Every business leader wishes for more time in the day to accomplish all the things they want to do. James W. Shoemaker Jr. may not have discovered the secret to adding more hours in the day, but he’s become a master at getting the most out of every single second. He led a small group of regional manufacturers in founding one of Michigan’s most respected regional industry associations, is an advocate for promoting a positive image of manufacturing careers and is a voice on top economic issues.
And he still has time to lead one of the state’s most successful companies. For his tireless effort to do the most he can for Michigan’s manufacturing industry, James W. Shoemaker Jr. is the recipient of the 2016 John G. Thodis Michigan Manufacturer of the Year (Large Tier) Award.
“I’m absolutely honored by this — shocked and honored,” said Shoemaker, president of Morbark, LLC, a Winn-based manufacturer of equipment for the forestry, recycling, sawmill, bio-energy and tree care industries. “The great team here at Morbark is so absolutely committed to what they do — to being the best they can be — that it allows me to have the confidence to go out and do what little I can to help put a spotlight on our industry.”
While he may minimize his role, local leaders know he is a driving force in achieving many of the region’s pro-manufacturing successes. As a founder of the Central Michigan Manufacturers Association (CMMA) and partner to both the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center and MMA, Shoemaker helped lead the effort to promote and eventually pass a much-needed Career and Technical Education millage for the Gratiot-Isabella Regional Education Service District. This revitalized a program that would otherwise have dissolved. The communication campaign that Shoemaker helped to develop remains a best practice model and will be used in Clare County as they seek a similar solution.
“Part of it comes simply from looking for ways to get people to help themselves,” said Shoemaker, who echoed a statement he gave to MMA in 2014. “The way to keep Michigan manufacturing strong is to get involved and stay involved at the local and state level. Manufacturers are Michigan’s top job creators. We are more than just smokestacks.”
Communication, for Shoemaker, is essential for the long-term success of the industry and that includes implementing new methods for manufacturing self-promotion. During the National MFG Day event in October of last year, Morbark hosted more than 130 local area students, parents and educators to dispel the myths and showcase the prosperous realities of manufacturing careers.
“Talking to families about the value of manufacturing has kind of become a personal passion of mine,” said Shoemaker. “There are so many false stories about who we are that you really just want the world to hear the truth. Nobody else is going to take this on — it has to be manufacturers who change how people view us.”
Shoemaker is not someone who only talks about change, his team regularly seeks it out. Morbark is a regional leader in developing lean manufacturing processes and becoming more environmentally conscious through green initiatives.
Under Shoemaker’s leadership, the company is dedicated to continuous improvement and those efforts are paying off.
The company has seen on-time percentage increase 62 percent since 2005, annual injuries decrease 85 percent since 2007 and its energy footprint decrease 60 percent since 2010.
“This is why I mean it when I say this award is an acknowledgement of the whole team — everyone at Morbark and everyone I work within and around Winn,” said Shoemaker. “These men and women are passionate about being manufacturers and being great at what they do. I’m just privileged to help promote it.”
This article appeared in the May 2016 issue of MiMfg Magazine.