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These DeWitt-based businesses work to keep their hearts in their community

Three manufacturing plants in DeWitt ship products worldwide, but keep their heart in their community.

DEWITT, Iowa — It's a story as American as they come: a small town with hard-working people where business is booming.

The south end of DeWitt, Iowa boasts a thriving industrial park, lined with warehouses and manufacturers. News 8's Shelby Kluver was given a behind-the-scenes look at some of the businesses that keep DeWitt running and the ways in which they give back.

QCA Pools & Spas

One of DeWitt's success stories is QCA Pools and Spas, which has been in business since 1966 making spas, pools and saunas. Around 2008, the company expanded out to DeWitt, starting a manufacturing center near the town's industrial park. 

"Not only do we make them here, but we sell them nationwide. And really, internationally," company president Bob Zerull said. "It's a great location for manufacturing." 

Much like carefully controlled choreography, the warehouse's process takes about a week to form raw materials into custom made hot tubs and saunas. 

Acrylic sheets are put through giant ovens, thermally formed into hot tub shells. From there, the tubs go through the "spray department," where support is installed and holes are drilled for all the plumbing, electronics and lights, which are carefully snaked into place. 

"And then we water test them for anywhere, you know, as much as 24 hours sometimes," Zerull said.

Each tub is a week-long process, culminating in each piece getting detailed before being shipped out.

Zerull says the plant manufactures about 2,000 hot tubs annually. That number is double from the 1,000 they were producing in 2019, just three short years ago.

The DeWitt plant employs about 30 people. Zerull says QCA Pools and Spas tries to hire local, and uses local resources in and around the plant, such as hiring area Boy Scouts to do most of their landscaping.

"The stronger your community is, the strong your company is. So it's definitely important," Zerull said. "If we can go local, we'll go local. Even if it's cheaper to go overseas. We definitely like DeWitt and want to try to support the community as much as possible." 

Custom-Pak Inc.

Just a mile down the road, Custom-Pak Inc. has the same idea.

"Custom Pak has been in DeWitt since 1994. We're in our 29th year this year," said Ron Zimmer, vice president and general manager of one of the world's largest blow-molding companies. 

Inside the manufacturing center, thousands of plastic products are made and shipped out across the world. Everything from watering cans to plastic tires, or plastic jugs to the legs on your office chair can be made with a custom-built mold made right at Custom-Pak. 

"We have molds that will close together on the tubes of plastic and be able to form the parts by injecting air, and then taking up the shape of the mold," Zimmer said.

Much like cookie cutters, air is blown into tubes of hot plastic, which expand to fit the shape of the mold. The newly-created object is then dropped down to a bin, where a worker cuts away the excess plastic, checks for imperfections, and heat-treats any necessary seams. 

As hot plastic is pushed into molds, the heat needed to create these products can be anywhere from 360 to 420 degrees.

"We have over 200 manufacturing lines," Zimmer said. "And what's really unique about Custom-Pak is that most of the lines that we have were designed and built here. So we make not only the products, but the blow-molding machinery we make the blow-molded tools with." 

The Custom-Pak plant in DeWitt generates nearly $45 million in sales each year, and employs around 230 people. 

"The wellness of the community...it's a pulse and a spirit that I think reflects back into our business as well. So having a community that's thriving helps us as a business be thriving," Zimmer said.

Custom-Pak tries to hire local and places an emphasis on volunteering and philanthropy, including sponsoring the popular community summer music series, Tunes in Town, on Tuesday nights.

Over the past few years, local math and science teachers have spent the summer at Custom-Pak, helping with projects, and learning in the process.

"They take back some of the learnings that they had and make those applicable in the classroom," Zimmer said.

Black Cat Wear Parts

Just a few blocks east of Custom-Pak and QCA Pools and Spas, the crew at Black Cat Wear Parts, DeWitt manufactures road maintenance, construction and mining tools used around the world.

Particularly, think of the blades used to scrape snow off of roads. Black Cat manufactures a part that goes on the end, to better penetrate the ground and protect the larger blade from routine wear and tear. When Black Cat's cover part wears down, you can simply replace that, as opposed to the larger piece of equipment. 

"We have about 7 to 8 million pounds of steel that we would process through here every year," plant manager Josh Daniel said. "We've always been a big believer of using local resources." 

Even Daniel himself falls into that category. A graduate of the local school district, he's spent his adult life working his way up through several industries in town. At Black Cat, that meant going from a production worker all the way up to plant manager. 

Inside the facility, raw material is cut down by bandsaws before being transferred over to a mill. At the mill, holes are precisely drilled into specific locations and sizes, before being heat-treated in an oven. Each piece is then carefully quality checked by employees.

Black Cat employs approximately 60 people between their two buildings, most of them from DeWitt. 

"If you have team members that are vested in the same community that the company is vested in, right, and we want everybody to be successful and have those opportunities, it becomes a win, win, right?" Daniel said.

Around town, Black Cat Wear Parts sponsors local parades, volunteers to clean bike trails, and in the summer, area high schoolers come in to work on special projects.

"We've always been a big believer of using local resources," Daniel said. "We just want to be part of the community and we're proud of the town." 

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