As Thermold Magazines President Sylvan Bednar made his way up to address a crowd of about 75 gathered Tuesday morning (Sept. 10) at the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce, Gov. Mike Beebe broke the silence with a request.
“Well, how ‘bout some applause?”
The crowd acquiesced, and Bednar followed the applause by announcing that the company would relocate its operations and headquarters from North Carolina to Fort Smith. The deal will create an estimated 65 new jobs and the company plans to invest $7.14 million in the move.
Thermold Magazines began in the 1960s as a molded plastics injection manufacturer serving the automotive industry, according to a statement from the Arkansas Economic Development Commission. The company later began producing weapons magazines using a nylon resin known as Zytel that “resisted heat and corrosion while functioning with high reliability.” The company now produces magazines for military personnel, law enforcement officers, and sport shooters worldwide.
In an unusual twist for a new jobs project, Thermold will locate within the River Bend Industries plastics molding plant in Fort Smith. River Bend will produce components of Thermold products, and Thermold employes will handle assembly and distribution.
“We’re not only helping bring a new company to town, but we’re also helping an existing company that has been through some of the rough times with offshoring … and with that plant (Whirlpool) closure,” said Tim Allen, president of the Fort Smith chamber.
River Bend was a supplier to Whirlpool for many years. Whirlpool closed its refrigerator manufacturing plant in Fort Smith in June 2012. In early 2011, River Bend employed about 120 in Fort Smith. The company now employs about 85 in Fort Smith. River Bend also has plastics molding plants in Iowa, and the company has about 365 employees.
Bednar said part of Fort Smith’s attraction was being able to partner with River Bend. According to the AEDC, River Bend custom molds thermoplastics and engineering resins. The company has three facilities in two states housing 108 molding machines in 444,000 square feet of manufacturing space.
“It’s a nice marriage. It makes sense,” Bednar told the crowd.
In a statement issued by the AEDC, Bednar noted: "The entire Thermold team is excited to establish our North American headquarters in Fort Smith. Governor Beebe, the AEDC, and the Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce have worked tirelessly to make this happen and we appreciate all of their combined efforts. Thermold Magazines is committed to helping get people back to work and being a positive influence within this great community."
Joining Bednar were Thermold CEO Joe Vaughan and Michael Todd, Thermold vice president of sales.
Ron Embree, president of River Bend, said he is glad to see manufacturing jobs return to Fort Smith because the spirit of America “is in making things.” It was a theme Beebe continued in his remarks, adding that he is “starting to see a reversal” of the trend to take manufacturing out of the U.S.
“A country has to make stuff,” Beebe said. “If you don’t make things, ultimately your society is going to suffer.”
The Arkansas economy has suffered as the result of manufacturing job losses.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated there were 154,300 manufacturing jobs in Arkansas during June 2013. Employment in the sector is down 24.6% compared to June 2003, and is down almost 38% compared to the sector high of 247,300 set in February 1995.
Arkansas’ three largest metro areas have seen double-digit percentage declines in manufacturing job levels between June 2003 and June 2013. Jobs in the sector are down 23% in central Arkansas, down 34.16% in the Fort Smith region, and down 20.8% in Northwest Arkansas.
During his remarks, Beebe also took a shot at some who suggested the Governor’s reserve of money used for economic development incentives should be used to ease a $53 million deficit in the Public School Health Insurance program that is threatening near 50% increases in premiums to be paid by teachers and other plan participants.
“(I)f you do that, we don’t have these (new job) announcements,” Beebe warned.
As to future announcements, Beebe said Arkansas is one of many states actively recruiting companies in the growing firearms industry. The National Shooting Sports Foundation reported that the 2012 economic impact of the U.S. firearms industry was $31.8 billion, with more than 26,000 new jobs in the sector between 2011 and 2012. Sales of weapons and ammunition have risen dramatically in recent years in response to concerns about tighter federal gun control laws.
Thermold will be used by state officials to market to other companies in the industry.
“We’re going to put you on our list of success stories,” Beebe said, pointing to the Thermold executives.