Local business growing
Factory has 44 percent increase in employment
By DYLAN MILLER
Daily News Staff Writer
Huntingdon Fiberglass mat operators (MTO) Nate Sharpless, left, and Connie Speck wrapped up the finished continuous filament mat (CFM), a product often used in the construction of boats and RVs, and prepared it for shipping. Photo by DYLAN MILLERAlthough many area residents believed Huntingdon Fiberglass had ceased production for a time during the transition between ownership, the factory has been running continuously sinceWorld War II and has never ceased production.
The factory itself was built in 1917 for silk throwing under the company Susquehanna Silk Mills for eight years until it was remodeled and the name was changed to Huntingdon Specialty Co., a business that focused on producing synthetic yarns, cottons and wool. The factory, in its current form, began in 1946 when Owens-Corning Facilities bought Huntingdon Specialty Co.
The business did experience a significant decrease in employment and production from 1998 to 2013. In 2010, the plant went from 450 employees to 59 employees.
Paul Geist, president and co-owner of Huntingdon Fiberglass, reflected on the history of the business.
“In 1998, Owens-Corning sold most of the business and the building to AGY, but retained a portion of the production lines before the Federal Trade Commission required Owens-Corning to sell all aspects of the business in 2007, which passed completely to AGY,” said Geist.
At this time, there were two main products coming out of the factory. The continuous filament mat (CFM) is a sheet composed of fiberglass filaments that is often used in boat hulls, RV siding, truck cabs and smaller applications such as ladders. It’s also sold to the oil and gas industry for fire resistant hand rails on steel walkways and to China for wind turbine blades.
The second was a fiberglass yarn that’s used in the chip boards of certain electronics, such as computers, cellphones and game consoles. It was also used in the space shuttles for cargo holds and used extensively for ballistic armor for the war in Iraq, he said. Owens-Corning retained the CFM lines and sold the fiberglass yarn business to AGY.
“I was plant manager here for Owens-Corning and then for AGY and, when AGY decided to sell in 2013, I partnered with Stonewood Capital out of Pittsburgh and we bought the real estate, the building and the business,” said Geist.
After the switch in ownership was complete, the company found many ways to adapt to the market and make the company more successful, resulting in a 44 percent increase in employment.
Huntingdon Fiberglass now runs three main products which include the CFM, conductive roving and wound products. Conductive roving is used as the core for spark plug wires and the wound products are used as an over wrap for magnet wire which is the copper wire coils inside of electric motors.
“Since we bought the business, we were very impressed with the quality of employees we got. A large number of them were prior employees (for AGY), but some are new to the plant,” said Geist. “We went through CareerLink and we were impressed not only with their service, but with their work ethic as well.”
The factory operates full time and only curtails production in order to avoid building inventory as customer demand goes down.
“We continue to do new product development because we would prefer to grow our business with new applications for our products instead of just trying to grab market share,” Geist explained. “We’ve made some upgrades to the existing machinery, but, ultimately, we’re using the machinery to make adjustments to the product so that they may be used in different applications.”
Huntingdon Fiberglass is very unique in the products they produce in the factory, putting Huntingdon on the map in the business world.
“There are only two other manufacturers globally that make a comparable CFM product. One of which isOwens- Corning, with factories in Canada and Italy, and the other is a small company out of Belgiumcalled 3B, which was originally part of Owens-Corning. We are the only U.S. manufacturers of this product here in Huntingdon,” said Geist.
Observant pedestrians may notice the occasional deformed green marble around Huntingdon or the pile of thousands of marbles off of Penn Street by the north wing of the factory. These are marbles that did not meet the needs of Huntingdon Fiberglass.
“We use in excess of 17 million pounds of marbles every year. The quality of the marbles is critical for our process and the glass chemistry is important,” said Geist. “We get marbles where the glass chemistry does not meet our needs, so we attempt to find other uses or other avenues of selling those off-quality marbles.”
Geist also explained the company owns 20 acres and about a one-half mile of railhead that comes off the main line and into the plant. Unfortunately, the railhead has not been used in a few years and about 60-70 percent of the facility sits empty. Huntingdon Fiberglass is interested in supporting the community by offering this space and rail access.
“United Way currently has offices in a part of our vacant facility, and Ricky’s Wheels utilizes a vacant portion of the northern part of the facility. Last Christmas, we offered space as a collection point and storage for Salvation Army when it burned down, who then used the space as a distribution area for theToys for Tots program,” said Geist.
Huntingdon Fiberglass is using two out of three lines of production for the CFM product. The company hopes to improve and increase business to utilize that final line of production and continue hiring new employees.
For more information on Huntingdon Fiberglass, visit www.huntingdonfiberglass.com.
Dylan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.