TUPELO — When FMC-Tupelo opened its doors in Lee County 25 years ago, it opened doors for other industries, too, said Harry Martin, longtime president of the Community Development Foundation in Tupelo.
“The location of FMC led to the location of several other plants in that immediate job center, such as Action (Industries), Stone Container, Bauhaus U.S.A., Omega Motion, Precision Blade and others,” said Martin. “We are proud of FMC and this significant event celebrating their 25th anniversary and wish for them many more years of profitable and successful operation.”
FMC-Tupelo officially opened its doors on October 26, 1974 with 350 employees. With 300,000 square feet of production space and 30,000 square feet of office space, FMC started out manufacturing materials handling equipment and shipping approximately one million pounds of finished products per month. The $5-million plant had a $4-million payroll in 1975. At times, the plant had a capacity of 500 employees, but it has leveled off in the last several years to 375 non-union workers.
“We began as a turnkey manufacturing facility for materials handling systems and equipment,” said William A. Moran, plant manager, a native of West Va. and 20-year company veteran. “After 25 years of operations, we continue in this role and have maintained a significant market share among the Conveyor Equipment Manufacturers Association (CEMA) competitors. Additionally, we have added underground product lines for mining, which includes both conveyor structure and the terminal groups associated with the conveying equipment. This site is also a manufacturing facility for other FMC products outside our division, such as airport products and systems. Our traditional products bear the Link-Belt logo, such as bucket elevators, belt idlers and screw conveyors.”
In 1875, William Dana Ewart came up with the idea of making a square detachable link. With the assistance of John C. Coonley, the two organized Ewart Manufacturing Co., a precursor to the Link-Belt Machinery Co. That same year, H.W. Caldwell & Son Co. started building grain elevators and developed screw conveyors and associated lines. In 1921, the two companies merged into a parent Link-Belt organization.
Over the next few decades, the company developed numerous manufacturing components. During World War II, it contributed to the war effort by manufacturing military supplies. The Caldwell Co. and Link-Belt family were forerunners to FMC material handling equipment.
FMC is a major supplier of aircraft cargo loaders to industries involving airfreight. For example, Federal Express in Memphis has FMC loaders exclusively in its program. The Tupelo facility produces the major weldments for these loaders that range in load capacity from 15,000 to 60,000 pounds.
The company recently was selected as one of two contenders for a U.S. Air Force military contract to produce air cargo loader prototypes. A production contract to produce 264 “Next Generation Small Loaders” over a four-year period will be awarded early next year to the successful contender. If FMC-Tupelo wins the military contract, the loaders will be manufactured at the Tupelo plant and will result in more employment for the Mississippi facility, Moran said.
FMC holds dominant market share in the commercial airport cargo loader business, he said.
“To be successful in this business and hold a 70% market share, several important factors need to be in place,” Moran said. “The loaders must be engineered well, operate efficiently, perform reliably, and be a cost effective value of cost/benefit. Our commercial success is based on these factors.”
FMC-Tupelo is a wholly owned corporation with 17,000 employees at more than 100 manufacturing sites. In 1997, company sales totaled $4.5 billion primarily from machinery and equipment, performance chemicals and industrial chemicals business sectors.
The Lee County plant is one of the company’s largest facilities. This facility provides turnkey operation, from sales and marketing to shipping.
“FMC’s corporate goal is to be a high performance company, participating in chemical and industrial products markets, producing returns in the upper 25% of broad industry groups in which we operate,” Moran said.
Martin was instrumental in persuading FMC to Tupelo, according to Moran.
“Harry Martin may be too modest to say it, but his efforts are the main reason the company decided to locate here,” Moran said. “Mr. Martin’s visionary genius and effective leadership style are significantly responsible for the economic development in this area.”
FMC has provided an economic boost to the community, not only by generating employment for hundreds of residents, but by also contributing greatly to the community, said Debbie Hall, executive director of Northeast Mississippi United Way. In 1998, the corporation and its employees contributed more than $40,000 to the United Way, she said.
“In the last five years, the employees of FMC have given $106,665 to United Way and the corporation has matched that with $31,005, for a total of $137,670,” said Hall. “Their giving over 25 years has been close to $800,000.” Moran serves on the executive board of directors for the United Way agency.
Martin said Moran’s leadership of FMC-Tupelo for the last six years has been a plus to the community.
“We have seen the active participation of Bill Moran and his employees in all areas of civic, community and charitable work in the area,” Martin said.
The date of FMC-Tupelo’s 25th anniversary celebration has not yet been determined but will probably be held in September or early October.
“Our 25th anniversary is a real special time for us,” said Moran. “We are working out the details and waiting for word from key speakers.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at email@example.com.