Chemical reaction

Performance film companies are giving Martinsville a boost

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Print this page by Veronica Garabelli
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Eastman Chemical plans to invest $40 million in expanding its
500,000-square-foot plant in Martinsville.

Ask Mark Heath to name the biggest deal in the Martinsville area last year, and he’ll give you a quick answer: Eastman Chemical. The Kings-port, Tenn.-based specialty chemical company is investing $40 million to expand its 500,000-square-foot plant in Martinsville. As a result of the expansion, Eastman expects to create about 25 jobs by September 2016. The deal is the largest Martinsville and Henry County have had in some time in terms of capital investment, says Heath, economic development director for Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. 

“It shows confidence in our area and hopefully the potential to continue to grow,” Heath says. “They have room to expand here, and if we can work with them and help provide the labor they need, we think we’ll be able to compete for future expansions, and that’s all you can ask for.”

Eastman’s expansion, coupled with Commonwealth Laminating & Coating Inc.’s presence in the area, has created what local officials believe to be the largest cluster of performance film companies in the U.S.

In the last five years, Commonwealth Laminating has invested over $40 million in Martinsville and nearly doubled its workforce, says president and CEO Stephen Phillips. As of January, the company employed 175 people in the area.   “… We’ve expanded literally every aspect of the company. So we probably doubled the size of the company in the last five years, roughly speaking, and we’re going to double the size of the company in the next five years again,” Phillips says. The company has two buildings at Beaver Creek Industrial Park — a manufacturing facility and newly added corporate and distribution offices.  Commonwealth Laminating, which was founded in 1995, now boasts approximately $120 million in revenues.

Commonwealth Laminating focuses on solar-control window films and recently entered the protection films market. That includes paint protection films used in the aftermarket and screen protection films used for iPhones, iPads and other tablets. The company’s biggest selling markets are in North America, Europe and Asia, particularly China.

“That’s an interesting thing to highlight where we’ve had a period over the last 10 to 20 years where more and more manufacturing is done in China and they’re selling into the U.S.,” Phillips says. “We are actually manufacturing and have been expanding in the U.S. and we’re selling into the China market, but we view China not as a future place for us to manufacture; we view China as a great future market to continue to sell into.”

Eastman’s Martinsville plant makes film used for architectural purposes and automobiles, says site manager Brian Miller. In automobile applications, Eastman’s films on car windows help keep the vehicle cool while protecting against harmful sun rays. Eastman’s films also help give buildings a “clean, reflective” look and can help with a building’s energy efficiency, Miller says.

The Martinsville plant formerly was owned by Solutia, a chemical company that Eastman acquired in 2012 for $4.8 billion. According to a news release describing Eastman’s latest Martinsville expansion, the plant is one of the largest and most integrated window and performance-coated film manufacturing sites in the world.

Eastman will add new equipment, which will create about 25 jobs.  The expansion also will include infrastructure improvements and environmental, safety and reliability enhancements. Eastman plans to start hiring new employees the second half of this year. Most of the positions will be operator jobs, Miller says, but also will include one or two engineering positions.

Eastman is taking steps to create and retain a skilled workforce. “Eastman faces the same wave of baby boomer retirements in the coming years as many companies do,” Brad Belote, a corporate representative for Eastman said in an email. “We want to be proactive, particularly with our community partners, in identifying the capabilities we need, the talent that’s available and the resources needed to prepare those team members for a successful career at Eastman.”

The company is working with Patrick Henry Community College and New College Institute to develop programs that will train skilled operators for the company.
At the end of last year, Eastman Chemical held a job fair with the community college where it collected more than 100 résumés. The fair will “help us with maintaining an active pool of candidates that we can recruit from that are qualified to work in advanced manufacturing,” Miller says.

A $75,000 grant from the Governor’s Opportunity Fund was approved for the Eastman Chemical expansion project. The Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission also approved $230,000 in tobacco funds to secure the deal.

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