W&W/AFCO Steel on Wednesday announced plans to expand operations to the former LM Wind Power site at the Little Rock Port.
The $18.7 million investment is expected to create 115 full-time jobs over five years, growing the company's statewide workforce to more than 400. The steel fabricator, headquartered in Oklahoma City, has two plants in Little Rock and one in Van Buren. It has 18 production facilities in total across the U.S.
W&W/AFCO President Grady Harvell said the empty 138,846-SF building at the port will be outfitted with burning tables, blast machines, welding machines and more with the goal of starting partial operations by October. He said full operations should begin by the first quarter of 2023.
W&W/AFCO is leasing the building from a group of northwest Arkansas investors who purchased it in December 2020 for $9.5 million. Harvell said the steel maker has the option to buy the building after four years.
The facility will allow W&W/AFCO to expand production of fabricated structural steel for bridges and commercial buildings. The company's bridge operations are headquartered in Little Rock.
"For more than a century, W&W/AFCO Steel has been a strong business partner in Arkansas," Gov. Asa Hutchinson said. "Much of Little Rock’s commercial buildings were built with AFCO steel, and I’m thrilled to see that a company that has invested so much in our community continues to prosper."
W&W/AFCO signage had already been placed at the property for an event Wednesday announcing the company's expansion. Harvell and Hutchinson told a crowd of more than 100 workers in attendance that they're the reason W&W/AFCO picked Little Rock to continue its growth. Harvell said much has changed over the years in the steel industry, but what hasn't changed is "the work ethic of Arkansans."
Hutchinson echoed that sentiment, telling the group of welders, crane operators, engineers and more, "You are the ones that attract industry to this state."
AFCO, which was founded in Little Rock in 1909 and sold to W&W in 2002, has provided steel for countless projects across the state, including the Big Rock Interchange in Little Rock. Its steel has also been used for major projects across the nation, including AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, and the National September 11th Memorial & Museum in New York City.
Hutchinson on Wednesday vowed to support W&W/AFCO's future projects by opposing rigorous environmental reviews that the Biden administration plans to reinstate. Opponents of the reviews, which apply to infrastructure projects and are set to take effect in late May, argue that it will cause delays and encourage activist litigation.
"We don't want to slow down major projects because of a regulatory burden," Hutchinson said. "We will do everything we can to eliminate that."
According to the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, W&W/AFCO qualified for two incentive programs: Tax Back, which provides sales and use tax refunds on the purchase of building materials and taxable machinery, and five years of the Create Rebate program, an annual cash rebate based on the number of jobs added by a company.
The port facility was occupied by LM Wind Power for 13 years before it shut down in 2020. The Danish company, which produced fiberglass wind turbine blades, originally projected employing as many as 1,000 people. But it never reached that mark, as orders dwindled in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis and the company began a series of layoffs.
GE Renewable Energy acquired LM Wind in 2016 in a $1.6 billion deal that eventually led to the company shutting down its Little Rock operations.
The square footage of the building was misstated in a previous version of this story.