Wisconsin Made. The Podcast.

EP 9 - Manufacturers Give Back: Community Engagement | OEM Fabricators | Woodville, Wisconsin

May 14, 2021 Wisconsin Manufacturer of the Year Episode 9
Wisconsin Made. The Podcast.
EP 9 - Manufacturers Give Back: Community Engagement | OEM Fabricators | Woodville, Wisconsin
Show Notes Transcript

“While the safer at home order was in place, we increased hourly pay by three dollars an hour for anybody that worked on site.” – Kelly Ingli | President & CFO | OEM Fabricators

“It was a team effort and the face shields were distributed to hospitals in Phillips area, Neillsville and Woodville area.” – Tom Aaby | Vice President of Business Development | OEM Fabricators

In our final episode of “Wisconsin Made. The Podcast.” we are joined by OEM Fabricators out of Woodville, Wisconsin who is a leading contract manufacturer with three locations in the northern half of Wisconsin with facilities in Woodville, Neillsville and Phillips. They specialize in complex, medium to heavy gauge, metal fabricated components that service the rail maintenance, passenger rail, mining, construction and oil and gas industries. In this episode, we learn about how OEM implemented a $3/hour hazard pay increase for those working onsite during the safer at home order. In addition, OEM manufactured and donated 400 face shields to local hospitals and team members sewed and donated over 1,600 masks.

Our guests joining us are Kelly Ingli, President & CFO and Tom Aaby, Vice President of Business Development for OEM Fabricators. Kelly is an experienced business leader and has been with OEM Fabricators since 2007. She has served in a variety of roles and most recently as Chief Financial Officer. Tom is integral to the business development of OEM and has been with the organization for nearly 30 years. Join us during this episode to learn more about their insights navigating their business through the COVID-19 pandemic and their thoughts on the future state of manufacturing in Wisconsin.

In this episode we answer:

  • Tell me a little bit about OEM Fabricators. (1:45)
  • How did OEM respond to the pandemic in the spring of 2020? (3:10)
  • Why did OEM implement a $3/hour hazard pay increase while the safer at home order was in place? (5:10)
  • What were some of the major challenges you experienced last spring? (6:10)
  • Tell me about how you were able to donate face shields and create about 1,600 masks. (7:30)
  • How does the future look for OEM? What is your outlook for the manufacturing industry generally moving forward? (14:10)
  • Wisconsin Made. The Podcast. – Series Recap, Closing Remarks (17:40)

This concludes our series of “Wisconsin. Made. The Podcast.” We truly hope that you have enjoyed this series as we’ve heard from manufacturers across the state of Wisconsin about their challenges and opportunities during the COVID-19 pandemic. We have heard some truly amazing stories from Wisconsin employers and what their employees have done over the past year to combat COVID-19 and truly delivered.  The amount of innovation that has happened over the past year is just the beginning, manufacturing is alive and well in Wisconsin and has an extremely bright future.

“Wisconsin Made. The Podcast.” is brought to you by Wisconsin Manufacturer of the Year, a premier annual awards program celebrating excellence in manufacturing in the state of Wisconsin. Thank you to our program sponsors Baker Tilly, Michael Best and Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC).

Kelly Ingli | President & CFO | OEM Fabricators
While the safer at home order was in place, we increased hourly pay by three dollars an hour for anybody that worked on site.

Tom Aaby | Vice President of Business Development | OEM Fabricators
It was a team effort and the face shields were distributed to hospitals in Philips area, Neillsville and the Woodville area.

Voiceover
You're listening to Wisconsin Made. The Podcast. brought to you by Wisconsin Manufacturer of the Year, a premier annual awards program celebrating excellence in manufacturing in the state of Wisconsin. Now here's your host, WMC Vice President of Communications & Marketing, Nick Novak.

Nick Novak (Host) | Vice President of Communications & Marketing | WMC
Hello and welcome to this week's episode of Wisconsin Made. The Podcast. The show that takes you inside the strength and resilience of Wisconsin's manufacturing community where we hear from Wisconsin's CEOs and executives to learn about their challenges, opportunities and success navigating their business throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m your host Nick Novak and today we're going to talk about OEM Fabricators in Woodville. Before we get started, I would like to thank our program partners Baker Tilly, Michael Best and Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce. Together we are committed to our mission of recognizing excellence in manufacturing in our state.

