Serious Materials Reopens Failed Factory, Restores Jobs for Workers
In a small town in Pennsylvania, a growing green building materials company based in California is working to turn the tide that shuttered a more than 30-year-old window factory last October and left 150 people jobless with only a day's notice.
Amid green balloons and beaming workers, Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell and Serious Materials CEO Kevin Surace clipped a giant sage-colored ribbon with an outsized pair of green scissors to celebrate the formal opening of the plant now known as SeriousWindows.
Today, we start rebuilding," Surace told the gathering. "Today, we write a new beginning to this story."
"It's been an inspirational day," Serious Materials Chief Marketing Officer Sandra Vaughan told GreenerBuildings.com.
Much of that hope was represented by Robin Scott, a 15-year worker at the former Kensington Windows plant who had been a technician in the glass department. He was devastated when he and his coworkers, some of whom had spent 30 years or more with company, suddenly found themselves without a job. A lifelong resident of the Vandergrift community, 43-year-old Scott and his wife have one child in college, another headed that way and help support elderly relatives.
He wasn't sure what he was going to do. Then in January, he heard that a West Coast company was trying acquire assets of his bankrupt former employer. The sale went through and Scott and others were asked if they wanted to come to work for the firm, which would manufacture high performance, energy efficient windows at the site.
He didn't have to be asked twice.
"The way I see it, this is more than just a job to me," Scott said Monday. "It's also doing something -- our small part -- in this tiny corner of America to move this country forward.
"I'm not a tree-hugger, by no means. But even I know we have to change. We cannot leave this world the way it is now. So if we can get this green bandwagon rolling here in Vandergrift, well, that's just what I want to see. We can start here in Vandergrift and create a whole bunch of new jobs -- that's even better."
His speech, which the company video-taped, moved the audience to tears, Vaughan said.
Serious Materials, which says its super-insulating windows can slash heating and cooling costs by as much as much as 50 percent, started bringing people back to work at the 100,000-square-foot factory within two weeks of the purchase and has been ramping up production ever since.
The Sunnyvale-based firm not only plans to hire back all workers as product demand increases, it hopes to replicate its success in Chicago.
Just last month in a move lauded by Vice President Joe Biden, Serious Materials closed a deal to acquire assets of the former Republic Windows and Doors plant, which had occupied a 268,000-square-foot site and employed 300 people. Republic made headlines in December when its abrupt closure before the winter holidays prompted a sit-in by outraged members of the former staff.
Surace has long had a vision for green building and job creation, said Vaughan. But the confidence in the bold move to acquire and revitalize two failed enterprises was largely inspired by the new administration in Washington, its commitment to energy efficiency and a stimulus package that backs those efforts, she said.
"That's why we have the confidence to be here," Vaughan said.
The former window factory in Chicago would be the company's fifth manufacturing site. Serious Materials' energy efficient windows, doors and green alternatives to traditional gypsum drywall are now produced at four: two in California, one in Colorado and the plant in Pennsylvania.
Windows, conventional and otherwise, represent a $20 billion market in the U.S., and about 5 percent of all the energy in American literally goes right out of them, Surace is fond of saying. His company's products can go a long way to stopping the heating and cooling loss in buildings, he says.
The market for green building materials generated sales of $57 billion in 2008 and is expected to exceed more than $80 billion in 2013, according to a recent study by industry research firm Freedonia Group Inc. Such projections bode well for firms like Serious Materials.
On Monday, Pennsylvania Governor Rendell told workers they are now part of a growing economic wave.
"It's great to have a job so you can provide for your family and take care of things, but it's also it's also great to feel that you're doing things that are really important -- and here in Vandergrift at Serious, you are," said Rendell, who has been a driving force for diversifying Pennsylvania's economy and making his state a leader in renewable energy and cleantech east of the Mississippi.
"Alternative and renewable energy and conservation are going to be for the next 25 years what information technology and bio sciences and life sciences have been for the last 25 years -- and we have to be ahead of the curve," Rendell said. "What you're doing today is enormously important."
All images courtesy of Serious Materials