Why a 175-year-old candle maker is vital to this Ohio town

candle lite team
Candle-Lite Company has been making candles in Ohio for 175 years.

There's a town in central Ohio where candles are a pretty big deal.

Leesburg, Ohio, is a rural farming community of just 1,300 people. In its midst is the Candle-Lite Company's 900,000-square-foot manufacturing plant, warehouse and distribution center.

Candle-Lite makes 250 million candles in Leesburg every year. It supplies them to over 40 national retailers, including Wal-Mart (WMT), Kroger (KR)and Walgreens (WBA).

More importantly, the 175-year-old business employs 600 people.

"Many of our employees have spent their entire careers at Candle-Lite," said CEO Calvin Johnston. "[Some] employees have second or third generation family members working by their side."

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Many of its workers have stayed for over two decades, which gives Candle-Lite a unique advantage, said Don Kauffold, Candle-Lite's vice president.

"We have people who really understand the candle-making process," said Kauffold. "This has allowed us to keep innovating and get so efficient with manufacturing that we've kept the business in America."

Last month, the University of Cincinnati published a report that studied Candle-Lite's impact on Ohio's economy (from fiscal year 2012 to 2015).

The findings were eye-opening, said Kauffold.

candle lite factory

Although it employs 600 people, the study found the candle maker supports an additional 1,200 jobs in the state just from tangential business activities tied to its operations. The study also estimated Candle-Lite's annual economic impact in Ohio to be $337 million. Candle-Lite declined to disclose its annual sales.

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Candle-Lite started as a family-owned business in 1840. It has changed ownership twice since then, in 1972 and last year when it was acquired by private equity firm Center Lane Partners.

Originally, employees went door to door selling the handmade candles. Today, the company has automated 70% of the process, but Kauffold stressed that people are still involved at every stage of the process.

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Its candles (priced between $5 to $10) have also undergone an evolution.

"We don't use candles for illumination. The primary usage now is for fragrance and decoration," said Kauffold. In fact, 75% of Candle-Lite's products are for fragrance, where its main competitor is Yankee Candle.

One of the driving principles of Candle-Lite is its commitment to keeping manufacturing local, said Kauffold.

"90% of the components for each candle -- the glass, the wicks, the wax -- are all sourced domestically," he said.

Ohio House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger said Candle-Lite is a powerful example of a American enterprise.

"Any company that can stay in business for 175 years is incredible," he said.

"Is Candle-Lite a big deal for Leesburg, Ohio? Yes," said Rosenberger. "But it's also set an example to manufacturers all across the nation that Americans value good quality, clean and safe products that are made in America."

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