In the few months since Schnitzer Southeast bought Macon Iron, there have been a lot of changes.
Some you can see. The new state-of-the-art dual truck scale is perhaps the showcase of the major capital improvements. Company officials would not put a price tag on the investments, only that they were in the “multimillion-dollar” range.
Some of the changes you can’t see. Better pay, better benefits and the chance to climb the company ladder all come with working for a larger employer.
“They offer a lot better benefit package than we were able to,” said Schnitzer Southeast-Macon General Manager Evan Koplin, whose grandfather started Macon Iron in the downtown industrial district in 1919.
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“With the prior company, there was only so far you could go,” Koplin added. “We’ve had some employees move up to regional and even national positions. That’s pretty rewarding to see that you had hired good people.”
The cleaner look at the Lower Poplar Road scrap yard might make a returning customer do a double-take, wondering if he’s at the right place. But it’s the changes that didn’t happen that make some customers happy.
When Schnitzer bought Macon Iron in December, company officials kept Koplin and his brothers Henry and Chip around to run the place.
“It’s good to see the same people we’ve always dealt with,” said Melvin Kruger, CEO of L.E. Schwartz and Son. “That gives you a great deal of comfort.”
Kruger’s grandfather started L.E. Schwartz, an industrial roofing and sheet metal business, in 1910, and it’s been a Macon Iron customer almost the entire time since.
“We’ve valued their partnership all those years,” Kruger said of the Koplins. “They’re also great citizens, We wouldn’t want to lose them in this community.”
Schnitzer Steel Industries is one the nation’s largest manufacturers and exporters of recycled ferrous metal products, with 57 facilities in 14 states, Puerto Rico and western Canada. The company acquired Macon Iron to strengthen its Southeast operations, officials said.
Macon Iron’s two facilities -- it also operated on Seventh Street -- were ideal to give the company a Middle Georgia presence. Schnitzer has operations in Alabama, Tennessee, Albany and Columbus, as well as several in north Georgia.
“Schnitzer saw Macon as a big opportunity geographically,” Evan Koplin said.
At a recent grand re-opening ceremony in Macon, Schnitzer Southeast, a division of Schnitzer Steel, also celebrated being named Scrap Company of the Year by American Metal Market, a trade magazine and news organization.
“The biggest difference, I think, is an even bigger commitment to safety that what we did have,” said Evan Koplin.
At the 26-acre Lower Poplar location, heavy machines dug claws into heaps of scrap metal and old cars, scrunching and stacking them into towering piles. In a corner of the yard, workers sorted objects in a material recovery facility.
Nearby, a shop building to repair and maintain trucks and equipment was under construction.
A steady flow of trucks loaded with scrap drove onto the new dual scales, which are equipped with radiation detectors. Anything registering at NORM levels -- natural occurring radiation materials -- or higher is subject to rejection.
The steel mills don’t want it.
“It’s a quality control issue for them,” said Chip Koplin, governmental and public affairs manager for Schnitzer Southeast.
Inside the new scale room, workers weighed the trucks on the way in and the way out, recording the digital readings of the cargo. The weights also are also visible to the customers.
“The customers like that,” Chip Koplin said. “It gives them piece of mind. Scale accuracy is a big deal to them.”
Customers also like the shorter waits. The old single-scale set-up often created long lines.
Concrete bins with sloped floors to capture oil from old engines and other scrapped parts were installed, along with underground tanks that separate the oil from water, as part of the changes in the handling processes to reduce the company’s footprint on the local environment.
“They had a vision at this plant that I did not, that frankly none of us saw,” said Evan Koplin. “It was a very substantial investment, making sure all the oils are captured.”
That’s not to say that the environmental improvements don’t fall right in line with Macon Iron’s thinking.
The company has long been at the forefront of local recycling efforts. In 2004, when the city of Macon scaled back its recycling efforts, Macon Iron stepped its up, creating drop-off sites for plastics and metals for residents who no longer had curbside service.
“It was a good partnership,” said Chip Koplin. “The culture of our two companies were much alike as far as customer service and philosophy. It’s been a good match.”
Schnitzer in Macon buys recyclable materials from industries, local governments and individuals, then sorts, bales and cuts the products to sell to processors. The Koplins declined to say how much material the plants process each day. In a Telegraph article in 2004, Macon Iron reported it was growing and, at that time, handling about 80,000 tons each year.
Evan Koplin said his job has basically stayed the same as before the sale. Now, however, he has a larger number of knowledgeable people to bounce off ideas.
“I’ve got a great team to help me follow up on plans,” he said.
To contact writer Rodney Manley, call 744-4623.