Jones Metal Celebrates 80 Years in Business

by | Sep 20, 2022 | News

Mankato Free Press (September 20, 2022)When Mildred Page Jones started Jones Sheet Metal and Roofing Company in Mankato in 1942, it was rare for women to own and operate businesses.

The business was started to serve sheet metal parts to Jones’ husband’s company, Kato Engineering, which was going gangbusters supplying the military during World War II. During the early 1950s, the roofing company was dropped due to increasing demand of sheet metal from a third Jones company called Katolight.

Today, the business remains in the family, with three descendants of Jones running the show. Jones Sheet Metal evolved to Jones Metal Products and is now known as Jones Metal Inc., 80 years after opening. Three of Jones’ grandchildren are at the helm; Jessica Richards-Palmquist, Sarah Richards and David Richards now own the company.

The third generation purchased the company in 2011 from Jones’ daughter Marcia and are committed to their colleagues first and second to their customers, said Sarah Richards, Jones Metal president and CEO.

“Today companies are bought and sold frequently or grow into giants, often forgetting their history,” Richards said. “But it is so important to the Mankato area to remember and honor the stories. Even though we have changed significantly, people connect and take pride in our history. It is an impressive legacy that we plan to expand on.”

The company’s official 80th anniversary was in June. Richards said some of the products her team makes today are recognizable instantly around Mankato.

Those include the river sculpture behind the performing arts building, the music bench in an alley, the plates for the Art Walk sculptures, decorative panels on the Shared Spaces building, and the red waves and large fountain at Minnesota State University.

“We enjoy bringing other creators’ ideas to life,” Richards said.

On the industrial side, people will recognize the green transformer boxes in neighborhoods and the sheet metal surrounding generators and road graders.

“Much of what we do, however, is not seen once it is assembled into our customers’ products like fuel tanks, hydraulic tanks, fan covers or heat exchangers,” Richards said. “We also continue to make several parts for customers who serve the military. There aren’t very many naval submarines that don’t have some Jones Metal on board.”

The company’s name is far-reaching, with it having been featured in a Washington Post article recently. Jones Metal is scrambling to hire enough welders to build battery boxes and generators, according to the article. It pays a starting wage of $23.50 an hour, while also trying to automate more jobs to keep the plant running.

Though they are automating, the company’s automation innovations are assisting people with their operations rather than doing it for them.

“We don’t want to replace people,” Richards said. “We believe in treating our employees like family and, in a family-owned business, you can do that. We have competitive pay and good benefits.”

“We believe employees should be able to support their families in exchange for a good day’s work. That was our grandparents’ philosophy way back when, and it’s the same today. We treat each other with kindness and respect, and we have a lot of long-term employees.”

It isn’t uncommon for an employee to have worked for Jones Metal for as long as 44 years. This is changing, however, as younger employees are far more likely to change not just jobs but careers, Richards said.

“We have seen the effects of that,” she said. “The younger generation is far more likely to say ‘instead of welding, now I’d like to be a nurse.’ So it’s more challenging that way. We’re starting to see the effects of that.”

The company has 90 employees and operates from a 120,000-square-foot building on Third Avenue. Jones Metal counts Fortune 100 and Fortune 500 companies as customers.