MONMOUTH — An invitation to the White House is not something that comes every day. 

But that is just what Jack Traps Inc. owner Shawn Norton received — an invitation from the Executive Office of the President that came on July 3.

On Monday, he will represent his business — and Maine — during the third annual Made in America Product Showcase at the White House. Each state is represented by a business at the showcase. 

“I was in shock,” Norton said. “I have so much to figure out in such a short time.”

He had been about to start a vacation, and Norton and his girlfriend, Kandise Coleman, who will travel with him to the showcase, had to make travel arrangements quickly, including care for their 2-year-old. They were scheduled to leave Friday.

“We are seasonal. This is our off time of year,” Norton said. “We are building up inventory for next season, so we do not have a wide variety of the products we normally have in the winter. We had to push a bunch of product through real quick.”

Mark Dunham checks to see if a piece of wood is straight before drilling it Thursday at Jack Traps in Monmouth. Twenty-eight holes need to be predrilled before the company’s ice fishing traps are assembled. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

He thinks his company was selected because of its efforts to produce and sell Maine- and American-made products. 

“When we put stuff in our store, quality is our thing,” Norton said. “We want to sell something that people can buy and last them a lifetime. In our opinion, American-made goods, especially Maine-made, are the best.” 

Weston Lloyd, media liaison for the Executive Office of the President, declined to say how businesses are selected to participate in the showcase.

“Companies attending the Made in America Product Showcase represent a cross-section of industries — from fishing supplies to apparel to furniture and household tools — to showcase the variety of products made in America,” said an unnamed White House official, according to a statement provided by Lloyd, who declined to identify the official.

Gaining security clearance to enter the White House included a lot of paperwork and getting Jack Traps’ products there early, which usually is not possible. An exception was made, but when Norton arrives, his vehicle and products will have to be cleared on site.  

Along with ice fishing traps, which are made in Monmouth, he’ll display fur coon hats, jig sticks, skimmers, ice fishing artwork and other products. 

In past years, helicopters, wheelbarrows, wines, NASA space suits, hinges, horseshoes and food products have been featured at the showcase.

Representing Maine in 2017 was Hinckley Yachts of Southwest Harbor and, in 2018, Bartlettyarns Inc. of Harmony. A list of other participating businesses at this year’s showcase was unavailable. 

“It was a huge honor,” said Lindsey Rice, Bartlettyarns vice president and chief operating officer, who attended the showcase with his wife, Susan, the company president. “We don’t even know how we were chosen.”

He recalled the experience of spending two days in the White House and meeting senators, congressmen and Vice President Mike Pence. 

“(Pence’s) time is so valuable, and he spent 15 minutes speaking to us,” Rice said.

Bartlettyarns has been in business since 1821 and employs six full-time people besides the Rices.

“Being in that crowd — we were among wide range of multimillion-dollar businesses, and we are just a small woollen mill,” Rice said. 

A customized ice fishing trap engraved for President Donald J. Trump is seen on Thursday at Jack Traps in Monmouth. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

The showcase is hosted by the Made in America Movement, which was founded in 2010 and is a nonpartisan organization lobbying for American manufacturers, suppliers, distributors and small-business owners, according to its website. 

Jack Traps’ products are made locally and around the nation, Norton said, and items they carry that are made outside of the country are products he cannot find manufactured in the U.S.

The business’ sales are primarily in the Northeast, but also around the country and Canada. The company employs six people, including two full time. 

The opportunity to showcase at the White House is not the only news for the Monmouth-based company. Less than two weeks ago, Norton became the owner of Jack Traps.

Having worked for it since 2013, Norton always has seen it as a company he wanted to build.

“I could see a lot of potential for the business,” he said, “and since I have been here, we have grown a lot.” 

He hopes to keep growing the business, and to keep the name alive for a long time.

“I hope to expand our reach nationwide,” said Norton, who bought the business from Tim Jackson, who started making traps as a hobby in his basement.

The business is now in its 40th year of producing ice fishing traps and selling ice fishing equipment. 

Jackson is 65, Norton said, “and I hope he finds himself more on the ice than the work bench.”

Norton hopes the opportunity will give his company leverage to gain brand recognition in the Midwest market, like what it has in New England. In the Midwest, where there are millions of fishing licenses, ice fishing is more popular than in New England, he said. 

“We hope this puts us on the national scale,” Norton said. “There’s an opportunity (in the Midwest) that is completely untouched.”

For Hinckley Yachts, which participated in 2017, the experience was a good one. 

“We were proud as a company to have participated,” said Pete Saladino, chief marketing officer of Hinckley Yachts, “and we had one of our best web traffic days of the year.”

Unfortunately, Rice said, participating did not yield the same response as it did for Hinckley.

“It did nothing to help business,” he said. “I wish politics were not involved.” 

He described how a customer “wagged her finger at my secretary and said, ‘You guys are nothing but Trump supporters.’” Rice said the business removed its Facebook post about participating in the showcase after two days because of negative political comments. 

“I would have done it no matter who the president was, if I like them or not,” he said. “We went because we wanted to represent the Maine and its best.”

On his trip to the White House, Norton believes that he will meet President Donald Trump.

“(Meeting the president) is nothing I ever expected to do in my life,” he said.

For the occasion, Norton engraved a trap with “45th President Donald J. Trump,” which he plans to present to the president. The ice fishing flag, which springs up when a fish gets hooked by the trap, is the American flag.

Norton is not sure whether the president has been ice fishing, “but I doubt it,” he said with a chuckle. 

 

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