Looking Back On 44 Years Of Printing – The Quad Graphics Atglen Saga

Quad

By Jack Mariano

The Quad Graphics Atglen printing Facility was built by Diversified Printing Corporation (DPC), a subsidiary of Parade Publications. The founding fathers of DPC selected the name, at least in part, because they envisione a facility capable of printing a diverse selection of products including Sunday magazines and commercial publications.

The Parade plant was originally located in Philadelphia near the intersection of broad and Buttonwood streets. The small facility housed only the printing presses and no paper was stored on site. Parade also operated a facility in Folcroft, Delaware County that produced the film in which they chemically etched into the printing cylinders and then, transported  these large, heavy cylinders  to the downtown plant. Logistics was a nightmare. Rolls of paper were stored in various warehouses throughout the city and quite often these rolls were brought in late and with weather damage. Stories have been told about people walking into the building’s’ doors from the street begging for money from the employees as they worker their jobs.

In 1969, after looking at sites in South Jersey and Delaware, DPC purchased 42 acres of property where the plant now sits. Construction on the original building started in 1969 and the building was completed by September 1970. The location of the railroad with the freight lines and the twenty four in water main that ran parallel to it made the location a prime site.

According to the company’s web site profile: “The first Parade magazines rolled off the press in January 1971. Soon after, the company started to print a similar Sunday weekly newspaper magazine called Family Weekly. The Atglen plant continued as DPC until 1987 when Maxwell Communications Corp. acquired the DPC Plants (which by this time consisted or a sister plant in Dickson, Tennessee and a pre-press imaging shop in King Of Prussia. PA). Quebecor Printing acquired the Atglen facility in February, 1990. In 199, Quebecor Printing merged with World Color Press and became Quebecor World. The company re-branded as Worldcolor in September, 2009. The plant was acquired by Quad/Graphics in July, 2010.”

The former Worldcolor plants were known as “legacy” plants and Quad/Graphics soon began a step by step closure of these acquired “non-profitable” plants, shifting the work to the larger, more modern, “cost efficient locations”.

According to a display commemorating its twenty-fifth anniversary, the total cost of the original plant including the land, the building, presses. Prepress and support areas was $14 million which was less than the cost of buying and installing a single rotogravure press in 1995.

The very first employee to be hired at the Atglen plant was Mary Louise Henry, who started on May 18, 1970. The first group of sixty-two employees, many of whom had never seen a printing press was hired in October 1970. The majority of those employees were interviewed in temporary offices set up at the old Fireside Inn (now Beale Manor.)

In 1985, The Gannet Corporation owners of USA Today, acquired Family Weekly Magazine. The first issue of USA Weekend was printed on Atglen’s Press 4 on August 18, 1985. As has been the case with the majority of the Sunday newspaper insert magazines, USA Weekend ceased to exist during the first decade of the 2000s.

The front office area which at the time was the corporate headquarters for DPC was constructed and ready for occupancy by the end of 1982. Also in 1982, the DPC fire brigade was formed to respond to fire, medical and rescue emergencies within the plant. The brigade was established with Parkesburg fire chief Dick Klingler as the Chief of the brigade along with Jack Mariano, as Assistant Chief.

The 1990’5 saw some big changes in the Atglen plant ushered in by the “new” parent company, Quebecor. A large addition to the building housed a new rotogravure press room along with a new pre-press cylinder line and storage rack. Much needed paper warehouse space was added to accommodate the new customers the corporation was introducing. A brand new, fully automated wide web rotogravure press built by the Cerutti Corp of Italy was installed along with state of the art prepress support system. The 90’s culminated in 1998 with the installation of two, 72 inch Goss 700E offset presses with state of the art related support equipment. Offset printing was a new venture for the Atglen employees. This typ of printing uses flat plates rather than cylinders. Ink is transferred from the plate onto a blanket and then transferred to the paper web. This transfer of ink from the plate is based on the repulsion of ink versus water. Offset printing is much less expensive to operate than gravure printing and is more suitable for “short run” printing jobs. A few of the major retailers that Atglen has printed are CVS, Kohl’s, Office Depot and H.H. Gregg.

The year 2000 ushered in a new era for the employees of Atglen however  the type of printing done in this plant was beginning to dwindle. By 2008, Quebecor had merged with World Color Printing and closed several plants including one in Memphis, Tennessee. One of their huge, 132” KBA presses was disassembled and relocated in the Atglen plant giving the facility the widest gravure press in the eastern half of the country. Although the industry as a whole was beginning to fall on hard times, things looked very well for the Atglen plant.

Quad/Graphics, the second largest printer in the US, next to Donnelly Printing acquired the (now) Worldcolor “legacy” plants in 2010. The Wisconsin based printer with several mega plants in that state along with one in West Virginia, set out to change the culture in the printing industry instilling values that seemed to be very family oriented as stated by it’s founder Harry V. Quadracci. Even though Quad/Graphics attempted to instill their work practices into plants like Atglen, these efforts weren’t enough to offset a lagging economy in the printing world. In late 2015, the company continued its “trim down of plants” by closing plants in Augusta Georgia and East Greenville, PA.

A recent article published in Printing Impressions Magazine revealed: According to Quad/Graphics Spokesperson Nicole Mosca, the decision to close was motivated in part by ongoing challenges in the economy that have negatively impacted retail advertising insert volumes and overall capacity in the printing industry.

“The plant closure is a strategic business decision we’ve made to eliminate excess capacity by consolidating work into plants where we believe we can achieve the greatest manufacturing and distribution efficiencies,” Mosca said. “Our goal is to create the strongest, most competitive retail platform to continue serving our clients well into the future.”

The last 15 months have been particularly tough on the Atglen plant. Last March 20, employee Raymond Bermudez was crushed to death by a load of paper inside of a clogged baler. Bermudez, 44, was fatally struck after he cleared the clog, which triggered a mound of incoming paper to fall atop him. He was taken to a local hospital in cardiac arrest and was later pronounced dead.

In November of 2014, a fire struck the facility on the 4000 block of Lower Valley Road. Employees were evacuated and a local fire department quickly extinguished the flames. There were no injuries.

According to officials in the Octorara School District, the property the 455,000 square foot facility sits on is assessed at around 6.5 million and has a $239,000 annual school tax payment keeping it inside the top five tax payers in the small district.

Most of the work that was produced locally is being transferred to larger plants in West Virginia and Wisconsin.

The final product printed at the Atglen plant, a Macy’s insert rolled off the press on March 4th.

 

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