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How an Entrepreneur Became the Go-To Spokesman for U.S. Manufacturing

Drew Greenblatt, president of Marlin Steel, routinely gets covered in the media, testifies before Congress, and writes and speaks nationwide--and could be an example for you.
Marlin Steel president Drew Greenblatt sits on a panel about 'Exporting for Growth' in October 2011 at The Washington Post in Washington, DC.
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Drew Greenblatt is almost as much in demand as his products. His Marlin Steel Wire Products, a Baltimore-based manufacturer of precision engineered wire-baskets and sheet-metal fabrications, hit the Inc. 5000 list for the sixth time in 2012, with a three-year-growth rate of 33%. At the same time Marlin has been racking up sales, it's also been racking up attention. This year alone the company has been covered by dozens of media outlets, ranging from local and technical publications to The New York Times, NPR, Fox Business, PBS NewsHour, The Huffington Post, NBC Nightly News, The BBC News Channel, Reuters and (of course) Inc.

Marlin Steel attracts attention for several reasons. Located in a rough inner city, the $4.4 million company is a made-in-America shop that exports to China and Taiwan. It's a scrappy turnaround story. And it uses recycled steel and sophisticated technology, including RFID and robots. But Greenblatt has also become a go-to guy for journalists reporting on U.S. manufacturing. He downplays his role as a thought leader, insisting that it's the message--not the messenger--that resonates.

"We're not going to get out of a recession by having a lot more burger flippers and accountants and lawyers and consultants and baristas," says Greenblatt, who sounds articulate with passion, not rehearsal.

"We're going to get out of it by creating a lot of middle-class jobs, and manufacturing is a tremendous way to accomplish that. It's a compelling story, like motherhood and apple pie."

Among the first things to snag the world's attention was Greenblatt's testimonies before Congressional committees. Since 2005, the CEO has appeared on Capitol Hill to lend expertise on the growing role of robots, the effects of trade policy on job growth, the Paperwork Reduction Act, and regulations he believes impede small business growth. Greenblatt attributes those invitations to his energetic participation in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers--and to Congress members' first-hand experiences with Marlin.

"We've invited a lot of Congressmen and Senators from both parties--we're agnostic--to tour our factories and see that we create jobs," says Greenblatt. "When they come here they understand the story. They get it."

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, for example, made the rounds in May.

Greenblatt's testimonies and the factory tours led to a White House visit in 2008, when President Bush summoned a handful of manufacturers to share real-world perspectives in the wake of Lehman Brothers' failure.

Greenblatt is also a prolific author of editorials in trade journals and in publications like The Baltimore Sun. He speaks at conferences and workshops around the country, which has garnered him local coverage in places like San Francisco and Wichita, Kansas. He makes presentations at universities and think tanks like The Aspen Institute. Everywhere he goes he speaks passionately but without vitriol.

"It builds on itself, because when people hear something that sounds right they want to hear more," says Greenblatt, who views the company's dizzyingly long in-the-news page as a kind of "diary of us trying to explain the American manufacturing renaissance."

Time-consuming though it is, thought leadership is just a sideline for Greenblatt, who works 70-to-80 hour weeks to accommodate Marlin's operations as well as all those meetings, speeches, and interviews.

"It's a lot," admits Greenblatt. "But I'm having fun. And if I can have a small impact in improving America, what a neat thing.

IMAGE: The Washington Post/Getty Images
Last updated: Oct 30, 2012

LEIGH BUCHANAN | Staff Writer | Editor at Large, Inc. Magazine

Leigh Buchanan is an editor-at-large for Inc. magazine. A former editor at Harvard Business Review and founding editor of WebMaster magazine, she writes regular columns on leadership and workplace culture.




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