It would be fitting if giant welcome mats were at each entrance of the 340,000-square-foot Agri-Industrial Plastics Company (AIP) facility in Fairfield, Iowa.
“We love opening our doors and letting people see who we are, what we do and how we do it,” said President Lori Schaefer-Weaton. “We are always willing to give tours and hope that long term, it may change any misconceptions about our company, working in manufacturing and Iowa’s impact on the industry.”
Why wouldn’t Schaefer-Weaton want to show off the state-of-the-art plastics company? Founded in 1978 by her father Richard “Dick” Smith, AIP has come a long way in its 40 years. What began with one machine and four employees, is now a company with more than 200 employees that has become an industry leader in large-scale blow molding and fuel tank systems.
Walking the Walk
AIP has a history of innovation. “We are always thinking of ways to do things better and more efficiently,” said Schaefer-Weaton. “For the sake of our community, our employees and our customers — that is what drives to us to innovate.”
Most recently, AIP launched Iowa's first solar and Tesla Powerpack project to control energy cost. Using technology designed by another Iowa-based firm, the company now incorporates solar and energy storage to become more energy efficient. It does this using a roof-mounted solar array working in tandem with a Tesla battery energy storage system.
“The financial ROI is based on this battery that actually has artificial intelligence and learns how we use energy,” said Schaefer-Weaton. “We run 24 hours a day, 5 days a week — at minimum. This battery is smart enough to figure out when our peak usage will be. It stores the energy, and when we are going to hit the peak, it basically caps that peak off. This is hugely important because that is how rates are set. If we can shave the peaks off, we can bring down the cost of our utilities significantly.”
The battery storage system has benefited not just the environment and the company’s ROI, but also recruiting. “One of our biggest challenges as a company in small town Iowa is attracting and retaining workforce,” she said. “I do think that having a giant solar array on our roof says, ‘Hey this company is different, and I want to be a part of that.’ It shows we do care about this community and about giving back. In addition, it shines a light on the manufacturing and what this industry is all about.”
Iowa's No. 1 Industry
AIP is one of more than 6,000 manufacturers in Iowa, a state in which advanced manufacturing still flourishes.
“Manufacturing is our (Iowa’s) No. 1 industry, not agriculture like most think,” said Schaefer-Weaton. “In every small town and in every corner of our state, we need people to know the importance of manufacturing and what we are contributing to the economy, to jobs and opportunities in general.”
Only in Iowa
When Schaefer-Weaton walks her 20-acre campus, she is constantly amazed by those she works alongside. “The work ethic and loyalty of each of our 200-plus employees is really unbelievable,” she said. “And I don’t think that exists in every state or every part of the country — I wouldn’t want to do this or be anywhere else.”
A big reason she feels this way is something that makes small-town Iowa so unique — its connectedness.“We all live in the same small town. Our kids grow up together, they play on the same baseball team. When one member of our family is sick or faces a challenge, we all pull together — that is genuinely what we do,” said Schaefer-Weaton. “And I do think that is a reflection beyond our company to Iowa and our good Midwestern values. At the end of the day, there isn’t much else that matters beyond those deep connections to people and being part of a family.”