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By James Dornbrook
The Kansas City Business Journal Online
July 22, 2011

“Pushing the envelope” is a well-worn business cliche. Except at Tension Corp. At the former Tension Envelope, it is a strategy that has helped the company not only survive 125 years but thrive in changing times.

A story on Page Three in this week’s Business Journal chronicles how the Kansas City based private company has changed with the times. Although it remains the nation’s third largest manufacturer of envelopes, it also is heavily involved in helping customers handle specialized packaging tasks.

In an age of online orders and high-tech fulfillment centers, Tension can design a system for preparing orders, sell the machinery to process those orders and, of course, provide the packaging. Such evolution isn’t easy. It requires keeping up with technology as much as with customers’ future needs. It also requires a willingness to make sizable investments in machinery and in employee training.

Tension has managed these tasks as a private, family-run company. The company ranks as the area’s 32nd-largest private company in the Business Journal’s Top 150 Area Private Companies list, with revenue of $185 million. It has eight manufacturing plants throughout this country, as well as facilities in China, Malaysia, Australia and Taiwan.

But Tension deserves notice for more than its business prowess. The Berkley family has provided more than its fair share of community service and leadership through the years. Chairman Bert Berkley founded the Local Investment Commission, which provides a range of services for low-income and working-poor families. Dick Berkley served as Kansas City’s mayor for 12 years. CEO (and fourth-generation exec) Bill Berkley has helped lead such powerful business groups as the Civic Council of Greater Kansas City and community organizations aimed at improving education.

This willingness to go beyond what’s expected has been a huge boon for Tension and its hometown.