By Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal
WREN – When they were growing up, Libby Hudson and her sister, Jane Davis, had toys, but they weren’t necessarily dolls and tea sets.
Instead, they often could be seen on the front-loaders, steel rollers and other heavy equipment used in their family’s asphalt manufacturing company.
But the girls weren’t playing on the machinery – they were helping their parents, Larry and Joyce Blasingame.
Even today, it’s not unusual to see them get their hands dirty at Cold Mix in Wren, where they run the business their father founded 30 years ago.
“I’ve worked in it my whole life, starting around when I was 12,” said Hudson, who’s the promoter, in-the-field sales representative and product demonstrator for the company. Like her sister, she owns a stake in the business, while their mother maintains the largest share.
Davis took a little different route than her sister, however. She worked at Cold Mix, but also went to college and later came back to work in the company’s lab. She then became a registered nurse.
“I was a nurse for 18 years, but when our mother called to see if I could come back, I did,” she said.
Larry Blasingame died in 2007, and their mother knew it would be difficult to try to run the company without additional help.
“I’m a strong-willed woman,” Joyce Blasingame said with a chuckle, “but I wasn’t all that familiar with all the equipment. … I was in the office mainly. Besides, I was 70. And Jane said, ‘If I’m going to run the business I need to get in here now because I don’t want to wait and it be too late for you to teach me.’
“And the girls were raised in the business. They were on the road, they were on the equipment. … I don’t know how to do a lot of things, but they certainly do.”
There aren’t any readily available statistics to determine the rarity of a woman-owned asphalt company, much less one owned and run by three women.
“As far as we know, we’re the only one in Mississippi, but we’re not sure how many there might be in the South or across the country,” Hudson said.
The Mississippi Asphalt Pavement Association has several women-owned businesses in its membership, but none are asphalt companies.
The National Asphalt Pavement Association also doesn’t have a firm figure.
Needless to say, Hudson is confident in saying theirs is a unique business with a unique product.
“I haven’t met any other asphalt-maker owned by a woman, but that doesn’t mean they’re not out there,” she said.
So what is it about Cold Mix and its special asphalt that the family keeps talking about?
It’s not just any asphalt, for one. Larry Blasingame developed his own asphalt formula some 40 years ago, the same mix that’s used today.
“We haven’t changed a thing,” Hudson said.
Said Davis, “He was an amazing man. He really was a pioneer in the industry. And it’s incredible to think he came up with this formula and he never went beyond high school. He just knew a lot about chemistry.”
One special feature of the Cold Mix blend is that it can be stockpiled. Other asphalt mixtures must be used within a relatively short period of time, or it becomes unusable.
The “special sauce,” Hudson says, remains a closely guarded secret.
Despite its success and popularity, Cold Mix remains a small company – it has six employees, including the sisters. But its mixture is used by customers in 33 Mississippi counties, plus a few in Alabama. City and county governments make up nearly all of the company’s customer base.
And it’s that unique mixture that has kept the business going even through tough times like the most recent economic recession.
“It was his formula and the Lord who got us through even the toughest of times,” Joyce Blasingame said.
Davis, who remains a part-time nurse, said getting fully involved in the business again has been fulfilling.
“It’s a 180-degree turn from nursing,” she said, “and it comes with its own set of stresses as a business owner. But we love being together and it’s given us a special bonding time.”