LUNENBERG, Mass. (AP) — Duane Shooltz walks into the room dressed in black and wearing a big smile on his face.
It's late morning Thursday, and the production lines at S&E Specialty Polymers are shutting down for the weekend.
Over in the laboratory, Ilia Charlat, the vice president of research and development, and technician Greici Freitas continue to work.
S&E Specialty Polymers has enjoyed amazing growth since owner Steven Graham paid $9 million in 2004 for the facilities and intellectual properties.
The father and son team of Charles and Gary Gitto, and four company officials, were indicted for fraud after the company declared bankruptcy in 2004.
"It's important to us to let the community know we are here," said Shooltz, the chief operating officer for S&E. "We are a debt-free company and very stable and enjoy employing local people."
S&E just hired Jay Munsey, who worked at AlphaGary for 25 years, as its national sales director.
"There is a lot of growth here," Munsey said. "I think it's wide open. The main job out there is to get exposure."
S&E has had 25 percent annual growth in sales since 2009 despite the economy and employs about 58 people at its 65,000-square-foot plant at 140 Leominster-Shirley Road.
It is a privately held company, and Shooltz declined to release specifics about sales but did say it is a mid-cap firm with annual revenues between $25 million and $100 million.
S&E makes plastic specialty compounds, meaning it buys raw plastic in the form of pellets and adds components to give it qualities such as flexibility, rigidity or weatherproofing to meet the needs of manufacturers, said Mike Chase, the quality assurance specialist.
Once the specialty compounds are added, the plastic is converted back to pellet form and shipped to manufacturers in the automotive, wire-cable, battery, footwear and general trades who make the parts.
S&E provides the plastic to the automotive industry including the manufacturer making grilles for Jeep and to the manufacturers that make the side molding for Chrysler and General Motors vehicles. S&E is also a supplier to the wire/cable, footwear and battery industries as well as general manufacturers.
"Our compound is used exclusively on the charging cable for the General Motors Volt through General Cable," Shooltz said.
Shooltz likes the North Central Massachusetts location for his plant on Leominster-Shirley Road for its industry history.
"Quite honestly, the facility and area we are in today is a historic place for plastics," he said. "There was some legacy value -- good and bad -- to buy the company."
The bad led to $6 million in lost annual sales during S&E's first year, from customers leery of its potential relationship with disgraced Gitto Global.
"People were afraid that the same philosophies would carry forward to S&E," Shooltz said. "It's been several years to overcome the sour taste in people's mouths."
The company has no relation to Gitto.
In 2005, S&E acquired the intellectual property of Lynn Plastics, which had a solid market in the auto industry which helped boost sales.
In 2006 and 2007 S&E officials developed a core strategy and have since implemented that plank, including addition of top-level staffing such as Charlat, Munsey and Controller Tony Pham.
Graham owns Toner Plastics in Agawam and was commuting to Lunenburg while trying to run both companies when he recruited Shooltz to run S&E in 2008.
Before joining S&E, Shooltz was working for Smith Industries heading its Gastite division in Springfield, developing corrugated stainless tubing for the natural gas industry.
He took Gastite from about $5 million in annual sales to $85 million in about eight years and is having similar success with S&E, he said.
"Our strategic path would be to add mechanical resources, or equipment if you will," Shooltz said.
During the early years the company had to withstand the downturn in the wire and cable industry, which supports the construction and automotive industries, as well as the financial sector's steep downturn, he said.
S&E has spent about $150,000 a year on capital investment the last three years and is on pace to spend about $300,000 this year, Shooltz said.
The company's laboratory has been enhanced and received industry accreditation which allows it to get business in the demanding automotive industry and allows it to test products for other plastics companies.
"That's a real building block for S&E, to have that (accreditation)," Shooltz said. "It, in my mind, signifies our commitment to the plastics industry."
Charlat spent two years developing a new product for the 2011-2012 Jeep Cherokee to make the grille lighter while maintaining its strength.
In addition to adding and improving the equipment it has, the company plans to enclose its tank farm behind the building this summer to protect the liquid materials stored inside them from the cold New England winters.
When the weather gets cold the materials do not flow well, so they have to be stored inside the manufacturing facility in smaller containers taking up valuable space, Shooltz said.
About 60 percent of the company's product is PVC plastic, but it is growing its use of environmentally friendlier thermoplastic olefins, he said.
In the compounding industry it is crucial to be cost conscious to remain competitive, so S&E is using more alternatives to oil-based ingredients in favor of vegetable-based.
S&E also introduced brand names to its products to develop product loyalty. It has about six name brands that all start with "Tuf," such as TufPrene, TufLite and TufFlex, which are sold to companies such as Playtex, Colgate, Rallye Footwear and General Cable.
"It's been a tough seven years ... and we've come out on top," Shooltz said. "We're growing and have a great group of people that make up our company, and the future looks very bright for us."