E. Iowa manufacturer thrives producing custom-made parts
FARLEY, Iowa (AP) – During the past 21 years, East Iowa Machine Co. has proven that a manufacturer can accomplish big things in a small market.
The manufacturing company — known to many as EIMCo — arrived in Farley in 1999. It steadily has grown its footprint and workforce, establishing an outsized presence in a community of just more than 1,500 people.
Within EIMCo's 130,000-square-foot facility, employees convert raw materials into finished component parts and assemblies. These products ultimately are used in a wide array of large machinery, including combines, tractors and trucks.
"The components we make are things that most people wouldn't recognize," CEO Mike Burgess told the Dubuque Telegraph Herald. "They are all very specific to what (the customer) wants."
The company's ability to consistently meet those needs allowed EIMCo to grow from a two-man operation into a major manufacturing operation with 150 employees.
EIMCo was founded in 1992 by Rick Hoffman, who now serves as chairman of the company's board of directors. The business originally operated out of a small facility in Dyersville, with Hoffman and his brother serving as the only two workers.
It remained in Dyersville for seven years before moving to its current facility at 800 Drill Point Drive SW.
The building originally spanned 60,000 square feet, but it has expanded on five occasions since. The largest of these efforts — a 50,000-square foot-expansion in 2012 — brought the overall square footage to 130,000.
The growth of the facility mirrors the overall trajectory of the company itself.
Burgess said sales have grown by about 10% annually for the past five years and the workforce has followed suit.
"We generally hire five to 10 people every year," he said. "We have perpetual job openings, and we are always looking for good people."
These hiring efforts have continued amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a rarity in a manufacturing sector recently defined by layoffs and decreased production.
Burgess believes one of EIMCo's greatest strengths is its ability to weather economic storms, whether prompted by a health crisis or a financial one.
"One of the biggest things we have going for us is the diversity of our business," he said. "We are in a number of different markets and have a diverse set of customers."
Burgess said no customer accounts for more than 17% of EIMCo's revenue, while no individual market accounts for more than 20%.
Such diversity makes EIMCo less vulnerable so the ebbs and flow of the economy. If the agricultural market is down, for instance, the infrastructure or material-handling sectors might be up.
Burgess believes a willingness to invest in both engineering and automation has allowed to company to continue moving forward.
EIMCo has three engineers on staff, plus management personnel with engineering backgrounds.
The company also invested heavily in automation, a commitment that has increased productivity and efficiency.
Five years ago, EIMCo had just a few robotic systems. Today, there are about 15.
"The jobs that don't require as high of a skill, we automate those as much as possible," Burgess said. "That allows us to allocate the human resources we do have to the higher, value-added jobs."
EIMCo's ongoing success and community-minded approach have garnered the respect of local economic development leaders.
Dan McDonald, vice president of existing business at Greater Dubuque Development Corp., believes EIMCo's presence has had a positive effect on other local manufacturers.
"Much like a fiercely loyal sibling or friend, they are very loyal to the manufacturing community and the Dubuque area," McDonald said. "They are engaged in every program, at every open house and always willing to share ideas."
While growth and innovation have changed the company, many things about EIMCo have remained familiar.
Burgess emphasized that many of EIMCo's customers have worked with the company for decades, with some dating back to its founding.
The same can be said for the workforce.
Burgess said EIMCo successfully avoided the retention and turnover issues that plague so many manufacturers. Many workers have been with the company for more than 20 years.
Situated in a small community, EIMCo draws workers from a 50-mile radius. Many employees might have little connection to Farley beyond their place of employment. That's why it is so important for EIMCo to make their facility feel like a second home.
"There is a real family culture here," Burgess said.