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Evolving to meet the needs of a changing industry

New Holstein sheet metal fabrication shop opened its doors more than 50 years ago

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September 9, 2022

NEW HOLSTEIN – Metko, a custom sheet metal fabrication shop nestled along Milwaukee Drive in New Holstein, first opened its doors in 1971 as a small family business with just a handful of employees.

“My grandfather, David McCarthy, started with six people,” Patrick McCarthy, Metko’s third-generation owner/operator said. “They were doing sheet metal work, but sheet metal work was extremely different from what it is today. One job took a lot more processes to do.”

Patrick McCarthy said Metko started out producing a product line of feeders and conveyors to meet growing needs in the dairy industry, but soon began to branch out into custom fabrication, which ushered in the company’s first CNC (computer numerical control) machines.

“Michael McCarthy, my father, got involved in the early 1980s,” he said. “When he got involved, a couple things changed. He was the driving force behind our first laser, our first turret punches (punch presses) and getting into CNC equipment.”

Patrick McCarthy said as the company grew, as did its reach and abilities, soon becoming noticed as a dependable, quality fabricator.

Taking the reins
McCarthy said his grandfather retired in the early 2000s, and with his father following in those footsteps soon, Metko’s future is now in his and his brother-in-law Eric Burger’s hands.

McCarthy said it wasn’t necessarily in the plans that a third generation would take over the business, but in 2013, his father approached him and Burger with an intriguing proposal.

“My father goes, ‘I want to retire and I want you two to quit what you’re doing and work for me,’” he said. “The fear was that if he sold the company (to an outside entity) the employees would lose their jobs,” McCarthy said.

At the time, McCarthy, who has a management information systems degree from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, said he and his wife Adria, were living and working in Madison, while Burger, a mechanical engineer, and his wife Christina (McCarthy’s sister) had careers in Denver.

McCarthy said the first step in contemplating his father’s proposal was figuring out if he and Burger could work together.

“We’ve always been friendly with each other and got along, but it’s different than working together,” he said. “We discovered we had the same vision of the future, which is a good foundation and start. We signed up to come on board, quit our jobs, sold our homes and moved here.”

In 2014, McCartney said he and Burger joined Metko with the intention of buying the company someday.

“I know software well, and I know the inside of businesses well,” he said. “Eric knows engineering well, but neither of us knew much about Metko. I knew it from a certain angle because I grew up with this, but I didn’t know the deep inner workings. The first thing we did is we both started on the floor. We did that for a couple years.”

McCarthy said the decisions they make from their positions today – vice president of business for him and vice president of operations for Burger – are based on “how they affect our employees on the floor, because we saw work from their eyes.”

McCarthy said his position focuses on the business side of the company, including sales, purchasing, accounts payable, receivables and human resources, while Burger went down the path of production, estimating and engineering.
More about Metko
McCarthy said since Metko is a complete custom metal fabrication shop, it doesn’t have its own product line.

“Because of that, we don’t get the normal orders – we get the weird, the wacky, the can’t-be-done, the shouldn’t-be-done,” he said. “People will be at the same work centers, but they need to know how to read a print, how to set up a machine and know how to do the processes required for the job.”

He said the company’s services and capabilities include laser cutting, turret blanking, CNC bending and forming, robotic forming, robotic welding, TIG/MIG welding, seam welding, spot welding, PEM insertion, assembly, engraving/ID etching, product inspection and warehousing.

McCarthy said Metko has around 70 employees working three shifts, five days a week.

Metko, located at 1301 Milwaukee Dr. in New Holstein, first opened its doors in 1971. Submitted Photo

“We are absolutely looking to hire,” he said.

McCarthy said Metko is in the process of adding new equipment to the shop floor, so they need more team members.
“We want to get into larger, more sustainable projects,” he said. “We hope to get to full-on assembly work.”

McCarthy said though Metko doesn’t ship out of the country, their hundreds of clients throughout the U.S. do.

“We use carbon-based steels – your stainless steel and your aluminum,” he said. “Our customers manufacture in all sorts of industries.”
Company growth
Since McCarthy and Burger moved fully into their management roles in 2017, McCarthy said the company has seen significant growth.

“We’ve had about 50% growth,” he said.

McCarthy said though Metko was considered an essential business during the COVID-19 pandemic, it was still tough, with 2020 being the company’s worst year on record.

However, he said the company has been able to bounce back strongly.

Coming out of the pandemic, McCarthy said material prices started going up, and then the supply chain issues hit.

“Our purchasing department did a fantastic job of getting the stuff our customers needed,” he said.

Secondary division
A separate division of Metko, which McCarthy said his father started, is tanks and reservoirs.

He said the company custom fabricates metallic fuel tanks, hydraulic or hydrostatic reservoirs, and radiator expansion tanks for the transportation industry, and accounts for about 30% of its business.

“We’re good at what we make,” McCarthy said. “In the decades we’ve been making tanks, we’ve had less than 20 tanks that have failed. It’s a tiny percentage.”

Across the board, McCarthy said Metko, which is considered a medium-job shop, has always been known for their quality.
“The PPM (parts per million) is very good for us,” he said. “There’s reliability in what we’re producing for our customers.”
McCarthy said it takes a dedicated crew to produce what Metko does.

“Our employees come in and they like to solve problems – they like the challenge,” he said. “What I like seeing the most is when you get the people on the floor and the people in estimating or engineering together and say, ‘How are we going to do this?’ It’s fun to watch that process unfold. We’re good at solving problems.”

McCarthy said the challenge of running Metko has been a rewarding experience for him.

“When my father asked me and Eric to come over here, we said yes because we had a vision we want to build to,” he said. “That’s what we’re excited to do.”

McCarthy said every day, they are constantly trying to “move the ball forward” in terms of growth.

“There’s a lot more that this company has to offer and we’re working towards that,” he said. “We’re trying to build a future and continue creating a good place to work.”

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