Constructing the Future of U.S. Manufacturing

By Michael Araten
August 12, 2014
Michael Araten, President and CEO, K’NEX Brands and The Rodon Group

With K’NEX, Lincoln Logs and Tinkertoys, children can build from their imaginations and open their minds to the worlds of science and engineering. As my company created these products for kids, many years ago our minds were opened to another complex subject: the math behind producing them in the United States.

Since 1992, our subsidiary The Rodon Group has helped K’NEX Brands make this a reality, manufacturing more than 32 billion bricks, rods and connectors at our plastic injection molding facility in Hatfield, Pennsylvania. We sell many of these toys at Walmart. So when the company announced its $250 billion U.S. manufacturing commitment, we were thrilled – because we were aligned with a retailer that’s acting on a cause we’re passionate about.

Last August, we attended Walmart’s first U.S. Manufacturing Summit, meeting with state representatives and connecting with like-minded businesses on the challenges of making more products domestically. Now that it’s time again this year, I’m excited that we’ll not only be attending, but playing an even bigger role.

This Thursday, I’ll be speaking on stage with Jim Stephen, CEO of Weber, at the second annual U.S. Manufacturing Summit, and I’m eager to share K’NEX’s story as well as some practical advice for other companies. While the case for manufacturing in America has been presented by many, some businesses remain skeptical that there are advantages. And we know firsthand the journey isn’t always easy. For example, although we quickly saw the major upside of bringing products to our customers faster, we discovered there were several minor supply chain details we weren’t up to speed on, like the proper thickness of a box, the ideal inks for packaging, and others that we had to replicate in a cost-efficient way.

Offstage, I’m excited about the connections we’ll all make. At The Rodon Group, we not only make toys – we also make about 5 billion parts a year for industries from home construction to food and beverage. So we’ll be sharing those details with companies who are interested, and we’ll also be seeking our own partners, too: We still import our toy motors, and if we can find a company at the summit that can make those domestically, we’ll reach 100% U.S. production on virtually every K’NEX item.

Given that I’ve said last year’s summit was like LinkedIn for U.S. manufacturing, I’m confident that those connections will be made for not only K’NEX, but hundreds of other companies assembling their dreams right here in America.