October is National Manufacturing Month and in this month dedicated to manufacturing I encourage people to learn more about manufacturing in DeWitt. I began my career in this field twenty-two years ago. My journey started with an opportunity to work part-time at a company named JRB located in DeWitt’s Industrial Park. JRB was a manufacturer of construction attachments for John Deere and other Original Equipment Manufacturer’s. At the time I had no idea where the Crossroads Business Park (DeWitt’s Industrial Park) was, what companies were located in it, nor the goods they produced. What I did recognize was an opportunity to work outside of the typical part-time high school job. Like many other high school students, I hadn’t made up my mind what I wanted to do for a career. I did know that I wasn’t looking forward to four years of college and viewed this job as a way to see what else was out there.
So, I found myself in a completely new environment, where people were welding, operating lathes, burn tables, boring machines and painting. We were literally taking raw steel and processing it into loader buckets, forks, booms, and couplers. I grew to love the various processes, people and new opportunities that presented themselves. I got a deep sense of satisfaction when I saw a bucket on a Deere wheel loader that our team in DeWitt had proudly made, as a matter of fact, the bucket on the City of DeWitt’s 544 was made at the DeWitt facility.
Just like any industry, construction equipment has its ups and downs. I saw plant expansion and contraction, selling and acquiring businesses, new product lines and phasing out legacy products. Through it all, I was able to turn hard work and dedication into opportunities for growth. I worked my way through different departments and increased roles of responsibility culminating in a leadership role as a plant supervisor. Unfortunately, in 2009, due to the biggest recession since the great depression, JRB was shuttered and production was moved to sister sites in other states. I was fortunate to stay on with the company that owned JRB and traveled between Davenport and Dubuque to manage a small division called CustomWorks.
Then three years later in 2012 I saw an article in The Observer that a Canadian company called Black Cat Blades was purchasing the old JRB building in the Industrial Park. I stopped by the plant one day that October which led to a four month interview process where I was given the opportunity to get to know Black Cat and the culture that is very important to our business model. A large part of what attracted Black Cat to DeWitt was not just the fact that the Industrial Park was less than 20 minutes north of Deere Davenport Works or 50 minutes south of Deere Dubuque Works, it was the people from the area they were meeting which started with the DCDC and DCDC members.
The thought has always been that the community of DeWitt was a good fit for Black Cat’s culture and guiding principles, and that continued through the use of local contractors like Jansen Electric, Holst Construction and Dorhman during start up. We believe in building relationships in the community we operate in and over the last four years I feel we have been successful in becoming part of the community. We now employee 16 team members and in 2014 we started manufacturing wear blades in addition to our warehousing activities. DeWitt is very fortunate to have a successful Industrial Park and the jobs and opportunities that exist within it.
So the next time you have a few minutes take a drive through the Crossroads Business Park and you will see all kinds of different manufacturing companies making anything from air fresheners, glass, testing products, wear components, pumps and valves, and ground engaging tools. These companies come from all around the United States and other countries like Canada, Italy, and Sweden and truly demonstrate that DeWitt is part of a global economy.
Josh Daniel, Black Cat Blades – DeWitt Plant Manager
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