It’s a reality in the utility business: Birds like to sit on poles, insulators, switches and fuse boxes, and while they’re sitting, they’re usually pooping.
It’s no joke.
Birds, squirrels and other wildlife often cause serious damage to equipment and lead to higher costs for electric and telecommunications companies, according to industry experts.
“Feces can destroy the wood in utility poles from the inside out,” said John Sova, operations manager for Custom Coating Innovations.
The Lebanon-based company makes “wildlife mitigation covers” out of plastisol — a heavy-duty plastic-like material — to help protect utility equipment. It ships them all over the United States.
Now the company is moving to Belleville.
CCI recently bought the former Belleville News-Democrat printing plant at 11 Premier Drive, off Mascoutah Avenue, for about $680,000. It’s converting the 35,000-square-foot complex into a new factory and headquarters.
“Our ultimate goal is to have a 24-hour, five-day-a-week manufacturing operation,” Sova said.
$1.5 million investment
Belleville City Council entered into a development agreement with CCI on Aug. 16. The city will provide $75,000 in tax-increment-financing funds in two installments as an economic incentive.
In exchange, CCI agreed to invest $1.5 million by buying and remodeling the complex on Premier Drive between now and May 1, 2022; retain its 14 current employees and add at least two full-time positions during its first year of operation and two more during its second year.
“Custom Coating Innovations, Inc. and any heirs and/or successors shall remain and operate at the site for no less than five (5) years,” the agreement states.
CCI closed on the property sale Aug. 19.
Since that time, Sova has been cleaning and otherwise prepping the complex with help from Comco Products consultant Matt Hancock, who specializes in contract manufacturing and supply. Both formerly worked in the plastics division at The ROHO Group in Belleville.
CCI’s business has increased dramatically in recent years and caused it to outgrow its current 15,000-square-foot headquarters off Commerce Drive in Lebanon, according to Sova.
“The reason we wanted to locate here in Belleville is that this is a strategic location that’s close to our material suppliers,” Hancock said.
CCI is known for being one of the first companies to produce utility equipment covers in a florescent-orange color — in addition to gray and black — to keep helicopters from hitting utility poles.
The company also has developed a “ZEROflame” technology that causes plastisol to melt instead of burn. That has attracted the attention of utility companies in California and other states where wildfires have torched millions of acres in recent years.
“That’s a big reason (CCI’s) business is exploding,” Hancock said. “A lot of their products are going out West.”
Industrial park location
The concrete-block complex on Premier Drive is part of Belle Valley Industrial Park, between Belleville Mechanical offices and a Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 101 training facility.
The BND built the complex in 1983 to house its print and packaging operations. It moved them to The Kansas City Star, a sister publication, three years ago while continuing to use the former printing plant as a transportation and distribution hub.
“Today, the newspaper is printed in Peoria and trucked back to St. Clair County for delivery to local customers,” said Jeffry Couch, editor and general manager. “The BND’s transportation and distribution operations recently were moved to a leased site in O’Fallon.”
The Behrman family founded the industrial park in the late 1970s, according to Wayne Barber, who has been selling its lots for about 20 years. He co-owns BarberMurphy, a commercial real-estate brokerage in Shiloh.
The industrial park has expanded over the years and now covers more than 200 acres. Barber estimates that it’s home to 30 businesses.
“We had about 30 lots, and we sold all of them over the course of time,” Barber said. “Currently, what we have available is an undeveloped area in Phase 3, which consists of 124 acres.
“In Phase 2, there was a joint effort with the city to build roads and streets. Phase 3 doesn’t have roads or utilities, but utilities go up to the property.”
Christian school neighbor
The industrial park is just southeast of the former Belle Valley School South on Mascoutah Avenue. District 119 vacated that building in 2012 and moved students to a new campus.
An organization known as Korea International Christian School English Corp. bought the building and about 20 acres in 2018. It launched a major renovation project last year.
Belleville Christian School opened on Aug. 23 with 21 students, four teachers and four staff members, according to the Rev. John Chung, who serves as director.
“I almost cried,” he said. “That’s the moment that I’ve been waiting for since I came here last year on Jan. 5.”
Sova and Hancock hope to complete the Custom Coating Innovations move to Belleville by the end of the year.
Manufacturing of its utility equipment covers will take place in a room that used to house the BND’s massive printing press. It measures 110 by 40 feet with a 34-foot-high ceiling.
The company plans to install a machine shop so it can reach its goal of producing dip-molded samples in two weeks when customers request custom covers. It also will bring in a chipper to allow chipping and reuse of some materials for environmental purposes.
“One thing I want to emphasize is that we are proud that our products are made in the U.S.A.,” Sova said.