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Industries leave; hope remains

Business in a Small Town

MORTON — Morton may be losing Superior Machine Company of SC Inc. and Peavey Electronics Corporation, but officials are still hopeful of what the future holds for the small town of about 3,500.

“It’s just one of those things,” said Morton’s mayor, Greg Butler. “We’re going to do all we can to fill the buildings back up and get people back to work in them.”

Butler, for one, is hopeful of the situation Nissan might bring to the area, considering Morton is a mere 40 or so miles from Canton.

“We just more or less are waiting to see what happens,” Butler said.

Soon, Morton will be expanding the sewer system to the I-20 area, which was annexed in 1999.

“I’ve been told in the past there have been businesses who wanted to locate there but with no sewer they couldn’t afford to put anything in,” Butler said. “That’s a project we’re working on now.”

If things go as planned, by fall of next year Morton will have its sewer extended to I-20.

There are other ways the city is working to draw industry to the area as well, including developing 200 acres of land it owns. Butler said there are plans to develop the area into an industrial park. He said that with Morton’s proximity to I-20, Roosevelt State Park and the railroad, “We’re in a very good situation to take advantage of a lot of things.”

Superior Machine Company of SC Inc. vice president Vaughn Williams said it was unfortunate that his company had to leave Morton.

“It is much to our disappointment that we’re leaving,” Williams said. “Our experience in Morton and with the people there was just excellent and they did basically everything that we asked them to do.”

Williams added that the employees in the Morton division were a “very productive, willing, cooperative workforce.”

Williams said the Morton plant closing was due to the economic recession that they have been encountering for the last 12 to 18 months. He said after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks the company needed to bring work it had back into the South and North Carolina plants.

“It’s a simple matter of economics driven by the economic recession that’s been felt in the paper and steel industry,” Williams said.

Superior Machine Company is a service provider of machining, fabricating, rebuilding and reconditioning of heavy industrial equipment used in paper mills, steel mills and aggregate industries.

The company, headquartered in Florence, S.C., is privately held and has been in business for 38 years. It has another operation in Marion, N.C., and had opened its operation in Morton a little more than 18 months ago in order to target customers in the paper mill industry.

“We are disappointed we had to make this very difficult decision because our experience in Morton with the people was very positive,” Williams said. “We would like to think we’d be able to return to the region in the future as the economy rebounds and we’d encourage anyone else looking in that area to consider the region.”

Butler said Peavey Electronics Corporation cited consolidation as its reason for leaving Morton.

Brenda McCaughn, executive director of the Morton Chamber of Commerce, said she did not doubt that the reason the companies were leaving had something to do with the recession-like economy but she, like Butler, is working aggressively to find prospects to fill the empty buildings.

“In the not too far off future we hope to have both facilities back in operation and retain employment,” McCaughn said. “We’ve talked with prospects already and we’re fortunate to have in Mississippi the industrial and economic developers we do have. We work very closely with Mid Mississippi Development and the Mississippi Development Authority.”

In addition, McCaughn said the city’s aldermen have met with their wards and have elected members of a new group called Team Morton, which will work on the economic development of the city.

“We’re just excited we have this new board (of aldermen) and new mayor to work with,” McCaughn said. “I really believe it’s (the economy is) going to turn around. These are hard times but it just so happens we have new city officials and they’re so positive.”

McCaughn said Morton was fortunate to have as much industry as it has considering the city is the size it is. Morton has three industrial parks; one is full, another has 17 acres left in it and the newest is 200 acres.

David French, who owns French’s Pharmacy with his wife, Rita, said the industries leaving Morton would hurt the city’s economy. He said if the approximately 75 employees of Peavey’s Morton facility get a job elsewhere, they might also get their checks cashed elsewhere and shop elsewhere. And, he added, it could have a direct effect on his business because of pharmacy cards issued by the company.

“I haven’t noticed any change as of yet,” David French said. “(I) Probably won’t see (any) until after the first of the year.”

Mike Edwards, CEO of Scott Regional Hospital, agreed with French that the exiting of industries from Morton would hurt the city somewhat, but he said there are a lot of positive things going on in the area now to offset some of those losses.

“I still think we’re going to receive some type of a Tier 2 or Tier 3 supplier (for Nissan),” Edwards said. “It’s my understanding we’ve had several visits. We’re a great location for them (suppliers). I’ll be really shocked if we don’t get something.”

Bruce Calcote, president of Citizen’s State Bank in Morton, said, “Obviously we’re not pleased that the two companies are closing here.”

But given the Nissan plant in Canton, Calcote is not altogether glum about Morton’s future. “From that standpoint (Nissan), we’re hopeful,” Calcote said. “We’ve got a new mayor who’s out there trying to do some things. I wish it hadn’t happened but since it’s going to occur I think we can make something positive out of it.

“We’ll just look to the future. I think it’s an opportunity for us to get someone new in here and try to help (that new company or those new companies) be successful.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Elizabeth Kirkland at ekirkland@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1042.

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