May 12, 2021

Leaders honored for manufacturing

Thombert, DMACC representative awarded by Elevate Advanced Manufacturing

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Leaders in Iowa manufacturing, including Thombert, Inc. President Richard Davidson and Des Moines Area Community College’s Business Resources team member Kelly Mitchell, received honors during an awards dinner hosted last week by Elevate Advanced Manufacturing.

Held at The Meadows Events & Conference Center in Altoona, the fourth annual Legends in Iowa Manufacturing event awarded individuals, companies and organizations leading the charge in Iowa’s well-established yet still expanding manufacturing industry.

According to a press release, more than 200 people attended the ceremony organized by Elevate Advanced Manufacturing, a program of the Iowa Association of Business and Industry (ABI) that helps promote career pathways in advanced manufacturing. ABI President Mike Ralston said manufacturing contributes $28 billion annually to the state’s economy.

“It’s an honor to recognize the founders and leaders of these amazing Iowa companies, and to thank them for the outstanding contributions they make to our state,” Ralston said in the release.

Davidson accepted the Legend of Manufacturing award for companies that have between 100 and 300 employees, while Mitchell was named the 2018 Elevate Ambassador of the Year.

Describing the win as “an extremely high honor,” Davidson credited the award to the roughly 125 employees working at Thombert to maintain its continued success and status in the manufacturing industry.

“It really takes teamwork and it takes everybody doing their job to create this success,” Davidson said. “To be recognized for that is really a big thing. Personally, it’s not a reflection on anybody individually; it’s a reflection on the success of the group working together to accomplish common goals.”

Thombert, of Newton, is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of polyurethane wheels and tires for electric forklifts and rubber track agricultural tractors, Davidson said. Quite the change from the company’s original purpose as a custom cabinet shop built some time after World War II. One of the keys to Thombert’s success, other than its quality product, Davidson said, was that the company was able to reinvent itself over the years “as different opportunities presented themselves and found different ways of being successful.”

Davidson added, “Today, we’re not doing anything like we used to do. The company started manufacturing polyurethane products in 1958 and it was really then, I think maybe in the early ’70s, that the company started making polyurethane wheels and tires. So over a long period of time that business grew and we eventually got out of other parts of the business that were just outside of that focus.”

Working as an ambassador for Elevate Advanced Manufacturing for about three years, Mitchell said she was honored to receive her award and is “pleased to be able to carry that torch or that message that manufacturing is alive and well, especially here in Iowa.” Admittedly, she did not know she was going to win the Elevate Ambassador of the Year award until the night of the ceremony.

“My role is to be that point of contact when people request something in this area — there are Elevate ambassadors all over Iowa,” Mitchell said. “I’d been one of the first people to sign up when they started this effort about three or so years ago.”

Remarking upon today’s manufacturing industry in Newton, Mitchell said efforts are strong. What is inhibiting growth of manufacturers, however, is that “they can’t find enough people to fill the open positions to help them grow” in the city.

“And I think what comes into play then is skilling up people to get those skills or being well-equipped to be their employees,” she said. “What most companies are doing is trying to figure out ways to do the training themselves, because we no longer can wait for a skilled workforce to fill those positions … Companies are looking for and moving toward doing the training themselves.”

Which is where DMACC comes into play and helps students pursue careers in manufacturing.

“The opportunities are endless,” Mitchell added. “These companies are developing their people from within. You can start at an entry level job and just grow within that organization. It’s filled with opportunities.”

Other Legends in Manufacturing award winners include: Tim Green of Quality Machine, who won the Legend of Manufacturing award for companies with fewer than 100 employees; Jim Tyler and Kirk Tyler of Atlantic Coca Cola Bottling, who won the Legend of Manufacturing award for companies with more than 300 employees; Roger Brown of Precision Pully Idler, who won the Manufacturer Export award; Eugene Sukup of Sukup Manufacturing, who won the Posthumous Legends award, which was accepted by his family; and West Delaware County Community School District and the Delaware County manufacturers Henderson Products, XL Specialized Trailers and Paladin Implements, which were chosen as the Legends in Manufacturing Champion.

Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 6560 or