Tom Moran is a special breed that may have been born for entrepreneurship.
“I don’t believe in stress for myself,” said Moran. “I love a challenge—learning new things and figuring our solutions. So, my job is kinda perfect for me.”
Moran started Moran Iron Works right out of high school in his hometown of Onaway, Michigan. Now, 40 years later, Moran leads his relatively small team in large modular metal fabrication jobs that include anything from fabricating a 64-foot boat keel to creating scaffolding to paint The Mighty Mackinac Bridge. The Presque Isle Electric Co-op member may be rooted in a small town, but he is always ready for larger-than-life opportunities as his company seeks to expand its portfolio.
So, when a connection was made with Ann Arbor-based Watermaster North America to fabricate a Finnish-engineered AMD 5000 amphibious dredging machine, Moran was ready as ever to not only determine the viability and logistics of taking on the project, but readying himself to learn something new.
“During a series of meetings here in Onaway and Helsinki (Finland), I was really amazed by the well-thought design of the Finnish,” said Moran. “As we continued with the project, I was constantly learning new things and mentally taking notes on how to improve other systems. I love the learning curve of my job.”
This game-changing piece of mammoth machinery is now available state-side due to Moran Iron Works’ involvement. The Watermaster machine has been sold worldwide for 30 years but not in the United States due to an import policy called the Jones Act.
The Jones Act is a federal law that requires goods shipped between U.S. ports to be transported on ships that are built, owned, and operated by U.S. citizens or permanent residents.
By some standards, the 70-person shop at Moran Iron Works seems like an unlikely crew for the massive undertaking, but not in Moran’s mind.
“This is what we do,” said Moran. “We’re proud to carry on the tradition and heritage of manufacturing in the U.S. We’re proud of what we do, and it shows in our work.”
Moran pauses to reflect on his company’s success and notes that having traveled around the world, he’s observed a few things that always seem to be present in successful manufacturing areas—with a reliable energy source being one of the most important aspects. He notes you couldn’t successfully maintain schedules or deliver quality products without reliable energy.
“It’s something that can be overlooked, but having reliable energy is crucial to manufacturing,” Moran said. “I’ve bragged over the years that we have only lost power a handful of times over our 40-year history. I’ve never had to send my teams home due to power loss. I can tell you—that’s so significant to my business and its success.”
Global partnerships like the one between Moran and Watermaster NA are impressive and tell a story of Michigan’s undying manufacturing roots. However, the authentic leadership, generational work ethic, and good old-fashioned Midwest tenacity might be at the very heart of the success. As Moran Iron Works continues to dream and build big, it’s got the small-town heart and grit to make it a reality.