Made in Tri-States: As Dubuque company marks 75 years, focus remains on employees

Dubuque Screw Products Inc. PHOTO CREDIT: Dave Kettering

For three-quarters of a century, family bonds have been a defining part of conducting business at Dubuque Screw Products.

President Matt Scherr and his brother, Billy Scherr, represent the third generation to lead the company.

Their grandfather Robert co-founded the company in 1946. Mike Scherr, Matt and Billy’s father, started working at the company in 1965 and later became company president. He now serves as chairman of the company’s board of directors.

Mike reflects on his early days at the company, when he helped out with payroll. Just a high schooler at the time, he quickly noticed an oddity: In lean times, the company’s co-founders wouldn’t cut themselves paychecks, instead choosing to keep up on bills and, more importantly, ensure their employees were paid.

“They were making the co-workers and the company itself the higher priority,” Mike recalled. “They decided that, rather than getting their own paycheck, they needed to take care of their co-workers and build the reputation of the company. It is something we’ve looked back on many, many times.”

As Dubuque Screw Products celebrates its 75th anniversary, the company is guided by the principle that its employees — whom members of the Scherr family refer to as “co-workers” — are an extension of the family.

In recent years, the Dubuque Screw Products family has grown at a rapid clip.

The company moved to its facility at 6500 Chavenelle Road in 2008, which offers triple the square footage of the previous location. The relocation ushered in a period of major growth.

“We have built the space and opportunity for additional work and doubled our staff in response,” Matt said.

Dubuque Screw Products employs about 60 workers. Despite the influx of new hires, Matt Scherr said the average length of service is eight years and 15% of the staff has been employed there for more than two decades.

“In an industry like ours, a lot of this is tribal knowledge,” he said. “You really need that longevity in your team to train and support the newcomers coming in.”

DIVERSITY IS KEY

For decades, Dubuque Screw Products has prided itself on serving a wide range of clients from a variety of industries.

“We learned very early on that getting involved with a single company that is 50 or 60 percent of your business just didn’t work,” Mike said. “Diversification is one of the things that really was, is and will continue to be a strength of the company.”

The company’s products are made for customers in the electrical, construction, defense, agriculture, transportation and utility industries. The company has a nationwide reach, although much of the work stays within a 250-mile radius. These clients range from sizable corporations to small, mom-and-pop shops.

Most parts made in Dubuque become part of something larger, Matt said.

“It can range from a tractor you see in the field or on a job site, to a piece of furniture, a firearm or industrial switchgear used to power mobile sites,” he said.

The company purchases raw materials and uses computerized numerical control machines to create the components desired by their customers. Matt Scherr explained that employees use a “language machine code” to control the movements, RPM and feed rates of various cutting tools, which ultimately will shape the raw materials to the specified geometry.

Through the years, the company primarily has grown via word-of-mouth, with past successes laying the groundwork to acquire new clients. Billy Scherr said the company also has been willing to accommodate rush orders, meeting needs in a short period of time.

“We realize that, without our customers, we don’t have anything,” he said.

BRIGHT DAYS AHEAD

Long before it became a career, working at Dubuque Screw was a special part of Matt and Billy’s childhood.

“I started off part time in high school, finding time to work between sports,” Billy said. “I would always come to the shop and work with the guys before I went to school.”

The middle brother in the family, Dan, also worked at Dubuque Screw for about 25 years.

He played an instrumental role in the company’s growth before pursuing another career path.

Seventy-five years after the business began, Matt Scherr believes there are promising days ahead.

He noted that many businesses struggled with supply chain issues caused by the pandemic and, as a Midwest company, Dubuque Screw has an opportunity to take advantage of the circumstances as corporations re-evaluate their needs. Moreover, after a year when many projects were put on hold, Scherr believes businesses could be playing catch-up.

“We see a great opportunity for manufacturing in the (U.S.) to surge over the next three to five years,” he said. “Our plan is to maximize that opportunity.”

Matt emphasized that the business is continuing to embrace change and incorporate automation, steps that will be key to its future trajectory.

Even as the world of manufacturing grows more complex, however, Dubuque Screw leans on simple traditions to maintain a sense of camaraderie among employees.

Each Monday, one of the employees will serve lunch to the rest of the staff. Matt believes the tradition sets the tone for the week ahead.

“We think of it as a sports team breaking bread together before a big game,” he said.

His father believes the weekly occasion is emblematic of the company’s overall character.

“Change is the lifeblood of any company, but along with that, there are a set of core values you have to live by,” said Mike. “We have a responsibility to our customers … but our first responsibility is to the people that we work with.”