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Oxford company benefiting from new Nissan plant

Staff Writer

When the first vehicles roll off the assembly line at the Nissan plant in Canton it will be with a little help from North Mississippi Conveyor.

The Oxford-based company is building inventory control systems (or conveyors) and surface preparation tanks for a Nissan supplier, Systems Electro-Coating LLC. SEC will supply products directly to Nissan from its facility, which is located just south of the new 1,400-acre Nissan plant.

The conveyors and tanks will be used in the painting and curing of automobile frames at the SEC plant.

While the bid process started in the late spring of 2001, it was not until January 2002 that NMC was awarded the multimillion-dollar contract. The local company started primary fabrication of the systems in June. NMC will start installing the tanks and conveyors in October with substantial completion at the SEC plant by May 2003.

So, for the next six months to eight months, the business at NMC will be centered around the SEC project.

"This is really a significant impact on our next eight months for sure," said Darrick Vanderford, NMC president. "The SEC project will require most of our resources. We will be hiring 10 to 15 more employees for the fabrication and installation of the systems. The bulk of the fabrication employees will come from Lafayette and Yalobusha counties."

The 15 stainless steel tanks being built by NMC are 11-feet wide, 16-feet tall and 30-feet long, and weigh approximately 40,000 pounds each. When the tanks are completed and installed in the SEC plant, a hydraulic-programmed hoist will deliver a pallet (holding six frames) to each tank along the route. These pallets will be lowered into the specific tank where the frames will be prepared, painted and cured.

The 16 conveyors being built by NMC will move the pallets across the plant floor from the beginning and ending of the process when the frames are not on the hoist. At the end, the conveyors will deposit the painted frames to a loading area where they will then be transported to the Nissan plant. Once they arrive at the Nissan plant, the assembly of the vehicles will begin. The SEC plant will prepare 72 frames per hour.

The fabrication of the tanks is 60 percent completed, according to Vanderford. However, the creation of the conveyors has just started. For the next five to six months, employees at NMC will be working two separate 10-hour shifts a day to finish the SEC project while also working on projects for clients in Georgia and Kentucky.

But even after the tanks and conveyors are finished, Vanderford sees a continuing relationship with SEC.

"We anticipate an extended working relationship with SEC after the installation is complete," he said. "There are often minor changes on this type of equipment with repairs and small changes. We often maintain and inspect equipment such as this.

"But even after the contract is completed we will have a significant amount of work ongoing with not only SEC but also Tier I and Tier II suppliers whose installers might not be as close as we are. One advantage or one selling point (for us) is the proximity to the plant."

Nissan announced in November 2000 it would locate its newest North American assembly plant in Canton at a $930 million facility. With the June 2002 announcement of a $500 million expansion to produce the Altima sedan in Canton, the total size of the plant grew to approximately 3.5 million square feet.

The Canton Nissan facility will build full-size pickup trucks, full-size sport utility vehicles for the Nissan and Inifiniti lines, and the next generation Nissan Quest minivan. Production of the first vehicle is scheduled to begin in the spring of 2003 and production of the Altima is planned to begin in Canton in the spring of 2004.

The plant will produce approximately 400,000 vehicles annually and create 16,212 direct and indirect jobs by the year 2005, according to a study conducted by the Goodman Group at the University of Southern Mississippi.

"The initial phase of Nissan didn't have much impact upon smaller companies," Vanderford said. "The impact on the local economy will come from systems to Tier I and Tier II suppliers."

For a company started by Darrick's father, John, in his garage in April 1982, the Nissan plant and the possible arrival of a Toyota plant near Como bodes well for NMC's future.

"It is going very well," Vanderford said. "I don't think (my father) ever thought it would become what it has today."

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