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One of few of its kind, Lawrence County manufacturer expands

Monticello — Atlas Manufacturing is a 100% locally-owned company that means a lot to this Lawrence County town and the surrounding area. That’s why the county board of supervisors recently assisted with an expansion that was complete at the first of the year. Located in an industrial park, the building is owned by the county and leased by Atlas.

Using a Rural Impact Grant from the state, the county chipped in $250,000 to expand the company’s building to 100,000 square feet and Atlas invested an equal amount in state-of-the-art equipment. The company also agreed to hire an additional 12 employees, which it has already exceeded, bringing the current total to 45.

“Even though they are not a large company, they make a positive impact her, and they have a tremendous impact on the stevedoring and electrical industries which is a major section of the economy,” said Bob Smira, president of the Lawrence County Economic Development Association. “They are a sound company and we were glad to help them expand.”

Atlas had a predecessor company in Monticello for 10 years that decided to close down and move to Louisiana in 1999. Larry Crowell was a partner in that company, and the Mississippi native didn’t want to go back to Louisiana where he had lived for 25 years. Instead, he stayed put and went into competition with his old company, rehiring the local employees who also stayed put. The six-year-old company exceeds $1 million in sales each year.

“The growth has been slow but we’re competing,” Crowell, owner and president, said. “We’ve had anywhere from 10% to 30% growth each year. It’s substantial, and my projection is to exceed last year’s sales and production figures. We’ve got to keep growing.”

He says the market share has increased and he’s looking to diversify, but is not ready to say what that product will be. There aren’t many companies around the country who make the products Atlas makes. Not a run-of-the-mill manufacturer, the Monticello company is a leader in material-handling equipment for two distinct markets. It makes large, heavy industrial material-handling buckets and intake equipment for power companies.

The primary piece of intake equipment is a “traveling water screen,” a moveable metal screen that removes floating and suspended debris from raw water. The screen, which can be 20 feet to 100 feet long and two feet to 17 feet wide, goes in a well. It removes things such as sticks, limbs, trash, cans and fish from water. Other pieces include bar and trash rakes and related intake equipment. These screens can also be rebuilt.

Atlas owns specialized trucks to deliver these screens anywhere in the country and has factory-trained field personnel to service the products. These servicemen can handle underwater or topside inspections, minor and emergency repairs, and complete turn-key projects.

Used to handle bulk materials at ports, the buckets Atlas makes are very large. Some are 25 to 35 feet tall and are used in stevedoring, shipping, handling of coal, scrap and agricultural products and dredging. They are designed and fabricated using the latest CAD and CAD-CAM software. They are also the primary reason for expanding the manufacturing facility.

The plant was designed to make the water screens, and Crowell went into making the large buckets to honor a non-compete clause with his old company. That agreement was up four years ago, and Atlas began the dual production. The buckets require a lot of headroom, and the facility did not have high enough ceilings.

“We needed room for the buckets. We were running the two products together and had to rent cranes and take off a part of the ceiling to test the buckets,” said plant manager Ford Wall. “We did it like that for four years, but we now have the height and space we need.”

With the expansion, Atlas purchased two 25-ton cranes and will soon spend $150,000 for a burning machine to replace the 10-year-old equipment they have. “Technology has improved and we must keep up,” Wall said. “Larry is good about putting money back into the business because we must remain competitive.”

He says there’s a lot of growth in the water screens because of the attention on clean water. However, Atlas will continue to make both products.

The manufacturer has two full-time sales representatives for the industrial buckets. Wall says they sell all over the country and will soon sell to foreign countries. Other salespeople, along with representatives who work on commission, sell the water screens. At the plant, workers include fitters, welders, machinists, break and drill press operators, burning press operators, painters and general helpers. Fitters must be able to read blue prints. A welder who can pass the minimum welding test can be trained for Atlas’ specific work.

“The community colleges are not putting out enough skilled people to do this work,” Wall said. “We are constantly battling to keep skilled employees. The ones we have are good and work hard, and the majority of skilled workers have been with us for 10 years.”

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.

About Lynn Lofton

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