When John Schulz decided to move back to his hometown of Burlington, Iowa in the early-1990s, he was able to find a business opportunity that allowed him to combine his experiences growing up on a farm with his professional engineering background at Case IH.
He purchased Klein Manufacturing Co., a manufacturer of agricultural feed and water equipment. He re-launched the company under a new name – Flint Cliffs Manufacturing Corporation – and after a challenging period in the late 1990s diversified its fabrication capabilities, which has led to great success.
We caught up with John Schulz to learn more about Flint Cliffs Manufacturing.
Tell us more about Flint Cliffs Manufacturing and how you got into the business.
When we bought the company, the only products that were being produced were outdoor feed and water equipment for farmers. Our plan was to do additional subcontract work with companies in other industries to further grow the company. But then we had an unexpected downturn in the market when farmers stopped raising hogs outdoors and started raising them in confinement areas. With the agricultural side of our business in a decline we had to intensify our diversification efforts to make up for the lost income.
Today, we do primarily subcontract manufacturing, powder coat painting and whatever our customers need. We’ve gone through some tough times, but this year has been a record year for us and we’ve developed a customer base of over 30 customers that include ISC, American Ordnance, Case IH, General Electric, Rock Island Arsenal, Detroit Tool (formerly Industrial Tooling), Winegard and others.
Where did the name “Flint Cliffs” come from?
When we were finalizing the purchase of the company with the attorney he asked us what we were going to call the new company. Our plan had been to continue with the name “Klein Manufacturing,” but with the way the sale was structured, we had to rename the company. The Burlington area used to be home to the Sac and Fox Indians, who called it Shoquoquon, which means “Flint Hills.” At the time we were right next to a big bluff, so the name “Flint Cliffs” just kind of came to us.
How has this industry changed in the 20+ years you’ve owned Flint Cliffs?
Technology has resulted in some dramatic changes. We’ve been able to invest in new machinery that makes production much more efficient and precise. For example, we own one of the most technically advanced paint lines in a privately-owned company in the state. The 672-foot long line includes a six- stage wash system – one stage more than most companies have. We also recently invested in a five-axis machining center that is one of the most technically sophisticated machining centers in the whole state.
What do you like about banking with MidWestOne?
Our relationship with MidWestOne started when we were on the brink of starting on our first major military job. We needed some funding to set up the shop and buy the necessary tooling. MidWestOne came down to meet with us and learn more about the opportunity. They gave us the loan and that was truly a turning point for our company. Since then they’ve continued to support us. It’s been a really good relationship.