Update: Canadian Manufacturer to Open U.S. Headquarters in Conway

Update: Canadian Manufacturer to Open U.S. Headquarters in Conway

Canadian manufacturer DBG on Wednesday announced plans to establish a U.S. headquarters in Conway at Navistar's former IC Bus bus parts-making plant. The 41-year-old company provides custom metal products to the heavy truck, automotive, agriculture and commercial industries.

DBG, which stands for De Biasi Group, started operating the facility on Tuesday. The company has received state and local incentives, but has no immediate plans to add additional product lines or to hire more than the 200 people currently employed at the plant. 

It qualified for $650,000 from the Governor's Quick Action Closing Fund and two years of Create Rebate, an annual cash rebate that will be equal to 3.9 percent of the company's total payroll associated with the new jobs created, according to Jeff Moore, an Arkansas Economic Development Commission spokesman. 

The closing fund money must be used for permanent improvements to the facility and the company must create at least $2 million annually in payroll to qualify for the Create Rebate.

Additionally, Stonegate Bank, which Home BancShares is set to acquire in the fourth quarter of 2017, ranked twelfth among banks with assets between $1 billion and $5 billion. 

“We are honored Home BancShares has been recognized nationally among the top-performing banks of our size,” said John Allison, Chairman.  “This recognition is a nice reward for sound decision-making through the years across our organization. We are proud of our ability to continue improving shareholder value and financial performance for our investors.”

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported this week that Conway intends to issue up to $5.2 million in industrial revenue bonds that will reduce the company's property taxes.

"The acquisition of Navistar's former IC Bus operations allows us to be part of a growing community, provides us with a strong experienced workforce, increases our technical capabilities and diversifies our product offering," President and CEO Mike De Biasi said in a news release. "DBG has been looking for a location to establish our USA Operations for many years, and today we are excited that our research has led us to Conway, Arkansas."

Bob Lafrance, executive vice president of strategic growth, in an email to Arkansas Business declined to disclose the purchase price for the land, building and operating assets DBG bought, citing that it is a private company. The property has five addresses, but the main one is 600 Dave Ward Drive.

He also also said the company plans to "refurbish and invest significantly in the facility in order to build an operation that the associates and the Conway community can be proud of. We believe that if we do that that we will see significant growth from our customers and other customers located in the southern United States."

Lafrance said DBG has not hired anyone for the renovations and could not share specifics about its plans yet because the company has signed several confidentiality agreements. He also said its "planning phase is in full swing" and, once that is complete, renovations will begin immediately.

The facility will continue to make bus parts for Navistar. It has more than 200 employees.

There are no immediate plans to hire more people, Lafrance said in the email, but the current employees will have a say in the renovation plans. He also said, "At this point, it is business as usual. We will continue to supply the IC Bus Company in Tulsa and work to get the facility ready for growth in the future. We do not see adding volume of people to the facility at this time, although there will be additional positions added as required, since some of the current positions in the facility were managed corporately by Navistar in Chicago."

Lafrance said there are also no plans to add product lines right now, but the company expects to increase the volume at the faclity and that it may manufacture fuel tanks in the future because DBG is a big supplier of those. 

"Our plans are to not only proudly serve the needs of Navistar but to diversify and secure long-term employment for all of the associates at the Conway facility," Peter Chapman, a former IC Bus employee who is now general manager of DBG Conway, said in the release. "The company has aggressive plans to double its business over the next five years. This will require substantial investment in facilities and equipment while in turn creating significant employment opportunities that are less reliant on the seasonality of the bus market."

About the five-year plan Chapman cited, Lafrance said, "We are planning that a significant portion of this growth will come from other customers. Unfortunately, we do expect to see some slowdown as the bus market takes its annual slowdown until the new year. Up until the end of the year, we are hoping to see some growth in incremental volume from new parts for bus[es] and other parts from Navistar's other facilities. We are also going to look at moving some work from our Canadian facilities, if possible." 

He also wrote in the email, "DBG has been interested in the Conway facility for a number of years. From the facility standpoint, we have always liked the business diversity and Navistar as a customer. Over the past year, the city of Conway (location, demographics and community), and the people at the plant (technical, capable and motivation, hungry for change), were the biggest attractions once we started to work on the transaction. We have been very happy with what Conway, the city and our new facility has to offer."

Lafrance said the company is opening a U.S. headquarters because, "At this point, we have a really diverse and strong customer base. For example, we currently serve most of the medium duty and heavy truck companies in one capacity or another and, in some cases, our lack of a footprint in the USA has prevented us from reaching some of our growth goals. We are confident that by adding a facility like Conway – with diverse technical capabilities, a strong team and in a good location, we will see significant growth."

Mike Preston, director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission said, "Advanced manufacturing jobs play an integral part in our state's economy. I applaud DBG's decision to invest in Conway and keep 200 valuable employees working here as the company explores additional growth opportunities."

Conway Area Chamber CEO Brad Lacy said the move comes after a year-long process that gave him insight into the company's culture. "DBG has been recognized as one of Canada's best managed private companies and one of the best to work for," he said. "Our team has seen firsthand how thoughtful and growth-oriented they are. They are the perfect fit to carry on Conway’s legacy of advanced manufacturing."

Conway Mayor Bart Castleberry said the the "fact that a growing company like DBG recognizes and invests in our manufacturing future is an honor."

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