Versatile Metal Works CEO Jeremi Dobbs [Photography by John Bolinger]
Versatile Metal Works CEO Jeremi Dobbs [Photography by John Bolinger]

Like a Machine

Sitting in the front office of Versatile Metal Works, Jeremi Dobbs reflects on his long and fulfilling career in machine tool trades.

“Culture and mindset are my drivers,” says Dobbs, whose office is decorated precisely with samples of machined metal, a copy of “The Art of War”, and a display of the equipment and uniform that he wore while serving as a sheriff for Delaware County.

“I was infatuated with law enforcement,” he says. “I worked the trades during the day. I really enjoyed the law enforcement world, and what the brotherhood and sisterhood stood for. I don’t know where it came from.”

He was born and raised on the south side of Muncie, graduated from Southside High School in 1988, and put himself through Ivy Tech studying machine tool technology. Right out of trade school he started work for Midwest Metal Project, spending 20 years there and climbing to a position of responsibility over their operations.

During that time he grew his knowledge of quality, engineering and management, and ended up working to grow their fabrication and machining business for seven years, before deciding to go into business for himself.

He wrote a business plan to start the machine shop that would become Versatile Metal Works, forming a partnership with Gordon Cox in 2010.

Versatile Metal Works
Versatile Metal Works- 1403 South Liberty Street, Muncie, Indiana 47302, United States

The shop itself is set up to allow work to flow seamlessly from one station to the next, from the laser cutter to the final welding stations and powder coating.

“We make decorative wrought iron, porch railing, decorative gates, city park signs, Cardinal Greenway signs, school signs, hand railing – my work is everywhere in the community,” says Dobbs.

One of the larger pieces that can be seen in public is a metal canopy at Heekin Park that sits in the middle of a spiral walkway. The canopy took a year and a half to design and bring to life, and Dobbs worked with a designer from Indianapolis. The piece is large enough that it had to be made in multiple parts just to fit through the doors of the shop.

Along with his extensive career in metal working, Dobbs also served for 20 years as a reserve police officer in the evening, 10 years for the Muncie Police Department, and then 10 years for the Delaware County Sheriff’s Office.

Versatile Metal Works

“That led me to start designing and building transportation systems for police cars, canine kennels for police cars, and prisoner transport systems,” he says. “My love for manufacturing and law enforcement cross paths. I have police cars coming to me from all over the state.”

This love of law enforcement and the officers who work in it led him to design a patented approach to storing and displaying their associated gear. It’s called the Warrior Rack, and is produced entirely by Versatile Metal Works. These items are shipped all over the country and even internationally to Canada and Australia, to police departments and individual police officers. It’s a heavy-duty metal stand that holds equipment so officers can quickly and carefully stow their gear at home.

Balancing home life and career has been a priority for Dobbs since day one. He has been happily married since 1994, and raised three children. His youngest son started work at 17 in the family business at Versatile, working with metal like his father. So for Dobbs, his employees really are like family, because some of them are.

Versatile Metal Works

“My retention rate is great, and my turnover is zero,” he says. “I have had employees that have been with me for 20 years. Treat people well, pay them well – we just do the things we are supposed to do.”

Employee welfare is his top priority. “I have 25 employees,” he says. “We have 25 house payments and 25 tables to put groceries on every week. I take that seriously.”

Passing on his knowledge to the next generation also led him to be an adjunct instructor at Ivy Tech, teaching machine tool trades for a couple years. “I always wanted to know what it was like to teach kids,” says Dobbs.

It is important for him to see the work he does make a difference in the community around him. “I was a south side kid, raised on the south side of town, and went to Southside High School,” he says. “By working hard, being passionate and chasing my dreams, it’s possible.”

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