Made in Eastern Iowa: M's in Monona rides out the waves of ag manufacturing
A simple walk of M's Machine & Manufacturing, on the western edge of Monona, reveals a company steeped in the traditions of family but also watching for what's to come.
"In this latest downtown, we’re just coming out of it now, we’re just seeing the upturn now," said Candace Drahn, vice president at M's. "In 2009 and 2008, is when we saw the downturn before. We’re coming out of it stronger now and we’re diversified now but we see all of the other companies pull in at the same time. As soon as the ag market goes down in that area, they pull their work in-house as well."
Drahn is part of the family-owned business and it's also a rare operation, being one of the few female-owned and operated manufacturing firms in the region.
"We do a lot of castings," said Drahn. "We manufacture parts for local companies, from Waterloo, Cedar Rapids, Iowa City and we also produce out to Minnesota, Wisconsin and Daimler trucks, out in South Carolina and North Carolina. A lot of CNC machining. We produce parts according to their specifications."
With about 30 employees, M's doesn't see much turnover and also has plenty of workers who have logged decades of experience, going back to when M's opened its doors in 1981. Northeast Iowa still has relatively low unemployment, which can make filling positions a battle.
"It’s (hard) to find quality people and keep quality people here," said Casey Drahn, a president at M's. "That’s the struggle to actually put out good parts and keep (people)."
Through two expansions since 2000 on the facility in Monona, M's also has the constant challenge of ensuring efficiency throughout the operations. Candace Drahn acknowledged some automation in the production line but people still make the critical decisions.
"Our machines are doing a lot more than they used to so, instead of just drilling a hole in a vertical machine, you’re getting a sub-spindle machine that turns the part over for you, takes out the operator," said Drahn. "We don’t have the robotics here yet but there are a lot of nice applications the robotics are used for. The machines are doing a lot more than what they did."
The Monona Chamber & Economic Development recently recognized M's for a 2016 "MPG Day" to offer an open house demonstrations on tours of the present and future of manufacturing.