Clark believes the employees were impressed any politician would be interested in seeing them at their sewing machines, leather cutters and other equipment that turns sheets of leather and fabric into garments that protect the hands of U.S. soldiers.
Shimkus was immediately attracted to a pair of gloves on Clark"s office desk.
"Three days ago I went to steal wood off my sister"s wood pile and grabbed me a pair of military gloves," Shimkus said, trying the pair of black gloves on.
The gloves were familiar to Shimkus — a graduate of West Point Military Academy, who served five years" active duty in the U.S. Army and several years in the Army Reserves prior to his 2008 retirement.
The black gloves were a godsend to Clark and to the employees of Nationwide. Clark said the factory of 48 employees had been busy making winter weight pilot gloves, but had filled the contract and none would be needed again until next spring.
"We were looking at September to April without orders," Clark said.
She was looking at having to lay off half the employees for the winter, but due to a unexpected series of circumstances, the U.S. Department of Defense offered a $1.5 million contract for 75,000 pair of Flexor light-duty gloves.
"It gave half our people a job for the next seven months," Clark said.
The Flexor glove is an older style that was replaced by a foliage green light-duty utility glove. A problem developed with that glove in that was causing soldiers to develop rashes on their hands. Clark said it had to do with chromium hexavalent in them that formed in some glove factories during the process of heating the leather. She said Nationawide"s competitors had that problem, by Nationwide did not due to a difference in the processing. However, the issue caused the leather tanneries to change their methods and now the leather used that created the problem cannot be used.
"Nationwide made all we could over the last six months," Clark said.
"Now we"re out of leather.
"We recommended they go back to the Flexor gloves."
As a result, there is work enough to support all the employees through the winter.
Shimkus toured the factory with Clark, Supervisor Karen Shaw, his Press Secretary Steve Tomaszewski and Saline County Board candidate Karla Carrigan — whose mother-in-law worked at the factory for 37 years — and made a point to greet each worker as he observed them at their stations. Some had been employed a year or two and others, such as Donna Wise — a 34-year Nationwide veteran — have worked much longer.
"I wouldn"t trade it for the world," Wise said, resuming her stitching once the entourage had moved on.
Shimkus expressed admiration for the company and its employees.
"This is a lost art," he said.
"It"s really a tribute to what you people can do in this area."