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AR Plant Slated For Sale Gains New Life

Mon, 10/10/2011 - 9:18am
Curt Hodges

JONESBORO, Ark. (AP) — Camfil Farr APC (Air Pollution Control) is the manufacturing facility that almost wasn't.

A few years back, the company, then the Farr Company, was sold to Camfil in Sweden, and a decision was made to downsize the local facility and sell it, said Lee Morgan, division president. The office complex and manufacturing facilities in front of its property, 3506 Airport Road, were abandoned, and the operation was moved entirely to a rear building that now houses its engineering and metalworking.

The new owners intended to sell the local facilities and completely close the plant, which had been downsized from more than 200 employees to 34, Morgan said.

But the local plant refused to die.

Something unique was at work, the company president said. The 34 remaining workers did their jobs day in and day out just like they were going to be there forever. Soon the owners recognized what was going on, saw their abilities and efficiencies and initiated a resurgence of projects, he said. And now the Jonesboro plant is Camfil Farr's leading manufacturer of dust and fume control systems and the filters they use.

Camfil Farr is again approaching 200-plus employees, Morgan said.

What is now Camfil Farr started in 1985 as a metalworking company for Los Angeles-based Farr Co., which made all kinds of air filters. Among the company's offerings were filters for dust control in factories and even the fancy, shiny chromed engine air intake filters and housings on the cabs of big trucks, Morgan said.

Morgan came here in 1997 with Farr as sales and engineering business unit manager for dust collection. Then in 2000 Camfil bought the Farr Company. Camfil officials decided they didn't need a Jonesboro metalworking shop and could divide up the work done here all across the United States in other facilities, he said.

So the new Camfil Farr downsized the local plant to dust collection with an eye on selling it. Morgan said Camfil basically was an air filter company for offices and did not know about dust collection.

"I took over the factory after the acquisition and had the unpleasant job of bringing us from a little more than 200 employees to 34 people from the end of 2000 to the middle of 2002," he said. Sales of the local plant went from $20 million to $5 million in the same time period. "I do have to say that we treated our folks with dignity and respect" during the downsizing, he said. "It was a tough job."

The employees who were released were given severance and other positives, he said. Some have returned to the company since its resurgence over the past couple of years.

In October 2002 the new owners came to visit, and when they saw the 34 hard-working people in the efficient, streamlined operation that was making money, they decided not to sell.

Morgan said company officials decided to commit to the division and call it Camfil Farr APC for Air Pollution Control.

"Camfil Farr is the main company, and we are Camfil Farr APC," Morgan explained.

That was 2002 and the local division had $5 million in sales but lost money that year because of the downsizing expenses, he said.

Camfil backed up its promise with money and advertising, and the local air pollution control plant focused on its gold series and the gold tone filter systems and filters and shed many products that weren't money makers, Morgan said.

"We decided that we may not be the biggest out there, but we will be the best," Morgan said.

The firm concentrated on quality and continued to grow. The next year the new division did $8 million in sales, the next $12 or $15 and the next $18, then $23.

"This year we're going to do $40 million out of this plant," he said, adding that the Camfil Farr APC Division has done an additional $10 million in its U.K. and Malaysia units for a $50 million total.

"All totaled, we are a $50 million division of Camfil, solidly profitable and still growing," he said.

The company has laid out a challenge that by 2014 the local air pollution control division would be a $100 million division.

"That's what we are trying to accomplish," Morgan said.

Looking back on the past few years, he said it is an easily attainable goal. During the past 12 to 14 months, the division has added about 80 people, passed the 200 employee mark and is still going.

The key to the growth?

"Turning people loose to do their jobs," he said.

"We make the best, toughest dust collector you can buy," Morgan said. He said the company advertises the collection systems as "built like a safe."

Camfil's filtration cartridges are patented, and Morgan said his name and the names of other local employees are on some of the patents the company holds on its products and systems.

The collection cabinets and other components are also patented and are modular so they can be easily customized for each user's specific needs.

"Our bead-separated and 'hemi-pleat' filters and the 'gold line'" are among the keys to the success, he explained. They are highly efficient and because of the way they are made can be periodically cleaned by bursts of air into the filter systems with the collected particles falling into barrels, bags and other containers for re-use and disposal.

Camfil Farr systems are used in thousands, if not millions of applications around the nation and the world, he said. And many local manufacturers also use Camfil Farr air pollution control systems.

A graduate engineer himself, Morgan said one of Northeast Arkansas' best, and in many cases most under-recognized assets, is Arkansas State University.

"Arkansas State has been fabulous, and we kind of underutilized it at first," he said. "For the last five or six years we started working with the engineering school and utilizing interns" at the local plant. Four of those former interns became full-time employees, he said. One has moved to Los Angeles in sales, and three have remained at the Jonesboro plant.

"Several of our senior people here have had a connection with Arkansas State University, too," Morgan said.

Whenever he's asked what the company does, Morgan said he simply says, "We suck dust."

Any kind of dust, even dust and pollution from its own manufacturing processes, is safely removed via the systems and filters manufactured in the Jonesboro plant, he said.

He said it's the best confirmation that its products are quality and can turn what could be a hazardous atmosphere into a safer, cleaner and healthier one.

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