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Tampa Bay Top Workplaces: Seaway Plastics molds happy, challenged workers

PORT RICHEY

As Paul Bernard tools through the Seaway Plastics Engineering manufacturing floor, nearly every machine is molding a different slice of Americana. Screens for hotel ice makers. Battery chargers for Siemens. He grabs a familiar-looking handle sitting on a tray.

"Any time you go in a 7-Eleven and get a Slurpee, these are the handles you're pulling," said Bernard, president of Seaway, a plastic injection molding company making its debut on this year's list of Tampa Bay's Top Workplaces.

As a manufacturer, Seaway prides itself on diversity, with no single customer accounting for more than 8 percent of its business. Diversity is a selling point to keep employees contented as well.

Process engineer Bob Lineback loves that every job, every day is different as he constantly redesigns molds to meet customer's need.

"You're always using your brain. It's never boring," added Lineback, who, with 33 years of experience at Seaway and its predecessor company, ranks as the senior employee.

Seaway's niche is pumping out low-volume orders — 5,000 to 20,000 pieces — that are still in an adaptable, prototype phase. The company helps customers upgrade their prototypes and then quickly manufactures thousands of units with a new mold.

During the early days of Mr. Coffee, for instance, Seaway helped design three different prototypes of the popular coffeemaker before the product evolved to mass production elsewhere, Bernard said.

The company's roots date to the late '70s in the Detroit area, where its former owners made a mark in quick-turnaround, injection molding. When Bernard and chief executive officer Tim Smock bought Seaway in 2003, it had 63 employees; now it's pushing 120.

Last year, the company bought Excalibur Manufacturing Corp.'s assets, giving it a nearby manufacturing plant in Brooksville that it uses primarily for robotic jobs. By recently moving into a 20,000-square-foot addition at its Port Richey location, Seaway now has capacity to design and build more than 250 molds a year.

Bernard and Smock are well aware that a happy workforce is a productive one.

Worker satisfaction begins with the basics: A 401(k) and profit sharing plan, paid vacations and nine paid holidays are standard. Beyond that, Seaway offers perks from a midyear barbecue to a Christmas holiday lunch where workers vie for a big-screen TV, among other prizes. Free turkeys are distributed at Thanksgiv ing, spiral cut hams for Christmas.

During incentive meetings, anyone can put ideas in a suggestion box — from ways to make a better mold to improved safety measures. Three winners are awarded $500, $250 and $50, respectively.

Such incentives are nice, but even more important is a feeling of family.

"We fish and hunt and hang out together," said Mike Hyde, tool shop foreman. "Everyone works together as a team. If one guy is in pain, we're all in pain.

"There is a trust in here that is to me paramount."

Jeff Harrington can be reached at (727) 893-8242 or jharrington@tampabay.com.

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