Industry Collaboration & Community Celebrated at 2023 Manufacturing Excellence Awards

This article appeared in the November/December 2023 issue of MiMfg Magazine. Read the full issue and find past issues online.

Hundreds of industry leaders, their families and friends gathered on 11/9/23 at the Kellogg Center in East Lansing to celebrate the state’s most important industry at the sold-out 2023 Manufacturing Excellence Awards.

The Manufacturing Excellence Awards is an opportunity for manufacturing leaders to connect with friends, old and new, while celebrating the award recipients who represent the very best in their respective fields. While the industry is defined by products and technology, this annual tradition is a reminder that manufacturing is driven by its people and a sense of community.

“I think manufacturing is definitely different in that way,” says Ronald Hall, President and CEO of Detroit-based Bridgewater Interiors and recipient of the 2023 Manufacturing Emerging Leader Award. “It does feel a little bit like you find your tribe here.”

Several of the award recipients reflected the evening’s unwritten theme of community and family, with Three Rivers-based Armstrong International being a prime example. Winner of the 2023 John G. Thodis Michigan Manufacturer of the Year – Large Tier Award, Armstrong is a fifth-generation family owned company that makes thermal utility systems.

Having grown up in the family business, the evening’s success was something of an inflection point for Brian Armstrong, Director of North America — Institutional Sector of Armstrong International. He has seen the company grow and thrive under the leadership of his family and the wonderful people who make the progress happen every day.

“Receiving the Manufacturer of the Year award is just really humbling,” says Armstrong who accepted the award along with his brother, Brandon Armstrong, on behalf of the company, its leadership and employees.

The team from Detroit-based Kirlin Lighting also received an unexpected and highly pleasant surprise when it was announced that their INFRALED PRO Motorized Exam Lights won the 2023 Coolest Thing Made in Michigan Award.

Kirlin has been manufacturing precision lighting solutions for the health care industry since 1895 when Chris Brownell’s great grandfather began innovating in lighting and was contacted by a doctor in Texas who needed better lighting in his operating room.

Brownell, President at Kirlin, says that winning the Coolest Thing award was a shock while also humbling.

“It’s an honor,” Brownell says. “It’s very fulfilling and this has been a great evening to learn about all of these other companies.”

For Matt Carr, President of Livonia-based Storch Products, the Manufacturing Excellence Awards is a highly unique and “essential part of the year.”

“So many companies don’t take the time to slow down and just appreciate everything that’s happening within the industry,” he says. “This is a good opportunity to slow down and reflect on what’s going on.”

Storch Products took home the 2023 Manufacturing Innovation Excellence Award, which Carr described as an incredible honor. Like many of the recipients, Carr was quick to deflect credit away from himself and onto the team at Storch, who really drive the company’s success and culture.

It was definitely a team effort for Bangor-based Getman Corporation which was awarded the inaugural Michigan Manufactured Export of the Year Award for the A64 HD Water Cannon — a product that helps underground miners bore through rock remotely and safely.

President and CEO Erik VanAllen says it feels fantastic to represent all of the employees at Getman.

“Almost everybody in the company was involved in the development of the A64 Water Cannon,” says VanAllen. “We’re excited to be here individually but we’re happy to be representing the rest of the team back at Getman.”

Memorable Moments

Despite its scale and dynamic nature, the manufacturing industry remains a tight-knit community filled with relationships that go back many years.

That was evident when Bob Jacquart, Chairman and Owner of Jacquart Fabric Products — home of the iconic Stormy Kromer brand — was able to introduce his longtime friend, Joseph Mooney, President of Breckenridge-based Integrity Fab & Machine Inc. Mooney accepted the 2023 John G. Thodis Michigan Manufacturer of the Year – Small Tier Award on behalf of the Integrity team, but he also received a surprise from Jacquart in the form of a personalized Stormy Kromer hat — or six of them to be more accurate.

“I didn’t know what hat size you were so I had six made,” said Jacquart.

Another memorable moment came when the crowd recognized a very special guest in the audience, Yusuke Shindo, Consul General of Japan in Detroit. Shindo attended the evening to celebrate the industry and also to honor the 2023 Manufacturing Woman of the Year Award winner, Sachiko Johnson from Jordan Manufacturing, who was born in Japan.

In congratulating Japanese honorees Sachiko Hosaka-Johnson and DENSO Manufacturing Michigan, Shindo stated “Talent has always been the key to Michigan manufacturing. I am thrilled that Sachiko — a talented businesswoman and author — and DENSO Manufacturing Michigan — the largest employer of Michigan manufacturing talent among all in-state Japanese companies — are being recognized for their achievements in this vital economic sector.” Shindo continued, “It is my hope that tonight’s honorees will continue to actively promote mutual understanding, strengthen bonds between the United States and Japan, and contribute to the growth of Michigan’s manufacturing sector.”

Indeed, the Manufacturing Excellence Awards gala was a night of celebration and reflection on the industry’s truly collaborative energy.

Manufacturing Excellence AwardsThe Manufacturing Excellence Awards celebrates the leaders and products that are pushing the industry forward. Learn more about the awards program and gala.