Southwire Company --- When Roy Richards, Sr. founded a wire and cable manufacturing business to help bring electricity to rural Carroll County, he had a particular customer in mind.
Fresh out of the U.S. Army, Richards sought to run power lines to his grandmother’s home. Getting the lines there was no problem. Richards owned a construction company that erected poles and ran wire for utilities. At the same time, funding from the U.S. Rural Electrification Administration (REA) was bringing the promise and convenience of electricity to much of the South.
The trouble was finding enough wire to carry current to rural areas. During a conversation with a wire manufacturer, Richards learned that it would be three years before the company could deliver wire to western Georgia. A company representative asked why Richards was in such a hurry, joking that farms in the area had operated for hundreds of years without power.
Richards’ stern reply brought his vision into clear focus.
"My grandmother is 85 years old, and she has never had the pleasure of sitting under an electric light in her own house,” he told the manufacturer. “She’s seen it two times when she’s been to Atlanta, but she’s never had it.”
That pivotal moment marks the start of Southwire Company, which has grown into one of the world’s leading wire and cable manufacturers.
Southwire’s roots extend to 1937, when Richards, then a young 25 years old, started a company to erect power poles. Two years earlier, he had graduated from Georgia Tech. While the promise of jobs paying $80 a month lured 90 percent of his classmates to New York, Richards chose to stay in Carroll County, a commitment he kept even after Southwire grew into a leading player in the wire and cable industry.
During its first two and a half years, Richards and Associates strung 3,500 miles of cable, becoming the nation’s second-largest REA contractor. As World War II halted all REA construction, Richards joined the U.S. Army, eventually reaching the rank of captain.
Richards returned home to find that power poles put up by his company often stood wireless for months because of post-war shortages in wire. Seeing that a market existed, he decided the only way to ensure a steady supply of wire was to make it himself.
On March 23, 1950, Southwire Company started cranking out wire with 12 employees and second-hand machinery. Two years later, the company had shipped 5 million pounds of wire and had doubled its plant size.
But the process used in those days to make wire kept production at a dragging pace. Electrical wire was made by welding lengths of aluminum rod end-to-end. The brittle welds often broke in the process, causing production delays.
Frustrated by the inefficiency of traditional wire making, Richards sought a faster way to produce electrical wire of higher quality. He learned that an Italian industrialist had developed a method for continuously casting and rolling rod.
The process had only been used for commercial-grade lead and zinc wire used in fences and baling wire. The industrialist tried feverishly to convince Richards that it would not work with smaller electrical wire. Not to be deterred, Richards persuaded the man to sell him one of his machines and a team of Southwire engineers adapted the process to produce aluminum and copper rod.
Today, half of the copper rod for electrical wire and cable is made using the Company's patented Southwire Continuous Rod® (SCR) method.
The technology catapulted Southwire to the forefront of the industry. The company began selling SCR systems and wire and cable products around the world. In the eight years starting in 1967, Southwire opened six manufacturing plants, an aluminum smelter and a copper refinery.
In 1968, Southwire engineers created aluminum alloy building wire products with the development of TRIPLE E aluminum alloy. Seven years later, Southwire Machinery Division was founded to produce SCR system components, wire-making equipment and other machinery.
The Company saw a change in leadership in 1985, when Richards died of bone cancer at 73. Roy Richards, Jr., who had worked in Southwire plants since he was 10 years old, was named co-president and eventually became chairman and chief executive officer. Under a second generation of Richards, Southwire concentrated on its core business of wire and cable manufacturing.
Named for D.B. “Pete” Cofer, Southwire’s first chief engineer, the D.B. Cofer Technology Center opened in 1992, providing a home for ongoing development in wire and cable design, metallurgy and plastics compounding. Today, the center provides scientists and engineers state-of-the-art facilities for research, improvement of manufacturing processes and product testing.
Forte Power Systems, in Heflin, Ala., started production of medium and high-voltage utility cables in 1996. Expanding into Mexico, the company opened Southwire Americana De Mexico, a building wire plant, in 1998.
As the 20th Century came to a close, the Company pioneered work in the development of the next generation of power lines – superconducting power cables. Together with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the U.S. Department of Energy and a list of industrial partners, Southwire developed superconductor power cable technology and threw the switch on the first real-world application of superconductors in February 2000.
As it embarked on its second half century, Southwire hired Stuart Thorn in January 2001 as president responsible for all company operations. A year later, Roy Richards, Jr. retired from Southwire’s daily operations. He remains an active chairman of the company’s board of directors and maintains ownership of the company with a brother and three sisters. Thorn served as president and CEO until his retirement in January 2016. Today, Rich Stinson leads the company as president and CEO.
Southwire has continued to grow through expansions and acquisitions. Most recently, it acquired Coleman Cable in 2014, making Southwire the world’s third largest wire and cable manufacturer and the largest in North America. The company also acquired a high-voltage and super high voltage cable plant in Huntersville, N.C. in 2015. Southwire has plants, customer service centers and offices in 14 states, Canada, Mexico, Honduras, China and England - providing jobs to 7,000 employees.
More than 65 years ago, the Company was founded to help bring electricity to rural Georgia. Today, it supplies 135 of the nation’s top power companies, plus dozens of utility companies abroad and is pioneering new technology to better serve all of its wire and cable customers. Nearly a third of all homes in the United States contain Southwire’s building wire products. The company makes half of the nation’s power lines used to transmit and distribute electricity.
The Company also believes in partnering with others to build stronger communities. A grassroots effort born out of a desire to help victims of Hurricane Katrina, Project GIFT (Giving Inspiration for Tomorrow) provides employees diverse opportunities to give of themselves. Named for the coveted t-shirts earned through service, the Blackshirts bring Project GIFT to life through their volunteerism. A group of giving back coordinators in more than two dozen communities across North America and in Honduras coordinates volunteer opportunities and resources for more than 500 Blackshirts.
The Blackshirts regularly partner with such organizations as Relay for Life, Special Olympics and Habitat for Humanity. Volunteers share their time through disaster relief drives by collecting supplies and delivering them to hard-hit areas. They also participate in a variety of local community programs and give back through Southwire’s own events, including Back to School, an annual school supply giveaway, and a yearly Toys for Tots drive.
In addition to its community-building efforts, Southwire focuses much of its attention on groundbreaking and impactful education partnerships from elementary school through high school and college to help adults improve their lives through skills development. These include:
12 for Life – A partnership with the Carroll County Schools, 12 for life motivates high school students on the verge of dropping out to graduate through education, employment and encouragement.
Southwire Engineering Academy – Working with the Carrollton City Schools, Southwire introduces juniors and seniors interested in science, technology, engineering and math to careers in engineering.
Southwire Center for Manufacturing Excellence – Created with West Georgia Technical College, the center allows students to build manufacturing and maintenance skills.
Skilled for Life – An extension of the Southwire Center for manufacturing Excellence, the program provides hands-on work experience for students seeking certification as machinists and toolmakers.
Southwire Sustainable Business Honors Program – To train the business leaders of tomorrow in sustainable business, Southwire’s one-of-a-kind partnership with the University of West Georgia offers traditional business classes with an emphasis on sustainable business practices.
“I believe in doing what one man can,” Richards once said.
With a team of talented engineers and dedicated employees who continue to provide the best products and service in the industry, he has accomplished the work of thousands!
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