The call came “out of the blue” on a Saturday night. It was from the White House and the Office of Public Engagement wanted to know if Andra Rush would like to attend the State of the Union address in three days as a guest of the First Lady, Michelle Obama.
“They had me keep it a secret,” Rush said, “like, I could tell family members, but not if I thought they were blabbermouths.”
Rush, founder and chairperson of the Rush Group of companies, which includes interior trim injection molding company, Detroit Manufacturing Systems (DMS), kept the secret, but anyone who watched the speech found out she was there when President Barack Obama called out Rush and DMS.
Two years ago, as the auto industry came roaring back, Andra Rush opened up a manufacturing firm in Detroit. She knew that Ford needed parts for the best-selling truck in America, and she knew how to make them. She just needed the workforce. So she dialed up what we call an American Job Center – places where folks can walk in to get the help or training they need to find a new job, or better job. She was flooded with new workers. And today, Detroit Manufacturing Systems has more than 700 employees. What Andra and her employees experienced is how it should be for every employer – and every job seeker.
Rush described the event to Plastics Technology as an “incredible honor” an “amazing experience”, and as you might expect, “surreal.”
“When you start out as an entrepreneur with three trucks and no customers,” Rush said, “you never think that you’ll end up with the President talking about you to the country 25 years later.”
Rush’s surprise trip to the Capitol started back in November 2013, when she met with Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and Labor Secretary Perez Thomas visited DMS. Afterwards, she was asked to speak with staff at the White House Office of Public Engagement and tell them her story for some unspecified future use.
Fast forward to January 28, and Rush and the other guests of the First Lady found themselves at a private reception at the White House before the speech, including a private tour. “It was really one of the highlights of my life,” Rush said. “I’d met the President before, but it was wonderful to meet Mrs. Obama, and I had a moment to speak with the President about what we’re doing in Detroit.”
While in D.C., Rush met again with Perez and Pritzker, as well as with Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), who attended DMS’ grand opening back in 2012.
Aiding the long-term unemployed
As for the speech, Rush was struck by the president’s call to help the long-term unemployed, a topic DMS is familiar with. “We’re leaving too many people with great skill sets and work ethics on the sidelines,” Rush said. “I’d put my workforce up against any manufacturing plant in the country, even though my hourly workers averaged 18 months of unemployment at the time they were hired. For some, this is their first job in year or ever.”
Rush believes more work could be done to help people transition from unemployment to employment. “One day you’re on public assistance at home, and the next day you’re at work,” Rush said. “You may have transportation issues, child-care issues, all manner of challenges that make it hard for you to be a reliable and high-quality employee.”
DMS, which is a joint venture with Tier One supplier Faurecia, has given full-time employment to 727 individuals, with capabilities in molding, welding, and assembly capabilities for cockpits, consoles, seats and doors. At this time, the company has 10 injection molding machines, with 14 more to be installed through April, ranging in size from 165 to 1000 tons. In 2015, the company hopes to add molding capabilities above 1000 tons, as well as natural fiber compounding.
Rush credits her employees for those growth plans, as well as her moment in the political spotlight. “At the end of the day, though, I was there because the team members at DMS and my other companies come to work every day to exceed our customers’ expectations,” Rush said, “and because the leadership of Ford Motor Company had the vision to make a long-term investment in the city of Detroit to create these sustainable jobs at DMS.”