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story.lead_photo.caption Fort Smith City Building City Hall Fort Smith downtown offices - Photo by David Gottschalk

Hytrol Conveyor Co. Inc. plans to create 250 jobs and invest more than $20 million in Fort Smith to expand manufacturing operations in Arkansas.

The Jonesboro company employs more than 1,200 workers at its Craighead County corporate headquarters, and two facilities there will remain open as the company creates new jobs in Fort Smith over the next five years, Hytrol announced Monday.

President and Chief Executive Officer David Peacock said the company considered 13 states for expansion but decided to stay home.

"When it came time to expand with an additional production facility, it was an easy decision to stay in Arkansas," Peacock said in announcing the new facility at a Fort Smith news conference.

Hytrol moved to Arkansas from Wisconsin in 1962 and began operations with 28 employees. The company manufactures material handling systems for 150 customers worldwide, serving the e-commerce, food and beverage, package handling and pharmaceuticals industries, among others.

Company officials were joined by Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Commerce Secretary Mike Preston and other state economic development officials, Fort Smith Mayor George McGill and Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Officer Tim Allen in making the announcement.

Hutchinson applauded the commitment to Fort Smith and Arkansas, saying it would have been easy to expand to another state to diversify operations.

"The fact that you loved Arkansas and this was your first choice ... means a great deal to the state of Arkansas," Hutchinson said. "We're thrilled that your second investment will be in Arkansas, as was your first investment decades ago."

Hytrol, which bills itself as the largest conveyor manufacturer in the nation, produces products in a 700,000-square-foot facility in Jonesboro and also has a 48,000-square-foot research and development facility there.

There are no plans to abandon Jonesboro operations, Peacock said, noting that momentum to expand was energized by two events last year: a major tornado that ripped through Jonesboro in March and the coronavirus pandemic, which has increased demand for Hytrol's products.

The tornado was a little too close for comfort and company officials realized the need for diverse manufacturing locations. "That tornado missed our facility, our one and only facility, by less than a mile – that got all of our attention, obviously," Peacock said.

Hytrol's products help its customers ship and sort items ranging from small bags to large pallets. It also develops and produces software for conveyors and warehouse-management operations.

Product demand has been fueled by the pandemic. "Our product is the backbone of the delivery of critical products throughout the world and in the United States, not to mention the products that we all get on our doorsteps each day," Peacock said.

In addition to looking outside Arkansas, officials said the company considered multiple locations in the state before choosing Fort Smith.

The search led the company right back to its home state. Hytrol will lease an existing 300,000-square-foot facility at 6500 Jenny Linn Road.

"Arkansas is the right place for Hytrol," Peacock said, adding that the expansion will have a multiplier effect in the state. "We're an Arkansas company, powering west Arkansas residents to work in a building that's leased from an Arkansas company landlord, renovated by an Arkansas contractor and financed by an Arkansas bank."

Phillip Poston, grandson of company founder Tom Loberg, will head the Fort Smith manufacturing facility.

"Today's announcement is purely about growth," Poston said, noting that the expansion is an opportunity to demonstrate how "the combination of Hytrol and Fort Smith can shine in western Arkansas while serving our integration partners and customers around the world."

Fort Smith officials welcomed the news. "We are a large manufacturing community, so your company is going to fit perfectly into Fort Smith," chamber CEO Tim Allen told Hytrol officials.

Company officials did not offer specifics on when the facility would begin manufacturing operations or how soon the 250 employees would be on board, though Poston stressed the need to act fast.

"We will be ramping up very quickly and hiring really soon," he said.

Poston added that hiring will occur in "several waves throughout the rest of this year." Inquiries about hiring can be emailed to [email protected]

Both Poston and Peacock emphasized the company will remain in Jonesboro and continue all current operations in the city. "We love Jonesboro. We love the fact that we're located in Jonesboro; we'll always be located in Jonesboro," Peacock said.

The governor is reaching into his Quick Action Closing Fund to provide $2.25 million to support the expansion. The company also will enjoy incentives that provide a cash rebate based on annual payroll for new employees and will get refunds on sales and use tax for eligible expenditures.

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