OUR OPINION: Walnut lands thriving Memphis-based industry

A sizable number of residents in and near Walnut, Tippah County’s northern-most municipality, for decades have commuted to Memphis and eastern Shelby County, Tenn., for work because the drive is relatively short and sometimes the jobs have been better than what’s locally available.

Wednesday the tables turned with an outflow of jobs from Memphis to Walnut with announcement that Aluma-Form, a Memphis-based company, will open a 70,000- to 80,000-square-foot manufacturing and distribution facility in the Walnut Industrial Park, adding 125 jobs to the town and county’s private-sector payroll. Aluma-Form becomes the second plant in the park. Abby Manufacturing operates in the park; it is a supplier for FedEx.

A formula for cooperation, cost-sharing and investment familiar to development leaders and entrepreneurs statewide was used to land the $6.7 million investment, plus state and local incentives.

The plant will be about 50 miles from a larger main plant in Memphis.

“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.

The firm is 50 years old, certainly not a newcomer in any sense in an internationally competitive market.

The company plans to be up and running on its 17-acre site in Walnut by this time in 2014.

The incentives include 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, Daily Journal Business Editor Dennis Seid reported Thursday. Tippah County is kicking in $155,000 and Walnut is adding $40,000.

Walnut, with about 600 residents, has a K-12 school, an important asset. The town appears on first glance to sit alone at the intersection of U.S. Highway 72 and Mississippi 15, but the population demographics and the reach of business within 50 miles include the Memphis metropolitan area, Corinth and several other municipalities in Tennessee and Mississippi.

Business leaders in other parts of Tippah County also expressed enthusiasm for the new plant, noting its impact on other commercial operations as employment reaches full force.