By KEVIN BOWDEN
In October 1958, Harold L. Williams decided to pursue a dream.
He decided to go out on his own with little more than an idea that he could make the best whole hog country sausage in the world.
More than 50 years later, his company is continuing to grow as one of the most successful sausage processing operations in the Mid-South. The local plant currently produces more than 50 million pounds of product annually for the retail and institutional trade.
The one and only Williams Sausage plant is located just a few miles west of Woodland Mills on the Troy-Hickman Road.
The sausage company that began with a simple yet ambitious dream has a colorful history and a very bright future.
The latest expansion project at Williams Sausage involves adding three new production lines at the plant. The production lines will be used in the processing and packaging of ready-to-eat sandwiches, according to company president Roger Williams. He estimates the expansion project will cost about $3 million and should create up to 150 new jobs at the plant.
The project will help Williams Sausage expand its retail area into East Tennessee and North Alabama.
The project also involves building a new pre-treatment facility and instituting upgrades to the sewer lines serving the plant. Company officials are working on securing a $300,000 state grant to help finance the expansion project.
What began in the back of Harold Williams’ black 1957 Chevrolet pickup has grown into a multi-million dollar operation that continues to expand.
The company founder started with three hogs, which he dressed out while his wife, Hazel Williams, sewed up cloth sausage bags. Harold Williams lined the truck bed of his Chevrolet pickup with masonite, ice, salt and 500 pounds of Williams Country Sausage and off he went. He actually sold 36 pounds of sausage and gave away the remaining 464 pounds as samples.
It was a brilliant marketing strategy.
The next week, a new truckload of Williams Country Sausage was sold before Harold Williams left his farm and orders were coming in faster than he could fill them.
The Williams Sausage empire quickly grew from there.
During the early years of the company, Harold Williams and his wife handled all aspects of their budding new business venture. They did have help from a couple of employees during the early years, and a small tin building was set up on the family farm to process the hogs.
A new sausage processing plant was built on the farm in 1968 and Williams Sausage was well on its way to becoming one of Obion County’s most successful industries.
One of the original handsewn sausage bags hangs in a frame in the plant’s conference room.
Today, the company is run by Harold Williams’ two sons, Roger Williams and David Williams. David Williams is director of plant operations.
Roger Williams’ daughter, Lesley Anderson, and her husband, Mark Anderson, are also working at the plant and are being groomed to some day take over the company.
For Obion County, Williams Sausage is continuing to expand its presence and create jobs during difficult economic times.
In 1996, Williams Sausage added a 10,000-square-foot kill floor and processing area to the plant.
In 2001, the plant was expanded again with the addition of a state-of-the-art thermofluid oven and a spiral freezer. The addition of the oven and freezer boosted the plant’s production capacity from 40,000 pounds of cooked product per week to 144,000 pounds per week. The new equipment meant the addition of 30,000-square-feet to the plant.
The oven, freezer and plant expansion cost about $6 million.
In 2011, Williams Sausage completed another 47,000-square-foot expansion that doubled the production capacity of the plant. The total investment for that expansion was $13 million and 150 new workers were hired.
Also that year, Williams Sausage bought the J.C. Potter brand of pork sausage, which resulted in a 30 percent increase in production at the local plant. Roger Williams said that acquisition is one of the key factors in the recent decision to expand the plant.
Inside the facility, the process of producing sausage runs like clockwork. A stainless steel conveyor system moves the sausage from station to station while workers process and package the meat by hand and through the use of specialized equipment.
“I think the best thing about our business is we’re recession-proof, because even in tough times people have to eat,” Roger Williams said.
He was quick to identify two longtime employees, the late Charlie Tarkington and the now retired Jimmy Barnes of the Crystal community.
“They were very instrumental in our success,” Roger Williams said.
He explained the plant has undergone some kind of expansion every three or four years. The latest expansion is still a work in progress and has involved a number of officials at the local and state level.
“We are proud to have had Williams Sausage as a part of our business community for the past several decades. It has been a pleasure working with Roger, (Woodland Mills) Mayor (Wade) Carrington, Union City and the State of Tennessee on this particular expansion. We appreciate the numerous investments that Williams Sausage has made in Obion County and look forward to a continued partnership in years to come,” Obion County Joint Economic Development Council economic development director Lindsay Frilling said.
Mrs. Frilling praised the cooperation among local and state officials on the plant’s expansion project.
“This partnership has been a true asset,” she said.
“Union City has always bent over backwards to help us,” Williams said.
Going by the numbers, the family-owned Williams Sausage is indeed a shining star among Obion County’s industrial community.
Today, Williams Sausage employs 410 workers.
Over the past 20 years, more than $35 million has been invested in the sausage processing plant.
Everything produced at the Williams Sausage plant still uses the original formula developed by Harold Williams more than 50 years ago. It’s a simple recipe for success — use the finest whole hog cuts and flavor them with a blend of the finest herbs and spices, without adding any sugar.
To distribute their products, Williams Sausage operates a fleet of 25 tractors, 35 refrigerated trailers, 45 refrigerated trucks and 15 utility vehicles.
And you’ll find the Williams Sausage brand in more than 4,000 retail outlets in 20 states.
Staff Reporter Kevin Bowden may be contacted by email at email@example.com.
Published in The Messenger 4.4.13