Prime Cast is on the right track

Darlene Burns, project manager for Prime Cast in Freeport, Illiois, can see an upswing coming. Burns was instrumental in bringing Prime Cast to Freeport.

Prime Cast is a division of Americast Technologies, and their specialty is building the undercarriages for passenger railcars. After Prime Cast finishes each undercarriage, it is sent to Super Steel in Milwaukee, where the car body is mounted on it.

 Until recently, Prime Cast was helping build gallery cars for the Chicago Metra system, but they have been awarded a new project, and will now work on a new generation of Electric Multiple Unit (EMU) bi-level cars for Metra. The cars are self-propelled and use alternating current instead of being pushed or pulled by a diesel locomotive. Burns also said they have several option orders that are “waiting for funding” and that Americast is now marketing the Freeport operation to manufacturers worldwide. At this time they aren’t involved in the manufacture of locomotives or freight cars, but she expects that to change because of the additional marketing. She also alluded to a “new product” that the plant will be working on in the fall.

 Burns is also enthusiastic about Freeport itself. She says that she was impressed by the availability of well-trained workers in the area. “Even the building and docking facilities [at the former Thermos facility on Rt. 75] were exactly what we needed…Overhead is much lower here than in communities closer to Chicago.” Burns noted that the facility even came with a ceiling crane, a piece of equipment that they needed in place before starting production. “The community has accepted us openly,” she concluded, “and has been very helpful.”

This company profile was published as part of a feature series profiling local companies for the Freeport Ink.  

Full Power–Ultrasonic Power is cleaning up

When you visit Ultrasonic Power Corporation, you find a good sign of the kind of company you’re dealing with as soon as you enter their conference room. Glass bowls sit on the table, filled with Legos for hands to busy themselves with during meetings. That’s an appropriate activity for a company that can credit much of its growth to taking familiar pieces and applying them to new jobs and new forms.

Located on the west bank of the Pecatonica River at the site of Freeport’s former passenger train depot, Ultrasonic Power has been producing a unique cleaning technology since 1973. The company started in Trenton, New Jersey, but was bought and moved to Freeport by local resident Robert Schnoes. Schnoes had retired from his position as CEO of Illinois Central Railroad Industries, and had bought Freeport’s railway station from the company as part of his retirement package. At first UPC operated out of the station, but now their operations are housed in a more modern technology center just south of it. Schnoes now serves as Vice Chairman of the 100% privately held company, and his wife Dolores serves as Chairman.

The company’s main product combines a simple process and gee-whiz engineering to clean virtually any object that can be immersed. Customers place the object to be cleaned in a liquid bath. The bath used is determined by their particular needs and can be a detergent, solvent, or de-ionized water. One or more Vibra-Bar® transducers then generate ultrasonic sound waves above the range of human hearing. The waves travel through the liquid and create microscopic bubbles on the surface of the object being cleaned. When the bubbles can no longer maintain their form and collapse, the liquid rushing in to fill the void strikes the surface of the object being cleaned, and this loosens dirt and contaminants. This “scrubs” the object in every spot that the liquid reaches.

The object in question could be almost anything that needs cleaning, and that leads to some interesting engineering challenges. Ultrasonic Power has produced immersion tanks ranging from 6 to 240 gallons, and their systems clean everything from Venetian blinds to oil refinery equipment to golf clubs, from surgical instruments to band instruments. Two Marine Bands and the band at West Point use Ultrasonic Power’s systems, and Servicemaster uses them to clean smoke-damaged objects. The ultrasonic equipment can also be installed as an integral part of a customer’s plant. In one plant, Ultrasonic Power equipment using 16,000 watts of power is installed astride a monorail that carries parts through the cleaning system. Transducers can be installed in pipes to keep the inner surfaces clean.

In at least one case, they even clean nuclear waste. At the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington State, a robotic crawler is used to clean contaminated tanks. Periodically, the crawler is sent into a cleaning tank where it is decontaminated by Ultrasonic Power’s transducers. The company also manufactures cell disruptors, machines that use ultrasound to break animal and plant samples apart so that their internal chemicals can be more easily analyzed. These disruptors are an important aid in pharmaceutical research.

Ultrasonic Power’s President, Steven Klinger, credits part of their recent upswing in sales to these innovations, citing the company’s reputation for fast custom work and durable products. He says he prefers to be “modest” about the sales figures, saying only “We’ve been busy,” and noting that Ultrasonic Power has benefited from the recent gains in the manufacturing sector. About 30% of their business is from exports, and globalization and Internet marketing are helping the company’s growth. “The world is evolving a global economy, and we’re certainly trying to capitalize on that, to reach economies that are growing quickly,” Klinger says.

Operating with a “lean philosophy” is also crucial, according to Klinger. Being small (with 30 employees) is helpful in itself. “It forces you to be lean,” Klinger says, “because everybody wears multiple hats.” One of the chief responsibilities of their manufacturing manager, Christopher Sperry, is to implement lean manufacturing operations, and the company has eliminated excess inventory and continually refines their production methods. Their competition uses low-cost foreign labor, so keeping costs low is essential if Ultrasonic Power is to compete.

