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Vacant for 18 years, Napoleon’s former Walmart building on Oakwood Avenue is expected to be the scene of much activity in coming weeks as a Defiance firm plans to use it to make facial masks. An official from the company, Axis LED Group, said 400 or more workers may be employed there by year’s end.

NAPOLEON — If things go as planned, a new manufacturer here could be employing several hundred workers by year’s end.

At least that’s the hope of Axis LED Group (ALG), which plans to lease or buy the old Walmart building on Napoleon’s Oakwood Avenue — vacant for 18 years — move in dozens of new machines before summer’s end and begin making several types of facial masks.

”There’s a considerable amount of work that needs to be done in the facility, so it’s just going to depend on how fast that work can get done,” said Todd Yunker, ALG’s marketing manager, who hails from Swanton.

ALG, which is primarily owned by Defiance High School graduate Adam Harmon, already has a facility at 2106 Baltimore Road. But it has a much different purpose, manufacturing LED lights that are sent all over the country.

However, according to Yunker, ALG saw an opportunity to fill a need generally in the mask-making industry, not just due to the coronavirus situation.

“It’s not for the coronavirus — it’s going to help with that — but we want to succeed long after this coronavirus is over,” he said. “We want to still be standing because the bigger, greater problem to us is we found that this country lacks a sufficient amount of personal protective equipment that’s made here in the United States for just daily hospital life. And so that’s really what we want to do, so we’re making everything to that standard, not the face coverings quality. We’re FDA- and NIOSH-approved.”

Yunker explained in a recent interview with The Crescent-News that ALG will produce four kinds of masks — disposable, cupped, foldable N95 and N95 masks with a valve. Later, the company hopes to expand into nitrile gloves used for medical and protective purposes, perhaps in 12 months time.

“That’s the goal,” he said. “We might move it up or down based on what we can do, but nitrile gloves right now — you can’t get them. We have companies coming to us wanting millions of gloves at a time, and they’re just not there right now.”

Company officials are busily engaged on a variety of fronts — from lining up markets to negotiating the Napoleon property’s acquisition and securing 60 new machines that will be used to make the masks. The investment in the site will be in the “millions” of dollars, according to Yunker.

The company’s initial plan is to establish a first shift with 150-175 employees in a variety of jobs, including manufacturing, warehousing, sales and human resources. Yunker believes the company can get to 400 or more jobs by years end if it can find enough people to fill them.

Hiring has not yet begun, but applicants will be able to apply online in the near future.

“... as soon as we can secure the facility and secure some dates, I foresee us doing some hiring, some job fairs and those types of things to do some mass hiring all at once,” Yunker said. “Probably in the next two to three weeks we’ll actually be able to start taking applications.”

Products may be shipped globally eventually, but ALG’s initial priority is the United States market, he noted.

“We really feel like that United States is our number one priority,” Yunker said. “We do see a time that there’s no reason why we can’t ship all over the world and be competitive all over the world. But right now meeting the demand of the United States is our number one goal.”

ALG is encouraged by the interest already shown in its prospective products, according to Yunker, so company officials see this as an exciting opportunity.

“It’s very exciting for us,” he said. “I think it’s exciting for the people of northwest Ohio because we kind of have a national problem we’re dealing with at our local level. But it is a lot of work going on. Everybody wears all hats. We say to everybody who comes on board that no matter what they’re doing everybody does everything right now because that’s what’s needed to get the job done.”

Napoleon was chosen primarily because the company found a large empty building (70,000 square feet). Such facilities are in short supply for manufacturing and warehousing, according to Yunker and local officials. ”The driver was availability of space,” said Yunker. “... And we knew we wanted to be in northwest Ohio. We love northwest Ohio. We love the work ethic that’s there in northwest Ohio, but it became who has the best space available?”

All the while, added Yunker, the company had to “pivot this fast and move. That’s really what it was. We worked with Sam Switzer on the realty side, and he was able to find us a facility. We’ve talked to a couple different places — people in Defiance and Napoleon — and this was kind of the one that we zeroed in on ... .”

On the front page: Vacant for 18 years, Napoleon’s former Walmart building on Oakwood Avenue is expected to be the scene of much activity in coming weeks as a Defiance firm plans to use it to make facial masks. An official from the company, Axis LED Group, said 400 or more workers may be employed there by year’s end.

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