New Plastic

Jonathan Lepage, center, stands Friday with Stacy Button, economic vitality director for the city of Flagstaff, and Rich Bowen, president of ECoNA, in front of the new North America IML Containers facility in Flagstaff. (Jake Bacon/Arizona Daily Sun)

The warehouse in west Flagstaff recently leased by a French manufacturing company was largely empty on Friday morning.

The young Frenchman managing the site for North America IML Containers, Jonathan Lepage, had just finished saying there were only a few pieces of equipment inside the 40,000 square foot facility when a semi-truck pulled in.

Its cargo was full of specialized equipment used to make injected plastic packaging for various clients.

Lepage, who expects the facility to be fully operational in four months, confirmed even more was on its way.

The manufacturer of ice cream, butter, cheese and other food containers will start hiring next month and continue to add employees as the heavy manufacturing equipment comes in and production begins to slow ramp up.

"We are going to hire between 5 to 10 people in early April and then in June we will hire 15 to 20 more in addition to a few mechanics," Lepage said.

IML Containers is not currently set up to take job applications, but Lepage said the company is looking for employees with previous manufacturing or production experience. The company expects to hire a total of 40 people at a pay range of $16 to $18 per hour.

The company specializes in making plastic packaging for refrigerated and frozen foods that allows the company to put labels into the plastic itself, a method that reduces the total amount of packaging as well as allows the entire item to be recycled.

The company has an extensive client list and includes Kraft, Land-O-Lakes, Nestle, and Challenge brands among its top customers.

How Flagstaff appeared on the radar screen of an international manufacturer with facilities around the world can be traced back to an NAU alumnus, said Rich Bowen with the Economic Collaborative of Northern Arizona.

Roy McAfee, who got a business degree from NAU, has been working for a company that had contract with IML Containers related to new site selection.

A suggestion from McAfee, Bowen said, convinced Nicolas Bouveret, North America production manager for IML, and Lepage to visit Flagstaff last fall to meet with Bowen and the city's economic vitality team.

Flagstaff's proximity to major customers in California as well as Interstates 40 and 17 helped put the city on the short list of finalists.

But it took a visit from France from the owner of the Lacroix Group, whose family started the business, to solidify a deal.

The owner told Bowen that Flagstaff reminded him of the community in France where his family opened their first facility.

The west Flagstaff location is likely to be temporary. Company officials said there are plans to expand into a larger space in Bellemont in the next two years, increasing both the volume of production and number of employees.

Joe Ferguson can be reached at 556-2253 or jferguson@azdailysun.com.

On the Web: http://iml.ca/

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