second-largest category of business is with food companies. Tyson Foods, the largest protein supplier in the U.S. [chicken, beef and pork], Perdue Farms, Foster Farms and Pilgrims Pride are a few of them. We also supply a number of pet food companies. Two of them, Nestle and Royal Canin, have plants in Missouri. We also supply a significant amount of film to Avery Dennison for labels. As you can see, we have a number of big-name multinational accounts.

Q: Why was this location chosen 20 years ago?

A: We chose Cape County for many reasons. The community has good, technically skilled people with an excellent work ethic and a strong commitment to families and education. Great support was given by the local community, the chamber of commerce and political officials. Additionally, there is good access to the interstate and being close to P&G.

Q: How has your business grown and changed over the years?

A: In the early years we started bag manufacturing first, followed with printing and lamination, cylinder engraving, then film extrusion. Over the years, we have added more printing capacity and a variety of bag-making lines. Then in 2000, we started making the stretch side panels for diapers and front landing zone in 2005. [These are diaper components for P&G.] Most recently we have added more lamination capacity, high-speed [lines for bags] and three FlexZiBox lines for pet food. We apply closing features like zippers and sliders, a variety of handles for bags and even use lasers to perforate the packaging.

Q: How many people does Nordenia now employ?

A: We started with zero and built the company from there. A core group of about 15 to 20 people were hired initially. Some lived in Europe for almost a year in training. Today we [have] 375 to 400 employees, depending on the workload.

Q: How will Nordenia celebrate its 20th anniversary?

A: We plan to celebrate the 20th anniversary Friday and Saturday. This reflects 20 years from the initial shipments of product to P&G, which was April-May of 2000.

Friday we have invited our external colleagues, customers, suppliers and local supporters of Nordenia USA. A number of our European colleagues will be here as well. We will have a limited tour of our facility and a luncheon. Saturday we will have a family open house. This will include limited tours, games for the adults and children, carnival rides and displays of our history.

Q: How long have you been with Nordenia?

A: I have been with Nordenia USA for seven years now. Before going to Nordenia, I worked more than 20 years in the packaging industry, in international companies that made metal cans, caps, plastic caps and plastic bottles. For almost 10 years, the company I worked for was German-owned just like Nordenia.

Q: What do you enjoy most about what you do?

A: There is tremendous variety in my activities. Nordenia is an international company with many contacts, at the same time working with U.S.-based local and multinationals. Our business has a high amount of complexity with many different modern technologies. Most of all I enjoy the people side of things. About 80 percent of what I do is interacting with people, here, there and elsewhere. Our team at Nordenia USA is one of the best I've worked with: well educated, conscientious and open to try new ideas all the time.

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