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Illinois Manufacturers’ Association Hosts 2021 Annual Luncheon

December 3, 2021

Illinois Manufacturers’ Association Hosts 2021 Annual Luncheon

Food producer Gilster-Mary Lee of Chester honored as Manufacturer of the Year

CHICAGO – Hundreds of business leaders from across the state will gather Friday for the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association (IMA) 2021 Annual Luncheon, a celebration honoring the industry that drives our state economy by producing life-saving vaccines and treatments, developing high-tech vehicles, keeping store shelves stocked with nutritious foods, creating indispensable goods and powering our homes and businesses.

Receiving special honor this year is Gilster-Mary Lee, a private label food manufacturer headquartered in Chester, which will be presented with the 2021 Barry L. MacLean Manufacturer of the Year award. Gilster-Mary Lee produces private label brands for stores across the country, making more than 8,000 items from cereal and cake mix to pasta and popcorn. Indeed, Gilster-Mary Lee products will be featured in many holiday meals, including stuffing, instant potatoes, gravy mixes and pie shells. With a history spanning more than 126 years, Gilster-Mary Lee has grown to employ more than 3,000 people at 13 facilities in three states.

During the pandemic, Gilster-Mary Lee not only ensured Americans had reliable access to food, but also promoted the importance of COVID-19 vaccination to employees and surrounding communities. The manufacturer regularly partners with Autism Workforce, which works with companies to successfully hire, train and retain autistic employees.

“Gilster-Mary Lee embodies the best of the best in American manufacturing with its focus on workforce opportunities and community safety. I’m so proud to recognize Gilster-Mary Lee as the 2021 Barry L. MacLean Manufacturer of the Year in Illinois,” said Mark Denzler, president and CEO of the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association. “Gilster-Mary Lee’s innovation, integrity, and investment in Illinois’ communities is making our state, nation, and the world a better place every single day.”

The annual award is given to a company for their leadership in six core areas: manufacturing advocacy, operational excellence, innovation and technology, workforce development and diversity, community engagement, and sustainability.

“We are honored to accept this award, which is an acknowledgement of the dedication and hard work demonstrated by our employees every day to ensure we deliver quality, service and value to our customers around the world,” said Tom Welge, president of Gilster-Mary Lee. “We value our partnership with the IMA and offer our thanks for this recognition as well their continued efforts to advocate, promote and strengthen the manufacturing industry in Illinois. The pandemic has proven to be one of the most challenging periods in our company’s history, but by working together manufacturers are investing in our communities and leading our state and nation forward.”

The IMA luncheon will also feature keynote remarks delivered by Paul Zikopoulos, Vice President of Technology Group Skills Vitality & Enablement at IBM. Zikopoulos is an expert on future trends, helping companies leverage problems into opportunities, changing the way audiences look at their businesses in terms of potential sales, obstacles, potential for growth and how they utilize technology, such as cloud applications, to support their organizations.

Longtime IMA members will be honored throughout the program with Legacy Awards, and participants had access to breakout panels during the week leading up to the luncheon on topics including energy policy, economic forecasting, supply chain opportunities and ways to address workforce challenges.

The manufacturing industry in Illinois generates $304.8 billion in economic output each year – the single largest contribution by any industry. Statewide, manufacturers directly employ 592,200 women and men. These are good paying, middle-class jobs with an average salary of $88,691, providing a total of $52 billion in wages and benefits across Illinois.

About the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association (IMA)

The Illinois Manufacturers’ Association is the only statewide association dedicated exclusively to advocating, promoting and strengthening the manufacturing sector in Illinois. The IMA is the oldest and largest state manufacturing trade association in the United States, representing nearly 4,000 companies and facilities. For more information, please visit

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