Monday, April 23, 2018
Business

Highland Packaging Solutions to consolidate in Plant City in one of biggest Tampa Bay deals ever

PLANT CITY— Highland Corp. was working for conglomerate Alcoa in 2007 when partners Steve Maxwell and John Durham decided to shift their 10-year-old business' focus from packaging distribution to manufacturing.

The result: Highland Packaging Solutions and a new client base, vegetable and berry farmers, including many in Plant City.

The departure raised eyebrows. For some food packaging companies, the unwritten rule was that agriculture "was a redheaded stepchild," said chief executive Maxwell.

"Many businesses don't like working directly with them," he said. "Agriculture is a pain. Farmers are demanding and need stuff right away and on weekends. But my grandfather was a farmer in South Georgia and I understood what farmers need and I understood the demands that can drive other companies crazy."

The retooled business model centered around flexibility and quick turnaround.

The company focused on same-day delivery and introduced plastic "clamshell" style packages in 16 sizes, mesh baskets and corrugated boxes for strawberries, tomatoes, and other fruits and vegetables. It brought label-making operations in-house and even helped farmers create their own websites. It can label 3 million clamshells a day, enough to fill seven semitrailers.

"We don't even take orders like other companies. We have guys in the packinghouses," he said.

The new model worked, except for one problem. As Highland's client base and production grew, the Mulberry-based manufacturer found itself spread over four warehouses, leading to cost inefficiencies. It needed to consolidate under one roof.

"We looked around Polk County but couldn't find a building big enough to handle all of our operations," he said. "We needed 250,000 to 300,000 square feet, with an option to grow."

Enter Gordon Food Service on Park Road in Plant City.

Albertsons was moving out in April and landlord GFS had a 243,000-square-foot space at the west end of Gordon Food Service Drive coming available for lease.

The location provided a separate entrance, private fenced grounds with a guard shack, and expansion-ready space next door. It's near Interstate 4 and a rail spur. The companies inked a lease deal — one of the largest ever in Tampa Bay — in April.

"Having access to rail, that was a bonus," Maxwell said. "That's for the long term. Phase two is to bring in raw material by rail. Rail can save a lot of money."

For Maxwell, 50, the move 13 miles west from Mulberry, which came after two years of research, is a homecoming of sorts. Both he and his wife, Beverly, grew up in Plant City and graduated from Plant City High School.

"I know the city manager, the mayor, several guys on the City Commission," he said. "They're very pro-business here."

For Plant City officials, the move signals an economic boost in a still-shaky economy — both in new tax revenue and employment. Permitting for the manufacturer was fast-tracked to smooth the transition.

Most of Highland's 215 manufacturing employees will commute from Polk, but the company expects to add more than 50 seasonal workers from October through June, most of them likely coming from Plant City, Maxwell said.

Highland ships containers to packinghouses across North America and parts of Central America. Its core customer base, however, remains Central Florida farmers.

"We're thrilled and think the company is a great fit for Plant City," said City Manager Greg Horwedel, who learned in late January that Highland was considering a move. "It fits one of our core industrial functions, agribusiness."

Highland was not awarded tax incentives because the move is within Florida.

The company doesn't have a firm move-in date. For now, it's installing overhead sprinklers and intends to add offices in the southwest corner. The plan is to move equipment in late September or early October and start production in November.

"This will help us gain efficiencies," Maxwell said. "We'll go from four local warehouses to one, and we'll be able to have all of our employees there in one place. We love being with our people."

Rich Shopes can be reached at (813) 661-2454 or [email protected].

Comments
Apartments planned for shuttered stores at Pasco’s Gulf View Square mall

Apartments planned for shuttered stores at Pasco’s Gulf View Square mall

PORT RICHEY — The new owner of two shuttered department stores at Gulf View Square mall wants to demolish the former retail outlets and replace them with nearly 400 apartments.The complex, called Gables at Gulf View, would be on the west side of the ...
Published: 04/23/18
Some people are paying for cuddles. And it’s not what you might think.

Some people are paying for cuddles. And it’s not what you might think.

When Samantha Hess’s marriage ended five years ago, she felt she was lacking a basic human need: Physical touch. As a woman in her late 20s living in Portland, Oregon, she found plenty of men interested in dating, but sexual contact was not what she ...
Published: 04/21/18
Judge: Foreclosure defense lawyer Mark Stopa violated numerous rules of conduct

Judge: Foreclosure defense lawyer Mark Stopa violated numerous rules of conduct

Tampa Bay foreclosure defense lawyer Mark Stopa has violated numerous rules of professional conduct and caused two clients to nearly lose their homes because he failed to tell them about settlement offers from their banks. Those were among the prelim...
Published: 04/20/18
Updated: 04/21/18
Goodwill to open second store in greater Brandon

Goodwill to open second store in greater Brandon

Times staffThe greater Brandon area will celebrate the grand opening of its second Goodwill store beginning at 9 a.m. on Saturday (April 28) at 1407 U.S. 301. The new store will add another 12,000 square feet to the complex, which includes a 200,000-...
Published: 04/20/18
Updated: 04/21/18
Regulators allow major solar company to lease home equipment

Regulators allow major solar company to lease home equipment

State regulators Friday determined that one of the country’s largest residential solar companies, San Francisco-based Sunrun, is allowed to lease solar energy equipment for homes in Florida. The decision, solar energy advocates say, could open the do...
Published: 04/20/18
Florida unemployment at 3.9 percent for sixth straight month

Florida unemployment at 3.9 percent for sixth straight month

For the sixth month running, Florida’s unemployment rate held at a nearly 11-year low of 3.9 percent in March as steady job gains continued. While many factors kept Florida’s economy chugging along, three industries stand out for leading year-over-ye...
Published: 04/20/18
Owners say new house is a disaster; developer accuses them of ‘online terrorism’

Owners say new house is a disaster; developer accuses them of ‘online terrorism’

ST. PETERSBURG --- Stretched across the front of Tim and Hyun Kims’ two-year-old house is a big banner with the name of a developer and the words: "I have to fix my new house."Some of what needs fixing is instantly apparent. The front steps are too ...
Published: 04/20/18
Florida hits a milestone: More than 100,000 people are registered to use medical marijuana here

Florida hits a milestone: More than 100,000 people are registered to use medical marijuana here

Florida has hit a milestone of sorts as it slowly moves toward wider availability of medical marijuana.The number of patients in the state who are registered to use the substance has surpassed 100,000 for the first time, according to Florida Departme...
Published: 04/20/18
Q&A: Walmart leader chats about Florida stores, and the chain’s latest retail strategy

Q&A: Walmart leader chats about Florida stores, and the chain’s latest retail strategy

The Tampa Bay Times recently sat down with Walmart director of corporate communications Phillip Keene to chat about the retail giant’s latest retail strategies and how the company is winning over customers in a competitive market.Already, two of the ...
Published: 04/20/18
SunTrust warns 1.5 million clients of potential data breach

SunTrust warns 1.5 million clients of potential data breach

Associated PressNEW YORK — SunTrust Banks Inc. says accounts for 1.5 million clients could be compromised following a potential data breach. The Atlanta bank says that it became aware of the potential theft by a former employee and that the investiga...
Published: 04/20/18