Trailer builder

Jeff Burks (left) of Bulldog Bilt shows off a lowboy trailer manufactured from scratch in his shop in the old Bemberg plant in Elizabethton. Burks plans to open a small business manufacturing the trailers.

ELIZABETHTON — Recent economic news has mostly been about cutbacks and layoffs caused by the impact the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has had on all sorts of businesses. One good bit of economic news is coming out of Elizabethton, where some small manufacturers are demonstrating that the entrepreneurial spirit isn’t dead.

Charles Von Cannon, who houses several small start-up businesses on the former Bemberg Rayon mill property, announced that a new business is preparing to start manufacturing lowboy trailers in one of his locations.

Jeff Burks, originally from Henderson, Texas and who previously operated out of Oklahoma City, is the proprietor of Bulldog Bilt LLC, and his company has already built several trailers at the Elizabethton location. Burks said he plans to start building more this week and hopes to start hiring welders and other workers. He said he hopes to eventually hire about 20.

Von Cannon said he is attempting to help Burks qualify for state incentives and training for his startup. At one time, Von Cannon was in charge of the state office that administered that incentive program.

Burks has been in Elizabethton for a few months and while setting up his lowboy trailer manufacturing operation, has taken on several other steel fabrication jobs. He specializes in custom welding and has already manufactured some entry gates, barbecue pits, smokers and other custom jobs.

An additional 20 employees working at Von Cannon’s incubator site would be a considerable increase for the facility, but the site is large enough to handle the increase without any strain. He said there are currently 100 people working at the various small businesses there. Despite the economic slowdown caused by COVID-19, Von Cannon said only one company in the facility has gone out of business, a company which transported vegetables.

He said inability to find workers to pick the harvest led to it rotting in the fields rather than being transported to markets.