By Dennis Seid
TUPELO – Five years ago, Eric Nanney founded his company, Challenge Automation, in the middle of the Great Recession.
But as successful entrepreneurs often do, starting a business during tough economic times often opens opportunities.
Challenge Automation custom designs and engineers automated equipment. Among the early customers was Tecumseh in Verona. It also was one of Challenge’s first large customers, helping set the stage for explosive growth during the past few years.
“We found a key segment in the market,” Nanney said.
On Wednesday, the company officially unveiled its new facility that nearly doubles the size of its former space. The $800,000 investment also has added six to 10 jobs, and the company now employs 23.
The company was formed in 2009 and formerly operated from a leased 7,300-square-foot building on McCullough Boulevard.
“We started with six employees, and we had a five-year plan to be in our own place and have 18 employees,” said Nanney. “We exceeded our expectations.”
Challenge Automation’s new home is a 14,000-square-foot facility in which it can further expand if necessary. In addition to Tecumseh, other companies like GE and Black and Decker have been some of the clients that have used Challenge Automation’s services. The company also counts on smaller companies, too, that find value in what it does.
“Back when we started, it was great to get these big jobs, but over the years, we’ve realized the importance of having sustained work, and this is the point we’re at now,” Nanney said. “We’re getting more contracts, and we simply outgrew where we are.”
The company still is seeking software engineers, a specialized skill in high demand, Nanney said.
“We have a group of highly skilled, highly trained employees,” he said, “and we need a few more.”
That’s the mantra the Community Development Foundation has been repeating for several years – “more and better jobs.”
CDF President and CEO David Rumbarger said the work that goes on at Challenge Automation is “the future of manufacturing.”
And it was a future that Nanney clearly saw, even during difficult economic times.
“When we first started, some of us were working 40-hour weeks and getting paid for 10,” he said. “But we would get together again the next week and find work to do.”
That patience and persistence has paid off nicely, and Nanney said the outlook for the company is unlimited.
“We’re excited about the future as we continue to grow in Tupelo,” he said. “We’ve got a lot to offer existing industry in north Mississippi, the state and the surrounding area.
On the Web: www.challengeautomation.com