, Gloucester, MA

May 6, 2013

Plastics firm makes dramatic new gains

By Nancy Gaines

---- — Buoyed by new ownership, new products, new acquisitions and a new emphasis on service, venerable Gloucester Engineering has bounded back from a 2010 bankruptcy to double its sales in 2011 and double them again last year, said company CEO Mark Steele.

Based on order backlog, the company predicts 35 percent growth this year on sales that are estimated by industry analysts to be near the annual $40 million mark attained prior to its decline commencing about 10 years ago. Actual revenue for the private company is not disclosed, officials said.

Gloucester Engineering uses software to make billions of dollars’ worth of machines that generate food wrapping and plastics for agricultural products and shrink wrapping worldwide. Lately, said company president Carl Johnson, the focus has included servicing that massive base of installations. Last year, it also acquired the Canadian manufacturer, Future Design Inc. and Pearl Technologies of Savannah, N.Y.

Meanwhile, the 51-year-old company, which employed more than 400 people in the days it used hands rather than computers to make its products, but was reduced to a fraction of that by the time of its year-long bankruptcy, was back to more than 100 workers last year. The company would not disclose the total of current employees, here or worldwide, but an informed estimate pegged the local number at about 150, including some who had been previously dismissed during the dark days.

“We know many customers were concerned about our future back in 2010 when the company was forced to restructure,” said Johnson. “But our recent financial performance, our new product introductions and the fact that we made two acquisitions last year signal we are healthy and resurgent.”

Beginning around 2006, the company foundered after being cast off by a German conglomerate and passing through ownership that lacked the resources during the global economic decline.

“We were a capital intensive business with inadequate capital,” said Johnson.

Reinvigoration was initiated by a $26 million equity investment – in effect, a purchase — in 2010 by Blue Wolf Capital Partners in New York that brought Gloucester Engineering out of bankruptcy. Another $1 million arrived last year from the quasi-public Massachusetts Growth Capital Corp. to help leverage credit.

The company “grew its employment roles by over 50 percent” in the six months before it repaid the state loan, said Steele, the CEO.

Gloucester Engineering, headquartered in Blackburn Industrial Park, started in 1961 in a garage on Sargent Street, when company founder, the late G. Wilbur Tracey, figured out an efficient means of producing plastic bags. It is the oldest non-marine industrial business on Cape Ann.

At the company’s half-century celebration last year, state Sen. Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, applauded the turnaround, saying, “Gloucester Engineering has refocused, and in its 50th year is again alive with innovation, market leadership and good jobs for people throughout the region.”

Correspondent Nancy Gaines, the founding editor of the Boston Business Journal, is a longtime writer for Boston and national publications.