Putting People First

Morton Industries
Written by Robert Hoshowsky

The world has changed considerably over the years, but Morton Industries’ commitment to its customers and employees remains strong decades after the company was created. A superb, motivated team continues to offer customers the finest in tube and sheet metal fabrication.

With a who’s-who of some of the world’s biggest original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and premier construction, mining, and agriculture businesses (including Caterpillar and John Deere) as clients, the company founded by Verden Rinkenberger in 1946 keeps revolutionizing itself to meet today’s industry needs.

Starting out as a weld repair shop, Morton Industries expanded into its present specialties in the 1960s, finding its niche with fabricated tube assemblies and the highest of quality tube and sheet metal fabrication. Privately held with no outside financial investors, Morton has forged its reputation as a trusted one-stop company for products and services from bending to laser cutting, welding and painting, and a lot more.

With about 90 percent of the company’s business in tube fabrication and the remaining 10 percent sheet-metal fabrication, Morton keeps evolving alongside its customers. With many OEMs moving to outsource their component manufacture – such as tubing – and focusing instead on assembly jobs in factory, Morton is perfectly placed to benefit from these changes in the industry.

“Subsequently, as their markets grew, our business grew,” says Morton’s President and Chief Executive Officer, Chris Ober. Now with the company for a decade, he has held these positions for the past three-and-a-half years.

Made to order
Backed by skilled staff, decades of experience, and significant investment in equipment and technology, Morton Industries primarily serves as a trusted build-to-print contract manufacturer.

Collaborating with engineers at an early stage on each project to ensure that design of parts is optimized, the company ships mainly to customers in the United States. As a proud Made-in-America company, Morton Industries is perfectly placed to take advantage of the fact that tubes are difficult to ship, which makes them great product to build in the U.S. “The majority of our sales occur in the Midwest, with some products going down into the Southwest and the Southeast,” says Ober.

Employees – the best investment
For Morton Industries, a crucial factor in the Illinois-based company’s expertise remains its dedicated staff of about 600 full-time employees. From office workers to human resources, accounting, salespeople, purchasing, employees performing measuring and cutting, welding, skilled trades servicing capital-intensive factory equipment, toolmakers, maintenance, general labor including painting, cutting, tube-building, CNC operators, welding, and engineers working with customers at the design phase – phew! – it’s their combined efforts that make Morton Industries successful.

“A lot of times, the perception is somebody running a machine, but it’s really very broad,” Ober says. “Manufacturing is a very broad spectrum, and brings in a lot of talent in different areas. Three of our management team have all gotten their MBAs by working here, and started in lower-level positions, even on the shop floor.”

A big advocate of promoting from within, Morton’s team includes welders and painters who went on to university, earning degrees in engineering and other disciplines. By positively enabling employees, a surprising 60 percent of salaried staff have at some stage received internal promotion, which says volumes for the stability and application of both workers and management.

Realizing that, with even these opportunities for improvement and advancement, skilled staff are in short supply, Morton Industries is taking other proactive steps. Along with fostering strong relationships with local high schools, the company opened its new Weld Training Center in 2019. Located at 1400 S. Main Street in Morton, the off-site facility was created specifically to train existing staff, who receive MI welding certification upon successful completion, becoming full-time welders.

“We have outstanding employees at Morton Industries who want to learn new skills and advance their careers,” said a media release, quoting Ober at the opening. “Providing the Weld Training Center supports our company’s desire to have the most engaged, skilled workforce in the industry.”

Training the Morton way
With five different weld booths and manned by a full-time American Welding Society-certified trainer — a dedicated individual promoted from within — students receive extensive training. Employees from all three shifts have the opportunity to sign-up and learn the art of the weld. While welders can be sourced from outside the company, there is always a question of being a good fit within Morton’s strong company culture. Recognizing this, the company believes taking existing staff and training them to be great welders is the way of the future.

“That way, you have the best of both worlds,” comments Ober of the company’s weld training center, which will see somewhere between 13 and 17 aspirant welders receive training at any one time. “The difference is, we are sending people who we know are going to be a great fit in our culture, and getting them the skills, as opposed to finding the skills, and trying to integrate them into our culture. When we do that it is very deliberate, and we are putting a lot of investment into building the right workforce here.”

Sharing out the credit, Ober praises the efforts of many others in the company, including its full-time skills trainer, full-time weld trainer, full-time recruiter, and Steve Stewart, director of organizational development. With Morton Industries for just a year, Stewart has spearheaded some new and effective initiatives, including investing in people, one of the company’s biggest competitive advantages.

After all, any company can buy the latest and greatest technology, but what truly separates one company from another is its people. “If we want the competitive advantage of being the world’s premier tube-fabrication supplier to our customers, our people are what will help us get there,” says Stewart. By elevating staff and providing them with plenty of opportunities for personal and professional growth, Morton Industries maintains a high retention rate, and proud company culture.

Powered by people
Hands-on both internally and externally, Stewart is involved with a number of Central Illinois-based community boards, including manufacturing groups and economic development councils. Within the company, a group of 16 employees are currently going through servant leadership, a 12-week session where employees look inward at themselves through personality assessments and a 360-degree assessment of those working with them, and reporting to them and their managers. Receiving beneficial feedback, and undergoing Emotional Intelligence and Strength Finders, employees learn about themselves, including such helpful ‘soft’ subjects as dealing with conflicts.

“It’s about getting people to have a great experience, providing personal development and growth opportunities, and moving in the same direction,” comments Stewart, who says the company also conducts DISC assessments, similar to well-known Myers-Briggs personality tests.

“We as companies work hard to improve safety, quality, productivity and cost — those are the things we measure and work to improve — but do we ever work on improving our productivity of working with each other? Most companies don’t. How do we improve our productivity working with each other? All these things come into play. Through personality assessments and personal development training, Morton employees are better able to understand one another’s style, deal more efficiently with each other, and learn more about ourselves and hopefully have a better work experience and environment.”

In the community
The company is well-known for its generosity, giving back to local initiatives such as the local hospital, Easter Seals, Junior Achievement, youth sports teams, and more.

Other ways Morton helps include sponsoring a local high school robotics team, and involving itself with CareerSpark (https://www.gppathways.org/gp-careerspark/), a group promoting manufacturing careers in the community. With about 5,000 eighth grade students attending, one unique hands-on activity involved students making a small figure out of metal, including fabrication and laser cutting, and carefully bending it so a pencil could balance on it. If the student was successful, the figure would stand up just right.

Another successful event, the Discover Manufacturing Career Expo, allows high school students to tour Morton Industries along with four other local manufacturers each year. The high school students visit with employees at a number of career stops, including sales, engineering, machining, laser cutting, welding and others.

Future business
In addition to its main Illinois facility of approximately 380,000 square feet, Morton opened a new 40,000 square foot plant in Texas about two years ago. Realizing some of its bigger clients are moving from the Midwest to the Lone Star State, the company’s expansion will better serve growing markets.

Since Morton is so vertically-integrated, the company is able to respond to customers effectively and professionally. “What that does for us is, it allows us to have deep engagement with engineering,” says Ober. “If they can dream it, we can generally do it, quickly and competitively.

A problem can be an opportunity
Morton emphasizes that being a great manufacturer means being great in a crisis. Especially when it’s not of your own making. “A customer never knows a part is going to break, and if they are out in the field and a multi-million-dollar mining truck is waiting out in the field idle, Morton industries is often the go-to, getting that machine up and running.

“It really has to do with our vertical integration, our early engagement, and our ability to respond quickly to the needs which are quite great in our industry, all the way from prototyping to service.”

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