‘A great story to tell’: McHenry product among ‘coolest’ things made in Illinois

McHenry-based Jessup Manufacturing Co. produces the grip tape on skateboards

Machine operator Justin Vazquez spools grip tape onto tubes at Jessup Manufacturing on Thursday, March 18, 2021, in McHenry.  The company, which makes grip tape for skateboards, is in the running for a competition looking for the "coolest thing made in Illinois."

There’s pretty much only one word to describe a recent accomplishment by McHenry-based Jessup Manufacturing Co.: cool.

Jessup The Original Griptape was a finalist in a contest meant to determine the “coolest thing made in Illinois.” The product reached the top eight among an original field of 311 nominees, eventually losing out in the bracket-styling voting contest to custom tooling by Decatur’s Deco Manufacturing Co.

“What makes this product cool is this product is really what attaches the skateboard to the skater,” said Rob Jessup, president and CEO of Jessup Manufacturing Co., which his grandfather started in 1956. “This is where the two meet.”

Grip tape is basically an adhesive sheet that helps skaters stay on their boards. Although it didn’t advance to the top four, the fact that it made it as far as it did is, well, cool.

“It’s very exciting to be recognized,” Jessup said.

The recognition reflects the strong and competitive manufacturing base in Illinois, the strength of the Jessup name, the growth of the company and a blossoming interest in skateboarding, company officials said.

“We sell this product throughout the world,” Jessup said. “Skateboarders are some of the most passionate people I know. They are brand loyal and very passionate. And there’s a lot of excitement within the skateboarding community.”

In addition to the pandemic likely drawing more people to the sport as they look for fun outdoor activities, Tokyo 2020 will mark the first ever appearance of skateboarding at the OIympic Games.

Jessup is the only grip-tape manufacturer in the U.S. and was chosen to be the official grip-tape partner of USA Skateboarding, designated by the U.S. Olympic Committee as the governing body responsible for Team USA skaters in this summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Rob Jessup poses for a photo at Jessup Manufacturing on Thursday, March 18, 2021, in McHenry.  The company is in the running for a competition looking for the "coolest thing made in Illinois."

As interest in skateboarding grew, sales of grip tape increased significantly in the past year, said George Sloan, vice president of marketing for Jessup.

“For whatever reason, skateboarding has just skyrocketed during the pandemic,” he said. “People who skated when they were kids, grew up and got real jobs are getting back into it.”

Unlike some team sports, skateboarding is a socially distanced sport and can be tried rather easily, company officials said.

“The only thing that holds somebody back is just a willingness to try,” Jessup said.

Company officials credit much of their product’s advancement in the contest to marketing efforts, including everything from social media posts to posters and flyers.

The company entered the contest with other products before but put more effort into this year. Talk is underway to possibly go even bigger next year.

“It was just something fun for us to do,” said Katie Gibson, digital marketing manager for Jessup. “We think it’s a great story to tell.”

The contest, put on by the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association, is designed to shine “a light on Illinois’ diverse manufacturing sector,” according to a news release.

The remaining four finalists include self-regulating traffic signal heater by Elk Grove Village’s Termico Technologies, Blistex lip ointment by Oak Brook’s Blistex Inc., Custom Tooling by Deco Manufacturing Co. in Decatur and Accuchiller KSE Series Packaged Outdoor Chiller by Niles’ Thermal Care Inc.

Last year, Caterpillar’s 797F Large Mining Truck was crowned “The Coolest Thing Made in Illinois” after nearly 300,000 votes cast in total, according to the release.