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FORT SMITH -- Pradco Outdoor Brands is expanding its operations, adding about 60 jobs and four soft-plastic molding machines to increase production of its Yum brand fishing baits in Fort Smith.

The Alabama-based manufacturer and marketer of fishing and hunting brands and products announced its expansion plans during a news conference Friday attended by Gov. Asa Hutchinson and representatives of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. Wal-Mart is Pradco's largest customer.

Bruce Stanton, vice president and general manager of Pradco's fishing division, said the company is scaling up its U.S. manufacturing operations because "business is booming right now -- particularly at Wal-Mart." Pradco will add workers over the next few months for its Yum brands manufacturing line.

The company also has decided to move the production line of its Thill brand of balsa fishing floats from Minnesota to Fort Smith starting in December. Production and distribution of the Thill floats will be housed in a building that previously served as a distribution center.

"Last year we actually had to outsource in March, April, May, June, July and August because we weren't able to keep up with demand," Stanton said. "That hurts your margin when you have to outsource to other manufacturers. So we just decided this business is booming and Wal-Mart is supporting us. They want American-made products. Let's continue to invest in the equipment."

Five years ago, Wal-Mart made a commitment to purchase an additional $250 billion in American-made products by 2023 and has worked with suppliers to expand U.S. manufacturing and return production jobs to the states. Wal-Mart estimates that its U.S. manufacturing initiative could lead to the creation of 1 million jobs across the country by the end of the 10-year period.

Stanton said Pradco's announcement Friday was the result of Wal-Mart's efforts.

Pradco's sales to Wal-Mart have increased about 25 percent this year. Wal-Mart sells roughly 865 products from Pradco's fishing division across its 4,700 U.S. stores and online.

"What an incredible partner Wal-Mart has been in increasing manufacturing here in the United States," Hutchinson said. "Whenever that is their goal, Arkansas is going to get its fair share. And when Arkansas gets its fair share, let me tell you, Fort Smith is leading that effort."

Stanton said Pradco's parent company -- Alabama-based Ebsco Industries Inc. -- also made a "seven-figure investment" to support Yum manufacturing in Fort Smith. The investment moved Pradco from a two-shift operation eight months ago to one that now has three shifts and operates 24 hours a day, five days a week. Stanton said revenue has increased 27 percent so far this fiscal year.

Friday's job announcement was the latest for Pradco, which will have about 300 employees in Fort Smith when it fills the entry-level positions. The company added 25 full-time jobs in Fort Smith in early 2016 and 64 positions to the Yum production line since January 2017.

"We've been on a strong, three-year run with our business," Stanton said.

Pradco began operations in Fort Smith in 1960 and became one of the country's largest injection-molding companies. Under Ebsco, which also operates a Pradco hunting division and owns fishing brands such as Bandit, Bomber, Cotton Cordell, Creek Chub, Little Joe, Norman, Rebel and Yum.

Pradco also recently acquired Rogers-based War Eagle Custom Lures.

"I can't wait to see what the next 40 years holds with this Pradco fishing team here in Fort Smith," said Robert Schoenvogel, the Alabama-based president of Pradco. "There's no telling how big we can grow. To me, as exciting as this day is, this is just the beginning."

Business on 11/18/2017

Print Headline: Pradco adding 60 jobs in Fort Smith

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