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Wilson, Arkansas: Preserving the History, People and Passion Through Agritech

In the mid-eighteenth century, an enterprising man named Josiah Wilson began purchasing land covered with flooded timber in the Arkansas delta not far from Memphis. By 1850, Wilson had acquired nine hundred acres and cleared one hundred acres for cultivation, eventually growing his holdings to over 2000 acres. In doing so, he had sown the seed that would eventually make his family one of the largest cotton producers in the world.

After Wilson’s death in 1916 and a protracted legal battle over his estate, Wilson’s holdings eventually passed to Robert E. “Lee” Wilson. Despite Lee’s limited education, he gradually transformed the original holdings into a Delta empire.

Overcoming floods and various legal battles during the first two decades of the twentieth century, as well as significant financial issues in the 1930’s, Lee grew his holdings to forty-seven thousand acres and developed the town of Wilson, a quintessential “one man” company town. Nearly every building was owned by the Wilson family. Ninety-four employees and its residents shopped at Wilson owned stores and even paid for goods with Wilson currency.

Lee died in 1933 and is buried in the center of town square, a constant monument to the man that truly put Wilson on the map. After Lee’s death in 1933, the business was shortly run by his son, who ceded control to a non-family member, Jim Crain, due to health issues. Jim served as a “placeholder” until the third generation of Wilsons came of age.   From that point forward, the family transformed the business into a portfolio agricultural business holding with twenty-three thousand acres devoted to three primary commodities: cotton, soybeans and rice.[1]

The latest chapter began in 2010 when Gaylon Lawrence purchased the family agricultural holdings, including the town. Gaylon is gradually transforming the town into a culturally significant destination via an investment in new buildings, the renovation and reopening of the Wilson Café, organic farming, art events and a new private school.  All in addition to his nation-wide portfolio of businesses, including Heitz Cellars in California.

October is cotton ginning season, and the ginning operation in Wilson is something to see. The outside of the gin looks like an ordinary metal building; however, inside you’ll find aa sophisticated computerized system capable of sorting, cleaning and processing tons of product. This season, the Lawrence Group will process approximately 175,000 bales of cotton and and 60,000 tons of seed for resale. Each bale is approximately 500 pounds and at a price of .80 cents per pound, that means The Lawrence Group will process approximately $70 million in cotton this season.

iConvergence is proud to be a part of the town’s renaissance and as an IT partner entrusted with making sure The Lawrence Group’s IT system functions correctly. In 2018, we sponsored the Town’s music series, which is well known for bringing national acts to Wilson. Despite having a population of fewer than nine-hundred people, Wilson is blessed with a state-of-the-art fiber optic network and public WiFi. As the primary IT and telecommunications provider for the Lawrence Group, iConvergence designs, implements and supports all of its voice, data and video services across seven locations. This includes Meraki switching, point-to-point WiFi, SD-WAN, managed security, Cisco WebEx collaboration, desktop support and remote datacenter services.

iConvergence has become an integral part of the town. People come up and speak to us when we’re in the Café enjoying a piece of pie or attending town events. They wave to us and see us as “locals,” a sign that the relationship is personal and more than just business. At iConvergence, we try to never lose sight of that and always emphasize the “human” part of what we do.

Y’all come see us in Wilson.

Reach out today.

[1] Jeannie Whayne, Delta Empire, Louisiana State University Press, 2011

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