GREENVILLE — To the casual observer, the Delta — in places — seems like one big catfish pond broken by the occasional thousand acres or so of soybeans or cotton. But a closer inspection reveals that the Delta does boast its share of industry diversity, including high-tech businesses.
One of these is Creative Automated Technologies Inc. of Greenville. Originally founded in Indianola in 1993, the system integration company has experienced exponential growth developing industrial control and monitoring applications for industrial and other concerns.
And what was it that put CAT on such firm footing? Catfish ponds.
The three founding partners of CAT — Keith Jones, Robert Kisner and Clark Mulloy — were employed by different Delta industries and had spent most of their careers in high-tech jobs and automated manufacturing industries. The three came together in the late 1980s and began the design and development of the CAT catfish pond automated system.
In catfish farming, one of the major difficulties is monitoring the aeration of ponds. During the daytime, photosynthesis from the algae in the ponds produces oxygen levels usually sufficient for the fish. At night, however, natural oxygen production ends and often farmers must artificially add air.
“We saw a real need that catfish farmers had,” said Mulloy. “In fish farming, it is critical that the oxygen level of ponds be monitored continuously, especially at night. We believed that if the farmers had a monitoring system that cut aeration on and off automatically, it would have a big economic impact from energy savings, but it would also free them up from having to have someone stay up all night and add considerably to their quality of life.”
EXPANDING ACROSS THE SOUTHEAST
CAT has now installed its monitoring systems all over the Southeast — in Mississippi, Arkansas, and as far away as South Carolina, where the state’s former secretary of agriculture recently had one delivered.
The product has been so successful that CAT has seen a 600% increase in employees (it now employs 14 people) and has seen business at least double every year.
In addition to its headquarters on Paradise Lane, CAT also maintains its own catfish farm near the airport which is used as a sort of field laboratory for the product, as well as a demonstrator for potential customers.
Now that its catfish aerator is flying out the door, CAT is looking to push for business in other non-agricultural areas. Some industrial projects include design of electronic systems, logic and software for automated product palletizing, high-speed automated packaging machines upgrades and design and installation of food process control systems. The company is also working on upgrading many systems to make them Y2K compliant.
Mulloy said the company worked very hard to market its pond automation system. The company has the stated objective of having its “CAT” pond system on every farm in the U.S. But CAT is also looking to be the largest systems integration firm in the Southeast. Thus, CAT is looking to push its other services and products, an effort begun in earnest in mid-1997, with the goal of having a 50-50 mix with the pond monitoring system.
However, at the same time the company feels that its key to success has been filling a niche and providing efficient, seamless solutions to its customers, and its determined not to forget that lesson.
“CAT Inc. measures success by repeat customers,” Mulloy said. “We feel that we have almost a family relationship with our customers. We are learning more and more each day about the complexities of automation, and we will bring what we learn to our customers.”