A fabricator’s roundtable at this year’s Fabricators & Manufacturers Association Annual Meeting, held in March in Nashville, brought up myriad topics, from the impact of fiber laser technology to advances in software. But near the end of the conversation, most roundtable participants agreed that success in fabrication doesn’t hinge on having a particular laser cutting machine or press brake. It hinges on culture.

Chris Grace, president and CEO of Russellville, Ark.-based Grace Manufacturing, agrees. Grace Mfg. offers laser cutting, photochemical etching, plastic injection molding, and wire electrical discharge machining (EDM)—an unusual combination that gives Grace a competitive edge for specific customers. The company also doesn’t lack in expertise, being known for its etching capabilities, particularly for the medical field.

Yet etching surgical products really just scratches the surface of the Grace organization. Martha Stewart—yes, thatMartha Stewart—uses and wholeheartedly recommends one of Grace Mfg.’ signature products. And in recent years Grace Mfg. has acquired various companies. It bought a small machine shop in Lodi, Calif. It also acquired several medical instrument players, including Greenwald Surgical, an Indiana manufacturer of urological and electrosurgical instruments. Most unusual, Grace acquired Sweet Dreams, a company in a completely unrelated field—high-end bedding and related soft goods. All told, the company has 110 employees working at its Arkansas plant and 215 employees working at other facilities in the U.S. and in Mexico.

Chris continues to build a diversified asset portfolio. Thing is, it’s now not just for him and his family. This year Grace became an ESOP, a company owned by an employee stock ownership plan. The better the company does, the better employees do financially.

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