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Union Bank

Union Bank Honors Grand Rapids Metaltek: Women Defying Expectations in Manufacturing

Trena Bresky and Karla Cook

Grand Rapids, Michigan – March 8, 2024 – In observance of International Women’s Day, celebrated annually on March 8th, Union Bank is proud to shine a spotlight on a local, 100% woman owned business – Grand Rapids Metaltek. Owned by sisters Karla Cook and Trena Bresky, Grand Rapids Metaltek has been a staple in the manufacturing industry for over 40 years. Specializing in thermal spray coatings and servicing the pump industry, the business also focuses on local repair and general machining to a variety of different industries.

Traditionally, manufacturing has been a significantly male-dominated industry. Joining the family-owned business in 1997 (Bresky) and 2000 (Cook), the sisters were prepared to make their mark, even though manufacturing was not initially top of mind. “Manufacturing was not something I sought out. I had established a career in banking when our father, Paul Bultinck, voiced his need for additional help to grow the business,” said Cook, Owner and President of Grand Rapids Metaltek. Over the years, the business has grown from eighteen employees in 1997 to fifty in 2023 when the sisters purchased the company.

As presented in the Manufacturing Institute’s report ‘Closing the Gender Gap’ published in November of 2022, women represent approximately 29% of manufacturing employment opportunities1. “Women’s roles in manufacturing have changed significantly in the time I have worked in this industry. There was a time it felt rare to interact with other women. I recall regularly being the only woman in the room but that is rarely the case anymore – collaborating with customers, vendors, and individuals within our own organization. At Metaltek we have women working in shipping, quality control, inventory management, metalizing, purchasing, accounting, sales, human resources, and leadership. I believe our role within manufacturing will continue to grow,” said Cook.

Cook vividly recalls the interesting transition from a formal banking environment to being on the shop floor deburring parts and packing boxes. “When Trena and I started at Metaltek we were the only women at the company. We were treated well, however, quickly grew accustom early in our careers to the frequent assumption that we held the traditional secretarial roles.” Over the years, the sisters have been asked frequently ‘May I speak with the decision maker of the company,’ due to un-familiarization of the modernized role of women in the industry. “We have been told women can’t or shouldn’t do some of the things we have done and earning respect as a woman in this industry can be a significant struggle.” The sisters initially viewed these assumptions as offensive yet used these experiences as fuel to charge forward to becoming successful, resilient leaders. “In adversity, you have two options, to give up or to push through proving your strength and perseverance to defy expectations,” said Bresky, Owner and Treasurer.

And defy the expectations they have. Grand Rapids Metaltek has recently completed a series of parts that will be installed on one of the new Gerald R Ford-class aircraft carriers in support of the United States Navy. They are also the first company to achieve the status of Premier Supplier by ITT Inc. based on the criteria of quality, on-time-performance (OTP), business practices and pricing.

Research indicates significant growth on the horizon for the pump industry, providing many more opportunities for women to get involved in manufacturing. Bresky and Cook look forward to improved industry gender equality in the years to come. Bresky shares her advice to the next generation of women in manufacturing, “My advice to young women who aspire to enter the industry is to just go for it! Finding a mentor, becoming involved in robotics and vocational education along with seeking out summer job opportunities are steps one can take to identifying where their passion and focus should be. Manufacturing is an interesting world to be in with endless possibilities. The only obstacle now standing between you and your dreams of a career in this industry, is you!”

Union Bank is a proud supporter of International Women’s Day and celebrates the many achievements of our local woman in business every day. “Union Bank has been a tremendous support to us. We have always known we could count on Union Bank to treat us with kindness and respect. Having a longstanding relationship with our banking team has allowed us to invest in the company and manage our resources in ways that support growth. Union Bank never hesitated to work with us as women in a non-traditional field,” said Cook.

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Union Bank is a wholly owned subsidiary of Union Financial Corporation and operates full-service banking offices in Ada, Dimondale, Grand Rapids, Hastings, Lake Odessa, Mulliken and Westphalia and a loan production office in Portage. Member FDIC and Equal Housing Lender. (NMLS# 488568)      

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