IC Corporation (IC Bus) is the largest manufacturer of school buses in the United States. The company is headquartered in Warrenville, Illinois, and has a 160-acre, 750,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Conway, Arkansas. The initials in the name stand for "Integrated Coach," meaning the manufacturer makes its own bus bodies, chasses, and engines. The corporation is a subsidiary of the multinational company Navistar.
Conway plant workers currently make final assembly of school and prison buses. IC is one of the two largest manufacturers in the city, the other being Virco Manufacturing.
IC Corp was established in 2002, but has a heritage extending back to the Ward Body Works founded by Conway blacksmith David H. "Dave" Ward in 1933. Ward created the company after lowering the wooden roof of a school bus used by the Southside School District located north of Conway. In 1936 he began manufacturing all-steel bus bodies, the first in the country to do so. In the 1960s the company began an innovative program of computer-aided manufacturing with IBM 360s. In 1968 ownership of the Conway facility passed to David's son Charles. By 1973 it was the largest school bus manufacturer on the planet, with a twenty-five percent market share. A second plant opened in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania failed in 1975. The company, then known as Ward School Bus Manufacturing, went into Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1979.
With the assistance of then-Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton the assets of the company were purchased by an investment group and reorganized into the American Transportation Corporation (AmTran). The Harmon brothers purchased a controlling stake in the company in 1983. A one-third share of the company was acquired by Navistar in 1991, with an option to purchase the rest by 1995. The company became a wholly-owned subsidiary in 1995. Buses continued to bear the "Ward" name until 1992, and then were labeled "AmTran" and now as "International" or "IC" made. A Tulsa IC bus manufacturing plant came on stream in 1999, and many members of the local IC workforce departed for Oklahoma.
Charles Ward and the Origins of Acxiom
The information technology company Acxiom owes its origins to Ward Bus Company owner Charles Ward. Ward founded Demographics Inc. in 1969 to meet the needs of local Democrats who wanted to create mailing lists competitive with their rival Republicans. The company soon expanded to cover other data processing needs. One client was the bus company itself. The company originally occupied a 6,000 square foot building housing a computer and press. Ward divested himself of Demographics in 1975 in the midst of hard times. Charles D. Morgan, a manager of the company since 1972, became the new president and CEO. Revenue by the middle of the 1970s had increased to $1.2 million. The company entered the payroll processing business and handled billing for the local utility Conway Corp.
- Barry Beck, "Ward Industries, Inc.: A Historical Study," Faulkner Facts and Fiddlings 16 (Winter 1974): 67-83.
- Harold B. Johnson, "A History of Dave Ward and His Company," M.S.E. thesis, Arkansas State Teachers College, 1960.
- Toby Manthey, "Maker of School Buses Lays Off 170 in Conway," Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, March 27, 2009.