West Point — When Flexible Flyer abruptly closed its plant here last September, city officials shifted into high gear.
“The bankruptcy declaration and plant closing was a big surprise to us,” said Paul McKay, chief administrative officer for the City of West Point. “The parent company gave us very little warning, but from the day we learned about it, we were committed to the 225 former employees to get their jobs back.”
Louise Campbell, executive director of the Clay County Economic Development Corporation, said the City of West Point had been lucky not to have as many plant closings as surrounding communities. “But it scares you when it does happen,” she said.
Community leaders weren’t the only ones concerned about the effect of the plant closure, which primarily produced swing sets and hobbyhorses for Wal-Mart, K-Mart and Toys ‘R’ Us. The Troxel Company, a century-old company based in Moscow, Tenn., supplied Flexible Flyer with the steel cubing for its swing sets. Flexible Flyer’s business was a vital part of the company’s annual sales of $125 million.
Even though there was another suitor for the plant, and Wal-Mart, K-Mart and Toys ‘R’ Us had secured other suppliers for Flexible Flyer products, some offshore, The Troxel Company moved ahead with the acquisition, which closed on Dec. 2, after bankruptcy court approval.
“We were the most logical buyer, considering that it was a good vertical integration of our business,” said Bruce Miller, vice president and CFO of Troxel Products, LLC, the newly formed Troxel Company subsidiary, DBA Flexible Flyer.
“We met with Wal-Mart, K-Mart and Toys ‘R’ Us executives before we made the deal and were able to get some of the business back. Wal-Mart was the most cooperative and gave us the most business. We had verbal commitments from all three, enough for us to go ahead with the transaction. We plan to grow with those guys — the only retailers in the U.S. that buy Flexible Flyer products in great quantity — as we gain their confidence back.”
McKay said community leaders rallied to keep the lines of communication open between all parties, and acted as a facilitator to make sure The Troxel Company took advantage of all available incentives, from local ad valorem tax exemptions to state financing to Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) incentives.
“This project dovetailed nicely into an economic development program we’re launching in West Point to do all we can to improve the health of existing industry and attract new industry and entrepreneurs to bring wealth and jobs to the community,” he said. “The Mississippi Development Authority and CREATE Foundation helped us revamp how we approach community and economic development, and over the next couple of months, we’ll be making some announcements in development strategy and putting people in place.”
With an image befitting Santa’s workshop, the Flexible Flyer plant in West Point reopened before Christmas with dozens of employees crafting swing sets.
“We got up and running pretty damn quick considering,” said Miller. “It took almost a week just to get the molding equipment up and running. We had a very short startup phase because we’re actually a little late getting started making swing sets to meet spring and summer delivery. They’re counter seasonal to hobbyhorses, which we’ll start making in July or August for fall and winter delivery.”
Miller hopes to have 150 employees back to work by March or April, and the company is considering exploring additional activity. “Flexible Flyer is such a solid brand name in the marketplace,” he said. “Right now, we’re consumed with meeting customer demand.”
West Point Mayor Scott Ross said he was extremely pleased that Troxel Products made a commitment to keep manufacturing jobs in the U.S.
“We’re impressed with the management of this company and hope that we can encourage them to expand production and product lines to their business and consequently create even more jobs in our area,” he said.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at Lynne.Jeter@gmail.com.