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Family chemical company thrives on hard work

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ROCK HILL, S.C. – At 70 years old, Jim Oxendine, Lumbee, still goes to work every day. “We just about out-grown this place,” he said recently. “We have to expand. We need to build a warehouse.”

He credited the success of his company, Red-Line Chemicals Inc., to hard work, honesty, firm management and earnings recycled back into the company.

For him, it was a long journey from the time he was a boy helping his father, a minister and sharecropper, plow a field on a farm between Lumberton and Pembroke, N.C. He was 5 years old. “My daddy would let me hold the plow,” he said. “I have been working since.”

Oxendine, oldest of 14 children, worked on the farm in the morning and went to school at noon. He dropped out of high school after he completed 10th grade.

In 1955 at age 19, after getting married, Oxendine, his wife and a friend went to Philadelphia, where he and his friend applied for a job at Neatsfoot Oil Refineries Corp. Both were qualified, so to decide who would take the job, they flipped a coin.

The friend won, but when he discovered that the job involved cleaning the grease pit he refused to take it – and Oxendine landed the job. Soon he was the pumping engineer, and later drove a truck for the company. “You have to put your mind to it, hang in and endure,” Oxendine said. He stayed for 10 years.

Around 1965, he returned with his family to Lumberton, where he was employed by Southern US Chemical Co. Within a year, he became the plant manager; but because of racial problems, his position was never made public.

In 1972, Southern US Chemical moved to Rock Hill. Oxendine went with the company and stayed with them until 1978, when he joined The Annandale Corp. of Charlotte, N.C. Annandale was sold in 1986, leaving Oxendine, 50, without a job.

“They decided to sell out,” Oxendine recalled. “We only had about 90 days to find a job. One of the things was [that] I had to go out and sell myself. I had no money. I knew I was good at what we were doing: custom blending of chemicals. I had a lot of experience.”

Annandale was doing work for Monsanto, a biotechnical company. Oxendine decided to form a small company to finish the work left by Annandale. “I went to the big boys,” he remembered. “I found a niche there. We started doing pilot work for Monsanto, at a small scale.”

The work ballooned with more contracts, some with Union Carbide, which later became Dow Chemicals. In those days, Oxendine shared an office with Red-Line Chemicals in Rock Hill. Red-Line used a black telephone and added a red one for Oxendine. “That’s how we got started, Red-Line Chemicals – because our telephone was red,” he said.

Between 1996 and 1999, Oxendine, then 64, suffered kidney failure and received dialysis treatment until his operation. “I had a kidney transplant,” he said. “I thought that was the end of me.” After his operation, instead of retiring, he went back to work: “I kept going.”

In 2002, Oxendine bought property in the Industrial Park of Rock Hill. He purchased seven acres with a 14,000-square-foot building. There he set up mixing tanks with computer controls, producing atmospheric custom-blended chemicals designed to meet customers’ needs.

The company now does business around the world, selling to companies in Germany, France, Canada, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Colombia as well as to the U.S. armed forces in Iraq. “We have not been out selling,” Oxendine said. “Most of our customers come to us by other people telling them about us.”

To stay afloat, he went worldwide. “In order for us to stay in business, we had to be global,” he said. “We ship to five different countries. We don’t, ourselves, ship directly. We ship through the customers. All we do is service. We make the product for them and we ship wherever they say.”

For the last 15 years, Red-Line operated in the black. About his profits, Oxendine said, “I don’t take it all for myself. I kindly put it back into the company and invest in the employees. We have some good help, good people.”

In 2003, Oxendine was honored as the South Carolina Ambassador of Economic Development for his commitment to local growth and contributions. He received a plaque from the governor. “They said I was the top dog in York County that year,” he recalled.