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Plexiglass industry booming in pandemic

Posted at 10:07 AM, Oct 02, 2020

The jarring noises and machines inside the Usheco plastics warehouse sound like home to the Schaeffer family.

“My grandfather, Bernarr Schaeffer, started the business in ’61. So, proud to be third generation,” said Alethea Shuman, who will one day take over the company for her father.

The company started with the World War II fighter pilot, and now, more than 60 years later, nearly every member of his family has worked inside these four walls.

“It’s like having your own team. There’s an extra level of trust that you just don’t get elsewhere,” said Wayne Schaeffer, Bernarr’s son and the President of Usheco.

They build all kinds of plastic devices. The company is known for air purifying planters, handicapped equipment, and laboratory supplies.

“Our business was really founded on my grandfather wanting to make health-related products,” said Shuman.

Now, this family is seeing a huge boom in some new products.

At the start of the pandemic when everything shut down, Usheco had to lay off much of their staff because business dropped by about 40 percent. However, they designed face shields and desk barriers and had to bring everyone back on and hire extra workers on just to fulfill all their orders.

“We only cut everyone’s hours for one week," said Shuman. "The following week, we were back to full-time hours for everyone."

Hundreds of thousands of face shields and plastic desk barriers in custom shapes and sizes are coming out of this factory.

While most businesses are in need of help themselves, the plastics industry is one of few seeing pandemic profits.

“Things are looking pretty good for us,” said Schaeffer. “How can you not be thrilled to be helping out and making your business grow?”

The Schaeffers say their U.S. made products are growing to a global scale.

“Our pricing is similar to China now,” said Wayne.

“We’re seeing new quotes coming in for things that are typically done overseas and were grateful to be able to help with that,” said Shuman.

Shuman said by the time she takes over the business, she hopes the products keeping her grandfather’s legacy alive are no longer in stock.

“I’m hoping we figure out a way to get past this and we’re not going to need PPE and sneeze guards, and the business coming back to the U.S. is going to support us. And from what I can see, that’s happening,” she said.

But more important than business, is carrying on a tradition.

“Over the last few months, we really have understood where our roots are and where we’re going,” she said.

Towards a future where simple, plastic products mean more than ever before.