Luis Mejia’s tale is a true example of living the American Dream with a hint of a Christmas miracle thrown in.
He opened Cynergy Cargo 2, a custom trailer manufacturing business, in Crossett during the onset of the pandemic last year and then made it thrive. It also boosted the economic hopes of the Ashley County town of 4,970, which was reeling after Georgia-Pacific announced in October 2019 that it was shutting down its Crossett facility and laying off more than 550 people.
Mejia, 29, is from the republic of Honduras, a Central American country bordered by the Caribbean Sea to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the south. He moved to Douglas, Ga., when he was 14, following his friend, Vigler Mazariegos, who went to the U.S. to harvest fruit in Florida.
Mazariegos opened Cynergy Cargo in Douglas in 2012 and asked Mejia to help. Within seven years, they were producing 40,000 trailers a year in the U.S. and Canada. The company makes enclosed trailers varying in sizes from 6- to 42-feet long.
He then decided to expand and open a second facility, and said Mejia would run it.
Wanting to stay in the South, Mazariegos and Mejia traveled around Arkansas, searching for suitable land around Little Rock, at Monticello and in the state’s Delta area on the advice of the Secretary of State’s office.
They found the best spot in Crossett. Crossett’s unemployment level jumped to 8.4 percent in 2000 after Georgia-Pacific closed its production; the U.S. unemployment rate was 6.0 percent then.
Ashley County’s unemployment rate was ranked 73rd of Arkansas’ 75 counties. But what better place to find workers, the two thought.
“It was a real blow when Georgia-Pacific left,” said Mike Smith, the executive director of the Crossett Economic Development Foundation. “But a lot of people stayed here. They may have had to drive to Monroe, La., or El Dorado to work, but they were still here.
“That workforce is still here. No one thought, ‘Let’s roll up the streets. We’re done,’ after Georgia-Pacific. We saw it as a whole new workforce available.”
Mazariegos and Mejia traveled to Crossett in December 2019. “We went to work with them,” Smith said. “We wanted to show them how Crossett benefited them.”
Smith took the two around town, meeting members of the town’s leadership. “We let them know relationships were important,” Smith said.
The land looked right, Mejia said, and the incentives Smith and the economic foundation provided were lucrative. But he and Mazariegos realized they would have to build a large building on the property to house their trailer manufacturing line.
The two returned to Crossett for a second look around Christmas. There, at the far end of the prospective property for Cynergy Cargo 2, was a 90,000-square foot building. It had been in the process of being sold, but then the deal fell through at the last minute.
“We never saw the building on our first trip,” Mejia said. “Then, at Christmas, we looked, and it’s there.” Rather than having to build a new facility, the two renovated the existing building and retrofitted it for their needs.
The plant opened in early 2020. Gov. Asa Hutchinson visited the plant for a ribbon cutting ceremony in the spring and secured the final screw on the first trailer made in Crossett.
“Cynergy Cargo 2 was the first company to announce a presence in Arkansas after the pandemic hit,” Hutchinson said at the event. “We are grateful for the company’s commitment and pleased that it is now ready to begin this new phase in its history.”
It wasn’t easy, though, Mejia said.
The pandemic made it difficult to hire workers at first, he said. It was also hard finding equipment. It would take two months to find axles for his trailers, and locating plywood for the cargo trailer’s walls was nearly impossible.
Before the pandemic hit, Mejia would pay $55 for one tire. Now, he said, a tire could cost up to $155.
Smith said Cynergy Cargo 2 workers would “hotshot” — travel around the state looking for bundles of plywood. When they found some, they’d send for a truck to pick it up.
“They kept pushing,” Smith said of the manufacturing company. “There was the stay-at-home mandate issued early on. Well, we couldn’t do that. We had to recruit. We encouraged people to look at Crossett.”
A unique trait of Cynergy Cargo is that rather than finding the right employees for jobs, Mejia finds the right jobs for his employees. If, for example, an employee isn’t doing well as a welder, Mejia may see that employee is more suited for the electrical wiring portion of making a trailer and move him to that production line.
“If people say they can’t find a job, then I say, ‘Welcome to Cynergy Cargo,’” Mejia said.
When it opened, Cynergy Cargo 2 employed 45 people. Mejia plans to hire 200 employees eventually.
The business has also created new jobs. Ouachita Trailer Sales recently opened in Crossett to sell Cynergy Cargo’s trailers. Workers were also hired to deliver trailers to buyers across the country.
“Cynergy has created a ripple through the community,” Smith said. “Houses are coming off the market here now. Apartments are filling up with employees. They’ve been a great deal for our community.
“They are a real American Dream success. They are a family business that started from the ground up.”
Mejia acknowledges his business is succeeding during tough times. He plans to do better after the pandemic ends, he said, hoping to sell $400,000 worth of trailers at the company’s peak production.
“I came to America to go to school and look for something big,” Mejia said. “My advice is to keep dreaming. Work hard every day, and do something good every day.”