WINCHESTER — Since acquiring M&H Plastics in Frederick County in July 2019, Berry Global has been preparing for the future. This includes developing a new culture that consists of more teamwork inside and outside the manufacturing plant.

The plastic bottle-making company, located at 485 and 411 Brooke Road, is working to not only expand its reputation within the community but also to dispel misconceptions people may have about plastics manufacturers.

“Plastics has taken it on the chin the last three or four years,” said Earnie Bliss, operations manager at the Winchester plant.

The local facility has about 375,000 square feet of work space, with another 50,000 square feet available next to the main building. About 300 employees work on approximately 72 machines, not including office staff. The added space would be able to accommodate 100 additional employees and eight new machines.

The facility produces and decorates plastic bottles for personal care products, which the company’s predecessor did for about 15 years at the same location.

Berry Global operates on 12-hour shifts, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Entry-level positions are currently open at $13.25 an hour while technician jobs start at $19 an hour.

“We should be articulating that manufacturing has more to offer than simply being, what I hear people saying, a factory job,” said Bliss, who served as general manager for a Berry Global competitor in Europe before returning to the United States to work in the local plant. “Because when you hear factory job, it evokes dirty, smoky, smelly, oily, grinding work. The reality is that the kind of manufacturing that we do isn’t that, and the kind of manufacturing that we’re going to do in the future is going to be focused on a model of creativity, joint development, strong employee development and great relationships with our community and the global community in terms of environmentalism, sustainability and being a good corporate citizen.”

Part of that mission relies on the work of Human Resources Manager Rachel Naylor, who has been with the company about 90 days.

Naylor said Berry Global has been actively working on establishing the best possible work culture inside the plant. This includes incentive packages and bonuses for things such as attendance and bringing in new employees.

“We’re always tasked with — and my passion and desire is in — making Berry Global an employer of choice,” Naylor said. “In manufacturing and warehouse and distribution, we have quite a bit of competition. So, what’s going to make someone want to take the jump (to Berry Global) and what’s going to make our employees want to continue to come to work here? I think it’s about being human. We need to be involved and understand and actively listen and celebrate, recognize and reward our employees who are here showing up every day.”

Getting the company more actively involved in the community is a priority, Naylor added.

The company plans to further partnerships with local organizations and community colleges such as Lord Fairfax Community College, which has a Middletown campus, and Blue Ridge Community and Technical College in Martinsburg, W.Va. Working with local colleges allows staff to utilize training programs. It also helps the company find skilled workers.

Bliss and Naylor said a shift in culture where employees are celebrated and active in the community will hopefully boost morale and keep employees engaged enough to boost production.

They said they’ve already seen evidence of that on the production floor.

Bliss said many manufacturing plants make as many products as they can as fast as they can, but Berry Global works in “mass customization,” where employees make only what their customers have ordered, then they move on to something else.

“What that means is you have to be light on your feet. It’s a quick job change, or single-minute exchange of dyes (SMED),” he said. “The SMED team out there now has gone from hours to minutes. When I got here, we were taking about 24 hours between changes. Now we have one department that can do it in an hour, and they’re looking to improve that.”

Naylor said she’s already seeing growth and expects that to continue.

“If we do our job correctly and invest in our employees, then hopefully they’ll invest in us and get our name out there in the community,” she said.

— Contact Matt Welch


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