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Small Manufacturers

They Make the Equipment that Makes the Candy

  • March 16, 2017

Everyone knows that some of the best candy in the world is made at American companies like Sees, Malley’s, Lammes, and dozens of other regional and national brands. But here is a question that far fewer people can answer: Who makes the equipment that makes the candy?

Savage Brothers is a small manufacturing company in Elk Grove Village, a suburb west of Chicago. The company has been making candy-making and baking equipment for 150 years. Its products run the gamut of stainless steel melters, chocolate molding workstations, tabletop chocolate small-batch tempering machine, copper kettles, portable agitators, cream extruders, icing melters, cooling tables, and even boxed chocolate packers. 

What is your personal favorite type of candy?  Savage manufactures processing equipment for caramel, toffee, fudge, nougat, brittle, and other varieties of sweets. Many of their machines that are now in use were first manufactured 30 to 60 years ago. Savage maintains supplies of parts to keep that equipment humming for years to come.

The same family that founded the company in 1855 owned it continuously until 1976, when the firm was sold to the current ownership group.

Thanks to diversification, the company also now serves industries such as candle-making, pharmaceuticals, and cosmetics. In late 2015, the company expanded its space by combining two buildings, and adding additional square footage. The renovated space includes a new demonstration room and space for customer recipe testing.

The next time you visit your favorite candy-maker, check out the equipment they use to make it. There is a good chance you will see some Savage Brothers equipment in their kitchen.

Hannay Reels: Fourth Generation Now Leading Respected Small Manufacturer in Upstate New York

  • April 14, 2015

Back in the 1980s, Hannay Reels received their first international order. It came from an agricultural business in the country of Columbia, and arrived by fax. That was the opening chapter of the company’s story as an exporter. Today, more than a quarter of Hannay’s business is international.

Hannay makes reels used for industrial hoses and cables. The company, based in Westerlo, New York (near Albany), has been making reels in 1933. They produce 80,000 reels a year, all made to order. Some of the largest reels can weigh 4,000 pounds or more. The reels are used in industrial, mining, fire suppression, energy, maritime, and power washing applications. The company has more than 150 employees, some of whom have been with Hannay for many years.

In 2012, Eric Hannay and Elaine Hannay Gruener became the fourth generation of the family to lead the business. Roger Hannay, having turned age 70, moved from CEO to Chairman. It was under his leadership that exports became a significant source of business – and a cushion when the recent recession reduced domestic demand.

In turn, the company has resumed growth the last several years, thanks to the diversity of its customer base and the advent of fracking in Ohio, Pennsylvania and elsewhere, which has resulted in more orders for reels for the energy sector.

Roger Hannay has been very involved in the National Association of Manufacturers, with the goal of advocating public policies that make the U.S. a good place to do business, especially for small manufacturers. He has served several terms on the association’s board of directors.

In 2014, he also received the Corning Award for Excellence from the Business Council of New York State. The award honors leaders from all walks of life who share the overriding values of achievement and commitment, according to the Council, which is an association of businesses and chambers of commerce in the Empire State. Hannay demonstrated an unwavering commitment to making New York a better state for its residents, the Council noted.

Growth in sales in recent years confirmed Hannay Reels’ decision to move forward with an $800,000 expansion project, which has provided a new 10-ton crane, a drive-through delivery dock, and more floor space for manufacturing.

Communities count themselves fortunate when companies like Hannay Reels are present. Small manufacturers like Hannay, as primary industries, help generate wealth and diversify the economy and the tax base. They provide quality jobs and give back to the community. Hannay Reels has been doing exactly that for more than 80 years.

Wyoming Machine: At this Woman-Owned Business, Staff Development Comes First

  • April 11, 2015

People are often surprised to learn that manufacturing offers great career opportunities for women, from the executive suite to the plant floor. Traci and Lori Tapani are co-CEOs of Wyoming Machine Inc. in Wyoming, Minnesota. The precision sheet-metal fabricating company has about 55 employees.

