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Published: Wednesday, 6/20/2007

Carton plant in Toledo to be closed

BY GARY T. PAKULSKI
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

Seven years after setting out to make Toledo's Oracle Packaging Inc. an "industry hallmark," Oklahoma lawyer Scott Dickman has added plants and product lines.

But Toledo and the company's 40-person plant here won't figure in the future of the firm founded here more than eight decades ago.

The factory at 4949 Stickney Ave. was once a major U.S. producer of butter cartons. But it will close by next Wednesday, victim of slumping prices and the loss of a key customer, said Tom Schooley, interim manager. "We're running final production for our customers," he added.

The owner moved Oracle's headquarters to Tulsa shortly after buying the company in 2000.

Over the next few years, he and his holding company, Pinnacle Packaging, added plants in Winston Salem and Wilmington, N.C.; Philadelphia; and Cincinnati. Oracle today consists of seven plants, a distribution center, and sales offices in eight cities. As recently as 15 years ago, it had only the Toledo plant.

Current products include doughnut boxes; beverage and aluminum foil cartons; foil lids for yogurt cartons, and medical device packaging.

Until last year, the local operation had 50 employees, including a two-person graphics department to design cartons for customers. But 10 people were laid off as the plant began to lose customers. Today it has 30 hourly and eight salaried employees, on three shifts.

The United Steelworkers union, which represents hourly workers, was advised June 1 that the plant would close.

In 2002, the Steelworkers agreed to reduced wages for new hires. Pay averages $15 to $16 an hour, said Jay Jeffries, a union staff representative.

As recently as 1994, the Toledo plant had annual sales of nearly $7 million and made cartons for 85 percent of the private-label butter market. But it

suffered a major blow when Land O'Lakes, one of the nation's largest butter and cheese makers, switched to Rock Ten Co., Norcross, Ga., Mr. Schooley said.

Until then, Oracle bought paperboard from Rock Ten. Several paper mills that supplied carton manufacturers have launched or purchased factories that now compete with former customers, the Oracle official said, adding, "It has driven prices down to the point where this plant can't survive."

The company has been called Oracle Packaging only since 1984, when a group of executives and investor Ted McLaren bought it from paper maker Champion International. Until then, it was Champion Packaging.

There are conflicting reports about when the company was established. Oracle's Web site states that it was launched in 1919 by William Butler, who developed printing processes for dairy-product packages.

In the mid-1950s, Butler Paper employed 200 in Toledo and Ottumwa, Iowa. It was sold in 1956 to a Cleveland firm that was bought by Champion.

Contact Gary Pakulski at:

gpakulski@theblade.com

or 419-724-6082.



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