October 6, 2011

Hercules Plant Marks 100 Years

Homer Wilson has lived in city commissioner, mayor and Brunswick for decades, worked in several city departments and served as mayor for two terms in the 1990s.

Now owned by a Canadian investment firm and known as Pinova, the former Hercules plant in Brunswick continues to extract resins from tree stumps for use in drinks, chewing gums and adhesives.

In all his years, Wilson says he has never seen any company have a greater impact on his hometown than what had long been known as Hercules, and now is Pinova.

"No company in the history of our fine city has ever contributed as much to the welfare of our citizens than Hercules," Wilson said. "They provided employment and a high quality of life for our people."

In addition to having been a city commissioner, mayor and city manager, Wilson is among the thousands of men and women who have been employed by the Hercules specialty resin chemicals company.

In 1940, as a 20-year-old, Wilson went to the Hercules staffing lot and waited in line with dozens of other would-be workers seek- ing employment.

"I'll never forget it," Wilson said. "I was standing there, and the manager walked by me, and stopped. He looked at me and said, 'I'll take you,' and that was that. I had a job."

Jobs at Hercules – and now Pinova – have been part of the Brunswick economy for 100 years. Saturday, the successor company and Hercules retirees will observe that milestone of industrial manufacturing at the plant on L Street at U.S. 17.

"It was an outstanding place, one of the best jobs I ever had," Wilson said. "Our supervisors, managers, they all took care of us; that took care of the community."

Glynn County Commissioner Clyde Taylor agrees, being a Brunswick native and a friend of many former managers at the plant that extracts resins from tree stumps to manufacture ingredients for consumer products such as chewing gums, soft drinks and adhesives.

Being chosen to be plant manger at Hercules wasn't simply a job. It was an honor that came with a host of responsibilities and points of pride, Taylor said.

Taking on a nostalgic tone, he recalls family dinners and weekend fishing trips with former managers.

"Being a plant manager was a heralded position in the community," Taylor said. "You had a company house, you had a large plant to operate, and you were operating one of the biggest employee banks in the county. And I can tell you, everyone who held that job that I knew, they all took those responsibilities very seriously. They really cared about that job."

At its height, Hercules employed more than 600 workers, providing jobs, salaries and opportunities for seaside families. Since beginning operations in October 1911, the plant has helped mold the character of the city, Taylor said.

At times, prior to installation of modern pollution controls and manufacturing equipment, that character was also part of the air. But to workers and shopkeepers who relied on them, that distinctive smell of Brunswick was the smell of money.

The attention Brunswick paid to Hercules, as one of only a few sources of manufacturing jobs, has continued with its sale to the Canadian investment firm TorQuest Partners and continued operation as Pinova.

With the new ownership in place since 2009, Taylor and County Commission Chairman Tom Sublett agree that the industry and its 240 workers remain an important piece in the community's overall landscape.

Even though the Glynn County and Brunswick economies rely heavily on tourism, industrial production is a significant sector. "We are blessed to have a diverse economy in our area, and Hercules certainly plays a large role in that," Sublett said.

"Hercules has been here for 100 years, and along the way has adapted and modernized to continue its economic impact on the area. Hopefully, in coming years, that trend will continue and the plant will remain as strong a community partner as ever."

It will, said Patrick Grozier, vice president of Pinova.

"I consider the employees to be my neighbors, this whole community is my neighbor," said Grozier, a 25-year resident.

"We are celebrating 100 years here and we are looking forward to continuing to not only supplying employment for residents, but also giving back to our community. However much people appreciate us being here, we appreciate those people even more."