Proud to be in Pitt County, industry wins corporate honor
By Michael Abramowitz
The Daily Reflector
Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Teamwork, corporate pride and community values earned a Greenville-based manufacturing company with a plant in neighboring Martin County the local economic development board’s highest honor on Tuesday.
Penco Products was selected by the Pitt County Development Commission as the county’s 2017-18 Industry of the Year as a manufacturer that best demonstrates its ongoing commitment to innovation, sustainability, employee retention and corporate citizenship, according to the board.
The award, the 25th given by the commission, was presented to Tom Kulikowski, Penco president and CEO, by Randy Walters, PCDC board chairman.
Kulikowski said that Penco has made significant capital investments during the last year to expand its capabilities, increase productivity, improve the quality of its products and reduce its costs.
“To paraphrase Mark Twain, the death of U.S. manufacturing is greatly exaggerated,” Kulikowski said in accepting the honor. “Manufacturing is alive and well here in eastern North Carolina. But Penco Products is about much more than the products we manufacture or the services we provide. We’re also about having an indelible impact on the communities where we live and work.”
Two years ago, Penco began an internal corporate humanitarian award to recognize employees who demonstrate a commitment to improving the welfare of others, Kulikowski said.
“We bestow that award during the week of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday,” he said. “I think Dr. King would be proud because he said that life’s most persistent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”
Asked to define good corporate citizenship, Kulikowski said it means doing for others without expecting anything in return and lending support to those who have less.
“For example, every year, we sponsor about 35 kids for the Pitt County Sheriff’s Academy camp — students whose parents might not have the money to pay for it,” he said. “Through employee donations and some corporate sponsorship, we’re able to send kids to camps six days a week for nine hours each day, providing them access to model citizens through the efforts of sheriff’s deputies and staff. We don’t expect anything in return and don’t do it to receive prestigious awards like this one. It’s just about being part of the community.”
Kulikowski said Penco has been in Pitt County for a relatively short time, but plans on staying for a long time.
“I’d recommend Pitt County to any company that’s looking for access to a major university and its graduates, an outstanding community college, high-quality health care, abundant recreational opportunities and the vibrancy of a downtown that’s just beginning to blossom,” Kulikowski said.
Penco began in 1869 as the Penn Metal Corporation in South Philadelphia, Pa. Its name was shortened to Penco Products in the 1950s. The east coast manufacturing facilities were moved from Pennsylvania in 2001 to a 375,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Hamilton, in Martin County, allowing significant room for expansion. There, between 160-225 workers manufacture material handling equipment and storage products, including lockers, shelving, pallet racks, garment dispensers and hygiene products. The company swells its employee numbers in the summer months to as many as 350. The corporate headquarters, which moved in 2013 to Greenville, employs about 35 people, including some who moved up through the manufacturing ranks.
“It’s always difficult to make the selection of Industry of the Year,” said Wanda Yuhas, development commission executive director. “The board always makes that selection after reviewing a group of worthy nominees.”
Yuhas said Kulikowski might take it for granted that everyone does what he, his wife and their employees do together as a company.
“Everyone doesn’t do that,” she said. “They look at their employees who show promise and ambition and seek ways within the company to help them thrive. They have built a reputation as a good place to work, where employees will be treated fairly and work beside good colleagues who share a sense of team spirit. People throw words like ‘teamwork’ around a lot, but it’s not always genuine.”
Yuhas recalled this winter’s snow storm, when some companies complained their employees didn’t want to come to work.
“Tom understood many lived in areas that would not be plowed, making it impossible for them to get in. He told me he was certain all his employees would get to work if they could,” she said. “He is a leader who understands his employees in a way that is exceptional and just not the rule.”
Kulikowski said he and his wife feel blessed to have been embraced by the people of Pitt County.
“It’s a great place,” he said. “Any company looking to establish a beachhead in a community with all these things things to offer should look this way. Pitt County’s got it going on.”
Contact Michael Abramowitz at firstname.lastname@example.org or 252-329-9507.