The new auto industry in Mississippi is sending business to small firms, allowing one molder to expand from 30 employees to more than 100 by the end of this year - and in the process take over a shuttered plant.
American National Molding LLC is moving from a small, rented operation in Brandon, Miss., with eight presses to buy out Exide Technologies' Inc. 700,000-square-foot plant with 53 presses in Flowood, Miss.
``We started researching what we wanted to do, and at first our interest was just in the building, since it was already wired for injection molding,'' said American National Molding co-owner and President Derrick Dabbs. ``Then we were able to also acquire all the machines, so that gave us practically a turnkey operation.''
The company also has started hiring some former Exide employees. The Princeton, N.J.-based battery maker announced last year it would close its Mississippi operations, cutting about 200 jobs. American National Molding expects to have 100-150 people employed within a few months.
``We have been so fortunate that we have been able to hire so many of the key personnel who had been with Exide,'' Dabbs said. ``By no means can we hire all of them, but they've made such an impact on our capabilities and our knowledge.''
Dabbs, his wife Lisa Dabbs and business partner Tom Broocks launched American National Molding in 2000. They were able to weather some tough conditions immediately after Sept. 11, 2001, and now are in position to benefit as suppliers to the new Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. assembly plant in Canton, Miss., look through the region for a new supply base of their own.
ANM will produce a variety of interior trim parts for M-Tek Inc., the Manchester, Tenn.-based company that will produce components for Nissan from its own new plant in Canton. Nissan will begin full production later this year.
``We're still in a start-up mode here,'' Dabbs said. ``We're learning [about] this facility and what we can do with it.''
American National Molding is not alone. M-Tek has contracted with other companies in Mississippi - among them Dickten & Masch Inc.'s plant in Hattiesburg, and Kincsis Tool and Molding of Flora - that are in the first wave of second-tier suppliers winning business thanks to the auto industry's Southern exposure.
``It's really starting to have an impact on the plastics industry here,'' said Jesse Smith, manager of marketing and training for the Mississippi Polymer Institute, the Hattiesburg-based group charged with helping the plastics industry in the state. ``This has been a tremendous story for us here.''
Derrick and Lisa Dabbs moved to Mississippi from the Detroit area, where both had worked for Ford Motor Co. They had no idea at that time that the auto industry would end up coming their way. Now that it has, they expect it to have a real business influence - and for more than their company.
``This has been very good for the whole area,'' he said. ``Obviously, our business is seeing an impact, but several others are as well - and it's not just Nissan. You've also got Alabama, with Honda and Mercedes and now Hyundai. It's been exciting for the whole Southeast.''
The company has other contracts beyond M-Tek, and will continue seeking business to take full advantage of the new facility.
``Our growth model has changed several times over the years,'' Dabbs said. ``Obviously, we had a lot of apprehension at the time of buying something so big, but we've been growing quickly. It's all kind of hit us all at the same time, and we've been very fortunate.''