The entrepreneur: an alum profile

Meet Jack Mowry, ’48 Engineering Drafting & Design Technology

Photo of Jack MowryOn paper, Jack Mowry’s two companies, Metal Craft in Elk River, Minn. and Riverside Machine and Engineering in Chippewa Falls, Wisc., employ around 225 people.

“But we think of it as 225 families,” says Jack, ’71 Engineering Drafting & Design. “We have all these families who depend on us to do our jobs, and we depend on them to do their jobs. We all work together to make a nice living.”

Jack is now semi-retired, helping his children Sean and Trisha, the current owners, learn the business.

“I don’t think I’ll ever completely leave the business,” says Jack. “I’ll always be here.”

Jack grew up in Pine City, Minn. and Howard City, S.D., with eight brothers and sisters. When a high school teacher gently told Jack he wasn’t cut out for industrial engineering, he didn’t listen. Instead, when he heard that Dunwoody was offering a six-month tool and die program to help meet an urgent industry need, he enrolled.

“At the beginning of the course they told us they’d make sure that the top half of the class got jobs, and that the bottom half was on their own,” remembers Jack, though he suspects that nearly everyone got jobs anyway. “Dunwoody gave me confidence. When I left there I had no doubt I could do whatever I wanted to do.”

Later, when he wanted to learn more about designing parts to take on more responsible work for his employer, he completed Dunwoody’s mechanical design program.

Confident that he could do even more challenging work, in 1978 Jack returned to machining and founded Metal Craft in a 200 square-foot basement with just a couple of milling machines and a saw. Shortly thereafter, the stakes went up considerably when the company bought its first CNC (Computer Numeric Control) milling machine at a cost of $39,000.

“That was more than I paid for my house,” says Jack.

Since then, his shops have evolved dramatically and kept up with emerging technology. In 1996, Jack acquired Riverside Engineering  in Chippewa Falls from Cray Research.

“The change in the equipment since I started is so dramatic,” explains Jack. “Today we machine with laser, wire and water. The changes are just phenomenal. It’s like going from the dark ages to now.”

About 25 percent of the business is involved with aerospace and defense manufacturing, and 75 percent is machining close-tolerance parts for surgical instruments and implants.

“The work we do is complex in more ways than one,” says Jack. “We have to trace every step of the job to ensure that we haven’t added any new chemicals or processes without notifying the customers.”

Today, engineers are involved in all steps of production, from quoting to processing to inspection.

“The hardest part of being in business is getting good, qualified people who can help you,” says Jack. “What upsets me most is that we don’t have enough women applying for these machining and engineering jobs. Some think that it’s a dirty, grimy job, but it’s not.  It’s a clean job, and you don’t have to bow your head to anybody, because it’s an occupation that will always keep you employed.”