Taking Care of the Neighborhood

Plastopan Industries is helping to clean up South Central Los Angeles — and not just with the refuse containers it manufactures. Since relocating from San Francisco 10 years ago, the company has invested in the community by hiring South Central workers, working to control the pet population and reducing vandalism.

The company relocated to the formerly riot-ridden area of Los Angeles to benefit from tax breaks offered by a federal Empowerment Zone. At the time, the road was littered with boarded-up buildings and crime.

The company decided to help reduce crime by offering its building as a place for area business representatives to meet and discuss safety issues. As a result of this collaboration, the businesses are able to take part in a program in which they pay the city extra taxes in exchange for guards and road blocks that photograph the license plates of incoming traffic. Now, 18 businesses are thriving in the area, and the crime rate has dropped about 50 percent.

The company also has committed to hiring workers who live in the community. Because of this, Plastopan is paying lower wages than it might have otherwise while simultaneously giving opportunities to workers who may have been turned away for employment in other locations. Plastopan's Vice President of Sales Sofia Miller says that about half of the company's 52 workers have been with the company for the entire 10 years in Los Angeles — which she attributes to promoting from within, encouraging employees to learn and treating them like family.

“We give raises to people taking classes to further themselves,” Miller says. “If someone says they are going to buy a car, we sit down with them and tell them what to look for and about the process.” Many workers hired for manual labor jobs initially know little or no English, but many have learned the language and moved up. One such man, Julian Ramos, was hired nine years ago and now is the company's purchasing manager.

The company helps to control the area's rampant stray pet population by taking in animals and nursing them back to health so they can be adopted. Miller herself pays for the everyday care. She also stresses the importance of spaying and neutering pets to employees.

Also, English-speaking employees are encouraged to learn Spanish so they can communicate with Spanish-speakers. And because the company has German origins, “everyone is encouraged to learn German,” Miller adds. “We're a trilingual company.”