YMA Member and Employee of FosterWorks, Isaiah McMullen and Lucy Minturn on the shop floor 2021.
Lucy Minturn, Founder and CEO of FosterWorks in Chicago, brings a wide-ranging and diverse set of experiences to the manufacturing field. She purchased FosterWorks in 2020. A native of upstate New York, her career includes 15 years of working in the investment banking industry in New York, in an architectural metal shop in Queens, and as a perinatal pathology research associate at Northwestern University. She has also worked as chief operating officer at a Montessori school in Chicago.
Minturn is also committed to being part of Manufacturing Renaissance’s work to address issues and policies that can help the sector grow in Chicago and around the country. She recently joined the Board of Directors of Manufacturing Renaissance, where she’s part of a continuing effort to help create opportunities that benefit people in underserved communities.
“The more young people we can expose to manufacturing, the more likely it will be that they will be prepared for opportunities,” she says. “I’m excited to be part of what the Renaissance is doing in this sector.”
Now, at FosterWorks – which makes high-end components for the lighting and other industries – she calls the experience “awesome. In manufacturing, there’s so much to think about every day. There’s always a new project, marketing, business opportunities, and more.”
She purchased the company from Marco Fabrication, which opened in 1971. (Several current employees worked at Marco Fabrication, and have now been at the site for over a decade). FosterWorks currently has eight employees and could, Minturn says, expand to the point where it employs 11 to 15 people, perhaps at some point in the next year.
The mission of FosterWorks begins by stating “Our mission is to retain secure manufacturing jobs in Chicago and sustain pathways to the middle class for area residents.” That’s closely aligned with the mission of Manufacturing Renaissance, which is to “advance inclusive sustainable development anchored in manufacturing.”
On a global level, Minturn says, there is so much going on at the moment – including rising labor costs, outsourcing, and demand for oil – that it’s exciting to be part of an effort to address the need for training, ownership succession and other challenges the industry and the Renaissance faces.
Challenges facing the manufacturing sector also reflect what young people in Chicago and other cities experience in their own lives – including a lack of training opportunities that help qualify young people for quality jobs in manufacturing. For participants in the Manufacturing Renaissance’s training programs, the positive message is not only that there are good jobs out there in the sector – but that they are attainable for those who learn key skills like how to read a blueprint or other skills that can be certified by the National Institute of Metalworking Skills (NIMS).
Last spring, Minturn participated in the Renaissance’s Job Shadow Day, which exposed participants in the organization’s Manufacturing Connect program to FosterWorks as well as Freedman Seating in Chicago. One graduate of the Renaissance program, Isaiah McMullen, currently works as a shop apprentice at FosterWorks.
During the tour, Minturn shared how the company fabricates parts and assemblies for many projects – in addition to components for the lighting industry, projects may focus on electronics, display, signage, furniture, art, security, and more.
As she walks through the company’s current home on North Leavitt Ave. on the city’s near west side, Minturn shares how FosterWorks uses Computer Numerical Control (CNC) equipment, older hydraulic equipment, and cuts, shears, and shapes metal as needed. The company she adds, “recycles as much as possible.”
Meanwhile, Minturn adds that she also hopes more and more women have opportunities in the sector in the coming years. “We’ve seen some gender barriers fall in the workforce in recent years, but there’s still work to do, and it’s still hard. It’s key for our educational system to recognize how important it is to train people for this sector. That was a bigger part of our culture 50 years ago, and we have to emphasize it more in today’s world.”
As CEO and President of FosterWorks, Minturn is joined by Co-Founder and Chief Financial Officer Liz Kloster.
Earlier this year, FosterWorks was certified as a Women Owned Small Business by the US. Small Business Administration. The company has also been certified as a Women’s Business Enterprise by the Women’s Business Development Center-Midwest, a regional certifying partner of the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council.
As Minturn walks through FosterWorks, she says that “Manufacturing plays a vital role in this city and country – there’s so much that we make – and we can make it right here. Let’s encourage people to work in this sector and make sure they get the training they need to make it happen.”