Omaha Box Co. — which started nearly 130 years ago in a desolate trading post — is planning a move from the only home it’s ever known to a Sarpy County area hot with new industry.
Come 2020, the designer and maker of custom corrugated cartons and displays is to leave neighbors including the Omaha Correctional Center, the Open Door Mission and Eppley Airfield.
It’ll move a growing business into a $45 million headquarters being built near a corridor filling in with well-known company names such as Facebook, Amazon and Hy-Vee.
Omaha Box officials say their more efficient and larger 335,000-square-foot facility south of 150th Street and Schram Road should help meet greater demands driven by the e-commerce boom and robust Midwest manufacturing operations.
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“A new, modern facility with a new corrugator and additional finishing equipment will help us meet customer needs quickly and efficiently,” said Ron Kenkel, general manager.
He said the existing 190,000-square-foot structure at 2501 N. 21st St. East is the hodgepodge product of 14 additions since 1890, when the company launched. Low ceilings and inefficient layout can’t accommodate state-of-the-art equipment needed to maintain or exceed a growth pattern in which sales have nearly doubled in three years.
Also since 2016, when the business was bought by Minneapolis-based Liberty Diversified International, the workforce has grown from about 50 to 80, Kenkel said. He wouldn’t disclose annual revenue of the privately owned company.
Once in the new facility, the number of employees is projected to climb to 100, and reach 130 within three to five years. (All current employees will be asked to transfer; no break in business should occur.)
Kenkel said Liberty Diversified, a century-old, $675 million family of businesses with nearly 2,000 employees, brings more resources to the table. He said the ownership change coincided with rising e-commerce opportunities and customer demand for new and innovative ways to deliver goods.
“Everyone is looking at nontraditional ways of getting product to their retail stores,” Kenkel said.
Omaha Box clients include a local grocery chain, apple growers and greenhouses. Kenkel said the corrugated products serve not only “industrial businesses selling a widget, (but) anything else that can fit in a box.”
It’s a business that early on focused on the manufacturing of wood crates, chicken coops and porch milk boxes. By the early 1930s, the company added corrugated paper to its process.
Until Omaha Box sold to Liberty, it had been owned by four generations of the local Knapp family. Gary Knapp, sales manager, remains on staff, as does his son.
Greg Theis, a vice president of Liberty, said the new owners knew from the start that a new facility was needed.
Denny Sciscoe, director of industrial services for Omaha’s Cushman & Wakefield/the Lund Co., helped arrange the deal for the Sarpy County site, which beat out other contenders. He said that ground was near development-ready. It has good highway access that also has attracted newcomers to the area, including Oxbow Animal Health headquarters, a Facebook data center, a Hy-Vee warehouse and an Amazon last-mile delivery center.
“A lot of big activity over there,” Sciscoe said.
Sciscoe also is marketing Omaha Box’s existing site that he said likely would be best suited for multiple tenants.
As nostalgic as is the place where Omaha Box grew (starting from that small trading station), Gary Knapp said the new plant would accelerate growth and efficiency.
“We’re approaching Omaha Box 2.0,” Knapp said.