Carolina Mat Incorporated
- Written by: Matt Dodge
- Produced by: Joe Atwood
- Estimated reading time: 5 mins
Located in the hardwood capital of the country, Carolina Mat Incorporated is a leading manufacturer of custom, bolted mats constructed from 100 percent oak. Based in Plymouth, North Carolina, the family-owned company’s two-ply and three-ply laminated mats serve as a portable platform for construction projects, a stable surface for driving or working, as well as protection for fragile ground from construction impact.
Carolina Mat’s products have myriad applications across a number of industries, including the forestry, construction, utility and energy sectors, as well as infrastructure projects such as bridges and roads. “We have several clients who cut rights of way for pipelines and power lines — people who are matting several hundred miles of potential line,” says Margaret Harrison, vice president and owner of Carolina Mat.
All of Carolina Mat’s products come in a variety of sizes and in a wide selection of styles ensuring the right mat for any job. Two-ply mats are generally used for road applications for rubber-tired equipment, staging areas for logging or construction operations, and creating access into wet, lowland areas. Three-ply mats are a burlier construction, typically having a longer life span than two-ply mats. Three-ply mats allow tracked equipment into the work areas with little to no impact to the ground below. “We have had customers use our matting for anything from someone wanting to protect their septic tank while work is being done on their property, to being used as a blast shield while mining in the bush of Alaska, to creating a roadway across a lake for access to a remote area,” says Harrison.
From its headquarters in Plymouth, Carolina Mat serves customers across the East Coast from Florida to Maine; west to the eastern front of the Rocky Mountains and up to Alaska, where wooden mats pass the test in low temperatures versus matting created out of plastic or metal. The Plymouth location’s proximity to raw materials and lumber mills ensures easy access to raw materials, uniquely positioning Carolina Mat as a leader in the industry.
“We have several lumber mills we pull from at any given time. When we are running a normal shift, we use nine tractor trailer loads of lumber in one day,” says Harrison. Carolina Mat’s unique geographic location allows for keeping up with the large lumber demand.
Carolina Mat was founded in 1973 and incorporated in 1984 by Ronald Harrison, a 40-year lumber industry veteran who had worked in every corner of the industry. Harrison started out building homes then began building wooden boxes for shipping, then pallets. Harrison started out in Plymouth producing pallets for the local paper mill, but got his start in mats in the ‘70s when he was commissioned by Weyerhauser Paper Mill to design and manufacture a mat for the logging industry that would allow the company’s trucks to reach even the most remote worksite without incurring costly delays due to poor, muddy access roads. “They asked him to figure out a way to continue to harvest timber through the rainy season,” says Harrison.
After experimenting with designs and fasteners, Harrison eventually landed on a bolt-based construction process that Carolina Mat still uses to this day. In 2006, The Harrison family stopped producing pallets altogether in order to focus solely on mats and the elder Harrison set about patenting the mat-construction machinery he designed over the years and designing new machines with more automation. “We’re the only business in the U.S. who has its machinery patented,” says Harrison.
Patented manufacturing equipment is not the only thing that sets Carolina Mat apart from the competition. “We’re a little bit fussier than most companies; we only produce product from full-dimension lumber and we work with our lumber companies to ensure that the lumber stays fresh and doesn’t turn color or produce mold,” she says.
The company has been going strong since 2006 when Carolina Mat fully dedicated its focus to mats. While 2
014 was a weak year for Carolina Mat financially, the company was able to offset slumping sales by catering more to the local market. “It’s cyclical, it happens every few years, but because our market is diverse we can always count on sales,” says Harrison. “We cater to our local customers and keep at least three or four tractor trailer loads of most sizes on the yard at any time for anyone who need to stop in and grab product. In contrast to 2014, 2015 was a very good year for us.”
Carolina Mat was able to maintain steady business throughout the recession thanks largely to a massive project from a power company client. “During the recession they decided to reinvest in themselves and pull hundreds of miles of new line,” says Harrison. “We supplied them with their matting needs and it kept us busy for three years and brought us through the recession.” Carolina Mat employs as many as 26 at its peak, but is currently staffed at 19.
As Carolina Mat looks to the future, Harrison says the focus will be on growing its market share. “We’re building a new machine that will be a culmination of all of our efforts over the last few years; we have fun with that invention part of the process,” she says. The company is also looking to experiment with alternative lumber materials, moving away from wood and into recycled products. “We’re focused on staying with the times and looking toward the future,” she adds.
Harrison says that nothing gives her a bigger sense of pride than being surrounded every day by her father’s life’s work. “He built all of this and invented the products in-house with no blueprints; it was all built by our amazingly talented staff with their creativity and imagination,” she explains. “My father passed away a few years ago. He taught me so much over the years, I don’t know any better way of repaying him then by maintaining his company. I am honored to carry on his business and his legacy.”
Even when she’s not busy maintaining her father’s legacy at Carolina Mat, Harrison still stays close to her father with a shared hobby. “My father was a pilot and I got my pilot’s license and started training as a 15 year old,” she says. “I always feel close to my dad when I am in a plane.”
Patented technology, a prime location in the nation’s hardwood capital and a strong chain of family leadership have positioned Carolina Mat Incorporated as a leader in custom, bolted mat manufacturing and design for years past and years to come.
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