Grand Rapids Plastics Back From Bankruptcy

October 22, 2007
| By Pete Daly |
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GRAND RAPIDS —  Art Bott Sr. is putting his money where his mouth is — and where his heart was before he retired.

“We have a wonderful workforce in western Michigan. It’s very talented, it’s under-utilized … These people need jobs,” said Bott, the owner — again — of Grand Rapids Plastics.

Bott, 73, thought he had retired in 2001 when he sold Grand Rapids Plastics. A year and a half later, the injection molding company on Roger B. Chaffee Boulevard in Wyoming was bankrupt and ceased production.

Bott, who had retained legal ownership of the land and buildings when he sold the business, recovered the empty buildings after the bankruptcy sale. With the help of several of his former employees, he starting investing his savings in equipment and began production again, on a limited scale, in January 2006.

Business has been slowly growing: Grand Rapids Plastics now employs up to 30 people, making plastic parts for the auto industry while Bott beats the bushes for more orders. There is usually only enough work for one shift, but Bott hopes that will change soon. There are good signs: Chrysler just put Grand Rapids Plastics back on its list of approved suppliers, according to Bott.

Bott said he has about $5 million invested in the company, counting the value of the land, buildings and the industrial machinery he has bought so far.

“And it’s going to require more” investment to increase production, which in early October was at about 10 percent of plant capacity, according to Bott.

“My kids are going to have to keep their daytime jobs, because I’ve spent their inheritance,” he added with a laugh.

Bott recently got approval from the city of Wyoming for a personal property tax abatement on a $600,000 injection molding machine he bought and was having installed last week. It is a deep-draw injection molding machine, rated at 2,000 tons of pressure, capable of making thicker parts, which will increase the capability of Grand Rapids Plastics to get more orders. Bott has already installed 1,000-ton and 1,500-ton injection molding machines, saying every piece of equipment bought has been second-hand.

In return for the 12-year abatement, Bott said he has pledged to add 40 jobs at the plant, “but I’ll be getting more than that.”

“If everything goes well, within a year we ought to have a hundred people working,” he said.

Bott was born in Grand Rapids in 1934. His parents “lost everything in the Depression,” he said. A born entrepreneur who has had a number of businesses, Bott graduated from Michigan State College in 1956 with a degree in a new field that now-named Michigan State University is well known for today: packaging.

After working in sales for packaging companies, Bott and a partner formed Grand Rapids Packaging in 1967. Eventually, that company had several plants in Michigan and Ohio and a paper mill in New York. Grand Rapids Packaging made corrugated boxes — but it also started a small plastics plant in Grand Rapids.

By 1980, Bott had bought out his partner; then the economy went sour, with extremely high interest rates. At the same time, too many customers began to delay payment on their orders, said Bott.

“I ran out of money and filed for bankruptcy with a wife and nine kids,” he said. He was 48 years old.

A good friend who was in business bought the plastics shop in the bankruptcy proceedings and hired Bott to run it. Then he helped Bott get a loan to buy it, and Bott was off and running again.

The company flourished. There were up to 250 employees by the late 1990s at several small plants on Roger B. Chaffee Boulevard. In 2001, Bott sold the company and retired.

Bott maintains that debt is what sinks a company, and too often the debt comes from owners “taking (money) out of their business to support their lifestyle.”

When he recovered the property in the bankruptcy proceedings, several of his former employees — who were out of work — came to work for him to help him secure and maintain the property.

“These individuals needed jobs,” Bott said. “They helped me recondition the plants. They had sweat equity in these plants.

“We weren’t broke. The name was broke. We had to restore the name.”

The plant is managed now by the group of employees who helped Bott pull the wrecked company out of the bankruptcy proceedings.

“I’m in charge of financing this business,” he said. Although he is president and CEO of the company, he said the core employee group makes the decisions on day-to-day management of the plant and production. A key member of the management team is Bott’s son, Jerry, who is vice president and COO of the reborn Grand Rapids Plastics.

He said the employees “are secure because Grand Rapids Plastics does not have debt. They know they will be paid, and if supplies are needed, we buy it. We don’t buy anything unless we know we can pay for it. Our suppliers know they are going to be paid, too.”

Bott said Grand Rapids Plastics is “detail-oriented” and fully automated, and is re-establishing its old reputation as “a molder’s molder,” available for subcontract work from other injection molders.

The first order the company got was subcontracted from Haworth Inc. for a plastic wastebasket. Then Lacks Enterprises placed a more substantial order for auto trim parts, which Bott said really got the company moving again. Now almost all of Grand Rapids Plastics production is auto parts, usually through subcontracted orders.    

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