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To hear actor-turned-activist John Ratzenberger tell it, America manufacturers' inability to recruit a new generation of workers to its factories is due to the demise of high school shop class.

I recently interviewed the television and film star, best known as "Cheers" know-it-all mail carrier Cliff Clavin or a multitude of Pixar animated characters (Hamm in "Toy Story" and Mack the Truck in "Cars" are my faves) ahead of the Midwest Manufacturing Business Conference. He will keynote the conference, which runs Monday and Tuesday, right here in river city.

Ratzenberger, an author and entrepreneur in his own right, said we're facing "an industrial tsunami," and will reach "a crisis where we can't find people that know how to use tools."

Now an outspoken advocate for American manufacturing after his Travel Channel show "John Ratzenberger's Made in America," he blames our skills shortage, in part, to taking shop classes out of our schools.

"When people growing up from the 1960s grew up, they decided there shouldn't be any shop classes," he said."

The result, he said "The drop-out rate went up 30 percent and couple that with statistics that show 70 percent of all crime is committed by high school dropouts. We gave them more than a reason to drop out." 

It's a message he takes cross country to manufacturers, policy-makers, community leaders and high schoolers — the very people needed to fill the skills gap.

He also blames years of damage by the media. "Any film or TV show with a character working in a factory depicts them as idiots or makes fun of them. Why would a child growing up want to be that?"

Ratzenberger warns the skills shortage a national problem. "It's not just local to Moline, Seattle or Boston."

Entrepreneurs invited to pitch to Walmart

Speaking of Made-in-the-USA products, Walmart is on the hunt for Iowa and Illinois companies to pitch their products to the company's buyers.

The Bentonville, Arkansas-based Walmart will hold a daylong pitch event June 28 at its global headquarters for companies across the country to pitch their wares.

Buyers are looking for companies capable of supplying products to a handful of local stores on up to to hundreds or thousands of Walmart stores, Sam's Club locations and the website.

Registration for the pitch event is open at until May 18.

In 2013, Walmart vowed to help boost job creation and U.S. manufacturing with a commitment to buy an additional $250 billion in products that support American jobs over 10 years. 

Among the businesses already successfully in pitching and now supplying Walmart is Bullibone Products. The small southern Illinois business in Opdyke creates long-lasting nylon dog chews.

"I go into a Walmart store just so I can see our product hanging up there and it gives you the chills," said LeeBob Willingham, the company's founder.

Main Street Iowa honors Hilltop merchant

Three cheers to Kelly Wallace, owner of The Estate Sale Shop, who has been honored by Main Street Iowa for her work with the Davenport's Hilltop Campus Village.

Wallace received the Main Street Iowa 2017 Leadership Award earlier this month in Des Moines. It was presented by Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, along with Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds and Debi Durham, director of the Iowa Economic Development Authority.

Hilltop leaders nominated Wallace, who with her son, Nigel, converted the former McKay Music building at 1326 Brady St. into The Estate Sale Shop in 2010. She was recognized for her work in helping Hilltop form its new Merchant Association and for assisting fellow merchants with promotion strategies.

"Small independent businesses don't often receive recognition like this," said Wallace, who was intrigued to learn the work of her Main Street Iowa peers. "Seeing what is happening in this field is really eye-opening."

The 31st annual awards honored 51 Main Street districts across Iowa. Collectively since 1986, Main Street Iowa programs have assisted 4,514 new businesses, which have created 13,402 new jobs and invested more than $2 billion in more than 740 building projects.

Help Arconic name its eaglets

Fans of Arconic Eaglecam now will have a chance to vote on the names for the three new eaglets.

Arconic Davenport Works spokesman John Riches said Friday that the finalist names would be announced on Eaglecam's blog this weekend and voting will open at 7 a.m. Monday. It runs through 7 a.m. May 1.

The trio are the latest offspring of Liberty and Justice, a pair of adult eagles who made a nest in 2009 on the Riverdale aluminum plant's property. To view the nest, go to

Biz Bytes is a weekly column by Quad-City Times reporter Jennifer DeWitt. Contact her at 563-383-2318 or