Tours highlight inner workings of local manufacturers

Armed with ear plugs and safety glasses, a group of about 30 people spent part of their Tuesday afternoon learning the inner workings of Dubuque Stamping & Manufacturing Inc.

The tour was one of a dozen arranged by Dubuque Area Chamber of Commerce in celebration of Manufacturing Appreciation Week, with six held Tuesday and six more planned for Thursday, May 16. The visits gave members of Dubuque’s business community the chance to learn more about the workings of local manufacturers.

“I think it’s very important that young people realize what’s going on — not just in the industry in general but in their own communities — that they’re made aware of the opportunities that some of these great companies hold,” said Matt Spahn, president of Dubuque Stamping & Manufacturing. “Not just Dubuque Stamping, but Dubuque as a city has a tremendous amount of manufacturing that goes on, so I think it’s very important that we can continue to keep young people engaged and interested in these positions.”

Dubuque Stamping & Manufacturing crafts metal parts primarily for the construction, forestry and mining industries. As tour groups moved through the sprawling, more-than-160,000-square-foot facility on Jackson Street, attendees got an inside look at how the company operates.

Justine Paradiso, the chamber’s vice president of programs and events, said Manufacturing Appreciation Week provides a great opportunity to spotlight careers that are vital to the community but at times overlooked.

“The idea is that sometimes people forget the great things we have in our own backyard,” she said.

Paradiso said the event showcases companies that produce products locally and boost Dubuque’s economy. She likewise noted the importance of combating misconceptions about manufacturing jobs, such as a belief that they are primarily entry-level positions.

At Dubuque Stamping & Manufacturing, expansive rooms were filled with the muffled sounds of heavy machinery stamping massive coils of metal into smaller, specially shaped pieces. Staff led tour attendees through the areas where the business completes each of its services — including stamping, grinding, heat treating and machining — and then through the final inspection and warehouse area where carefully organized containers house various metal parts until they are sent to customers.

Dubuque Stamping & Manufacturing has been in the building on Jackson Street since the business was established in 1948, with expansions increasing the original footprint from 30,000 square feet to its current size.

That original footprint remains, though. Wood floors still can be found in one part of the building from when it housed J.P. Smith Shoe Co., prior to the establishment of Dubuque Stamping & Manufacturing.

The manufacturer currently employs about 90 people, Spahn said. The creation of Dubuque Laser & Fabrication in 2018, which is housed in the same complex, opened Dubuque Stamping & Manufacturing up to new markets and created a more seamless experience for customers, he said.

Spahn said the company is unique in that it can provide customers with so many secondary operations. He said that allows the company to be flexible and generally have a quicker lead time compared to its competitors.

Spahn credited the success of the company to its employees, who keep everything running smoothly.

“If it weren’t for the dedicated team that we have on the floor, we wouldn’t have the quality numbers and the on-time delivery that we have,” he said.

Vern Smyth, vice president of facilities and special projects, also pointed out the significance of the company’s location within Dubuque.

“I believe we’re one of the last remaining manufacturing facilities in Dubuque that’s still where they started — 75 years, one location on the North End of Dubuque,” he said.