Growth at Industrial Park

Published 7:00 am Saturday, March 1, 2014

WORKING ON SKIRT: Two employees of Avon/AEF work on the material for hovercraft skirts. The plant is located in the Picayune Industrial Park.  Photo by Will Sullivan

WORKING ON SKIRT: Two employees of Avon/AEF work on the material for hovercraft skirts. The plant is located in the Picayune Industrial Park.
Photo by Will Sullivan

St. Tammany Box Company, a relatively small, family owned manufacturing company, moved into the Picayune Industrial Park from Lacombe, La., just before Hurricane Katrina struck, seeking a larger facility and room to expand.

Avon/AEF, formerly Bell Avon, a large, international corporation has been in Picayune since 1984. The AEF in the name stands for Avon Engineering Fabrication.

On the surface, the two companies would appear to have nothing in common, but underneath there are at least two connections besides their location in the industrial park.

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Both companies have growth plans and are aggressively pursuing the opportunities to help them grow.

Scott Dubroc, operations manager for St. Tammany Box, said his father is the company’s president, his mother is the bookkeeper and his brother handles customer service and sales.

He said the company mostly manufactures specialty boxes and small lot box orders for small and specialty companies. Some of the company’s customers have included Gambino’s and Chef John Folse.

“We do the small runs” that larger companies don’t want to fool with, Dubroc said. “If it’s paper and glue, we do it. We’re steady out there hustling.”

Dubroc said he believes a company has “got to keep on focusing forward and growing, or you’re going to go under.”

The company is planning to build a 6,250 square-foot receiving area for raw materials. The company now has 16 hourly employees and seeking to add two or three more with the goal of having 20 to 22 hourly employees by the end of the year.

While the company works mostly with small companies needing relatively small numbers of boxes, an industrial park neighbor, Avon/AEF, is also a customer, for some wooden boxes and Dubroc hopes to get more work from the huge international company.

Curtis Stockstill is the value stream manager for the local Avon/AEF plant, which manufactures skirts for the U.S. Navy’s hovercraft to ferry Marines and their equipment to shore following seaborne assaults on enemy shores, among other products. He said the old skirts are now reaching the end of their life and company will manufacture the new ones over the next eight years.

He acknowledged the connection to St. Tammany Box, pointing to the boxes that company built during a tour of the Avon/AEF plant.

The company recently moved into the old Applied Geo Technologies plant to gain more room to manufacture its products and its growing number of employees.

The company also manufactures large, flexible storage tanks, ranging in size from 300 gallons to 20,000 gallons, from a rubber like material so the tank can be folded up when empty and moved. Stockstill said he was very familiar with the tanks as a member of the local Mississippi Army National Guard company that had been activated and deployed to Iraq during that war. He said his drinking water came from a tank manufactured in his hometown of Picayune.

Similar tanks manufacture by the company may be used in the near future in the fracking industry. Fracking is a process for getting oil and natural gas from previously inaccessible rock structures, and Stockstill said the flexible and portable tanks may be used in a dual tank system. One tank would contain the chemicals to be pumped into the ground and the other would take the chemicals when they are pumped back out of the ground, he said.

He said Avon/AEF and another company, Flexis, are designing the system, “ to take the chemicals from the chamber (tank) to the well to the (other) chamber.”

He said the company is also building 20,000-gallon tanks for the Marine Corps that are “very durable. We had one up at the old plant for nine years.”

Stockstill said the company is building tanks by hand from two materials. One is a nitrite rubber and the other is polyurethane. He said the nitrite rubber tanks take 22 hours to build and the polyurethane ones take eight hours.

The company is currently seeking more sewing machines for sewing the seams in the tanks. “A lot of hands and a lot of lifting” goes into producing the products manufactured at the plant, Stockstill said.

He said his plant is continuously seeking more customers and more product lines to manufacture there. His plant also has some expansion plans.

Most of the employees at the Picayune Avon/AEF, and its predecessor Bell Avon, have been with the company for 20 years or more, though the plant has added eight new employees since the new plant’s October grand opening for a total of 52 and hopes to add more in the future, Stockstill said.