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HYTOP, Ala. (WHNT) — A small factory in Jackson County celebrated a big expansion and completion of the NASA Mentor-Protegé Program with a ribbon cutting Wednesday.

Avans Machine in Hytop provides products to the military like missile nose cones, as well as devices used in surgeries like knee and hip replacements.

They also make precision valves for the J-2X rocket engine for NASA’s Space Launch System, which is being developed at Marshall Space Flight Center.

The company grew to nearly 50 employees last year, and recently expanded their facility from 25,000 to 40,000 square feet.

They also recently completed a NASA program with Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne as their mentor.

Jeff Avans started the machine shop with his father and two brothers in 1989.

Hytop has just a few hundred residents, but it worked for the Avans.

“A lot of people think that’s a disadvantage to be in a rural area but I think we’ve found it to be an advantage,” Avans said.

“Everybody pulls together and cooperate, and even as we were doing construction on the new building, people would comment how well we worked as a team and I think that’s the reason for our success.”

Mike Kynard is the manager of engineering on the Upper Stage Engine Element at NASA, and said Avans Machine’s coordination and efficiency appealed to NASA.

“Other machine shops could do it but just making the piece is one thing,” Kynard said.

“Making it reliably, making it repeatedly, and making it to our quality standards sets Avans above.”

He said the company’s precision work on curvature and complicated services is mandatory for the parts for the J-2X engine.

“The valves have to be very, very tight and very, very leak free,” Mike Kynard.

“Liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen have to be kept at bay and be in the right parts of the engines where we want them at the right time to provide thrust and be very reliable.”

Avans does not have to look far to find workers to make them.

“The great thing about it is they are hiring educated people from Jackson County,” Chamber of Commerce president Rick Roden said.

Roden said most Avans workers went to the Earnest Pruett Center of Technology (EPCOT) in Hollywood, which is part of the Jackson County Schools system.

“It speaks well of our education system here,” he said.

Several Alabama state legislators praised the company for creating local jobs and hiring local workers.

“I’m proud to be in Jackson County and provide a few jobs,” Jeff Avans said.

“We hope we can add jobs in the future and I think this day was a big part of that.”