In a recent media report, Traci said, “My greatest source of pride is staff development. For the past 20 years, I’m most proud of my ability to serve as a role model for women. I love showing women that they, too, can succeed in a male-dominated career. Watching employees and others accomplish this is exceptionally rewarding for me.”

Traci is a recipient of the Manufacturing Institute’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Production (STEP) award, which recognizes women who have demonstrated excellence and exercised leadership in manufacturing careers. In addition to her leadership role at Wyoming Machine, he is involved in mentoring problems, and has brought attention to the skills shortage through her public speaking.

Wyoming Machine also understands that job applicants may not walk in the door with all skills needed to perform a job. By evaluating an applicant’s work history and previous training, the company is able to determine if the applicant has the aptitude to learn to do the necessary work. That can mean hiring candidates with unconventional backgrounds. For example, one recent hire came with a background in automated food preparation at McDonalds.

Traci and Lori have co-led the company since 2000. Its services include laser cutting, CNC punching, press brake forming, welding, and machining. Despite fierce global competition, they have grown the company by an average of 6 percent yearly since then.

One example of Wyoming Machine’s work is a mounting plate for a flight simulator that was commissioned by a computer and peripherals company. The company cuts, forms, welds, grinds, machines, and assembles the mounting plates, all to specific tolerances. The customer now orders 50 such assemblies per year.

With women as owners and as plant-floor equipment operators, Wyoming Machine is a great example of women in manufacturing.

Manhasset Specialty Company: Music Manufacturer Benefits from Ex-Im Bank

  • April 1, 2015

Based in Yakima, Washington, Manhasset Specialty Company has been designing and manufacturing concert-style music stands and accessories since 1935. The employee-owned business takes its name from Manhasset, New York, where the small manufacturer was originally founded. All of its products are made in America, and they are known for meticulous quality.

In the late 1990s, the firm decided it was time to get serious about exporting its products to distributors abroad. It was a challenge, since Manhasset’s products were largely unknown in many other parts of the world. Foreign wholesale customers were hesitant to buy products in quantities without credit terms. Also, since shipping costs for small orders are relatively higher than for large orders, Manhasset found that if their products were not shipped in full containers, the shipping costs became another obstacle to breaking into new markets.

The U.S. Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im) has helped Manhasset solve this problem. Like many small manufacturers, Manhasset relies on the Bank for insurance. It enables the company to offer competitive credit to international buyers and cuts the risk of nonpayment, by providing protection of 95 percent of credit. Manhasset’s foreign buyers have never defaulted, but the manufacturer could not have afforded the credit risk without this insurance.



Congress periodically is required to renew the Bank’s charter, and that has become a contentious issue. The Bank’s advocates point to Manhasset Specialty Company, and other manufacturers of all sizes, as reasons that the Bank is a win-win for U.S. taxpayers and manufacturers.

Thanks to its success in penetrating foreign markets, it now uses the tagline: “The World is Our Stage.” The company also makes stand carts (which make it easy to move multiple stands), drummer stands (which allow a drummer to read music without turning his or her head away from the drums), LED-lit music stands, and wide-desk stands. The year 2015 marks the company’s 80th anniversary.

Hussey Seating: A Family-Owned Manufacturer Serving Global Markets

  • February 9, 2015

Veterans Day is a time each year that Americans formally honor those who have served the country in uniform. One group too often overlooked are prisoners of war (POW) and missing in action (MIA). Rolling Thunder, a national motorcycle group, has teamed up with Hussey Seating, a manufacturer in Maine, to dedicate permanently unoccupied seats in honor of POWs and MIAs. These seats can now be found at places such as TD Bank Garden in Boston and the Glass Bowl football stadium at the University of Toledo.

Hussey Seating is a remarkable business in its own right. Based in Maine, the company was founded in 1835 and is still family-owned today. The company develops and manufactures seating solutions for the sports, entertainment, and education markets, and produces everything from deluxe upholstered seating to telescopic seating (bleachers). A network of authorized and trained distributors can install and service the seating.

