COARC goes green

MELLENVILLE–COARC Contract Manufacturing is often overshadowed by its mission of “expanding abilities one person at a time,” offering supportive employment and on-the-job training to people with developmental disabilities so that they can get good jobs elsewhere in the community.

Now COARC has embarked on a new, multi-faceted green initiative driven by the desire to hone its competitive edge and to upgrade its existing facilities. The hope is that this initiative, combined with other user-friendly practices, will provide clients with earth-friendly services hard to duplicate elsewhere.

“Going green is good for business,” Mick Whitman, general manager of the COARC Contract Manufacturing plant, said in a recent interview. “Lower energy costs mean lower production costs we can pass on to our clients.

“As we talk to new customers, we do it in as green a way possible. We buy the greenest equipment we can afford,” Mr. Whitman said. He added that newer equipment is designed to conserve energy.

The plant’s injection molding machines run at extremely high temperatures, which are required to liquify plastic resin. Excess heat from this process will now be used to heat the plant. Plastic can be recycled or engineered to biodegrade after the expected life of the product, producing less bulk in landfills down the road. Plastic left over from the manufacturing process is now ground up and reused.

Solar Electric Cell panels that have been ordered for six sites, including COARC’s two manufacturing facilities, one in Hudson and the other in Mellenville. The panels will provide additional energy savings once they are installed, said Alex Schneider, COARC’s director of development and community services. He credits the contractor, Sundog Solar, with help on this front. The Chatham firm, which has its headquarters in an old box factory north of the village, helped COARC figure out a cost effective way to use solar energy.

New, government-sponsored incentive programs, including state rebates, and federal and state tax credits, and a new state “energy-smart” loan program that provides reduced interest rates on loans to make a facility more energy efficient all helped make COARC’s solar program possible. The solar panels should help keep costs under control in the future, especially if the cost of commercial electrical service keeps rising 5% annually, as it has on average since 2000. And any surplus electricity generated by the solar panels and not needed by the plant can be sold back to the electric utility at a profit to COARC. Because the plant’s electric usage is high, executives believe it pays to conserve as much energy as possible now.

“We’re getting the largest system that the tax credits will allow. We try to stay as innovative as we can,” said Mr. Schneider.

“President Obama is encouraging businesses to move toward greener energy, and we were on this path as part of our own energy strategic plan. The Obama stimulus plan allows COARC to lease the energy equipment for 30 years and for Sundog to get the tax credits. Two years ago a plan like this would not have worked financially,” said Mr. Schneider.

The plant is clean, without the smell one associates with melting plastic. It received ISO certification, recognition by a worldwide organization that it meets international workplace standards, an honor that impresses clients.

COARC Contract Manufacturing produces a range of products including laptop stands, a metal and plastic collapsible display stand useful for banner displays at trade fairs, road flairs by Orion Safety Products, toys, and e-wash tanks. Sales generally run $1-to-$2 million annually. They rose to $3 million when COARC was asked a few years ago to make an exercise machine, but fell again when the agency lost the contract to a firm in China for a mere $2 per unit.

Even with American manufacturing on the wane, and with COARC’s consumer/workers remaining longer in the supported work environment, Mr. Whitman believes in the future of manufacturing in America. And Neil Beezer, the company’s sales engineer, sees a possible advantage on top of being green and energy efficient. “Clients who have their products manufactured here aren’t as vulnerable to having their copyright or ideas stolen as they would be in China; and we provide design services upfront,” he said.

Business is coming back, Mr. Whitman said: “We have the technology and the facilities. Loyal customers are helping foster slow growth. I just hope the community realizes that in us they have a manufacturing facility capable of molding, assembly, and packaging. They should use us.” 

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