LEWISTON — Craig Porter loves a challenge. Simple jobs for making molds and plastic parts at PlastiCert, which he owns, don’t get him as excited as one other companies won’t touch or fail at.
“We specialize in more difficult parts and designs,” he said. “Where we excel is the real complex parts. That’s why we love what we do.” He’s hoping Destination Medical Center will give his Lewiston-based company even more challenges. Porter said he grew up in the Twin Cities, and many members of his family worked for a big Twin Cities tech company; they thought he would follow suit. But he was more interested in smaller towns and a smaller business.
He now lives in Winona, 10 miles east of Lewiston, and PlastiCert, which he bought in 2011, has 18 employees and annual sales of about $2.4 million. When he was younger, he was a “startup company junkie,” but then he learned about injection molds. He was more on the management side of another company but wanted to get back to the operations side when he learned about PlastiCert. The company was founded 36 years ago in Pennsylvania and relocated to Lewiston before Porter acquired it. He likes working with a small company where he knows everyone and can get involved in just about everything, even being called on at times to be on the floor making plastic parts.
The average order involves producing about 3,000 pieces, though orders can range from 50 to 100,000 pieces. “I’m a small company guy,” he said. “I have no desire to turn this into a giant monolithic type thing.” That’s “a little riskier” way to go, but he likes that part of it, too. It’s not as easy as it might seem, he said. For one thing, there are maybe 70,000 to 80,000 kinds of plastics, and they have to know which one will do what. Then, there are those challenges. Some of the molds make simple pieces, he said, but others are for avionics, other outdoor uses such as crossbows or fishing lures, things that need a high tensile strength or for highstress marine uses, Porter said.
At times, they need to add flame retardants. To make that work, he employs two Winona State University engineers who specialize in plastics and composites. To add to the complexity, they have to factor in how different plastics shrink. At times, they have to heat the molds so the hot plastics injected don’t cool too fast and lose their cohesion.
As for DMC, he said, “I keep going back and forth,” he said. “There will be pluses and minuses to it.” The company doesn’t do much work in medical applications, in part because the 9,000-square-foot plant doesn’t have a “clean room,” but Porter said he’d like to try other types of medical products. It’s Discovery Square, which DMC wants for places for innovative start-ups and not just those for medical uses, that interests Porter.
“DMC is going to bring people to the area,” he said. Maybe some of those might end up working for PlastiCert, or maybe they’ll start up companies that need molds and plastics from his company. “We could be a resource for anybody over there” who needs plastics, he said. Finally, similar to other companies in small towns, he’s hoping DMC will help his community by bringing in more families with children. “This could help Lewiston big time,” Porter said. The minuses could be some workers in the area simply might go to work at Mayo—it’s hard enough now to find workers for all the jobs in manufacturing, he said.
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