TUPELO — Most people in Mississippi probably aren’t familiar with the private company MTD, a Fortune 500 company that has a manufacturing plant in Tupelo along with 12 other plant locations in the U.S. and foreign countries. But most people would instantly recognize the brands produced by MTD as among the most familiar power tools and yard equipment sold in the U.S.: Troy Bilt, Ryobi and Yard Man.
The new chairman of the Community Development Foundation (CDF) in Tupelo is Ted Moll, executive vice president of MTD. While job losses in manufacturing in Mississippi and elsewhere in the U.S. have been a concern in recent years, Moll is optimistic about the ability of manufacturers to remain competitive.
One of the biggest factors is brand recognition.
“I think that strong brands are very important,” said Moll, whose father co-founded MTD. “When you look today at most major retailers, they are aligning themselves with well-known brands. So we have to make sure we maintain our brands responsibly, and not give those brands away. We have to make sure we maintain them properly.”
Gaining consumer loyalty for brand names that can be trusted means producing quality products that are durable enough to perform reliably for years. Moll says to keep well-known brands strong, it is important to pay attention to both quality and service.
“We have to continually improve our quality and then provide a service network for our products, as well,” Moll said. “The other advantage manufacturers have in this country is we can be more responsive to our customer’s needs in the fluctuating markets.”
Moll said being innovative with both products and processes is also critical to stay competitive in the world economy. And while competition with low-wage manufacturing operations overseas is a concern, it is nothing new.
“Today is not any different than a couple of years ago,” Moll said. “There is always going to be a China out there somewhere. A number of years ago it was Japan. We have agonized over the Mexico issue. Today it happens to be China. There is always going to be the low-cost labor market out there that is going to be our competition. I don’t think it will ever be any different. But if you are constantly looking at innovative processes and products, and manage people well, you can compete.”
In Tupelo MTD manufactures garden tillers, lawnmowers and edgers. The company purchased the former Aircap facility in 1986, and currently employs about 900 people. MTD recently expanded adding a 2,000-ton transfer press to automate production of mower decks at its plant in the Tupelo-Lee County Industrial Park South.
Moll recently returned from a trip to China that he found eye opening. He said the amount of new construction everywhere — not just in major population centers like Shanghai — is incredible. With labor available in China for 58 to 60 cents per hour, that makes it challenging for competitors who pay much better wages.
The future for the Tupelo region will build on past successes of the local business community, educational institutions, governmental agencies and the CDF.
“We have always had a history of bringing in new jobs by creating an environment that fosters new job creation,” Moll said. “I don’t see that changing. We’re in a good location when you look at where the automotive facilities are siting in the region. If you look at the locations that are being discussed today, that enhances our location in Mississippi.”
A current big effort by the CDF is launching a business incubator in downtown Tupelo that would provide an economical launching pad for start-up companies and expanding firms. Often tenants of incubators are small companies at an early stage of development working to commercialize new ideas or technology.
Studies have shown the business incubators greatly increase the odds of success. According to a study by the National Business Incubation Association (NBIA), 87% of incubator graduates remain in business. That compares to a failure rate of 80% in the first four years for businesses that don’t get incubator assistance.
It is estimated there are about 800 business incubators in North America today compared to 12 in 1980. About 40% of incubators are technology focused, 30% are mixed use, and the remainder focus on service, light industrial and niche markets or on assisting targeted populations. Incubators receive public assistance, but it is estimated that for every $1 of subsidy, about $45 is generated in local tax revenue alone.
Increasing membership is another goal of the new chairman of CDF. Moll said the entire community-not just large companies-benefits by strengthening the economy of the area. Besides providing support for the economic development program, members in CDF can be an important networking opportunity for small business people.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at email@example.com or (228) 872-3457.