Light, durable and effective, expanded polystyrene (EPS) is the aspirin of man-made materials. Part of our lives for more than half a century, it is so ubiquitous that it is often taken for granted but so versatile that new uses for it are being discovered on an almost daily basis.
For the Insulation Corporation of America (ICA) in south Allentown and founder Thomas Higgins, it was the foundation of such a solid business that he was able to turn it over to the next generation as his daughters took the helm in 2012.
Sometimes incorrectly referred to as “Styrofoam,” which is actually a different product made by another company, EPS is most commonly used as a packaging and insulation material, but ICA Vice President of Business Development Sandy Posocco – who joined her sister, Cindy Masiko, in 2011 as they took the reins from their father – says the multifaceted material is now used in everything from firming up roadsides as a soil substitute to pharmaceutical packaging.
“EPS might provoke a ‘yawn, yawn’ response but it such an interesting product,” Posocco says, recounting a story about how their product helped raise a sunken barge in the New York harbor by filling it with EPS when not even an anchored crane could budge the submerged vessel. “Locally our product is showing up in the new Ocean Spray bottling plant and Bimbo Bakery will be using it (as insulation) in their new plant.”
Tom Higgins created the company in 1981 after a career as a ironworker in the construction business and 20 years at the head of another company he also founded, Northern Lehigh Erectors. Looking for something different, he started ICA and never looked back, his daughter says.
“He just decided to diversify. Knowing nothing about the business, he was a true pioneer. He found the people that knew the business and built it with his own hard work and ethics,” she said. “Nothing gets in his way. He gets things done.”
Tom Higgins stepped back from everyday management in 2011 and turned the company over to Cindy, who joined her father in 1989 and retains his hands-on style of management and customer outreach. Sandy rejoined her sister in 2010 after a career as a kitchen designer.
They are now applying for certification from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as an official women-owned business under the Women and Minority Owned Business program offered by the state to assist those companies with contract opportunities, access to capital and other resources. Posocco expects their application to be completed within the next 45 to 60 days and they hope to have the official certification by summer.
Meanwhile, the sisters are working together to meet customer demand that keeps rising as new uses are found for their product. Posocco said the location in Allentown and the Lehigh Valley has offered great benefits because of the extensive regional highway system that provides easy access to the company’s clients in 16 states from New England through the Mid-Atlantic.
They have also begun working closely with the Allentown Economic Development Corp.
ICA employs about 35 people, many of whom have been with the company since it was founded, and the company is facetiously attentive to the environmental aspects of the business, recycling everything from the raw material to the bags it is shipped in.
From pool walls and temporary boat stands created to store vessels washed ashore by the recent Superstorm Sandy to filler that provides a cost-effective and long-lasting contours for golf courses, EPS continues to grow in popularity as both manufacturers and customers find new uses, Posocco says.
It has even helped insulate its creators from the whims of a fickle economy over the past several years.
“Because of the diversity of the product and because we are not locked into any one product, we are holding our own,” Posocco says. “The opportunities are endless. We do have an outside sales person and we are looking for another one for the Northeast. We definitely want to grow.”
To learn more about ICA and expanded polystyrene, please go to http://insulationcorp.com/.