Smith Glass announces acquisition, tourism plans

Glassmaking operations at L.E. Smith Glass Co. in Mt. Pleasant were on the bubble when production ceased for a short time last summer, but a high-profile customer list that included Williams Sonoma and Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia wavered, but never deserted.

William A. Kelman, the businessman who acquired the glassmaker in January, continued his revival of the firm Monday by announcing a series of new developments, including the acquisition of a specialty metal containers company and plans to turn the Westmoreland County site into a major tourism center.

"This company was close to being liquidated, and it was a difficult deal to get done, initially," said Kellman, who formed a new company, Port Augustus Glass Co. LLC, to acquire Smith Glass -- one of the last hand-molded glass factories in the United States.

Kelman said Smith Glass will celebrate its centennial next year with the addition of new customers, including Lancaster Colony Corp., a manufacturer and marketer of glassware and candles, in Columbus, Ohio; The Longaberger Co., a maker of handcrafted baskets and home lifestyle products, in Newark, Ohio; and PartyLite, a division of Greenwich, Conn.-based Blyth Inc., a designer and manufacturer of candles and home fragrance products.

"They (customers) looked for alternatives in case we couldn't make it, but they never left us. Once they found out we were stable, they came back," said Don Gould, a consultant with Smith Glass.

Gould said about 42 workers are currently employed at the Mt. Pleasant operation.

Glassmaking ceased at Smith Glass on June 30 after 11th-hour talks to find a buyer broke down, putting 57 employees out of work. The glassmaker was placed in a court-ordered receivership in July. In November, Kelman signed a purchase agreement to buy the company's assets, including 3,000 molds, other equipment, inventory, machinery and receivables.

Negotiations are ongoing for a new three-year collective bargaining agreement, said Jim Watt, staff representative for the United Steelworkers union. "We were apprehensive at first, but the more we talked we found common ground," Watt said. About 40 unionized workers are represented by Locals 537 and 102T.

Gould said a planned tourism center is still in its embryonic stages, but he envisions a center to promote a variety of products from regional manufacturers, along with Smith Glass. "We want to get people off the turnpike," he said.

Kelman said Smith Glass has about 200,000 square feet of space available, but he envisions using only 65,000 square feet to make glass. He said about 5,000 square feet could be used for the tourism center.

Kelman also said L.E. Smith recently purchased Cross Stone Products, a Virginia-based maker of specialty containers. Kelman did not disclose the purchase price, but said a cost-analysis is under way to assess the feasibility of moving the company, and its 120 jobs, to Mt. Pleasant. "Many clients who buy glass want to buy brass. We would be looking at a fresh, new work force," he said.

Mohan Ramani, CEO of Red Door Partners, a consulting firm based in Pittsburgh, said his company is working with an undisclosed technology firm that does business in the United Kingdom and other European countries that has expressed interest in locating at the Smith Glass site.

600450 Smith Glass announces acquisition, tourism plans
Date: 7 April 2005

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