Chamber hosts Manufacturers Appreciation Luncheon

Union photo by Andy Hallman

Maharishi University of Management professor Anil Maheshwari encourages the business owners present to hire more M.U.M. students.
Union photo by Andy Hallman Maharishi University of Management professor Anil Maheshwari encourages the business owners present to hire more M.U.M. students.

FAIRFIELD – The Fairfield Area Chamber of Commerce hosted its annual Manufacturers Appreciation Luncheon Wednesday, Oct. 9, at the Fairfield Golf & Country Club.

The event was sponsored by Gamrath-Doyle Insurance, which has sponsored the event for more than 30 years. In fact, that insurance company received a round of applause at the luncheon not just for its sponsorship but because of a piece of business news. Pat Doyle, who has worked for the company for 41 years, has turned over ownership to his daughter, Alissa Doyle Ward, who has worked there for eight years. The change took effect Aug. 1.

Pat told The Union that he plans to continue working with the company until July 2020, when he will retire. Alissa becomes the third generation of Doyles to run the business, the first being Pat’s father Neil, who retired in 1993. The crowd thanked Pat for his service to the community and welcomed Alissa as the new owner.

Another heartfelt thank you was extended to Mayor Ed Malloy, who spoke at the event. Malloy announced earlier this year that he will not seek re-election to the city’s highest office, a position he has held for 18 years. Malloy remarked that the manufacturers luncheon has always been an important date on his calendar, which he has missed only once in his tenure as mayor.

Malloy said he enjoys the opportunity to hear from manufacturers about their efforts to grow their companies and maintain a high quality of life in Fairfield. He’s heard so many success stories from businesses such as Agri-Industrial Plastics, TrafFix Devices, Dexter Laundry, and others, and how they have contributed to community projects such as the soccer fields, the Fairfield Arts & Convention Center and solar power initiatives. He concluded by reading a proclamation declaring the month of October “Fairfield manufacturing month.”

Fairfield Economic Development Association executive director Joshua Laraby told the crowd about his organization’s event, the Teacher of the Year golf outing (co-sponsored by the Fairfield Manufacturers Association), which was held in August. He said the event, now in its eighth year, has attracted more revenue and engagement with each passing year, and this year 18 teachers participated on 20 teams, which is the most teachers ever. He said the group also had fun competing in a glow ball golf tournament the night before the event.

Lori Schaefer-Weaton is the president of Agri-Industrial Plastics, a plastic blow-molding company that specializes in making fuel tanks for non-automotive machines. Schaefer-Weaton spoke about the company’s role in the community. She said the business is fortunate to have partnerships with FEDA, Indian Hills Community College and with local school districts. She said the company is in a unique business community where firms share ideas and best practices with each other so that they can all be more efficient.

Agri-Industrial Plastics has a ribbon-cutting ceremony coming up later this month in honor of its recently installed solar panels. The event will be Oct. 24 at the business at 301 22nd St. in Fairfield. In August of 2018, the company announced plans to start construction on a 517-kilowatt solar array. The company also installed a 424-kilowatt Tesla battery system, making it the first solar project in the Midwest to incorporate this type of battery technology.

Tesla Powerpack, which is a battery energy storage system designed for commercial and utility-scale customers, will allow Agri-Industrial Plastics to “peak shave.” Peak shaving cuts expensive demand charges by reducing electricity consumption during high times such as hot summer days. Demand charges can increase a customer’s electrical costs for the entire year and account for up to 30 percent to 70 percent of a customer’s utility bill.

Nate Weaton, Lori’s husband, spoke about his company Weaton Capital Holdings, and the company he just acquired last year, Creative Edge Master Shop. Creative Edge uses abrasive waterjet cutting technology to create intricate designs for stone and tile flooring. Weaton said the company has contracts around the world. He said one part of the business, the ToolKeepers Division, builds tools for the U.S. military and other buyers, and has experienced the most growth of any of his businesses in the past year. Weaton remarked that he’s had great partners in Iowa State Bank and Indian Hills Community College, and that he’s thankful to be part of the manufacturing community.

Mike Nelson, director of engineering at Dexter Laundry, talked about how his business is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year. It began in Dexter, Iowa, and moved to Fairfield in 1912. The company held a community celebration in August that was open to the public and included horse and buggy rides and tours of the facility, which had not been open for public tours since the 1950s.

Nelson said the company has undergone terrific growth the past three years, and is pleased to report that it’s adding workers in Fairfield. He said the company has faced challenges, too, particularly from tariffs. Dexter exports its products to 70 countries.

Nelson spoke about how he manned a booth representing his company at recent career fairs at Iowa State University and the University of Iowa. Sometimes, when he tells students that the company is located in Fairfield, they give him a blank stare, wondering where that is. But he did have luck with two engineering students from Fairfield who expressed interest in returning to Fairfield to pursue their careers.

Mike Parker of TrafFix Devices spoke about how his company completed one big expansion last year, and is following that with a second one this year. The business grew by 80,000 square feet during an expansion in late 2017-early 2018. The concrete barely had time to settle on that project when the business embarked on another, this time an 18,000-square-foot addition to its roto mold facility which manufactures traffic control devices. Parker said he hopes to start using the two machines in the new addition within the next couple of weeks. The two additional machines will bring the total number of roto mold machines to four.

Parker said the company has been flooded with orders, and that’s why he hopes to get the new machines up and running quickly. He said sales have increased by double digit figures for the past five years, and have been shipped to places such as Japan and New Zealand.

Fairfield Area Chamber of Commerce director Darien Sloat said the community is in for a special treat this year. Sloat approached Theresa Huffman about remodeling the interior of Santa’s Kandy Kane House in Central Park where he hears the Christmas wishes of the area’s youth. After examining the structure, Huffman said it was best to rebuild the building altogether, so residents will have that to look forward to. Sloat also mentioned that the chamber is hosting an event on May 16 called Bike Fairfield, which will be an opportunity for families to bike the trails.

Anil Maheshwari, a professor of management information systems and the director of the Center for Data Analytics at Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, told the businesses that the university graduates an excellent crop of students every year, and encouraged the businesses to hire more of them.