This is the third part of a series examining the history and economic effects of industry in Newton County, as well as the county’s continuing efforts to attract new business. This part examines the history of yarn converter Beaver Manufacturing in Mansfield, one of the county’s oldest and most successful industries.
The Bibb Manufacturing Company had been around for 70 years and employed 2,500 people at its textile mill in the 1960s. But Ed Needham, a third generation textile worker who was born in India, raised in Canada and worked in Cuba, thought he had a better way to manufacture yarn. Bibb wasn’t willing to find out.
More than 40 years later, Bibb has long since been gone, while Needham’s Beaver Manufacturing is a global leader in its field.
Needham once worked on the technical manufacturing side of Bibb, but it was his background in chemistry that earned him his fame and success. Although Bibb’s Porterdale Mill was incredibly successful at the time, Needham saw room for improvement.Bibb was producing high-quality yarn, but
Needham thought that by using different chemicals to treat the yarn, he could make a higher quality yarn that was easier and more consistent to produce. Bibb execs saw no reason to mess with a good thing. Needham saw no reason to waste his idea.
He set out with fellow former Bibb employee Kenneth King, who had the mechanical knowledge necessary to properly package the yarns. The two purchased an old cotton warehouse in the small town of Mansfield in 1971. The warehouse had a dirt floor and its pillars were old tree trunks, like the famous bed of Odysseus.
Many long hours were spent setting up, including several late nights. The police were even called one evening to check out the late night activity. Needham told them he was digging a tunnel under the bank — a joke not lost of them, because the office Needham had purchased next door had indeed been the former site of the Bank of Mansfield. Luckily, the police did not take Needham at his word, because the bank had in fact been robbed in the past. During one robbery the bank president was shot and killed. Urban legend has it that there is still a bullet in the wall somewhere.
Needham continued to scrape enough profit to grow the company. Five years after opening, he assumed full ownership. Needham named the company Beaver Manufacturing for three reasons: the beaver is the national animal of Canada, Needham didn’t want to name the company after himself and his brother already had a business called Beaver Rope Company, so Needham hoped to play off his brother’s success.
Pioneer of the Thread
Needham not only invented a new way to treat yarn, he exploited a gap in the yarn market. Today’s Beaver is the leading domestic producer of hose yarn. Yarn is used to reinforce all sorts of hoses, from the everyday plastic or rubber garden hose to the incredibly thick rubber and metal-reinforced hoses that support oil rigs hundreds of miles off shore.
"In those days hose yarn was largely an afterthought," said Bill Loeble, Beaver’s chief operating officer. "Technology of fiber was focused on tire yarn reinforcement. The hose industry got the leftovers. Needham’s idea was revolutionary."
The yarn from old tires may have been sufficient in prior days, but as with all things, the hose industry became ever more complex. That’s the same reason simple yarn became outdated. Although hose yarn is a specialty field, today there are hundreds of different kinds of hoses. There are a dozen different hoses in each type of automobile alone: air conditioning, brake, fuel line, hydraulics, radiator and power steering to name a few.
And just as each hose is a different size carries a different liquid or gas and is made of a different rubber, plastic or metal composition, so does each hose require a different type of yarn to reinforce it.
Historically yarn was made from naturally occurring materials, cotton, linen and asbestos. But similar to the fibers that now make up much clothing, hose yarn today is more often nylon, polyester, rayon and even aramid high performance fibers, which goes under the brand names Kevlar and Twaron.
And each type of yarn requires a different chemical treatment to give it the right properties. Loeble said Beaver has more than 700 distinct products, SKU’s, by combining different chemicals, yarn types, lengths, weights and packaging options — hose yarns are a complicated, and lucrative, business.
"All hoses are designed differently. They each require a different flexibility and different tensile strengths as well as operating temperatures and pressures," Loeble said.
As Beaver likes to say in its literature, the company literally produces yarn for hoses from a to z, from the air conditioning hose to the z swivel grease gun hose.
Beaver Manufacturing has approximately 50 customers in countries such as France, Germany, Mexico, Brazil, Italy, Korea and some in Eastern Europe that run more than 200 combined plants in five continents. In addition, Beaver purchases raw materials from companies in countries such as France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands and South Korea.
Loeble said Beaver controls 90 percent of the publicly available North American yarn hose market, and 65 percent of the overall market — 25 percent of the market is composed of one large corporation which supplies hose yarn to itself.
Beaver is by far the largest domestic producer of hose yarn, and they sell so much yarn their facilities run at nearly maximum capacity. The automotive industry for a long time was the largest purchaser of hose yarn, but with the recent downturn, Loeble estimated that Beaver sells about 40 percent of its yarn to the automotive industry and 60 percent to other industries.
Though the company slimmed down recently, it still employees around 100 workers and Loeble said business continues to pick up. The company is currently operating four days per week, 20 hours per day, divided into two 10-hour shifts. Soon, that will increase to five days per week, 24 hours per day, divided into three eight-hour shifts.
All told, Beaver sells in excess of 10 million pounds of yarn per year, produced in 130,000 square feet of manufacturing space distributed among its three plants.
"You hear that the textile industry has been devastated, but the hose yarn industry is largely immune," Loeble said.
The newest business opportunity is with umbilical hoses on the oceanic rigs used by the oil and gas industry. The huge drilling platforms are connected to land by very large, very thick hoses that encase fluid transfer and hydraulic hoses, electrical wires, fiber optics and other materials necessary for support. Loeble said the Gulf of Mexico has long had many of these platforms, but the coast of Brazil is a growing market. Another growing field is the fiber optics business, whose cables also use yarn.
Loeble said Beaver has considered expansion to overseas plants, if the market justifies, for a while.
When the yarn is shipped to Beaver Manufacturing, it’s in an unusable form for hose manufacturing. Its first stop is usually Plant No. 3, where it may be doubled, increasing the weight, and twisted, to protect the hair-like filaments. This means that two or several threads of yarn are plied and twisted together to form a heavier yarn. The thicker and stronger the yarn needs to be, the more threads are used.
The yarn is then sent to Plants 1 and 2, where it’s chemically treated. There is no heating or stretching of yarn or any physical manipulation, simply chemical changes. This is Beaver’s bread and butter, the proprietary information that other companies would love to have. Visitors are not allowed into the treatment center or research and development labs, because of the valuable nature of that information. Loeble said many companies in Europe and elsewhere around the world, lack the complexity of chemical treatment employed by Beaver. The main purpose in treating the yarn is for adhesion to the rubber or plastic hose used by Beaver’s customers.
Finally, the yarn is rewound onto a tube or cone in its final form. As with everything else, tubes and cones come in a variety of sizes. Finally, pallets of yarn are wrapped up and shipped out. However, even this part is important. Loeble said Beaver stands out among its competitors in shipping quality as well. Because each yarn is different, it requires different types of packaging to protect it. This part is so crucial because the yarn is wound precisely to fit onto the end user’s machines. If the yarn is off by even a little bit, the end user could have a problem.
The Heart of Mansfield
Mansfield used to be a booming social town, when the railroad was running full steam ahead and residents flocked to the movie theater and café. However, the railroad stopped running with its post-war vigor, some businesses moved elsewhere and many of the younger generation sought employment in larger cities.
For the past several years the town has grown slowly and is home to roughly 600 residents. To those in the business community and world outside of Newton County, Beaver Manufacturing is Mansfield. Although the town has several smaller stores, Beaver employs more workers than the rest of the Mansfield’s other businesses combined.
And yet, many Newton County residents don’t know the company even exists. But those who pass through Mansfield are likely to see some sign of the company, whether its the plants themselves, Newton County Recreation’s Beaver Park, the fire station built on land donated by Beaver or Mansfield Elementary School, which houses computers and playground equipment provided by Beaver.
"Locally, we’re better known for our community involvement than we are for our technology. We want to be a good corporate neighbor," Loeble said. "It stems from the Needham’s passion for education."
Beaver annually donates bicycles to the top students at Mansfield Elementary, and employees give hours of free tutoring and instruction as a Partner in Education. In 2007, Beaver donated $50,000 for smart technology to the local Georgia Perimeter College campus and, in 2008 it donated $25,000 to the police academy at DeKalb Technical College. The company also pays for continuing education for its employees.
Beaver is also a major contributor to the Newton County Arts Association and is active in the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce. The hose yarn producer is a four-time Manufacturer of the Year nominee and founder Needham and his wife Nonie received the 2009 R.O. Arnold Award, the county’s most prestigious award, given for lifetime community involvement.
But all of that is made possible because of the way the company treats its own. Beaver is the only company Jacquenetta Ivey has known in her professional life, having been hired in 1986 after graduating from Newton High School. The lab technician said she plans to retire at Beaver.
"Everybody who works here cares about people, and the quality of the yarn. What I do here, I love it. They constantly work to make everything better and work hard in everything they do," she said. "It’s just like a family, just like the Beaver family. Everyone gets along and is there to help each other. I never thought I’d find a family like this in a company. We’ve grown so close; it will be hard to leave."
Luckily for Ivey and many others, Beaver plans on being around for a long time.
See next Wednesday’s edition to learn more about Berry Plastics in Covington, a leading producer of industrial trash bags and plastic stretch wrap.