In 2010, 60 Minutes broadcast a segment about Newton, IA, and its struggling businesses. The town was in an extended depression – leveled not only by the recession, but the shuttering three years earlier of the Maytag factory, the town’s largest employer. Dave McNeer, owner of distributor Maxim Advertising, spoke candidly on camera about his businesses’ struggles: shaving his workforce in half, watching his clientele shrivel up, appealing to the banks only to be turned away.
After the special aired, McNeer’s phone “blew up,” but not one single politician reached out to him. Someone else did: Michael Cohen, executive vice president and special counsel for Donald Trump. “He said he and Mr. Trump were watching 60 Minutes last night and really felt bad about what happened to the community and the loss of jobs,” McNeer recalls, “and wanted to know what they could do to help.”
Certainly McNeer could have used some. Maxim Advertising was started in 1984, and McNeer built the business on the back of Maytag, beating out other distributors to win the favor of the appliance giant. At one point, McNeer had 22 employees and did three-quarters of his business with the washer and dryer manufacturer. Maytag was purchased by Whirlpool in 2005, but even before then McNeer realized relying so much on one client wasn’t tenable. It didn’t matter. When Whirlpool closed the Newton factory (moving many of the jobs to Mexico), McNeer lost a third of his business, and his local buyers soon followed. “Overnight we lost half of our business,” McNeer says.
The phone call from Trump was an unexpected surprise, and McNeer didn’t know what to expect. Cohen set up McNeer with a few contacts and Trump’s hospitality arm contracted Maxim for some work. Then, in the spring of 2015, a political friend invited McNeer to the Iowa state house, where Trump was making an appearance. McNeer introduced himself and thanked Trump. “He stopped in his tracks,” says McNeer, “and I have a great picture of it, and he pointed both fingers at me and said ‘Hey, I remember you.’” McNeer recalls that Trump pointed at Chuck Laudner, his top Iowa political operative, and said, “‘Make sure you guys exchange cards, cause if I ever do run [for President], I want this guy doing stuff for us.’”
The Republican frontrunner made good on that promise a few months later, when his team contacted McNeer and asked him to produce signage and buttons in mere days for when Trump declared his candidacy. McNeer was also asked to appear at Trump’s first campaign stop in Iowa and talk about his story as a recovering business.
Since then, Maxim Advertising has produced a host of items for Trump’s campaign, including knit caps, buttons, T-shirts, rally signs and more (all Made in the USA, of course). In total, McNeer has done six figures of business with the Trump campaign. “He never offered us money, but he offered us opportunity, and that’s much more than a check can do,” says McNeer, who kept contacts in the appliance industry but is now looking to expand his political work. “I really think it was genuine.”