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Kellie Johnson of ACE Clearwater Enterprises: Passionate about Manufacturing Careers


The first thing you notice when you talk with Kellie Johnson and her husband Gary Johnson at one of their manufacturing facilities is their passion for manufacturing and the careers that it offers. Kellie is the President of ACE Clearwater Enterprises in Torrance, California, and Gary serves as Vice President of the company, which is a recognized leader in complex formed and welded assemblies for the aerospace industry.

 “I have been able to continue my family’s legacy as a third-generation manufacturer, and serve the aerospace industry, where the United States remains a global leader,” Kellie says. “We are very proud to offer amazing career paths, and we devote a lot of energy to helping people understand the career opportunities that modern manufacturing offers.”

The company was founded in 1961. Kellie joined the business in 1984, just two years out of college, and worked in all areas of the enterprise. She became President in 1989. Under her leadership, the company has grown to roughly 200 employees, operating from three facilities in southern California that offer 400,000 square feet of manufacturing technology. Their customer list is a “Who’s Who” in aerospace:  Honeywell, Lockheed Martin, NorthropGrumman, Boeing, General Electric, Cessna, Pratt & Whitney, and the U.S. government, among others.

ACE Clearwater is certified to the highest international quality standards, and is accredited in numeric data control and welding. It has received the Boeing Supplier of the Year award and was named by Industry Week as one of America’s Top 25 Small Manufacturers.

Exceptional Career Opportunities. On October 4, 2013, when manufacturing firms across the country celebrated National Manufacturing Day in their own communities, Kellie and Gary were in the forefront of those efforts in southern California. About 200 students got an up-close look at high-tech manufacturing at AceClearwater. They received a tour of a plant and watched intently as an engineer used a 3-D laser to slice a C-17 aircraft duct part, performing in a minute a cut that used to take an hour with older technology.  

Since fewer students receive career-technical education in high school these days, it is often left to manufacturers to showcase available career paths. Kellie speaks often about careers, and her firm promotes internship programs by working with community colleges and universities. In addition, Kellie sponsors three FIRST robotics teams, including one all-female team.

Like many manufacturers, ACE Clearwater not infrequently finds it difficult to find applicants with the advanced skills needed in today’s manufacturing. This national trend will become even more pronounced as a generation of skilled workers from the Baby Boom generation retires.

3-D Animation’s Role in Knowledge Transfer. To get ahead of the aging-workforce trend and improve knowledge transfer, ACE Clearwater is taking the lead in using 3-D animation to make complex information-sharing more efficient and reliable. 3-D animation can model, preserve and teach a complex manufacturing process – such as mastering the operation of a massive metal drop hammer with unique settings for each job -- more effectively than hand-written notes. This can provide Chief Learning Officers with better ways to teach complex processes and retain institutional knowledge.

Gary explains that the tools are modeled in 3-D software packages like Blender and Maya, which are already widely used in the gaming and entertainment industries. Their video production group, Dash 9 Productions, helps manufacturers deploy 3-D animation for their own knowledge-transfer purposes.

Advocate for Manufacturing. Kellie is a prominent advocate for manufacturing at the national and state levels. She has served on the Manufacturing Council by appointment of two Secretaries of Commerce (Carlos Gutierrez and Gary Locke) and in 2007 was selected by the Defense Department to participate in the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference, where she visited Central Command in the Middle East. She is a past Chair of the Small and Medium Manufacturers of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), and is on the Board of The Manufacturing Institute, the NAM’s research and education affiliate. She has also testified before Congress on behalf of manufacturers.

NAM President Jay Timmons said, “Kellie is a leading high-tech manufacturer and one of the brightest and most compelling voices on behalf of the 12 million men and women who make things in America.  She is a consummate communicator and energetic advocate for manufacturers of all sectors and sizes—a tireless spokesperson and highly effective in Washington.”

Timmons added, “Through her leadership roles at the NAM, Kellie has strengthened the association by helping to tell the story of manufacturing in America through visuals and videos, which is transforming the perception of our industry.”

At the state level, Kellie has chaired several manufacturing and technology groups, and received a number of prestigious awards. She hosted then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger at ACE Clearwater and discussed with him the need for sound public policies, as well.

Investing for the Future. To meet its customers’ high-precision requirements, ACE Clearwater invests not only in its workforce but also in state-of-the-art equipment. It purchased six large machining centers in recent years at a cost of several million dollars, and in 2012 installed a nine-foot Faro Arm for portable inspection of form dies and large assemblies without disrupting production. More equipment was purchased in 2013, including a 3D printer, to support R&D activities. And Gary is one of 4,000 people in the nation selected to test Google Glass.

The company also emphasizes sustainability, in terms of energy efficiency, recycling, smart packaging solutions, and the use of organic fluids like vegetable oil in their machines. That commitment to investing for the future and protecting the environment is just another way that ACE Clearwater Enterprises constitutes a Great Manufacturing Story.