BY LEANN DILBECK –
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Ross visited Mena’s Nidec plant Thursday, October 23, as part of his Jobs First tour. Mena was just one of Ross’s planned stops that day which also included Paris, Booneville, Waldron and Pine Bluff as part of the day’s tour.
Ross was greeted by Plant Manager Mark Kinder and given a brief update of the facility since his last stop at the plant in 2009 before being given a guided tour and the opportunity to meet with a few of the almost 400 employees.
During the update, Kinder spoke of the plant being acquired by Japanese based company, Nidec, and how it now serves as a strong growth engine for its parent company manufacturing electrical motors. Kinder told Ross that the secret to the plant’s success is both its employees and the support of the community. “Strength, for us, is in the ability to make things… and that’s what we do… very well.” He explained that speed time to market was their greatest differentiator, “We are one of the fastest in the industry.”
Nidec’s annual capital investment averages over $5 million per year with a very aggressive focus in product development. Approximately 67% of the scope of the local plant manufactures electrical motors associated with fluids processing for municipal water/sewage, oil distribution, agricultural irrigation or LNG distribution. Another 27% is in industrial applications such as power cogeneration, mining, or pulp and paper processing.
Demonstrating the steady growth trend the local plant is experiencing, Kinder said that in 2010 their annual sales volume was $100 million with 320 employed and in 2013, it was $130 million with 390 employed. By 2016, sales volume is expected to have doubled from 2010 to $200 million in sales with 500+ jobs.
Those attending the meeting in the boardroom didn’t hesitate to explain to Ross how the completion of I-49 could not only help Nidec, but the region. With I-49 connecting to I-29 North in Kansas City, 1,700 miles of Interstate highway between New Orleans and Winnipeg, Canada is now 80% complete; however, Mena is at the center of the longest unfinished section, 145 miles between Fort Smith and Texarkana. Ross said he supported the completion, citing co-chairing an I-49 Caucus in 2010 as the U.S. Representative with Senator Boozman. He spoke of the headway in construction in both the north and the south, “Now, we just need to fill in the middle. No one is more committed to seeing the completion of I-49 than I am.”
As Kinder referenced the need for technical skills among its employees, Ross explained to him that education was a key factor in his Jobs First plan in establishing partnerships with high schools, community colleges, technical schools and industry, “For those young people who do not want to pursue a 4-year college degree, they can learn a skill, learn a trade, get their certification, and get a good paying job. In doing so, it helps provide our state with an educated and trained workforce we need to attract more and better paying jobs to Arkansas. It’s one thing for our young people to be getting an education… but they also need a job to come home to. Rich Mountain can partner with Nidec in terms of providing certification with the fields that you [Nidec] need expertise. They can go over here [RMCC] and get a certification and then walk across the street and get a job. That’s what we need more of.”
Mena and its manufacturing industry have been a popular destination this election season withRepublican gubernatorial candidate Asa Hutchinson also making a stop earlier this year. With just one week left, Arkansans will soon know who will take over the state’s reins.