VAN WERT — Kennedy Manufacturing Co. celebrates 100 years in business this year. Four years ago reaching that milestone didn’t seem likely.The company started in 1911 by railroad engineer Howard Kennedy was ready to shut down in 2007. Kennedy made a metal suitcase for his tools since the leather ones of the day didn’t protect his tools well while travelling. Forays into other products like electronic equipment cabinets in recent years left the company spread too thin and financially struggling. Technically, the tool box manufacturer did shut down in May 2007. JVA Partners, an investment firm from Chicago, bought the company’s assets and resumed operations under the name KMC Holdings. JVA Chairman John Veleris said the company was in rough shape then, but he and his partners saw an opportunity to save it.“The opportunity we saw was to fix the problems the company had been exposed to,” Veleris said. “It was indeed in dire straits. We know how to manage situations like that.” He said JVA’s holdings include similar manufacturing operations.“We believe in the American Dream,” Veleris said. “Part of the American Dream is making a product we consume in this country, in this country.”In 2007, Kennedy had more than 100 employees, now it has around 80. A big cut was made right away when JVA decided to focus on tool boxes and drop the other lines that hadn’t panned out, Veleris said. For those remaining employees, challenges lay ahead.“The first thing we did was work with our union to inject more flexibility in our operations,” Veleris said.”Our common goal was to save the business and keep it local.”The next step was to address customer concerns and right the ship.“Customers were very upset at that time,” Veleris said. “We met with the customers and we laid out a plan that allowed us to systematically solve the problems,” he said. “We improved quality, We redesigned some of the product attributes that were prone to fail in the field.”As the economy soured, employees agreed to reduced hours to keep their jobs. Now they are working extra hours to keep up with demand. In fact, Kennedy has hired about five people in the last few months, General Manager George Garifalis said.Veleris is proud to say the company is doing well.“The fact that we have survived one of the worst recessions we have seen and on top of it were able to pay, for the first time in recent history at Kennedy, bonuses, for the first time last year, is an accomplishment I’m very proud of.”Garifalis said the company’s success is the result of a partnership of the owners, management, employees and local officials.“I can’t say enough kind things about the city and the county who from the very beginning have been very cooperative in working with us,” he said.
Tara Cutlip, 21 and pregnant with her second child, was shot and killed Saturday in her Bahama Drive home. Loved ones gather in front of Tara's home to remember her and speak out against domestic violence.