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Providing Resources for Small to Medium-Sized Manufacturers with Kent Gladish
Episode 3214th June 2021 • The Manufacturers' Network • Lisa Ryan
00:00:00 00:21:50

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Lisa Ryan: Hey, it's Lisa Ryan. Welcome to the Manufacturers' Network podcast. I'm excited to introduce you today to Kent Gladish. Kent is Vice President of Member development at the Technology Manufacturing Association. TMA helps small to mid-sized manufacturers in Illinois basically with just about everything. Kent has a unique background, with an undergrad in physics and also an MBA in marketing. Kent, welcome to the show.

Kent Gladish: Thank you for having me. It's always good to be live here and looking forward to our near future.

Lisa Ryan: All right, awesome. Please share a bit of your journey to what led you to TMA on that Friday afternoon?

Kent Gladish: I graduated college with a physics degree and said, now what am I going to do? And I landed at a company called Video Jet in the Chicago area. If you open your refrigerator, you'll find little freshness dates on just about everything in your refrigerator. That company's grown from 150 people up to probably up to 3000 by now.

But that got me into my master's degree to find my home and marketing and ended up at a small manufacturer in the Chicago area called humbler. They went through another recession lost my position there, but I had met TMA along the way. On a Friday afternoon, I was able to land the position, and whenever anybody tells you the cold call doesn't work anymore, well, it's just not true. It does. I joke about that because I wouldn't be sitting where I'm doing what I do, which I love to pieces.

I like to say our Members manufacture something. They're not good at all the other stuff. You have to have the manufactures in northeast Illinois. When you think about all that stuff, health insurance, and 401k, and I need a freight forward or need to redo my floor, I need to redo my ceiling. I need to figure out covid. I need. I need. I need. I need.

Big gigantic companies have all those resources. They join the small guys join an association to get access to those resources. That's why we're on this earth.

Lisa Ryan: One of the things that I noticed and why I wanted to have you on the show is that you do such a great job talking about your Members on social media and promoting some of the good things they're doing. I understand that many came up because of covid and just really taking it to the next level with explaining what your member manufacturing Members are doing.

Kent Gladish: I was making 60 appointments a month with our Members. Because I spend most of my time not in front of a computer, face-to-face with them shaking hands, etc., Covid hit, and my number of appointments dropped significantly. The marketing side of me said, why don't you start taking pictures of their brand or their signage and put that on LinkedIn. It's mainly because it's pretty easy and it's free, so that has become 225 times a year. I want every business day spotlighting one of my Members just so people are aware of small to medium-sized manufacturing.

Because everybody's heard of Boeing and Deere and Caterpillar, but very, very few, very few people recognize that in manufacturing, 84% of the companies that manufacture in the United States are under 25 employees. 85% of the manufacturers and this under 25 employees, so really the United States' backbone, let alone northeast Illinois, comprises small companies. We don't hear about the small companies. We hear about the big companies due to the mass media.

Lisa Ryan: And what are some of the things the success stories that you've been seeing your Members doing during these times to increase their business to communicate better to connect with their customers all of the above.

Kent Gladish: My members have always been doing precision metalworking and plastics, and so when you find the precision, that's where the things that are booming now. We made a list here. These are things that I've been told are doing well binoculars, grills, weights, these are all things that people want in their homes because of covid. They want to buy them locally. I mean weights. I don't even know where weights were manufactured before, but TMA Members are now manufacturing barbells and weights because the lifters of the world, a year ago, went out to Dick's sporting goods and bought up all the weights. Of course, you don't just order a freight load of very heavyweights from China, so my story is getting crazy. That way, our Members manufacturers some precision-related things, and those precision-related things are doing quite well these days.

I joke about springs because there are so many springs in all sorts of handheld kitchen devices. We're all cooking more at home, and so all of those spring manufacturers are crazy busy these days because we're buying up those particular goods. Medical Research devices, course medicine, and all things related to health or up and all of the tools they use to do their research are precision manufacturing locally. Those local manufacturers tend to be doing well, so manufacturing is pretty broad. If you go through your day and look at everything, you see it's manufactured by somebody somewhere, so all over the place.

Lisa Ryan: You highlight so many of your Members that are doing pretty unique things that you've seen maybe with their culture or how they've reached out to people during these times - little things that they're doing that people are listening today might say hey that's a good idea, I can do that.

Kent Gladish: The thing that I've been noticing it's the most progressive again in my world, which is northeast Illinois small to medium-sized manufacturers. Because I'm a numbers guy, 10% of my Members are under ten employees, and 10% of my Members are over 80 employees, so the 80/20 rule says there between you know 10 and 80, so that that's what I mean by small.

