Press-Seal Gasket Corp: Fort Wayne Company Seals Future with Dynamic Approach

Founded in 1954, Press-Seal Gasket Corporation has grown from a small Fort Wayne operation to a company with international reach, selling to customers in Israel, Sweden, Norway, Mexico, Canada, Japan and some Caribbean countries.

“When I first started as a salesman in 1978, I was just the 13th employee,” relays Chairman and CEO James Skinner, adding the company now has 138 on staff.

Skinner explains the company was initially founded by a concrete pipe producer who wasn’t satisfied with the quality of rubber gaskets available at the time. Ten years later following some deaths in his family, two attorneys serving as the company’s counsel ended up owning the company. They struggled to produce a reliable accounting report, so they called IBM to send a computer salesman out in 1964 to straighten it out.

“My father (Hank Skinner) was working for IBM and was sent out to Press-Seal and explained IBM could not sell them a computer because the company was too small, and the cost of the computer would have been half of its annual revenues.”

He did provide them with a bookkeeping system and a list of accountants who could keep it straight.

“Basically, they were so impressed with him that they offered him part of the business – to come in as general manager,” Skinner says. “Then over the next eight years, my father purchased the interest of the other two stockholders. Since 1964, our family has been involved in the management of the company, and I purchased it from my parents in 1984.”

Over time, the company has expanded from mainly pipe gaskets and pipe-to-manhole connectors, and in 1990 expanded into extrusion and molding. Press-Seal has also added a tool and die operation.

“That’s a similar story to how the company started,” Skinner notes. “I was unable to get good delivery from local tool and die shops because we were a small company and all the larger companies in the Fort Wayne market were their priority. So I bought a small tool and die shop in Columbia City and turned it from a small shop that was servicing the foundry and automotive industries to a shop that focuses on medical, aerospace, automotive and higher tech things. It’s now a fully integrated shop…

“It allows us to take a different tack on how things are made,” he adds, noting that stainless parts are a specialty of the operation. “While a lot of tool and die shops are going out of business these days, we are thriving. We find a lot of customers are in a lot of pain in terms of non-delivery and (a shop) not understanding the customers’ needs.”

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U.S. Not Tops in Global Technology Use

This info is a bit surprising, but according to a recent study, the U.S. trails countries like Sweden, Singapore and Switzerland in technology use. In order to make up the difference, I plan to spend the next two weekends watching hours upon hours of YouTube videos of house pets whose owners insist they are talking (they think they’re people). USA! USA! PR Daily offers:

You wouldn’t know it judging by the sea of smartphones and mobile tablets on public transportation every morning, but the United States is lagging (relatively speaking) in its use of computing and communications technology.

According to an annual study by the World Economic Forum, the U.S. finished fifth among 138 counties in technology use.

Sweden, Singapore, Finland, and Switzerland topped the U.S. in tech use. Canada ranked No. 8, and Great Britain was No. 15.

The rankings are based on 71 economic and social indicators.

A surprise: China and India each fell five places from 2009, ranking 36th and 48th, respectively.

Shaping Behavior Through Fun

A friend of mine shared this link on Facebook and I had to post it, as there is a lesson here somewhere for businesses about shaping consumer behavior — or at least promoting wellness to your staff. Thanks to the for telling the story of this staircase in Sweden. Here’s the skinny:

There is a set of stairs, with a moving escalator next to it …. both of which lead to the same spot on the floor of the upper level. At first no one took the stairs, almost 97% of the people took the escalator. Okay. I think that could be a normal expected result. Then a group of engineers got together, and decided they wanted to change the percentage around. Notice what these scientists did. Clever huh. And now they have reversed the percentages, as a whopping 66% more people take the stairs, than ride the escalator.

Although, my friend did add: "They tried this in America but someone broke their ankle, sued, and a politician tried to outlaw stairs."

IU Prof Earns Nobel Prize in Economics

A big kudos to my alma mater down in Bloomington for having its eighth affiliated Nobel Prize (counting faculty and former students). Elinor Ostrom got the call yesterday morning about receiving the award and has been granting interviews since. The Indianapolis Star explains:

In a nutshell: Ostrom has dedicated her life to exploring how humans can better manage things such as water systems, forests, fisheries — and even themselves — by being active participants in decision-making and management of resources…

Her work, which she shared with her husband, Vincent, has developed during the past 36 years of research performed at the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis, which the Ostroms founded together. She served as its director until July when she stepped down to become senior research director.

The center has researchers in more than a dozen countries — working with forest managers in 13 nations, water resource officials in the Western United States, government reformers in Liberia and peace builders in Sudan.

The key to any success, Ostrom said Monday, has been the involvement of local people who are affected and have a vested interest.

"What we have ignored is what a community can do and the importance of real involvement of the people," said Ostrom, who first observed this in Los Angeles, watching how the community worked together to solve the problem of saltwater intrusion into the groundwater systems.

School Choice Expert: It’s Not Just Low Income Students Struggling in the U.S.

Lance Izumi, senior director of education studies at the Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy and co-author of two books on school choice, addressed those in attendance at the Economic Club of Indiana lunch today.

Izumi’s primary warning to Americans is that, despite perceptions, it’s not just low income students who are struggling in the public school system. He also offered many eye-opening statistics about higher education, stating that on a national level, 6 in 10 community college students must complete remedial courses.

He advocates private school vouchers, and explains that President Obama attended a private school in Hawaii and credits his experiences there as helping to shape his ambition and talents. And yet, Izumi notes, Obama opposes public money being allocated for private vouchers.

Izumi contends it is important to separate the connection between residential location and schools, noting that many middle class parents end up bankrupting themselves in an effort to live in a nice area, yet are still let down by the public schools. He touts the successes of voucher programs in cities like Milwaukee and Cleveland, and says competition has been a boon to schools in Sweden, of all places.

Initiated in the early 1990s, Sweden’s universal voucher program has been successful, according to testimonials offered by Swedish administrators in a video shown by Izumi. In fact, they were so popular that even when a "socialist" government gained power in the mid-1990s, the program was kept in tact due to its popularity, he asserts. 

You can view the four-minute video on the New York Times web site here.

The next Economic Club of Indiana speaker will be Juan Williams on May 1. Williams is best known for his 21-year career at the Washington Post and for his work as a Fox News contributor. Get your tickets while they last.

Hodge at Economic Club: U.S. Tax Policy More Progressive Than You Think

Scott Hodge, president of the Tax Foundation, spoke to the Economic Club of Indiana today in Indianapolis. He offered some enlightening quotes:

  • "According to the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the U.S. has a more progressive tax system than Sweden or France or many other European countries we associate with oppressive tax systems. The U.S. already places a higher income tax burden on the top 10% of taxpayers than any industrialized country."
  • The irony is this:  "Despite the fact that we try more than any other country to use the tax code to reduce inequality, the OECD found that we have one of the highest levels of inequality among industrialized countries. Only Portugal, Turkey, and Mexico have higher levels of inequality."
  • "According to Gallup, 68% of Americans think wealth should be more evenly distributed and 51% think that should be done via higher taxes on the rich. Yet in 1939, only 39% favored higher taxes on the rich."
  • "One-third of all so-called taxpayers pay zero in income taxes because of the generosity of the credits and deductions that are currently in the tax code. Many of these folks not only don’t have an income tax liability, but they receive generous cash payments through “refundable” tax programs such as the Earned Income Tax Credit. In fact, the government gives out more than $50 billion in these refundable tax credits each year; in essence, we’ve turned the IRS into an ATM machine for welfare benefits." Continue reading