Solo Cup plant looking forward to planned merger with Dart

Solo Cup plant looking forward to planned merger with Dart

CHAMPAIGN — Local economic development officials say it's "business as usual" at Urbana's Solo Cup plant following the recent announcement that Dart Container plans to acquire Solo.

Representatives of the Champaign County Economic Development Corp. met with local Solo officials on April 5, two weeks after the planned merger was announced.

Reporting to the economic development group's board of directors Wednesday, Deputy Director Erik Kotewa said Solo feels the local plant is "operationally efficient" and "complementary" to the plants Dart already has.

John Dimit, the economic development group's CEO, added that Solo expects some of its temporary workers to become permanent employees.

"That's a very, very good sign," Dimit said.

Solo, which makes plastic cups, lids and containers at its plant at 1505 E. Main St., has about 600 employees, more than a third of them temporary workers.

Angie Gorman, a spokeswoman for Solo, said the Urbana plant scheduled a job fair Wednesday night in hopes of filling 25 to 30 new machine operator positions and 50 packer and product-handler positions.

She said many of the packer and product-handler jobs are held by temporary workers, and the company would like to see some of those employees move to full-time positions.

Gorman added that Solo doesn't expect any dramatic changes for the first six to 12 months after the Dart deal closes.

She said much of Solo's product portfolio is complementary to Dart's products, and Dart officials have said they don't see much overlap. However, Gorman said she couldn't predict what decisions might be made down the road.

On another front, Dimit said he met with Wolfram Research officials March 15 and was told they felt they were finished with job cuts. The company cut about 20 jobs last fall as the result of restructuring.

Any future actions would likely be hiring, rather than cuts, he added.

Last November, Wolfram Research reported having about 650 employees worldwide, with about 450 of them in the Champaign area.

Dimit and Kotewa also mentioned two cases in which local employers are considering expansion.

One Champaign County employer is considering doubling the size of its workforce to 100 by 2013, and possibly adding 200 more jobs by 2016, Kotewa said.

The other employer might add 50 or so workers if training for "lean production" — or super-efficient production — can be arranged. That company might also invest up to $800,000 in machinery.

In other business:

Update on CEO search. Economic development board Chairman Gary Burgett said the board has so far received applications from 14 people who would like to succeed Dimit when he retires as CEO. Only one is a local applicant, Burgett said.

The board has advertised the position locally as well as in professional trade journals. The deadline for submitting applications is April 20.

'Big Broadband' progress reported. Mike Smeltzer of the Urbana Champaign Big Broadband project said 75 percent of the conduits for the project have been installed so far, with the first fiber installed in February.

He said the first customers are expected to "go live" in June and July, with grant-funded construction slated to be complete by February 2013.

The $30 million project will result in a fiber-optic broadband network that will make fast connections available to a wide swath of the Champaign-Urbana area. The project is installing fiber-to-the-premises in 11 census block groups in C-U that have low rates of broadband adoption.

Smeltzer said if area leaders decide to wire the whole community, a private investment opportunity is available for accomplishing that.