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Arkansas Glass Container Corporation Celebrates 70 Years
by Audrey Hanes, photography by Kayla Broadway

Seventy years ago, Carl McSwain founded the McSwain Glass Company in Jonesboro because of its prime location – close to a sand deposit in Guion and natural gas to melt the sand into glass, as well as a railroad to transport the final product. Today, CEO and Vice-Chairman of the Board Tony Rampley and his wife, president and COO Vicki Rampley, proudly operate what is now known as the Arkansas Glass Container Corporation, a privately held company that provides glass for hundreds of customers worldwide.

McSwain opened the plant in 1948 and began making minnow glass traps and large liquor bottles for display. When he realized the market would soon be saturated with each of those items, he moved on to gallon containers. Soon after, a group of local investors from Jonesboro, led by J.T. White, bought controlling interest in the company and began expanding the plant’s offerings. It wasn’t until 1986 that the Rampleys moved to Jonesboro from Little Rock when the current majority stockholder group purchased controlling interest in the company and Tony was named president and CEO. Vicki joined him at the helm in 1997.

“We now make around 150 million containers in a year’s time,” said Tony of what comes out of the 525,00-square-foot plant. “Sand comes in the east side of the building and glass comes out and leaves in trucks on the west.”

The Rampleys are proud that their company is one of the last of its kind in the United States and has endured many changes in the global trade industry along the way.

“It’s the last family privately-owned glass manufacturing company in the United States,” said Vicki. “In 1986, there were 56 plants like ours, and now we are the last one. When the company was started, there were 500 employees. So many people in Jonesboro have worked at the glass company at some point, especially back in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s – not to mention the 70 years since then. Technology has changed, and so have we with the plant.

“We survived when things drastically changed globally in trade. We gained (our business) back because people still want American products. That’s our niche. We are very personable and customer service interested. A few years ago, we became global also – ordering our moulds and glass containers from the Pacific Rim to sell along with our glass containers. We had to make those kind of decisions to stay in business. Our competition is very tough with our overseas competitors who export to here. … We have worked very hard to know where our niche is. We want to make sure that AGC and its employees have a strong and bright future.”

As another way of keeping up with the changing industry, Arkansas Glass added Packaging Support Group (PSG) in 2010. A subsidiary of the glass manufacturing plant, PSG began with one employee selling caps to Arkansas Glass’ bottle and jar customers and has grown to employ 10 sales, logistics and management professionals. It provides customers with glass, plastic and metal packaging in industries including food and beverage, spirits, automotive, chemical and general industrial products.

“As we have evolved, we started a distributorship. … Its role right now is to focus on the sale of plastic, which goes hand-in-hand with our glass,” said Vicki. “It’s another avenue – no other glass manufacturing company in the U.S. does that. We are just a speck on the map compared to other global manufacturers, but we are important. We produce glass because we know what our customers’ needs are. We have anywhere from 500 to 750 customers, and even those customers have customers because we sell to distributors.”

For the last 20 years, Arkansas Glass has employed between 225 and 350 people at a time, depending on what lines the plant is running.

“We are so thankful for all the employees over the last 70 years who have gotten AGC to where it is today,” said Vicki. “The contributions these employees have made in this community for the past 70 years is a big benchmark. Jonesboro is growing so much, and there are a lot of shiny new companies, but some companies come and go. Not many have been here for 70 years. We still make something. We create it from sand to glass, and that’s so unique.”

From farmers who buy containers for their honey to gardeners who come for glass jars for canning, the local community has supported the plant for decades.

“In a very global world, we are still a mom and pop operation,” said Vicki. “We wouldn’t be here without the community to support us. Jonesboro has always been supportive, and AGC is so appreciative. AGC employees know all about the company. When AGC shares our company’s challenges, they understand and do even more. They’re invested. The employees we get from this community care.”

The Rampleys show they care about the community every way they can, too. They describe their company as faith-based, and in addition to several Bible studies that take place on-site, Arkansas Glass hires John 3:16 graduates and has hired “Lost Boys of the Sudan.”

“Also, I am a veteran; if a veteran is out there who needs the job, they get it,” said Tony.

“We have so many employees who have been here for a long time – for 40 years,” said Vicki. “They’re 70 now, and they still make glass here. We want to thank all the employees over the past 70 years and our team of directors and managers, who are such a great team.”

For more information about Arkansas Glass Container Corporation, located at 516 W. Johnson Ave., visit agcc.com or call (800) 527-4527.

How Glass is Made
Silica sand, limestone, nepheline syenite and soda ash are the major raw materials for manufacturing glass. These items are brought into the plant by way of trucks or railcars and are unloaded into their respective silos. They are weighted and mixed according to a batch formula programmed into a computerized mixer system. A percentage of recycled glass, called cullet, is also mixed along with the batch.

The mixed batch is conveyed into the glass-melting furnaces, where the batch is melted at approximately 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit to form glass with the use of natural gas.

Molten glass from the furnaces is carried into distribution channels called alcoves. There, the glass temperature is brought down by controlled heating and cooling. The alcoves feed the glass to forehearths, which are refractory channels where glass is conditioned by carefully controlling its temperature. Natural gas is used to heat the forehearths and alcoves.

Molten glass streams from the forehearths through feeders, at which point the glass stream is cut into cylindrical shapes called gobs. These gobs are then fed into glass forming machines. The forming machines use moulds to form the gobs into glass containers.

After the containers are formed, they are conveyed into annealing lehrs, where the temperature is heated and cooled in a controlled manner to relieve the stresses within the formed glass container. A natural gas burner system is used to control the temperatures in the annealing lehrs.

Following annealing, the glass container is inspected for quality and then packaged according to customer needs before being shipped out.