First Person: A California Pioneer Brings Source Manufacturing Jobs Back to Ohio
In East Liverpool, Ohio, a stone obelisk stands beside the road. It is a registered National Historic Landmark, marking the initial “Point of Beginning” for the U.S. Public Land Survey System — the point from which land west of the Ohio River was divided, allowing pioneering Americans to own property and pursue their dreams. Today, that monument is emblematic of a “point of beginning” for the return of American jobs. Californian Ulrich Honighausen is, perhaps, an unlikely pioneer who came back to America’s “point of beginning” to discover what little pottery-making was left in the town once known as “America’s Pottery Capital.” Honighausen designs and sources tableware for retailers like Starbucks and Crate & Barrel. When Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz launched Starbucks’ “Create Jobs for the USA” initiative, Honighausen was inspired. Area Development staff writer Dave Claborn talked to Honighausen about his endeavors.
AD: But now you’ve started a new pottery-making firm, American Pioneer Manufacturing in New Waterford, Ohio.
Honighausen: That's right. While I was in the Ohio Valley, I felt, rather than invest in Asia or in some other country, that maybe the Ohio Valley could compete, given the changing world situation. I found a vacant factory that had been shut down for five years and, with my Japanese partner, decided that that would be the right place to start, making different products from Clyde using more automation.
AD: So, you’re blending American and Japanese manufacturing cultures, similar to Honda or Toyota?
Honighausen: Absolutely. We can't just import their way and we can't just use our way. So I think it's a melding and it's finding that balance, which is so critical. That continuous improvement culture and the methodology that they use in Japan is incredible — and we have good mechanical people that the Japanese are very impressed with — the skills and ability, on the fly, to make something or to repair something. That is a strength the Japanese were really impressed with here in Ohio. There are so many people in towns all across America who are really clever at figuring out how to make things. We need that. The country needs that desperately because of all the people that are retiring and because there's a big gap in those skills.
AD: What got you into this? It seems there's a certain social consciousness to it, getting down to philosophical questions like, what is the purpose of business? To make a profit? Support a community?
Honighausen: You know, my father has been in manufacturing for a long time — for his whole career. He's 79 and he's still going, making aerospace parts. I've been involved in his business over the years and I've seen the economic value of manufacturing. All the tools that he was buying from local sales reps — many were made in America. All the different people that streamed through his company and all the dollars that ran through — from the boxes, the pallets, the trucking, the raw materials. There was just a lot of economic value being generated from his small manufacturing business. Then, the wages and the employment of people that — in many cases — are not so much elevated in today's culture. These are very highly skilled, very creative, incredibly talented people figuring out the best way to make things.
This is what they should be doing. I mean, the guys at my dad's company shouldn't be in a service industry. They wouldn't be fully utilized. We’re a huge country that has a need for all kinds of products. So, I guess that was my motivation. There are so many people in towns all across America who are really clever at figuring out how to make things. We need that. The country needs that desperately because of all the people that are retiring and because there's a big gap in those skills. It's like the perfect marriage. Bring all this work back and put people that want to do this back to work.
AD: How did your experience in Germany shape these views?
Honighausen: In Germany, I see all these thriving small towns — all the automotive suppliers in those little Black Forest towns. They're not dying. Those little towns are thriving. They have the apprenticeship programs that lead to a respected profession. I would hope that we could have more of that in this country because then our unemployment goes down and it's real work. It's not government stimulus. It's real work that we need.
AD: So, you’ve morphed from being a designer and middleman to running your own manufacturing plant, American Pioneer Manufacturing.
Honighausen: My wife, Amanda, is the president and she is much more the operator. She’s from Houston. She’s a tough Texan. That's why she can run this plant better than me! She lets me stay in design and sales and stay thinking about the future.
AD: You’re also involved in the local food movement?
Honighausen: That’s right. My factory is inspired not only by my dad and what I see as the economic value of manufacturing, but by the food movement, buying local. For Hausenware, what I would like to do is find other manufacturers that make products that I don't make, but that are in my industry, that complement my product line, and work with them.
So, not only is it the American story, but it's the future of the global story — that we use our global resources. Really, we're here to produce locally, for America. We may export, but there's a huge customer base here in this country and we're just producing locally, using the best skills of the world — that's really our concept. And why wouldn't we use the world? It's a small world now. We can use the best practices from anywhere in the world — but do it as close to our customer base as possible. That's really the strategy.
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