There is a good chance you may have taken in a sports, arts, or civic event while sitting in one of their chairs. If you have ever watched LeBron James play at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, you have sat in a Hussey seat. They can be found at the Dallas Convention Center, the United Center in Chicago, WaMu Theater in Seattle, Westminster Abbey in London, the Hong Kong Exhibition Center, and literally hundreds of other venues, from high school gyms to performing arts centers abroad.

When William Hussey founded the business in North Berwick Maine more than 175 years ago, plows were the product being made. Through the years, the product line evolved to ladders to fire escapes to and finally to seating. The Depression years were so difficult that the company – already 100 years old at that point – nearly went out of business. Only a relentless level of perseverance allowed the business to survive. Business became stronger in the following decades, as school and stadium construction boomed. In more recent years, global competition has become a reality in the industry, and a challenge the company must meet.

While the massive stadium and arena projects bring publicity, school and college stadiums and arenas remain the company’s bread-and-butter business. Now in its sixth generation, the business is located on a 55-acre campus and employs 300 people.

Their operations combine the best of the new and the old. Cutting-edge computer numeric control technology operates side-by-side with heavy machinery built that has been in use for decades. They have been an exporter since the Sixties, shipping products to South America, Europe, Africa, and beyond. Hussey established partner-production relationship in England and China in recent years so as to be cost-competitive and geographically closer to clients in Europe and Asia. Every seating product is designed, manufactured, and tested to ensure the safety of the people who will eventually sit there.

The most important factor for a family business that wants to survive for the long term, says sixth-generation CEO Tim Hussey, is integrity. If someone knows that a businessperson’s word is their bond, it will go a long way in helping the business grow during the good times and survive during the tougher times. And Hussey Seating is living proof of that maxim.

Michigan Ladder: Stepping Up to New Challenges

  • April 8, 2014

Manufacturing in America is a $1.7 trillion enterprise. Much of that activity comes from small and mid-size manufacturers. Successful companies of all sizes continually step up to new challenges. That is true, figuratively and literally, in the case of Michigan Ladder Company, which has been manufacturing ladders in Ypsilanti, Michigan since 1901.

Michigan Ladder is the nation’s oldest full-line ladder manufacturer and distributor, and it has earned that status over the decades through an emphasis on innovation and product safety. Its customers range from construction contractors and fruit pickers to New York firefighters and the U.S. Army.

In recent decades, the company has manufactured its wood ladders in Michigan, while importing its fiberglass and aluminum models from overseas suppliers. That is about to change. The company is investing in new equipment that will allow it to begin producing fiberglass ladders in Michigan. It is a step they have considered for 20 years, and only now believe can be done economically. That investment also means that its Michigan workforce will likely expand from 20 to 30 employees over the next five years.

With a 110-year commitment to quality and innovation, plus new investment in its Michigan facilities, Michigan Ladder is a Great Manufacturing Story.  

Jim Kanicki of Arthur Louis Steel Company: From NFL Football to Steel Manufacturing

  • March 5, 2014

Jim Kanicki knows a thing or two about tough competition. A native of Michigan, the 270-pound Kanicki spent nine years in the trenches as a defensive tackle in the National Football League for the Cleveland Browns and the New York Giants. He was a member of the 1964 Browns team that won the NFL championship, and was named one of the 100 greatest players in Browns history.

When it was time for a second career, it was not surprising that the Michigan State University product looked at manufacturing, since his father had worked at a foundry in Saginaw, Michigan. The younger Kanicki went to work for the Arthur Louis Steel Company, and since 1985, he has owned the company, which is based in Ashtabula, Ohio, a city on the shore of Lake Erie, east of Cleveland. The building materials manufacturing firm was founded in the 1940s and has several dozen employees.

In effect, Kanicki traded the fierce of competition of NFL action for the intense, global competition inherent in manufacturing. The Arthur Louis Steel Company has served customers in 42 states and 17 countries.

One of their specialties is structural steel fabrication for industrial facilities up to 2,000 tons, with column lengths up to 95 feet. Another is fabrication of steel platforms, stairs, ladders, handrails, and safety gates. Others include large-dimension bents for rigging and lifting operations. The company has a design-engineer-build division for projects such as warehouses, office buildings, and equipment support structures.

