Really Made in the USA

February 9 2024
Steel truss
I made my son climb up to get this photo of a Hughes Brothers steel truss on a hike
Hughes Brothers flag
Hughes Brothers in the Seward 4th of July Parade – Seward County Independent

Are Hughes Brothers' products truly Made in America? Yes, they are. We begin with wood from the West Coast and steel sourced from Midwest mills. We fabricate our own bolts, and we galvanize in Seward, Nebraska. We have our own wood preservation process and forging operations. The fiberglass rods we use are solely sourced from the USA, and we have domestic foundries for obtaining our castings. All our employees work within the United States, and 99% of our products are made entirely in America.

We recently completed the hiring process for four accounting positions, two sales positions, two purchasing positions, and over 30 factory floor openings. I helped review the applications that involved departments I supervised and was overwhelmed by the number of responses we received. Our Vice President of Human Resources worked tirelessly to conduct interviews, and thanks to her efforts, we were able to find many great new hires. Once the dust settled, we got to know them better and decided we had made many good choices.

This process reminded me of how lucky Hughes Brothers is to be in the Heartland of America. Our job openings are filled quickly, and we receive many applicants. Sometimes, we even have to put up a sign that says, "Sorry, no job openings, please check back." What a great problem to have! Our reputation precedes us in the community. Besides our reputation, something else strikes me about our company: the hobbies of our employees. Though their hobbies are varied, they are not all that different. They are typical midwestern hobbies: family-related, outdoorsy, and very American, just like our company and our products.

Farming is a popular hobby for many people, as are activities such as hunting, golfing, fishing, camping, restoring cars, car racing, following our kids' sports, boating, horses, and spending time with grandchildren. Most of these hobbies involve work and even more activity. Isn't that strange? Our employees work 8 hours or more a day, standing on their feet making wood, steel, and fiberglass for the electric utility industry, and then "Oh, but it's a hobby; it's not work if you like doing it." This is why we do not struggle to find employees, the word is out in the community. It's not work if you like doing it!

It doesn’t feel like work when you are appreciated, recognized, and rewarded for your efforts. When the president of the company knows not just your name but also the names of your kids, it makes you feel valued. Our average tenure is over 15 years, which is unheard of in a company with 80% of its employees in factory positions.  

So, how do you get employees to "like" work? You may think it’s all about pay, vacations, and benefits,  but that’s far from the truth. The real factors are pride, a sense of ownership and belonging, and making a difference. Our employees can drive around Nebraska, or any state for that matter, and spot a structure or component along a road that they had a part in making. Some of them can probably even tell you the Hughes Brothers part number (guilty).

And our factory hums when the employees hear of a natural disaster from an ice storm or hurricane. Being from Nebraska, they know what it is like to be out of power and in the cold. It has probably happened to them, likely when they were young, and the memory of that is burned in their mind. It is in mine. We huddled around the cob-fired furnace for warmth on our farm when the power was out. My brothers and I changed clothes over the one working vent that heated the entire house as we got ready for school. I could walk around the factory floor and hear some great stories.

So, when asked if Hughes Brothers' products are Made in America, the answer is a resounding yes. However, we are so much more than just raw material and finished product that comes from the USA. We like to think we are the epitome of American manufacturing: American-owned and American-operated. We are made here, we live here, we raise families here, and we love it. To us, that is what it means to be Made in America.

By Larry Vandergriend, P.E., Hughes Brothers., Inc.

Larry Vandergriend, P.E., is the vice president of engineering at Hughes Bros, Inc., who has supplied wood, steel, and fiberglass to the electric utility industry since 1921, owned by the same family the entire time. He has worked in the industry for 34 years. He used to stop the car on vacations to get pictures of Hughes Brothers' structures; his family understood.