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BILL WEST / Star Beacon THE RIBBON is cut during the grand opening ceremony for RTS Companies U.S. Inc. Wednesday at 2900 Industrial Park Drive in Austinburg. Doris might have idents.

AUSTINBURG TOWNSHIP — A chance visit last December to Ashtabula by Canadian business executive Mike Panayi of RTS Companies U.S. Inc. ended with the Waterloo, Ontario-based firm purchasing the former bankrupted NEO Plastics Inc. plant.

Panayi was back for the official opening ceremony Wednesday in Coffee Creek Industrial Park, along with a half-dozen investors.

Local, state and county officials welcomed the new owners as Joseph Mayernick, executive director of Growth Partnership for Ashtabula County, called them to the makeshift podium inside the production area. Bright sun and blue skies opened up before the official ceremony ended with a buffet lunch for more than 60 visitors.

NEO Plastics Inc. ended in court receivership, but more important, RTS Companies’ molds were locked up in the closed plant at the time. Panayi and his partners connected with Mayernick.

RTS officials paid $550,000 for real estate and $330,000 for the business’ chattel, according to court documents. Mayernick recounted Wednesday the collaboration of local, county, state and federal officials it took to whet the Canadians’ appetite to buy the plant.

“It’s a very significant day for Ashtabula County, RTS Companies and Austinburg Township,” Mayernick said in introducing company president Graham C. Lobban and his associates.

Mayernick praised the help given by Ashtabula County commissioners, Ohio Department of Development, and other state and federal officials recently in closing the deal. Lobban said the actual ownership papers were signed June 2.

As the plant was closing last year, fewer than a dozen workers had jobs. Today, the production staff is nearing 30.

Lobban said the company plans to build a large addition before Jan. 1, 2009, which will greatly increase space for making the rotationally molded plastic products plus add at least 25 more jobs at the plant.

Plant general manager Vicki Cegliastro said the company immediately plans to hire four more production workers. Visitors, including dozens of state, county, local officials, along with suppliers, invited to the opening were able to view samples of RTS products. Some are made at the Ontario facility.

Custom molded products are sold to retail stores like the Winn Dixie supermarket chain for grocery cart seats. The company also produces playground equipment, industrial tanks for fluid storage and a number of specialty items used in residential and commercial buildings.

RTS Companies Inc. began in 1872 as a manufacturer of high quality wooden stave barrels for storing and shipping whisky and dry goods. It evolved over the years into a specialty molded plastic products manufacturer.

Before cutting a bright red ribbon with other company officials from Canada, Lobban said: “We’ve met a lot of great people here. We thank our employees in particular for sticking with us.”

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