These last few years have been anything but kind to Indiana County’s manufacturing sector.
The county has lost, in no particular order, PolyVision, Gorell Windows & Doors, S.W. Jack Drilling and Elkin Hi-Tech.
One other company, Dlubak Corp., filed for bankruptcy and was sold to a private equity firm in September. And the month before, another, Specialty Tires of America, reported that it has seen its production numbers fall on account of softer demand, especially for tires fitting deep-mining equipment.
And then there was the October 2012 fire that destroyed the Creps United Publications printing plant. It caused an estimated $75 million in damage, threw upwards of 180 people into the unemployment lines and left much uncertainty about its future.
But nearly 14 months later, Creps United is on the verge of a comeback — the contract printer of newspaper advertising inserts is set to resume production this week and, it hopes, claim a bigger piece of the market.
[PHOTO: Jake Creps, managing partner, stood Saturday in front of equipment at the new location of Creps United Publications, which was destroyed by a fire 14 months ago. (James J. Nestor/Gazette photo)]
Managing partner Jake Creps said the company is now recalling print jobs that had to be outsourced while it rebuilt and is to begin printing orders by midweek. Those orders, he said, will start rolling off two brand new Goss heatset presses.
Creps said the company is planning a slow and gradual ramp-up as it works the bugs out of the presses, recall employees and give them time to learn the new equipment.
In time, the company will bring two other presses online — the third, also new, is set for start-up in the next few weeks. And the fourth, which was salvaged from the old plant and rebuilt, is to be put into service sometime at the end of January, Creps said.
He said the company will be moving its business offices from its Water Street headquarters in Indiana Borough to the new plant. However, its Hi-Tech Color division, which also is housed in the Water Street office, is to remain there, Creps said, but will have room to expand.
As for the site of its former plant, which is off Philadelphia Street, Creps said the plan is to sell the property, though it’s not yet on the market.
As the company ramps up production, it will be recalling employees, but it remains to be seen exactly how many are brought back. Creps said the new presses are providing for gains in efficiency, so at least initially, it won’t need as many workers.
But, he said, the company is going after new business, and with that comes the potential for additional hires. With the new plant, the company will certainly have room to grow. The building was designed to allow for future expansion, and the new presses are allowing for a significant increase in printing capacity, possibly up to a 25 percent increase, Creps said.
So now it can pursue larger print jobs, like those that would come from national retailers. And, in fact, it is making a run at winning jobs of that scale.
To that end, Creps said the company has taken the lead on forming an alliance with five other printing firms from throughout the country.
The alliance will allow the companies to pursue jobs from national retailers that they otherwise wouldn’t have a shot at on their own. Together, he said, they can offer a lot of value-added services, making the alliance an attractive partner.
At the very least, Creps said the company’s new plant will allow it to better serve its existing customers, most of which, if not all of them, have stuck with the company. Additionally, he said they welcomed two new customers over the past year.
“We should be coming back pretty strong,” he said.
The company’s new plant is in Windy Ridge Business and Technology Park, one of two industrial parks now under development by the nonprofit Indiana County Development Corp. Windy Ridge, also in White Township, sits off routes 422 and 286.
The other park, currently known as the Joseph Land Development, is along Route 119 in Center Township. Both parks are being built on spec, meaning that they are being developed without having any tenants for them.
But Byron Stauffer, executive director of the Indiana County Office of Planning and Development, said the Creps situation illustrates why it is important for the county to have such places to offer to businesses.
He said that Creps originally was going to rebuild on its former site, but scuttled those plans when it learned that its new presses were larger than first thought — being landlocked, the old site wouldn’t have provided enough room for them.
So left without a place to set up shop, it was more likely than not that the company would have rebuilt outside the county, Creps said.
But the county was able to keep the company here, and the jobs it provides, because it had a site available for it, Stauffer said. Stauffer said Creps will be the anchor tenant for Windy Ridge.
The company is privately held by eight members of the Creps family, including Jake Creps and his cousin, Howard Creps, who both are responsible for its day-to-day operations.