By Neil Cotiaux
It’s a wrap. That’s because Atlantic Packaging is closing its Duncan distribution center and moving to a high-visibility site off I-85 South — expanding its presence in the Upstate.
Later this month, the Wilmington, N.C.-based family business will close its facility at 790 Duncan-Reidville Road, move its approximately 40 employees to new Class A space on Frontage Road off Exit 40 in Greenville, and begin the next phase of its growth in the region.
“We wanted to put a stake in the ground in Greenville in a big way,” said Wes Carter, 39, Atlantic’s president. “We need more space.”
With 14 locations in six states and plants in Honduras and the Dominican Republic, the company is North America’s largest converter of bleached paperboard and fine paper grades, taking in massive rolls of raw material from paper mills and manipulating them to meet the specific needs of each client.
But Atlantic has also enhanced its fortunes by providing Upstate businesses in the automotive, pharmaceutical, food and beverage, and consumer goods sectors with services like stretch wrapping, shrink packaging, protective packaging, printing, graphics, and the installation and servicing of equipment.
In February, for example, Atlantic consultants visited Nutra Manufacturing Inc.’s distribution center in Anderson to conduct trial runs on a packaging film that could be used to bundle dietary supplements.
“They’re very open to coming in and running some trials when needed,” said Meredith Alexander, Nutra’s packaging engineering manager.
“They’ve worked very well with us on new equipment. … Either they sell it or they have used it before,” she added.
While there are 62 packaging companies in the Upstate, according to data from the Upstate SC Alliance, “We have segmented competitors,” Carter said. “We have no direct competition that can do the breadth of what we do.”
Atlantic Packaging doubled its companywide sales from 2006 to 2015, achieving revenues of $500 million — the last period for which the privately held company will confirm figures — and with recent changes in the tax code that will start to benefit it in about a year, the company is now investing in more workspace, people, and equipment.
Atlantic, a Subchapter S corporation, will now enjoy a tax rate “down about 8 to 10 percent of what we were,” Carter said.
“We have plants investing in more capital equipment,” thanks in part to a provision in the new law that sweetens depreciation, he added.
The new facility in Greenville County is Atlantic’s first combined manufacturing and distribution center in the Upstate. Modeled after the company’s operations in Atlanta, the workspace will jump from 75,000 square feet to 140,000 square feet.
The company will add 10 to 15 employees including salespeople, customer service representatives, and skilled machine operators.
Technicians will now be able to make prototypes locally for customers looking to make a change in packaging, said Stewart Whitmire, an Atlantic vice president. The firm also expects to add several foam-fabricating machines.
Foam fabricating is important in automotive supply-chain packaging, and Atlantic is an established provider of protective packaging for wiper arms and blades, drive shafts, and bumpers, Carter noted.
The company’s new client solutions center in Charlotte, N.C., opened last July, helps clients in the automotive industry and other market segments take advantage of advanced research and testing. Among other things, Atlantic makes unit load testing equipment available so customers can learn how to avoid damaging packaged goods in transit.
“We’re shipping parts into the plant and we need to protect those parts, get them there in the right condition at the right time,” said BMW’s logistical planner, Alan Raville, in a video shot during the Charlotte center’s opening.
Other Upstate companies that have visited the solutions center include kraft paper and corrugated packaging company KapStone, Fujifilm Manufacturing USA, and Nutra Manufacturing, a division of General Nutrition Centers.
“It is the most sophisticated lab in the world for what we do,” Carter believes.
Recruiting and retention
In addition to sales and service, Atlantic is focusing on cementing relationships with its staff. Those bonds were made stronger in January when management told its approximately 1,000 workers that it was awarding each of them a $1,000 bonus, including those who work offshore.
With a one-time repatriation of offshore profits at a reduced tax rate and the possibility of a lower tax hit on foreign profits in the future, Carter said, “We can bring a lot of those dollars back and spend them in America” while still investing in the company’s Caribbean and Central American operations.
Local employees were “very, very appreciative” when informed of the bonuses but were not overly surprised given the fact that Atlantic has given away a Jeep, boat, and motorcycle to employees in the past, Whitmire said.
Founded in 1946, Atlantic has come a long way from its roots as a small-town newspaper in Tabor City, N.C., where Wes’ grandfather, W. Horace Carter, won a Pulitzer Prize for his impassioned, two-year crusade against the Ku Klux Klan. When the company expanded into printing, paper converting, and specialty packaging, other family members joined the business.
Wes Carter swept the floor of the Wilmington headquarters, drove a forklift, worked the customer service desk, made sales calls, and spent a year at the plant in the Dominican Republic before being named president in 2016 by his father, Rusty Carter, the current CEO.
The younger Carter works out of the company’s expanding Summerville, S.C., office.
Carter calls the Upstate “a very vibrant, healthy, growing market.”
“It’s important to me that Atlantic continues to be a leader in the industry,” he said.