One of Jonesboro's industrial jewels is expanding its reach to western Arkansas.
Hytrol Conveyor Co. Inc. of Jonesboro on Monday announced it will establish a new factory in an existing 300,000-SF facility on Jenny Lind Road in Fort Smith.
The company, citing big demand for its material handling systems, said it will invest $20 million in the project and hire 250 people within five years.
"Hytrol has been in Jonesboro, Arkansas since 1962," company President David Peacock said. "We began with 28 employees and have grown to more than 1,200 employees in that location. When it came time to expand with an additional production facility, it was an easy decision to stay in Arkansas."
Peacock and Phillip Poston, the grandson of Hytrol founder Tom Loberg, joined Fort Smith city leaders and Gov. Asa Hutchinson to announce the project via webcast Monday morning.
As director of the Fort Smith site, Poston is charged with getting the plant up and running. He offered few details about a timeline, but said they would be ramping up "very quickly" and hiring "really soon." He promised more "hiring waves" throughout the year.
"The material handling industry is growing at a remarkable pace, and we are excited to invest in this new production facility to continue to support our customers," he said. "Hytrol is proud to be joining the Fort Smith community, and we look forward to developing valuable relationships here that will help us continue to move the world."
Peacock said the decision to expand comes amid increased demand for its products, which can be found in factories and product distribution centers churning out more products amid the pandemic.
The growing demand was apparent even before the coronavirus, when Peacock told Arkansas Business that his company was benefiting from historic changes in retail that led to new clients — everyone from digitally savvy local retailers to major department stores like Macy’s or Nordstrom.
"It's the Amazon effect, if you will," Peacock said in a 2017 interview. "We're going from cartons of products to 'eaches' of products. There's just not enough capacity in the material handling industry right now to meet the demand."
Peacock and Poston repeatedly emphasized their devotion to Jonesboro, where the company has operated since 1962, after Winthrop Rockefeller, as chairman of the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission, recruited Loberg's young operation to Arkansas. The company now has more than 700,000 SF of production space and 48,000 SF of research and development space in two facilities there.
"Hytrol loves Jonesboro and will always call Jonesboro home," Poston said. "Today's announcement is purely about growth."
It might also be about covering your bases. Peacock noted that last year's tornado narrowly missed his Jonesboro factory. That EF-5 tornado struck in March, causing extensive damage to the local mall and airport and destroying at least 80 homes.
Peacock said the decision to expand in Fort Smith came after a long search that involved sites in 13 states. In choosing Arkansas, it will benefit from incentives including seven years of the Create Rebate Program, which is a cash rebate based on the company's annual payroll for new employees, and the Tax Back Program, which provides a sales and use tax refund for eligible expenditures.
Arkansas is also providing Hytrol with $2.25 million from the Governor's Quick Action Closing Fund, with $250,000 of those funds dedicated to training, according to the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.
Hytrol signed "a long-term lease" on the Fort Smith facility with NAI Harmon Group of Toledo, Ohio, which owns Spartan Logistics, whose holdings include the former Whirlpool distribution center and the Riverside Furniture building, both on Jenny Lind Road. The Hytrol facility will be in the former Whirlpool building, according to Tim Allen, CEO of the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Speaking on Monday, Fort Smith Mayor George McGill said "many cities would die" for this kind of an announcement.
"Fort Smith is bursting at the seams with good people …," he said. "You're going to be pleased with that."