Dubuque chamber provides peek inside local manufacturing facilities

About 20 members of the local business community spent Tuesday afternoon touring the 77,300-square-foot headquarters of Morrison Bros. Co., which has been in Dubuque since before the Civil War.

“Any time we can bring in the community, we’re definitely excited,” said Rick Zillig, the company’s director of manufacturing. “We’re one of the oldest businesses west of the Mississippi River. We’ve been in the business a long time, and we support a lot of families, just on a smaller scale.”

The tour at Morrison Bros. Co. was part of a series of tours organized by Dubuque Area Chamber of Commerce for Manufacturing Appreciation Week. The company, which is headquartered on East Seventh Street, manufactures valves, nozzles and fittings for fluid-handling equipment.

The chamber-organized tours continue on Thursday, May 12. Stops at 11 area manufacturers are scheduled over the two days.

“There’s so many different industries that make up manufacturing, from coffee to pet food to agriculture,” said Justine Paradiso, the chamber’s vice president of programs and events.

This marks the first time the chamber has held manufacturing tours since 2019 due to the COVID-pandemic.

Those on the tour Tuesday heard the history of Morrison Bros. Zillig said the company was founded by the Morrison family in 1855 at Seventh and Main streets, and it first focused on making boilers.

In 1927, the company was sold to other investors, including the Glab family, he said. The business has been in the Glab family ever since, with Charlie Glab serving as the current president.

The company continues to have multiple generations of families working in its facility, Zillig said.

“A lot of people have been here 30, 40 years,” he said.

Zillig said the company has three Dubuque locations: one on East Seventh Street, one on 24th Street and the recently acquired E.J. Voggenthaler campus next to the Seventh Street headquarters. Morrison Bros. employs 93 people in Dubuque.

The company also opened a Maquoketa, Iowa, facility in 1990 to make component parts for the manufactured pieces in Dubuque. The facility since has started its own production lines and employs 32 people.

Attendees on the tour saw the East Seventh Street facility’s entire production process.

Zillig led the tour first through the engineering department, where pieces are designed. He later led a group through the foundry, where employees poured liquid aluminum into product molds.

The tour then moved into the assembly facility, where hundreds of products are tested and completed before being shipped to customers. The company tests every piece in house.

Zillig said the company faces challenges similar to many other businesses, including supply-chain issues and workforce shortages.

In the National Association of Manufacturers’ most recent Manufacturers’ Outlook Survey, 88% of respondents cited supply-chain issues as a primary business challenge in the first quarter of the year. Also, 86% cited the cost of raw materials as a challenge, and 79% thought the inability to attract and retain workforce was another hurdle.

Zillig noted that many employers such as Morrison Bros. want to hire employees with the same skill set.

“We are actively seeking employees like everybody else,” he said. “We’re really trying to tap into that part-time (job market). We think that’s a really untapped area in manufacturing.”

However, he also said business for the company is strong, with many products in high demand.

“Our sales and marketing folks are saying that the industry is heading in the right direction,” he said.

Nick Schneider, a structural engineer with Origin Design, was among those taking tours on Tuesday. He said he typically works with companies on infrastructure support needs, so it was interesting to see the production line and how products come together.

He also said he believes there is an uptick in business following the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re seeing a post-COVID surge in money being spent, which is positive,” he said. “With the supply chain, there’s ongoing issues, but it looks optimistic.”