Vacuums come in all shapes and sizes. But most common is the Dirt Devil or Dyson in a home closet.
One Springfield manufacturer thinks and builds beyond the household vacuum – beyond the atmosphere, even – to imagine vacuums so powerful they can create a zero-gravity environment. These vacuums are used in simulators for training astronauts, and they’re created right here in Springfield.
Tuthill Springfield manufactures industrial blowers and vacuum pumps from its 146,000-square-foot West Kearney Street factory, supplying industries such as food and beverage packaging, water and wastewater management, and, yes, aeronautics and NASA.
“Anything that is pushing or pulling material – whether it’s ketchup or beer or chemicals or air – that’s what we do,” says Jackie Prescott, the local director of operations.
Century of service
Tuthill Springfield was founded in 1969, but its legacy dates back more than a century. It started with blower manufacturer M-D Pneumatics in 1937. The company moved to Springfield in 1969 and joined Tuthill Corp. 19 years later, Kinney Vacuum merged with Tuthill in 2002, bringing a history of vacuum production dating to 1907 and creating the fifth-generation Tuthill known today.
“We have products that literally have been sold for 100 years, and they are in wastewater aeration, carpet cleaning, brewing, dairy, food and beverage, chemical, and that’s just the blower side,” Prescott says.
During the long history, Tuthill has kept up with the evolving needs of the industries it supplies. Its products can create pressure chambers for lab-grown crystals that power computers and cellphones, generate zero-gravity environments for training astronauts or they find their way into airplane brake pads.
Prescott says that in 2019, Tuthill Springfield shipped over 10,400 units worldwide. And although it’s working globally, Tuthill strives to make an impact locally. She estimates that 80% of its suppliers are within a four-hour radius.
That American-made focus is what attracts distributors, says Jim Gasho, president and owner of Gasho Inc., which deals between $2 million and 3 million in Tuthill products per year. Pennsylvania-based Gasho Inc. has maintained a relationship with Tuthill for 35 years and also worked with M-D Pneumatics prior to the acquisition.
“We value U.S.-made products; we always have,” Gasho says.
Tuthill’s Springfield plant is one of four in North America operated by its parent company based in Chicago’s south suburbs. In addition to sites in Indiana and Florida, Tuthill Corp. also operates in the United Kingdom and Mexico.
Roughly 170 are employed in Springfield – some of whom have been with the company for up to 30 years.
“Over 60% of our operations team has 10-plus years of seniority,” Prescott says. “That stability on our operations side has helped us get through tough times like we’re getting through this year.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Tuthill Springfield, considered an essential business, enacted new safety and sanitation protocols while navigating a 20% downturn in revenue this year. Officials declined to disclose annual revenues. An already distanced manufacturing floor helped avoid significant disruption, although the staff has been reduced to 32-hour workweeks.
Prescott and Tuthill Springfield President Tony Thill attribute their team’s health and ability to avoid layoffs to the company culture. Since 2015, Tuthill has followed what it calls The Compass, a mission centered on teamwork, accountability and “inviting a powerful aliveness,” which Prescott explains is a person-centered approach to working that encourages getting to know your co-workers and discovering how they bring joy and passion to the workplace.
“Culture is lived here,” Thill says.
Prescott believes this dedication has helped overall adherence to new safety measures.
“I believe they’re doing that because they care about each other; they care about the total business,” Prescott says.
The impact is felt beyond the walls of Tuthill Springfield.
“We care for our employees,” distributor Gasho says, “and if we didn’t feel the same way with Tuthill, we probably wouldn’t do as much business with them.”
To the streets
Tuthill has made a point to extend its legacy beyond its four plants through Care Partners, an initiative focused on employee-selected charitable organizations. Tuthill has a matching donation program for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and for Los Angeles-based Team Rubicon, and it sets up fundraisers and what Thill calls VTO, or volunteer time off.
Thill, who joined Tuthill Springfield as president in mid-July, says he was drawn to the role by this employee engagement. He previously worked as president of CamCorp Inc. in Lenexa, Kansas, which has a fabrication plant in Willow Springs.
Thill says he’s equally as enthusiastic about recruiting new workers to the industry, noting the varied career opportunities in the manufacturing field, especially as more experienced workers face retirement.
With a companywide rebrand in the works and involvement in the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce, Thill is going all-in on recruiting new hires for its open positions.
“We want people to find us,” he says, “if we don’t find them first.”
A former employee in the food service industry transitioned into a first-time business owner; grocery chain Aldi made its Branson debut; and Ozark-based nonprofit Garde’n Gate Provisions opened a thrift store and donation center.
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