From the Ground Up: Midwest Job Shop’s President Continues Company’s Legacy of Giving Back
Once every quarter, Amanda Hutchings, president of Peak Manufacturing in Pleasant Lake, MI, cooks lunch for her 40 employees. Last month it was chicken pot pies. It takes her many hours and several very large crock pots, she says, but it’s something she enjoys doing. And while preparing and serving food isn’t normally something you’d expect the president of a manufacturing company to do, no one there is surprised. That’s how Hutchings rolls. When not camping or kayaking or “getting muddy,” she also enjoys taking pictures of newborns and children in her photography studio on the weekends. And of course, she and Peak Manufacturing are very active with local charities, and especially with helping young people find a career in manufacturing.
She had a good mentor. Ten years ago, Hutchings was a wet-behind-the-ears college graduate who’d been hired to answer phones and prepare marketing materials. The owner of Peak Manufacturing, Chris Salow, needed someone to help out with his own selfless activity, a non-profit organization named The Shop Rat Foundation, which he ran out of the same facility. Five years and several promotions later, Hutchings was named president of Peak Manufacturing, and chairman of the board of The Shop Rat Foundation. Salow left to take care of his ailing mother, and to pursue his other passion—a non-profit that helps villagers in Malawi. Under his direction, Echo Africa has repaired dozens of wells and constructed buildings to house visiting missionaries. As one can expect, Hutchings hasn’t seen him in the offices of Peak Manufacturing since. “Chris is one of those people that, if there's a will, there's a way,” said Hutchings. “He found a machine shop over there and was able to make repair parts for the wells, and has been using his mechanical skills to teach the people there how to improve their lives. He’s really made a difference.”
Back home, Hutchings is busy growing the company. Peak Manufacturing is admittedly old school, using Brown and Sharpe cam-operated screw machines to produce parts for the automotive and mining industries, many of which are sent to China. Yet Hutchings and her team of “hardcore maintenance staff” have worked to automate much of the machinery with auto-loaders and other material handling equipment, keeping them competitive with more modern CNC machines. The result? “Business is doing well,” she said. “We had an enormous amount of growth in 2017 and are working hard on various continuous improvement projects and expanding our product base somewhat. Still, we want to maintain a small, family-oriented culture here. For us, it’s all about the people.” That much is clear. Because even while Hutchings and her staff strive to improve their operations, the company also continues Salow’s legacy of giving. Peak Manufacturing’s latest “Charity of the Month” was the Great Lakes Burn Camp for Kids, which gives young burn victims a place to heal. Before that, there was the Jackson Interfaith Shelter, as well as the annual Toys for Tots drive and support for the Priceless Gift Toy Store in nearby Jackson.
And then, there’s the Shop Rat Foundation, a program that teaches roughly 4,000 young people each year about manufacturing. “Chris wanted to change the way people think about manufacturing, so he brought kids into the shop and started giving them cool projects to work on, like motorcycles and custom wheelie cars,” said Hutchings. “It gave them a fun outlet, but also taught them how to use lathes and mills and measuring tools.” Hutchings and the staff at Shop Rat have continued to expand the program. They work with area schools, bringing shop skills into the classroom. They hold after-school classes at different manufacturing companies, and the company is now active with the local YMCA. And they support engineering students. Hutchings hopes to hire some of these students after graduation. “There's been a lot of growth in the foundation and we’re doing a lot of neat things, but in the end, it’s really about giving kids the opportunity to learn about the trades, and open their minds about looking into a manufacturing career. Without Shop Rat, they’d probably never be exposed to it. It’s a great feeling.”