Joining me today is Kelly Ingli, President and CFO at OEM Fabricators and Tom Aaby, Vice President of Business Development. Thanks to both of you for joining us on the Wisconsin Made Podcast.

Tom Aaby
Thank you, Nick.

Nick Novak (Host)
First I want to get to know OEM just a little bit for our listeners, I you know I’ve worked with the folks over there quite a bit in my role here at WMC, but obviously you know with this being a podcast talking about Wisconsin manufacturers, let's get to know OEM a little bit, so Tom tell us you know what does OEM do, you know pre-pandemic, what was the main you know business that OEM was involved in?

Tom Aaby
Well good morning Nick and thank you for giving OEM Fabricators the opportunity to spend some time with you on this podcast. A little bit about OEM Fabricators, we are a leading contract manufacturer with three locations in the northern half of Wisconsin with facilities in Woodville, Neillsville and Phillips. From our beginning in 1986, our mission has been to provide excellence in manufacturing services to original equipment manufacturers. We specialize in complex, medium to heavy gauge, metal fabricated components that service the rail maintenance, passenger rail, mining, construction and oil and gas industries. We are the one-stop shop ISO and EN certified solution for our customer’s most critical components. OEM's outstanding reputation is root in building relationships, unmatched quality, on-time delivery, integrity, customer service for nearly 30 years.

Nick Novak (Host)
Well obviously a, you know, important company here in Wisconsin and COVID-19 probably took a pretty much all of us by surprise this past year and I know that OEM did a really great job of responding and kind of making sure that all of your team members were being safe and you really helped in your community as well so I want to start, Kelly, by talking a little bit about how OEM responded to the pandemic and some of the steps that you took to make sure that the workers going into your facilities on a daily basis were safe.

Kelly Ingli
Just that you said that it kind of hit us by surprise, I would agree with that that it was here, we knew it was here, but then all of a sudden there was information coming in on daily, hourly basis where it was changing constantly so that was a challenge for us on what we should do for our team members to make sure that they were safe and that we were abiding by all the recommendations because they were different they changed and there were some conflicting information that we had to try to just digest and  talk as a leadership team. First of all we had to, we did move everybody in the office working remote, we spaced people out in the shop, we increased our cleaning services, we had Pro 3 Solutions coming in and spraying down all of our office and shop areas at all three locations, we increased the cleaning frequency. I’m sure many others experienced that they couldn't get their hands on disinfectants cleansers or even hand sanitizer, we ended up buying hand sanitizer by the barrel and getting our own dispensers, we ordered masks which we could not get right away, so we depended on team members to provide their own before we were it was months before we could even get our provider to provide masks for team members to wear, but overall you know we just.

Nick Novak (Host)
One.

Kelly Ingli
Sorry.

Nick Novak (Host)
No I mean I think that you know you went through a lot of the same stuff that that other folks did and you know you did take some special steps. I know you mentioned that you know you were doing some increasing cleaning, you had folks who were able to work from home you know move remote, but you guys also actually increased pay during the beginning you know first you know a few months of the pandemic which I think is a great thing.

Kelly Ingli
We did, while the safer at home order was in place we increased hourly pay by three dollars an hour for anybody that worked on site. We really wanted to ensure that they understood how much we appreciated them coming in, we knew that they were taking a risk and you know we were doing what we could, but at the time everything was so crazy we didn't know for sure, but we also had the challenge of we wanted to keep the business going, we wanted to keep our team members employed so we were uncertain if we were considered essential, we had to determine that but we wanted to keep people working we had a commitment to our team members as well as our customers and so that was a way to show them that we appreciated their extra effort.

Nick Novak (Host)
Well and you bring up you know keeping the business going because obviously that's what pays the salaries of everyone at OEM and so Tom I want to ask you a little bit about that you know being on the business development side you know working with a lot of your customers on getting those products you know what changes happened in in the spring that you had to really respond to and how did you work with your clients to make sure you could still get the products that they needed?

