Hytrol, a Jonesboro-based conveyor belt manufacturer, has expanded its workforce to more than 1,200 workers, a 20% increase in the last year, company President David Peacock told Talk Business & Politics.
The company increased its workforce almost 50% in the last 18 months, and it’s likely the company will have to add workers to meets the $200 million in business this year, a 35% increase from 2016.
“We’re at an inflection point … we make more conveyor equipment than anybody in the U.S.,” he said.
Amazon bought about $1 million worth of equipment from Hytrol in 2015, and the amount rose to more than $30 million in 2016. It’s expected to go higher this year. A little more than 8% of products are bought online each year, and the figure could rise to 35% if projections hold. Amazon’s robust growth has forced other retailers to compete in the e-commerce space, and that means those companies need to conveyor belts to move products.
By this time in 2016, the company had $76 million in business; it has done $103 million in 2017, Peacock said. In good years sales have risen by up to 17%, but nothing like this, he said. This year Hytrol will use 50 million pounds of steel. The company’s stark growth led it to the White House earlier this week.
President Donald Trump held a “Made in America Product Showcase” in Washington D.C., during which American-owned companies from all 50 states were invited to take part. One company from each state was selected. Hytrol got the nod after it was nominated by Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s office. Peacock said his company was humbled by the honor.
“We were a good fit for what they were trying to do with the Showcase,” Peacock said.
Hytrol has been in business since 1962. When it first opened it had 26 employees. It’s solely based in Northeast Arkansas. Since the plant opened it has undergone nine expansions. It completed a $12 million expansion in 2016 when adding 62,000-square-feet to the facility.
The Jonesboro facility has just under 700,000-square-feet and more is needed, he said. The company just spent $30 million on capital equipment upgrades. An expanding facility means more workers will be needed. A few robots will perform some functions, but people will still have to run the robots, he said.
Finding qualified mechanical engineers, welders, machinists, and other vocationally skilled workers is a challenge. Hytrol works with its partners such as Arkansas State University and others to find workers. How much the next expansion will entail from a facility and workforce perspective is still under review, and no announcements are imminent, Peacock said. Explosive growth is a challenge, but it’s one Hytrol gladly accepts, Peacock said.
“We’re in a good position right now,” he said.