By Sue Moore
Chris Hayward of Schoolcraft got his start in manufacturing just after high school in Vicksburg by stacking bags of perlite at Harborlite in 1987. Imerys acquired Harborlite Corporation in 2005, and the company has now been renamed Imerys Perlite USA, Inc.
Hayward has now moved up the chain of command to become U.S. Perlite Operations Manager of North America Filtration Minerals.
Other long-time employees are Peg Parsons, Mike Crouch, and Troy Cantwell, who have been with the company since 1975, 1987, and 1989, respectively. This longevity, speaks well for the company that has transitioned from ownership by the Blunt family to Imerys International, based in Paris, France.
Robert Blunt, Sr., founder of the company, saw the potential of a perlite based filter aid in 1948, when he was Grefco Minerals sales manager. He felt that the perlite mineral would make a terrific filtration aid, but the management didn’t see it that way, so he went out on his own, forming Harborlite Corporation in 1951.
Blunt purchased a perlite mine in Arizona in 1959 to have control of the product from end to end. His sons, Robert Jr., Bill and Dave, joined sometime thereafter, charged with opening a plant in Vicksburg, Michigan, in 1969 to be near the Upjohn Corporation, which became a steady customer. In 1992, World Minerals bought out the family interests, but Bill and Dave stayed on to run the corporation until 1997.
Meanwhile, Hayward had been transferred to World Minerals Headquarters in Santa Barbara, CA working as a technical services manager, but his wife wanted to come back to this area, where she has deep roots.
All this time, Hayward had been working his way through college, first KVCC then WMU, finally obtaining a BA in business in 2004.
He had left Harborlite to return to Michigan but got a phone call in 2005 from the new owners, Imerys, asking him to return as Vicksburg plant manager and U.S. operations manager, his dream job. He oversees eight plants in the U.S. and travels about two weeks out of each month.
The Vicksburg location is one of eight operations in the U.S. focused on mining and minerals. The plants are located close to each one’s customer base, with the actual mine for perlite in Superior, Arizona.
Imerys is the largest industrial mining company in the world supplying mineral derived products to all kinds of industries, including but not limited to paint, inks, construction products, plastics, sealants and adhesives, lawn care and landscaping, health and beauty and nutrition products. It had revenues of $5.1 billion in 2013, with 15,800 employees.
The perlite that is processed in Vicksburg is largely used as a filtration media used in industrial enzymes, pharmaceutical fermentation broths, vegetable oils, fruit juices, corn sweeteners, beet sugar, alginates, waste and pool water, and inorganic chemicals.
There are nine employees in the local plant who know the business of expanding, sizing, and grinding the perlite to meet the performance requirements of the various industries. They can ship an order the same day or at least within one week, which allows them to stay ahead of their competitors who might need months to do the same, Hayward says.