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Pocahontas industry quietly expands.

Randolph County Town Has Major Businesses, Sees More on the Way

POCAHONTAS WILL NEVER be confused with Pittsburgh. But for its size, the northeast Arkansas town's industry base is rather impressive, diverse and growing.

Three manufacturers each have about 400 or more employees. Three others each top 100. And various other smaller companies make Pocahontas an interesting environment for business.

The Randolph County seat of 6,151 will see more industry expansion in the coming months.

Weick Custom Cases Inc., a Chicago-based manufacturer of musical instrument cases and wooden carrying cases, plans to open a 15,000-SF plant in July. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is building a Supercenter that will employee 300. And when some of these workers get hungry, they'll have a brand new Pizza Inn to visit, too.

"I think we have a very favorable industrial climate," says John Jackson, president of the Bank of Pocahontas and a member of the Chamber of Commerce industrial committee.

"Overall, we feel like we have a broad-based industrial segment of our local economy where we don't have any one industry that dominates the scene, but several industries provide us with a balance that some other communities don't have."

Jackson says the area's economy is growing at a comfortable rate, and industry has been quietly expanding.

Pocahontas' major industry was lumber-based before Brown Shoe Co. put in the first modern-day industrial plant just after World War II.

Brown Shoe Co. remains the town's largest employer, with 725. Waterloo Industries Inc. and the Magee Co. are right behind.

The Magee Co., makers of picture frames, is a fascinating story. The 37-year-old company came into the business spotlight earlier this year when its parent company, Tandycrafts Inc. of Fort Worth, Texas, enjoyed a stock surge of Wal-Mart-like proportions in a fraction of the time. Many Magee employees owned a stock that increased five-fold in less than a year.

The company began in the attic of John Magee's house in Corning in 1956. When John and Rachel Magee's daughter wanted to go to college in St. Louis, Rachel began making picture frames to pay her daughter's tuition.

Three years later, Pocahontas' business community provided the Magees with a permanent location. John Magee was a magician by trade, but there was nothing tricky about the company's rise. The family took their wares right into offices of national buyers to build their accounts.

Charles Tandy of Fort Worth, who had made his fortune in leather goods and would later acquire Radio Shack, bought the Magees' holdings in 1968. In the 1970s, Tandy Corp. diversified, and the Magee Co. went off with Tandycrafts Inc.

Frank Bigger, company president who celebrated his 25th year with Magee on Feb. 9, was hired by the Magee family before the company was sold. He recalls annual sales were just under $1 million.

This year, sales are expected to reach $50 million. Magee has such customers as Wal-Mart and Venture Stores for its frames, 80 percent of which are wood.

Bigger says, "If there is someone that displays the entrepreneurial spirit, it's Mrs. Magee. She was a pioneer."

Thirty years ago, seven people worked at the company. Now, counting the employees at the Piggott plant, Magee has more than 750.

With six expansions in 14 years, the Pocahontas plant is 400,000 SF and can't get much larger, Bigger says.

The Brown Shoe Co. once had as many as 15 factories in Arkansas but Pocahontas has the last remaining one.

A few years ago, Brown put in a second plant in Pocahontas, a cutting operation serving several plants. Brown, based in St. Louis, is a maker of women's shoes.

Waterloo Industries, opened in 1972, makes Sears Craftsman tool boxes, benches and cabinets.

Among the other firms with 100 or more employees:

* ProGroup Inc., started in 1958, is a maker of golf bags and accessories.

* ESNA Inc., is a manufacturer of elastic stop nuts or machine fasteners. It opened in 1973.

* Northern Technology Manufacturing, started in 1989, makes modem jacks and electronic connectors.

Pocahontas isn't immune to the problems of industry. The county had a high unemployment rate in December (12.5 percent). It since has dropped 3 percent, says Wendell Kimbrough, director of the Pocahontas Chamber of Commerce.

"We feel like we're on the right road now," he says.
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Title Annotation:Industry Report; Pocachontas, Arkansas
Author:Harris, Jim
Publication:Arkansas Business
Article Type:Industry Overview
Date:Apr 12, 1993
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