True to Form: George Aultman of Vantage Plastics
Vantage Plastics strives to form solutions, form a sustainable future, and form better lives
Twenty-seven years ago, George Aultman and his brother Paul were approached by two brothers who owned an existing plastics business, asking the Aultman brothers if they were interested in purchasing the facility. From its humble beginnings with six employees and three machines, Standish-based Vantage Plastics has used innovation and ingenuity to grow steadily to the 260-employee, multiple-machine, and vertically integrated operation it is today.
George says his and Paul’s upbringing on the family farm in Coleman is the source of their work ethic, inventiveness and can-do attitude.
“Our father was a ‘Dow Farmer’ and served in World War II and our mother was a true ‘Rosie the Riveter,’” Aultman said. “With their guidance we were taught and ingrained with many values. Among them we learned the value and joy of teamwork in running a farm to achieve positive operational results and to overcome obstacles. We learned not only about the value of maintaining tools and equipment but also how to use ingenuity when something broke or needed to be made to work.”
That inventiveness has been ingrained into Vantage Plastics’ DNA since the beginning and represents one pillar of the company’s mission: “To form solutions, to form a sustainable future, and to form better lives.” Vantage Plastics’ first customer was General Motors, whose first order was for a twin sheet product. The company didn’t actually have the machine that was needed to make the part but through ingenuity, was able to retrofit an existing machine and supply the necessary parts.
Since those early days, Vantage Plastics has experienced steady growth and reinvested back into the company. Early on it achieved the ISO-9001 quality certification and has been recognized with several awards over the years. Today, the company has 15 thermoforming machines and five extrusion lines it uses to manufacture products including material handling parts, custom auto parts, consumer products such as deer blinds, sleds, kids’ wading pools, and more. It has also added engineering software programs, testing equipment, staffing, and many other enhancements to support customers in ever increasing and diversified markets. In addition to working with all major OEMs, Vantage’s customers include the agriculture, food processing and handling, recreation, construction, medical, military and aerospace, and multiple other industries.
Vantage Plastics also makes sure to take advantage of the many resources that are available to growing companies. Seeking assistance with its trade and export efforts, Vantage Plastics began working with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s International Trade program early in its history. MI-STEP grant funds have enabled the company to participate in several trade shows, including the Automotive Meetings in Queretaro, Mexico, that allowed the company to meet directly with Mexican customers and resulted in increased export sales. It also helped establish two of its new sales representatives that live within Mexico.
“The MEDC team has been a real godsend to us, helping with training, trade shows and several other programs,” Aultman said. “They’re very quick and responsive, providing all kinds of resources and in assisting with any request we’ve had.”
The purposeful reuse or diversion of waste streams of materials is another component of the company’s mission. In 2016 Vantage added a recycling division called Edge Material Management, guaranteeing to buy back and repurpose any plastic product manufactured by Vantage Plastics when its useful purpose has come to an end. The company continues to pursue new recycling opportunities and has a dedicated innovation team that helps investigate how certain waste materials including organic can be incorporated into plastic blends for special applications.
“Our innovation team looks at new approaches to material handling, to how we manufacture, to all kinds of things that let us deliver products that have a huge impact.
“In fact, our whole team has unbelievable capabilities, from the production floor workers to the maintenance crew. I never cease to be amazed by the skills Michiganders have,” Aultman said. “The east side of the state especially is an undiscovered jewel, with people who have tremendous skills and work ethic. The talents and skills right here in Standish, Michigan are truly amazing. Without our employees, we couldn’t do what we do here.”
The company is currently working with Canadian-based Ocean Legacy Foundation to investigate how plastics being retrieved from the ocean might be recycled into new products. Vantage Plastics is also working with Tesla to create reusable plastic packaging instead of disposable cardboard for parts for the company’s solar-powered integrated battery systems, or PowerWalls. This is what Aultman refers to as a “conversion” where other commonly used materials are replaced by plastics to achieve a greater outcome.
Forming better lives is the third, and most important, pillar of Vantage Plastics’ mission, Aultman says, with the overarching goal of forming better lives for customers, employees, the community and the world at large. The company focuses heavily on engaging with its employees and providing pathways and opportunities for growth from within. The vision it aims to achieve by 2027 is to be the “premier employer with a highly engaged workforce through individual development, world class safety, integration and process automation.”
The company gives back in numerous ways. It formed a non-profit 501c3 called the Well Outreach which provides many services to not only employees but members of the community, including other businesses. The company also participates in the annual Manufacturing Day event, bringing in hundreds of students from several area schools to encourage them to explore the diverse number of careers available in manufacturing as well as demonstrate Michigan’s leadership in advanced manufacturing.
Vantage has experienced exponential growth and in 2022 the company achieved record sales with the expectation that 2023 will exceed that record. In the near future, Vantage Plastics plans to expand in the region, allowing access to a bigger talent pool. Aultman also sees more automation in the company’s future, which will translate into less physical work for its employees, leading them to more skilled positions.
The future is almost unlimited, Aultman says. The region’s strong talent pool, the company’s innovative approach to providing solutions, and the opportunities to continue to deliver products that have an impact on the world all point to a bright future for Vantage Plastics.
Learn why people like George Aultman are choosing Michigan at www.michiganbusiness.org/why-michigan/.