Pocahontas Aluminum grows steadily

by George Jared ([email protected]) 1,426 views 

Edd Rose decided in 1966 to sell his burgeoning business, Pocahontas Aluminum Company Inc., (PAC) to his son, Larry Don (L.D.) Rose. There was only one problem: L.D. was about to be drafted into the Army to fight in the Vietnam War. Edd sold the business to his son, but agreed to operate it until his son returned.

More than 50 years have passed since L.D. bought the business, and it now has 167 employees. It’s one of the top 10 employers in Randolph County and one of the two or three largest manufacturers, according to the Randolph County Chamber of Commerce.

PAC manufactures aluminum windows and doors and vinyl windows. In the future, the company hopes to add vinyl doors, said Leigh Ann Gibson, L.D.’s daughter. Gibson is PAC’s vice president of sales. The company operates out of two buildings in the Pocahontas Industrial Park.

“I was born and raised in Pocahontas, and I am proud that I was able to return home and provide jobs for people so they don’t have to leave,” L.D. said. “Pocahontas is a small town in Northeast Arkansas and has enormous recreational and sporting activities, with five rivers within 15 miles of our downtown.

“We have a museum that explains Pocahontas’s history that visitors are amazed at, and we have lots of historic sites to see. Our community is growing rapidly since the biggest chicken processing plant [Peco Foods] in the U.S. was built here a couple of years ago.”

Pocahontas is the county seat and largest city in Randolph County. It has a population of 6,496 as of July 1, 2017, a 2% drop from 2010, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. The median income in the city is $34,248, and 17% of the population lives at or below the federal poverty line. From January 2017 to June 2018, the unemployment rate in Randolph County dropped from 5.1% to 4.5%. The county has a labor force of 6,879 workers, and there are 256 unemployed workers as of May, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

With more than 1,300 employees, Peco Foods is the top employer in the county, according to the Randolph County Chamber of Commerce. It’s followed by the Pocahontas School District (255), the Randolph County Nursing Home (219), Walmart (212), Black River Technical College (211) and Five Rivers Medical Center (200). PAC recently passed Neilsen Bainbridge to rank seventh among all employers in the county.

Generating jobs and growing a business in a rural community can be a daunting task, Randolph County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Tim Scott said. About 75% of the company’s workforce lives in or around Randolph County, he said. How much the company has grown is a surprise — even to the owners, Scott added.

“It’s one of our most important employers,” Scott said. “They have clients and customers from the East Coast to the West Coast. I don’t think they in their wildest dreams could have imagined growing like this. It’s a vital business to Pocahontas and Randolph County.”

PAC started with one part-time employee in 1963. At the time, the company serviced storm windows and doors. By the time L.D. bought the company, its services had expanded to awnings, carports and patio covers. When he returned from Vietnam, he started making doors for the truck cap industry. A few years later an aluminum camper frame line was added, as was a glass shop. Growth in the portable building and mobile home industry during the 1970s and 1980s spurred PAC’s growth, L.D. said.

The company had moved from building to building, but in 1999 L.D. decided to build a 50,000-square-foot building in the industrial park, and several years later the company bought a former shoe manufacturing building, bringing its total production and warehouse size to 80,000 square feet.

Trade wars with China, Mexico and other countries could impact the company, but finding enough quality laborers is the primary issue facing PAC, Rose said.

Automating manufacturing procedures, which is expensive, is another problem facing the company, he said. Despite these issues, PAC continues to grow, he added. Keeping up with new products in the industry and in PAC’s targeted markets is another problem.

There are a myriad of advantages and disadvantages working with family members, Gibson said. Her closeness to her father led her to work at PAC, she added.

“Most of the time it is great, but it hurts for family vacations or outings, as it is hard for all of us to be gone at the same time,” Gibson said.