October 21, 2014

Domestic manufacturing alive & well in West Memphis

It’s a hot topic with everyone from legislators in Washington and in statehouses across the country to retailers like Wal-Mart. But in West Memphis, Ark., “Made in the USA” is more than a plan or a policy—it’s a fact.

“Our efforts to bring new and expanding businesses into West Memphis focus on workforce access, transportation access, low taxes and operating costs and a business-friendly environment,” says West Memphis Mayor William Johnson. “Those perks appeal to all businesses. The fact that we can claim to be home to industries that fit the “American-made” mold is a tribute to what a great place our city is for doing business.”

Touring the state to promote his legislative package—dubbed “American-Made Strong”—U.S. Senator Mark Pryor made a stop in West Memphis on Aug. 18 to discuss with local leaders how Arkansas can be part of his plan for the nation to “bring it, build it, buy it.”

Just a few days earlier, West Memphis Economic Development Director Ward Wimbish and his staff attended Wal-Mart’s U.S. Manufacturing Summit in Denver. The Bentonville, Ark.-based retail giant has pledged to buy $50 billion worth of U.S.-made products over the next decade. Wimbish attended the inaugural summit last year, as well, and says both were opportunities to learn and develop prospects for West Memphis.

“We’re thrilled to be able to stand in support of domestic manufacturing and we’re fortunate to be able to cater to the kinds of businesses that can help Wal-Mart meet its goal,” Wimbish said. “We’re even considering a plan to locate Wal-Mart suppliers in one industrial area near our river port that could provide them common services and advantages.”

Prime examples of “Made In The USA” businesses are Newberry Tanks, located in West Memphis since 1951, and Faith Tank, which merged with and became a division of Newberry in 2013. Both make tanks for use in the oil and petroleum industries. Faith currently sells 200-gallon tanks to Wal-Mart for collecting used oil from DIY customers.

For Faith Tank Division Manager Bubba Gower, the company is a family affair. His father started the company in 1973 as the quick lube trend was beginning to grow.

“When Dad started out, being in West Memphis was a good real estate value and a tax advantage,” Gower said. “It used to be just us and farmers. Things have changed but there are still tax advantages, and a strong labor force, including Marion and Memphis.

“And no one can beat the freight rates I can get,” he said. “If you order from a tank company in California you might get a great product and you might get a great price but the freight makes it a different story. It’s opened us up from being a straight regional outfit to being more of a national player.”

There are also intangible benefits to doing business in the Eastern Arkansas city, Gower says.

“It still feels like a small town,” he said. “I can walk down the street and wave at people in West Memphis, my accountant or someone else. There’s a sense of community. We try to do all our business here.”

Wimbish says the city’s targets for new domestic manufacturers are primarily those that use steel and other metals.

“They can find workers trained right here in West Memphis at Mid-South Community College,” he said. “And here they can easily import raw materials by barge or rail and move the heavy end-products out the same way.”

If the city needs a testimonial to seal the deal with a firm considering a West Memphis location, they need look no further than Loksarang Dinkar Hardas, owner and president of Awesome Products, which has two facilities in West Memphis, totaling nearly 900,000 square feet.

Mention “Made In the USA” to Hardas and he points to the tens of millions of containers of liquid bleach, detergent and degreaser shipped from Awesome’s West Memphis operation and produced locally—from contents to container.

“West Memphis is a hidden jewel,” he says. “This isn’t just made in America. It’s made in West Memphis.”