Janesville company brings 50 back

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August 13, 2009
— About two-thirds of the jobs lost when a financially troubled Janesville manufacturer was sold earlier this year have returned.

North American Pipe Corp. and Harrington Corp. were the two successful bidders in a March auction of the assets of Freedom Plastics, a manufacturer of PVC pipes and fittings for the wastewater, plumbing, irrigation and industrial markets.

North American, a subsidiary of the Houston-based Westlake Chemical, paid $6.3 million for Freedom’s pipe manufacturing division that employed 55 people in Janesville.

The Lynchburg, Va.-based Harrington paid $1 million for Freedom’s fabrication division, which had 25 workers.

Leading up to the court-supervised receivership sale, Freedom had been hamstrung by heavy debt, construction industry downturns and increases in materials costs.

North American has 10 extrusion plants, making it one of the largest PVC pipe producers in the country. It serves the water, sewer, plumbing, retail, irrigation and water well markets.

Dave Hansen, a Westlake senior vice president, said Wednesday that North American employs about 40 people at the former Freedom site on South Arch Street. Some of them are former Freedom employees

The plant is running at about 40 percent of its full capacity, which is the production of about 175 million pounds of PVC pipe per year.

Harrington, which primarily makes PVC fittings for the irrigation and utility markets, is leasing space from North American. Its Janesville operation has 13 employees, all of them former Freedom workers, said Mike Harrington, the company’s resident and CEO.

Harrington said the Janesville acquisition allowed the company to expand into the plumbing, industrial and storm water management markets.

Future employment at both North American and Harrington are largely dependent on the economy, company officials said.

Hansen said pipe production and employment levels in Janesville are likely to grow with the economy.

Harrington said his company continues to serve former Freedom customers, but many of those found a new supplier as Freedom withered and died in Janesville.

“The future depends entirely on the economy and our success of regaining former Freedom customers who defected to competitors during the bankruptcy period,” Harrington said in an e-mail. “Our competitors had ample plant capacity to pick off business from Freedom and had incentive to gain market share.”

Harrington said housing starts and land development would drive the industry’s economic recovery.

“Housing starts continue to be flat, problematic and anemic,” he said. “In addition, there are large inventories of developed lots in the nation, and it will take extended housing starts to absorb the (excess) lots.”

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