Wiring North America
Family-owned, with rural roots, Southwire Co. grew from supplying grandma with electrification to being the largest wire and cable manufacturer in North America.
Workers at Southwire’s Florence and Heflin plants craft wire to power the country.
Photos courtesy of Southwire
If you’ve built a new house, rewired your basement, added an outdoor TV, or just a new porch light in recent years, you’ve probably used wire or cable that was made in Alabama. Southwire Company LLC — headquartered in Carrollton, Georgia, just over the state line, with Alabama plants in Florence and Heflin — has become one of the world’s leading producers of wire and cable used to transmit power, as well as the nation’s largest building wire manufacturer. Nearly a third of the new homes built in the United States contain Southwire products.
Founded as a family business in 1950 by Roy Richards Sr., Southwire has grown to employ almost 7,400 people across North America at sales offices, distribution centers and manufacturing facilities.
Family, in fact was literally the inspiration for the company. Frustrated that his grandmother could not get rural electrification, as it was called, because — said the local utility — there was a shortage of wire, founder Richards hired 12 workers and started manufacturing the wire himself.
“Southwire started as a small company with a narrow product offering of cable to supply electricity to areas that were not yet on the grid,” says Heflin Plant Manager Jim Perdue. “Now, Southwire is the largest wire and cable manufacturer in North America and one of the largest in the world. We have a complete product offering to supply most electrical wiring needs. Southwire has also become a model for sustainability and corporate responsibility.”
With customers ranging from utility companies to home improvement retail stores, the company provides for ongoing demands. And with a corporate culture of community service, Southwire has proven to be a valuable employer and neighbor to the communities in which it works.
“Our Heflin and Florence plants in Alabama continue to be valuable pieces of the foundation of our company,” says President and CEO Rich Stinson. “These facilities allow us to serve customers in the utility market and also fulfill needs within the commercial and residential construction segments. At the same time, both facilities boast proven partnerships with the communities in which they operate, building on Southwire’s overall commitment to giving back.”
Meeting Customer Needs
Southwire’s customers include more than 135 major electric power companies in North America and dozens more around the world. Electrical contractors, utility crews and residential do-it-yourselfers use the company’s products, which include building wire and cable; metal clad cable; cord products; industrial power cable; copper and aluminum rod; original equipment manufacturer products; mining cable; welding cables; circuit interrupters and other safety equipment; utility cable products, including overhead conductor, high-voltage underground cable and substation cable, and contractor tools. In addition, Southwire sells specialty wire, as well as aluminum and copper rod, to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and other wire producers.
In Florence, Southwire employees primarily produce residential and commercial building wire, says Plant Manager Scott Williams. The residential products include two- and three-conductor NMB, which is wiring used for electrical outlets, lighting, appliances, thermostat wire and service entrance cable (also known as SEU). The plant’s commercial products include armored cable and various sizes of THHN, which deliver power throughout large commercial buildings and complexes such as schools and hospitals, and circuit size THHN, which is used in wiring electrical panels and appliances. The Florence plant typically supplies its products to electrical distributors, contractors and OEMs. “We also have a large customer base in Home Depot and Lowe’s, where building wire products are sold in retail packages to do-it-yourselfers,” Williams says.
The Heflin plant’s main products include medium voltage and high voltage underground cable to serve the electric utility industry, says Perdue. “These products deliver energy from the source of power generation — power plants — to neighborhoods and homes that use electricity,” he says. “Our customers include electric utilities such as Southern Company, Duke Energy and Southern California Edison.”
Southwire prides itself on innovation and technology improvements, helping ensure that it will continue to provide manufacturing jobs in the state, as well as high-quality electrical products.
“Southwire has demonstrated resilience during economic downturns and continues to diversify our product mix and the markets we serve,” says the Florence plant’s Williams.
As an industry-leading, privately owned manufacturer, Southwire focuses “on satisfying our customers with differentiated products, solutions and services backed by our strong legacy and culture,” Stinson says. “Our greatest strength lies in the talents and commitment of our employees, who ensure, every day, that we are ethical and do our business right.”
In addition to keeping manufacturing jobs in American communities, Southwire focuses on giving back to the communities where it operates. “Companywide, we hold a deep satisfaction in the emphasis we place on community involvement,” Stinson says. “Southwire builds stronger communities through engagement, employment and mutually beneficial partnerships. Through programs like Project GIFT, which maintains a strong presence in both our Heflin and Florence locations, our employees are able to put their hands and feet to work when needs arise. We also partner with local nonprofit organizations, educational institutions and community groups to ensure that the places we call home remain sustainable for the future.”
For instance, Project GIFT, which stands for Giving Inspiration For Tomorrow, encourages employee volunteerism and community outreach.
In Florence, Southwire employees participate in a number of outreach projects through GIFT — encouraging children to stay in school, helping with a local cooperative seed and gardening program to assist low-income families to plant vegetables for food, delivering meals to the elderly and disabled through Meals on Wheels, and collecting donations for nursing home residents at Christmas time through a program called “Be a Santa to a Senior.”
As one of the area’s top sponsors for the American Cancer Society, Southwire in Florence hosts numerous community events to raise money for Relay for Life, such as golf and fishing tournaments. “We also participate in numerous charitable events providing gifts during the Christmas season, such as the Salvation Army Angel Tree, Toys for Tots, and SafePlace (a domestic violence shelter),” Williams says. “We give out 1,000 school supply bags in our community for back to school and provide an event on site for children to enjoy snacks and fun during the giveaway.”
In Heflin, the company is “very involved in fundraising, supporting local schools with supplies and helping with special projects,” Perdue says. “We support our local low-income needs charity, mentor students in the local schools and participate in many other service projects throughout the year.”
Students Get $1 Million Plant of Their Own
Southwire has combined its workforce needs with its commitment to community improvement, establishing 12 for Life, a cooperative education program which provides classroom instruction, on-the-job training, key work/life skills, mentoring and employment opportunities for high school students at risk of dropping out.
After launching its first 12 for Life program in Georgia in 2007, Southwire opened a program in 2009 in Florence, where the high school dropout rate was higher than 30 percent. Working with officials at the Florence City Schools, Southwire invested more than $1 million to purchase property adjacent to its existing facility and build a separate 12 for Life plant. The plant employs about 80 students from Florence High School each year, where the students work four-hour shifts and take classes in work and life skills, as well as attending half days at the high school.
Since Southwire launched the program in Florence City Schools, Florence’s graduation rate has increased from 68 percent to 96 percent, Williams says. Among 12 For Life student-employees, the school system has recorded a 100 percent graduation rate, he adds. School districts across the country have visited the facility to learn how to incorporate similar programs in their own communities.
“Lots of students find their identity by playing in the band or on a sports team, and that motivates them to stay plugged in at school,” says Corey Behel, Southwire program coordinator for Florence City Schools. “This [program] is it for these kids. It allows them to be a part of something, to be part of a team.”
In addition to combating the high school dropout rate, 12 for Life also “develops students to become assets to the communities in which they reside,” Williams says. “Through 12 for Life, students are able to stay in school, graduate and go on to become successful, productive members of the workforce, ensuring those real-world skills translate into real-life success.”
Nancy Mann Jackson is a freelance writer for Business Alabama. She is based in Huntsville.