Superior manufacturer, another company form Charter NEX FilmFor years, Charter Films in Superior and NEX Performance Films based in Milton, Wis., were competitors going after some of the same customers.
By: By Candace Renallsfirstname.lastname@example.org, Superior Telegram
For years, Charter Films in Superior and NEX Performance Films based in Milton, Wis., were competitors going after some of the same customers.
The polyethylene plastic film they both manufacture is used to make the packaging for foods sold at the grocery store, beauty aids, medical supplies, household goods, even the plastic that new windows come wrapped in.
“They were our best competition in the industry,” said Judy Aspling, Charter Films’ human resources director. “The two companies were talking to each other and saw that, wow, if we could get together, we would be a real powerhouse.”
The idea caught on. Talks continued through much of 2012. A merger was announced in December, with members of each company’s management team leading the combined company, Charter NEX Films Inc.
“Now we’re killing the competition,” Aspling said. “We’re the second-largest film manufacturer in the country. So it’s a win-win for both sides.”
The Superior plant, at 1901 Winter St., will continue to operate as it has with no job loss, said CEO Kathy Bolhous, who also was CEO of NEX Performance.
“We will keep all the people there,” she said. “It’s very important to the company overall that we keep the Superior plant performing as if it was a standalone.”
The merger was not prompted by down revenues or hits from the recession. On the contrary, both companies were doing well and were well-respected, Bolhous said.
“We’re pretty recession-proof,” she said of the plastic packaging industry. “If anything, people eat at home more during a recession. They don’t go out to eat as much and that helps our business.”
Bolhous was referring to the plastic used in the packaging of food sold at grocery and convenience stores, which is a big part of their business.
The merger, she said, was about becoming stronger together.
“We were both servicing similar markets and customers,” she said. “By coming together as one company, we have the ability to be an even stronger film supplier, because we have more capacity as a larger company than we do individually.”
Since the merger, it’s been business as usual at the Superior plant, although information technology systems and some central functions are being integrated, Bolhous said.
The Superior plant, which uses a blown extrusion process to create plastic film that’s wound into rolls, still employs 140 workers, the same as before the merger, said Aspling, who continues to head the plant’s human resources.
“Wages have gone up a little bit,” she said. “Absolutely no increases have been stalled because of the merger. All are performance-based. Bonuses are still happening.”
Because benefits for NEX Performance Films’ employees at its plants in Milton and Rhinelander, Wis., and in Turners Falls, Mass., were better, the workers at the Superior plant had their benefits upgraded, Aspling said.
None of Charter NEX Films’ four plants are union shops, she said.
When Charter Films was launched in Superior in 1998, it was reported to be an offshoot of Reuben Johnson & Son Inc., a general contracting firm based in the Twin Ports. Todd Johnson, a principal of Reuben Johnson, served as Charter Film’s first vice president.
But Dan Markham, executive vice president of Capstan Corp. — formerly Reuben Johnson & Son Inc. — said Charter Films has never been part of Reuben Johnson.
“The Johnson family had some ownership in Charter Films, but there were other shareholders as well,” Markham said.
With the merger, four Johnson family members relinquished their shares in Charter.
“They sold their interest in the company,” Bolhous said. The sale price of those stocks and other financial details of the merger aren’t being revealed, since it’s a private company, she said.
Two of Charter Films’ founders, David Timm and Chris Trapp, continue to hold stock. Trapp, who was Charter Film’s CEO, is now president and chief operating officer of the merged company.
Trapp was not available to be interviewed for this story.
Although NEX Performance Films was apparently a larger company with 220 employees and three plants, Charter got top billing in the merged company’s new name: Charter NEX Films Inc.
NEX Performance Films’ name — the N-E-X is spelled aloud — had often been mispronounced. And the name had changed several times in recent years, while the Charter name had never changed, Bolhous explained
At the same time, “Charter NEX” simply had a better ring to it, she said.
“The Charter name is a very strong brand name,” she said. “As a competitor, we had a lot of respect for Charter. Really, it came down to what sounds better.”