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Dow Corning celebrates 50th anniversary

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Company has expanded product lines and built relationships over five decades

By Marty Finley

Lee Vickery is a third-generation employee of Dow Corning, following in the footsteps of his grandmother, mother and aunt.

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Vickery, who has been employed by Dow Corning for three months, said he often is asked if he is the son of Jo Vickery, who retired roughly 12 years ago.

He grew up around the plant, accompanying Jo to work when she had to attend special projects, such as Christmas in the Park. From those experiences, he knew it was a job that could offer a competitive wage and benefits. And he had been approached by friends at the plant who wanted him to come aboard.

When Vickery walks the halls, he does not feel pangs of nostalgia, but does recognize the familial connections.

Jeff and Nancy McCoy, meanwhile, found love at Dow Corning, and the couple are building their family as the silicone company celebrates 50 years at its Elizabethtown plant.

Parents of Camden, 4, and Leia, 1 month, the couple met at the plant in the late 1990s while working the same shift in different departments. They started dating in 1999 after bonding in a large group of co-workers who spent time together once their shifts ended.

Jeff, who works in maintenance and has 16 years under his belt, said he was attracted to the company because his dad worked there and he already knew his way around, welcoming a reliable career path.

“For me, it’s a very family oriented place,” said Nancy, who has spent 17 years at the plant and works as a quality management representative. “There are several married couples, and even brothers and sisters there,” she said.

That sense of family is one of the more compelling aspects of Dow Corning, said Pat Dean, the 13th plant manager and first woman to hold the position. In addition to the local plant’s milestone, sites in Germany and South Korea are celebrating anniversaries, Dean said.

A global company, Dow Corning was founded in 1943 to “explore and develop the potential of silicones,” which are synthetic substances used in a development  of materials, such as sealants, adhesives, caulk, insulation and lubricants.

Dow Corning specializes in silicones and silicon-based technology and now offers more than 7,000 products and services, according to its official website. Dean said the company’s versatility has shown as it provides products for the military and develops applications for roads, windows and bathtubs.

“The diversity of our products created over the decades is wide, and contributes to our longstanding status as a production facility,” Dean said in a statement.” It also is significant when you think about 50 years of employees, and their families that have worked here, 50 years of computer technology and how we’ve evolved to use the technology (and) 50 years of silicone chemistry evolution and the new products brought to the site.”

In essence, Dean said, the plant offers a snapshot of Elizabethtown history.

The local plant was established in 1963, first operating in the back of the Kentucky Typewriter store on South Main Street. There was no loading dock at the time, so 55-gallon drums were transported by hand. Roughly 20 employees moved into the company’s first building off Hodgenville Road, where they learned to operate mixers, according to Dow Corning’s plant anniversary history committee. Its employees now number around 200, said Pamela Bowling, a community relations representative.

The plant added lab, warehouse and office space in 1965 and 1966.

In 1977, Dow Corning remodeled its warehouse and added exterior docks while expanding its maintenance shop and constructing a new material storage area and electrical building, according to the history committee. By the mid-1980s, computers were common inside the plant and a major upgrade of its IT infrastructure was completed in 2000.

Recently, Dow Corning deeded a portion of its property to Hardin County government for the development of a new Emergency Medical Services station.

Ed Sprague was plant manager from 1969 to 1976, serving longer than his predecessors because he told the company he wanted to avoid regular moves while his children were in school.

Sprague was part of the plant during its formative years and participated in a movement to change the multi-step batch process used to design the silicone products, which he said was plagued by multiple weaknesses because it exposed the products to air and caused degradation.

The system later developed, he said, kept everything contained and moved the products directly from production to packaging without exposure to air. Sprague also managed the plant at a time when it vastly increased the pounds of material produced without having to beef up its workforce because technology improved.

“It was a good time to be here,” he said.

Sprague said he always was proud to work for Dow Corning because it was an ethical company that strived to do the right thing while making products that are useful to the public.

The workforce at the time, he said, was divided equally between Elizabethtown residents, workers from other parts of Hardin County and those from surrounding counties. The plant was only successful, he continued, because of the local people who came in and worked hard every day.

Dow Corning is holding a private open house this weekend exclusively for past and current employees and their families, Bowling said. She started working there after she lost a job at another company through reconfiguration.

From the start, Bowling felt like she belonged because the supervisors made her feel wanted and respected.

“It may not be unique, but I think it’s special,” she said.

Dow Corning also has emerged as one of the largest local donors to United Way of Central Kentucky, which Bowling and Sprague said illustrates the giving nature of its employees. Concern for one’s community is promoted by Dow Corning’s highest executives, Bowling added.

“You can’t do it if you don’t have support from the top,” she said.

Dean said Dow Corning will remain innovative through the development of customer relationships.

“As we strengthen and grow those relationships, we remain the partner of choice when those customers need new products to meet their needs,” she said. “ … We must never stagnate in these critical building blocks of successful manufacturing.”

Nancy McCoy said those relationships make her feel part of a larger family.

“I hope it’s there for another 50 years,” she said.

Marty Finley can be reached at 270-505-1762 or mfinley@thenewsenterprise.com.