WASHINGTON TWP. – From the 2,000-pound rolls of Bounty paper towels stacked to the roof of its warehouse to its army of workers, everything about Procter & Gamble's sprawling Mehoopany plant seems larger than life.
The facility in Wyoming County is one of Northeastern Pennsylvania's largest employers with more than 2,200 company workers and 1,000 more contractors providing auxiliary services, and continues to provide job opportunities to close to 100 new hires a year.
In August, Procter & Gamble opened enrollment for entry-level technician roles and received well over 1,000 applicants. Plant manager William Sims said the company has culled that list to 100 qualified candidates who will be called on to replace retirees and attrition as needed in the coming year.
The company is the largest employer in Wyoming County, with around 1,000 workers and 400 contractors living in that county, but it also draws workers from surrounding counties within a one-hour radius. A significant portion of the company's workforce — about 20 percent of regular employees and contractors — live in Luzerne County.
"If people like to make stuff, want to be in the manufacturing operation, people will commute up to an hour, from what we've seen in our hiring process and people having long-term careers here," public relations manager Alex Fried said.
Part of the company's appeal to workers may lie in the salary and benefits package it offers. Entry-level manufacturing workers start at $15.75 per hour, and technician salaries are capped at $31 per hour. P&G, the world's largest maker and seller of consumer products, also offers health care benefits and 401K and profit-sharing retirement programs.
"Knowing that there are many, many retirees in the area that have been able to not only support our main goal here at the plant but also provide for their families and make impacts on the community is good," Sims said. "We like to hear the success stories of folks that are in a fortunate position because of having a long career here."
While Procter and Gamble has remained a stable presence in the region since its founding in 1966, the nature of the work employees perform has changed dramatically over the years.
The company makes diapers and paper products sold under the Bounty, Charmin, Luvs and Pampers brand names in two separate manufacturing facilities at the plant.
Packaging those products was once a much more labor-intensive process, requiring more employees to perform tasks that are now mostly automated, according to Martin De Rome, manager of the Mehoopany Baby Care plant where diapers are manufactured.
"The technology complexity of the line is much higher, and furthermore, the automation," De Rome said. "We used to have in the past a lot more people doing manual tasks; taking diapers being produced and putting them into small box like a carton, taking the carton and putting this into a big box and taping. So all these activities because of the speed have been fully automated."
But automation hasn't led to downsizing of the plant, De Rome said, because Procter & Gamble has been able to increase both its production numbers and market share.
Today's production-line employees spend their workday fine-tuning the automated production lines with computer quality-control equipment, maintaining the equipment and customizing it to make a wider variety of products.
Because of the technical nature of modern manufacturing, Sims said the company now seeks employees with two-year degrees in technology or previous manufacturing experience. The company also employs engineers to manage lines and develop new products and production equipment.
The company has also made efforts to improve its energy efficiency, carbon footprint and waste output. Natural gas extracted on the property by Citrus Energy now supplies the company with 100 percent of gas used in its production, and by next year will be supplying all of the energy the plant uses. It has also installed energy-efficient lighting, which produces savings in the millions of dollars annually when spread over the 90 acres of indoor space at the plant.
Located next to the Susquehanna River, the plant treats all of its industrial wastewater and sewage onsite before returning it to the river, and has made progress in reducing its landfill footprint.
According to De Rome, 92 percent of the solid waste produced by the plant is recycled and used in the production of other products, and only 1 percent ends up in landfills. The remainder is burned to produce power at a plant in Lancaster.
Fried said the plant is working toward becoming a zero-landfill facility.