ASHTABULA, Ohio—Whether for customers, employees or the community, adding value has been a focus for Grand River Rubber & Plastics for nearly 45 years.
Established by the acquisition of the Ashtabula Division of Geneva Rubber in 1976, the 100-percent employee-owned company that sits along Lake Erie is known by its customers for its lathe-cut gaskets, drum and pail gaskets, and sweeper belts, using mostly EPDM but working in a range of materials, from nitrile and neoprene to silicone and polyether elastomers.
Grand River's 207 employees know the company for its family-oriented atmosphere, where ideas are valued from the top down and the ownership stakes—and stocks, allocated by salary and seniority—are high for everyone.
"I feel like I've got a say in things when we have meetings. They listen really well to people's ideas," Dana Armstrong, a belt cell operator at Grand River, said in a testimonial on the company's website.
And the community knows the company for its selfless outreach, as Grand River recently raised $33,000 for the United Way of Ashtabula County and $107,000 (over five years) in support of the Civic Development Corp. of Ashtabula County. About 180 of the company's 207 employees stepped up for the United Way donation, evidence of strong company support in times of crisis.
"We take our community involvement very seriously," said Donald Chaplin, president of Grand River since 2015. "Employees take pride in this and so does the company."
The company's outreach extended to its employees at the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, as Grand River provided Easter dinners for four—more than 800 individual meals—of ham, rolls, deviled eggs, potatoes, macaroni and cheese, and a dessert.
"It was one of the ways we helped them to de-stress," Chaplin said. "They understand the importance of us staying in business and they see us taking precautions, with masks to take home.
"We want them staying safe here and at home."
A look back
In 1976, Rick Selip (Rubber & Plastic News' Executive of the Year in 1997 and 2014), Robert Jessup and Steve Knowles completed the Geneva Rubber acquisition and renamed the company Grand River. With its precision cutting to within ten thousandths of an inch, Grand River became known early on in the industry for its drum and pail and lathe-cut gaskets.
In 2001, the company entered the sweeper market with its flat belt division, and the next year began to sell its products in China, becoming a truly global company for the first time and gaining a large share, up to 90 percent, of the Asian market. With the acquisition of the flat drive belt division of Flexaust Inc. and capital improvements of $2.4 million in the drum and pail manufacturing division in 2017, Grand River now serves all of North and South America, Europe and Asia, both OEM and aftermarket customers.