John Scheflow, who recently joined the Board of Directors of Manufacturing Renaissance, has had a wide-ranging career as an attorney as well as a variety of personal experiences and memories that connect him to the Renaissance.
“I saw in Manufacturing Renaissance the opportunity to put my professional skills to use,” he says. “I think their approach is something I’ve always liked in that it seems like it’s simultaneously about identifying a problem and proposing a solution. It’s about building up programs that benefit communities.”
During his eight years as an attorney, Scheflow has worked for firms that specialize in personal injury cases, focused on class action consumer cases, and also focused on business and transactional work. The common links between these positions, he suggests, is an eagerness to learn and to benefit people who face very different circumstances. (In law school at the University of Wisconsin, he also honed skills as someone who likes to present and advocate, winning the Outstanding Trial Advocacy Award).
Outside of the office, he has also been active on the judicial evaluation committee of the Chicago Bar Association. “My family has always been very civically involved,” he says. “You have to be a citizen and part of your community to really benefit it.” His volunteer work also hits home on an even more personal level. As a fundraiser for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund’s Youth Leadership Committee, he raises funds for Type 1 Diabetes, a disease his younger brother was born with.
Meanwhile, he points to several experiences that connect him to the goals of Manufacturing Renaissance. For example, Scheflow grew up in Elgin, IL, a blue collar town where a lot of his classmates were the first generation of people going to college in their family. “It was eye-opening,” he says. “My freshman class entered high school with 800 kids, and graduated with 460. People dropped out because they had to work. That really hammered how different it was from where I went to college” (at Miami of Ohio).
His family’s roots also suggest a strong connection to the world of manufacturing. “My mom’s side of the family were immigrants from Russia. My grandpa worked at Chrysler. They were able to come to Detroit and work for a car manufacturer, and receive a pension.”
“My grandpa was certainly a refugee,” Scheflow adds. “He was one of those people who fled Stalin during the war. It was a very tough life.”
His memory of that story reinforces something he learned early on about work, opportunities, and manufacturing. “The trades or manufacturing don’t have to be a second option,” he says. “For a lot of people, it’s a better fit. To say it’s less of an option for people is an oversight – it’s borderline elitism.”
He adds that “the world needs those skills – we need to make things. There’s no world I can envision where humans won’t be involved in the manufacturing or making of products. There is an intelligence in knowing how to fix things. Often times these jobs get overlooked.”
On the board of Manufacturing Renaissance, Scheflow sees great potential to advocate for policies that can impact communities on the most local level – and on a national scale. An example, he says, is Manufacturing Renaissance’s continuing work to help companies find ways to go through ownership changes in a way that encourages community-based minority owners to find opportunities in the community. “One of our challenges,” he says, “is to help businesses find purchasers who can keep businesses in the south and west sides of Chicago. We have to convince business owners who are trying to get out of their business and don’t have family coming in, that someone who lives in the community can keep the business there.”
At the same time, he recognizes that for young people looking for opportunities in manufacturing, the Renaissance continues to play a vital role. “It’s not just that skilled jobs are available in this sector,” he says. “But that these are quality middle-class jobs. Manufacturing Renaissance is showing how to train young people for these positions – and connecting with employers who want to hire them. If you don’t want to work in an office, you don’t have to spend four years in college in order to have a good life.”
On the national level, he says, “it’s not really political, but helping to guide Manufacturing Renaissance into a position where it has more of an advocacy role. The organization can adapt its techniques and programs on the national level. This organization’s policies shouldn’t be viewed as on one side or the other of the spectrum.”
Getting out the message that Manufacturing Renaissance can be an example for similar organizations inspires him, he adds. “I’d like to be part of telling that story,” he says. “ It’s a big story that can reach people around the country – but it starts on the ground level, where manufacturing programs are benefiting people and their communities.”