By Terry Rogers
First State Manufacturing, located on Southeast Fourth Street in Milford, has been selected to represent Delaware in the “This Built America” campaign sponsored by Ford and AOL. The campaign highlights 50 different companies from 50 different states. First State Manufacturing was chosen to represent Delaware in the content series.
“This Built America” features videos, articles, photo essays, interactive maps and more that showcase the rebirth of manufacturing in the United States. AOL plans to syndicate the videos created for the series across the internet through a partner network.
“They only choose one from each state and we are excited that they chose us,” said Scott Crothers, Director of Marketing and Contract Administration at First State Manufacturing. “We know that we produce a good product and it is a great feeling when others see that we do as well.”
Eli Valenzuela, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, said that he was very pleased with this recognition and that he had no idea his company would grow from its humble beginnings to what it is today.
“I have gone from my garage to a state-of-the-art manufacturing building that employs 85 people,” Mr. Valenzuela said. “I feel that this is the gift that keeps on giving. We feel that Milford is where we need to be and we are happy that we are able to provide jobs in the community.” Mr. Valenzuela said that the majority of the employees who work at First State Manufacturing live in Milford.
Mr. Valenzuela got his start in the upholstery business as a young boy when he became the “go to” guy for building fighter kites. In his neighborhood, the children would have kite fights, and he learned to create the kites that won more of those fights than others. He served in the military as an Army communications technician and took an upholstery course while serving with the Second Armored Division in Germany. After his military service, he returned to his native Texas and upholstered military aircraft in a civil service position before moving to Delaware, securing a position upholstering the C-5 Galaxy at Dover Air Force Base.
He and his wife, Sher, began the company in their garage in 1998 with one sewing machine, “Old Betsy,” which is still on display in the company’s lobby. Ms. Valenzuela often tells the story of cold calling a high-ranking official at Dover Air Force Base to try to get them their first contract with the military and thinking she had blown their chances when after her rambling message she neglected to leave a phone number. The next day, she swallowed her pride and called again, only to be greeted by an enthusiastic Air Force officer who had been looking for just such a business for some time.
The couple quickly outgrew their garage, and with a $20,000 Small Business Association Express Loan, leased space in a 2,000 square foot warehouse. Today, the company has more than $10 million in government contracts as well as lucrative contacts with Amtrak.