Industry Member Spotlight: Stewart Manufacturing

This article appeared in the May 2018 issue of MiMfg Magazine. Read the full issue and find past issues online.

Talent development is a 24/7 challenge for manufacturing. From locating and hiring to training and retaining, a small- to mid-sized manufacturer could dedicate a large percentage of resources to workforce development and still feel it is falling behind. The fight for talent is even more difficult in Michigan’s mostly rural Upper Peninsula.

“You have towns here that most people have never heard of, where incredible products are being made, yet companies struggle to find new skilled talent,” says Randall McLeod, vice president for Hermansville-based Stewart Manufacturing. “It’s amazing what we have accomplished — being a global supplier in a town of 200 or 300 people — but with the right talent resources we could do so much more.”

Stewart Manufacturing provides CNC machining services to a wide range of customers in the automotive, agriculture, mining, diesel engine, heavy equipment and power generating industries. Products from Cummins to Caterpillar owe much of their success to the hard work being done by Stewart and other manufacturers in nondescript buildings across Michigan’s many small communities. Despite the talent challenges, McLeod and the Stewart team remain competitive thanks to dedicated people, top-of-the-line products and a sterling reputation resonating far beyond the U.P.

“We started with only a handful of employees and focusing on low-volume projects,” McLeod explains. “Thankfully, we had the confidence to believe we could do more. Once we began to do high-volume production, our workforce increased 12-fold and we started to get noticed as a supplier Tier One and Tier Two companies could rely on.”

Stewart’s move to a 92,000-square-foot facility in 2005 was further evidence of the U.P. supplier’s future capability. Unfortunately, the more Stewart Manufacturing works to grow, the more it finds the same barriers in its way — a shortage of talent. While competitors carve out space in new markets, Stewart must first compete for skilled workers who have an eye on leaving the region.

“We’re located near two large foundries so that works to our benefit, but we still have difficulty locating the people who want to stay in the region because it is very remote and out-of-the-way,” says McLeod. “If you’re a die-hard camper or fisher or just love the outdoor lifestyle, this is the place to be. And if that passion extends to working with your hands and being creative, then manufacturing is a career path full of excitement and the chance to experience something new every day.”

McLeod’s focus is now on showcasing existing career opportunities and reminding job seekers that those opportunities exist in Hermansville and across the U.P. Through partnerships with local schools, Stewart employees mentor children aged 8-12 in robotics camps, host MFG Day events like open houses, community expos and on-site co-ops, and participate in mock interview programs with high school and college students. Stewart also provides tuition reimbursement for employees who wish to expand their education while working.

“Our company is committed to one thing — people. Whether it’s our customers, our community or our in-house talent, that’s where our loyalty lays,” explains McLeod. “We’ll jump on a plane today to ensure the service we provide remains first-class. I think ours is a business model which resonates with young people who want more out of a career than just a job.”