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Guest Columnist: Jack Healy

Growth and Innovation: 100 Years of Manufacturing at Quabaug Vibram

Coverage of the celebration:
Vibram Takes Locals on Factory Tour for Its 100th Birthday

Anyone interested in understanding how a Massachusetts company can be a viable manufacturer for 100 years should have attended Quabaug Vibram's "Celebration of 100 years of Manufacturing" at their innovation manufacturing facility in North Brookfield MA.

Proudly joining Vibram's 100 years of manufacturing anniversary (L –R): State Rep. Donnie Berthiaume; John Killam, MassMEP President; Mike Gionfriddo, President Vibram USA; State Senator Ann Gobi; Congressman Jim McGovern

Vibram is a worldwide leader in high performance work and fashion footwear. Last year it acquired Quabaug Corp., its U.S. manufacturing and distribution partner since 1965. This acquisition has brought substantial new investment to Quabaug to ensure a continuation for the next 100 years. In 2016 alone, Vibram invested $6 million in new machinery and machine upgrades. This ensures modern production capabilities and that Quabaug's innovation and institutional knowledge remains in the United States.

The investments include replacing 30-year-old machines with new and technically advanced presses to allow materials to be produced with better efficiency and quality, and faster response times to meet new customer demands.

Vibram's commitment to the future includes an investment in people:

MassMEP project manager Jim Gusha demonstrates that Vibram's Artic Grip footwear "really works."
  • Continued hiring for all aspects of the organization, including sales, marketing, human resources, manufacturing, and finance, with a focus on recruitment related innovation of talented designers: mechanical and electrical engineers and chemists.

  • A state workforce training partnership with MassMEP to provide Lean education to all 300 plus Vibram USA employees, as well as training in plant layout and quality management.

  • Establishment of outside educational growth programs in partnership with Worcester Polytechnic Institute for project management, University of Massachusetts Lowell for material science, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology for innovation management.

Michael Gionfriddo, President and CEO of Vibram USA, makes the point relative to building and ensuring his company's future, "We continue to rely upon new and young talent who bring technical degree's from top universities with majors ranging from engineering to chemistry and physics to drive Vibram's innovation projects in the U.S."

Hard work, talent, and innovation are what have allowed Quabaug to survive the loss of the New England shoe industry and the 16 recessions and 2 depressions it has experienced during its first 100 years of operations. Mike is not looking to change the formula going into the future.

Currently Vibram is a worldwide leader in high performance soles and producer of "Vibram Five Fingers" and other premium rubber products. Vibram is pushing the bounds of sole technology on icy surfaces that will change winter footwear with it's "Artic Grip Sole" for Wolverine Brands.

In an Interview with the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, Chris Favreauu, Vibram's Vice President of Innovations and Operations described that rubber toeholds are not just for shoes,
but have applications for other manufacturers such as Ironglad impact gloves, the palms of which use Vibram technology to improve the safety of workers handling materials slick with oil.
Vibram supplies a number of different rubber products for the firefighter, forestry industry, oil and railroad workers, and steel workers or other environments that require safe transaction performance.

Quabuag has now grown to 300 plus employees; it ranks in the top 8% of manufacturers in our state. Quaubaug has also developed a number of market franchises, such as providing 99% of the soles for the U.S. military. Congressman James McGovern (MA-2), in speaking to the assembled group at the anniversary celebration, noted that during his visits to our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, he was proud to tell the soldiers that when they look on their soles of their boots, the octagonal label shows they were manufactured in his district.

Quabaug Vibram values its users and knows that continued competitiveness requires investments in infrastructure and workforce as well as a commitment to the creation of new and improved products. Recognizing that such innovation drives growth is no secret and now many companies around the world have embraced robust levels of innovation within their organizations. 

The following list of manufacturers that are neighbors of Quabaug are holding Manufacturing Month events to promote careers in manufacturing and to recruit potential new job candidates. This listing reflects the emphasis that today's manufacturing Industry has on innovation:

Open House Date  Company Town Topic of Tour
Oct. 20 Incom, Inc Charlton Innovation
Oct. 24 OFS Inc. Sturbridge Innovation
Oc. t25 Schott Lighting Southbridge Innovation
Oct. 25 Karl Storz Charlton Innovation

Many small to medium size manufacturers often lack the resources of the larger manufacturing firms when it comes to identifying and adopting the latest technologies or production practices. This can preclude them from developing "innovation programs for growth" in their respective firms. When that situation arises, MassMEP can play an important part in assisting such firms with commercialization, assessing technology readiness levels, matching and connecting to new technologies, as well as connecting manufacturers to the national research labs.

Firms interested in developing an "innovation program for growth" should do so by contacting the MassMEP Growth and Innovation Manager, Peter Russo at peterr@massmep.org.


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