HAGER HILL, Ky.—Tucked away in the unlikely location of the Appalachian Mountains in Eastern Kentucky is a factory owned by a couple who don't want to be rich rubber barons.
“We make money, we set sales goals—probably should set them a little higher—but we're not greedy,” said Irene Morris, who with her husband, David Morris, own and operate Atlantic India Rubber Co. “We don't want to be millionaires. The government would get all that money, anyway.”
Self-described as “normal people,” the business the Morrises own is anything but typical in the rubber industry, from its location, product line and plant to the couples' backgrounds.
Start with the products: 96-year-old Atlantic India has an enormous amount of tooling, and a catalog of 14,000 standard rubber parts, grommets, gaskets, bumpers, lab stoppers, tips and caps, bushings, seals and extrusions. Mostly they are the kind of items whose production has migrated overseas where labor costs are cheap, although the firm also custom makes orders.
Then there's the equipment. Atlantic India runs five double-entry compression and transfer presses, and there's no high-volume injection press purchase on the horizon.
“We actually could use a bigger press. We had some opportunities we had to pass on because we didn't have a press big enough to run,” said David Morris. “Maybe someday we'll buy a bigger one.”
Now turn to the company's location. Try to find Hager Hill on a GPS, and you could end up in a ditch—the mountains play havoc with satellite navigation and send you down narrow roads to somewhere else, often washed out from a July storm that caused enough flooding to bring FEMA into the area.
“Around here you have to go south and north to go east and west,” David Morris said, driving in circles to go up and down the mountains. That said, the firm's 48,000-sq.-ft. building is just off a major highway and easily visible with a bright orange-on-white paint design.
But Eastern Kentucky? What's the appeal for a rubber parts distributor-turned-manufacturer to operate in very rural coal country, where there are virtually no other factories.