TOURS NIDEC AND MENA INTERMOUNTAIN MUNICIPAL AIRPORT
BY LEANN DILBECK –
Arkansas Economic Development Commission Director Mike Preston and Regional Manager Cody Slater toured Arkansas’ District 20 on Monday by invitation of State Representative John Maddox [R]. “I requested Mr. Preston come to my district and see what we have to offer. In my opinion, we have some great local employers and we need to do everything we can to support them and help them grow. I also wanted to show them our area and all that we have to offer for any other employers who may be looking to expand, relocate etc.,” explained Rep. Maddox.
AEDC can and is instrumental in the retention and acquisition of business and industry to the state. As Rep. Maddox explained, “I have been contacting AEDC and speaking with them on the phone since my election but it is nice to get them here and let them see all we have to offer. The AEDC provides support and assistance to employers in Arkansas. There are tax credits available for existing employers who are looking to expand, and they are available to provide other assistance.”
Assisting Maddox with the tour was Polk County Judge Brandon Ellison. The tour began in Norman, Ark. at the CG Roxanne water plant. They then travelled to Mena and spent just over 90 minutes at NIDEC, attending a detailed plant overview from Plant Manager Mark Kinder, followed by a tour of the 347,000 square foot facility that was first built in Mena in 1966. The large manufacturing facility is one of the area’s largest employers with a current work force of approximately 370 people.
Kinder explained that NIDEC, a Japanese based company, acquired the plant from Emerson Electric in early 2010 and explained that NIDEC’s founder, Mr. Shigenobu Nagamori “breathes” electric motors. Kinder further explained that the plant enjoys being positioned as a “growth engine” and shared that approximately $37 million had been invested into the plant by NIDEC in the last four years, making important and necessary upgrades. “Mr. Nagamori is very high on U.S. manufacturing. […] He thinks American manufacturing is the goal line. That’s where you want it at its best. […] saying the productivity and innovation here is what they want to be.”
Kinder was proud to report that the plant is enjoying an uptick in activity after a brief downturn in demand, “We are now beginning to feel pressure from the market and that’s good.” He added that the strongest differentiator for NIDEC is their speed to market. “Once capital has been approved, time is money. Speed to market is certainly our secret to securing orders.” He added that NIDEC is the best in the industry in lead times and contributes that to being able to remain competitive against both foreign and domestic companies. He also credited NIDEC’s strategy of minimal outsourcing and their flexible vertical integration in helping their speed to market.
Preston inquired about local suppliers and Kinder explained that such products as steel are a global buy but they do utilize regional distributors and they are also utilizing the local Sterling Machinery for supplemental manufacturing components.
Preston shared with Kinder that he and Governor Asa Hutchinson will be visiting Japan in the fall and plan to visit with NIDEC leadership to thank them for doing business in Arkansas. Kinder commended them for those efforts. Preston explained, “The governor is very, very aggressively trying to carry the Arkansas message all around the world where we have foreign and domestic presence… we’re sitting down and saying ‘thank you’ and saying ‘what can we do to help you guys? When you look at that growth trajectory, we will do whatever we can to help you grow… equipment, machinery, people… whatever it may be… we want to be there to help you guys.’”
When Preston asked what his commission could do to assist the local NIDEC plant, Kinder, without a moment’s hesitation, replied, “the highway,” which did not seem to be a surprise to Preston or Slater. Kinder never mentioned it by name as “I49”, but everyone was well aware of what ‘highway’ he was referring to.
Kinder boasted about the plant’s low utility cost. “It’s very attractive and we want to keep it there… it really helps to keep the overhead down.”
Preston also asked Kinder about what challenges his plant is facing and Kinder explained, “… the growth challenges. We have several growth platforms that we’re trying to crack that have a lot of barriers. The oil industry is one of them… it is very difficult and is receiving a lot of attention. We want this place to have twice as many people. We want it to grow. We’re only like 5% of our market… there’s huge growth opportunity.”
Kinder said that they have a waiting list of people for jobs when asked about the workforce and explained they need people with machinist skill sets as well as welders but said they are hiring more and more people for general employment with degrees from UARM. Kinder explained that hiring qualified people for their more professional positions in engineering and IT is difficult, but indicated that the new ‘highway’ could help alleviate that challenge.
Following the NIDEC tour, the caravan continued on to the Mena airport. Overall, Rep. Maddox said he was very pleased with the visit. “The need for I-49 was brought up by the local employers and how it was stifling their growth. The ability to move goods and people in an efficient manner is vitally important to the long-term growth of any region, in my opinion. I was very pleased with the meeting… we have to continue to promote this area and let people see all we have to offer.”