From metal stamping to celebrity speakers

Grafton’s Kapco adds to its diverse portfolio of companies with Inspire America Speakers

STANDING IN FRONT of a stage at Kapco Metal Stamping in Grafton before a recent concert were Sara Grover and Neil Willenson, who work in the company’s entertainment division, including its newest branch, Inspire America Speakers. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

Kapco Metal Stamping in Grafton is a successful firm in its own right, but inspired by President Jim Kacmarcik’s varied interests, the company has branched out in diverse ways in recent years. Its most recent venture, Inspire America Speakers, kicked off earlier this month. It’s a speakers bureau with its own roster of talent, but it can also arrange for nationally known speakers to talk to groups. “We’ve already started to get some inquiries,” said Neil Willenson, vice president of community relations for Kapco. The best known names on Inspire America’s roster include former American Idol finalists Kimberley Locke and Naima Adedapo, and Olesya Rulin, an actor who was in “High School Musical.” Willenson said he became friends with Locke when she served on the board of Camp Heartland — now One Heartland — a charity he founded to help children diagnosed with HIV and AIDS. She speaks on a variety of topics, including the music industry, health and wellness and women in business, he said. Adedapo, Willenson said, talks not just about music but overcoming adversity, women’s empowerment and diversity. “She’s such an inspiring person,” he said. “Her story is a hopeful story of a dreamer. She used to be a janitor at Summerfest, cleaning the stages on which she now performs.” And Rulin talks about everything from acting to bullying, immigration, empathy, self-help and more. The company’s roster also includes such people as HIV and AIDS activist Hydeia Broadbent, who addressed the Republican National Convention in 1996 and appeared on numerous talk shows “This is a girl who was not supposed to live,” Willenson said, noting she is a survivor of HIV/AIDS. “She’s one of the best speakers I’ve ever heard.” Also on the list is Lulu Sammarco, an 11-year-old cancer survivor who speaks about cancer awareness. She speaks with a parent, Willenson said, noting her father is also a cancer survivor. There’s also Arno Michaelis, a former Neo Nazi leader who has come to regret the life he once led and now speaks on diversity and inclusivity, Willenson said, and Kenny Aronoff, a drummer who has performed with notables such as John Fogerty and John Mellencamp and was among Rolling Stones’ list of the top 100 drummers. The speaking business is a natural offshoot of Kapco’s K-Nation Entertainment group, aka KNE, Willenson said. For years, he said, KNE has arranged for high-profile individuals, including celebrities such as actor Jane Lynch and singer Lance Bass, to do everything from perform concerts to serve as celebrity hosts for events. “We said, ‘We’re meeting all these inspiring people. Why not get these artists on a roster?’” Willenson said. “These are people who believe in the power of words to inspire, to motivate and to bring about change.” Even if someone isn’t on their roster of speakers they regularly book, Willenson said, they can arrange for virtually anyone a company or group might want to hire, including major Hollywood celebrities. “We can book any celebrity,” he said. “There’s no limit. I’ll be able to find a way to get to their representative.” The firm has a data base of appropriate fees for various celebrities, he said, and can work at booking someone at a reasonable price. The company’s takes as percentage of the fees paid to the speakers, which can range from a couple hundred dollars to “far more,” Willenson said. Inspire America will find speakers for events and groups large and small, he added. “There’s no event that’s too small,” Willenson said. At the heart of it all is Kapco, which employs about 500 people in all its divisions, Willenson said. “Kapco is what keeps everything turning,” he said. The route from a metal stamping firm to an entertainment company isn’t necessarily a natural path, but it’s an intriguing one. Kacmacik’s parents Tom Sr. and Josephine started Kapco in 1972. “His mother literally ran the first machine,” Willenson said. Over time, Kacmarcik joined the firm and eventually became its president. “The company grew at an impressive rate,” Willenson said, adding that after about 45 years, Kacmarcik, who he described as an interesting man and a humanitarian, came to a realization. “He thought, ‘I’ve accomplished a lot here at Kapco, but there’s more I want to do,’” Willenson said. An avid sports fan, Kacmarcik is an investor in the Milwaukee Bucks and president and majority owner of the Lakeshore Chinooks baseball team, which plays at Kapco Park at Concordia University Wisconsin in Mequon. He enjoys cars and has developed SpeedKore performance group, which builds custom cars. The business has been featured on “Jay Leno’s Garage” twice and counts Robert Downey Jr. as one of its customers. He also owns the painting and coatings company ACI Advanced Coatings. Kacmarcik’s other passion is philanthropy, Willenson said. “Jim believes in people helping people,” he said. It’s a journey that includes the annual Kids2Kids Christmas event, which provides toys for children in need, Camp Hometown Heroes, which provides week-long summer camps for children whose parents have died in military service, and Hometown Heroes, which provides support for people in need, veterans and first responders. And, of course, there’s KNE, which provides a range of musical services, including booking and recording bands, and Given Entertainment, a Nashville company that has a roster of songwriters.



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