Speaking to steel workers two weeks ago, President Barack Obama asserted that ingenuity and adaptability are driving a resurgence in American manufacturing.
"We haven't just been recovering from a crisis. What we've been trying to do is rebuild a new foundation for growth and prosperity to protect ourselves from future crises." he said.
Gill Metal Fab Inc. (GMF) is celebrating 25 years as a "Made-in-America" business and reflects the president's vision for industry.
The Brockton, Mass., company started as a job shop house with a minimal amount of money and machinery, said owner Paul Gill. It performed contract jobs, such as welding frames to sheet metal. About 10 years into business, Gill launched ModuLine aluminum cabinets and became a multi-million dollar success.
As major corporations began to unravel during the recession, Gill and his staff had to make sacrifices to keep the company afloat.
"We all took concessions, all the way to the owners," Gill said. "We all took less pay, worked harder and survived through it."
A Made-in-USA business philosophy helped the company maintain success as the rest of the country struggled, he said.
"We treat both small and large customers equally, so we tend to stay busy during these short flow periods that everybody else has," he said.
The company's clients now include the military and racing industries. It also landed a government contract to service hazmat and bomb squad vehicles.
Gill and foreman Jim West stress that Made in America is more than a slogan.
"I see the quality as better, the delivery is better, and the personal service is definitely better here, and both me and Jim have a lot of integrity. Our word is our word, and that's part of what you get in America," Gill said.
Gill and West are graduates of vocational school and agree that a key to success in business is having a supportive workforce, even if staffing that workforce poses a challenge. The company is currently looking for press brake mechanics, people for layout and CNC engineering, and sales employees who are mechanically trained.
"We are always looking for skilled labor," Gill said. "We don't just put people on the phone who can talk, they actually have to know the product and we put them in the shop."
While the company is willing to train new workers, recruiting skilled workers can be a daunting challenge for small and mid-sized businesses, said Gill, who employs 30 people.
Manufacturers report an aging workforce, and surveys reveal that parents are more likely to encourage their children to go to college than enter vocational schools. More than half of students
in a recent poll said they have little or no interest in entering the manufacturing field.
"I really think America (and it comes from the top) needs to promote craftsmanship and people who are talented at jobs like that," Gill said. "You know, it's not all [based on] college, and I'm not anti-college, because I've had come college training experience myself."
West, who manages the shop floor, added: "The schools aren't producing the education that we need for the employees we're looking for, at least not to the point that we need."
Gill and West point to Gill's son Matthew as a manufacturing-career success story. As a teenager, Matthew Gill progressed from driving a forklift to on-the-job training in such skills as CNC layout and laser programming. He now works alongside West as a head foreman.
"I always say that I got my education but I got paid doing it," said Gill Sr., who got his start as a welder. "And that's what happens in a place like this. You can move your way up fast."