Chattanooga's Southern Champion Tray named top company

Chattanooga's Southern Champion Tray named top company

April 24th, 2014 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

Southern Champion Tray general manager Brian Hunt, right, holds the award for company of the year as the president and CEO John Zeiser, left, speaks Wednesday during the Chattanooga Regional Manufacturers Association's annual Manufacturing Excellence Awards Luncheon at the Chattanooga Convention Center.

Photo by Doug Strickland/Times Free Press.

CRMA WINNERS

* Company of the Year - Southern Champion Tray

* Safety Manufacturers Excellence Award - Siskin Steel & Supply

* Energy Manufacturers Excellence Award - EPBw

For its customers, Southern Champion Tray officials say the Chattanooga company tries to be "easy to love and hard to leave."

"It's a culture built around service and caring for each person," said John Zeiser, president of the business that on Wednesday was named the Chattanooga Regional Manufacturers Association's company of the year. "It's about giving each person a chance to make a difference and put their God-given abilities to work."

SCT, headquartered off Compress Street in the North Shore, manufactures paperboard packaging and employs 550 people, including about 450 in Chattanooga.

The 87-year-old company has over 400 bakery and food service packaging items in stock. In addition to packaging, its products include sleeves, inserts, blister cards and point of purchase displays.

A third generation family-owned business, it also serves the supermarket, medical, pharmaceutical, automotive and textile industries among others.

Brian Hunt, the company's general manager, said that a couple of years ago officials targeted the food service business, which has helped SCT boost its business and add more than 20 employees last year.

"Part of our market was declining or flat," he said. "We opened up the quick-service business or casual-dining business that we hadn't been accustomed to serving."

That move along with increases in other existing business sectors has helped spur growth, pushing annual revenues above $100 million, said Zeiser. He projected revenues will climb by more than 10 percent in 2014.

In addition, SCT expects to expand its building footprint this year as it continues to reinvest, Zeiser said.

"It's been an 80-year-plus practice of investing the vast majority of profits into the company," he said.

Hunt said capital investment in 2013 was one of the largest in SCT's history, and 2014 is expected to top last year.

"This is a credit to employees," he said, nothing that workers are averaging 20 percent overtime work.

Paul Kuchuris, president of the Association for Manufacturing Excellence, said at the CRMA's awards luncheon that manufacturing remains a cornerstone of the U.S. economy.

"America needs a strong manufacturing sector," he said.

Kurchuris said that for every $1 spent on manufacturing, $1.48 is added to the economy.

"It gives back more than any other element of the economy," he said.

But Kurchuris said manufacturing faces four key challenges -- operational efficiency, workforce, the perception that it's low pay, and government regulation.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.