McHENRY — When opportunity knocked for two Chicago brothers in June 1981, they answered by purchasing a foam fabrication business from an Internal Revenue Service auction. With the support of their parents and in-laws, the extended family formed three groups of shareholders to own and operate Best Foam Fabricators Inc.
“I was 22 and my brother, Stephen, was 25 and we knew nothing about the foam business,” company president Keith Hasty said. “But we didn’t know any better and our parents were very supportive.”
A certified public accountant, Keith, now 45, says it was a gamble for his parents to invest their life savings in Best Foam. With a laugh he says he’s not sure he would have done it. With Keith’s accounting expertise and Stephen being an industrial engineer, the brothers thought they could operate based on what they knew they could do. The company that opened a branch plant in this Stone County community two years ago began when Keith, who was working as a CPA for corporate america, met the owner of a financially troubled existing foam business.
“He said it was too late for him, but I might want to buy it,” Keith recalls. “I knew the furniture business was growing in the North and foam was an important component of that but I thought it was better to buy the business from the IRS.”
Twenty-three years later, Best Foam has three locations and a large customer base that includes most Fortune 500 companies. The McHenry location is the company’s aerospace facility and employs 20 people. Its major product is foam designed to reduce heat and prevent fire through the fuselage of F-15 fighter jets. Working closely with General Dynamics, they also produce domes for missile systems that help identify enemy aircraft.
It’s because of General Dynamics that Best Foam located in Mississippi.
“We have a close relationship with them,” Keith said. “ They own 400 acres of land in Stone County and built us a building to relocate next to them so they can support their commitment to Mississippi.”
Looking to expand, Best Foam had planned to locate in Michigan before the deal with General Dynamics was formulated. Born and raised in Chicago, Keith had never been to Mississippi and was hesitant to bring his minority-owned business to the state.
“I had doubts and had heard the horror stories,” he said, “but it was a wise decision to come to Mississippi. There seem to be a lot of people moving there and I think Senators Lott and Cochran have been instrumental in bringing new business to the state.”
Keith said he’s found a good supply of workforce in Stone County where people are eager for training and work.
“I’m excited to be down there,” he said from his Chicago office, “and I want to spend more time there. I’ve been impressed with the warmth and friendliness of the people.”
In fact, he likes the state so much he’s considering re-locating his family here. He feels that Mississippi is opening doors to get new business.
Keith, a graduate of DePaul University, praised the McHenry facility’s plant manager, Ray Walker. “He was part of the original team that went down to set up. He was responsible for a lot of the development and setting up procedures and has done an excellent job.”
He added that Walker, an Ohio native, first moved to Jackson, then to Stone County and loves it there. He has been with Best Foam for two years.
Speaking for the county, Russell Hatten, executive director of the Stone County Economic Development Foundation, said, “The folks up in Chicago and the local team have been outstanding to work with and we appreciate what they do. We’re very excited they came to Stone County and we hope they will expand their facility.”
That could happen, according to Keith, who said Best Foam is looking for good growth and sees the possibility of the McHenry plant becoming their largest facility in the next five to 10 years. With the company already shipping products to Alabama Honda and Mercedes automotive plants from Chicago, he hopes the Mississippi plant will do automotive work, too.
“It makes sense to have the foam machining in Stone County close to Meridian and Alabama automakers,” he said. “It’s a good location for those and for any future automakers along the I-59 Corridor.”
The company’s corporate offices and automotive headquarters, employing 60 people, are now in Chicago. Foam is fabricated there to reduce noise in automobiles. A recently opened Texas facility employs 12 people and is an offshoot of the Stone County plant. Keith said they took the assembly work to Texas so the McHenry facility could strictly focus on machining bulky foam products.
Best Foam’s motto states that every person is there to ensure the client’s success. They do that through engineering, workmanship, quality assurance and service.
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at email@example.com.