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Fifty Years of Family Tradition at Alexander’s Machine Shop
By Audrey Hanes, photography by Melissa Donner

In 1971, respected local machine production and repair specialist James Alexander went out on his own and opened Alexander’s Machine Shop on Union Avenue in Downtown Jonesboro. Fifty years and four generations later, Alexander family members are continuing to build on James’ well-known reputation for quality products, services and processes.

James was raised in Northeast Arkansas. He served in the Navy, then moved to Michigan to learn a trade and became a respected maker of tools. After working for various machine shops in Michigan and then in Jonesboro and Batesville following his return to Arkansas, James was encouraged to start his own business.

“People always said he was the best, and he was, so in April of ‘71, he decided to go out on his own and opened Alexander’s Machine Shop,” said his son, Jimmy Alexander. “We were downtown on Union Avenue in a little 2,500-square-foot building. At the time, he would do anything, make anything or fix anything for anyone who walked in the shop. We started catering to industrial and then farmers, and it grew from there.”

Jimmy and his siblings all helped out in the machine shop. Although he was drafted to the Army before going into the Navy in 1972, he got out in 1975 and went to work in the restaurant business in California. Jimmy ended up back in Arkansas in the 1980s and, once again, worked for his dad’s business.

“My dad told me that if it was a matter of passing the business on, it was left up to me – my brother and sister chose different careers,” said Jimmy. “He always told me find time to do it right the first time and not have to redo it again for no profit to fix it. You produce quality of service. My dad built this business, and I want to honor him and what he built and take the best care of his business that I can. One bank took a chance on him, and everyone has been able to count on Alexander’s Machine Shop ever since then. He built up this platform for us; we have so many great, long-term employees, and we were able to take that to another level.”

While at the original Union Avenue location, the Alexanders ran a full-service industrial machine shop that was capable of producing items from simple shafts to custom components. The shop has the ability to make parts from blueprints, drawings or samples, and its employees are capable of building and rebuilding many types of lift cylinders. The shop also performs general welding tasks and utilizes a portable welder that allows employees to complete off-site jobs.

In the early ‘90s, James purchased two CNC (computer numerical control) machines for the shop, which proved to be an important shift for the business. He retired in 1991, turning over the reins to Jimmy, who moved the business in 1993 to a 2-acre property off Johnson Avenue that featured 45,000-square-feet of production facilities and warehouse space. That additional space soon led to Alexander’s Machine Shop’s 20 Mazak CNC lathes and two Mazak CNC milling machines, and because the shop adheres to ISO 9001:2015 standards to ensure the highest quality possible, it soon became one of the largest CNC facilities in Northeast Arkansas.

“Some people will try to bring their cars in for us to fix, but we aren’t that kind of machine shop,” said Jimmy. “We are an industrial machine shop. We do a lot for farmers and factories. We are a job shop. Someone can bring something in and ask if we can make another one of it for them or fix it. A lot of our stuff is repair work, too.”

The business’ success and growth did not come without trials and tribulations; Jimmy struggled with addiction, and in 2005, checked into rehab to get sober and worked to rebuild his business.

“God did that for me,” said Jimmy of his struggles. “I got deep into drugs and alcohol, and He pulled all that success away from me. When I got clean and sober after rehab, I had to really work to rebuild the business after that. We were able to, and it’s all because of God; it’s all about glorifying the man up above.”

Alexander’s Machine Shop has been successful ever since, and now that Jimmy’s daughter, Ashley Hoggard, as well as her husband and son, Tim and Max, are all a part of the business, as well, James’ legacy lives on.

“Working here was never something I planned on doing growing up; I’ve always worked with children and loved it,” said Ashley, who has been working at Alexander’s Machine Shop as the quality coordinator since 2018. “Several years ago, I began to feel led to come and work in the family business, and I think that my background in education has given me a good foundation to build on what my grandpa and dad have worked to build over the last 50 years.”

Ashley says she has fond memories of spending every Thursday with her grandpa. He would bring her to the shop, and she would get cokes out of the machine and play on the typewriter in his office.

“I always admired my grandfather and his work ethic, and I hope that my children can one day carry on the business he worked so hard to create,” said Ashley. “Family is very important to me, and I enjoy working with my father, husband and son on a daily basis. My area of expertise is working in the quality department. It is satisfying to know we are helping our customers by ensuring they receive quality products and services.

“Working in a machine shop has opened my eyes to how important our business is to all kinds of people. Knowing that my family’s business has helped the members of this community for over 50 years makes me very proud.”

That family extends beyond those who are actually related to the Alexanders. Many of the machine shop’s employees have been with the local business for decades, from Amy Burnett, who has been there for 18 years, and Darrell Parks, who has been with the company for 31 years, to former manager Gary Gillean, who retired after 46 years.

“It says a lot about a company for employees to stay on for that long,” said Jimmy, who relied on the support of his work family when his oldest son, Jordan, passed away in May. “When COVID hit, our clients were essential to life, so we were essential to life, and we were able to keep working full time and spent a lot of time cleaning, repairing and training. We didn’t have to lay anyone off.”

James passed away in 2009, but Jimmy, Ashley, Tim and Max make sure that his legacy and his way of doing business live on.

“We still do walk-in work,” said Jimmy. “My dad asked me to never forget where he came from – him shuffling on the sidewalk outside the shop on Union playing with three quarters and trying to drum up business. If someone brings us a kids bike to fix or a wheelchair, we might not make money off it, but we create goodwill. It’s a way to honor my father and pay it forward.”

Alexander’s Machine Shop, located at 1201 East Johnson Ave., is open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. For more information, call (870) 935-6405 or visit alexandersmachineshop.com.