One of the great things about economic development work is the opportunity to meet and interact with so many professionals, learn about them and from them, and get familiar with the organizations they lead or serve. Most of these professionals come from the business community, of course, but they also hail from government, education, law and law enforcement, health care, the arts, and other community sectors. Good economic development requires the whole of community involvement and not just a focus on or from business.
That being written, I and my colleagues with the Lake Wales Area Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Council are pleased to take every available opportunity to tell others how firm the business foundation really is here and how well it can be built upon. Helping to form that foundation are many long-term and well-established companies, including one of the EDC’s nearly 20 very generous and involved investor-partners, Chemical Containers, Inc. (CCI).
I’ve really enjoyed my education about CCI through conversations with company founder John Motis (an EDC board member), Todd Motis, and others on the management team, and through visits to company headquarters on ABC Road, just south of Lake Wales and just west of U.S. Highway 27. Very early on, I learned two key things about CCI: One, the company ownership, the Motis family, is a really great family that treats employees like family, and, two, don’t get tripped up by the business name, Chemical Containers. This company is about much more than containers.
John Motis started CCI, principally an agricultural services company, in Lake Wales in 1983. John was introduced to agriculture at an early age in Nebraska, where he grew up. After moving to Lake Wales, he hooked up with Petersen Industries here and built quite the resumé, moving from welder on the company’s citrus-loading equipment, to foreman, to office-based and traveling salesman, and, eventually, to company vice president.
In the early 1980s, John saw a great need by a struggling Florida citrus industry for a new technology called microjet irrigation — to more accurately and efficiently deliver water, nutrients, and other chemicals to young citrus trees. He greatly helped to meet that need through the launch of Chemical Containers, the supply of microjet products and related services, and innovation with irrigation technologies.
Launched by the right man at the right time, when freezes and other serious problems were ravaging the Florida citrus industry, Chemical Containers was a success from the start.
In the past 34 years, the company has grown greatly in products, resources, technologies, services, and expertise to touch — in positive ways — many other agricultural sectors, expanding well beyond its original primary focus on Florida citrus. Its team has grown, too — from John and just a few managers and workers to now approximately 110 employees.
As I learned very early on in conversations with John Motis and others with the company, Chemical Containers, Inc. isn’t really about manufacturing containers that store, supply, and dispense chemicals. Instead, it’s centered around the “poly” (polyethylene) plastic tanks that other companies manufacture and all the parts that go with the tanks to make them more useful and efficient in agriculture and other industries.
Folks unfamiliar with the company likely will be interested to know that it supplies tanks and accessories of all kinds, it builds pumps, it does custom builds on pumps and other tank components, and it does a lot of equipment repairs. It has its own welding, electronics, and painting operations, and it repairs and builds electronic panels and electronically controlled sprayers, many of which are mounted to tractors and trucks.
CCI’s headquarters on ABC Road includes 64,000 square feet of manufacturing and warehousing space. The warehouse carries a large and wide variety of parts — more than 16,000 parts, in fact. One gets the sense that the parts team prides itself having the parts customers need when they need them, and that the fabrication team can build a part that’s not available or needed for a new or special purpose.
All departments combined, there’s a lot of flexibility at CCI, and company management wouldn’t have it any other way. John Motis has shared with me that one of the key philosophies at Chemical Containers goes something like this: “If you can dream it, we can build it.” Among the company’s values is working as a team to carry out day-to-day responsibilities and, importantly, develop innovative solutions for its customers and clients.
Through its headquarters in Lake Wales and five satellite parts stores (three in Florida and two in Georgia), CCI serves a wide range of customers, from private individuals to public and private companies and government agencies.
I’ve learned that the company has built quite the excellent reputation for high-quality custom work on chemical sprayers for agriculture. John says that specific sprayer designs and technologies for application in one agricultural sector, such as blueberry production, often can be retrofitted for another sector, like strawberries. The CCI team understands well the high expense of agricultural production, the benefits of good conservation practices, and the need to integrate high efficiencies into all of the systems and controls it provides for its customers. Developing better-targeted applicators, sprayers that put chemical agents precisely where they need to go to be most effective and most cost efficient, is always a challenge but always a goal for Chemical Containers.
One of the most interesting — and surprising — things I’ve learned about CCI is that, in addition to its deep involvement in agriculture, it has a foothold in the de-icing sector up north. With development having been done right here in Central Florida, the company offers systems of tanks, controls, and sprayers that apply a solution of liquid brine to iced roads. The brine solution can be applied more precisely than salt for de-icing purposes and be less messy, easier on vehicle metals, and more environmentally friendly than salt.
John Motis and family have built something quite special in Chemical Containers, Inc., and they’ve done it right here in greater Lake Wales. We at the Lake Wales Chamber-EDC admire them for that. We also appreciate the company’s almost-four-year-old partnership with the EDC — a partnership that John shares is based on his desire for a better economic climate for business and business development locally and an improved quality of life for everyone.