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‘Little Silicon Valley of Mississippi’ provides tech jobs

CORINTH — If north Mississippi doesn’t immediately come to mind when you think about high-tech industries, that is probably because you haven’t heard of ACT Manufacturing Inc., which provides global electronics manufacturing solutions.

“We like to refer to ourselves as ‘the Little Silicon Valley of Mississippi,’” says Mark Ivey, director of human resources for ACT Manufacturing, which has a plant in Corinth that employs 850 people. “We’re very proud of what we’re doing in north Mississippi, because historically the state is not known for its technology, especially in electronics.”

The Corinth facility is the largest manufacturing facility under one roof for ACT Manufacturing, a company that employs a total of 3,600 people and is headquartered in Hudson, Mass.

ACT Manufacturing is the eighth-largest contract manufacturer in the U.S. Ivey said that because of the pervasive nature of the new, technology-driven economy, electronics contract manufacturing is currently the fastest growing industry in the U.S.

FASTER, SMARTER PRODUCTS FOR CUSTOMERS

“Because of the society we are living in, everything is driven by technology,” Ivey said. “Computers have an increasing number of applications, and there is a drive to make them do more and be more compact. The other reason why the contract manufacturing world has grown so is not just the drive for technology, but also because companies are now more interested in concentrating on core competencies. They want to spend their time developing, enhancing and marketing their product rather than getting bogged down in the process of making it. They prefer to let someone else who knows how manage that part of the business, and buy back the product. That is the main reason most companies are outsourcing some of their business.”

ACT Manufacturing merged in 1999 with CMC Industries Inc. The combined $800-million company has more than one million square feet of manufacturing space, including 350,000 square feet in the Corinth facility. Other manufacturing operations are located in Hudson, Mass, Atlanta, Santa Clara, Calif., Huntsville, Ala., and in Mexico, Ireland and Taiwan. Expansions are planned in more locations in the U.S., as well as overseas.

Ivey said the merger between ACT Manufacturing, Inc. and CMC Industries Inc. helps their customers bring their products to market faster and smarter than ever before.

The ACT Manufacturing operation in Corinth is located in the old ITT facility originally constructed in 1957. The company, an ISO 9001/TUV/BABT -certified contract manufacturer, produces electronic and telecommunications assemblies for the commercial electronics, communications and medical industries. Products include printed circuit board assemblies, cable and harness assemblies, electromechanical sub-assemblies and total system assembly, test and integration services.

“We take the customer product from drawings, purchase materials, manufacture the product, and send it to the distributor, an all-in-one-service, from concept to the marketplace,” Ivey said. “The market is being driven toward making electronic components do more and be more compact. To do that we specialize in surface mount technology. That allows you to place components on both sides of the circuit board using components that are about one third the size of older technology electronic components. To do these processes takes different types of equipment and skill levels.”

WILLING-TO-LEARN WORKFORCE A FACTOR IN ACT`S LOCATION

Ivey said ACT Manufacturing was attracted to Mississippi because of a workforce that was willing to learn the high-tech skills needed to compete in the global marketplace. In 1994 the transition from the old to new technology started, working with the State of Mississippi to provide training to upgrade the skill level of employees.

“They actually helped us to afford instructors to teach this different technology,” Ivey said. “We have been able to automate the process through the new technology. We upgraded workers from manual physical assemble operators to operators who understand statistical process control. They can walk up to a machine and do key punch to tell it what to do.”

BOOSTING STATE`S ECONOMY — AND IMAGE

Charles Gulotta, president of The Alliance in Corinth, said ACT Manufacturing not only provides a valuable boost to the local economy. It also demonstrates that Mississippi has a highly skilled and competitive high-tech workforce.

“The fact that they are a key player in the telecom industry adds a lot of prestige and credibility to the local manufacturing base,” Gulotta said. “They deal with some of the finest computer/electronics manufacturers in the country. The fact that they are using manufacturing techniques such as surface mount technology, which is a very high-tech manufacturing process, displays that we have a highly skilled and adaptable workforce that can compete with similar high-tech work forces anywhere in the world. And that makes us feel very proud.”

Gulotta said that as the skills of the workforce are upgraded, wage levels are increasing dramatically, which is positive both for the local workforce and the state as a whole.

ACT Manufacturing, (Nasdaq: ACTM) reported net sales increases of 57% for the quarter ending March 31, 2000. Sales were a record $229 million compared with $146 million for the same period in 1999. Net income was $6.15 million, or $0.35 per share, for the three months ended March 31, 2000 compared with net income of $1.85 million, or $0.14 per share, for the first quarter of 1999.

COMPANY CONSIDERS GLOBAL GROWTH

“The year 2000 has already been an eventful year for our company,” said John A. Pino, president, chairman and CEO of ACT Manufacturing Inc. “On March 15, 2000, we entered into a pre-tender agreement for the acquisition of GSS Array Technology Public Company Limited (GSS Array), which is based in Thailand. GSS Array meets our key acquisition criteria including financial and cultural fit, scale of operations and diversification of customer base, and is expected to provide the Far East solution we have been seeking for our customers. Earlier in April, we completed a $90 million convertible debt offering to finance the GSS Array acquisition.”

On June 14, ACT announced it is in discussions with Bull, S.A., a publicly-traded French company, to acquire Bull’s electronics manufacturing services operations located in France. Discussions are underway between the parties, and no final agreement has been reached. Pino said if the acquisition is completed, it will strengthen the company’s position in Europe by expanding their customer base and manufacturing capacity.

The Web site address for ACT Manufacturing is www.actmfg.com.

Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at mullein@datasync.com or (228) 872-3457.

About Becky Gillette

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