By THOMAS BARLAS
MILLVILLE — A French firm on Thursday unveiled $40 million worth of upgrades to its Durand Glass plant, an investment that company officials said should keep workers in much-needed manufacturing jobs for decades to come.
Officials with ARC International said the work gives Durand a third furnace, something that makes the Wade Boulevard plant more efficient and increases productivity by as much as 25 percent annually.
That increase in efficiency and productivity allows the company to develop new products and attract new customers, said Fred Dohn, chief executive officer of ARC International North America. That already has resulted in Durand adding more than 30 new employees to its 1,100-person work force, he said. The new work also means Durand employees will have job security for some time, he said.
“This is a 30-year commitment,” Dohn said.
“Good news,” Mayor Tim Shannon said.
That commitment means a lot not only to the city but to Cumberland County, which has one of the worst unemployment rates in New Jersey. For the month of April, the county had an unemployment rate of 13.2 percent, compared with 9.1 percent for the state.
U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-2nd, who attended Thursday’s announcement, said the Durand upgrade gives the county something about which to brag.
“The thing we’re all lamenting is the loss of manufacturing jobs,” LoBiondo said. “There are places in the country which would die to have this kind of announcement.”
The $40 million gives Durand something else: a new environmental system that ARC officials said makes it the cleanest-operating glass plant in the world. This is the first time that ARC employed a new technology — which removes substances such as sulfur dioxide from its emissions system — at one of its plants without first trying it in France.
Those environmental improvements will mean a lot for Durand employees and people living near the plant, said Guillaume de Fougieres, ARC International’s chief executive officer. The system can also be used to attract new customers who want to do business with companies that embrace green technology, he said.
Thursday’s announcement adds another page to the city’s long history with glass plants, something that dates to at least the 1880s. Plants once employed thousands of workers who toiled around the clock to produce all kinds of glass products. Most of those jobs were lost as the glass industry fell to competition from the plastics industry.
Durand is still a significant glass-producing operation. Company officials said the plant melts as much as 350 tons of glass a day to produce as much as 1 million pieces of glass — including beer mugs, plates, bowls, tumblers and jar candle holders — each day.
Thursday’s announcement was part of a two-day celebration of the improvements at Durand.
The event was held under a tent, with guests including officials from local, county, state, U.S. and French governments, and firms that do business with ARC. Those attending dined on salad that included figs, prosciutto and melon, and a main course of filet.
One of the companies attending was U.S. Silica, a Maryland-based firm that runs a sand plant in Maurice River Township, Cumberland County. The company provides Durand with as much as 60,000 tons of sand annually from a plant in Pennsylvania.
Robert Morrow, the company’s vice president for national accounts, said the upgrades mean that Durand will help not only the local economy but provide U.S. Silica with future business.
“We’re happy to be a supporter,” Morrow said.
There will be an event today for Durand workers and their families, company officials said.
Contact Thomas Barlas: