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Changes mark good time to live in Lonoke

Remington Arms expanding the Lonoke plant; a new Lonoke Interstate-40 interchange to open the city industrial zone; new businesses opening in Lonoke, are all upbeat signs for the city, Lonoke Chamber of Commerce promotions director Bill Ryker declared at the June 6 Chamber meeting. “This is a good time to be living in Lonoke,” he said.

At the meeting, Chamber members heard of the expansion plans from Remington plant manager Jim Grahlmann, presented the June Everyday Hero award, recognized 40 years of service by retiring police officer Sgt. Mike Coffman, approved a new member and other matters. Chamber president Leanna Rich presided over the meeting.

While the announcement of plans to expand the facilities of the Remington plant at Lonoke is welcome news for the area, the company is careful to keep details to a minimum. Lonoke plant manager Jim Grahlmann spoke at the June 6 Lonoke Area Chamber of Commerce meeting about the expansion but shared few details.

The Remington Lonoke plant, on Arkansas Highway 15 at the interchange with Interstate 40, with more than 1,200 employees, is the major commercial employer in Lonoke County.

News of the expansion came only weeks after start of construction to add a new Interstate 40 interchange with Arkansas Highway 89 at Lonoke, a few miles east of the plant. City and business leaders of Lonoke had worked since the early 1990s for a new interchange to open access to the city’s industrial area.

Remington said it expects to spend $32 million on the expansion, which would include the construction of a new building. Work is expected to begin during the second quarter of 2013, with the new expanded operation completed and running by the second quarter of 2014.

Grahlmann, in his remarks at the Chamber meeting, said he wanted to update the area on what has been happening at the plant in the past 18 months. “There has been a lot going on and, frankly, we just really have not taken the time to come and share with everyone,” he said.

He reviewed Remington’s history. Founded in 1860, “It is one of the longest continuously operating manufacturing companies in the United States,” Grahlmann said. Though primarily in firearms and ammunition, for a time the company also made typewriters and cash registers, he said.

As a manufacturer, Remington is one of the few who produce both firearms and ammunition, Grahlmann said. “Most do only one or the other,” he said.

In ammunition, the demand on the company is “absolutely unprecedented,” Grahlmann said. “I’ve got backorders over two years … And that is just Remington,” he added.

“For conspiracy-minded folks, who think the government’s buying [ammunition] all up … I don’t believe it. Most of my product goes to the retail, commercial market,” Grahlmann said.

Some of the demand is to law enforcement, but very little is to the government; though he could not speak about other manufacturers, Grahlmann said.

Remington planners saw the demand coming and began planning last year to expand facilities and production, Grahlmann said.

“We spent about $500 million last year, upgrading and increasing the speed of some of our machines,” Grahlmann said. “The consequences of that is that we added about 125 employees…” he said.

The plant is now making more ammunition than was ever contemplated for it, and most areas of the plant are operating at record levels, much of it using machines dating from the 1930s, Grahlman said. Regardless of the upgrades, it is still on 70- to 80-year-old machines, he said.

“We are going to go into new technology,” Grahlmann said of the planned expansion. “There are more effective ways to do things.”

The expansion will include a new, 35,000 square-foot plant, located south of the existing plant, Grahlmann said. It, too, will be expandable, he added.

There will be new skills required, Grahlmann said. As computer-aided design becomes more complicated, there comes a need for more skilled employees, he said.

“You probably want to know what the product is, so does the competition,” Grahlmann said. “I am in no hurry for them to find what we are doing there,” he said.

“That is why I really cannot tell you what it is we are going to manufacture,” he said. “We are trying to hold that off for obvious reasons,” Grahlmann remarked.

In other Chamber matters, chamber membership for Lone Oak Café (Steve Cardinal) was approved by the members.

State Rep. Walls McCrary and Lonoke Chief of Police Mike Wilson each presented retiring police officer, Sgt. Mike Coffman state citations, one from the Secretary of State and the other the state House of Representatives, recognizing his 40 years of service in law enforcement.

“It’s been an honor to serve the citizens of the State of Arkansas, and the citizens of Lonoke County and Lonoke … Thank you,” Coffman said.

Bill Ryker, promotions chairman, said few Chamber activities are set for the next few weeks.

He encouraged everyone to visit the site of the new interchange of Interstate 40 with Arkansas 89.

Progress is rapid, “It is looking like it is going to be an interchange,” Ryker said. Construction began in March.

Ryker announced the Cajun Noodle, a Lonoke restaurant, is opening a location at Cabot.

What fantastic news, Ryker said of the announcement that the Remington plant at Lonoke will be undergoing a major expansion.

The Lonoke plant has operated 44 years, and it is reassuring to see the plans to be here a lot longer, Ryker said.

“This is a good time to be living in Lonoke,” he said.

Rich presented Jim Bailey as Chamber of Commerce, June 2013, Everyday Hero. “[Bailey] is a true reflection of a community volunteer with a true passion,” she said.

Rich said that in June 2012, Bailey took on the task of building a medical examination room at the Wade Knox Children’s Advocacy Center. “He wanted this room to be perfect for the child but also functional for medical personnel,” Rich said.

Bailey researched the needs of the Center, designed the room, developed a budget and then worked to get donations for supplies. After that, he built and finished the room, Rich said.

“It is state-of-the-art and has been such a service to the child victims and their caregivers,” Rich said.

Cardinal told of the opening of the Lone Oak Café. “I want to thank everyone for their support. The restaurant is doing well above projections,” he said.

He and his family are “big on supporting the community,” Cardinal said. A “tree” is just inside the restaurant for people to attach donations, he said.

Last month’s donations went to the Lonoke Exceptional School, this month the donations will go to Open Arms Shelter, Cardinal said.

Lt. Col. Mike Donaghy, 19th Airlift Wing, who has been the Little Rock Air Force Base liaison with the Lonoke Chamber of Commerce, announced that the change he predicted has taken place. “This is my last meeting,” he said.

The new community liaison to Lonoke is to be, Lt. Col. Tom Lankford, the 19th AW chief of safety.

Col. Robinson, 19th AW commander, is at Washington, D.C. briefing Congressional staff on the status of the air base.

The effect of the federal sequester has reached the base, Donaghy said. Up to 200 of the civilian employees working at the base will be furloughed for about 11 days, he said.

The effect of the furlough, taken as one less day of work each week , means a pay cut of about 20 percent, Donaghy said.

Regardless of cuts, the base is still there, and the mission of the base is being done, Donaghy said. “We are doing what we need to do,” he said.

The commander of the Air Education and Training Command will is to be visiting the base, soon. “You may hear about that in the news,” he said.

The next Chamber of Commerce meeting will be Aug. 1.

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