Kelly McDonald is raising funds to help other small towns launch their own factories.
Don’t tell Kelly McDonald you can’t go home again.
McDonald was raised in Wabasha, Minn., a city of 2,500 people located on the banks of the Mississippi River. She pursued her professional career in law and insurance in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul before returning to Wabasha to care for her elderly parents.
Wabasha is known as the film location for the popular films Grumpy Old Men and the sequel Grumpier Old Men, starring legendary actors Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. It is also home to the National Eagle Center, which attracts about 10,000 visitors per month.
But it’s a far cry from big city life.
“When I moved back, I thought, ‘What am I going to do?” said McDonald.
It didn’t take her long to figure out what Wabasha and many other small cities across America needed – small-town manufacturing.
McDonald started a company called KIS Fashions in 2009. Originally, she offshored her manufacturing to China, India and Mexico, but she quickly realized doing so was more trouble than it was worth. She also didn’t feel comfortable with offshore labor when she could put Americans to work in the manufacturing field, even in a city as small as Wabasha.
“I was doing everything overseas and I just didn’t feel good about it,” said McDonald. “We are a cut and sew factory and I have nine employees in house and another nine ladies that work from home cutting and sewing our products.”
KIS Fashions originally made handbags and some ladies apparel. When McDonald decided the company should bring its manufacturing home, it morphed into the moniker America USA (AMUSA). McDonald found an old museum to house her small manufacturing facility, and it wasn’t long before the KIS line of products was put on hold.
That’s because McDonald ended up doing a large volume of work for inventors who wanted their products Made in America.
“Now we’re doing all kinds of things,” McDonald said. “We make leather handbags, men’s totes and weekender bags. We make men’s hunting apparel and pet products that are sold to veterinary clinics. We make furniture handles for an American-made furniture company. We just do a number of things that can profitably be done in small cities across America.”
And that’s where AMUSA comes into play.
“AMUSA has been up and running for two years now and other small towns have contacted us saying ‘Hey, can you help us?’ Offshoring is heartbreaking, so to be on this end of this we are really excited to reach out to other small towns and help them,” McDonald said.
And now that is the goal of AMUSA. The company launched an Indiegogo crowdfunding effort on Sunday to help other small cities get funding to start small American-made manufacturing businesses. The goal is to raise $75,000.
“Made in America seems to be a real movement these days,” McDonald said. “U.S. materials are better, the quality is better, the delivery time is better. China is just going to ruin the entire design. There is an honesty level that goes into it and so it’s wonderful to be able to work with these American companies.”
McDonald regularly attends a Minnesota factory focus group, where they gather information on a plethora of different factories, including steel fabricators, printing companies and tool and die makers.
“One of the interesting things during the focus group is one of the questions that was posed, with the presidential election coming up, is anybody going to benefit from any one candidate? I had to say yes, I think we are benefitting from [Donald] Trump being ridiculed for having his products made overseas,” she said. “It’s bringing more attention to American-made products.
“I love that there is a dialogue about American-made products coming out of this election campaign.”
McDonald has tried the overseas manufacturing option and has discovered that small-town American manufacturing is a blessing to workers who have difficult commutes and other restrictions. Her business model also helps employ workers that have lost their jobs to offshoring.
“I can see this growing pretty quickly once word gets out there and we get funding from this campaign we are doing,” she said. “I know a lot of people need the funds and we’re here to help them. We want to see things spring up everywhere.”