‘A dream come true,’ AITX complete Phase II of Lincoln County investment

Published 1:22 pm Tuesday, July 18, 2023

BROOKHAVEN — Former Bude AITX plant manager John Ward took one snap of the scissors on Tuesday alongside Brookhaven mayor Joe Cox to celebrate the completion of a $30 million investment in Lincoln County. 

AITX Railcar Services completed phase II of an expansion project for railcar repair and maintenance services off Industrial Park Road in Brookhaven Tuesday. 

Ward worked at the Bude AITX plant for 21 years and has worked with AITX for 45 years. He is now a senior vice president. 

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Expansion in Brookhaven was made possible in part due to Ward’s vision for what could be done on the property that once housed a lawn mower plant and spring wire factory, understanding that AITX would build its future in Southwest Mississippi.

Ward said he and former Brookhaven plant manager Bill Scott saw potential where ghosts of past factories stood.

“Looking back you will be able to say ‘I was there when AITX opened.’ When you think about what we are doing here today, it will affect people for generations,” Ward said. “Someone once said our dreams are often at odds with reality. They demand freedom and resources we may not have, but they are not impossible. We must persist. Persistence is what separates the successful from the purely wishful thinkers. Distinguish yourself by staying motivated even in the toughest circumstances. We went from the back of the napkin sketches to where we are today. It is an honor to represent AITX and a dream come true.” 

Ward read an email he sent on February 14, 2010, saying he would be in headquarters and would like to show some ideas and possible site locations. In 2014, AITX completed the $10 million phase I project. Two years ago, phase II was announced. NOw, it will employ 100 more people. It will provide service in 44 repair or coating slots for rail cars. 

Ward said plants are a generational investment. 

“Bude will celebrate 50 years pretty soon. Kansas City and Longview, Texas plants are about 70 years old,” Ward said. “We are in it for the long haul. That is our secret to success. It is because of our employees. They are the key to our ability to provide customers with quality.”

Ward said the work could not have been done without help from all sorts of people. Garrick Combs and the Mississippi Development Authority helped launch the project before Combs came back home to Lincoln County, where he is executive director of the Brookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce. 

Shannon Aker, president of Bank of Brookhaven, welcomed people to the ribbon cutting with a similar message. The 40-acre project was only possible with many people working hard to get it done. 

Brookhaven Mayor Joe Cox said the project is a small part of hundreds of millions of dollars being invested through announced or completed projects in Lincoln County. Cox said the result of investment has driven down unemployment rates. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, Lincoln County has an unemployment rate of 2.7 percent as of May 2023. The figure is one of the lowest in the state although Rankin and Union Counties are the lowest with 2.1 percent unemployment rates in 2003. 

“Industrial investment and payroll is the fuel that drives our economy and sales tax revenue,” Cox said. “This supports our housing and businesses. This is why we celebrate. Two railcar repair and maintenance facilities represent $40 million in investment. The turnaround is a long and amazing story. It doesn’t happen very often anywhere. Without Ward’s dedication to Southwest Mississippi and Brookhaven, this investment would not have been here today.” 

Expansion for AITX was carried out on Lincoln County owned land. Eddie Brown, who served as board of supervisors president when the project started, toured the plant after the ribbon cutting with wonderment in his eyes. 

Current board of supervisor president Doug Falvey expressed his thanks to AITX for transforming the properties. He said 15 years ago it was just abandoned ruins of industry but Ward and AITX saw a future in Southwest Mississippi. 

“They got to work solving a problem, and we thank you for investing in us,” Falvey said. “We look forward to a prosperous future together.”

Laura Hipp, Deputy Executive Director of Mississippi Development Authority, said the development authority is thankful for AITX’s commitment to being in Southwest Mississippi. She said it was also exciting to see a project come full circle. 

About a year ago, steel beams rose up into the sky as the skeleton of AITX’s repair shop and painting facility. The 100 new employees in the expansion will bring families to the area and will support the local economy. 

Mike Sanders, president of Forcum Lannom Contractors in Dyersburg, Tennessee, oversaw the project from designing to completion. He claimed the repair facility was the largest on the CN railroad. 

Forcum Lannom has worked on 62 projects with AITX and completed close to $200 million of work. He said AITX was a good client but he was also appreciative of the workers who helped get the project completed and Lincoln County hosting them during the construction. 

“I’m proud of our team doing the work. They battled the heat, mud and COVID. Supply chain issues were challenges we had never seen before. They laid thousands of feet of track and tons of steel and rock to complete millions of dollars of work,” Sanders said. “It took a team to get here. It is hard to believe what this looked like before. We got cooperation from the locals and we are proud of the folks here. We have worked all over the country and Brookhaven was very accommodating. We appreciate you.”