By Jonathan Pleasant
Johnson County is home to several unique and interesting businesses, each playing their own role in the local economy with their own distinctive impact. Yet possibly one of most interesting is also ironically one of the least known. Lee Plastics just off Highway 421 in the Cold Springs community has been operating in the area for the past eight years making just about anything imaginable. From hard, industrial plastic cogs and gears to clear acrylic display cases and even household items like cutting boards, there is very little that owner Kuker Lee cant fabricate from scratch.
With more than 40 years experience to his credit, Lee has sold parts and products to distributors serving major companies like Kia, Coke, and TCBY all over the country. Initially building his business in Ware Shoals, South Carolina, Lee eventually moved to Myrtle Beach where he grew to have over 250 steady customers. After deciding to turn the company over to his children, business took a sharp down turn. In the years since starting back up in Johnson County, Lee has seen the return of several long time customers who have come to rely on the quality, dependability, and versatility of his work.
Lee Plastics focuses on custom fabrications. Products are cut from large sheets of base material, sometimes weighing more than 800 pounds, and are accurately rendered through a computerized CNC lathe. This process creates much stronger and more durable products than standard molding operations that heat and press the materials into a desired shape. Operating on complex machines typically utilized in metalworking, Lee can bend, shape, cut, and bond just about anything that can be envisioned, with literally hundreds of different types of materials to choose from.
Whether nylon based, PVC, clear acrylic, Teflon or any other polymer that a company requires, Lee can accommodate his customers, making just one specialized piece or thousands depending on the need. Currently the biggest demand comes from the Southeast, and especially in the poultry industry in Alabama and Georgia. Most of these orders involve large shipments of many small pieces, such as the plastic fingers used to move poultry down the processing line. Yet, Lee does small-scale work as well, creating a wide variety of ultra-durable plastic mallets and hammers that he sells locally.
In his shop Lee has dozens of pictures portraying his creations, beautiful, glass like acrylic statues in the shape of crosses, dozens of commercial media and information display racks, clear boxes used for holding varieties of candy, and three-inch thick waterproof panes used underwater in the major motion picture the Abyss. There just is no way to limit what the company can and has done. Lee has even created a solid acrylic tombstone complete with etched in lettering that will stand the weathering far better than granite or marble.
The vast majority of the materials used are FDA approved and dishwasher safe, making even household kitchen utensils a part of the mix. Even with a stellar track record for quality and the ability to meet any needs that may arise, Lee has faced his share of hardships as well. While much of the work is done on his own, Lees wife Katie has a big hand in the operation as well. Back in 2010 Lee faced his first major setback and scare, when Katie faced a very serious arm injury resulting from one of the shops machines.
Katie made a full recovery after very nearly losing use of the arm, but then only a year later the couple faced another huge crisis when a tornado in April demolished their shop and destroyed several extremely expensive pieces of equipment. The kindness of neighbors like Offie Hayworth, allowed Lee to work through the recovery using rented equipment and borrowed space until a new building could be constructed.
These major roadblocks aside, business has been picking up although Lee admits he currently has few actual customers not only in the county but in the state. There have been several local projects, such as the creation and installation of deterrents for birds roosting at the entryways of the countys school buildings, but Lees main base of demand continues to be outside of the region. Even so, there is no lack for opportunity and Lee is hopeful that some of the more local industries may see the cost effectiveness and reliability of the products he creates.
An extremely specialized industry, there are few companies anywhere in the nation that can match the qualifications, experience, and ability of Lee Plastics, making it no surprise that their main source of marketing has been word of mouth. Johnson County is certainly fortunate that the company calls it home, and hopefully with a little more time and notoriety it will be considered yet another essential piece of what makes the area so special.
By Jonathan Pleasant