Koyo plant manager says trends are moving up

KEYNOTE SPEAKERS for the evening shown with out-going Chamber chairman Marilyn Dollar included, l-r, Larry Bishop, Nat Higdon, and Fortson Turner.

The heads of three local businesses shared hope for the community before a crowd of nearly 200 who attended the 85th annual meeting of the membership of the Cairo-Grady County Chamber of Commerce held at the Grady Cultural Center Monday night.
Nat Higdon of Ira Higdon Grocery Company, representing one of the oldest local firms; Koyo Bearings Plant Manager Larry Bishop, representing one of the largest employers; and Fortson Turner of Turner’s Fine Furniture and Turner’s Budget Furniture, representing the newest local business; spoke at the chamber banquet at the invitation of Chamber Chairman Marilyn Dollar.
Higdon, the fourth generation of the Higdon family to manage the Ira Higdon Grocery Company, told the large audience the family-owned firm had grown from five employees to 90 and is celebrating its 102nd year in business. The Higdon Grocery official said the company serves 140 stores in the tri-state region and operates two shifts, six days a week.
He says Higdon Grocery has been successful because he and his forebears have fostered “meaningful relationships” with customers and co-workers. Another key, Higdon says, is to give employees opportunities to succeed.
A servant leader attitude is also something successful business people must have, according to the grocery company executive.
The Koyo plant manager gave an optimistic update on one of the county’s largest employers. According to Plant Manager Larry Bishop, in 2010 the company hired 29 new full-time employees and 25 temporary employees as the company’s product lines expand and demand for products increases.
With 57 percent of the Cairo plant’s business being with General Motors, Bishop noted the federal assistance for the automobile industry was key to the plant’s survival.
The payroll of the local Koyo plant is estimated at $13 million annually. The plant manager also pointed out the firm is the largest single taxpayer in the county, as well as a major utility customer for the city of Cairo.
“I don’t know how any of you feel about the GM bailout, but as you can see, we are all very close to the GM bailout,” Bishop said.
Although Koyo still does a lot of business with General Motors, the company is diversifying and new product lines such as park rods and shift rods are now  being produced locally.
The Cairo plant has also been designated as the international shipping point, so all products made in U.S. plants for international customers are shipped out of the local plant.
Bishop’s presentation included a slide show and at one point, when illustrations of many popular cars were displayed, he said any where from 30 to 60 bearings made in Cairo could be found in each of those vehicles.
Bishop is optimistic about the Cairo plant’s future and his projections for the coming years show sales building from the current $102 million level back up to the highs of $130 million and even higher. He also sees employment growing as revenues grow.
The third business representative to speak Monday was Fortson Turner, who noted his company’s origins date back to 1915.
“At one time in the 1940s, my grandfather operated a furniture store and a gas station here in Cairo,” Turner said.
Now, the Turners have focused on southern Grady County, a point between two huge customers bases found in Tallahassee and the southwest Georgia region. According to Turner, there is a larger group of potential customers within an 18-mile radius of Turner’s stores in Beachton than can be found around either its Valdosta or Albany stores.
“We’re excited to be in south Grady County,” Turner said.
The company operates both a Turner’s Fine Furniture and a Turner’s Budget Furniture in south Grady County on U.S. Hwy. 319. The local stores employ 35 associates, and Turner says they have assembled a “super team” at the Beachton locations.
The Grady County locations, boasting 65,000 square feet of display area, are also the largest of the four fine furniture stores and the five budget stores.
After hearing the encouraging remarks by this trio of speakers, Chamber Chairman Dollar thanked the men for their words of “hope” for the community.
Following a brief overview of the 2010 program of work and accomplishments, Chairman Dollar recognized the retiring members of the board of directors including William Jones and Al Rocuant, before passing the gavel to incoming Chairman Matt McCaskill.
McCaskill, an assistant vice president at Capital City Bank, told the chamber membership he is “excited” about the prospects for 2011.
“A focus this year will be on a self-evaluation of the chamber,” Chairman McCaskill said.
He says the membership will soon receive a survey, and he encouraged members to participate in the survey so that the chamber can best serve its membership and promote economic prosperity and growth in Grady County.
“Please share your ideas and suggestions on how we can best meet that goal,” he asked of members.
Before adjourning the meeting, the new chairman recognized the newly elected and appointed members of the board including Cairo City Manager Chris Addleton, Kevin S. Cauley and Shanda Pyrz.
Monday night’s banquet featured a catered meal prepared by Carol Booth, Katherine Cook and Diane Davis. Floral centerpieces were crafted by Craig Singletary of Designs by Craig, and the sound and audio was handled by Jason Jones of SNL Productions.
Emcee of the awards presentation was Mesha Wind and the invocation was given by Pastor Johnny Moore of Family Worship Center.

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