The Pittsburg State University MBA Association brought in two business leaders Monday for the first event in its speakers series.

The Pittsburg State University MBA Association brought in two business leaders Monday for the first event in its speakers series.

Blake Benson, Pittsburg Area Chamber of Commerce president, provided an overview of the Pittsburg business community and the opportunities it offers to PSU students.

Jeff Poe, president of Pitt Plastics and chairman of the Chamber board, discussed his business, gave students tips on how to thrive in their jobs, and noted his connection with Brad Pitt.

“Pittsburg has a lot of great entrepreneurial stories,” Benson said.

For instance, he said, there’s Miller’s Professional Imaging, founded by William Miller.

“For the first 30 to 35 years, they focused on professional photography,” Benson said.

But two factors impacted the business. Those were the rise of digital photography and the great increase in weekend photographers.

“Miller’s could have stuck with what brought them to the dance, but they didn’t,” Benson said. “They developed a sister company, MPIX, which does over $100 million worth of business a year. It caters to weekend photographers and does things like eliminate red eye in the photos. They also create products from the photos, such as mugs.”

He also cited Pitsco, developed by Harvey and Sharon Dean at their home. The firm is now the North American distributor for LEGO Education.

“Names and Numbers was started by Ken Brock and now has directories in 76 76 markets,” Benson said.

The late Dick Webb and wife Kaye Lynne Webb started Watco in their kitchen, and it now has a large network of shortline railroads across the nation.

“They also have a huge presence in Australia,” Benson said.

Switching from railroads to pizza, the Chamber president told of NPC International, which has 1,200 to 1,300 Pizza Hut franchises across the country, with the corporate office in Pittsburg.  It was started by Gene Bicknell, area native and strong community supporter.

“NPC International has also established a call center in Pittsburg, so that if you order a pizza in Kansas City, you don’t talk to some cook in the kitchen who’s trying to do a thousand things,” Benson said. “Instead, you get a nice, quiet call center.”

Poe talked about his company, Pitt Plastics, established in 1972, which manufactures a wide range of institutional trash bags. It does not produce any bags for home use. The company makes 2.5 billion trash bags a year, 300,000 per hour, 24 hours a day.

The company currently has 340 employees and 46 extruders, which make the bags.

“We used to have more, but they started making extruders bigger and better,” Poe said.

He said that employees at Pitt Plastics, or anywhere else, should set personal goals and make sure they’re the right goals, understand how they can contribute to the mission of their company and maximize that contribution.

“Get to work, accept responsibility for your work, keep learning and change when necessary,” Poe said. “That will help you retain your job.”

Poe and Benson also urged students to become involved with the community.

“How many of you have heard of Pittsburg Area Young Professionals?” Poe asked. “If you’re sticking around this community, I suggest you get together with them.”

The Chamber president added that PAYP is a great way to network, which stresses community service.

“So few people volunteer that those who do really stand out,” Benson said.

Poe also mentioned his link with Brad Pitt. His mother and Pitt’s mother attended Joplin High School together.

“They’re still friends, sort of, and exchange Christmas cards,” Poe said. “Can you imagine how disappointed my mother is? Mrs. Pitt’s son is a movie star, he’s won all kinds of awards and he was chosen one of the most beautiful people in the world. My mother’s son sells trash bags. But my wife is better-looking than his.”

More seriously, Poe said that Pitt Plastics is always looking for good management personnel and welcomes applications from PSU students and graduates.

“I’d like for there to be a path from PSU to Pitt Plastics,” he said.