Nothing gets made here anymore? Think again. Tons of products get produced every day in Florida. We scour the coast for the hottest items created here.
SRQ MAGAZINE | JANUARY 2017
BY JACOB OGLES
Raise your glass—or rather your tumbler—and toast the hippest drinking utensil ever. Yes, Tervis produces this cup of champions from a factory in Osprey, and there are no plans to stop. “We can’t lose touch of where we came from,” says Rogan Donelly, who took over as president of Tervis in May. Donelly’s grandfather John Winslow first purchased Tervis in the 1950s, when the company still made cups in a factory in Detroit.
Winslow moved the company closer to his Casey Key home in the 1960s and the company remains privately held and family owned. The original factory has turned into a retail store selling Tervis products, the largest of the now 46 Tervis stores nationwide. The company today employs more than 1,000 people total, roughly 850 in the corporate headquarters and factory just off Interstate 75. Gulf Coast residents may have an affinity for Tervis from passing by those rainbow-colored letters near the highway or glimpsing the building entrance that conspicuously resembles the famous ridges lining the inside of every tumbler produced there. Donelly believes the national affinity for the brand, though, has more to do with what’s lodged between the pieces of plastic comprising every glass. Tervis works as a superior tumbler because of insulation that keeps warm drinks hot and cold drinks cool, but Tervis thought to put stitched emblems and logos that glue to the inner layer’s wall and wedge against the outer layer of clear plastic. This is where many a college mascot and cartoon flamingo live out their days.
In recent years, Tervis has seen growth in the wrap market, with consumers opting for printed logos and designs that go all around a glass, and the company today enjoys valuable partnerships with such major brands as Disney, Coca-Cola and the NBA, MLB and NFL. At the 2013 NBA Draft, Tervis brought a portable unit to the event and made custom tumblers for draftees with their name and jersey number embedded in the tumbler next to the logo of their new team as quickly as the athlete could don a fresh sports cap and take the stage. With customization now available to anyone with an Internet connection, Donelly says more people can emblazon the most important times in their lives, from wedding dates to theme park photos, into the glasses. “You are now able to save that memory and frame it between two pieces of plastic,” Donelly says, “and now you have a cup on your desk that reminds you of that moment with your family.”
The reputation for elderly people on scooters evokes images of decrepit seniors unable to move about with any vigor, but when Sarasota inventor Tom Cruse first created the Hoveround, he wanted to bring activity back into his customers’ lives. “Let’s build a power wheelchair that can go anywhere someone can walk,” he recalls of his initial motivation. The innovator sat down with truck drivers in semis to see how they kept their own seats positioned so as to remain alert instead of sleepy behind the wheel. He tested his device in elevators, where Cruse came up with the patented rounded corners that allow the Hoveround to spin like a top without sweeping the feet out from under any innocent bystanders—special attention was devoted to making a scooter that can corner.
The first Hoveround hit the market 25 years ago and the Sarasota company has since sold more than 200,000 chairs. Officials pride themselves on keeping people independent even when they can no longer walk great distances without assistance. “It’s always been about making sure people have their freedom,” says Brenda Gaulin, Hoveround director of marketing. By making the scooter compact and easy to board, it allows those who might get winded walking at the grocery store to still continue taking care of themselves without constant attention.
Part of the aging-in-place movement, Hoveround lets people function years longer. Gaulin firmly believes Hoverounds rolling around today carry people who might otherwise have retired into nursing homes or assisted living facilities. “A lot of folks in our chairs can’t walk at all, so they either would be relying on somebody else like a spouse to do everything, or they would have to be restricted in their beds,” she says. The products created at Hoveround see constant evolution and improvement, but Gaulin says the same basic design used on the first scooter remains in use today. The products still get assembled entirely in the Sarasota area, where the company employs about 300 people beyond the 100 or so salespeople selling scooters nationwide.
The high-rises forming Sarasota’s skyline glisten as the sun rises and glow as it sets each day. For Jeff Jackson, president of PGT Industries, he sees the light bounce from the buildings and knows he helped bring that shimmer. “We are in half of those buildings downtown,” he boasts.
From the glass shining at One Palm to the windows being installed at Allure or Embassy Suites, the sparkle siding on the skyscrapers may be the most visible monument to PGT’s contributions downtown, but the bulk of business done by the Venice company actually gets framed in the windows of single-family homes around Florida and throughout the Southeast United States. The business employs about 2,700 people today, most on the Gulf Coast. With some 70,000 new home starts expected in Florida this year, that’s plenty of glass that needs to be pressed and polished here. Jackson ends up splitting time these days between the PGT facilities here and custom window and door businesses acquired in recent years in Orlando and Miami. It’s been a great time for the company, and a major change from the late 2000s, when it had to consolidate the North Carolina facilities back to Florida amid the Great Recession.
The future looks bright, though. Jackson notes that based on the number of people moving in to Florida, there should be enough business to provide well over 100,000 housing starts. Jackson took over as president two years ago, and founder Rod Hershberger remains chairman of the board. Hershberger has been active in numerous business organizations including the Economic Development Corporation of Sarasota County, and recently he was named co-chair for the 2017 World Rowing Championships. Jackson says the company’s strong roots here derive from a solid business environment in Sarasota County and an affordable quality of life that might be unattainable for workers in Tampa Bay or Miami.