Tom Aaby
Nick it was very challenging. Shortly after the safer at home order came on, we were getting notices from our customers that they were changing schedules, their customers were canceling orders, we had to adjust our production schedule almost daily to deal with the cancellations and changes in schedule. It was very challenging, we weren't hitting our forecast, some of our customers stopped ordering all together, it was very challenging times. We had to start the prospect in a whole new way, we couldn't visit our customers, we had two prospects that were on our target that we were working on for two years to try to bring on as customers, they were supposed to visit in March, obviously those visits got canceled and even today we still have not been able to bring those customers, that prospect on board to become a customer because of the travel restrictions so it was a big change and it was very challenging.

Nick Novak (Host)
Well and I’m sure that you know that's as you mentioned it's still going on today, there's still a lot of changes that were that we're all going through. I did want to talk a little bit about you know OEM's commitment to their community because you know at the same time that you were going through all these challenges, you guys really stepped up to help the folks that you know work in your facilities every day and really you know take care of those local communities, so Kelly could you maybe talk a little bit about what you guys did to make sure that folks outside of OEM were also being taken care of?

Kelly Ingli
Sure and I’m going to, Tom also has some good information on this because he was a very crucial part of the design that we use to create the face shields and I’d like him to kind of chime in on there on that piece of it. We were able to use a blueprint from the University of Wisconsin to create the shield and we did some of the work at OEM, but some of the assembly Tom and his family did at home. We also had Mark Tyler, our Board Chairman, former President and Owner of OEM Fabricators, he made close 1,600 masks that he donated to the community and local health organizations.

Nick Novak (Host)
So Tom, tell me a little bit about you know how you stepped up you know seemingly, personally and working with OEM to get that stuff done.

Tom Aaby
Well Nick, it wasn't me personally making the face shields here, it was a team effort. We had guys in our shop, in our lunch room cutting out the parts, we really did that at all three facilities: Woodville and Neillsville and Phillips. We did do the assembly at our home, actually we had Easter with just our family no guests obviously and in the afternoon we went out to our shop and made masks, so it's an Easter gathering that we will remember for a long time, but yeah we it was a team effort and the face shields were distributed to hospitals in you know the Phillips area, Neillsville and the Woodville area.

Nick Novak (Host)
Well I mean that's just a fantastic story, I mean not only were you guys going through so many challenges to keep the company moving forward and keeping your folks employed, the fact that you took additional time to make you know hundreds of face shields and you know well over a thousand masks for healthcare workers and others in the community is just really a great story and it speaks to the to the reason that we're doing the Wisconsin Made. Podcast and highlighting Wisconsin manufacturers in this way here in 2021. Well I’d like to continue this conversation about OEM Fabricators but before we do we're going to take a quick break to thank our program partners for Wisconsin Made. The Podcast. and on the other side of the break we're going to talk a little bit more about where OEM is going, where they see the future of the manufacturing industry going and a couple other items so please stick with us.

Voiceover
Wisconsin Made. The Podcast. is brought to you by Wisconsin Manufacturer of the Year, a premier annual awards program celebrating excellence in manufacturing in the state of Wisconsin. Thank you to our program sponsors Baker Tilly, Michael Best and Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce

Nick Novak (Host)
Welcome back to Wisconsin Made. The Podcast. We're joined by Kelly Ingli, President and CFO and Tom Aaby, Vice President of Business Development of OEM Fabricators in Woodville. We've been having a great discussion about a lot of the things that OEM has done in the past year to respond to COVID-19, but now I’d like to talk a little bit about the Manufacturer of the Year Awards, we're not able to be together like we normally would unfortunately, but this podcast is meant to help us recognize excellence in manufacturing so Tom and Kelly if you guys were on stage accepting a Manufacturer of the Year Award this year, what would be your message to your employees and the other folks in that room?

