WOONSOCKET — The city’s Museum of Work & Culture had some added displays about manufacturing in place on Thursday, but not about making things in the past as its main exhibits show.
The Museum was hosting displays and information tables from 25 current businesses in Rhode Island engaged in making a wide range of products or offering manufacturing services to other companies.
It was all part of the Rhode Island Manufacturers Association’s kick off of local observances of National Manufacturing Day on Friday.
“The idea is to put a spotlight on manufacturing and show that it is alive and well in Rhode Island and also throughout the country,” David Chenevert, executive director of the R.I. Manufacturers Association, said at the Museum.
The Museum, which highlights the growth of textile manufacturing in Woonsocket and its nearby communities, was hosting the kick-off for the second year in a row and helping to show that manufacturing remains a strong component of Rhode Island’s economy.
“I think it’s interesting that when people walk through the display tables, they are amazed that so many things are still made here in Rhode Island and this is just a small sample of it,” Chenevert said. The state’s manufacturers today include the big companies like Raytheon and Electric Boat, but also companies that build components for the aerospace industry, medical products, general machinery and even new technologies like wind and solar power, Chenevert said.
The Rhode Island manufacturing exhibition was a “good fit” for the Museum, Anne Conway, museum director, explained, because even though its story is about the history of textile manufacturing in the Blackstone Valley, textile manufacturing is still happening here even today.
“The Brickle Group is still manufacturing military blankets and uniforms at its plant on Singleton Street,” Conway said. Sam Brickle, the company’s founder, was even among the business people setting up tables and offering information about their company operations, she noted.
“It’s all about manufacturing and it’s also about Woonsocket,” she said.
Brickle was found talking with some of the business representatives stopping at the Brickle Group’s table on the second floor of the Museum and later explained the exposition was a good opportunity for companies to compare notes and think about new business opportunities.
“It’s a pretty good secret, but we might be the most versatile textile company in the United States,” Brickle said of his company’s different entities and operations.
Brickle’s grandfather, George Litchman, had started out in the rag business in the city and his father, Hyman Brickle, was a waste material and wool dealer before his son came along to start a family textile processing and yarn manufacturing business at 235 Singleton St. and Branch River, North Smithfield in the 1960s.
The Brickle Group continues to have operations in those locations today with companies like Bouchaert Industrial Textiles producing the padding that goes on things like saddles for horses.
Brickle Group also weaves woolen yarns like the material that is wound up to make baseballs for Major League Baseball and also woven into material for the blankets and uniforms the company continues to make for the different branches of the U.S. Military.
As the owners of other companies stopped to chat with Brickle Group’s exhibition representatives, Brickle said he was looking to “make marriages with other companies with them supplying us, or us supplying them.”
To keep a business like his own healthy, Brickle said you constantly have to think ahead to new opportunities.
“We have to change our business model every year by at least 25 percent,” Brickle said, of the ever changing needs of modern companies and their customers.
Brickle’s son, Max is now president of Brickle Group, he noted, and that allows him the time to do interesting things like meeting with other company owners at events like the exhibition, according the local businessman.
Over at the Vibco table, Lisa Huftalen and her fellow company representatives were talking to visitors about the company’s ability to produce vibration or agitation machines for just about any need. The equipment can be used to settle concrete when it is poured or help with the packing of manufactured items with protective materials for shipping, she noted.
“Our products are used anywhere you need to keep materials flowing and moving,” she said. The company’s jobs have included work on construction projects like New York City’s Freedom Tower and the World War II Monument in Washington, D.C., she said. Vibco is located in Wyoming, R.I., and employs about 100 people, Huftalen noted.
Another company at the exhibition, Mahr, makes precision measuring equipment that is used by companies in the automotive, aerospace and medical industries, according to company representative Lorraine Massarone.
“Anybody who makes anything needs precision measuring,” she explained.
The exposition also drew a visit by Governor Gina Raimondo.
“I’m here today to continue my support of manufacturing in Rhode Island and the Rhode Island Manufacturers Association,” the governor explained.
“Manufacturing is alive and well in Rhode Island and people should know that and my administration is very supportive to help these companies grow,” Raimondo said.
Raimondo also got the chance to talk with business owners and heard some, like Ellis Waldman, talk about how their companies had benefited from an innovation grant from the state.
“Sometimes they need a little bit of a grant or a job training program, investment in Davies, investment in job training,” Raimondo said.
The governor said she also wants Rhode Islanders to consider manufacturing as a long term job opportunity.
“People should think about manufacturing as a career, it can make a good career. You can start out right out of high school and make a career of it, there are good jobs and if you look around here, it’s a vibrant and growing economy and we should continue to support it,”she said.
Noting the variety of companies participating in the expo, Raimondo said from what she could see “they are all pretty much hiring, they’re willing train.
“If you have some basic skills they will hire you and they will train you,” Raimondo said.
“You hear a lot of stories of people who say, ‘I started out of high school and now I make six figures because I made a career of it.’ So I want people to think about manufacturing as a job and I want manufacturers to know that you’re welcome in Rhode Island,” Raimondo said.
Follow Joseph Nadeau on Twitter @JNad75