PPi Technologies Group
Could a juice pack maker in Sarasota have the key to stopping the Zika virus? The minds at PPi Technologies Group believe so. At Penta5 USA, a PPi subsidiary, scientists have been packaging a serum that attracts mosquitoes and could potentially wean the tiny vampires off of human blood. “The majority of the mosquito population never feasts on blood anyway, just the females,” explains Sandra Murray, vice president of marketing for PPi. “Most are very happy to eat and drink nectar.” If tiny bug baths can be set up in South Florida and anywhere else affected by the insect-borne illness, Murray believes humans will be safeguarded against the disease without having to kill a single bug. “We don’t kill the mosquito; they belong in the food chain,” she says. “We really are a green company.”
This particular product proved novel enough to win Ringling College of Art and Design’s Innovation By Creative Design Award. But the company has been squirting success through straws since 1996, when Stuart Murray first founded Profile Packaging Inc. The company started out developing packaging machinery, and today also produces packages or helps customize machines for businesses that want to produce their own pouches. Of the 1,600 or so various pouches on US store shelves today, PPi had a hand in making about 1,300, Murray says. PPi produces such products as PouchPak, a stand-up pouch employed by major brands like Nesquik and Quaker Oaks.
The business works with such ubiquitous brands as Kraft Foods and General Mills. Almost any dry or wet substance can be sold and stored in pouches from PPi, and sub-companies within the PPi empire today include Redi2Drinq, which focuses on selling wine or liquors in soft packs (better than the lunches mom packed for sure) and PouchPac Innovations, which licenses its technologies for a variety of zipper packs and spouted pouches. And Murray says the company devotes itself to making packaging with minimal environmental impact. “We are a wellness company that gives back to the people and the environment,” she says.
It may surprise many a Sarasota beachgoer, but light can heal the skin as well as burn it. Sarasota businessman Peter Nesbitt has dabbled in blue light therapy since around 2001, and today runs Baby Quasar, a Sarasota company creating high-tech products scaled so that consumers can use them at home instead of going to medical offices and spas. In 2008, he moved from Philadelphia to Sarasota and decided to re-locate all of the production for Baby Quasar to Tallevast Road. The wands made by the company are typically a little larger than an adult hand and can be used to combat acne or wrinkles.
The tech works by killing bacteria in skin tracks, which in turn allows more oxygen into the pores. Nesbitt notes light therapy was used in Eastern Europe as far back as the 1950s but only attracted interest in the West more recently. “Initially, it was brought here by NASA, which had studies done at the University of Wisconsin to try and find ways for people to heal better in space,” Nesbitt says. The product soon found popularity in spas. Living in a place where so many aging people continue living active lifestyles, Nesbitt saw promise in marketing the therapy to individuals in their own homes.
Today, Baby Quasar employs only about 10 people but has been sold through such national retailers as Dermstore and Neiman Marcus. And Nesbitt isn’t just the president and CEO of the company. He also uses the light wands himself. “I use the product to fight hair loss. I’m diabetic and use it for circulation,” Nesbitt says. “I’ve been using this technology ever since I first discovered it.”
This is not your typical heat sink. At the Air Products facility across the road from Port Manatee, workers can be found on any given day building the biggest liquefied natural gas heat exchangers anywhere. “I am proud to say that no one in the world builds coil-wound heat exchangers as large as we do,” says Sandy McLauchlin, general manager of LNG and cryomachinery engineering and products at Air Products’ Palmetto facilities.
Air Products opened its 300,000-square-foot Manatee County facility in 2014 and rolled its first heat exchanger from the plant to the port in September. The devices weigh as much as 500 tons and span two-thirds of a football field. The first one made here weighed in at 700,000 pounds, roughly the same as 233 Volkswagen Beetles. And while the market may not be large for such devices, Air Products has it cornered. The company has only ever sold 116 LNG heat exchangers, most produced over the past 45 years at the company’s factory in Pennsylvania.
Those mammoth products have found their way into plants in 15 countries around the globe. When the company purchased a 32-acre site here, it marked an expansion to a whole new market, and the exchanger that rolled off the line in September went to a Gulf Coast buyer for the first time. “When we selected this site, we believed it provided us with everything we needed in an operational location,” McLauchlin says. “I can tell you we made a wise choice. This new facility will help us maintain our market leadership position.”
Forget your Dasani. Sarasota-based WIT International has built a better beverage with the release of Watt-Ahh, polarized water finding wide use in the consumer and therapeutic marketplace. The clear juice born of the Gulf Coast has been employed in everything from growing healthier medical marijuana to giving a purer jolt to energy drinks to providing a base ingredient for wound-care compounds.