But they're progressive guys focusing on their culture; they're focusing on their employees, focusing on millennials, and attracting millennials. They're skewing their websites, not necessarily toward a new business; they're skewing them toward new employees, so they're illustrating how cool they are; how they do their group hugs least that was pre-covid. But just doing unique things having flexible hours, focusing on the employees, dressing them in not just a Cintas uniform, but in something branded for the company, and celebrating their members.

I respect the focus on their culture. They were the ones that were the smartest when it came to covid. They said let's shut down on Friday so we can clean Friday, Saturday, Sunday so they could be more efficient Monday through Thursday. The employees love that because they got a three-day weekend, even though they were working 10 hour days that could have occurred before, but it didn't, so covid created a benefit in that particular case.

Lisa Ryan: And when you look at the difficulty of finding people, with so many jobs going unfilled, those little things like closing down on Fridays help. You're creating that culture that keeps them. The website is so important too. You can't go with stock photos of people who don't look like the people who are interviewing anymore. When that candidate is looking at the website, they're asking, "Do I see myself there?" These little things have just shown the real world.

Kent Gladish: Our members' number one issue is largely unchanged for many years. They are trying to find skilled people. They have the work; they have the machines; they don't have the skilled person to run the machine to make the parts. I've collected 16 Members who had their best year ever in 2020. Sixteen of them are ready to go on second shift. A lot of this younger workforce says I'm not working the second shift. So they're trying to get to be creative to pay more to find ways to get them to work on that second shift but finding the skilled people.

Kent Gladish: You told me you would ask about the best tip. I'm going to tell it to you now. I had a smart guy named Tim Roth. He works for Zeman manufacturing. What he does is he gets in his car. He drives to the local Starbucks, Burger King, Wendy's, whatever, and asks for the manager. He realizes that the manager at one of those retail outfits has to deal with customers, deal with money, and trust to open and close the place. He would ask, "How about a career in manufacturing? I'm willing to pay X. I'll bet you're making X minus something." He converted a handful of people that way.

Trying to find local areas skilled people who can work with their hands have some math skills but don't know that there's a manufacturing career, because we all see Burger King and Wendy's. Still, we don't see all the small to medium-sized manufacturers as we're driving around. I do I get to see, and that's my purpose. There are ways to skin that cat.

Lisa Ryan: When even changing the conversation regarding schools and bringing back tech programs and introducing manufacturing at a much younger age. You're right. You can look for people with that enthusiasm with that energy, and you can teach them the skills, but who would think about going up to drive-through restaurants and talking to the managers because of those little things good with numbers trustworthy. Those are, that is a great tip.

Kent Gladish: At 100,000 feet, our society looks at you know every kid has to go to college. If you don't go to college, you're a loser. Blue-collar jobs don't pay much, which is all flat wrong. We know who the industrial arts teachers are in the local high schools who get it. It's inspiring because they will invite us in. I'm here in my late 50s have been asked to speak to high school kids at four high schools, and I'm not even the lead person at TMA that networks with that. I see the glass is half-full. Many young people are getting on the STEAM agenda. If you throw the arts into STEM, you get STEAM. Science, technology, engineering, math, arts gives you STEAM. It was just somebody who saw stem and said, hey, wait. You forgot the arts, okay. We've got a great set of high schools here called east and west Leiden that are graduating a whole crop of seniors, many of whom go off to college, but many of whom go off to a manufacturing career immediately because they get their credentials. In high school, they are doing machining and Labor work and whatnot, and then they go right out into our TMA members, making more money than their parents do.

Lisa Ryan: Well, the nice thing about it too is they're not coming out of college with 10s of thousands of dollars of student loan debt either, and they're immediately making a nice living. Now, I remember back in my high school days, the kids in shop class or on wood shop or any of those were seen as the troublemakers. There was the kind of that whole stigma around that. We're starving for these people. Getting rid of that old mindset and looking at the new and the opportunities that manufacturing brings.

Kent Gladish: I graduated high school in 1980, and if you could shift everything that I graduated high school, I would have been a machinist. I had excellent math skills. My dad had me work on the car on the weekends and in different periods. That's why I'm so passionate about it as I look at some of these young people. Even though I love my college situation - that was very important in my life - but my parents paid for my college. I was very fortunate that way, and it didn't cost that much back in the late 80s.

