GRANITE CITY — In 1980, Mike Mittler was figuring out what he wanted to do for the rest of his life.
“At that stage, I wanted to be an auto mechanic and I wanted to be involved in cars,” Mittler said. “So I remember having a big and long drawn-out discussion with mom and dad at the kitchen table.”
On Jan. 20, 1980, Mittler decided to become an entrepreneur. He teamed up with his brother, Paul, and co-founded Mittlers Brothers & Tool, a manufacturing company in Wright City, Mo. He later became the owner of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series team, MB Motorsports.
“We met at my mom and dad’s house at the kitchen table again,” Mittler said. “We’ve got a firm discussion and on Monday morning, we opened up a 2,500-square-foot building and started Mittler Brothers Machine.”
On Friday, Mittler got a chance to share his experiences of owning a manufacturing company in front of hundreds of high school students at the third annual Manufacturing Day at Southwestern Illinois College Sam Wolf Campus.
“For those of you who are considering a career in manufacturing, I really encourage you to think about attending this facility (SWIC) or another community college that will serve you because you do need some additional education behind what you get in high school and I think that’s very important,” Mittler said. “It will serve you well.”
For four hours, about 600 students from 14 high schools, including Granite City, got to hear Mittler’s 10-minute speech on manufacturing, toured the newly renovated precision machining technology, electrical/electronics and welding technology labs, tested their skills with a virtual welder and talked with more than 20 manufacturers.
“It’s a big event,” said Brad Sparks, SWIC dean of technical education. “I always say that this is one of the largest events in the state. I know it’s certainly one of them and it may very well be the largest event. To have this many high school students come and be able to mingle with this many manufacturers on one day is truly special.”
The event was presented in partnership with the Illinois Manufacturing Center, Madison County Employment and Training, the Southwestern Madison County Chamber of Commerce and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.
SWIC held its first Manufacturing Day in 2013. Mark Bosworth, who is the industrial technology coordinator at SWIC, first came up with the idea of having Manufacturing Day at the SWIC campus.
“Our goal the first year was to get 200 high school students here to tour our facility and their hard tool machine,” said Bosworth, who has been working at SWIC for eight years after working for 13 years at Ranken Technical College. “That year, we had over 500 students and we had other companies come aboard and give students tours and other companies were also here. It’s been successful for three years straight now. We continue to grow.”
Mittler Brothers is also continuing to grow. The company now has 60 employees and makes parts for metal fabrication tools, industrial automation and racing products.
“We’ve got about 60 people who are working for us today and we have people who work in all different disciplines,” Mittler said. “We have people who do engineering and we have people who do computer programming. We have machinists and we have welders, we have fabricators and we have electricians. We many different trades who work for us. There are a lot of opportunities in manufacturing regardless of what your interest may lie in. If you have an interest in any of those fields, there’s a great opportunity in manufacturing.”
The company makes bead rollers, dimple dies, aircraft tools, bench presses and metal-forming hand tools, among others. Those tools are used to create products sold around the world, including a variety of parts used in auto racing.
Mittler became the MB Motorsports owner in 1995. Kenny Irwin, Carl Edwards, Justin Allgaier and Mike Wallace were among the top drivers who raced for the team.
“I can tell you that manufacturing has been a very rewarding career for me,” Mittler said. “To build a company with 60 people to come to some national acclaim with our products to travel around the world to service our customers and start up and sell our machines has been very rewarding to me.”
Mittler gave the high school students some important advice about the manufacturing business.
“It’s unbelievable what manufacturing has brought us today,” Mittler said. “Don’t let anyone tell you that manufacturing is dead or don’t go into trade or don’t go into that part of the world. Manufacturing is alive and well in the United States and it’s a lot of what made this country great and it’s a lot of what will continue to make this country great today.”