Special edition: Q&A with Joe McClure

Growing up in the Detroit metro area, Joe and Bob McClure spent much of their childhood making spicy pickles with their family recipe, passed on for generations.

Pickling remained a part of their family lives, but as they grew up, Joe and Bob (who lives in New York) put pickling on the back burner while they pursued other dreams (Joe is a physiologist and a classically trained musician; Bob is an actor). 

Joe and his parents, Jennifer and Mike McClure, can be found at the family's pickle-making facility on St. Aubin, in Detroit (but literally across the street from Hamtramck). You can find the McClures' products, including potato chips and a bloody Mary mix, at area food shops.

McClure's Pickles and Simply Suzanne have moved into manufacturing space formerly occupied by an automotive supplier. Is this proof of a trend that new, growing businesses are filling the shoes of the automotive sector?  

Yeah, growing business can certainly fill some of the gaps left behind from the automotive sector, however they're big shoes to fill. Space-wise, our building is a great fit in a fantastic location. I feel we got lucky. It was an recently updated building but took some investment to bring it up to food code standards. Not sure if it'll be a trend or not but there are probably some other closed auto-supply houses that will turn into a budding business. 

A number of employers have publicly complained that finding good workers in manufacturing has become a big challenge after the industry has gone through a decade of shrinking. Has this been your experience?

We have seen some turn over. With certain industries shrinking, companies need to evaluate their bottom line and make sure everything is making sense, people are doing what they are suppose to be doing, make cuts where there needs to be cuts. Maybe some of the great workers previously in manufacturing are hesitant to jump back into the industry for fear of another decline. The employers complaining might not be looking to do on the job training, longer investment in the employee etc, so they're looking for people with the skills that they can bring on right away, which is a bit more difficult. Our industry/manufacturing is not that specific or training intensive so we haven't experienced too many troubles.

You recently hired a person with a culinary arts education to work on your manufacturing line. Will higher education requirements become more commonplace as manufacturing becomes more advanced? 

I'd say skilled workers will be necessary and education requirements will be job specific. For example, social media director might have a background in journalism or english and may be savvy to food but I may not put them on manufacturing, just as I may not put someone in manufacturing running social media or national sales. However, someone with no higher education may have great vocational skills/trades which is advantageous in case something goes wrong or repairs are needed. I can't tell you how valuable a good welder is. Ultimately, I try to surround the workplace with people who bring ideas, constructive criticism and positive attitudes to the floor. Manufacturing in our case is still fairly simple. If we had robots, I say yes, we need engineers with Masters and Ph.D's but we're not there yet. Plus, sales need to support that.

A number of niche manufacturing firms are betting that the strength of the Detroit brand will mean that products made in the Motor City will equal commercial success. Shinola, Valentine Spirits, Detroit Bikes and even your firm prominently place the word Detroit in their brands. Could the success of these businesses lead people to look at the word Detroit in a different, more positive light?
I think sending the image and brand elsewhere looks great as ambassadors for positive light to Detroit. However, I wouldn't bank on the fact that just because it's a Detroit brand it will be successful. The product should be placed first, location second, in terms of manufacturing.

Editor's note: This series of special editions is the result of a partnership between Model D and the Detroit Regional Chamber. 
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Read more articles by Jon Zemke.

Jon Zemke is a news editor with Model D and its sister publications, Metromode and Concentrate. He's also a small-scale real-estate developer and landlord in the greater downtown Detroit area.