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Through his Made in America stores, Mark Andol wants to restore pride in American manufacturing

Mark Andol opened his first Made in America store in Elma to make a statement. The simple store was located in a former Ford dealership across the road from a manufacturing plant he had started as an engine repair shop in his father’s garage. General Welding & Fabricating was down from 70 to 30 employees and from four buildings to two.

Today Andol has five Made in America locations with stores in the Galleria, Eastern Hills and McKinley malls plus one in the One Niagara welcome center in Niagara Falls. His stores sell only those products made in this country with 100 percent U.S. content. Andol’s goal is to create and save jobs in the United States. Andol, a graduate of Iroquois High School, is 49 and lives in Marilla with his wife and their four children.

People Talk: Did you have a lemonade stand as a kid?

Mark Andol: It’s funny. I actually use that in my speeches to the busloads of tourists who visit the store. No, I actually found and sold golf balls. As a kid I lived next to Elma Meadows Golf Course so I collected golf balls, put them in egg cartons and sold them.

PT: What don’t most people know about you?

MA: When I opened the Made in America store, people thought it was the best time in my life. It really was the worst. I wanted to make a statement because I had just lost a major account to an overseas company.

PT: What was the statement?

MA: We have a skilled worker shortage, and you can’t grow the economy without welders, plumbers, machinists. They’re just not out there. Last year I tried to find 20 welders. I found one, so I tied in with Alfred State College on an internship program. Teachers and guidance counselors don’t understand that we must give kids options. You can’t just push college. There’s nobody who wants to work with their hands. You have to give students more exposure to metal shops, wood shops. That’s where I think this country lost. It’s a 30-year mistake to me.

PT: What kind of projects do you handle at your metal fabrication plant?

MA: My motto is: You dream it and we build it. We just did the ice bikes for downtown. And we worked with artist Albert Paley on an installation for the St. Louis Zoo. “Animals Always” was 350,000 pounds of corten steel – 120 foot long, 36 foot tall with 60 3D animals. We shipped it out in 18 semi loads.

PT: What quality product is synonymous with America?

MA: We’ve always made good everything. Channellock tools out of Pennsylvania, They’re the best – made by hand by 300 employees. Even Snap-on makes a good tool, but all of them are not made in America, and that’s the problem. They lost their quality. They don’t have the hardness of steel. They just don’t have longevity. Originally America made everything, and now we’re so out of balance, and that’s the difference. I don’t have one item that plugs in or takes a battery, and that is amazing to me. We don’t make a toaster. Even a simple flashlight.

PT: Have you found an American-made computer monitor yet?

MA: No. I tried having one built when I opened the store but they could only get 60 percent U.S. content. We’re up to 6,600 products. I just found the last manufacturer in the United States that makes incandescent light bulbs.

PT: What do you do for fun?

MA: Snowmobile, hunt, fish, martial arts. I like music. We tied in with Ricky Lee when I opened the store five years ago. He’s from Altoona, Pa. He sang a “Made in America” song, and he came up and wanted me to sell his CDs, but I couldn’t because they weren’t 100 percent made in this country. So we set out and found what we needed in America. Now we’ve produced six CDs. I became a roadie with him. He gives back through music for our vets.

PT: What’s the last thing you bought for yourself?

MA: Probably a high-quality tool. We became the throwaway world, so as a shopper I look for quality.

PT: What kind of car do you drive?

MA: An F-350 pickup truck.

email: jkwiatkowski@buffnews.com