Business owners in the metal fabrication industry are getting to be old hands at hosting top dogs from Washington on both sides of the political aisle. Several years ago President Bush visited Fox Valley Metal-Tech in Green Bay, Wis., and gave a speech. Last year Vice President Joe Biden visited Impulse Manufacturing near the North Georgia Mountains and made a speech. Then last month President Obama visited Industrial Support Inc., a contract metal fabricator and stamper in Buffalo, N.Y.—and, yes, made a speech. It was great watching the president talk with a 45-ton Niagara stamping press just behind him.
The usual national players in the presidential press pool covered the event, including the Associated Press and The New York Times. But only a few outlets, such as Buffalo’s local talk radio 930 AM, actually said anything substantial about the metal fabricator our chief executive was visiting.
The company launched just 14 years ago with a handful of employees, and today the manufacturer employs 60. They have a lean operation and they vendor-managed inventory. They employ welders with AWS and ASME certifications. They have CNC punching centers, press brakes, stamping presses--the list goes on. These folks are smart, have diverse skills, and work hard. Wouldn’t it be great if someone in the national media had published a bit more about ISI than just “a specialty manufacturing company”?
Admittedly, President Obama didn’t get into details about ISI either. IRead the speech transcript, and you won’t even find the word “metal” in it. But he at least plugged manufacturing. “Last month [April] brought the largest increase in manufacturing employment since 1998--the strongest growth in manufacturing in 12 years--and that’s a good sign for companies like this one,” he said.
(Also admittedly, I’m no Bob Woodward for reporting this story a month late. I have no excuse other than a poor one: Previous deadlines pushed this story out a bit.)
It was also good to hear Obama talk about ISI company president, David Sullivan, who has big plans on the horizon. "When Dave wanted to expand this company last year, he received a loan from the Small Business Administration that was part of the Recovery Act, part of the stimulus. It’s a loan that allowed him to pay the bills and purchase new equipment. Last fall he was even able to increase his work force. And today, he feels optimistic that he’ll be able to hire more workers in the near future."
That's good news. But what seemed to get more coverage during the president’s Buffalo visit was his visit to a local wings establishment. On its Web site, USA Today ran with the headline, “Obama orders some Buffalo wings.” Seriously. Click the link and see for yourself.
A lot of media also covered a billboard put up in Buffalo a week before the president’s visit by a nonprofit organization called "I need a Freakin' Job," launched by a business owner who was forced by the downturn to shutter his textile plant. The movement has a straightforward message: People need jobs, and government should get out of the way to let entrepreneurs flourish and hire people.
The AP did interview a welder in the audience at ISI after Obama spoke, but that welder, Greg Krause, happened to be unemployed. "The taxes keep going up so the businesses stop hiring people," he said. "There's not many welding jobs around here.”
I think Krause needs his voice heard, and I commend the folks behind the "I Need a Freakin’ Job" movement. But I wish more people had spoken with the folks who actually work at ISI, a successful, small business, the kind of company that’s supposed to be the engine for job growth in this country. And it’s not a high-tech start-up, with young entrepreneurs in shorts and sandals running a business from their laptops, typing away in trendy coffee houses. No, this is a traditional, brick-and-mortar manufacturing company—and it’s grown from a handful of employees to 60 in a little more than a decade. Obama spoke of "jobs, jobs, jobs," and it just so happened that his hosts, the folks at ISI, have added plenty of them in recent years.
Hello, national media? Is anybody listening? There’s a story there.