Kelly Ingli
I would really just want to thank everyone and show my appreciation for their patience and understanding over the past year. They have had to deal with so many changes, conflicting information, unknowns by us, typically our team members look to us for answers and guidance of where we're headed and what we need to do and this period of the pandemic has been the most unknown period like it's almost uncomfortable sometimes not knowing what that next step is going to be or what's going to happen and so they've had to deal with a lot of uncertainty that we typically don't have here and they've been patient and the morale has stayed up they have you know they're, it would be really easy right now for morale to be down and for our team members not to be supportive of the position we're in and I just I appreciate the support and without them coming into work or you know changing their schedules, it just wouldn't happen and on the flip side of that they've had to deal with their own personal side of the pandemic; whether we know school closings, day care closings and trying to manage that all from a home standpoint and work has been extremely difficult for a lot of people that have kids home and they're trying to work from home or they're trying to just schedule so that they can come into work and we have tried to accommodate that you know offering their flexible schedules and understanding and having to take time off at a minute's notice and then all of a sudden you're quarantined and you need two weeks off and the supervisors who have had to deal with all of that scheduling, I mean it's been it hasn't just been hard on the leadership team trying to deal with it it's been hard on everybody and I just am so impressed with how everyone has come through this and it's almost been a year and we're still dealing with it, but you know everyone has is still showing up and doing their part and just doing what we need to to keep moving ahead and so just thank you to everyone really.

Nick Novak (Host)
Tom I know that that was you know really all-encompassing of what you know we'd be talking about, but anything to add to that?

Tom Aaby
Not a lot, but I guess I agree with Kelly. The real heroes in this thing, I think, are the families with children in the you know grade school, high school age where they've had to deal with, like Kelly said, the closing of day cares, school closings, teaching at home, trying to do their jobs. I think they're the real warriors here and we really appreciate everybody at OEM all of our team members for doing a great job and maintaining a very positive attitude over the last year.

Nick Novak (Host)
So I want to talk a little bit about you know kind of the future you know we've talked a lot about 2020 and the response that you guys had and continued to deal with, but looking to the future, 2021, there's still a lot of question marks, so you know Tom what are you seeing specifically for OEM as you head through the rest of the year? I mean, things looking good or is there still a lot of challenges coming your way?

Tom Aaby
Thanks Nick, well there are a lot of challenges still in front of us. We need to get our sales volume back to 2019 levels, we are seeing a lot of activity out there and a lot of opportunities and we're encouraged that we're going to be able to get back there shortly. Steel prices are a big challenge. Over the last three months, we've seen steel prices double and this is creating challenges with our customers and for us and we're thinking in the next two or three weeks it's going to level off or two or three months it's going to level off, but it is it's a major hurdle for us right now. Another challenge we're going to have is getting the office staff back in and when to do that, do it safely and how we're going to rearrange our areas to protect our team members.

Nick Novak (Host)
Well that's a that's a conversation that we're having internally here at WMC and I think businesses all across the state and probably the country are having of you know when do people who could work remotely come back in if you know if ever or you know how and how do you make that work so I think that's a you know a really good topic to touch on. Kelly, I want to move over to you and talk more generally about manufacturing. It’s obviously the largest industry in Wisconsin, you know about 20% of our state's economy is from manufacturing specifically and so do you see the future of manufacturing continuing to go in a positive direction or do you have some concerns?

Kelly Ingli
I do see it continuing to go in a positive direction. I think this past year has just with the challenges that have unprecedented challenges nobody's prepared for, nobody's been experienced a pandemic before and I think part of the slowdown is everyone because of the uncertainty kind of became cash conservative, didn't invest and so there is going to be some pent-up demand for that capital investment once there is a little bit more certainty. I do see it continuing to grow you know, we are still going to have issues in Wisconsin and the WMC has talked a lot about hiring and just having the available workforce and I think that is still a concern because I do see this area continuing to grow and prosper, I think things will get back to normal, I don't know when, but I’m confident that it will.

Nick Novak (Host)
That's certainly the hope, we you know I share that I share that view as well so well appreciate you talking a little bit about the future and we're you know looking forward to making sure that future here in Wisconsin is great. You know, from us at WMC and our partners at Baker Tilly and Michael Best you know we are just thrilled that you guys have been able to really respond in a in a great way and keep moving forward and you know having a having a bright look towards the future so thanks both Tom and Kelly for joining us today we really appreciate you taking the time.

Tom Aaby
Thank you.

Kelly Ingli
Thank you for having us.

Nick Novak (Host)
So that was Tom Aaby, Vice President of Business Development and Kelly Ingli, President and CFO of OEM Fabricators, we appreciate them taking the time today to speak with us on Wisconsin Made. The Podcast. and congratulate them on being an honoree this year for the Manufacturer of the Year Awards.