A focus on product quality and meeting deadlines has led to growth for the business. The Ashtabula plant expanded as much as possible, and in 1998, the company began operations at a second plant in nearby Geneva, Ohio. Thanks to a 2013 grant from the State of Ohio and a matching investment by Arthur Louis Steel, a brownfield area adjacent to the Geneva plant will undergo soil cleanup, allowing further expansion and the creation of more jobs. The estimated cost of the project is $388,000.

The company remains a family-owned business, and Kanicki has found manufacturing to be a fulfilling and rewarding profession.

Della Williams of Williams RDM: A Small Manufacturer with a Big Role in Defense, Energy and Fire Suppresion

  • March 3, 2014

Small and mid-sized manufacturers are a vital part of the American economy, and one of the best examples is Williams RDM. Based in Forth Worth, this is a family-owned company that serves three distinct markets: Defense, energy, and fire suppression.

Williams RDM is led by Della Williams, who founded the business with her husband Bob in 1963. The company was known as Williams Pyro until it was re-branded in 2013. RDM is short for research, development, and manufacturing, which are the heart of the business.

At a celebratory event on a Saturday evening marking the re-branding, U.S. Congresswoman Kay Granger was on hand, and spoke to the underappreciated role women CEOs are playing at defense-related businesses. In the case of Williams RDM, the company produces cables, connectors and test equipment. They are used on the F-15 all-weather tactical fighter and numerous other planes. With an advanced design and the use of commonly available batteries, they save taxpayer dollars.

A second focus of the business pertains to energy. Williams RDM provides high-pressure, high-temperature connectors for drilling operations.

The third business segment is fire suppression. Since 1972, Williams has made the StoveTop FireStop® product, which protects millions of families from kitchen fires. One version attaches under vent hoods, while another goes under microwave ovens. Since cooking fires can spread with shocking speed, these products can be true live savers.

Craig Walters, who is a vice president at the company, has worked there for well over 30 years. “One of the things I appreciate most about our company is a part of the company culture driven by Della herself – an unstoppable tenacity. In all the years I’ve been here, the thing I’m most proud of is that when we choose to start something, we always finish it. We do what we promise and we do it right. There’s never any question about it.”

Walters and his coworkers are not the only ones who appreciate Della Williams’ tenacity and the company’s commitment to the highest levels of quality. With customers like Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems, Halliburton, and Boeing, Williams RDM has carved out an important niche in manufacturing.

Kellie Johnson of ACE Clearwater Enterprises: Passionate about Manufacturing Careers

  • January 6, 2014

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.

Zildjian: Making Cymbals for the E Street Band and Other Stars

  • January 3, 2014

Long-established manufacturers are understandably proud of their companies’ heritage. Many of the manufacturers highlighted on are publicly-traded or family-owned businesses whose legacy goes back many generations. None reach back further, though, than a Massachusetts-based percussion-products manufacturer named Zildjian that traces its history back to the year 1623.

The $50 million, 15th-generation company employs more than 110 people. Its customers include music educators, bands and orchestras, and popular musicians like Max Weinberg (of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band fame), Mick Fleetwood, Chicago drummer Tris Imboden, and Joey Kramer of Aerosmith. Today, the company’s products include a broad variety of cymbals that produce uniquely different sounds, along with digital cymbal processors, drumsticks and mallets.

The roots of the enterprise date back to Avedis Zildjian, an Armenian alchemist who composed a unique mixture of copper, tin and silver to create cymbals with unique sounds. His instruments won the favor of the Sultan, who asked him to move into the palace and make cymbals full-time. After doing so for a period of years, Avedis received the Sultan’s permission to strike out on his own as an entrepreneur. Avedis’s descendents nurtured the business for generations, and then moved its operations to the U.S. in 1929. The company is now based in Norwell, Massachusetts, an affluent small town south and east of Boston; and the sounds of its cymbals can be heard around the world.