Blenko Glass Co.: student campaigns for future of plant

West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin is looking to help the Blenko Glass Co., thanks to the initiative of a dentistry student at the state university.
On 25 August 2005, Governor Manchin toured the han…

West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin is looking to help the Blenko Glass Co., thanks to the initiative of a dentistry student at the state university. On 25 August 2005, Governor Manchin toured the hand-blown glassworks in Milton and spoke to CEO William Blenko Jr. on how to help the firm tackle its natural gas costs. In November and December 2004, the factory was paying for about USD 110,000 worth of natural gas a month to fuel its furnaces, Blenko managers said. The company has cut production by almost half in the past year and reduced that monthly natural gas cost to USD 50,000, Blenko said. “Whatever restructuring is needed, we are willing to help out,” Manchin said after meeting with Blenko. “They are looking at the whole process. There is a demand for the product. That is not a problem. What is the opportunity to supply the product? What raw materials are out there? Is there modern technology to make them more competitive?” Manchin came at the urging of West Virginia University dentistry student and Charletson native Hillary Homburg. Homburg, 21, started a campaign during the summer to win community and political support for the glass factory. Instead of making a summer trip to Europe on a USD 2,500 stipend she received as a 2002 WVU Foundation scholar, Homburg used the sum to conduct surveys, interviews and write to congressional and state leaders to visit and support Blenko. She has even tried to get Oprah Winfrey to endorse Blenko on her show or in her magazine. “Europe would still be there,” Homburg said, “but I wasn“t sure Blenko would still be. Blenko is having tough times.” Homburg grew up around glass making with a father whose hobby was making stained glass. “I have been a glass hound since the age of 3,” Homburg said. “I remember getting glass from Blenko at a really early age. I just have a passion …To me, Blenko Glass is as much a part of West Virginia as West Virginia University football.” From the surveys and interviews Homburg carried out, it emerged that most people under the age of 35 knew of Blenko through the PBS documentaries and fundraisers Blenko Glass president Richard Blenko has worked on, while those over age 35 knew of Blenko through advertising the company used to pay for in Life magazine and other national publications. Many people think Blenko should advertise more, Homburg said. Homburg said the objective of her Blenko Project is to create a focus group to serve as activists for Blenko. William Blenko would not specify what type of restructuring the plant would need. The plant will seek more fuel saving measures, he said. “It is a constant struggle with the fuel prices,” William Blenko said. “We have reduced that by half by cutting production in half. We put in some fuel saving measures. We survive by having a good design, quality and name recognition.”