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Honoring the American Manufacturing Worker
'Made in U.S.A.' products still provide income for many employees
Chicago Tribune
Staff Writer
July 4, 2004

The Fourth of July always seems to help Americans look inward for the great things about the United States. At one time, those great things included the seemingly endless number of manufacturing jobs scattered across the country. But what was once an economy built on American labor and agriculture has transformed into an economy stabilized by numerous industries. In fact, many of the manufacturing jobs once prevalent in the United States have left our borders and taken root in countries across the globe.

But there are still numerous companies in American making products in America. In honor of Independence Day, CareerBuilder would like to recognize four manufacturing employees who proudly carry on the tradition of "Made in the U.S.A."

Alicia Amaya, supervisor, American Apparel, Los Angeles

Since 2001, Alicia Amaya has worked for American Apparel, a clothing manufacturing company based in downtown Los Angeles.

Amaya started working at the company as a sewing working, and was recently promoted to a supervisor position.

Amaya's job includes making sure her team is complete and that they start work on time, and taking over for workers when they are absent. Initially, the promotion was a bit daunting to Amaya, but she's since embraced the new position.

"I like [the job] because you can make your own decisions," Amaya says. "For me, it's a good opportunity for changing my life."

Amaya's sister also works at American Apparel, and it was on her recommendation that Amaya initially applied for a job with the company. American Apparel commits itself to a "sweatshop-free" work environment, and the employees enjoy many benefits typically uncommon for manufacturing workers.

"They have so many choices, so many things for employees," Amaya says. "Human resources puts our kids in after school programs, and they have people here to give us massages during our shifts. They have so many things that new people don't know we have until they come here and we explain it to them, and they're surprised."

Kenny Grigar, owner, Armadillo Solar, Austin Texas

As a peace activist growing up in Texas, Kenny Grigar started his career in manufacturing when he put together solar-powered rock concerts in the middle of nowhere.

"We were basically plugging the bands directly into the sun, so to speak, using solar power," he says.

Later, Grigar relocated to Colorado and worked as a research and developer for Jade Mountain where he manufactured an array of 12-volt components for "off-grid" customers. Eventually he and his wife moved back to Texas and started their own manufacturing, design and solar installation company called Armadillo Solar in Austin, Texas.

"We work with solar electric, solar thermal and rainwater collection systems," Grigar says. "We began making our own equipment to keep the ball moving with our customers."

With solar power still considered a "fringe industry," Grigar says dealing with demand for equipment is his biggest challenge.

"We do the best we can walking our customers through the process and ensuring them about the installation," Grigar says. "They know that equipment is sometimes slow coming, but they indeed see a finished product."

Teaching people ways to become more efficient through the use of solar power is the most rewarding aspect of Grigar's job.

"I like helping our customers achieve their goals of off-grid living," he says. "We can become more patriotic as a nation if more people embraced solar power."

Elizabeth Jane Olsovsky, guitar inspector, C.F. Martin & Co., Nazareth, Pa.

If you own a Martin guitar, chances are Elizabeth Jane Olsovsky has played it.

Olsovsky, with about 20 other workers in the C.F. Martin & Co. manufacturing plant in Nazareth, Pa., are final inspectors of the company's product: acoustic guitars. Olsovsky's job involves putting the strings on the guitars, tuning them and making sure they are free from flaws.

Olsovsky also gets to be the first person to play the guitar.

"We get to hear its voice for the very first time," Olsovsky says. "I like that I'm not manufacturing something that's a negative for the world. It's an instrument, which is more like medicine for the mind and the soul. It's music. People buy our instruments as a tool for the creative entity."

Olsovsky, a former social worker, is also a musician. She plays a variety of instruments — guitar, violin, mandolin, piano, trumpet and others — and performs with a band, Big Sky, and as a freelance musician. She also performs at arts festivals and for charity benefits.

Olsovsky has been working for Martin for five years, and says she never takes for granted the opportunity to work with instruments that are considered among the world's finest.

"I don't take for granted the fact that there are many hands building these instruments," Oslovsky says. "It's a really wonderful job."

Richard Newton, owner, Newcourse Jumps, Escondido, Calif.

After coming to America from England to work for a one-year stay at a horse center in 1965, Richard Newton, owner of Newcourse Jumps in Escondido, Calif., has gone on to carve an impressive niche in the field of horse-jump manufacturing.

"I was brought to the horse center at first because the director there was English and she wanted someone to run a maintenance program," Newton says. "I then found the opportunities were endless here if you were willing to work."

Soon after leaving the horse center, Newton moved to California and was self-employed building obstacles and horse jumps. In the mid-1980s he did construction for the 1984 summer Olympics in Los Angeles and watched his business grow from rental to direct sales.

Newton is in charge of the manufacturing of the jumps — from design to construction. He says he enjoys his placed in the small field of U.S.-based horse-jump manufacturers.

"There really aren't many manufacturers in the U.S. that do what we do," Newton says. "In England everything is regulated, but in this country you're independent as long as you follow the rules of what a jump is."

Seeing horses jump his creations always gives Newton a thrill.

"When you unveil the jump and you see the smile on people's faces, then you know you did it right," he says.