FAIRBURY, Neb. — The American flag flapping above the McBattas Packaging and Printing building on the north edge of town is unremarkable as flags go.
At 3-by-5-feet, it’s not especially large. Its colors, of course, are the standard red, white and blue, and it has 50 stars and 13 stripes. But unlike $4 million worth of Old Glory replicas that were sold in the United States in 2013, this flag was made in America — right here in Fairbury, in fact.
Fred Arnold, owner of MSA Brand Products, which began making the flags in mid-2014, said that’s a big deal symbolically and economically. “We started with one person sewing part time and now we’ve got about nine (employees),” Arnold said. “For a town this size, that’s a lot.”
Not quite 4,000 people live in Fairbury, and neither it nor Jefferson County has a formal economic development entity.
Both fall under the purview of the Southeast Nebraska Development District, and the district’s executive director, Dave Taladay, says towns like this are especially reliant on existing businesses to innovate because the prospects of, say, attracting a large manufacturer are slim.
“For some communities, just hanging on is economic development,” Taladay said. “If people like Fred Arnold can create and maintain new businesses, those are the ones that make it work in smaller towns. If it can work, they find a way.”
Arnold and Peggy Galloway, MSA Brand Products’ new business development manager, agree and have taken matters into their own hands. Like Arnold, Galloway is a Fairbury native. She left a job with an architecture firm in Lincoln after living there for 20 years to come home and help stimulate the local economy.
“This isn’t just about making flags. It’s about bringing jobs back to this community,” Galloway said. “We’ve lost so much business here over the years.”
Vise-Grip pliers, manufactured for more than 80 years in nearby DeWitt, Nebraska, have been made in China since 2008. Fairbury Brand Meats’ famous red hot dogs have been made not here but in West Point, Nebraska, since Wimmer’s Meat Products bought the once-local company in 2004.
MSA Brand Products also recently submitted an application to the Flag Manufacturers Association of America, a 14-year-old, six-member organization that certifies flags made in the U.S. of domestic materials with all manufacturing in U.S. facilities with American labor.
The U.S. flag makers trade group is small but mighty, says Chairman Reggie VandenBosch, who is also vice president of sales for Pennsylvania-based Valley Forge Flag. By its own math, the FMAA represents “somewhere between 80 and 85 percent of the industry (production) volume” of U.S.-made flags.
By Cole Epley / World-Herald staff writer