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Work that's concrete: Paragould equipment manufacturer grows into $4.2 million worldwide business.

EUROPEANS, PARTICULARLY ones involved in concrete construction, know of the Razorbacks.

Most know the Razorbacks are from Arkansas, too.

But these Razorbacks are motorized, metal machines that smooth concrete surfaces, not the athletic teams that many all over the state live and die for.

"We named it because of the Razorbacks and because we are Arkansans," says Mary Ann Allen, who with with her husband, Dewayne, owns Allen Engineering Corp. in Paragould. "In Europe, everyone calls it the Razorback. They identify the Razorback through that equipment. They don't know anything about the University of Arkansas."

The Razorback is the trade name of an assortment of concrete flooring equipment marketed by Allen Engineering. The company also manufactures light paving equipment.

This isn't your average mom-and-pop business. The Allens are on solid footing with a company that has grown to annual sales of $4.2 million, according to Dun & Bradstreet Inc.'s "Million Dollar Directory."

The equipment the Allens manufacture would be household words only to the construction industry. Milt Rousseau, the company's assistant sales manager, leaves a concrete-uneducated caller scratching his head over terms like "screeds" and "trowels."

But screeds and trowels pave the way to make Allen a well-known name in the industry.

Incidentally, company President Dewayne Allen was in a rush to pack for a business trip to England on a recent Friday. Mary Ann, the corporate secretary-treasurer, filled in all the details.

Dewayne Allen grew up in Piggott (Clay County). Mary Ann is from Illinois, where they met at the University of Illinois in Champaign. After working for several years in Illinois, the Allens moved back to Arkansas in 1968.

Four years earlier, they had invested with another partner in the ready-mix concrete business. In 1968, they bought Hickson Ready-Mix of Piggott.

Business Shift

The ready-mix business proved profitable, but Dewayne Allen, a civil engineer, was interested in the design of concrete flooring machinery. The company shifted in that direction in 1977.

Early on, the Allens had plants in Piggott, Corning and Paragould and employed about 20, Mary Ann Allen says. Now, the company is consolidated into one 50,000-SF plant in Paragould with 50 employees.

"We are completely out of the ready-mix," she says. "We sold those over the years. Along the way, we did some contracting. My husband is a contractor at heart. He identifies with a contractor. He knows materials from the ready-mix background, knows the materials we finish."

A new technique developed by Allen Engineering is the use of pans, or disks, on non-overlapping riding trowels. The Razorback pan machines are used to flatten the concrete surface. Bumps and dips in the surface can be "ironed out" using the machines, available in three model sizes. Use of the pan machines greatly reduces the amount of hand labor necessary to produce a flat floor, saving the contractor time and money.

Allen's overlapping Razorback riders are then used to finish the surface. The Razorback riding trowel is the fastest available on the market, Rousseau says.

Allen has 16 models of riding trowels, including overlapping and non-overlapping versions. They include a patented steering system, Rousseau says. The machinery can be used in anything from a small industrial construction job to a large warehouse project.

Baker Concrete of Monroe, Ohio, the biggest flatwork contractor in the country, is among the hundreds of U.S. contractors using Allen riding trowels, Rousseau says.

"We're going to continue to grow," Mary Ann says. "We've been in business 25 years, and we've been planning to continue this for the next 25 years."

Allen Engineering figures to continue as a family operation. Dewayne and Mary Ann's oldest son, 29-year-old Jay, will join the company in January as head of international sales. He is completing a master's degree at Texas A&M University in College Station in international business and has been in the banking business for seven years.

The Allens' youngest son, John, is just 14 but seems born for the business.

"The little one thinks he wants to be in the factory," Mary Ann says. "He's the engineering type, but he's a bit little right now."
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Title Annotation:Allen Engineering Corp.
Author:Harris, Jim
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Jul 26, 1993
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