BAZETTA - Drilling for natural gas isn't the only industry that's booming these days, thanks to expansion by a homegrown fireworks company.
Workers with B.J. Alan Co., owner of Phantom Fireworks, are busy loading boxes of fireworks into semi-truck trailers to provide Fourth of July thrills for customers, and keep former Delphi Packard Electric buildings in productive use.
The move makes the company more efficient, while preserving local jobs, according to William Weimer, vice president and general counsel for B.J. Alan Co.
Tribune Chronicle / Larry Ringler
Former Delphi Packard Plant 15 stretches behind William Weimer, vice president of B.J. Alan Co., as he talks about the company’s expansion into factory space vacated by the auto parts maker.
"We're here because we were born and raised here," he said, referring to B.J. Alan owner and Chief Executive Officer Bruce Zoldan and himself. "We could have gone anywhere. When this facility became available, Bruce said, 'Let's keep it here.'"
The company, which Zoldan started in the early 1970s with a small amount of fireworks, for now occupies about 700,000 square feet in Delphi Packard's former Plant 12, which is roughly 400,000 square feet, and Plant 15.
It's not occupying former Plant 14, which is closest to the state Routes 5/82 bypass. The complex also eventually will accommodate the B.J. Alan corporate headquarters now in Youngstown.
"Our offices are in four buildings and six office trailers in Youngstown. Getting everyone under one roof will be wonderful," Weimer said.
The buildings sport state-of-the-art water sprinkler and fire containment equipment. A smoke vent control panel controls 99 ceiling vents for the two buildings. Instead of being automated to open or close, the fire department has complete control over the vents, Weimer said, noting the company has received great assistance from both fire departments, along with county officials.
The buildings are set up to be divided into 12 areas to better control fires. The sprinkler system carries the extra suppression, fast response designation, featuring bigger water pipes to deliver more water.
The system also has a tighter grid pattern of sprinkler heads to better cover an area, and are activated at a lower temperature.
Purchase of the buildings will save the company a great deal of money on handling thousands of boxes of fireworks imported from China, as well as help the company operate more efficiently, Weimer said.
"We've eliminated all 1,200 of our trailers in Youngstown," where the company previously stored fireworks, he said.
Fireworks take about two weeks from the time they're shipped from China factories until they reach the Larchmont warehouses.
The fireworks are unloaded at Long Beach, Calif., then carried by train to Cleveland before arriving by truck, Weimer said.
The typical work force at the warehouses is about 40, but the number swells to around 100 during the peak July Fourth season, Weimer said, adding the company also has added some Trumbull County workers.
The move from Youngstown to Trumbull County required the company to take some creative measures to make sure workers could move with the work.
Because many of the Youngstown workers couldn't afford to drive the 40 miles round trip to the Larchmont warehouses, Weimer said Zoldan bought a 16-passenger airport shuttle-type bus to make two daily round trips to take workers to and from their jobs.
Walking through the cavernous factories and offices, Weimer said he can't get emotional about the auto parts maker, which was founded in Warren in June 1890 and grew into the world's largest maker of vehicle wiring harnesses before stumbling into Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2005.
The company, which once employed nearly 15,000 local hourly and salaried workers, now has fewer than 900 in plants at the corner of North River Road and Larchmont Avenue, as well as Vienna after its bankruptcy reorganization.
Delphi's operations are separated from B.J. Alan's by green space where offices and manufacturing buildings were demolished.
The emotional part for executives of the company, which Weimer said has annual sales in the $100 million area, is taking the business to the next step.
He said Zoldan's son, Alex, is running the company's new operation in Michigan, while Ron spent a year with the new operation in Maine.
After a flat three years during the Great Recession, this year's sales "feel real good," Weimer said.
Industrywide, imported fireworks rose to about 234 million pounds in 2011 from 205.9 million pounds in 2010, he noted.
Importantly, injuries are decreasing, even as use is rising, something Weimer said is unusual in any business. Most injuries are from misuse by consumers, not malfunctions of the fireworks, he added.
Overall, Weimer said the company is "excited about getting into the warehouses and offices. We haven't run into anyone in Trumbull County who hasn't been welcoming."