By Dennis Seid
WALNUT – Surrounded by members of the Walnut Youth Council on Wednesday at the city’s industrial park off U.S. Highway 72, Mayor Vicki Skinner smiled and said, “This is the reason why we’re here. … this is their future.”
That future includes the addition of Aluma-Form, a Memphis-based company that is opening a 70,000- to 80,000-square-foot manufacturing and distribution facility in the Walnut Industrial Park, and in the process is adding 125 jobs.
Walnut, in Tippah County, is some 50 miles east of Memphis, where the 50-year-old privately held company has a 160,000-square-foot facility.
The company has doubled in size since 2008, and it needed another manufacturing site. The search started about a year ago.
“We started with four locations, and it was a longer process than we anticipated,” said Aluma-Form CEO Fred Newman. “We found everything we needed here.”
Aluma-Form sells its overhead power distribution products – the brackets, braces, insulating arms, etc., on the top of utility poles – to customers across the U.S. and Canada.
“It’s a good business,” Newman said.
The company plans to be up and running on its 17-acre site in Walnut by this time next year. It will build the company’s newer products, while the Memphis factory will build its core products. Initially, the prototypes will be built and tested in Memphis, then the Walnut facility would pick up production.
The company is investing $6.7 million, in addition to state and local incentives.
That includes a $4.4 million loan to Tippah County for capital improvements and construction, $1 million for infrastructure improvements, $697,500 for workforce training and recruitment and $400,000 for relocation expenses.
In local matching money, Tippah County is kicking in $155,000 and Walnut is adding $40,000.
Newman said an “energized workforce” was a key reason why he chose Walnut. He also praised the “capabilities of the state’s universities,” several of which have provided help to his company. He cited Mississippi State University’s electrical engineering program, the University of Mississippi’s composites program and the University of Southern Mississippi’s Polymer Institute as key partners whom he would rely upon more.
He also emphasized the state’s welcoming attitude.
“This is a pro-business state,” he said. “More importantly, it’s pro-manufacturing. Many of our competitors make their products overseas, especially in China. We can do it here. We’re efficient enough and capable enough to do it here with an American workforce, and we will do it here.”