Amcor Flexibles unwraps $25 million expansion project

September 30, 2018

A Madison plant that makes packaging for products ranging from food to medical devices is building a big addition and beefing up its staff.

Amcor Flexibles Madison is starting a $25 million investment in its plant at 4101 Lien Road, on the East Side, expanding the building by nearly 50 percent and hauling in a new printing press and a laminator, worth a total of $12 million just for the new equipment.

Thanks to new business contracts, Amcor “outsold our capacity,” said Timm Goodmanson, general manager of Amcor’s Madison operations. “Those large pieces of equipment would not fit in our current plant.”

The addition will increase the size of the plant by 90,000 square feet, he said, expanding the building from its current size of more than 200,000 square feet.

When the project is completed — by September 2019 — it will be one of the company’s biggest plants in the U.S., Goodmanson said.

The number of employees also will grow, he said. Goodmanson said Amcor currently has 165 employees, up from 128 a year ago, when plans to expand the facility first surfaced, and will top 200 by the time the expansion is done.

Amcor history

The Amcor facility was built in 1968 — at least, the first portion, which was 14,000 square feet. Since then, it rapidly grew with additions in the 1980s and again in 2001.

In the early years, it was Fordem Co., founded by Robert Smith, the father of Wisconsin businessman and former UW Board of Regents president Jay Smith. The company, established in the 1950s to make packaging for snack foods, became the world’s largest manufacturer of sterile medical product wrapping as DRG Medical Packaging in the 1980s, part of the British firm DRG.

Later, it became Rexam Medical Packaging and was purchased by Amcor in 2003.

Amcor’s roots date back to the 1860s when its founder established a paper mill in Melbourne, Australia. The company now has operations in 200 locations in more than 40 countries, with 33,000 employees and $9 billion in annual sales in the 2018 fiscal year. Based in Zurich, Switzerland, Amcor’s stock trades on the Australian Stock Exchange.

The Amcor Flexibles division has headquarters in Buffalo Grove, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, with 11 factories, including one in Milwaukee.

The Madison plant has been particularly successful, Goodmanson said, because it doesn’t focus on one particular aspect of packaging, as the other factories do.

“The Amcor Madison site really plays in all five areas of flexible packaging,” he said — food, medical devices, industrial specialties, home and personal care, and pharmaceutical products.

Products packaged range from a wound care strip to an operating room tray, and include a lot of plastic pouches that “consumers see every day in their grocery aisles,” Goodmanson said. “A lot of the ready-for-use packaging that people use today is right in our wheelhouse.”

In an arrangement approved in 2017 when the project was estimated at $15 million, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. agreed to provide up to $150,000 in financial incentives tied to the creation of nine jobs by 2020 and retention of the new and existing jobs through 2022.

More than packaging

In addition to the flexible packaging division, Amcor makes rigid plastics, such as bottles and jars, and specialty cartons. In January, the company pledged to make all of its packaging recyclable or reusable by 2025.

Amcor also plans to expand its presence in Wisconsin in a different way. Amcor announced in August it will buy competitor Bemis Co., a plastics packaging company based in Neenah, in an all-stock, $6.8 billion deal, if regulators approve.

Bemis has more than 50 plants, worldwide, 16,000 employees, and $4 billion in annual revenue.

In the meantime, Amcor is trying to fill more than 20 current openings, some entry-level and some skilled manufacturing positions. Production employees are paid around $21.50 an hour, on average, the company said.

A job fair will be held Saturday, Oct. 13, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the plant.

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