Rada Manufacturing in Waverly may be on the cutting edge of keeping small towns vibrant economically.
The cutlery maker has a steady workforce of nearly 100 employees from about a 25-mile radius to the east, west and north of Waverly who have been with the company for decades. There is a possibility of expanding into a second shift.
The success of Rada attracted attention of Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg, who visited the plant in the northwest quadrant of the Bremer County seat on Tuesday afternoon. It’s part of his and Gov. Kim Reynolds’ separate 99-county tours of the state.
The governor visited Schumacher Elevator earlier this month following the Denver manufacturer’s recent expansion.
“It gives us an opportunity to stay in touch with the people in Iowa and understand the kind of assets that we have in our state as a business perspective, but also understand some of the challenges that our industries face,” Gregg told a gathering of a little more than a dozen in Rada’s breakroom following the tour.
“I think it’s one of the best things that we do. It exposes us to new things, and we’re always learning something new.”
The lieutenant governor said among the “number of things” that impressed him throughout the tour, where he saw how Rada’s knives and other utensils are made, is the people who are part of the workforce.
“Employing about 100 people, that means opportunity for the folks here in this area,” Gregg said. “I was impressed by the quality that was done through a lot of, frankly, work that was done by hand, and some of it goes beyond just workmanship, but it’s artistic.
“(Rada Vice President Phil Jones) made that point as we were going through, some of these folks have been going at this a long time, and not only are they able to move a lot of product through, but they’re able to do so and have something that looks really good in the end and is a high-quality product for their customers.”
Jones said Rada is always happy to show off what they do for state officials.
“(We demonstrate) how we contribute to the local economy and really help revive rural Iowa and keep it all moving,” Jones said.
Sandra Rada-Aleff, a company co-founder, said having Gregg in Waverly was a “great honor.”
“I hope he enjoyed his tour,” Rada-Aleff said. “I think the number of people that we have and what he stated as the quality of work that we put out that we have dedicated, loyal people who have worked for us for many, many years” impressed him.
Gregg recognized Jones, who is also a former Waverly city administrator, as he serves on one of the state’s Empower Rural Iowa task forces.
“I appreciate his leadership beyond his involvement in this company,” Gregg added, “but regionally and statewide, and with the Association of Business and Industry, which I know Phil is an important voice in that, as well.
“We’ve had some truly outstanding discussions about how important rural prosperity is and the kind of things we need to do to make sure that we’ve got leaders that are prepared to take on leadership in our communities moving forward and what our communities look like.”
The lieutenant governor also appreciated the investment Rada has made in the Waverly community.
“It’s one thing to get together around a table as a task force and talk about it,” Gregg said, “but it’s another thing to actually do it.
“Gov. Reynolds and I appreciate what each of you do every day. We appreciate the opportunity to serve you… and these are great opportunities to learn about the businesses in our state and what we can do better.”
Mark Hanawalt, president and CEO of United Equipment Associates in Waverly, who joined in on the tour, suggested that companies in Iowa should be more active to recruit workers from other states.
“We need to quit being so ‘Iowa Nice’ and go after surrounding states and say, ‘Come here,’” Hanawalt said.
“It’s because we know we’re better anyway,” Jones quipped.
“We are,” Hanawalt replied, as the room broke out in laughter. “We’re not arrogant, but we know.”
Gregg said while the state is 2.5% unemployment statewide, with pockets of lower rates, finding people to fill jobs is difficult.
“One of things we can do is keep more people here,” he said. “Try to find ways to make connections with our school-aged kids, so that they know there is opportunity and prosperity right here in their own backyard, if they’re willing to be open to that.”
One person mentioned students at the small four-year colleges and at the community colleges also tend to stay in Iowa, too. Gregg said through Future Ready Iowa, state officials are making better connections with students in their education.
“This is a long-term play,” he said. “It’s not something that you can necessarily see results from overnight. It takes a sustained commitment and a sustained leadership over time in order to see that through and see that happen.”
Jones, the Rada VP, hoped that the greatest takeaway Gregg should have from his visit is the company is doing its part to help the rural economy.
“We, by employing people from over 25 communities in our area do our part to help keep those communities strong,” Jones said. “Folks come here, work, earn a good wage, and then come home to reinvest in their small towns.”