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Made in Manufacturing

In my family, manufacturing is as much a family tradition as my grandmother’s high-calorie feasts.

A family made in manufacturing.
A family made in manufacturing.

It is officially the holiday season. I’m not sure of the official start date, so I’m declaring it now, as you read this. It has begun.

When I think of the holiday season, I don’t think of the bloodthirsty monsters clawing at one another to save a few dollars on Black Friday, but rather, I think of the dinner table. I think of family, and no matter how busy our lives may seem all year, this is our one certain chance to sit around a dinner table and have a discussion, while watching our language that would make my grandmother blush or otherwise indicate that the second bottle of grandpa’s good scotch is perhaps not the best decision.

Inevitably, and almost inescapably, the conversation turns to work as another symptom of the holidays is the likelihood of extended time off (if only a day or two). As a result, traditional excuses about having to get home because of work tomorrow fall flat. Everyone knows that the shop is closed tomorrow, if only because I couldn’t stop talking about how it is a much-needed reprieve.

In my family, manufacturing is as much a family tradition as my grandmother’s high-calorie feasts, and temporary holiday-induced bouts with alcoholism. For years, my grandfather worked at the Allis-Chalmers plant in Wisconsin. It’s the reason our family “bleeds orange,” and family portraits have but one stipulation—wear orange.

My father has been in manufacturing since before I was born. Actually, it was the reason I was born as he met my mother while working in a pickle factory. Since then, he’s proven to be a testament to the power of sweat equity, moving off of the line and into the maintenance department, eventually leading a pair of maintenance departments at a tool and die shop, as well as an injection-molding manufacturer. Now he works as an electrical engineer at a custom machine shop.

My brothers are all in the industry as well. One brother is in product development at a fall protection company; another is the production manager at a custom assembly shop; and the third works at a rubber and plastics manufacturer.

Truth be told, I’m the outsider. My family has their boots on the ground, making in America, and I’m … telling stories.

The dinner table is not only a good time to catch up personally, but is also as good of a chance as I ever have to glimpse into the state of manufacturing, at least in the Midwest. Who is busy? Which shops are slow? Who is working overtime? And who wishes that overtime was still an option (because it seems like they’re putting in more overtime than ever since switching to salaried positions)?

Business is good in the manufacturing industry, and seemingly healthier than it has been in a long time. While this may incentivize many of us to put in a few extra hours and chase the time-and-a-half, we must not forget why many of us work—family. If only an opportunity to talk about looming deadlines and work orders that need to be hit by the end of the year, maybe take a moment to pause and enjoy a great meal with good company.

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