While U.S.-based manufacturers have traditionally been proud to call attention to their homegrown products, at no time was that patriotic bond between company and country higher than in the years immediately following Sept. 11, 2001. Regardless of the product, manufacturers were all aboard the “Made in America” train and couldn’t slap that label on their goods fast enough.
But sentiment can fade with time. And now that 9/11 is nearly 20 years behind us, just how much national pride is genuinely embraced and openly displayed by manufacturers? Considering the amount of offshoring that is still practiced throughout the manufacturing industry, it’s a valid question.
Loud and proud
Fortunately, “American made” still holds meaning to a lot of manufacturers – and consumers. One machine tool manufacturer in particular continues to proudly announce its heritage with everything it rolls out the door.
Headquartered in America’s heartland, Cincinnati Inc. (CI) has emerged as a leading global provider of metal processing equipment, controls and software. Cutting systems, press brakes, additive manufacturing and powder metal press machinery are designed, engineered and manufactured in a 500,000-sq.-ft. plant and technical center on the company’s sprawling southwestern Ohio campus. Throughout its 100-plus years of operation, CI has supplied more than 50,000 built-to-order machines to the world’s manufacturers.
Today, the CI workforce includes a litany of veterans, first responders and countless community volunteers. In addition to being recognized as one of Ohio’s best workplaces for the third consecutive year, CI was awarded the Department of Labor’s 2019 Veteran’s Gold Medallion Award. This honor was presented in recognition for the high percentage of military veteran employees (a staggering 20 percent in CI’s case) and the leadership and promotional opportunities the company offers.
The American manufacturing spirit is clearly alive and well at CI. But don’t take my word for it. Read on to find out just how passionately the employees themselves feel about their company and their country.
The director of marketing and a volunteer deputy sheriff, Matt Garbarino serves both CI and his community from his home near Grand Rapids, Mich. When given the chance, Garbarino is quick to help draw attention to the nation’s first responders. This included a solo four-day run across his state in both 2018 and 2019 to raise money for the families of fallen officers.
Garbarino’s first job out of college was with General Motors. This experience solidified a feeling of pride in working for an American company. That was 30 years ago, and his feelings have not changed.
“I believe in our country’s culture and history,” he explains. “What’s always important to me is the ‘why,’ and I believe in our country’s why. All the things CI has been through, providing amazing products over the years, is certainly something of which to be proud. I like being an underdog, and we compete with much larger foreign companies. Despite being small, I feel like the size of our company offers our customers many advantages and that our products and our people make a big impact.”
Mark Watson, CI’s senior product specialist for vertical motion products, is another employee that takes pride in the company’s American roots. During his 36 years with CI, Watson has called on manufacturers from 34 states. Like many first-time job seekers fresh from college, he didn’t give much thought to working for an American company. But today, he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“In more than 90 percent of my sales calls, I meet with American owners – many of whom are the company’s founder,” Watson says. “They each had a dream that later became the business they owned. It was an American dream. The majority of these companies do world-class work, and knowing that we are associated with their success makes me proud of my company, my industry and my country.”
Legacy of service
Like his father before him, CI’s director of service, Greg Wilson served in the military. Following his service, Wilson began a career in manufacturing and counted himself fortunate to land at CI.
“Here at CI, my voice has always been heard, even when my experience level was nowhere near where it is today,” he says. “The company listens to and takes care of its people, even during economic downturns, and I’ve always appreciated that. We’re small, we’re local, we’re completely American made, and we take a great sense of pride in all of that.”
CI equipment is known to be durable and long-lasting, but if there’s an issue with one of its machines, Todd Kirchoff, manager of machine tool products, meets directly with those writing the software and designing the mechanics. Unlike the equipment that’s produced overseas, Kirchoff feels fortunate to have direct access to the folks responsible for engineering and designing the company’s lasers, press brakes and associated automation.
“I’ve always felt like our machines are basically made in my hometown and that makes me proud,” he explains.
Like Wilson, Kirchoff’s family has and continues to serve in the U.S. military.
“My grandfather is a WWI veteran who survived the trenches in France,” he says. “And my son is currently on active duty in the U.S. Navy. I’m not as outspoken as some, but there is a deep pride that I feel toward our country. We at CI aren’t simply American made, we’re community made – right here in Harrison, Ohio.”
Full of pride
Having spent nearly a decade in construction prior to joining CI provides Tony Briner, operations and final assembly manager, with a unique perspective.
“Something that brings me a lot of pride is the ‘I made that’ feeling,” Briner says. “As an example, I built the entire perimeter fence for the Dayton Dragons minor league AAA team ballpark. Whenever I take my kids to a game, they talk about how their dad built that fence. Now it’s, ‘Dad works there, Dad built that machine.’ I bring that sense of pride with me to work every day knowing that I’m putting my name on everything we make.”
Briner says that CI provides all of its employees with the opportunity to make a real difference. Everyone is part of the CI team, and everyone’s input is important.
“We’re always striving to improve every day here, and I really take that to heart,” he says. “That’s really the motto for people who work here: To do it right and make it the best quality before it goes out the door. People own their work and are proud to work here.”
Dana Hayes, CI process development engineer, agrees. For her, working for an American company offers job stability and a legacy of which she’s thrilled to be a part.
“When people ask me who I work for and where that company is based, I can proudly tell them that CI started in America and stays in America,” Hayes says. “We take pride in the products we produce and strive to improve those product lines year after year. CI also has a legacy of keeping jobs in the country and taking care of those who live and work here. Working for a company that has been around as long as CI provides hope that we will continue to fight despite economic unrest and stay strong for the days to come, putting pride in our work and continuing to strengthen our community.”
Following his CI internship, Justin Atkins faced a difficult decision. The 22-year-old engineering student had received job offers from both CI and General Electric. After reflecting on his experience with the machine tool company, the choice became clear.
“I remember thinking, do I want to be a number, or do I want to move the needle?” Atkins says. “I knew that I would have a lot more opportunities to make an impact right away here at CI. That’s one of the things that attracted me to this place.”
Atkins’ family started a company that produced body armor for the police and military. For this and other reasons, he feels a great sense of patriotism.
“I’m so proud to be an American, and while I felt an allegiance to the family business, I wanted to work elsewhere,” he says. “When I looked at different industries, I knew I wanted to be in machine tools. There were once-legendary companies that were still around, but most were just remnants. CI was different.”
Driving into work, Atkins is constantly reminded of just how lucky he is.
“There’s a recurring moment that I love as I pull in to work each morning,” he says. “The sun is coming up, and you can see our innovation center with a huge American flag draped on the exterior. I get chills whenever I see it. That feeling I get, being with a company that’s proud of its heritage and this country, makes me want to stay here and do my part to make sure we stick around for another 120 years.”
It’s true that CI does not have the fabrication machinery market cornered – but who really does? And so, while the industry titans fight things out, CI continues its steady growth by making machines for manufacturers that look for quality and take pride in the products they make.
CI machines are constructed with unapologetic civic, local and national pride. The company’s “Own It” philosophy is a driving force behind its mission to continuously improve upon its proud beginnings by delivering high quality and innovative machine tool solutions to its customers, providing for the well-being of its employees while also enhancing the value for stakeholders. Along these lines, some machinery even displays a scroll where CI veterans are encouraged to add their names.
2020 has been quite a year, and who knows what the future holds. Regardless, it’s refreshing to see a company that takes such unconditional pride in its country, heritage, people and products.