More than six decades of manufacturing success in the heart of Missouri

Governor Nixon announces the award of Customized Training to Quaker Windows at the company’s headquarters in Freeburg on Nov. 5, 2010.

Freeburg - It’s a story that has been brewing for years, perhaps more in the background during good economic times, and right at the surface during recessions.  The story is the status of the manufacturing sector in the United States.

The numbers could be characterized as downright grim – losses of 3.2 million jobs, or one in six of all factory jobs in the U.S. since 2000, according to one study.  There is thought in some areas that manufacturing is a lost cause in this country, and will continue to have a diminishing influence on the nation’s economy as a whole.

Someone, however, forgot to inform Quaker Windows of Freeburg, a tiny town of about 400 residents in Osage County. Quaker Windows has been manufacturing quality windows and doors since the family business opened in 1949.  Today, while other American manufacturing companies have too often moved operations overseas for cheaper labor, Quaker Windows has thrived as one of mid-Missouri’s biggest employers, with more than 400 workers.  The company has become a leader in the window and door industry by operating a corporation built on a business philosophy of quality and customer satisfaction, developed by founders Marge and Harold “Bud” Knoll way back in the Truman Administration.

You might say that, to paraphrase another Missouri native in Mark Twain, at a company like Quaker Windows, rumors of the manufacturing sector’s demise appear to have been greatly exaggerated.

Success like that seen at Quaker does not come by accident, of course.  It takes hard work, determination, and a willingness to diversify and provide good jobs for folks in the community.  Which is just that way Quaker’s current owner, Roy Rutledge, sees it.

“We aren’t recession-proof, but we are diversified,” Rutledge said.  “We have products for residential and commercial use, and we have some incredibly loyal customers.   We give them what they want, when they want it, at a reasonable price.  It’s a pretty good equation.”

Indeed, if you do the math, you’ll see that the company’s dramatic growth has not only been in employees but in production.  Today, Quaker has expanded to more than sixty different product lines.  The company sells nationwide to lumberyards, housing authorities, school districts, military bases and hotels.  It all adds up to the kind of solid manufacturing business serving customers across the country from its base in a small town that was once the backbone of the U.S. economy.  With more companies like Quaker Windows, that are also pillars of their small communities, such businesses can be that backbone once again.

“Our employees are extended family, and we encourage them to be active in their communities, their churches and their government,” Rutledge continued. “Our local fire departments are manned with literally dozens of Quaker employees. It is not just about being located in a community….it’s being a part of that community.”

Like all successful businesses, part of Quaker Windows success for more than six decades is the ability to adapt. So when the company had to produce a new line of windows to meet the latest federal efficiency standards, it made a major investment in developing a new line of energy-efficient products called Emerge Windows. Working with the state of Missouri, the company was able to make the investment and get some assistance in hiring the extra employees needed to establish the new line.

“We have invested more than $500,000 in the effort, and received a grant from the state of Missouri that allowed us to jumpstart out investment,” Rutledge said. “Through the efforts of our folks and with assistance from Linn State Technical College, we were able to fast-forward our hiring and training.”

That would be the $20,000 in Customer Training funds that the state of Missouri awarded to Quaker. Using the grant, Quaker was able to get 45 new employees hired and quickly trained to begin producing the new line of windows, at a substantial savings for the company. Instructors at Linn State Tech, working in conjunction with the Missouri Division of Workforce Development in the Customer Training program, made it possible for the company to do this, adapting to new guidelines and remaining competitive.

The state working closely with Quaker is a partnership that has helped strengthen a great, long-time Missouri business. Which was summed up nicely by Governor Nixon during a recent visit to the company’s headquarters in Freeburg.

“What is truly thrilling to me is to see homegrown Missouri companies like Quaker Windows that have a long history of success in our state that continue to thrive, expand and reinvest in the Show-Me State, hiring hardworking Missourians and serving as assets to their local communities,” Gov. Nixon said. “These native Missouri companies that start from humble origins and grow to become national names are the shining stars of our state’s economy. I want to commend Quaker Windows for its impressive growth and national success, thank the company for choosing to expand its investment in this fine Missouri community and congratulate Freeburg and the surrounding area for the creation of new jobs.”


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