It’s official. Hytrol Conveyor Co. is in a relationship.
The Jonesboro-based advanced conveyor systems manufacturer announced this month it was expanding into Fort Smith. Not only does this mark Hytrol’s first new location since arriving in Jonesboro in 1962, it begins a mutually supportive arrangement between the two sites.
“Fort Smith is tripling the capacity of what we have here in Jonesboro for parcel, but it’s also a huge benefit for Jonesboro,” President David Peacock said. “The impact of doing parcel in Jonesboro was greater than what we had planned. Moving it from Jonesboro to Fort Smith will allow us to focus on our traditional channels and our traditional partners.”
Hytrol is investing $20 million in a new manufacturing plant in Fort Smith that will create 250 jobs before the end of the year. The Jonesboro operation employs more than 1,200.
Previous expansion in Jonesboro increased that facility to 660,000 SF in 2016. A 2018 renovation increased Hytrol’s technology center space to 45,000 SF.
Phillip Poston, director of site operations for Fort Smith, said Hytrol will occupy 312,000 SF of the former Whirlpool distribution center at 6500 Jenny Lind Road. Poston said the company needed an available building with room to grow as it accommodates the demand for parcel products brought on by online, home delivery retail shopping, a demand further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s an intentional ability to pull the parcel conveyors out of the business in Jonesboro and put them in a dedicated facility so that this facility can focus strictly on the parcel conveyor,” Poston said.
Parcel accounts for 30% to 40% of Hytrol’s business, Peacock said, and the traditional, bulk products make up 60% to 70%.
Poston said the Fort Smith facility will feature three, state-of-the art, 10K lasers and a cutting edge, automated paint system. Peacock noted it will provide redundancy for the paint system at the Jonesboro site, and vice versa.
“The paint system we have here is very similar to the one we’re putting in Fort Smith,” Peacock said. “If something happens and we lost this paint system for mechanical reasons, then Fort Smith can support Jonesboro. Another benefit of being close to each other.”
Poston said the paint system will come online Aug. 1, which may cause Hytrol to hold off on a ribbon cutting, but not on the start of operations.
The company is planning to cut metal for production beginning March 1, and has had things like the laser systems and brake presses on order since October, when Hytrol selected Fort Smith for the expansion site.
“We just didn’t have an address to deliver them to,” Poston said. “It wasn’t like we made the announcement and then made the equipment order.”
Peacock said the Fort Smith site will reach its full complement of 250 employees by fall as it brings workers on board in two phases, beginning with first shift employees and increasing the numbers and adding the second shift when the paint system comes online.
Poston said hiring is being done in the Fort Smith area, with a two-week onboarding process that includes classroom and hands-on training. Around eight to 10 “mentors” from the Jonesboro operation will add their expertise during a 90-day, on-the-job period.
Additionally, Poston noted, Fort Smith will be able to rely on Hytrol’s corps of approximately 100 engineers in Jonesboro.
The two, collaborative sites mean Hytrol will have continued presence in Jonesboro and hopefully be a good neighbor to both communities, Poston said.
“One of our core values is community,” he said. “We recognize we have a commitment and obligation to be good corporate citizens. We’re going to be good corporate citizens in Fort Smith, but we have relationships in Jonesboro we’re going to continue to nurture and grow.”
Poston’s role in the company’s growth has a personal slant. It was his grandfather, Tom Loberg, who started the company in Milwaukee in 1947.
“It’s an honor,” Poston said. “He’s got big shoes and by no means will I be able to fill them, but if I can be half of what he was to the employees he had the opportunity to be around then I’ll feel like I’m doing a great job.”