CEDAR RAPIDS — Evergreen Packaging Equipment long has been a fixture on the Cedar Rapids manufacturing scene.
The company, marking its 140th anniversary this year, got its start when two entrepreneurs — John Cherry and David Burrell — were looking for ways to keep milk fresh and from turning to butter on the way to consumers in the 1880s.
They likely didn’t imagine that gable-top filling machines manufactured by their successor business would be operating worldwide today.
What began as the Cherry-Burrell Corp., and has had several name changes over the intervening years, is now Evergreen Packaging Equipment.
The company maintained its dairy focus through many owners — and manufactured military parts during World War II — to enhance its offerings. It began producing state-of-the-art gable top packaging equipment in the late 1960s.
“Basically our machines take a blank carton and form and builds the package to be filled with milk, juice and other liquids,” Gary Nissen said.
Nissen, who started working for Evergreen Packaging as an engineer in 1998, worked his way through several departments before taking over as general manager two years ago.
Today, Evergreen Packaging employees about 164, mostly in the Cedar Rapids area.
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Nissen said he works closely with his lead team — heads of engineering, field services, manufacturing, sales, finance and human resources — to keep the company running smoothly.
“My role is to just make sure that the wheel keeps turning, and when it does get stuck to step in and help move things along,” he said.
“I have a really good group that works for me. It’s very important as a leader to be able to have good folks that work for you and can make decisions and then allow them to make those decisions.”
Nissen said he also enjoys working with their customers around the world.
“We sell equipment all over the world,” he said. “We have installed machines in about 50 countries.”
Evergreen also operates a manufacturing facility in Shanghai.
“I manage that division as well so I get a lot of exposure to a variety of customers, and it’s something I really enjoy,” he added.
Evergreen “started off with a very basic simple, slow machine. And now over the years we’ve migrated into high-speed, high-hygiene filling equipment that can achieve a 90-day shelf life” Nissen explained.
“It’s been a very, very long, evolving process over the years.”
While some people may see the gable package as more old-fashioned, Nissen said he believes it is timelier than ever.
“We actually have paper mills that take rolls of paper and converts them to carton blanks. And then this carton blank is run through our machine, which is important especially in this day and age there is a migration back to the recyclable, eco-friendly type of packaging.
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“Ours is about 90 percent made from renewable resources and we’re working on a package that is 100 percent renewable resources. It really is exciting to part of that … producing packages that are environmental friendly and then having run across our machine.”
Plus the technology keeps improving.
“We’re adding features or making it more user friendly, more maintenance friendly. That’s what’s exciting about this job is the constant change and moving forward with the industry … that reinvestment in our business keeps us relevant with our customers.”
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At a glance
• General manager: Gary Nissen
• Company: Evergreen Packaging Equipment
• Address: 2400 Sioth St. SW, Cedar Rapids
• Phone: (319) 399-3306
• Website: evergreenpackaging.com