SBA Administrator visits Mearthane, top RI exporter

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Mearthane Products Corporation (MPC) off of Comstock Parkway in Western Cranston manufactures products used daily around the world, including, according to President of the company Peter Kaczmarek, the inline skates that will be used by the performers in this year’s closing ceremony of the Olympics.

Their success in recent years as one of Rhode Island’s biggest exporters earned them the recognition of the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Rhode Island Exporter of the Year, and also prompted a visit from the President Trump appointee Linda McMahon, who heads the SBA and is the former CEO of the WWE wrestling enterprise.

Kevin Redmond, who invested in MPC in 1998 and became its CEO in 2008, has i focused on expanding trade and export business, according to a brief biography on the SBA’s website. 

During a presentation to McMahon before her tour of their facilities, Kaczmarek said that MPC is a $9 million company and in 2017 they exported 53 percent of their total sales.  He also said that they’ve been supported in recent years by the State Trade Expansion Program (STEP) through the SBA, which gives businesses money to reduce project costs and help expand their export business.

“Please keep that grant going,” Kaczmarek said to McMahon during the presentation, expressing how helpful the SBA funds have been in helping MPC expand in recent years.

MPC had their struggles since being founded in 1965, Redmond admitted, but because of SBA-funded trade missions and a new focus on exporting more of their goods worldwide, in markets like Asia and South America, they have been “on the upswing” in recent years.

Kaczmarek also explained to McMahon what kind of products they manufacture out of their one facility in Cranston, including materials used for the hatch seals in nuclear submarines. MPC also makes cattle tags used on farms in Oklahoma, inline skates worn by 79 % of the winning skaters in last year’s world championships, and a component to the colored printing press that they sell to Hewlett-Packard.

“Those are made right here in Cranston, Rhode Island,” Kaczmarek said proudly about the inline skates.

During the tour of the facility, MPC marketing director Alejandro Martinez said that their sole manufacturing plant makes more than 500 varieties of products, all made in that one factory before they are shipped out.

“I just love seeing how things are made,” McMahon said to Kaczmarek about her visits to manufacturing plants around the country that fit the small business model.

During the tour of the facility, on an otherwise normal Thursday workday, the representatives from the SBA got to see firsthand how Mearthane products are made by their workers and the heavy machinery in the factory. 

“Mearthane has taken advantage of several different kinds of SBA loans,” McMahon said in an interview after the tour.  “This was a great place to come, it’s a great American success story.”

McMahon pointed out that MPC had a time when their business shrunk, but they’re now “back on the path to growing their business” through adding accounts and focusing more than before on marketing and social media.

McMahon said that her understanding was that they were going to expand their plant and they might be able to utilize the SBA again for that expansion.

This visit is part of the SBA’s “IgniteTour,” which she said has a few goals: learning firsthand about businesses, like she did at Mearthane, and also to raise awareness about the SBA to people around the country.

“[We want] to make sure that SBA becomes known for not only what most people think, which is that it’s all about loans and having access to capital,” she said.  “Understanding the breadth of the services it provides with understanding the counseling and mentoring and the Emerging Leaders program and our veterans programs.”

McMahon also advocated on behalf of President Trump’s policies, including tax reform and regulatory reform.  The budget proposed by the President this week cuts roughly $43.2 million, or 5%, of the SBA’s current budget.

She said that the SBA is focused on working on labor force development through government agencies, especially keying in on improving their reach to rural marketplaces and starting more women-led businesses.

Kaczmarek, who also serves as Mearthane’s chief operating officer, seemed to be optimistic about the small manufacturing business as a whole.

“Small manufacturing is on the way back up,” he told the representatives from the SBA.

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