Family-owned and community-focused Wepco Plastics, Inc. was founded by Wally Parmelee in the early 1980s. Located in Middlefield, CT, the company specializes in providing American-made plastic injection-molded parts and rapid aluminum tooling for clients with 3-D printing, mold building and injection molding needs.
In 2016, Wally’s son, David, took over as president. Wally’s daughter, Cara, works for the company, too. Wepco is proud of its family environment, which extends to its customers and the surrounding community.
seedership spoke with Wepco Plastics Chief Financial Officer Charles Daniels to learn more.
What are your company’s core differentiators?
CHARLES DANIELS: One thing that really separates us is how much we value our employees. We strongly believe our team are our first customers, and happy internal customers create happy external customers. The goal is to keep our internal customers happy past their paycheck and our external customers happy beyond our product.
Another thing that separates us from other manufacturing companies is our connection with our community. We truly value our community and we’re committed to making a positive impact locally. I devote more of my time to working outside of Wepco than I do inside of Wepco.
We’re a small company that’s part of a close-knit community. In addition to focusing on providing high-quality manufacturing, we want our customers to genuinely want to work with us. If you examine your relationships with contractors, bankers and insurance providers, you’ll find that you tend to gravitate toward people who are friendly and highly recommended. That’s the way we want to operate as well. We don’t want to be just a service provider; we want our customers to enjoy picking up the phone and calling us.
What does community mean to Wepco?
CHARLES: To us, community involves local – the places we shop, the schools our children attend and the shops and restaurants we support. We love our community, and will do whatever we can to take care of the place we love. We’re committed to supporting local economic development, helping people recognize that the town of Middlefield and surrounding towns are great places to live and work, and encouraging them to spend their money in our small business community.
We also have strong ties with the Connecticut manufacturing community – as well as with our industry’s extended community at the national level. We support and participate in organizations throughout the country focused on mold building and plastic injection molding.
In 2020, Wepco embraced the opportunity to give back to the community and meet a critical need by pivoting production to make personal protective equipment (PPE). Can you share that experience with us?
CHARLES: Wepco grew both as a company and as individuals in 2020 when we started making PPE to help people in our community. It’s easy to talk about how much our company cares about the community, but when something such as COVID-19 impacted our community – and our world – we saw an opportunity to help and felt compelled to do so in any way we could. We also saw it as a chance to openly display our core values.
We have a good relationship with the state, so we reached out to Connecticut’s Chief Manufacturing Officer Colin Cooper to ask how we could help. We didn’t want to simply start making something, we wanted to fill a void. Colin gave us some ideas and then we looked at what we could do with the tools, equipment, skills and people we had.
In April 2020, we turned a front office into a clean room and started making face shields, which we supplied to places such as hospitals, the Connecticut Department of Correction, school systems and restaurants.
As a manufacturer, we create something, put it in a box, and ship it. To be able to see the end result, when nurses were wearing something we produced, and knowing they felt safer going to work, was powerful. It was great for our employees to see the impact their work had on our community.
That was a big push for us last year – it was a challenge and a blessing. We were grateful not to lay anyone off. In fact, we hired seven people during the onset of the pandemic to help keep up with orders. Initially, we planned to hire everybody on a temporary basis until the need ran out, but we were able to keep a few of those employees who have now become a part of our team.
It was also an amazing experience to be part of the greater manufacturing community coming together to solve a need. We’re a small company and we know that there’s only so much we can do on our own. Working together, we were able to make a much greater impact. We were fortunate to be able to do that.
In what other ways is Wepco involved with the local community?
CHARLES: Our biggest area of focus is definitely our school systems. We’ve formed relationships with our local elementary schools, and we do as much as we can to support science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) education at that level. We believe that applied learning and experience is critical, especially at a young age.
Our team also serve on school advisory boards, provide tours, participate in career days, sponsor events and help schools secure grants. It gives our employees an opportunity to give back in a meaningful way.
Wepco supports workforce development programming – from elementary school to high school and college. We partner with different Connecticut institutions, including Goodwin University and the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology (CCAT) to help build a manufacturing pipeline. We want high school and college-aged students to know these employment opportunities are available. And we want to encourage local companies to hire out of these workforce development programs – just as we do. Our goal is to help groom the future workforce for jobs with the many manufacturing companies in Connecticut.
These efforts meet our community needs, engage our employees, and align with our long-term business needs. We want to be part of the solution. We need future talent; we need trained talent – and we prefer to source from our own community. We’re a small company without a human resources department, which means that if new hires require internal training, it can adversely affect our productivity.
Wepco focuses on internal workforce development, too. If our employees want to obtain a new skill, improve a current skill or learn something new – they have the opportunity. We believe if people are chasing their passions and following what is meaningful to them, they’ll be better equipped to help us achieve our company goals.
How does Wepco engage employees in its giving efforts?
CHARLES: One of the things we’ve done well for the past several years has been to increase our social media presence. It helps us interact with people who work for us and they can see the good we’re doing, and the type of impact we’re making, together. For example, we took a good portion of the PPE we made and donated it to first responders who are friends and family of our employees. We also used our social media to do giveaways within our community for those who needed PPE.
Early in the pandemic, we wanted to support our local community and thank our employees for the hard work they were doing. We used our social media to post about how we bought gift cards from several local restaurants and gave them to our employees. Our employees appreciated it. And I know the local businesses also appreciated it.
Afterward, we saw companies larger than ours were doing that, too. Seeing our 31 employees make an impact in the community was one thing, but to have a company with 500 employees do the same thing was just incredible. It had a huge impact.
When schools closed for in-person learning last March, we created and posted STEAM activities to provide something for parents to do at home with their kids. We committed to doing that every day until the end of the school year. We got great feedback from our employees who have kids.
The good Wepco does helps not just your community – but also your business and your employees.
CHARLES: Exactly! Working for a company I see doing good makes me more committed and more loyal to that company. It makes me want the company to succeed and it makes me proud to work there. It also creates a more personally more rewarding workday and a much more fulfilling life experience.
That’s something we always focus on – ensuring the people who work for Wepco are happy here. We bring people in who share our vision and really want to be a part of our team. And it shows.
We’re small, but we’re also mighty and we’re always looking to amplify our efforts. Our aim is to use our resources where we can get the most bang for our buck. We know that when we involve our employees in the good we do – whether we’re pivoting and creating much-needed PPE, creating solutions for workforce development or simply leading by example and inspiring others – we can achieve a bigger and better overall outcome.