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Making a Push

Homegrown Steel

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MCN Editor Beth Gainer EXLTUBE, Kansas City, Mo., and Zekelman Industries, Chicago, have made huge investments in their communities, through their commitment and passion for causes near and dear to them: promoting education about the steel industry and American-manufactured products. 

A producer of structural and mechanical tubing and standard pipe, EXLTUBE proudly educates the youth about careers in the steel industry. The company targets educational institutions to persuade students that a career in metals is worthwhile. 

EXLTUBE staff work with students at higher education institutions such as the University of Kansas and Kansas State University, and several technical schools, to educate students about working in the steel industry. 

The company donates tubing to partner schools out of goodwill but also with an expectation that the schools include an educational component in order to provide real-world education, engage students and help them consider careers in the industry. 

“Normally whenever we donate [tubing], we tell the schools we’re more than happy to donate, but we want the students to present to us how they’re going to use this steel and put together something like a business plan – what their ask is, why they’re asking for it and doing a sales pitch to get the donation,” says Mike Peaslee, vice president of sales. “We will then take them on a tour through our tube mill and show them what our customers do with our products.”

Part of this education involves discussing tubing specifications and advising students to spec tubing that’s readily available and easy to find. 

And EXLTUBE affords opportunities for those interested in a metals career. The company has partnered with engineering and architectural firms in Kansas City that offer summer internships. 

EXLTUBE also reaches out to local high school students, “giving them exposure to the different types of careers that are available in the steel industry,” says Peaslee. Students regularly visit the company to learn from the executive team about various facets of the industry, as well as the benefits of working in steel. The executive team speaks “about what we do from a standpoint in sales, inventory control, production planning, engineering, operations and quality.” 

Peaslee acknowledges that some people have a negative perception of working in a service center, tube mill or a steel mill. “Many times people drive by these big warehouses and it looks dark inside, and they think ‘I don’t want to work there,’” he says. 

“We’re not trying to make steel sexy, but we are trying to get more students engaged in metals through these educational programs,” he continues. “Those are the things we’ve done as an active outreach to try to get more exposure for tubing and domestic steel in general.” 

In fact, a huge part of EXLTUBE’s outreach is to promote domestic steel. “Our biggest competition across all of our products is not Atlas or Nucor or any of those other tube makers. Our biggest competitor is China and other countries that want to dump product in the U.S.,” Peaslee says, “and they’re not going to bring in tubing; they’re going to bring in fabricated products, and that means that not only are you going to take away business that EXLTUBE or any of our competitors could have, but you’re going to be taking business away from your fabricators, service centers and everybody throughout the supply chain.” 

The company urges students to use American-made products and emphasizes “the efficiency and environmental sustainability of using domestic steel,” according to Peaslee.

Zekelman Industries
Like EXLTUBE, Zekelman Industries consistently sells the value of the steel industry.  Zekelman is the largest independent steel pipe and tube manufacturer in North America and a leader in modular construction innovations. 

The company educates others about the advantages of working in the steel arena, which includes the concept of building community. “This industry supports everyone, and every job in the steel industry creates several supporting jobs in the economy,” says Camille Grayson, senior marketing manager. “Our CEO, Barry Zekelman, often talks about building communities through jobs. Through smart investments, Zekelman has grown each division, helping our employees make a great living in this industry, and we have seen the communities benefit from these investments.”

In addition, Zekelman has a recruiting strategy – the company finds potential employees through social media. “We try to meet this audience where they play, and social media is their number one resource,” says Grayson.

The company reaches out to the community to help prospective employees build their careers.  “We partner with local independent electrical contractor associations so that we stay in front of those who are studying and working in the trades,” says Grayson.  “We partner with these local associations so that we can act as a feeder after [potential employees] complete their programs and perhaps get their foot in the door by working with our company.”
Zekelman offers scholarships “that encourage higher education and urge young people to consider a career in the skilled trades and the manufacturing sector,” she says, adding that the company offers STEM and trade school scholarships with hopes this will help people get the proper training and eventually become the next generation of leaders in the steel industry.

As is the case with EXLTUBE, Zekelman finds it critical that industry professionals use American steel. In 2018, the company launched a national grass-roots movement called the American Metal initiative, which “supports the domestic steel industry and all the hard workers whose livelihoods depend on it,” according to Grayson. “American Metal has inspired steel workers and the industry at large to get involved.” 

The company encourages employees to visit the website and share it with family, friends, and colleagues “to help build support for domestic manufacturing,” she says. The company has also encouraged the industry to convey to elected officials its support for domestic manufacturing and fair trade. 

As part of the American Metal campaign, Zekelman Industries encouraged its customers to wear a variety of American Metal accoutrements, such as T-shirts, jackets and hats to support the cause.  The company also put together an American Metal kit “for its customers where they could share their support, as well decals for their trucks, banners for their manufacturing facilities and digital signage for their workplace,” she says. The company even created and shared its Twitter hashtag:  #ChooseAmericanMetal.

Zekelman Industries has seen firsthand the community-building power of domestic manufacturing. In 2020, the company sponsored a nationwide “Make It Here” initiative. Zekelman ran a savvy print, digital and radio ad campaign, as well as ran ads in local and national business publications such as Forbes, USA Today and Entrepreneur magazine. The campaign “encouraged business leaders to bring manufacturing back to the U.S., urged buyers to buy domestic and forge more intentional partnerships and implored policymakers to act,” says Grayson. 

“The response was humbling,” she adds. “Dozens of organizations across a variety of industries reached out in support of our call to action.” The campaign gained more momentum in 2021. A new referral website,, makes it easier to research, purchase and sell domestically by showcasing companies that manufacture products in the U.S. 

“This website is a resource for consumers and businesses to easily find companies that are making a difference by Making It Here,” she says. “Our goal is to increase demand for domestic products and rebuild the manufacturing base so that we can strengthen local economies and communities.”

Photo Caption:
EXLTUBE, Kansas City, Mo., prides itself on promoting American-made products. 
(Photo courtesy EXLTUBE)

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