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Women leaders in Minnesota manufacturing address state of industry

What do Minnesota's women manufacturing leaders have to say about the state of this essential industry?

Manufacturing is significant in Minnesota’s economy, and our state’s talent ranging from the C-Suite to those working every day in highly technical and automated processes continue to accelerate the productivity of our manufacturing sector. The Minnesota Chamber's 2021 Manufacturers' Summit luncheon panel featured women leaders in manufacturing and their paths to leadership. Panelists included:


manufacturers' summit


These inspirational leaders explored the growth of their companies, the challenges and opportunities they face and the opportunities to expand manufacturing careers to underrepresented groups including women.



Lori Lori Davies, President, Clow Stamping Company

Brooke Lee: I know we all have COVID fatigue here, but I'd be remiss if I didn't ask how you managed your businesses or the areas of your business you're responsible for over the last 18 months. Lori, can you talk a little bit about how COVID affected Clow Stamping Company? 

Lori Davies: In short, it set us on our ear. It's been an interesting ride, no doubt. Pre-COVID, we were just at about 500 employees hoping to get up to 520, and we saw our orders drop off by over 50%. Our workforce for about six weeks dropped down to 24 to 30 hours a week. And then we had about a week of normal and have been in mandatory overtime since then further behind than I ever thought I would see in my life. Certainly, had anyone told me what it was going to look like, I would have absolutely said no way...I will say that our leadership team has been remarkable, really pulled together, learned trial by fire.  

BL: What about at Clow Stamping, Lori, what are you doing to retain and hire?  

LD: We have a long, a long history of employee longevity, and we have had a pretty consistent, everybody gets kind of the same thing every year, as far as an increase. And so a 19-year person makes more than an 18 and on down the line. We're really starting this year to focus on that. We appreciate the longevity of those employees, but we really need to start making that shift and focusing on the workers that we're trying to attract into our business and what it is that they're looking for in employment and opportunities and benefits.


laura Laura Ekholm, Executive Vice President, L & M Radiator

BL: What are some ways that your company is planning and looking forward [on workforce]?

LE: I'm doing a lot with apprenticeship programs with the kids coming out of high school and even older folks and trying to work in conjunction with some of the community colleges. We've got a few really successful programs where, especially kids coming out of high school, they can work 20 hours a week. Then we send them to class time learning 20 hours a week and they come out of that with a welding or a machinist certificate. That's really working well, not huge numbers, but [it's] setting ourselves up for the future. That will work with people and try to bring people up from the high school that those aren't alternative to going to four year college. That's a really big push for us right now.  

BL: How are you recruiting women to come into manufacturing? What avenues are you taking? Are you speaking to specific groups of women? How are you recruiting?

LE: [We're] just trying to really explain it at the middle school and high school level, we do a lot of hands-on going to the schools for different career days trying to get the teachers and the professors of the schools to know about L & M. We do a lot of tours. We have a,work-based learning program. [We're] trying to get the word out that that manufacturing is more interesting than what your parents think maybe is, is our message.  


Angie Angie Wordell, Executive Vice President, Operations, Graco

BL: How are you recruiting women to come into manufacturing? What avenues are you taking? Are you speaking to specific groups of women? How are you recruiting?

AW: What we've done is we've tried to ramp up our internships because again, that's a way that we get people to come to Graco. What we've done is we really opened up our recruiting for female engineers. We've tried to make sure that they see us and they apply. Again, we've got our female people are grateful that they can share with them the experiences, and it really helps them to connect to us. We've definitely ramped up the number of females this last year. I think we had like 40 engineers and 15 of them were females.

BL: How is Graco expanding in Minnesota? 

AW: We're currently expanding in Dayton. If you drive by there it's a 535,000 square foot facility. We're moving two of our divisions from our Minneapolis location to Dayton for basically future growth, we're keeping one division in Minneapolis so that they can grow. It's really just an expansion of growth opportunity for us. That should be done August of this next year. We're really excited about that.