AA Calibration Services founder Larry White says it took less than a minute back in 2004 to realize the layoff notice he had just received represented the opportunity of a lifetime.
To be more exact, White said, it took about “30 seconds to recognize this opportunity.”
White, a retired Navy aviation electronic technician, reacted to the pink slip by offering to buy the equipment L-3 Communication, a subsidiary of L-3 Vertex Aerospace, would be mothballing with the shutdown of its Madison operation.
White’s offer included a condition: L-3 Communication would send its calibration work to White’s new company, Calibration Services.
Today, the Yazoo City company he runs with wife Dorothy has moved once into quarters that doubled its space and is now adding on to that facility at 111 Roosevelt Hudson Drive. In the meantime, it is getting calibration work from Air National Guard operations around the country as well as defense contractors around the world, and in Mississippi from his former employer well as M-7 Aerospace, the Mississippi Forestry Commission, Hinds Community College, Entergy, Electro National and Davis Aviation.
White’s biggest worry is not the volume of business but rather the manpower to handle the growing volume. He’s even begun teaching a class on aircraft calibration and recently added seven or so of the class’s top students to his company’s 20-person workforce.
Projections are that by 2020 aircraft calibration companies around the country will have only 66 percent of the trained workers they’ll need, according to White. “I’m avoiding that national shortage of technicians.”
Another measure of progress for the husband-and-wife owners of AA Calibration Services is access to capital, a huge need during the company’s start-up. “Now the banks are knocking on my door,” White said.
Assessing the company’s success at its 10-year anniversary, White said it has helped tremendously that he is “one of the best” around at aircraft calibration. But, he added, the Mississippi Development Authority’s Entrepreneur Center has contributed much to the success, including helping the Whites find new business and gain certification as a minority-owned contractor.
John Brandon, head of the MDA’s Existing Industry and Business Division, said Larry White is unusually “brilliant” but his success story is typical of what the Entrepreneur Center has observed during the challenging recession years of the last decade to the present.
“It didn’t take him long to realize ‘I am out of work. Now what am I going to do about it’?”
Larry and Dorothy White were among a dozen or so entrepreneurs who took part in the Center’s opening of its new ground-floor offices in the state’s Woolfolk Building last week. The Whites and other entrepreneurs who got their starts through working with the Entrepreneur Center set up display tables for visitors to the Center’s open house.
Like Wallace, the other entrepreneurs started with something they were especially good at and converted the skill into a money-making enterprise.
Fudge was the specialty of former educators Janet and Wallace Heggie of Meridian, proprietors of Fudge Etcetera, Their history with the Center that goes back to 1986.
The Center “was very instrumental in the different phases of our business,” Wallace Heggie said, and noted the business has grown along with the varieties of fudge they market at fairs, craft shows and flea markets across Mississippi and the Mid South region.
The assistance came in helping them set up, expand and grow their customer numbers through sales leads, he said. The 10 or so varieties of fudge the couple started with grew to 25 and later expanded to 48.
Sara Hays and partner Holly Evans took the leap last July and turned their skill at making sauces into Sarabella’s Southern Sauces. With the help of the Center, they’re selling Sarabella sauces from Texas to New York. A facility in Statesboro, Ga., now makes the sauces based on recipes prepared by Hays and Evans.
Their growing variety of sauces include Wicked Sweet Chutney for poultry and meat, Sassy Raspberry Chutney for meats, seafood and cheeses and Magnolia Basil-Mint for meats, poultry, seafood and such breakfast items as muffins and bagels and desserts such as cheese cakes and Key lime pie.
Many of the Center’s success stories include annual bookings with the Mississippi Marketplace, a wholesaler expo held each June at Jackson’s Trade Mart. Vendors bought up all 184 booth spaces last year and are on a pace to do the same for this year’s Marketplace on June 5-6, said Sandy Bynum, who organizes the expo for the MDA’s Existing Industry & Business Division.
“We’re about sold out for this year,” said Bynum, an exhibitor at last week’s open house.
Mississippi Marketplace typically draws 1,500 buyer representatives from across the country, according to Bynum.
Two nearby exhibitors — Jonni R. Webb’s JRWebb Pottery and Stephen and DeShawn Clairmont of Clairmont Designs — have relied on Mississippi Marketplace to raise their profiles and attract new businesses.
“I’ve been part of Mississippi Marketplace from the beginning,” said Jonni Webb, who handmakes her pottery from the end of the driveway of her Canton home.
“It’s gotten me 90 percent of my business,” she added.
You can find Web’s works in stores and floral shops around Mississippi, including Simply Spaces on Madison’s Main Street.
The MDA is a customer as well, often using her Mississippi-centric pottery in its exhibits and in gift baskets designed to introduce business prospects to products made in The Magnolia State.
The Clairmonts have had their Clairmont Designs business on a growth curve practically from the start. They started making small handcrafted picture frames and other small furnishings four-and-a-half years ago at their Laurel home. Today they are in a 10,000 square-foot warehouse with 10 employees, including two sales reps who travel the region.
“We sell to 400 gift shops around the country,” mostly in the Southeast, Stephen Clairmont said.
Mississippi Marketplace is where the Clairmonts go to test the marketability of their newest items each year, they say. “The goal is to go to the marketplace and see how it goes, and just go from there,” Stephen Clairmont said.
The reception their products get at the Marketplace has convinced them of one thing: “People like the handcrafted look,” Stephen Clairmont said.
Next up for the Clairmonts, they say, is a new line of collegiate ornaments and gifts.
Few visitors to the open house left without making a stop at Chef Ray’s Famous Gumbo, the availability of samples of the new businesses’ gumbo offering being a key reason.
The New Orleans-born proprietor, Johnny Rayford, started by providing his gumbo to food service provider Cisco and in packaged form to Piggy Wiggly and McDades markets, a product the chef and Jackson entrepreneur boasts can go from store freezer to plate in 30 minutes.
Next up for Chef Ray’s Famous Gumbo is a place at the lunch and weekend buffet bar at Jackson’s Regency Hotel. A May start for the Regency buffet is planned, according to Rayford.
The Center, he said, “has been instrumental in getting us going, adding it has been especially helpful in getting the businesses website ready.
The Entrepreneur Center’s Brandon, in an interview after the open-house, said the mix of start-up and longer-term businesses at the open house reflected the Center’s two-pronged goal: We want to get you started. The next thing we want to do is help you grow your business….
“I don’t want you to just start. I want you t put somebody else to work.”