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Local biz hiring help

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

(Photo)
Rod Yawn shows packages of his product -- tiny absorbent beads -- at his business on North Fifth Avenue in Lewisburg. Yawn moved his business from Springfield and is seeking to expand his business.
A chemical engineer has opened in Lewisburg a business named after his grandson, Alex, to put the finishing touches on a product that, among other things, filters impurities from biodiesel fuel so it burns clean in those motors.

Rod Yawn, president and sole owner of ALX, moved his processing of tiny absorbent beads from Springfield, Tenn., to a blue metal building on North Fifth Avenue because, "I needed more space and a building more suited to the operation."

Marshall County's available workforce was another factor, as well as a couple of key people he named: Bubba Tankersley with his concrete company; and Bill Spence who has BDS Machine Inc.

"Good people," met through mutual acquaintances, and service from Lewisburg Gas Department and Lewisburg Electric Service, helped Yawn set up shop late last year, he said. Now he's got to hire more good people to meet customer demand.

"I'm hiring people now," Yawn said between the Christmas and New Year's holidays.

Industrial Staffing is the personnel agency he's been using for people he hires on a part-time basis until the employee is proved suited for the work.

About a dozen people work at ALX now, Yawn said. He anticipates a staff of 30. Experience with a forklift and the ability to work in an industrial environment are important qualifications for applicants who want employment at ALX.

"It's not easy work," Yawn said, "but this is a good place to work. Production and safety bonuses are paid and most companies don't do that."

His need is very real and immediate. ALX's operation has been 24-hours a day, seven days a week, "and we're not keeping up with the orders," Yawn said.

One of his employees is working 12 hours a day, seven days a week.

"He needs the work and the money," Yawn said. "A person can work as much as they want, as long as they're paid time and a half - overtime wages."

More work will be available when a bagging machine is delivered.

"The main part of the bottleneck is equipment," Yawn said. "I've got a bagger on order. I couldn't get it quick enough, so we made one out of wood."

ALX buys massive amounts of tiny beads. A glass jar of them looks like the contents are sand granules, but the tiny beads are somewhat larger, perhaps the size of a bowling ball for a team of ants.

The beads are purchased from other companies with very expensive equipment, he said. Yawn doesn't give tours of his plant, and he protects the nature of his process. He says it's patented. His suppliers make the raw material for ALX and Yawn's plant finishes the product for his customers.

"One of the things that is allowing me to grow so fast," he said, "is people like Bill Spence. An industry can't operate without good suppliers."

Now, Yawn is shipping truckloads of his product by locally based trucking companies.

He plans to expand early this year with another building for the distribution part of his operation.

"Most of our market is domestic, but we're beginning to ship internationally," Yawn said.

One of his newest customers is in Japan. Another is in the Solomon Islands.

"We compete with Dow Chemical" and other companies that are not as well known, but "some of our products are unique in the world," he said.

As a chemical engineer, Yawn solves problems and as a businessman, he's turning that application of science into product production.

Now, he serves three markets.

One is the biodiesel business that makes fuel from yellow grease, cooking oil, leftover fat from poultry plants, and other such wastes. There's a washing process for the fuel that uses water, but it creates seven gallons of wastewater compared to Yawn's process to remove impurities that results in no wastewater.

It's a "dry wash resin," giving rise to a product name: DWR.

There are 175 biodiesel plants in the United States, he says. "Not all are my customers. Previously, all of them used water washing. There are a lot of plants in Europe. There's one in Costa Rica; a customer."

To clean biodiesel with Yawn's dry wash system, the beads are placed in a column -- a large pipe. Unwashed biodiesel is passed through the cleansing pipe and the beads absorb sodium hydroxide (a catalyst in the production of the fuel) and glycerin, a by-product of the process of making biodiesel.

A ton of beads can purify 375 gallons of biodiesel, Yawn says. This process is during the very last steps of making the fuel.

It also permits the use of a lower grade of the basic ingredient for biodiesel, he said.

Another use for products sold by ALX is absorption of pollution from ground water. Toxic metals, solvents, gasoline, dry cleaning fluids and the like, as well as some naturally occurring elements are removed with one of the products Yawn developed.

The product is used after toxic spills. It is also used in dairy farming. Arsenic, a naturally occurring element, was found in cows' milk. The arsenic was traced to well water in Wisconsin, and so that water is now filtered.

Yawn's beads are also used as a drilling lubricant. The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has revealed some of the business of drilling, including the use of mud as a lubricant. But the mud contains other things and one of them is an ALX product.

"Much of the new natural gas that's being produced is from directional and horizontal drilling," Yawn said of how the business of drilling for petroleum products has changed. With a change in direction from straight down, to an angle and then a curve toward horizontal drilling, there was a need to reduce friction at the drill bit and the shaft.

As a result, there's a need for what Yawn makes, and he wants to make more and different products.

"I've got 20 other products in different stages of development," he said.

ALX was formed three years ago. It's been located in Springfield, but various reasons emerged for his move to Lewisburg. The Springfield operation is now just distribution.

Like some other corporate decisions, Yawn's decision to locate in Lewisburg was a result of various factors, but one of them was family. He lives in the Franklin-Williamson County area, and he has relatives living at Nashville, not the least of which is his grandson, Alex, of Brentwood.

Originally from Pascagoula, Miss., Yawn married at age 19, attended high school and college, Ol' Miss, with the love of his life and became an Ashland Oil Co. career man.

Over the decades, Yawn, who's in his late 50s, got to know people who are associates of his own business. Ashland Oil doesn't do what ALX does. He's retired from Ashland, and briefly worked in another company, but started his own that's now here in Lewisburg.

"I won't move my plant again," Yawn said. "It's too much work."

Not that he shies away from work. After he was interviewed last Thursday, Yawn went back to work in his factory. He needs more employees.