At the Illinois State Capitol, Senator Kyle McCarter is the only elected official that is also a manufacturer – one that knows from personal experience how state laws and regulations can positively (or negatively) affect small businesses.
In downstate Lebanon, McCarter is known as the founder and president of Custom Product Innovations and Custom Coating Innovations, two manufacturing companies that employ 25 local residents.
Thousands of miles away in East African Kenya, McCarter and his wife Victoria are revered as the directors and key benefactors of a medical clinic, an elementary school and an orphanage.
And if that weren’t enough, McCarter’s name is now being circulated for consideration to be the United States’ ambassador to Kenya. McCarter was raised as a “typical Air Force brat,” he says, before his military chaplain father settled the McCarter Family in Oklahoma during Kyle’s high school years.
McCarter decided to pursue a degree in accounting at nearby Oral Robert University, where he met his wife Victoria. After graduating, McCarter and his wife served as missionaries in East Kenya for five years, where they cultivated a deep passion for the people. With two children in tow, they returned to the Collinsville area, where McCarter began working for his father-in-law as a manufacturing sales rep.
“As a sales rep in five different states, I learned a lot about manufacturing as I was visiting plants. I was in every kind of factory you can think of: steel mills, paper plants, glass plants, bottle plants, where I sold industrial hose fittings, extrusions, every component you can think of for auto manufacturing,” McCarter said. “I also learned and did quality control of the parts I was selling.”
With all that hands-on knowledge, McCarter launched his own manufacturing business 15 years ago in downtown Collinsville with a fax machine, pallet jack and pallet racks. “Our first location wasn’t the best of places,” McCarter chuckled. “I had my desk up on pallets to stay out of water because the roof leaked so much.”
During those early years, for the most part the couple lived off Mrs. McCarter’s teaching job in East St. Louis, one of the state’s toughest areas.
“When times are rough, business owners are the first ones that go without,” McCarter said. “When you go home and tell your wife everybody got paid but you, well, it’s not a romantic weekend.”
Products that McCarter’s companies make these days include insulated gloves for power linesmen, power line connection insulators, aircraft emergency equipment and physical fitness items. Over the years, he also has acquired and developed several of his own patents.
McCarter’s experience of writing payroll checks and struggling to enlarge a business in a regulation-heavy state makes his a voice a weighted one when he goes to the State Capitol. He’s a vocal critic of tax dollars subsidizing the private sector and regulations suffocating business growth. For him, Illinois’ workers compensation system and the laws crippling independent contractors are two of the most devastating public policies.
Moving his businesses 19 miles west is always a temptation. “I know what it takes to move businesses,” McCarter said. “It’s definitely an option,” he said, to move across the Mississippi River as Illinois’ political system grows more and more challenging.
McCarter was setting up the business he moved from St. Louis when he got the call in February 2009 to move up from his spot on the St. Clair County Board to be state senator when the incumbent was sidelined with an unexpected health issue.
“I was actually in one of the machines, crawling through one of the ovens to hook up some lines, when I got the call I was being considered for Frank Watson’s seat,” McCarter said. “After an interview the following Saturday, they picked me,” and he was on his way to serve at the Capitol.
After running for re-election in 2010, 2012 and 2014, McCarter publicly announced he does not intend to run for re-election in 2018 because he “firmly believes in term limits.” Since the state legislature refuses to impose term limits, he says he’s opting to set an example for others by not running again.
His point of view will be missed, as he’s known for asking tough questions of those making budget requests during Senate Appropriations II Committee hearings. McCarter says his background in accounting and his experience running a business does color the way he views the budget process.
“Take some zeroes off the state budget, and it’s my business’ budget,” McCarter said. “Take a few more zeroes off and it’s my home. It’s the same with the state budget. We shouldn’t spend more than we take in. It’s as simple as that.”
McCarter awaits notice as to whether he’ll be serving the Trump Administration as ambassador to Kenya, where he hopes to return in order to encourage industry among the Kenyan people.
John Wesley, an 18th Century Christian theologian, outlined McCarter’s worldview: “’Make all you can, save all you can, give all you can,’” McCarter said. “I apply that same principle. I’m going to do everything I can to make as much as I can, be as efficient as I can to save what I can, in order to give away all I can.”
Custom Product Innovations and Custom Coating Innovations are located at 40 Commerce Lane in Lebanon, Illinois.
First published by TMA News Bulletin May 2017. By Fran Eaton. Used by permission.