As Told to Paula Kavilanz, CNN Money
Keeping “Made in USA” alive and thriving has had its challenges. Here are six individuals — young Americans and factory veterans — who are committed to keeping that mission alive.
I want to do this as long as I can
Keith Porter, 32, general manager with Atlanta’s Newcomb Spring Corp
I didn’t know what I wanted to be in college. I went to a small liberal arts school in South Carolina, majored in business and minored in political science.
I looked for a job for six months after I graduated and found one with Newcomb Spring. I didn’t have a manufacturing background, so I started as a sales engineer. I worked with customers on product development.
Our company makes springs that are used in all kinds of products, from cars to door handles. I helped design springs. You don’t really need an engineering degree for that — just basic knowledge of math and calculus. I did this for three years, and then I decided I didn’t want to anymore. I got married and also wanted to move. So I left the company.
The company’s owners talked me into coming back and eventually taking over the division. I rejoined the company in 2005 as a general manager. I have a knack for design. I enjoy my work and I want to do it as long as I can.
As a country, we have to get back to our manufacturing roots. We have to hire more in the industry especially when unemployment is so high right now, and help the economy grow
I’d encourage my daughter to do this
Tony Godfrey, 35, VP of quality control and engineering with Atlanta’s Phoenix Stamping Group.
From an early age I liked playing with cars and trucks, and seeing how things worked. Just the other day my parents handed me a folder with lots of stuff from my childhood — pictures, kindergarten forms. One question on that form asked what my favorite toy was. It said one word: trucks.
I became the “fixer” around the house by the time I was eight. I went to Georgia Institute of Technology and gravitated toward mechanical engineering. After I graduated in 2000, I had an offer to move to Detroit and work for an auto company. But I decided to stay in Atlanta, close to my family.
I had three different jobs in manufacturing before I went back to school to get my MBA. I became a manager at another manufacturer after that, but I missed my engineering roots. At Phoenix Stamping I do a mix of everything. I handle customer complaints, but I also weigh in on design engineering.
Manufacturing is my passion. Had engineering school not worked out for me, I would have become a mechanic. I love working with my hands.
If people have the aptitude for it, they should definitely think about a manufacturing career. I have a five-year-old daughter. I would encourage her if it’s what she wants to do.
My manufacturing career has taught me one other thing. If you don’t love it, find something else because you won’t get that satisfaction of getting the job done right. And I love that feeling.
I can make more money
Jonathan Pratt, 31, CNC operator with W.H. Bagshaw in Nashua, N.H
I didn’t have a lot of job options after I graduated from high school. I started doing sales for a carpet seller.
I stayed with that company for about seven years. But I really wanted to get out of sales and do a hands-on kind of job. Two years ago, I found a job with a local manufacturer that makes industrial molds. That’s where I learned about machining and all kinds of manufacturing work. I really liked it, but the pay wasn’t great.
I was constantly looking for something else. A friend of mine told me that W.H. Bagshaw was hiring. They’re the oldest pin makers in America. I took my resume there and they hired me last summer. I’m a lucky guy.
I’m a fast learner. I picked up newer manufacturing techniques quickly. I am learning new things every day. I think I can move up the ranks here and make more money.
Manufacturing is my lifetime career. There’s always going be a manufacturing job out there for me. I know my skills are in high demand.
We need more Americans on board with manufacturing. It’s steady and stable work. I really hope people grasp that and that Made in USA flourishes again.
I want to keep doing this forever
Jennifer Kleszcz, 26, fourslide setup operator with Newcomb Spring Corp. in Southington, Conn
In high school I took up carpentry. I needed a job after I graduated. But it was hard to get one as a carpenter because I was so young, and a girl.
My uncle was a factory worker. He offered me a job at his factory. That’s where I learned about machining. I stayed there for five years and got great on-the-job training about assembly work, setting up machines, mixing chemicals and reading blueprints.
Now I set up, maintain and operate machines at Newcomb Spring’s plant in Connecticut. I’ve been here almost three years.
I want to keep doing manufacturing work forever. It’s steady work. I have weekends off. I have health insurance and I don’t have to deal with customers. The pay is better than retail jobs. In the long term, my pay will go up the more skilled I get.
Manufacturing work isn’t for everyone. For other young people thinking about their first job, I’d say don’t get into manufacturing if you don’t like noise, or getting your hands dirty. Not all kinds of factory work are like that, but some of it is. I’m fine with it, and I could be making pretty decent money one day.
America does this better than anyone
Bradley Henning, 22, machinist apprentice with Atlas Machine & Supply in Louisville, KY
My high school in Kentucky has one of the best machining programs in the state. My high school teacher got me interested in taking the course. I got into it and started enjoying it.
In my senior year of high school, I also became an apprentice with Atlas Machine. I was making $11 an hour doing that, sweeping floors and just learning about machining.
Two weeks before I graduated, the company hired me. I started full-time the day after graduation in 2008. I’m now a fourth-year apprentice with Atlas. I’m a few months away from graduating from trade school where I took classes in machining, trigonometry, blueprint and hydraulics.
Atlas has a great program for its workers where we’re evaluated every six months and we get raises based on it.
This is going to be my lifelong career. I come in every day with a smile on my face. I learn something new every day. I don’t know what new project I’ll be working on one day to the next. And I love that.
I’m also making good money now, $20 an hour with overtime. I work 13 hours a day, and I have three days off a week.
America does this work better than anyone else. My high school friends see what I do and they think it’s pretty cool.
‘It beats sitting behind a desk’
Mary Knoles, 51, machinist with Sharp Iron Group in Wichita Falls, Texas.
I started working in a factory when I was 20. I learned my skills on the job watching what the other guys were doing. I saw them operate machines, and said I wanted to do that.
I was the only woman in the factory. But when the guys saw how interested I was in the work, they started to teach me. Now I can run a machine start to finish.
I wanted to improve my skills. I went to trade school in the 1980s and took CNC [advanced high-tech] machining classes. Back then I was the only girl in all the manufacturing classes that I took.
On the shop floor here, there are 10 machinists, and I’m still the only woman. But I’m well-respected. I’ve been doing this for 32 years.
I’m going to keep doing this for as long as I can and as long as I’m healthy. My dad was a factory worker until he was 82.
I’ll tell young people today to give this kind of work a shot. It’s very interesting work and we always need more people in manufacturing. Here in Wichita Falls, there are lots of manufacturing jobs available. Yes, you do get dirty, but it’s fun. It beats sitting behind a desk.