Dennis Frampton spent nearly 50 years working at Meadville's C&J Industries, a custom plastic-injection molder and medical device contract manufacturer, founded in 1962.
When retirement beckoned for the company's president and chief executive in 2016, he and his family members serving on C&J's board of directors opted against selling the plant to an out-of-town company or private investment firm.
Selling to an outside interest, they determined, would not have guaranteed the future of the company and its 315 full-time jobs remaining a vital economic cog in Meadville.
Instead, they elected to sell all of their family-owned company stock to C&J Industries and its employees, making the business a 100 percent employee stock ownership plan.
To see photos from C&J Industries: GoErie.com/photos
"I knew I needed to retire sometime, but when I met with our accountants, we sat down and discussed some options, and they said one option was to turn it into a 100 percent ESOP,'' Frampton said. "It took me about 30 seconds to say yes. I said I would like to sell it to the employees because it would stay in Meadville for a long time and I wouldn't have to worry about it being sold off.''
Frampton, 68, who lives in Meadville, started working at the company as an apprentice tool-and-die maker when he was 18.
C&J Industries was a small tool-and-die shop known as Meadville Precision Tool when it was founded in 1962 by Harold Corner and Dick Johnston (their last initials became the company name in 1982.)
All of Frampton's family-owned stock was purchased by the company on Sept. 30, when the company transitioned to its 100 percent vested employee ownership status.
"Dennis and the other family members had a meeting and decided what's the best thing for C&J and the community, and they put themselves last,'' said Rob Marut, who was named C&J's CEO following the Sept. 30 sale and transfer of ownership. "It was very admirable what they did.''
"We put a plan together,'' Marut said. "We purchased the shares. Myself and (C&J Vice President) Jerry Sargent are trustees to the ESOP, which means we basically run the company and we pick the board of directors for the company. With that, we can keep the business in Meadville. If, for any reason, the company would come up for sale again, or someone would try and buy the company, with us being a 100 percent owned ESOP, votes like that have to go to the entire employee population. No longer can just one or two people decide that we're selling the company to a private investment firm.''
C&J industries, which shipped a record 450 million parts in 2016, has six target market segments — industrial, telecommunications, medical, pharmaceutical, consumer products and transportation.
Its plant complex at 760 Water St. houses 55 injection-molding presses, four Class 8 clean rooms and one Class 7 assembly clean room. The plant complex totals 214,000 square feet on 26 acres.
Clean rooms range in size from 2,000 square feet to 7,500 square feet. The company has about 1,000 molds, including some that weigh hundreds of pounds and others that exceed 10,000 pounds. Their value ranges from $10,000 to $500,000.
Before the September sale, employees owned about 20 percent of the company.
"Having been involved with the previous ESOP, you see the share value over time increase, and you realize you have some impact in that valuation,'' said Mark Fuhrman, C&J's director of sales and marketing, who's been with the company for 23 years.
"I've seen that share price appreciation, and the employees now involved with the revised ESOP are going to see the same thing — the cause and effect of our growth and our profitability demonstrate itself in the share value,'' Fuhrman said.
Marut, in his eighth year with C&J Industries, said the ESOP transition is progressing well.
"Now the employees are part owners in this company. A company still has to have the normal corporate structure, just like any company,'' Marut said. "However, we try to empower all of our managers and employees to really own the processes that they are working with now. ... I think once we go through our first full year and the shares are released to the employees, and they realize their contributions throughout the year affect the stock price of the company, they'll see the value start to build.''
As C&J Industries embarks on its employee-owned future, plans to expand the plant also are taking shape.
C&J officials on Oct. 25 announced the purchase of the former Penn Plaza — 52,000 feet of building space and 10 acres of property — adjacent to the north side of the C&J complex.
The acquisition increased the plant's square footage to 214,000 from 162,000 and its acreage to 26 from 16, and will enable the business to address future warehouse and manufacturing needs.
"We were land-locked prior to that purchase,'' Fuhrman said. "Now we have 26 acres. You can kind of look at yourself differently and perhaps restructure the way your facility is laid out, whether it's warehousing or manufacturing space. This gives us that opportunity.''
Warehouse space will likely be the initial focus of the expansion upgrade.
"As we've grown in size and added additions to this building, we've had to eat into our warehouse space to make room for additional clean room molding, assembly operations, and clean assembly work for our medical devices,'' Marut said. "Our big focus initially is we want to connect the two buildings so we can transfer material back and forth easily, and also to put some of our warehouse over there.''
The company added a 30,000-square-foot expansion in 2001 and a $6.8 million, 28,000-square-foot expansion in 2011, including a new metrology lab and controlled environment molding room.
"It's really a remarkable story to be able in the last 15 years to grow as we have,'' Fuhrman said. "It's a testimony to the vision of the leadership and ownership as well as the employees. They're the ones who make it happen.''
More than $5 million has been invested in plant technology upgrades in the past five years.
"The family was always heavily involved with reinvesting profits back into the company to build a solid company, and we don't see any changes in that plan,'' Marut said.
As seen in GoErie.com.