Licensed as a product for AquaNew, the liquid was created by Sarasota mogul Rob Gourley, CEO for WIT. Officials bottle the ionized water after running it through a purification process six times. “It helps to keep people energized and performing at their optimum level without being flustered,” says Dana Gourley, WIT’s chief operating officer. It does so through stabilizing the chlorides and peroxides in the H2O. In operation in Lakewood Ranch for nine years, WIT has already sold about 350,000 bottles of Watt-Ahh, enough to give a drink to everyone in Sarasota County. But the company also sells it as a raw product for use in deodorants and medical products. “We are just working with a number of great companies to bring this great technology forward with their products,” Dana says.
When Aneta Lundquist started making kombucha in her home, it was part of an effort to make sure her own children ate healthy, but pretty soon, it also proved a nice dish to share with neighbors. So she started making it by the keg and invited friends to partake. Her husband, Eric Lundquist, recalls the massive response from homeowners on Siesta Key. “People would bring mason jars to the tap in our garage,” he says. “Everyone said this was better than anything they could find in the store. We decided we may as well take this thing to market.” And so the Lundquists in late 2014 incorporated a business and started shopping 221BC Kombucha to local stores and restaurants.
While some retailers initially showed skepticism about another local food product, the fermented beverage soon found a loyal customer base. Jump ahead two and a half years and more than 500,000 bottles of kombucha sold; the company is on track to sell more than 1 million bottles this year. The secret to the product’s success? Every kombucha recipe is different: Aneta’s mixes use various quantities of hibiscus, turmeric, cayenne and any other number of spices not normally imagined for a beverage recipe.
The distinct taste has proven a hit with organic food vendors as far as Louisiana and North Carolina. It’s not bad for a product made primarily because Aneta, who grew up in Poland making food grown at home, didn’t want her own children raised on American junk food. The vegan entrepreneur now sees it as a life goal to make everyone’s drink choices a little more healthy. “Through brewing kombucha, I’ve realized that my mission on this beautiful Earth is to set in motion a health revolution and offer everyone a nourishing alternative to highly processed sodas and energy drinks,” Aneta says.
Why would one of the country’s big names in high-tech continue to keep its corporate headquarters in Sarasota for more than 45 years? Officials keep a hand-written note from company founder Bob Koski on hand for whenever the question gets asked. When he argued to partner John Allen that this was the place to start a company, he laid out the logistical advantages of being near air and sea ports and the availability of raw manufacturing materials, but his fondness for the Gulf Coast shines through most strongly in the last item on his list: “Sarasota has the class of persons this industry is designed to attract as employees.”
Today, Sun remains a strong name in engineering, creating industrial cartridges and manifolds all around the world. The publicly traded company today manufacturers goods in seven countries, but has always kept its headquarter facilities in Sarasota, running strong and producing goods with about 620 employees working in Sun’s Sarasota plant. Plants in Asia make some larger products that Sun can’t build in Sarasota, like industrial manifolds, but the cartridges and coils that established the company’s credibility in the world of hydraulics still get created in a facility on University Parkway. With an open environment plan that has no offices and few job titles, the almost anti-corporate corporate culture at Sun has been studied by Harvard, where academics suggest greater innovation results directly from the fact that ideas from linemen have equal footing as those coming from degree-holding engineers.
The world’s first Bluetooth-controllable amplifiers developed this way, and the company imagines the future only holds more groundbreaking achievements. Steve Berlin, who handles marketing and public relations at Sun, says this culture has been in place since Koski ran the company, and it instills a sense of pride in the work by every employee. “Bob instilled in employees a pride in workmanship and a drive to always do the right thing,” he says. “That has driven the Sun reputation for quality, reliability, customer service and the industry’s best delivery times across its entire catalog of products.”
Intertape Polymer Group
There’s nothing intrinsically exciting about the world of packing tape, officials readily admit. “We’re not saving lives here,” says James Apap Bologna, vice president of marketing for Intertape Polymer Group. “We are delivering things that may save lives when they come out of the box.” But while you may not be familiar with the IPG brand, if you got a Whirlpool appliance installed in your home this Christmas, you probably peeled through an Intertape Polymer Group product before having it hooked up.
IPG, one of the most important makers of tape products in the United States, had kept its US headquarters on the Gulf Coast for 15 years. It runs factories around the globe, including one in Tampa Bay, and is growing its workforce all the time, Bologna says. And today, the company remains either the No. 1 or No. 2 manufacturer of acrylic, natural rubber, hot melt and water-activated tapes in the nation, as well as a lead producer of geo-membrane and industrial woven fabrics. The company has a stake in American manufacturing, which ticked up significantly in 2014 and seems bound to continue. Bologna says as more products get made in the United States, IPG continues to provide box adhesive.
The company follows trends in packaging like record executives follow taste in music. Rather than focusing on retail brands like Scotch, IPG works directly with manufacturers selling spools with thousands of feet of tape to be used in boxing machinery. The IPG website promoted high-end hand-held tape-cutting devices to use on the factory floor. And no, none of that is sexy, but Bologna’s working on that too, and relying on Gulf Coast talent to do so. The company this summer turned to Ringling College of Art and Design students in an effort to expand the company’s creative horizons by commissioning two- and three-dimensional artworks made entirely out of tape. Ringling President Dr. Larry Thompson says the opportunity exposed many students to a local company few realized worked on the Gulf Coast, and Bologna says the effort went over so well the company and college will engage with each other again this semester.
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