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Back Bear Bottling Group, LLC of Oak Creek, one of the Midwest’s premier soft drink bottlers, has been named the South Suburban Chamber of Commerce’s Business of the Year.

Black Bear employs 65 people and is the company that is responsible for the glass and plastic bottling of perennial favorites like Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Dr. Pepper and Green River, as well as newer, trendier sparkling waters, still waters and soft drinks with names like WBC Craft Sodas, Caruso’s Legacy, Black Bear, Steven’s Point Brewery’s “The Point” soft drinks, Cascade Ice, Hint and Claire Baie. They also produce boxed syrups for use in vending machines and bottle private label soft drinks for Target and others, said Pete Caruso, president and one of four partners in the LLC.

“Ninety-nine percent of what we produce is carbonated drinks, but we do produce Claire Baie, a purified drinking water, in partnership with the city of Oak Creek,” Caruso said.

Black Bear Bottling has a 100,000-square-foot production facility in Oak Creek, as well as a 65,000-square-foot warehouse. They also rent another 60,000-square-foot warehouse near the Mitchell International Airport.

Black Bear Bottling was founded by Louis Patmont as a spring water bottling company during the early 1920s. His operation was located in St. Francis and Patmont named the company after the black bear cub that he kept as a pet. His company quickly evolved into a soft drink bottling company.

In 1961, Ester and Peter Caruso purchased the business from Patmont.

“My grandfather lived close to the bottling company. He had just sold his dry cleaning business and his three sons were ready to graduate from high school, so he purchased the 10,000-square-foot bottling company to put them to work. They bottled drinks in seven-, 12- and 24-ounce returnable glass bottles then and also had a convenience store nearby where they sold beer, wine, liquor and snacks,” Caruso said.

In the mid-1990s, the Carusos shifted to bottling most of their soft drinks in plastic bottles.

In 2001, Pete Caruso purchased the company from his father and uncles and moved it to Oak Creek, which was closer to the interstate for more convenient shipping and where he had room to expand. That is when the company began fully-automated bottling using both plastic and glass and also expanded into the “bag in a box” syrup for fountain dispensers and vending machines.

In 2010, Black Bear Bottling went through a major overhaul of the Oak Creek location to achieve a Level 2 certification from the Safe Quality Food Institute, a globally recognized and accepted quality management system in food industry. They did so to comply with the requests of some of their national customers and achieved the certification with a 97 percent rating, which is the highest category of scoring.

By achieving this certification, Black Bear Bottling Group, LLC is now able to provide a wide variety of packaging options to customers including unique pack sizes for both plastic and glass bottles. Black Bear also has the capability of providing start-up batches to customers who want to test new flavors or brand new lines.

“We are always trying to adapt to changes in the market by looking at new flavor profiles and adjusting our caloric counts, and we are always seeking out the next great product out there that is looking for a bottler,” Caruso said.

“One of my partners in Illinois owns a number of flavors like Green River and he has asked us to take over the bottling of some of them. Green River, for instance, has been around since 1919,” he continued. “We are also a contract bottler for Pepsi, following all of their formulas and dictates, but we only bottle in glass for them.”

Other drinks are much newer. For instance, flavored sparkling water became popular about five years ago, Caruso said, and that is when Black Bear began to bottle some of those – like Sparkling Ice Essence.

“The popularity of flavored sparkling waters is still growing. In fact, it is really big out East and is just starting to become popular in the Midwest,” Caruso noted.

Black Bear Bottling Group LLC is located at 2025 W. South Branch Blvd. in Oak Creek. For more information, visit www.blackbearbottling.com or call (414) 302-5660.

This South Suburban area has become one of the region’s top business destinations. With a wide range of businesses, from locally owned firms to Fortune 500 companies, the area is well positioned to continue as a statewide and mid-west center of economic influence. While the area’s early manufacturing heritage remains strong, the economy has diversified over the years and Oak Creek and Franklin continue to welcome businesses to set up operations here.

Nucor Cold Finish Wisconsin, Inc.

Nucor Cold Finish of Wisconsin is a division of Nucor Corporation, the largest cold finish producer and the largest recycler of steel in North America.

Nucor Cold Finish Wisconsin is a source for quality cold finish steel bars from the smallest diameter wire products to up to 6 inches in diameter.

Nucor’s corporate mission is that “As a corporate citizen, all of us at Nucor take very seriously our responsibility to create a cleaner environment, a safer workplace, and a strong community. It’s our nature.” That mission is clearly demonstrated and lived by the teammates at Nucor Cold Finish of Wisconsin.

Nucor and its teammates provide quality steel bars for its clients, but they also provide quality volunteers and support for the entire community:

At the Oak Creek-Franklin School District, Nucor volunteers participate in annual mock interviews, in a Career day for middle school students, in Junior Achievement and Nucor has provided funds for a new playground.

At the Spanish Immersion School in Milwaukee, teammates volunteer at annual Literacy Day and in the annual Field Day events. They have constructed an outside science lab; donated iPads, dry-erase boards and T-shirts for Field Day; and teammates serve on the board of directors.

At the Oak Creek Community Center, Nucor was a sponsor of the dinner for the Sikh Temple families, the annual cash raffle, and the Thanksgiving dinner for needy.

And Nucor’s teammates volunteer at National Night Out, the Bender Beach clean-up and on the Oak Creek Community Center’s board of directors.

Other community organizations supported by Nucor include:

Oak Creek Police Department, Oak Creek Fire Department, five Oak Creek Little League teams, Special Olympics, Oak Creek Salvation Army, Oak Creek Lions Club, Saint Thomas More High School’s Robotics Club, Ronald McDonald House and Unity Lutheran Soup Kitchen.

Nucor was one of the sponsoring members of the Chamber’s Heavy Metal Tour held in October for middle and high school students and is a founding member of the Chamber’s Manufacturing Council. Jerry Richie and Nucor continue to support the Heavy Metal Tour scholarship winner from Bradley Tech as the young man prepares to enter MATC’s manufacturing program in the future.

Nucor truly invests in the community, but it also invests in its employees and their families. Every child of a Nucor teammate receives $3,000 per year to attend college or a trade school.

The company is not only a leader in technology and innovation, but it is also a company that is committed to the environment, to reducing air and noise pollution, improving neighborhood aesthetics, and is always insuring the safety of its workers.

The company believes in the team approach to their success. Employees are empowered to make decisions and are rewarded for safety, quality and productivity.

Krones Inc.

Krones supports breweries and beverage producers in the food industries, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics industries. The company provides fully integrated packaging and bottling line systems. It is the U.S. subsidiary of Krones AG, Germany.

Every fourth bottle in the world comes through a Krones machine.

The Franklin facility was built in 1966 as the first occupant in the Franklin Business Park and is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

Since then, net sales have grown to more than $2 billion last year. The workforce has increased by about five percent per year to a total today of 550 employees.

As a Chamber member, Krones has been a strong partner with the Chamber’s Heavy Metal Tour for high school students and opens their plant for tours. They have also welcomed high school students in work-study programs.

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