MORTON — Craft-Co Enterprises recently joined the ranks of Triton, Bay Technical, High Tech and Peavey Electronics.
At the Mississippi District Export Council’s World Trade Conference in May, the Morton-based automotive manufacturer received the Exporter of the Year award, partly based on the company’s first major export coup — taking business away from a Mexican competitor making brush assemblies. Craft-Co still produces that same product and continues to ship it back to Mexico for use in final assembly.
“Everybody is always talking about moving operations to Mexico because of lower labor costs, but we were able to accomplish this export contract by demonstrating our lower overall product cost,” said Jim Finley, president of Craft-Co Enterprises. “To produce the product in Mississippi was lower than the cost to produce this product in Mexico when the total cost of quality, productivity, currency and logistics were considered and not just the cost of labor.”
Finley said the lower labor cost in Mexico may soon not be a decision-making factor for manufacturers. Mexican workers are demanding higher wages at the same time U.S. wages are remaining steady.
“Eventually, their labor cost will catch up to ours because there’s a sorting out going on,” he said. “As more companies move down there, I think you’ll see more wage increases in Mexico.”
Located on a 12-acre site on U.S. 80 West in Morton, Craft-Co Enterprises exports automotive parts to customers in Mexico, Canada, Brazil, England, Japan and Sweden. The company also has an engineering and sales office in Detroit. Its client list includes Ford Motor Co., Chrysler Corp., Valeo, Lear Corp., General Motors, Saturn, Jaguar, JCI and Visteon.
Finley said he didn’t know yet whether Craft-Co Enterprises would supply parts to the Nissan plant being built in Madison County even though one of the company’s customers, Visteon, recently partnered with Jackson-based Lextron as a tier-one supplier for Nissan.
“We supply a number of parts to Visteon that are used by a number of customers, but none of which at this time are going to Nissan,” he said.
Established in 1988, Craft-Co Enterprises began exporting products in the early 1990s. By 1999, international sales accounted for 50% of the company’s total sales. Today, Craft-Co Enterprises ships to more than 100 domestic and international locations.
“Our focus has been on satisfying customers’ needs,” Finley said. “In many ways, it was purely coincidental that so many products were exports.”
Of the 250 employees at the 68,000-square-foot plant, 100 are employed primarily because of the export business.
“We wouldn’t be anywhere without our family of associates,” Finley said. “Our people are our most valued resource. Working together, they help us exceed our customers’ expectations.”
In addition to a well-established and extensive training program, Craft-Co Enterprises offers its employees after hours classes that include GED preparation, computer skills and Spanish as a second language.
Several times a year, Finley invites employees and their families to the plant for special occasions. For example, when employees’ children make the honor roll, graduate from high school or accomplish something significant, Finley will often honor them by giving a speech and presenting them with savings bonds.
“We do it to encourage them to continue to do better because we consider it our responsibility to see our associates and their families better themselves,” he said.
As a result of training, innovation and teamwork, Craft-Co Enterprises has won numerous quality awards in the automotive industry.
“We’re all part of the Craft-Co family and good quality speaks of our good family name,” he said.
Finley said he would advise Mississippi companies looking to get into the export business to align themselves with global customers.
“It will make the transition easier,” he said. “Once a relationship is established with a customer that’s global, wherever he moves, depending on what his requirements are, you can ship product to him versus trying to penetrate a market alone, especially if you’re a smaller company.
Then you have to set up offices overseas, service companies overseas and that’s pretty difficult for smaller companies in Mississippi to do.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at firstname.lastname@example.org or (601) 853-3967.