That familiar orange and white paper bag filled with your favorite Whataburger sandwich and sides has Texas roots as deep as the hamburger chain itself; it was manufactured in Brownsville. The same goes for bags bearing the logos of Dairy Queen, Chick-Fil-A, Wendy’s, Popeye’s and Laredo Taco Company at neighborhood Stripes stores, to name just a few.
Duro Bag, the only non-marine manufacturer at the Port of Brownsville, is also one of the oldest. A port tenant sinoe 1967, Duro Bag was owned and operated by the Shor family until 2014 when the company was acquired by Novolex, a privately held U.S.-based company that produces plastic, paper and film products at plants spread across North America and Europe.
“In Brownsville we produce bags for all the big names in the food industry,” plant manager Frank Fernandez said. “These are our biggest customers.” Duro Bag also manufactures a variety of bags for retail use including plain brown paper bags in an assortment of sizes, from grocery bags all the way down to the little bags you might find at a hardware store when purchasing a handful of nuts and bolts. They also make specialty bags for loaves of bread or a bottle of wine.
While Duro Bag has a long history at the port, Fernandez said he was hired by Novolex in 2015 to “turn the plant around” by increasing efficiency and production volume. He has overseen a $1.1-million capital improvements program over the last three years to upgrade the plant and add new machinery. Another $500,000 is expected to be invested in operational improvements this year.
Duro Bag currently has 106 employees and pays out $2.9 million in wages and taxes each year. Fernandez, a Peruvian native who grew up mostly in Brazil, said he is leading change to improve benchmarks for worker health and safety, environmental standards, production and on-time delivery. Since 2015 the Brownsville operation has seen an 80-percent reduction in employee safety incidents, a 59-percent decline in quality compliance complaints, and on-time delivery today stands at 96 percent.
“Most of what we run is recycled paper so what we do is environmentally friendly,” he said, noting that the company buys paper from companies in Mexico and the United States. The plant receives an average of 25 truckloads of paper each week and one railcar delivery every other week. Duro Bag also recycles 100 percent of the paper waste from the production process.
A 205,000-square-foot production facility houses the bag-making machines that are essentially printing presses that can print logos as well as cut, fold and glue the bag into its final form before bundling them for shipment. With a capacity to produce eight million bags or more in a day, Duro Bag is projecting to churn out 2.2 billion bags this year. Though the end of June, the company was on track to meet that goal with 1.1 billion bags out the door.
“We are a high volume, low margin business,” Fernandez said. “We are very proud of our operation and we are growing and that’s why we are trying to hire more people.” With the addition of new machines, the plant is in a position to increase daily volume to around 12 million bags, if the company can recruit the talent it needs. With 12 job openings available in July, Fernandez sang a familiar refrain among businesses when it comes to hiring. “There is a great need for people with skills. Finding skilled labor for us is a huge challenge. We are looking for good people right now.”
Fernandez said wages have increased during his watch, and he is proud of the fact that all employees get the same benefits. “Because we are a non-union shop, everybody gets the same benefits as we do as managers.” Benefits packages include health insurance and merit-based bonuses.
Duro Bag also operates a maquiladora in the South Texas border region, with a production facility in Rio Bravo, Mexico and a distribution warehouse in McAllen. That branch of the company produces larger specialty bags, some with handles, for big retailers like Macy’s. “These are big customers of ours – huge,” Fernandez said. “They all buy from us.”