ConMet currently has 310 employees at its Canton plant and another 370 at its sister plant in Bryson City.
The company is the leading maker of plastic dashboards, door panels, instrument panels and storage cubbies that deck out the interior of semitruck cabs. There are only a handful of other companies in the world that make the specialized, injection-molded plastic parts, and ConMet is the biggest on the block.
“There are very few trucks that don’t have any ConMet plastic in them. We are the largest supplier in the world,” said Nate Dingus, plant manager in Canton.
ConMet is a post-recession success story, but it wasn’t without its share of economic licks.
Sales dropped by 40 percent in 2008, and employment at its plants in the region plummeted to a low of 300. But ConMet has been on a steady growth trajectory since 2009. It rebounded to pre-recession volumes and kept right on climbing.
“The healthier the economy gets, the more freight has to move, and trucks only last so long. A couple million miles, a truck has to be replaced,” Dingus said.
The resurgence in freight — and thus the resurgence in big-rig cab parts — isn’t solely to thank for ConMet’s expansion in Canton, however.
Some of its competitors didn’t survive the downturn. ConMet moved in to scoop up their market share and become the industry leader.
“We were able to get some new contracts where our competitors didn’t last,” Dingus said.
Attrition of the already niche industry left a mere six manufacturers worldwide that make injection-molded plastic components for semitruck cabs today.
“We have a very specific market,” Dingus said.
The plants in Canton and Bryson City are strategically positioned in proximity to semitruck makers, like Freightliner in nearby Statesville, Volvo in Virginia and Kenworth in Ohio.
“We are central to many of our customers,” Dingus said.
ConMet has a myriad of dashboard configurations customized for particular semi models, with pre-cut holes for radios, air vents, odometers, fuel gauges and sundry dash instruments in all the right places, give or take a fraction of a millimeter.
ConMet also makes plastic storage cabinets, closets and cubbies in both sleeper cabs and day cabs.
Any given semitruck in the country has an average of $2,000 in plastic parts made by ConMet.
“Look at all the trucks on the road as you drive home, and it adds up pretty quick,” Dingus said.
ConMet’s Canton plant is a round-the-clock operation. Dingus said the jobs pay well and are mostly filled from the local workforce, with the exception of certain specialized skills like machine mechanics.
Located in the Beaverdam Industrial Park near Exit 33 off Interstate 40, the plant will be 375,000 square feet after the expansion. About 80 brand-new jobs will be added, while another 60 will be transferred from a small satellite shop in nearby Arden, which will close and be absorbed into Canton.
Haywood to deed industrial property to ConMet in support of expansion
The Haywood County Board of Commissioners signaled unanimous support this week to gift ConMet manufacturing plant eight acres of land for an expansion at its Canton factory in exchange for creating 80 new jobs.
The land, located in the Beaverdam Industrial Park in Canton, is valued at $280,000.
ConMet plans to invest $5.9 million in a 150,000-square-foot expansion of the plant on its existing property. ConMet will not develop the eight acres from Haywood County right away but instead, will set it aside for future growth.
ConMet has been steadily increasing jobs at both its Canton and Bryson City facilities for the past four years. While the eight-acre tract from the county won’t be used for the current expansion, it will hopefully set the stage for even more growth in the future.
“As the economy improves, then they can expand,” Commissioner Mark Swanger said.
Swanger pointed to ConMet as an example of getting creative to grow jobs by supporting companies that are already here.
“That’s good. Congratulations on that,” Swanger told Economic Development Director Mark Clasby.
If ConMet does not create the promised 80 jobs, the county will take back the property.
ConMet plans to transfer an additional 60 jobs to Canton from its Arden plant, which will closed down, for a total of 140 news jobs being added at the Canton facility as a result of the expansion.
County Commissioner Kevin Ensley said he was happy that manufacturing jobs are on the uptick.
“It was kind of good to see that for a change,” Ensley said.
In addition to the eight acre gift, the county will give ConMet temporary use of another 10 acres at the industrial park as a staging area during construction over the next year. However, should a company want to buy the 10-acre site being used as a construction staging area ConMet would have to vacate it.