We see this whole transformation of making sure that young people have tools to see what careers are out there to pursue them accordingly. My wife is in the High School System. Those tools do exist. It's starting to take hold. It's the parents and the rest of society that's got the stigma about blue-collar and so forth. But there was just a piece on LinkedIn just this morning. I don't even know who posted it, but they talked about plumbers' hourly wage, truck drivers. They were all doing very well financially. That's a misnomer, and manufacturing is much the same way. You've got to have your skills. You got to be good. You gotta get to work every day. You got to be on time or 15 minutes early.

I work with a fair number of young people who get it, and it's fascinating to place them at a TMA Member and watch them go crazy.

Lisa Ryan: So when you're at a high school, and you're talking to these kids, what are you telling them about manufacturing? What are you doing to light that spark within them?

Kent Gladish: That's a challenge. I usually bring parts that I can hand to them and let them pass around. I like giving them a seat belt buckle because nobody thinks about the seat belt buckle they wore to get to school it's just a simple piece of metal that's been chrome plated. But a 100-pound girl in a 30 mile an hour impact all of a sudden weighs 1000 pounds, and that buckle has to hold the strap that holds her whole upper body without eating the steering wheel saves her life—that little buckle like a chrome-plated buckle. Then nobody thinks about that my member manufactured it. Oh, by the way, it never has any air pockets in it because that wouldn't bode well. I'll try to give them a little bit of shock and awe about automobile accidents to try to get their attention from the old bald guy talking.

I often talk about how much money they will be making because I've heard too often that that's what they want to know, so I just come right out and say uh-huh. But I say it's a range, and then I hit hard by saying you got to get out of bed. You got to get to work early. It doesn't matter if there was a train. You should have been early and hit them pretty hard that way. 

Lisa Ryan: Are you using things like manufacturing day as well as an organization.

Kent Gladish: We probably have 20; it could be 40 TMA Members that have their houses open on October 1 or whatever Friday is the manufacturing day in October. We promote that through all of our social media and our conversation, just trying to get our members involved in the Community. High schools tend to be involved. It's the high schools who get it.

Not all the high schools get it; many of them admit they want all their kids to go off to college because that makes them look better, which is unfortunate. Manufacturing Day is a lot of fun to try to humanize the manufacturing world because I know we're all those manufacturing areas are in northeast Illinois. Still, nobody else drives there. They're all headed off to the malls.

Lisa Ryan: I think we became a lot more aware of manufacturing this last year as the supply chain was so disrupted. Number one was the whole toilet paper scare, but then you also had all the stories of these companies that one day they're making beer, the next day they're making hand sanitizer. One day they're making plastic; the next day they're making shields. That opportunity to not only adjust immediately on the fly but, to be able to contribute in such a significant way to society is also a big thing.

Kent Gladish: Thank you for reminding me of that. A year ago, I had a colleague who was connected to northwestern hospital. They said we need a million face shields now. I went out to the TMA membership, and I said, here's what they're looking for. Who's in? I got 20 members. Today, I have five Members who still manufacturer face shields because they pivoted. They were not plastics people that are metal people.

Manufacturers know how to tool up, and they know how to make something with precision at the right tolerances, but inexpensively so they can make a buck. They pivoted, and that's what they're continuing to make as we speak. It was neat to be a part of that. Let's get a million face shields in here. I swear it was in five working days. I mean, it was something.

Now there wasn't a shortage of soap, a shortage of some of the materials that we have today on those various levels. There's that silly story of weights. I am a weightlifter. I'm looking over the table there at my 55-pound bar made by TMA members. I assembled several of them because we came to realize in late March of last year, none of the sporting goods stores carry weights because nobody could go to the YMCA or their gyms. So, boom. We've got metal workers who know how to laser cut and water jet cut weights and so on, so forth, so several people pivoted that way.

Brian Fleck at K-tracks is a TMA Member who is distributing weights because of that whole program. Thank you for reminding me of that.

Lisa Ryan: Another great way to highlight why people should go into manufacturing and go into those programs, so that's terrific.

Kent Gladish: Absolutely.

Lisa Ryan: Well, can it's been a pleasure, having you on the show if people wanted to learn more about team TMA or to connect with you what's the best way to do that.

Kent Gladish: The best way to do that is through email or LinkedIn would probably be the easiest, but my email address is

Lisa Ryan: Alright, thank you again so much for being on the show today.

Kent Gladish: you're very welcome, have a great rest of your day Lisa.

Lisa Ryan: Thanks! I'm Lisa Ryan, and this is the Manufacturers Network podcast. See you next time.