LANCASTER — Last week, the spotlight shone briefly on people proud to stand up and say, We Are Lancaster.
Led by the governor, other politicians, business leaders and, most importantly, the workers of the Cooley Group, it was a time to celebrate. It was formally announced that the plant had made a polyethylene product that will wrap the Olympic Stadium in London, like a sheet.
Two days after the announcement, attentions turned to a shooting and double murder about five miles south of the Cooley plant. It was the ninth and 10th homicides in Lancaster this year. In all of 2011 there were five homicides in the county.
Sheriff Barry Faile, who had been among those celebrating Monday, said he was frustrated over the killings. People need to take responsibility for their own actions, he said.
Wednesdays killings took the focus off people such as Glenn Starnes, Jerry Helms, Mayor Joe Shaw and Daniel Dwight.
Starnes worked for Springs Industries for 28 years, losing his job when the textile giant sold its Lancaster operations in 2004. Starnes was among the Springs employees who found opportunity at the Cooley Group, which had come to Lancaster in 2002.
Most of what Cooley does is based in textiles. Dwight, the companys CEO and president, said, We are a technical textile plant.
Starnes was also among those who took exception to CNNs reporting in February that Lancaster was a dying town. He said the reporting came from someone who didnt know the area. Were not who CNN says we are, Starnes said.
Its also not who the Cooley Group is, he continued.
Weve been doing it all along. We havent slowed down. Starnes said. The Cooley plant employs about 65 people split among four shifts around the clock. With a $10 million expansion in the works, Cooley is likely to double its work force when a new production line is up and running.
Jerry Helms is a team leader at the Cooley plant. Long after the governor and accompanying entourage left the plant, Helms patiently walked the shop floor, explaining the operations on the two lines that turn burlap from South Carolina into everything from a roofing membrane, to reservoir liners and covers, to an ultra-thin wrap that billboards are printed on. The products are sold all over the world.
Tolerances on the materials are critical, he explained. If the wrap is too thick, it will damage printing heads costing thousands of dollars.
Helms said he likes working at Cooley because of the new technologies being made there. He was excited about the Olympic wrap, but he seemed more eager to see the day it wrapped an NFL stadium or NASCAR track.
Shaw has been Lancasters mayor, well, forever. With Gov. Nikki Haley headlining last Mondays event, Shaw delivered only a few words. But they were proud words.
He talked about an unemployment rate that has fallen from a high of 19.5 percent in 2009 to 11.6 percent now. He talked about 2,100 new jobs and $146 million in new investment in Lancaster County in 2011.
He praised the Cooley Group. American Made in Lancaster S.C. is a statement of pride for our citizens, he said.
Dwight, Cooleys president and CEO, shared the podium with Haley. He said there was some initial worry about holding the ceremony in the plant. Some feared the noise would drown out the speeches by their guests. Dwight said the hum of the machinery was the sound of American manufacturing producing its own innovations.
Innovation, Dwight said later, is what Cooley is all about. Forty percent of the companys revenue annually come from new products.
That said, the company has an impressive list of existing products. It makes a product that is used in giant portable fuel tanks for the military and in Formula 1 racecars. The gas tank in a Formula 1 car is under the drivers seat. Car drivers are putting a lot of trust in Cooley workers to do their job right.
The Cooley Group makes the material for oil booms. Before the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico, many companies that kept booms on hand, waiting for the next emergency, had opted for cheaper booms made overseas. When they failed to contain the gulf spill, Cooley started churning out its boom fabric by the mile, Dwight said.
One of the lines in Lancaster makes a roofing membrane that has a guarantee that is twice the industry average, and Dwight boasts there hasnt been a product failure in the last 20 years.
The Cooley Group has two plants in Rhode Island, one in Pawtucket, one in Cranston. Both towns are a lot like Lancaster former mill towns reinventing themselves with American workers making American products.
Or as Gov. Hailey said last week, A world-class manufacturer making a world-class product.
Yes, last Monday was a good day in South Carolina and in the state of Rhode Island and Providence plantations. While its the smallest state, it has the longest official name.
Don Worthington 803-329-4066 email@example.com