But the most important element is people, according to Klinger. “The secret to our success? Educated, dedicated employees.”

This company profile was published as part of a feature series profiling local companies for the Freeport Ink.

Does Consultative Selling Work?

An interesting take on business-to-business selling, but to some extent it applies to consume marketing as well.  Here, Inc’s Geoffrey James says that when you sell, you’re basically auditioning to manage a part of your customer’s operation. How’s your audition? If you need help making it better and giving your customers that solid “We need to hire this person” feeling, give me a call.

Why Consultative Selling Doesn’t Work
Forget becoming a trusted adviser. Customers want a manager not a consultant.

William Wallace Speaks

This speech was written for an actor portraying the great Scottish patriot at an outdoor history event for high-school aged Boy Scouts.

Hello! I hope we are all met together as friends, this bonny evening. My name is William Wallace, and I’m here tonight to tell you how I helped Scotland become a free nation.

A little more than 700 years ago we Scots had our own king, and we were at peace with our English neighbors. When our king died without leaving any children, we even invited the English King, Edward Longshanks, to help us resolve the problem. Our noblemen thought he’d be a neutral party, but he took advantage of the situation and before we knew it, Edward Longshanks said that he was the king over Scotland! When we rejected his claim, he invaded Scotland in 1296 and conquered our land, making our nobles swear allegiance to him.

We made sure his victory was short-lived. Early the next year small armies of Scots sprang up like thistles growing out of the earth, revolting against the English. The men we led were an unruly mob at first, but I and other Scottish leaders turned them into a real army, maybe the fiercest army the world has ever known. In September, a force of 2,500 Scots went to Stirling Bridge to stop an army of 10,000 English and Welsh.

The fancypants English commander thought we Scots were just a rabble, a bunch of brawlers with swords. So instead of trying to flank us, he sent his men across a bridge that was only about six foot wide. We waited until over 5,000 of them had crossed the river—outnumbering us two to one—before we charged. The enemy dogs who had crossed the bridge were terrified at the sight of thousands of screaming Scots rushing down on them with our huge swords. They fought, but they were no match for us, and when they tried to run, there wasn’t room on the bridge for them. The bridge was too narrow, and other men were still trying to cross it to help them. Some of them had the sense to throw off their armor and swim back across the river, but more than 7,000 of their men fell that day. Longshanks found out that his fancypants commander was no match for the angry Scots whose country he had stolen.

Not every battle went as well. The next year Longshanks himself defeated my army and Scotland fell to the English again. For seven years I was in and out of hiding, fighting a guerilla war and even going to France to ask for their help. Then, in 1305, a Scottish traitor helped the English capture me. They put me on trial for treason, and I laughed, telling them I couldn’t commit treason against Edward Longshanks, because he was never my king. They didn’t think it was funny, and they showed me their dislike of my joke by executing me. Aye, they could have just said they didna’ like it!

But just a few years later our king, my old friend and comrade Robert the Bruce, took another outnumbered army to Bannockburn. He faced an army of 20,000 men led by Longshanks’ son, and after the raging Scots were finished only a handful made it home alive. Scotland would remain free until we willing joined with England 400 years later. Before the battle Robert gave a speech to his men and he honored me by beginning it with these words: “Scots, who fought and bled with Wallace…”

Let me remind you, laddies, before you go: Freedom is always worth the fight. For what can you do without freedom? What can replace it? Think on that!

“Mounting Debt” 30 Second Radio Spot

We open with a close-up of a steep, ice-covered cliff.

SFX: Shrieking wind (under and throughout).

An arm wielding an ice axe swings into frame and the axe bites into the cliff surface.

SFX: A grunt and axe striking ice.

The camera begins to draw back in a smooth, continuous movement. We see a mountain climber, weighed down with equipment and struggling his way up the cliff. Brilliant blue sky is visible behind him. Soon we see the person he’s talking to is a Sherpa guide, also struggling up the cliff. The mountain is large and very steep and the men are becoming very small as the camera slowly zooms out.

CLIMBER: Keep moving! We must be close to the summit!

SHERPA: It’s never seemed this steep before! And so high…it’s almost as if there’s more mountain every minute!

CLIMBER: (with a laugh) That’s crazy! I’m sure everything will be fine!

As the camera pulls back, we see that the men aren’t climbing a real mountain, but are climbing up a labeled line chart of the national debt (similar to this one) with a top that soars out of sight. Clouds drift by between us and the chart.

FVO: America’s national debt is over 14 trillion dollars now. Your personal share is over 46,000 dollars and climbing. Isn’t it time for a change? (Pause) End The Debt Coalition is responsible for this message.

Southwest’s New Ad Brings Up Some Questions

Interesting to see Southwest going in a very new direction with their advertising, and the opening shot is pure beauty, because it looks great and establishes the brand right out of the gate. This ad has been (rightly) described as the sort of thing one of the big legacy carriers like American would put forth. It could almost be from a different planet than my favorite series of Southwest spots, the “Must Be Football Season” campaign. You can tell from the first moment that there will not be anyone brained with a thrown pineapple during this campaign.

