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WNC Business

Chamber event celebrates WNC manufacturing

Mar 22, 2024 11:11AM ● By Randee Brown

Manufacturing Mornings is an event facilitated by the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce to celebrate modern manufacturing and its impact on the WNC region. With 12% of the Asheville Metro economy represented by manufacturing, this event highlights the industry’s contributions while introducing community members to the industry and its participants. Each quarter, Chamber members are invited to a host location for industry announcements as well as an overview and a tour at one of the region’s many manufacturing facilities.

More than 300 manufacturers are located in the Asheville Metro region, contributing to a significant tax base that funds schools, government services, and more. Manufacturers produce a variety of goods including craft beer, medical devices, automotive products, aerospace products, warehouse automation equipment, and more.

March’s Manufacturing Mornings event was hosted by Southeastern Container in Enka, a maker of PET plastic preforms for the Coca Cola brand’s bottles. At their facility, small plastic pellets are placed into an injection mold process to create the preforms, then those are sent to another facility for the blow-molding process to create the shapes needed for a variety of Coca Cola products. The facility also produces HDPE high-density polyethylene pallets for Coca Cola, which are used to ship products to distribution centers and retailers.

Southeastern Container has five facilities in the Eastern US. Collectively, they consume about 500 million pounds of PET resin every year, making the company one of the largest PET resin consumers in the world. This resin is used to produce billions of preforms — 8.7 billion in 2023 — for Coca Cola. There are about 450 team members across the company’s facilities, with about 150 located in Buncombe County.

Focused on sustainability, Southeastern Container looks for ways to make their products with less plastic. Lightweighting projects saved more than 10 million pounds of plastic in 2023, and in the same year, 92 million pounds of recycled PET resin ad 13 million pounds of recycled HDPE resin were used to create their preforms and pallets. A new line of 100% recycled bottles for Coke products will be arriving in stores by the summer of 2024, and a closed-loop system returns broken pallets to the facility to be ground and reintroduced to the manufacturing line for new pallets.

Southeastern Container boasts a team with longevity. Many of its team members have been employed by the company for 10+ years, and some for even 40 years. Programs like career coaching, continuing education, leadership training, and tuition reimbursement in addition to a family-like workplace culture are attributed to their employee retention rate.

One challenge for the company is bringing new employees to the Enka location due to the increased cost of living in WNC. Despite paying a living wage and offering a benefits package, the expense of the region creates difficulty in attracting new talent.