Nick Novak (Host)
Thank you for listening to the last episode of Wisconsin Made. The Podcast., we truly hope that you have enjoyed this series as we've heard from manufacturers across the state of Wisconsin about their challenges and opportunities during the COVID-19 pandemic. We have heard some truly amazing stories from Wisconsin employers and what their employees have done over the past year to combat COVID-19 and truly delivered. The private sector response to the global pandemic, just looking at some of the stories that we heard about over the last number of weeks, I’m reminded of Teel Plastics in Baraboo who made the medical swab sticks for hundreds of thousands of COVID-19 tests every single month. These were critically important as the state of Wisconsin, the nation and the globe fought against a global pandemic and really tried to find out where the virus was and how to fight against it. Without Teel Plastics, that would have been a lot more difficult to do and it was truly an amazing an amazing story that we heard from the team there. Looking at some of the other companies that we talked with over the last few weeks, Ahlstrom Munksjo, you know, they had a company that already was making some medical products and some packaging products and they shifted to exactly what the medical industry needed to make sure that our nurses and doctors and other medical workers had the proper PPE that they needed throughout the last year. They also helped out the folks in e-commerce and in fast food you know something that we saw huge increases in demand for over the last year. Also, we talked with CMD Corporation, they actually grew their business and expanded their workforce because they got innovative and they found ways to make sure that their workers could continue to come into work every single day and make sure that business could grow. We talked with Nicolet Plastics, Pindel Global Precision and their new company PRODx, there was Linetec, Power Test, you know so many of these manufacturers put in work to not only serve their current customers, but expand to different customers throughout Wisconsin, throughout the country and throughout the globe all while keeping their employees safe, keeping their communities safe and supporting frontline workers in the process. You know on top of what these companies were able to do from a business standpoint, they gave back to their communities, they supported local restaurants, they helped local non-profits, they supported the medical facilities in their in their communities and I was so happy that we were able to share these stories and I do encourage you if you did miss any of these episodes to go back and listen because so many of these Wisconsin companies were critical to the response to COVID-19 and I just want to talk a little bit about technology and innovation over the last year because you know we had companies who didn't have work from home policies and suddenly they had half their staff working from home while still having their employees on the shop floor coming in every single day and they had to figure out how these folks were going to communicate with each other, how they were going to communicate with customers on a different part of the country that they could no longer travel to whether that be through using iPads and virtual reality goggles and you know having engineers being able to you know zoom in to the shop floor to speak with folks right on the floor, all amazing stories and I wish that we were sharing these stories at The Pfister Hotel like we normally would for the Manufacturer of the Year Awards, we'd all come together and we would celebrate the manufacturing industry here in Wisconsin, but unfortunately we weren't able to do that but I’m very happy we were able to do a similar celebration of manufacturing through Wisconsin Made. The Podcast. Hope you found some value in these stories, I hope you continue to share them and go back and listen to them and hear about what these manufacturers and others have done over the last year and I just want to take a moment to say that based on the conversations that we have had on this podcast, manufacturing is alive and well in Wisconsin and has an extremely bright future. The amount of innovation that has happened over the past year is just the beginning, I think we're going to continue to see more of it as we move forward and manufacturing as I mentioned already the state's biggest industry, I think it's just really ripe for growth in the coming years and I’m excited to hear more stories like the ones that we heard in this podcast so again thank you to our program partners at the Manufacturer of the Year Awards Baker Tilly, Michael Best and of course us here at Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce. We are so excited to be able to share these stories with you and hope that we'll be able to continue to share the great stories from the manufacturing community in years to come. I encourage you to visit wimoty.com to learn more about the Manufacturer of the Year Awards program that we'll be doing again this next fall and we hopefully will be back in The Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee next February so that we can all celebrate again together. Once again, thank you to Michael Best and Baker Tilly for partnering with us here at WMC for the Manufacturer of the Year Awards. This has been Wisconsin Made. The Podcast. I’m your host Nick Novak, thank you for tuning in.

Voiceover
This is Wisconsin Made. The Podcast. The show that takes you inside the strength and resilience of Wisconsin's manufacturing community where we hear from Wisconsin's CEOs and executives to learn about their challenges, opportunities and success navigating their business throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Thank you to our program sponsors Baker Tilly, Michael Best and Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce.