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Delmarva Corrugated plant continues growth

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The Delmarva Corrugated Packaging 497,000-square-foot plant will produce about 150 million square feet of boxes per month.PHOTO COURTESY OF DELMARVA CORRUGATED

The Delmarva Corrugated Packaging 497,000-square-foot plant will produce about 150 million square feet of boxes per month.

Dennis Miehl doesn’t mind at all if you want to put his business into a box.

“We act like a private equity company with corrugated boxes,” said the chairman of U.S. Corrugated. “We build or buy box plants, then we resell them.” 

The most-recent of Miehl’s box plants is the modern, $91 million Delmarva Corrugated Packaging plant that began operations in Dover in late 2021, and the owner says he is looking ahead to invest another $15 million in the facility in 2024.

The decision to build the Delaware plant, which is expected to employ about 120 people and produce almost 2 billion square feet of boxes annually, was a long process, Miehl said. 

“Old box factories never die, and their average age is something like 20 to 30 years,” he explained. “We had purchased an older box factory in New Jersey, but instead of trying to re-equip it, we started a site selection process to replace it.”

One of the tipping points in deciding to locate in Dover was the creation just west of Route 1 of three federal-approved Opportunity Zones geared to spur economic growth and job creation in low-income communities, Miehl said. 

“We had originally thought of building in southern New Jersey near the Burlington-Bristol Bridge, but then the opportunity zone in Dover opened up. Building there allowed us to defer taxes on property sale gains,” he noted. “The second thing was that the Dover Air Force Base sees several hundred troops retire annually, and we thought with their digital skills they would make ideal employees.”

At full production, the 497,000-square-foot plant will operate in three shifts. Its production capacity is about 150 million square feet of boxes per month or almost 2 billion square feet per year. Building that many corrugated boxes requires a lot of space as well as gigantic modern equipment, Miehl said, but the process of making a box is relatively simple. Rolls of paper come into the plant by either rail or truck, each weighing 3 tons each and measuring 8-feet high and 6 feet in diameter.

“You just tap in the dimensions of the box on a screen and when you are ready to switch from one box configuration to another, it takes only about three minutes. If a change in the printing on the box is involved, you can prepare the new printing dies while the old order is still running,” Miehl said.

The plant is capable of making 20,000 to 22,000 unassembled boxes of various sizes per hour. Robots pick up the finish boxes and put them on shipping pallets, and they leave the plant flat [unassembled] by truck. Newer box designs mean Delmarva Corrugated can use less fiber, and the boxes weigh less.

“Ninety percent of everything that is shipped from point A to point B in the U.S. is in a corrugated box,” Miehl said, noting that includes everything from agricultural produce to automotive parts. “Recruiting employees has been a big challenge, and we are six to eight months behind with that.”

The planned recruitment of ex-Dover AFB personnel has not worked out as planned, partly, he believes, because the military provides moving expenses back to where the personnel enlisted. He says a union contract is in place paying up to $30 per hour.

And Miehl remains optimistic. 

“Officials in Delaware at all levels are very easy to work with – the best state really for doing that. And we plan to continue to invest,” he said.

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