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Magnolia State family business roadtrip takes many turns

Family-owned businesses are the heartbeat of Mississippi’s economy.

Many of these affairs are small — true mom and pops, or perhaps more appropriate, mamas and daddies — and fly under most radars. Others are well known and large, with products making major inroads in national and even international markets. Taken as a whole, these family-owned enterprises do a significant amount of the hiring in Mississippi, and their impact cannot be understated.

Heavy hitters

A perfect example of a family business that forgot to stay small is The Taylor Group of Louisville. More than 80 years ago, W.A. Taylor Sr. produced the “Logger’s Dream,” a cable logging skidder. Today, The Taylor Group is still owned and operated by the Taylor family, and Taylor Machine Works Inc., a Taylor Group subsidiary, is the only privately-held, family-owned, fully-integrated manufacturer of industrial lift trucks still operating in the U.S.

In addition, the company owns Temtco Steel, a leader in high-strength plates, parts and fabrication, and Ridgeland-based Taylor Power supplies standby or auxiliary power for refrigerated goods.

“We are very honored and proud of the role Taylor Machine Works has been able to play in the growth and development of Mississippi in general and Louisville specifically,” W.A. “Lex” Taylor Jr. said.

The construction industry in Mississippi is largely “homegrown.” In fact, the two largest Mississippi-based contractors are family-owned affairs.

In 1964, William Gully Yates Sr., along with his wife, Opal, and sons William Gully Jr. and Andrew, established W.G. Yates & Sons Construction. The company grew over time, adding workers as the scope of its work broadened.

Today, The Yates Companies Inc. is a Philadelphia-based holding company whose subsidiaries are involved in virtually every aspect of building. It employs thousands, and has worked across the U.S. from California to Maine to Puerto Rico. It consistently ranks in Engineering News Records List of Top Contractors.

While Yates is the largest Mississippi-based builder, Roy Anderson Corp (RAC) is no small fish at number two. Founded in 1955 by Roy Anderson Jr., the firm is led today by his son, Roy Anderson III, who serves as president and CEO.

Nearly 50 years after its founding, RAC is licensed in Mississippi and 12 other states, and executes some of the largest building projects in the nation. Just a sampling of past projects includes the addition to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium at Ole Miss and the Nissan Administration Building in Canton.

Growing up together

While the Taylors, Yates and Andersons are well known, other families have carved out success without garnering much attention. Still, they are significant employers, and their products are shipping out to all parts of the country and beyond.

Magnolia Clipping and Broadcast Monitoring Service Inc. is a prime example. Clara Forrest established the business in her Jackson home offering newspaper clipping only. Today, the company is run by her grandson, Dred Porter Sr., and his sons, Dred Jr. and Joe. The team now offers newspaper clipping as well as TV and internet monitoring services to clients throughout the U.S. and even some international concerns. (Joe manages the clipping service, Dred Jr. the monitoring services and Dred Sr. oversees the business as a whole.)

The Thai House in Jackson routinely wins the award for the best Asian food in the metro area, and its food is prepared and served almost entirely by the Bunniran family. The family matriarch, “Tim,” is helped by her husband, “Watt,” and children “Su,” “Charles” and “Toon.”

“I’m very proud of my children,” Tim said. “When they were out of school, they worked here. When they were in school, they came here and worked when they got out. I ask them to do something, and they just do it.”

A Touch of Mississippi is a company going places, and is anxious to talk up its home state. The Jackson-based business, located on Northside Drive, offers a wide selection of Mississippi-made products, from artwork to gourmet foods. And owner and president Charles Glover is thrilled with his “help.”

“My daughter, Lisa, is now in the business with me, and she handles the day-to-day operations. That leaves me free to do what I enjoy most — spreading the news about Mississippi,” Glover said.

Yet another small family affair that is making a big noise is Pleasant Grove Soaps in Sardis. And this family can be “extended” to include a herd of goats.

In 2000, Deborah Robinson bought some goats so her family could enjoy fresh milk. Robinson quickly realized that her goats were providing more than her family could drink. With some of the excess, Robinson began making her own soap from the milk. That quickly turned into an opportunity.

“It all started because we needed some Christmas money,” Robinson said. “We had a tough year, and money was tight.”

In 2001, Robinson began taking her soaps to flea markets. Sales exceeded all her expectations, and she expanded her horizons.

Today, Pleasant Grove Soaps has customers from Washington State to Florida, and has even shipped to Japan, Canada and the U.K.

“A majority of my business is repeat customers,” Robinson said. She added with a laugh, “They’re highly addictive.”

Pleasant Grove Soaps remains largely a one-woman operation — she is everything from goat herder to bookkeeper. But she does get an occasional hand from her children, and she has no complaints.

“I have some other things I do, but I am, for the most part, a stay-at-home mom,” Robinson said.

This affords her time to spend with her children as well as her, uh, kids.

“I cannot believe I have gotten so attached to these creatures,” Robinson said with a chuckle.

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at wally.northway@msbusiness.com.

About Wally Northway

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