A Night of Celebration for Michigan Manufacturers

This article appeared in the November 2021 issue of MiMfg Magazine. Read the full issue and find past issues online.

The 2021 MFG Excellence Awards was truly a night of celebration and spirit of comraderie and support for the state’s largest and most historic industry — manufacturing. This was more than a gathering of colleagues, it was a get-together for friends who likely haven’t seen each other since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic nearly two years ago.

Having gone to a virtual format in 2020, the energy and joy that coursed through the people in the room at this sold-out event was palpable. Industry leaders warmly greeted one another and discussed their accomplishments, their challenges and, especially, what the future holds in a truly dynamic and evolving industry.

Valerie Knol, Manager of State and Local Government Relations at Stellantis, summed it up best: “The 2021 MFG Excellence Awards was a celebration of our accomplishments over the past year and a half. Having that amount of energy and excitement in the room really demonstrates that manufacturing is in our DNA in Michigan.”

That is not to say that the industry isn’t facing challenges — it certainly is — but having events like this and absorbing that amount of passion is inspiring and reminds us that Michigan manufacturers are able to overcome and accomplish anything.

“There really is a strong passion when you hear people talk about manufacturing,” says Knol. “The joy they get from seeing something being created and the satisfaction that brings can be overwhelming. It’s vitally important to our state and it’s vitally important to our country.”

Knol had special reason for celebration that evening as Stellantis was recognized for their 100-year membership with MMA. Stellantis joined MMA in 1920 as the Maxwell Motor Company, and since that time the company’s history, from Walter P. Chrysler to FCA and now Stellantis, has been an incredible story to tell.

While competition may remain fierce amongst these colleagues in the daytime, there was a spirit of collegial attitude and support throughout the black-tied and gowned crowd, led by co-hosts MMA President & CEO John J. Walsh and Donna Russell-Kuhr, President of PTM Corporation and the 2019 MFG Woman of the Year.

Margie Simmons, CEO of Landscape Forms, was on hand to help usher in the 2021 award recipients after her company was recognized with the John G. Thodis Michigan Manufacturer of the Year Award — Large Tier last year.

“We’re really excited to be here and actually do this in person and help all the award winners celebrate because it’s super important. It’s such an honor,” says Simmons.

Understanding the significance of being recognized, Simmons says winning such an award is wonderful validation for the thousands of employees who truly drive this industry.

“It’s really about the team members and the work that they do, and they deserve all the credit,” she says.

Bill Henderson, CEO of Aircraft Precision Products and 2021 recipient of the MFG Lifetime Achievement award, was happy to catch up with some colleagues and “compare notes.”

“It’s fun to see friends from the manufacturing world and recognize some people and companies that have really stood out,” says Henderson. “I just think it’s really neat to get all of these manufacturing people away from their desks and their machines and celebrate and socialize.”

He also commented on the energy in the room saying it was clear there is pent-up demand to get back to in-person events.

“I think not just with manufacturing but with everybody. There is a hunger for face-to-face events,” he says.

Dennis Theis from Maner Costerisan, a CPA firm that provides special services to MMA members, echoed those comments saying how fun it was just to see people get dressed up and get together for the first time in a long while. 

“It’s amazing to come to this event and see all the innovation and all the creativity that helps drive this industry especially in a really challenging time,” says Theis.

No matter the challenges these companies and their leaders face from day to day, it was clear that the industry leaders who gathered for the 2021 MFG Excellence Awards were eager to recognize and celebrate not only the award winners but their fellow MMA members as well.

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