Conway’s manufacturing and technology sectors are getting a boost thanks to local expansion and a newcomer from the United States’ neighbor to the north.
Late last year Canada-based mass timber manufacturer Structurlam announced it is opening its first U.S. facility in Conway while steel fabricator SFI and internet technology company DXC Technology announced major expansions.
Structurlam announced in December it is spending $90 million to retrofit the former Nucor Steel Plant, where the company will employ 130.
SFI has been located in Conway for more than 40 years and currently has 70 employees. Its expansion, also announced in December, is expected to create 75 new jobs in less than two years.
Fortune 150 company DXC specializes in internet technology outsourcing and data management for Medicaid and announced its expansion in October. Its current facility employs about 400, and in creating “a global center of excellence” in Conway, it will employ an additional 1,200.
The announcements underscore Conway’s economic development efforts that include offering a diverse workforce equipped to fill the jobs being created. The presence of three colleges and a large secondary school district, vocational and trade schools and high school vocational programs all contribute to a multi-faceted, knowledgeable workforce, Conway Mayor Bart Castleberry said.
“We do have just a great workforce that really crosses all bridges,” said Castleberry, who himself possesses both a college degree and a Master Plumber certification. “Of course we have doctors and lawyers and people of higher education but we also have tremendous welders and pipefitters and people who are well versed in that.”
Through its long partnership with the Conway Development Corporation, the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce has continued its efforts to recruit new business to the city while maintaining contact with the local community to promote expansion of existing businesses.
Yearly visitation programs with the city’s larger employers, networking and executive forums with private employment leaders are just some of the efforts that, in the past 10 years, have resulted in Conway and Faulkner County adding 8,000 jobs and 1,000 new businesses.
Obviously the efforts were paying off as 2019 wound down.
Structurlam is the leading mass timber manufacturer in North America. The first customer for its U.S. operations will be Walmart, which will use the increasingly popular method of building construction in its corporate campus in Northwest Arkansas. Mass timber features structural, laminated wood components for walls, roofs, foors, beams and columns.
Structurlam is the first manufacturer to bring mass timber to the North American market and it selected Conway because of its proximity to 19 million acres of sustainable forest that covers more than half the land area of Arkansas. Its new facility is near major highways that can take its products to other markets, and Structurlam was also attracted to the idea of an existing site — the 288,000-SF Nucor Steel building — and ready-made workforce.
“There are so many similarities to central Arkansas and southern British Columbia,” said Structurlam CEO Hardy Wentzel. “A lot of trees, great people, outdoorsy environment to enjoy, good quality of life. We’re calling Conway our second home.”
SFI is a fully integrated steel fabricator with a second plant located in Memphis. In announcing its expansion, Jim McGill, vice president and business unit manager for SFI Arkansas, said the reinvestment in Conway was “very intentional” and would represent a move toward increased mechanical aptitude and problem solving skills. He said average wages for new positions could come close to $25 an hour.
“The best economic news a community can get is that one of its longtime employers is expanding,” Castleberry said.
DXC brings in $20.75 billion in revenues annually and has close to 6,000 clients in more than 70 countries.
With its Conway expansion, DXC will service clients in 30 states and is creating 1,200 jobs in health care, life sciences, automotive and security IT. Positions range from entry level data input at $10 per hour to Java developers, business analysts and management jobs that will pay close to $100,000.
“DXC has a leadership position in a growing market at the confluence of health care and technology” said David Hadsell, DXC Technology vice president of Global Healthcare. “We have been successful in Conway because of the talented workforce available in the community, which includes major universities, the strength of health care in the central Arkansas region and support of the technology industries.”