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Mister Bee Potato Chips plans new warehouse as business grows

From left, West Virginia Commerce Secretary Ed Gaunch, Wood County Economic Development Executive Director Lindsey Piersol and economic development specialist Kate Barker with Wood County Economic Development watch as potato slices are rinsed during the chip-making process at Mister Bee Potato Chips as West Virginia Potato Chip Co. owner Mary Anne Ketelsen explains the production process and sales manager Rob Graham looks on. (Courtesy: Evan Bevins / The Parkersburg News and Sentinel)

Mister Bee Potato Chips plans to construct a half-million-dollar warehouse next to its location on West Virginia Avenue in Parkersburg.

Mary Anne Ketelsen, owner of West Virginia Potato Chip Co., discussed the project and other recent improvements to the facility when state Secretary of Commerce Ed Gaunch toured Thursday.

Mary Anne Ketelsen, owner of West Virginia Potato Chip Co.:

“I’m getting ready to build a 10,000-square-foot warehouse next door because I’m anticipating more business.”

Sales manager Rob Graham said they hope to be in the new warehouse by Christmas.

After stops at Kreinik Manufacturing, Wincore Windows and Gaskets, Packing & Seals in Parkersburg on Wednesday, Gaunch visited Mister Bee Thursday morning before heading to Danser Inc. in Davisville.

It just excites me that we have local businesses like Mister Bee that we can celebrate.” After touring the production area, Ketelsen and Graham met with Gaunch; Morganne Tenney, business retention and expansion manager for the West Virginia Development Office; and Lindsey Piersol, executive director of Wood County Economic Development; to discuss ways state government can assist the business.

Ed Gaunch:

“Hopefully, we can help them with capital investments they need to make.”

Tenney said tax credits are available on projects that represent an investment back in the business. She also mentioned state reimbursements for training and programs that pay as much as 50 percent of the salary for college students working for the business in an apprenticeship program.

Mister Bee is experiencing and anticipating growth thanks to a more than $2 million investment in new equipment at the business. The new machinery makes it possible to fill about 90 1- to 2-ounce bags per minute, up from the previous rate of 25, Ketelsen said.

Sales manager Rob Graham:

“These machines have brought our costs down … 40 percent.”

“We’re getting more out of these potatoes with these machines.”

There are about 15 employees working in the production area, a 35 percent increase from before Ketelsen took over last year.

The company is co-packaging — making chips for other companies — for five businesses, including a company from California who has them making cheese-flavored chips to pair with wine, Graham said.

Rob Graham:

“As we grow as a co-packer, we could be able to double that 15.”

Ketelsen said she is pursuing partnerships with other companies and looking to put Mister Bee chips in new places, like the state correctional system and additional colleges and universities. Mister Bee chips are already sold at Marietta College and Ohio Valley University.

Ketelsen said the company purchases potatoes from different places depending on the season. Earlier this year, they acquired potatoes from Florida and the current batch is from Missouri. But the company is looking at potential partnerships to get their raw material closer to home, she said.