Early in this episode of The Women of American Manufacturing, Carroll Thomas shares her feeling that “you never get tired of listening to [manufacturers’] stories,” and after recording and listening to this episode, I will never get tired of hearing hers! This magnetic, thoughtful woman has undeniably left her mark on American manufacturing. Come listen for the inspiring journey, stay for the Jelly Bellies at the end.

Why Carroll Thomas is a woman in American manufacturing worth knowing

Carroll has met thousands of manufacturers throughout the US because of her roles at QVC and MEP, the Manufacturing Extension Partnership. In fact, one of the manufacturers she assisted through the MEP was directly responsible for supplying the US Navy Seals with equipment that helped capture and execute Bin Laden.

But, perhaps more noteworthy than her direct impact on small and mid-sized manufacturers across the country is Carroll’s level of care for the people in this industry. In the episode, she shares a heart-wrenching story about a manufacturer she knew closely who failed, and how that powered her drive to ensure that small US manufacturers be supported. You can hear in her voice when she names the people in her many stories just how much Carroll admires, empathizes, and believes in them. She took (and still takes) their struggles and pains to heart– which is why she has worked tirelessly to help them through tough times, including the 2008 recession, the pandemic, and more.

A surprising thing that came out of the conversation

Carroll’s most memorable manufacturing company visits were to an onion ring factory, where the workers cry for about 15 minutes at the start of each day, and then get on with their job (wild!), as well as to the Poopin’ Moose factory in Alaska, which had the #1 product in the country in the late 90s.

Key Takeaway: The more we can connect manufacturers with each other, the better

Carroll calls her experience building the MEP Network a “dream come true,” particularly as it helped American manufacturers communicate and allocate resources more effectively during the pandemic (think PPE and ventilators). With an unpredictably huge jump in demand, a limited number of manufacturers already producing these materials, and a thinned and slowed supply chain, having this network already set up was a saving grace for the country. Nobody could have predicted just how badly it would be needed in 2020, but Carroll had the foresight as Director of the MEP to design and build a program that worked and continues to work today.

She affirms that giving small and medium manufacturers resources to connect with each other enables them to ask for help more easily, share knowledge and capabilities, and therefore strengthens the entire industry. This will also help manufacturers digitize sooner, therefore protecting themselves and our national defense infrastructure in an era when cyberattacks are becoming more common, and more dangerous.

Favorite Answer From Rapid Fire Questions

Carroll and her husband took a trip to Napa Valley, during which she bribed him with a case of wine to tour the Jelly Belly factory. Fun fact: the people at Jelly Belly know her by first name– she has visited many times.

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