'Every year, we produce 5M:' Eder Flag in Oak Creek is a melting pot of workers from around the world
OAK CREEK -- The American flag has 13 broad stripes, seven red, six white, a field of blue and 50 perfectly-placed bright stars. It’s the representation of the United States, and as anyone knows who has watched that star-spangled banner yet wave, the American flag means so much more than the sum of those parts.
“We’re creating a symbol of our nation that has one meaning, but so many personal interpretations that go along with it," said Jodi Goglio, COO of Eder Flag Company.
All you have to do is ask the people who make the flag itself.
“America is all about people coming from somewhere and making home here," said Radica Markovic, sewing manager.
Since 1887, Eder Flag Company has called Wisconsin home. On the outside, it’s a collection of nondescript buildings in Oak Creek, but inside, it's a shining sea of red, white and blue.
“Every year, we produce over five million U.S. flags," said Goglio.
Eder is the largest company in the country when it comes to manufacturing both flags and flagpoles, and the busiest time of year for the more than 220 employees is between Memorial Day, Flag Day and the Fourth of July.
“Yesterday we had 450 boxes going out," said Robin Meiter, shipping associate.
At a time when patriotism reaches its peak, Eder embodies the very best of the American melting pot.
“Employees from Burma. Employees from Pakistan. I am from Serbia. We have from Croatia, from Bosnia, Mexico, El Salvador, Iran. I am sorry if I forgot somebody," said Markovic.
“They each have their own individual story," said Goglio.
For each individual, the flag signifies something different. For Robin Meiter, who was born in Milwaukee, it’s a reminder of his time in the U.S. Army.
“Going into the military, it made me really become a man, learn a lot more responsibility," said Meiter, who joined in 1975.
For Radica Markovic and Vlado Maric, it’s the sign of new life after escaping war-torn countries.
“This felt like a home. I felt welcome when I started working here and I felt like I belonged," said Markovic.
Both worked their way up through the ranks at Eder Flag, while also becoming U.S. citizens.
“It took me like, one year to do all that stuff. I have to study. There is a test in writing, speaking, talking and I finally got it," said Maric, who was a prisoner of war as a child in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Communication requires a particular set of skills at Eder.
“I speak five languages, and the first one is English, Turkish, Albanian, Serbian and Macedonian," said Elza Islami, sewing supervisor.
Though when it comes to some flags, words aren’t necessary.
“We don’t always get to know that story, so when we get flags in and we know their significance, it really confirms why we do here what we do," said Goglio.
That’s what makes one flag at Eder so special. It's a 30-foot by 60-foot banner that arrived from halfway around the world.
“A troop, a unit that’s overseas in special ops -- undisclosed location -- they take this flag with them everywhere they go," said Goglio.
Heavy winds ripped one of the white stripes, and since it was originally made by Eder, the servicemembers trusted Eder employees to repair it.
“We are so proud to have it -- to be able to bring it back and restore it to what they need it to look like -- the U.S. flag symbol," said Goglio.
“It makes me very, very happy and proud being part of making that flag to give them that comfort," said Markovic.
It’s a connection woven across continents -- one star, one stripe, one stitch at a time.