Sanders, Before Seed, Beyond Harvest
OptiGro Location

Homegrown and Here to Stay

Wednesday, August 31, 2011 - From Delta business Journal / Vol2 No. 29

http://www.deltabusinessjournal.com/vol2no29/

By Becky Gillette

Just like homegrown tomatoes, home-grown companies in the Delta "taste better." They are particularly welcoming and special. Many of these companies started to fill local needs and have grown into making sales across the country. One company, Viking Range Corp. in Greenwood, has become a household name.
Angela Curry, executive director of the Greenwood-Leflore-Carroll Economic Development Foundation, says there are certainly advantages to homegrown industries.

"After all, Greenwood/Leflore County is not only Viking's home but it is Fred Carl's home first and foremost," Curry says, referring to the founder and chief creator of Viking Range. "Fred has a genuine interest in the wellbeing of our community."
Fred Carl, Jr., a fourth generation building contractor, started the company in 1984 in order to provide the first commercial-type range specifically designed and certified for home use. Today the company is well known across the country. Another unique benefit from the company is the 70,000 visitors per year attracted to the Viking Cooking School. That has a major impact on the local economy.

"Not only does this company produce world class products, it also contributes to the marketability and attractiveness of our community with its world renowned hotel, The Alluvian and other hospitality services," Curry says. "Greenwood/Leflore County is very fortunate to have Viking Range as Viking is a wonderful corporate citizen and major employer."

Similar sentiments are echoed about Cleveland's Jimmy Sanders Inc., one of the largest agricultural input supply and distribution businesses in the Mid-South. The company launched in 1953 and has grown to currently serve growers through 68 locations in eight states. Sanders' operations include seed production and sales, agricultural chemical distribution, bulk handling of fertilizer and its OptiGro® program, which is variable rate technology and other precision agriculture services.

"Sanders Seeds has been around for as long as I can remember," says Judson Thigpen, executive director of the Cleveland-Bolivar County Chamber of Commerce. "They are from here, and obviously their loyalty is to Cleveland. They could have moved off to others places, but they have chosen to stay here. They have spread out in the past few years and acquired a lot of other businesses that have helped grow their businesses. They have tremendously increased their sales."
While not all of the employees are based in Cleveland, Thigpen says every time the company grows, it adds more jobs in their home office.

"Their workers at the Cleveland headquarters mostly live in Cleveland," Thigpen says. "They shop here, eat here, and are a great asset to the community. I knew Jimmy Sanders, and now know his son and grandson, Mike and Michael Sanders. They are all involved, good community people."

Ag-related companies are common in the Delta because agriculture is what drives the economy, and those closest to the farm best understand the needs of farmers. KBH in Clarksdale is one example of such a company. The family owned and operated agriculture equipment company, now celebrating its 50th anniversary, manufactures, markets and sells a diverse agricultural equipment product line for seed, liquid and dry fertilizer, grain and cotton harvest.

"Dealing with farmers and dealers across the cotton belt from Virginia to California, being based in the Mississippi Delta gives KBH immediate credibility," says Tim Tenhet, national sales and marketing manager for KBH. "You would be surprised at how much respect and regard is given to our region's farmers by their peers across the nation, and we get to benefit from this fine reputation."

Cotton acreages were declining in recent years in the South because of low prices, but recent improvements in cotton prices have led to gains in planting cotton. While the growth of cotton acreage has helped KBH, it isn't as important as you might think because the company decided to diversify out of the cotton equipment market as more grains started being planted several years ago.

"Throughout our history we have adapted as ag changes," says KBH CEO Buddy Bass. "The ag equipment market has evolved fairly quickly, and the reaction time has to be pretty quick. We're fortunate that we are centrally located in the U.S. and can ship with a good deal of economy to most of the domestic markets."

Ron Hudson, executive director of the Clarksdale-Coahoma County Chamber of Commerce, says KBH is one of the linchpins of their economy.

"It is great to see them doing well," Hudson says. "I like to see home-grown industries because they are generally stable and have ties in the community. They do a lot of things for this community. Manufacturing jobs pay better, and we need to have them." 
Another family-owned business success story is NTC Transportation Inc. in Greenville. After returning home to Mississippi, Evelyn and Jackie Netterville Sr., started the business with one passenger cab in 1997 before the official opening of NTC in 1998.

"We found that rural and urban transportation accommodations were practically non-existent throughout most of the Delta," Jackie Netterville says. "We began to fill this transportation void by offering taxi cab services in and around Greenville. As time passed and the demand for our services increased, we expanded."

In 1999 NTC received its first state contract with the Division of Medicaid Services to provide transportation for patients in a 16-county area. In 2000, the company started to diversify service by adding package delivery, airport shuttle services and group transports.

Today the company has 70 employees statewide in Greenville, McComb and Natchez. Most of their drivers have been driving for NTC Inc. for at least five years and have gone through extensive defensive driver training classes, as well as supervised behind the wheel driver training.

"Our drivers are well trained in defensive driving, CPR/first aid and passenger sensitivity," he said.

Other family members involved now include their son, Jackie Jr., Evelyn's sisters, Joyce and Cynthia, nieces Corliss and Marquita, and a great nephew, Travon. NTC Transportation also has a mobility division, NTC\Delta (see www.ntcdelta.com), which manufactures wheelchair vans and shuttle vans with wheelchair lifts. The company has been approved by major mobility limited suppliers as an authorized installer, sales and service company. It is the only company in the Mississippi Delta authorized to make repairs for Braun Corporation, Ricon, Sur Lock, QStraint and other similar companies.

Homegrown companies have a big presence in the Delta. Because of hard-working employees, loyal customers, and local support, they are hopefully here to stay.