National Manufacturing Day was an observance Friday in factories across the country, but in Oklahoma City it was more of an actual celebration.
It wasn't just the green, white and black balloons, the snacks, brunch items and fine coffees, and the tour groups donning bright green hard hats and goggles for the occasion at Malarkey Roofing Products.
It was the state statistics, not to mention Malarkey's own success story.
Not only has Oklahoma one of the nation's lowest unemployment rates for several quarters as the national struggles to shake off the recession — and the energy business booms again in the oil patch.
“Oklahoma has led the nation with the most rapidly growing manufacturing growth rate — a growth rate of 6.7 percent,” Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb said, pointing out that manufacturing accounts for 12 percent of the state's current economic output.
Malarkey CEO Jim Fagan had good things to say about state government, especially the Commerce Department's Quality Jobs Program, which provides incentives in exchange for job creation and capital investment. Malarkey, based in Portland, Ore., has been making roofing shingles here for just more than a year.
Oklahoma, he said, “allowed us to invest heavily into the state with barriers that are unbelievably easy to overcome. We started the process in July (2012), we got our building permit and by August we were actually manufacturing product.”
Fagan joked that he was bad at estimating the advances Malarkey would make in the five-year plan he submitted to participate in Quality Jobs. He introduced James Johnson, site location manager for the Commerce Department, as the first person he did business with here after commercial property broker Gerald L. Gamble guided Malarkey to the shuttered aluminum can plant that Malarkey spent $40 million retrofitting into a shingle factory.
“A couple of things I promised James: I told him we would have 50 employees, and today we have 65 — not very good at that. I projected $2.8 million in wages for the year, and we'll probably be at $4.2 million in wages — not very good at that. I told him I would invest $40 million by the third year, and we're well over $40 million today,” Fagan said.
And Malarkey plans to start making Class 4 roofing materials — especially storm-resistant shingles — by mid-October, and another new line in March, he said. Malarkey saw $80 million in sales its first year and is on track to see $250 million in sales annually by the third year, he said.
Lamb told Fagan the state was dedicated to more “impediment removal, removing artificial barriers to growth, so Malarkey, and other companies like yours, can thrive and prosper (with) organic job growth, so we can keep our next generation here, our kids and grandkids and out families and friends and neighbors who we love and care about, in Oklahoma.”
Other Oklahoma companies also observed National Manufacturing Day, organized by Fabricators and Manufacturers Association International, National Association of Manufacturers, Manufacturing Extension Partnership, Manufacturing Institute and other organizations, and at the state level by the Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance.
In Edmond, seventh- and eighth-grade students in Cimarron Middle School's Gateway to Technology program toured Pelco Products Inc., which designs and manufactures traffic signal hardware, utility products and decorative outdoor lighting.
Oklahoma City's M-D Building Products said it would hold plant tours tied to National Manufacturing Day on Oct. 18 and emphasized the continued need for skilled workers.
“One of the biggest challenges facing manufacturers is the overall public perception that jobs in manufacturing are unavailable or undesirable,” said Loren Plotkin, president and CEO of M-D Building Products, which employs some 500 people locally and 800 nationally. “While we enjoy a fine workforce at our Oklahoma City plant, the future of manufacturing rests with making sure the next generation understands today's manufacturing environment includes highly trained technical employees and good paying opportunities.”
The event Oct. 18 will include tours by CareerTech student and others.
“In Oklahoma, we are fortunate to have a robust CareerTech system to train workers to operate state-of-the-art systems used in today's manufacturing processes,” Plotkin said. “As part of our long term growth strategy to take advantage of increasing demand for our line of commercial and residential building, weatherproofing and decorative products, we launched a program a few years ago to modernize and enhance the manufacturing equipment and systems at our Oklahoma City plant and build a new distribution center. Our investments are further evidence of the resurgence taking place in America's manufacturing sector.”