Poland – 4,630 miles away – is an unexpected place for a U.S. manufacturing success story to begin. But in the small city of Wieluń is where the story of Korona Candles started in 1992.
Today, a new chapter is being written in Dublin, Virginia, at the company’s first production facility in the States.
Back in Poland, the company started the manual production of candles with a team of about 20 workers and several basic machines. It was very labor intensive, Agnieszka Fafara, the company’s president and CEO, explained.
Ignited by the desire to manufacture top-quality candles, the company invested in automation and attracted more skilled employees in the process. Korona experienced tremendous growth in its hometown, building up to 900 employees.
“We are one of the most automated, advanced candle manufacturers worldwide,” said Agnieszka, who joined the company in 1999. “Our objective is to bring a luxury into the mass market. We’ve learned how to mass produce with very high standards,” she said, resulting in quality products that are affordable for the average person.
But what made a well-established Polish company decide to take a risk by opening a manufacturing facility in the U.S.?
From Europe, they’d supplied about 20% of their production to customers in the States. Moving that production to the U.S. wouldn’t be easy – Korona had to consider the costs, finding the right location, buying equipment and hiring new employees – but the reward would be better and faster customer service.
After careful planning, Korona had some meetings with Walmart in 2012, “and suddenly we were setting up production in Virginia,” Agnieszka said. Korona had been supplying tea lights to Walmart since 2010. In fact, Agnieszka was the original salesperson on the account.
The Virginia facility opened in 2014 with 50 employees and Agnieszka at the helm. In a little more than two years, that number has nearly tripled to 155 full-time workers plus 15 or so temporary employees. The Dublin facility produces 3.5 million tea lights every day, and a large percentage of those end up on the shelves at Walmart stores.
Korona’s impact on Virginia’s Pulaski County shines a light on the benefits of bringing manufacturing jobs back to the U.S. Twenty years ago, that region was dominated by the furniture industry, then textiles. But as companies moved production overseas, factories closed, the unemployment rate skyrocketed and places like Dublin saw an increase in abandoned warehouses.
Not only has Korona infused new life into Dublin’s industrial zone, it also offers stability. “With the demand for our consumer goods, we can provide a safe and stable environment long term. Employees can stay here forever if they like it,” Agnieszka said.
When asked what the future looks like for Korona, Agnieszka was quick to say “we’re here to stay”. The company has invested $22 million in the Dublin facility with the objective of expanding it. “It will take time,” Agnieszka said, “but in a five-year perspective we can have another 50 or 100 people employed.”
And a new chapter will begin.