There is a new economic Sheriff in town, and his name is John O'Donnell, owner and Chief Executive Officer of Kokomo Opalescent Glass. John purchased KOG approximately two years ago, and has been the catalyst for change in the way KOG manufactures, markets and sells its products to the international world of artisans. Employees, and especially the Artisans at KOG, are allowed to use their skills, talents and ingenuity to produce products that are coveted by glass constructors around the world. KOG is truly an international company!
My first realization that KOG was far reaching in the world of glass was at my 50th high school reunion. One of the members of my former high school class asked me where I lived. I responded Kokomo, Ind. She immediately told me she taught a course in stained glass windows at the local college, and all her glass came from Kokomo Opalescent Glass in Kokomo, Ind. She knew more about KOG than I did.
Kokomo Opalescent Glass has been operating in the same buildings since 1887. Charles Edward Henry, glass chemist, from New Rochelle, N.Y., exercised his entrepreneurial spirit and founded KOG in 1886. Henry's attraction to the Kokomo area was the availability of cheap energy to fire the glass furnaces required for the production of glass. Sales were good, but Henry's entrepreneurial abilities were not matched by his business acumen. Within months the company was bankrupt.
Three local businessmen, P.E. Hoss, J.W. Lerner, and W.E. Blacklidge bought the company out of receivership at a time when there were hundreds of glass factories operating across the United States. This triumvirate decided to concentrate on the manufacture of one-of-kind sheets of decorative art glass. This decision probably saved KOG from economic oblivion. Today, Kokomo Opalescent Glass is the oldest continuously operating manufacturer of decorative art glass products in North America. The manufacture of art glass today at KOG is essentially the same process that was started by Mr. Henry in 1887. Even though KOG formulations, or recipes, are essentially the same, my classmate told me the beauty of KOG glass is, there are never two pieces of glass identical, and that's what artisans love.
The customer list includes clients in 20 foreign countries, 20 percent of sheet glass leaves the United States, and there are 40 distributors in the United States and 20 outside the country. The most prestigious customer was Louis Comfort of famed Tiffany's of New York. Tiffany lamps are the most sought after product of the Tiffany era, and chances are the majority of Tiffany lamps contain KOG glass, a little known fact in the world of art glass.
From an economic standpoint, KOG is a very important part of the Kokomo Howard County business world. KOG employs 37 associates led by an entrepreneur extraordinaire, John O'Donnell. With little or no experience in glass production, John has elevated KOG to new economic heights with his expertise in the business world. Sales increased by 10 percent in 2010, and by 8.2 percent in 2011. In addition, from a public relations standpoint, John has established KOG as a destination for individuals who love glass and glass manufacture. KOG hosted 3500 visitors from 27 states and six foreign countries, including two visitors from Russia who spoke no English. John had to quickly find a Russian translator in Kokomo, and that was not easy. Overall, tours have increased 12 percent.
One of the great strengths of KOG is the elevated caliber of all employees. One of my first exposures to KOG employees was at a noon Rotary meeting where Cindy Locke, Manager of Retail Operations, gave an overall review of KOG. After the first two minutes she had my undivided attention. Cindy transported me into the world of glass manufacturing, and I was transfixed for the full 30 minutes. Presentations have been a way of life for me in years past, but this was one of the most professional presentations I have ever witnessed. My reaction was, this manager "gets it." From Carrie Hall who works in the OPS Shop, to Mark Jennings, artisan whose talent knows no bounds, and all other KOG employees, associates and artisans in the Hot Glass Studio, success of KOG is essential. KOG is in good hands.
Kokomo Opalescent Glass has prospered despite the lack of support and recognition from the various economic development organizations of Kokomo and Howard County. However, KOG received the prestigious Century Business Award from Governor Mitch Daniels and the state of Indiana, for "Outstanding Contributions to the Economic Growth and Prosperity of Indiana."
KOG is another of those economic jewels that exist in Kokomo and Howard County. The company is the essence of international trade with customers all over the world. On one of my visits I observed 20 crates of art glass that was packaged for shipment to Japan. On every crate was emblazoned, "MADE IN THE USA." KOG should receive the same economic care and nourishment as the Chrysler's and Delphi's of the world. Just because KOG flies under the radar screen of city and county government, local economic development agencies, and even the citizenry of our community, KOG is an integral part of the business community, and should be treated as such.
To have a totally satisfying experience, visit Kokomo Opalescent Glass for one of their guided tours. The tours start on Wednesday and Friday mornings in the OP Shop and this is where the fun begins and ends. If you are a true glass lover, bring your wallet. Chances are you cannot leave without purchasing one of the many art objects created by the talented artisans of KOG.
To sum up, Kokomo Opalescent Glass is an essential economic member of our community, an international exporter of American goods, a good corporate citizen, and the company, Kokomo Opalescent Glass, belongs to us, the citizens of Kokomo and Howard County. We are so lucky to have a company 125 years old, existing and prospering in our community.