Forty years in, and Jon DeWys is looking forward to the next 99 years.
DeWys, the CEO of DeWys Manufacturing and brother of original founder, Mark, is amazed at all the products the Marne-based company makes and industries it serves, especially following its start as a fireplace insert company.
A customer provides DeWys with a design, and if it can be made out of sheet metal, the firm gets to work. Celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, Jon DeWys expects the company to grow nearly 15 percent this year and continue to grow its employee base of 140.
“Over the years, we’ve diversified and are not focused on one particular industry,” DeWys said. “We do lots of different things to a piece of metal.”
DeWys said the company’s diversification has been a blessing over the years, as when one industry the contract manufacturer serves is down, another is up, and the company is always looking for the next opportunity. Mark DeWys started the company in the midst of a nationwide energy crisis, recognizing a need for warmth with a fuel shortage.
DeWys Manufacturing hasn’t made fireplace inserts in several decades, but the start allowed customers of all sizes begin to ask the company if it can make pieces out of metal. Jon DeWys said the company produces parts ranging from 50 cents per piece to more than $300.
Products are finished at DeWys too, as it can provide powder coating, machining and relatively new technologies, such as robotic welding, DeWys said.
“We add a lot of value to our products; we’re not just a metal stamping company,” he said.
With continued growth on the horizon at DeWys Manufacturing, DeWys is trying to lead a charge in employee attraction in the manufacturing sector. He said since the Great Recession, attracting employees has been difficult, as manufacturing has been viewed as a “dead occupation.”
“There was a perception manufacturing was going away, that we are going to be an information society,” DeWys said. “Manufacturing is very alive, and West Michigan is a prime example of where manufacturing happens, and we’re very diverse with plastics, wood and metal. We still make things in West Michigan.”
Four years ago, DeWys Manufacturing launched a program called DeWys University, meant to bring in and train, with dedicated in-house trainers, new potential employees. DeWys also works with Discover Manufacturing, a coalition of West Michigan business owners, economic organizations and local colleges to promote manufacturing to the next generation of workers.
DeWys University is a 12-week, hands-on session to train students. The company also houses a STEM lab for Kenowa Hills Public Schools in a facility adjacent to the DeWys Manufacturing’s factory. The students, grades 7-10, experience a manufacturing environment outside of a standard four-walled classroom.
“A lot of these folks are getting older and retiring, and there’s no one to replace them, but not everyone is wired to go to college,” DeWys said. “We’re focused on the XYZ generations. It’s not about us, because not every one of these kids will go into manufacturing, but we want to expose them to other parts of the world.”
Keeping the company stocked with employees is important to the future of DeWys Manufacturing, which DeWys has been at the helm of for nearly 20 years.
“The last 15 years, we’ve done big things, but I want to be in business the next 99 years, and that’s something we’re very deliberate with,” DeWys said. “If something happens to me tomorrow, this business is going to be operating and working, might hit a speed bump, but we’ll keep going.”