Niche Polymers in Ravenswood plans to add two production lines in the next two years, which will create 60 to 80 new jobs in Jackson County.

Office manager and human resources director Dana Tackett made the announcement during a recent luncheon at the plant. Many of the workforce organizations that helped fill 30 positions at the plant this past year were in attendance.

Niche Polymers is a custom compounding and toll processing plant. Extruder operators take plastic that would otherwise be taken to a landfill and process it for use in commercial applications. In addition to its manufacturing operation, the plant includes a laboratory where the material is quality tested on-site and a shipping department to fill customer orders.

The plant currently employs 95 people and is one of Jackson County’s top-10 employers, Tackett said.

“When I came to work here in 2014, we had 43 employees,” she said. “Since then, we have doubled the number of employees and added two new production lines.”

One of Niche Polymers’ most difficult challenges is finding skilled workers. To solve that problem, the company has taken matters into its own hands by finding training opportunities.

“In addition to adding jobs, we have implemented companywide training through our local career and trade schools,” Tackett said.

Niche Polymers also is working with the Robert C. Byrd Institute’s U.S. Department of Labor recognized Apprenticeship Works program, said Jackie Frail, RCBI’s manager of the program.

The program provides standardized, industry-endorsed educational opportunities through on-the-job learning as well as related technical and practical instruction for companies with sites in multiple states. This approach ensures quality, affordable training regardless of location. A variety of industries – including automotive, flooring, aerospace and defense – are involved.

The program also focuses on innovative pre-apprenticeship programs for women, transitioning military personnel, and disadvantaged youth.

Tackett said the Niche-RCBI partnership has become a great asset for recruiting.

“This will enable us to start a pipeline of skilled workers for many years to come,” Tackett said.

To bolster recruitment, the company also has increased its wages significantly, Tackett said.

The plant operates on all but six holidays. Employees work rotating 12 hour shifts and only work 14 out of 28 days a month, Tackett said.

“This is a hard job, but it is also a company and career that you can advance in,” Tackett said.

Operations manager Patrick Haynes would know about the advancement opportunities. He started at the plant in 1989 at 21 years old.

“If you really want to, you can make a life here, but you have to stick with it,” he said. “One of the biggest problems we have is getting skilled people in here. But we have the ability to teach people how to operate these machines and do it safely and effectively.”

In its prime, the plant employed 190 people and had one customer.

“If you bought a Ford vehicle in the 90s, there was plastic in it from this site,” Haynes said.

Haynes believes Niche Polymer can grow to that level again. Now, the plant has multiple customers, and Haynes believe there will be more.

“There’s work out there for us,” he said. I could see 200 people working here in a few years.”

Ravenswood Mayor Josh Miller attended the luncheon and said he was pleased to hear the news that the company is continuing to grow. The loss of manufacturing has had a significant impact on the area.

“Most of us experienced what it was like when Century Aluminum closed. We still feel that impact; it left a huge void,” he said.

The closing of the plant and its impact on the community inspired Miller to make the documentary “Made in the USA: The 30-Day Journey.” Miller traveled the country to talk about American manufacturing and saw other towns similarly affected.

“I saw an entire town that became a ghost town because a facility left,” he said. “I can’t say enough about how important these jobs are. They’re a vital piece of small-town Ravenswood and Jackson County.”