ROLLING FORK — For John Slagter, the peace and tranquillity of Rolling Fork is a God-send. When he looked for a locale to establish his unique concrete flooring manufacturing business, Stonecraft, LLC, he chose the Sharkey County community because of its leisurely pace, not in spite of it.
Before coming to the Delta, Slagter had been prospecting in Haiti, where the political environment was volatile, even potentially lethal.
“On the same day my life was threatened, one of my investors called and told me about an opportunity to build a business in Rolling Fork. I was on the phone to Mississippi the next morning,” Slagter said in a news release from the Enterprise Corporation of the Delta (ECD).
ECD, which provided Stonecraft with a $400,000-loan for operating and equipment costs, is just one of many organizations and individuals that worked to get the manufacturer in the Delta.
“ECD shares John Slagter’s economic development mission and was impressed by his product and plan for Rolling Fork,” said Alan Benson, vice president of ECD. “This was a great opportunity for several groups to join forces to bring employment and revenue into the area.”
The decision to bring Stonecraft to Rolling Fork was influenced by Slagter’s spirituality. The Grand Rapids, Mich. native is a member of the Christian Reformed Church, founded by immigrants from the Netherlands, which has maintained the Cary Christian Center in nearby Cary since the 1920s. Thus, when that investor suggested Sharkey County to Slagter, one plus was providing service to his church.
Slagter also saw the needs of the area — high unemployment and low morale.
“My dream was to locate the business in a community that needed economic development,” Slagter said. “We want to make Rolling Fork the kind ofcommunity people want to move to.” Slagter added that his preconceived notion of the Delta was flawed. “The Mississippi Delta is much better than I expected. It’s green and beautiful, and the people are wonderful.”
The project, by its very nature, took a lot of cooperation from the state, county, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the South Delta Planning and Development District, ECD, president and CEO Fred Miller of the Bank of Anguilla and the Delta Council in Stoneville, and a lot of time.
“I guess I worked on this project with John for four or five years,” said Mark Manning, executive director of the Delta Council and who Slagter gives credit for coordinating the project. “This was not like recruiting a manufacturing branch plant when things can really move along at a fast pace — it was a redevelopment project which takes much longer and requires more participation by people and organizations to make it happen.”
The end result of all this effort and time is that now Rolling Fork has a manufacturer of a high-quality product. Stonecraft makes polymer-modified concrete flooring which appeals to interior designers and architects. According to Johnny Smith, plant manager, the product offers durability, flexibility and a wide range of colors (about 125 in all with the color permeating the product, thus no fading with wear) and patterns.
For Smith, Stonecraft’s arrival was especially significant. He was the manager of Delta Elastic, the previous occupant of Stonecraft’s approximately 150,000-square-foot facility. Unfortunately, the area lost the textile manufacturer some years ago.
“At one point, (Delta Elastic) employed about 180 people before downsizing began,” he said. “In 1995, the plant shut down, and the facility stood vacant ever since. It’s personally a good feeling to see people back at work at this facility.”
Stonecraft has been in production on a limited scale for only a few months. When full production is achieved, the company said it plans on employing between 75-100 manufacturing jobs, with 12 of those management positions.
Stonecraft is projecting sales of $6 million annually in two years. That estimate takes into account the flooring market only. However, the company is already eyeing new horizons.
“If we expand into siding and roofing and things we haven’t thought of yet, our potential is unlimited,” Slagter said.
Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at email@example.com or (601) 364-1016.