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Advance Packaging Corp. Expands Grand Rapids Facility

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According to a report this past week by MLive (Grand Rapids, Mich., USA) Advance Packaging Corp. (Grand Rapids, Mich.) invested the money to add 75,000 sq.-ft. to its box plant. The additional space will house new production machines along with a new conveyor and sheet line. With the expansion, the company is switching some production to 12-hour shifts.

"We are having 20% growth a year," said Don Crossley, company owner and president. "If we didn't have the expansion, we wouldn't be able to grow."

Some of that expanding business is coming from serving the state's flourishing brewery industry, and in particular, Bell's Brewery. The company makes corrugated packaging for the Comstock Township-headquartered beer maker's 12 and 24 pack cases.

The box maker's major investment in the equipment that can print up to seven colors on corrugated packaging has given it a stake in Grand Rapids' exploding micro-brewery industry.

The double-digit growth and major expansion comes as Advance Packaging marks its 50th anniversary.

In an industry dominated by billion dollar giants like Georgia-Pacific and International Paper, smaller operators like Advance Packaging have to work a little harder to compete in their local markets. Nearly 80% of the company's clients are Michigan businesses.

"The many sizable, well run, private businesses located in Grand Rapids are loyal to doing business with local suppliers," Crossley said.

He was a 29-year-old plant manager in 1987 when the company's owners gave him and Carol Hoyt, the then-human resources manager, an opportunity to buy the business over the next 12 years. Founders Dick Strauss and Duke Gregory didn't have any kids who wanted to inherit their company.

"They had worked for the big guys and didn't want to sell out altogether," Crossley said.

Two years ago, he purchased the stock of Hoyt, the company's former chief executive officer, and now is the sole owner.

"I look at 29-year-olds now and if you tell them they would have to wait around for 12 years (to own the company), they wouldn't stay around," Crossley said.

With a tight labor market, Advance Packaging is usually recruiting applicants who already have jobs. Understanding the impatience of younger job seekers, the company now fast tracks the process by offering applicants a tentative job offer on the spot.

The production work doesn't involve a lot of heavy manual work, he said. One way the company is trying to lure away workers is with its perks. Those include up to $5,000 a year in tuition reimbursement. And soon, Advance Packaging will reimburse employees up to $2,000 a year for childcare costs.

"We are trying to steal people away (from other companies)," Crossley said.

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