But if you read what management said to the New York Times, they believe they need a new focus because they have become the largest domestic carrier in the U.S. and because the previous ads were “one-dimensional.”

Some questions about your business: Has growth or some other change altered your status in your field? Is a new approach needed or even just desired because of that? Has your marketing been one-dimensional? Or have you had the opposite problem and you’ve been sending your audience multiple messages? Could you use some focus or polish?

Give me a call and let’s see what we can do together to make things happen for your business or organization.


Christopher Clukey
Accurate Impressions
128 N. Bailey Avenue
Freeport, IL 61032
(815) 232-2120

War Monument Worth Saving, Let’s All Chip In

You may have read in Tuesday’s Journal-Standard about a new effort by Ron Werntz to raise funds for the restoration of the Soldiers’ Monument at the courthouse. I’d like to ask you to support Ron, because his vision may just bring us the breakthrough we need.

In a sense, the monument is our face to the world. Postcards have featured it for decades, it has appeared on promotional publications of every type; it’s even the featured photo on the Wikipedia page for Freeport. I find this to be quite appropriate. It embodies what I once described as the “humble greatness” of our city and county.

It’s built of local limestone, not marble or polished granite, and yet it soars. The statues of fighting men arrayed around it represent the four divisions of combat arms of their day: artillery, cavalry, infantry and Navy. Designed to represent typical veterans from our area, you might say they represent the “grunts” of the time. Yet the men they represent made great sacrifices, braved great dangers, traveled great distances and accomplished great things, and proudly stand seven feet tall as a result. Their features were intentionally designed to be Germanic, to represent the many humble immigrants who came from that part of Europe to the shores of the Pecatonica with little or nothing…and proceeded to build everything.

Most importantly, it holds 3,156 humble names. Names like Adams, Brewer, Haas and Putnam. Not princely names, just the names of guys who knew their country needed servants and said, “Here am I, send me.”

A humble handful of local citizens have been doing great work against daunting odds to raise money for the restoration and raise the profile of the monument. They need our help to get over the hump and pay proper honor to those names. The estimated cost of restoring the monument and once again placing a statue of Victory at its peak is about $150,000.

I think we can hit that goal by crowdfunding it.

Crowdfunding seems like a new Internet buzzword, but it’s just a new form of the individual investing used to fund large projects for centuries. English expeditions to the New World were often funded by individual investors; we crowdfunded polio out of existence by asking each child to donate a dime to the effort. Eighty-five million Americans crowdfunded 16 million servicemen and women in WWII with war bonds. Today, sites like Kickstarter have allowed people from across the planet to pool their funds toward creative or charity projects, sometimes with astonishing results. When cartoonist Rich Burlew started a Kickstarter page to put one of his “Order of the Stick” books back into print he ended up with over $1.2 million in pledges. Most of the pledges were in the $10-25 range. Game designer Monte Cook set out to raise $20,000 to publish a new game and is at $500,000 and counting.

There are over 47,700 people in our county. If we each donated $5, that would fund the monument with $88,000 left over. We have approximately 1,100 employers and over 2,500 “non-employer establishments.” What if each of those nearly 4,000 businesses donated just $50? What if each non-profit in the county held an additional chili supper or silent auction? What if every classroom in the county adopted this cause? The County can also add to these monies from its budget.

Together, with minimal sacrifice, we can honor the greatest sacrifices of all. Come to the Freeport Public Library on Monday at 6pm and let’s get started!

You’re the boss, it’s your MONUMENT. Learn it, live it and support it!

“Changing the Culture” Radio Spot

It is now ____ days until the election.

Together, let’s build a County Board culture that respects you and values teamwork. Let’s focus on achieving financial stability instead of chasing fads. And let’s put a turnaround plan in place that makes return on investment for your tax dollar our top priority.

We can do better and with new fiscally conservative leadership, we will do better. With your support, we can make meaningful change.

I’m Joe Candidate and I approve this message.

“The Better Path” Radio Spot

It is now ____ days until the election.

What is the path to a better Stephenson County? First, give the county government back to the taxpayer. Second, protect the taxpayer’s wallet. Third, reverse the trend of more and more debt and fewer deputies.

We can do better and with new fiscally conservative leadership, we will do better. With your support, we can make meaningful change.

I’m Joe Candidate and I approve this message.

“One Sheet of Paper” Radio Spot

It is now ____ days until the election.

Can we afford to continue a “wait and hurry up” approach to major financial decisions? In May 2006, County Board members received just two sheets of paper regarding the Mill Race loan, in January 2012 they received just one sheet. In both cases they were told they needed to vote right away, and your board piled on almost 10 million in new debt.

I believe you deserve better. With new fiscally conservative leadership, we will do better. With your support, we can make meaningful change.

I’m Joe Candidate and I approve this message.