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Local laser company celebrates 50 years

By Angela Spencer

This article was published July 24, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.

gary-young-holds-his-hand-in-the-beam-of-a-laser-he-is-calibrating-at-agl-in-jacksonville-the-company-just-celebrated-its-50th-anniversary

Gary Young holds his hand in the beam of a laser he is calibrating at AGL in Jacksonville. The company just celebrated its 50th anniversary.

JACKSONVILLE — “Made in the USA” can be an attractive draw for consumers, but many residents may not know how close to home some products are produced.

AGL, a company specializing in construction lasers and machine control systems, is celebrating 50 years in business. The company was started and has remained in Jacksonville. AGL was first located on Main Street, then moved to a larger facility on Redmond Road in 1996.

AGL — which stands for automatic grade laser — was started in 1964 with the invention of sewer lasers to help builders lay sewer pipes correctly.

“Not many people know that the laser industry with construction started in Arkansas,” sales manager Jon Steelman said. “Any contractor in the United States has a laser of some sort. Everyone who lays the pipe for sewage, everybody who builds a house and lays the dirt, has a laser.”

The pipe laser is still one of AGL’s main products, along with rotating leveling lasers, but through a recent acquisition, AGL has expanded its toolbox.

In 2008, AGL was purchased by a Swedish company called Hexagon and since then has been distributing other products, including GeoMax devices that utilize a GPS and GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System).

“It’s broadened our portfolio so we don’t have just lasers anymore,” Steelman said.

The pipe lasers and rotating lasers are still produced in Jacksonville under the AGL brand. AGL site manager Jennifer Fairchild said there are about 39 employees in the Jacksonville office, and an average week includes assembling 40 pipe lasers and 40 rotators, in addition to accessories such as tripods and laser detectors.

AGL products are distributed internationally, and Steelman said some of the biggest markets where AGL products are sold include India, Pakistan and South America. There, the products aid rice farmers in leveling their fields against the curve of the Earth.

“When you get over 2,000 or 3,000 feet, the Earth starts curving,” he said. “In agriculture, they have to have those fields level so they can hold water, or they have them at a slight grade so the water drains off. When you get that long distance, they have to make sure that the field is level so whenever they flood the field for rice, it actually holds water.”

Looking forward, Steelman said AGL will continue producing and distributing lasers. The Hexagon acquisition has added other tools customers may need, but lasers continue to dominate the AGL brand.

“Lasers will never go away,” he said. “Even if the industry’s going toward GPS because of all the satellites, it’s never going to get as inexpensive as lasers. They’re always going to be around, so we’re going to continue to build lasers like we have for the past 50 years.”

That does not mean the company’s innovation is halted. In the next 12 months, Steelman said, AGL will roll out a new platform of lasers, keeping with the company’s flagship product while breathing new life into the lineup.

“It will be pretty big for AGL,” he said. “The industry is always changing. The main thing we do is we make sure we have a quality, American-made product.”

In that same time frame, more distribution will be going out of the Jacksonville office. Currently, Hexagon products other than AGL travel from a warehouse in Germany to Atlanta, then out to dealers. Eventually, distribution will be funneled through Jacksonville, Steelman said.

“It’s going to add more jobs and more economic presence here in Jacksonville,” he said. “We have a lot of warehouse space here and a lot of space here to grow, so there’s a lot of growth we can accomplish here.”

Staff writer Angela Spencer can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or aspencer@arkansasonline.com.

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