Michigan companies contribute to Olympic movement

Russia is a long way from the United States, but Michigan citizens and companies are rallying behind the USA Team in support. Writer Lucy Hough talks with three Michigan companies that are contributing in some way to the upcoming Sochi Olympics Games.
The state of Michigan is a part of the Olympic movement. Not only are many Michigan athletes going to Russia to compete, but Michigan companies are also contributing. These companies are using their products and services to make the USA Olympics as USA-made as possible, sharing their talents that will make the USA stand out against the world.

These three companies--Dow Chemical Company, Stonehedge Fiber Mill and Stormy Kromer--say helping in some way with the USA Olympics Movement is a source of pride. Here's how they're helping with the upcoming games and what it means to be a part of something much larger.

Dow Chemical Company – Midland
Dow Chemical Company worked in partnership with the USA Luge team to create faster sleds that would improve luge athletes' performance in the upcoming Sochi Games. In a sport that is judged by the millisecond, the chemical company worked with the team to find the best materials and structure to be incorporated into the sleds to improve performance.

Lead developers on the project, research scientist Jay Tudor and research and development manager Scott Burr, say they have to keep the solutions a secret so other teams can't benefit from these potential advantages.

"There's a lot of competitive knowledge that goes on, and it's kind of like NASCAR where every team tries to get an advantage, so that's the primary reason why we can't specify which products were used," Tudor says.

Some of the materials used can be seen on the outside of the sled, including a carbon fiber composite that Dow works with. Burr says the majority of the changes are in the internal structure and enhance rider comfort, smoothness and controllability.

When Dow Chemical and USA Luge started working together in 2007, the Olympic team had suggestions for parts to improve. But as the two continued, work on the sleds has since evolved to consider every part. Tudor and Burr worked with teams of people on this project, including Dow employees who specialize in computer-aided engineering, manufacturing, prototyping and simulating.

"There's a lot of people here in our group who have touched this project. It's really nice for us to be able to watch (the Olympics) and know that we played a little part of it," Tudor says.

Stonehedge Fiber Mill – East Jordan
This family-owned wool company's relationship with the Olympics started with a visit from someone who clearly wasn't from around there. A woman came into Stonehedge Fiber Mill from New York City, bought samples and left without explaining her visit. Months later, owner Deb McDermott is still reeling from the shock of what happened afterward.

As a result of the woman's visit, McDermott received a call from the company of Ralph Lauren asking for 4,000 pounds of yarn in eight different colors. After the yarn had been shipped, McDermott found out the yarn was being used in the Olympic athletes' Ralph Lauren sweaters, which they will wear during the closing ceremony of the Sochi Games.

McDermott, who has been bombarded by press phone calls since the news was released, describes the experience as "intense."

"People are thrilled and I've done quite a few interviews," McDermott says.

But McDermott says she's glad to be able to help the USA Olympics in the effort toward making the team entirely USA-made.

"There are a lot of companies here in the states that can do these products if given the opportunity," she says. "It's a good thing to be represented in this way on the world stage."

The specific sweater than Stonehedge Fiber Mill yarn is being used in is the Reindeer Nordic Sweater. In addition to the sweaters made for the athletes, 200 were made for public purchase. McDermott says she purchased 30. She thinks the sweaters won't be the only souvenir from this experience. She has already seen orders come through due to the exposure from the Olympics and hopes they work out.

What's important about this experience, McDermott says, is the acknowledgement that textiles and fiber mills can be found in the United States and do not need to be sought abroad. This opportunity, she says, illustrates how United States and Michigan companies can compete on not just a national stage but an international stage.

"I have 14 employees. We're putting them to work and they're doing something that really means something," McDermott says.

Stormy Kromer – Ironwood
Stormy Kromer and USA Ski Jumping are a perfect match. Ski jumping is a sport that has deep historical and cultural ties to the Upper Peninsula, which also happens to be home to Jacquart Fabric Products--Stormy Kromer's parent company. In fact, Ironwood, where the company is based, was home to Copper Peak, a "ski flying" facility that saw its last run in 1994. It was the only ski flying hill in the Western Hemisphere.

That's why it makes sense for Stormy Kromer to be an outfitter for the men's and women's USA ski jumping teams. Kromer is acting as the official lifestyle apparel sponsor for the men's team and the official fashion wear supplier for the women's team.

"It just feels like you can be a part of something bigger. It's a natural fit with this sport and being cold, you think of Stormy Kromer. We're contributing to something bigger and beyond this little town in the Upper Peninsula," says Gina Jacquart, vice president of Jacquart Fabric Products for marketing and sales.

Supporting the women's team is significant because this is the first year that women in the sport will be heading to the Olympics.

"This is a very historic year for the women. It felt like something that would be a really big deal to be a part of," Jacquart says. "The more I learn about how long this struggle has been going on, I can't believe they weren't allowed to do this earlier. Being a woman, it's really cool that maybe we're helping them just a little bit to reach their dreams and have this opportunity."  

The men's team will don the Stormy Kromer Town Coat, original cap and Night-Timer bag. The women were provided the Ida Walking Coat and two hats. All the products have the USA Ski Jumping logo on them. The athletes are not required to wear the products, they are simply donations, but Jacquart said when she and owner Bob Jacquart went to the ski jumping Olympic trials, she saw many people wearing the Stormy Kromer cap.

"Bob and I were the ones out at the Olympic trials, and just the feeling of being part of something national, it's very patriotic," she says. "You feel this pride for the people in your country who are competing."

After the hats were shown on television during the Olympic Trials, some requests came in for public hats that feature the logo. The company has since started making them and will have them available on its website until Jan. 31. For every such hat that is purchased, an additional donation goes to the team.

"Now, the everyday person can feel like they've helped and been a part of something bigger," Jacquart says.

Lucy Hough is a freelance writer in the Upper Peninsula. She also is earning a master's degree in English from Northern Michigan University.
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