APPLE GROVE, W.Va. — The sun was definitely shining in Apple Grove, W.Va. over the weekend at the AGP Polytech plant. A far cry from two years prior when the outlook was grim, to say the least.
On Saturday, APG Polytech (formerly M&G Polymers) celebrated its first anniversary under the ownership of parent company Far Eastern Group (the latter of which is also celebrating its 70th anniversary) and the 60th anniversary of the facility in Apple Grove. Over the years and under different ownership, the plant has provided employment for individuals from not only Mason County but Gallia County and beyond.
The celebration included a chance for current employees, retirees and their families, as well as supporters, to meet with representatives of the Far Eastern Group, including COO Donald Fan who was visiting from Taiwan. Plant Manufacturing Site Manager Richard G. Maack spoke prior to introducing Fan.
“We’re here to commemorate our past but also celebrate our future,” Maack said. “This plant went through a lot of things the last 18 months and its certainly been tough but due to the hard work, the faith, the loyalty to the people, we overcame those obstacles and we’re here to celebrate that success.”
Maack continued, “…everybody pitched in together, the employees, the companies we worked with, I see a lot of friends here. I see a lot of people that worked hard with us and with Far Eastern to get this place sold, get the employees rehired…it’s a true example of what can be accomplished if all of us just work together.”
Maack stated APG Polytech was now part of a company that has 65,000 employees and then introduced Fan.
Fan remarked on being impressed with his first visit to the plant and described the dedication of Maack and his team members who volunteered to keep the plant safe during the bankruptcy period. According to the West Virginia Development Office, these volunteers reportedly safely shut down the plant, cooled the reactors, properly stored chemicals, maintained equipment and kept the facility environmentally compliant. This was done with no promise of pay and no guarantee that the plant would ever be sold or reopened. These employees did this work only with faith and a belief that the facility could be sold to a new company and that all employees would be able to return to work.
“This was very impressive to me,” Fan said. “So we trust Richard’s team…so we came here.”
Fan continued, “Today we celebrate the reverse for APG.”
Fan also noted celebrating the 60th anniversary for the plant and how in Chinese culture, 60 years is especially significant. In order to remain competitive in the market, Fan stated Far Eastern Group would be investing even more millions of dollars within three years, maintaining as well as improving equipment, exploring additional product opportunities and hiring more workers.
These announcements were met with applause at the celebration.
Maack then commented on the 70th anniversary of Far Eastern Group.
“(70 years ago) That is about the time many people fled mainland China to escape the communist regime and our founder…is one of those people who left China, went to the island of Formosa which is now Taiwan and he started his business there, to be started in a democratic nation,” Maack said. “We are very happy to be part of this company, this culture, that founding spirit…it’s something we in the United States ourselves went through a couple hundred years ago.”
Seen as an economic development success story, the sun wasn’t always shining on the plant site. The M&G Chemicals group purchased it in 2000 and declared bankruptcy in October 2017. On Oct. 24, 2017, the plant closed and all of the approximately 130 employees were laid off. On March 1, 2018, the Taiwan-based Far Eastern New Century Corporation (FENC) closed the purchase of the former M&G plant. The workers and company restored the manufacturing plant to full operation in July 2018, less than four months later. The plant, now called APG Polytech, returned to producing polyethylene terephthalate (PET). Properties such as strength, flexibility, stability and recyclability make the plastic resin a popular product for bottles and food packaging. FENC is a leader in PET recycling in Asia. The Apple Grove facility marks the first plastic production site in the United States for FENC. Maack told the West Virginia Development Office that there was an employee return rate of 97 percent when reopening the plant.
Saturday’s celebration at APG included free food, gift bags, hats and t-shirts, inflatables, a mechanical bull, games, tours of the plant and what is an uncommon sight in Apple Grove – a Ferris Wheel. In addition, the popular Eagles’ tribute band, 7 Bridges, was brought in to entertain those gathered with Valley Fire Department and Mason County EMS personnel also on hand.
Also giving celebratory remarks at the event were Mike Hall, chief of staff to Gov. Jim Justice, State Senator Eric J. Tarr and a representative from Congresswoman Carol Miller’s office on behalf of Miller.
The plant has remained a fixture in the area with Goodyear Tire & Rubber company beginning operations there in 1959. Shell Chemical Co. bought the plant in December 1992.
Some background information for this article provided by the West Virginia Development Office.
Beth Sergent is editor of Ohio Valley Publishing.