MANATEE -- It's not quite like the automotive industry that built Detroit.
The presence doesn't match up to the history of steel makers in Pittsburgh.
It has not propelled Manatee County onto the map like the digital advancements that made Silicon Valley.
But if there's one sector that has become the face of the growing manufacturing industry in Manatee and Sarasota counties, experts say it's packaging.
From beef jerky to instant rice and cookies, some of the most recognizable brands in consumer goods package their product with a machine made within the two-county area.
What has now become a sector comprised of dozens of companies from Parrish to Venice all spun off the presence of one -- KHS Bartelt, a division of KHS USA Inc.
"We used to say people went to Bartelt University because a lot of good engineers came here over time and worked for them in some capacity or another," said Peter Straw, executive director of the Sarasota Manatee Manufacturers Association. "A lot of them gained that good background, then started their own companies."
KHS Bartelt first opened as the Bartelt Engineering Co. in Illinois in 1941, moving into its present facility at the corner of DeSoto Road and U.S. 301 in north Sarasota in 1977.
With 650 customers in the United States, KHS Bartelt has designed and manufactured 6,000 packaging machines that are being used worldwide.
From its fully integrated 88,000-square-foot Sarasota headquarters, a staff of nearly 100 design, manufacture and sell the intricate, yet massive machines from the ground up.
The equipment uses filling apparatuses to robotically place a product into selected pouches, which the machine also envelopes from a standard roll of material. The products are quickly moved down the conveyer line, where they're sealed and sent off.
A KHS manufacturing customer will have as many as 50 of these machines running at once in their production line -- each packaging about 100 products a minute.
The packaging machines can stretch up to 40 feet long, taking between 16 to 24 weeks to build, at a base price tag that ranges from $142,000 for the smaller machines to upwards of $1.6 million.
Each is entirely customized to fit the specific product they're packaging.
The equipment has become a savior to manufacturing management across the globe who can improve efficiency and save on the long-term cost of manual labor.
But as with the nature of the business, they also can take the jobs of 30 laborers each, said Rick Manning, director of the product group and KHS, where he has worked for more than three decades.
KHS now has a $1 billion a year global business.
"We like to say we train our competition, but it's true," Manning said. "We have no secrets. They have taken them all, but we still sell more than the competition."
The presence of KHS has grown into a comprehensive industry now anchored by other local companies such as MDC, New England Machinery, Berry Plastics, PPI Technologies, RND Automation, Graham Packaging, Key Packaging, Multiflex Inc. and DUMA Packaging Machinery, among others.
PPI Technologies CEO Charles Murray started with KHS before branching out on his own in 1996.
His company now specializes in pre-made pouches, instead of those formed on the line, for liquids like beer and cocktails. It also contracts with customers to fill the pouches in-house.
PPI has added 15 employees this year and purchased an 89,000-square-foot building for expansion.
"We do the whole process," Murray said. "A lot of people like to come to Florida, and because of the background of packaging, there's a lot of people with knowledge here. Because we are operating in a different set of markets, it's different technologies. We really don't see each other as competition."
Berry Plastics Corp., a publicly traded manufacturer that reported $31 million in net income in its latest quarter, also packages for the food and pharmaceutical markets in Sarasota.
Headquartered in Indiana, the company operates 80 facilities worldwide, employing about 225 workers at its Sarasota plant, which Berry acquired in a merger in 2005.
"Berry Plastics is proud to be part of the Sarasota-Manatee community," company spokeswoman Eva Schmitz said in an email statement.
Josh Salman, Herald business writer, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @JoshSalman.