The anniversary attracted politicians with proclamations, but part of the celebration was based on the decision last fall by Little Tikes' parent company to end three years of uncertainty about whether the company's future would be in Hudson.
Shortly after MGA Entertainment of Van Nuys, Calif., purchased Little Tikes from Newell Rubbermaid in 2006, the company began talks with local and state officials who were aware other states were trying to lure away the multi-national company with incentives.
In the end, last fall Ohio and Hudson approved a package of loans, grants and incentives totaling $4.3 million to persuade the company and its Chief Executive Officer, Isaac Larian, to keep Little Tikes and about 400 jobs.
The company has 500 employees and has brought some production of smaller toys and components to Hudson from plants in China, said Larian.
At Thursday's celebration, Larian thanked his employees for their patience.
''We went through some thick without going through thin and I thank you for that,'' he said.
Larian thanked Murdough for being the visionary to start Little Tikes and change the toy business. Larian's acknowledgment of Murdough was met with raucous applause.
After the ceremony, Larian said Thursday was the first time he had met Murdough and though Murdough is associated with toy competitor Step2 in Streetsboro, Larian still wanted to invite Murdough back to Little Tikes.
''He's an icon,'' Larian said.
Back among friends
In a separate interview, Murdough said he felt a range of emotions.
''I love being here and seeing these people and the length of time they have been here,'' he said. ''They have a commitment to building quality products and . . . backing it up with unparalleled customer service.''
Murdough grew Little Tikes from its start until selling it to Rubbermaid, then based in Wooster, in 1984. A few years later, Murdough began another company, Step2 in Streetsboro, which would eventually become a competitor to Little Tikes.
Step2 originally was not designed to be a direct toy competitor to Little Tikes, Murdough said. The company originally was to focus on home and garden products, and when they brought children's products along, they were supposed to be a ''step beyond'' Little Tikes.
But Murdough acknowledged the two are very much competitors now.
Murdough sold Step2 to a private equity group, Liberty Partners, in 2006 and stayed on as president until 2007. He has retired from the board of directors, but said he still has an interest in the company and is used as a consultant.
Workers the difference
Larian attributed his reason for deciding to keep Little Tikes in Hudson was the employees.
''Business comes and goes, but people don't. In my heart, I couldn't unplug this place and take it someplace else and have people unemployed,'' he said.
But Larian acknowledged that he had to play hardball with the state and city to get incentives to stay.
Hudson Mayor Bill Currin said Larian is a businessman who had a company that had gone from 1,000 employees to 300 employees.
''He had to play tough. He had to be realistic and we responded,'' Currin said.
It was a collaboration among city, county and state officials with the company that was able to come to a good resolution, he said.
Ohio Department of Development Director Lisa Patt-McDaniel said the state saw something special in the company with manufacturing in Ohio.
The local and state incentives require Little Tikes to remain in Hudson for up to seven years, but Patt-McDaniel said the commitment from the state will not be to baby-sit the incentives, but to work with the company to ensure it will grow and stay long-term.
Larian said he didn't remember how long the incentives required him to keep Little Tikes in town, but ''the way business has gone, short of having a catastrophe, I see the business staying here for many, many years.''
Larian said Little Tikes will be bringing more production back to Ohio as well as other MGA Entertainment product lines.
Tom Richmond, Little Tikes' worldwide general manager, said the logic in keeping manufacturing in Hudson was a combination of things, including lower energy and supply costs in the U.S. and many Chinese factories being at overcapacity.
It's not as cheap to produce products in China as it once was, Richmond said.
Little Tikes has brought production of swingsets and several small-box products to the Hudson facility, Richmond said. Small toys for 2011 are being designed with the thought of being produced in Hudson — a different mentality than before, he said.
Larian said there is stability in being able to control facilities he owns, because he did not own factories in China.
MGA Entertainment, founded by Larian in 1979, makes a variety of toys and dolls, including the Bratz dolls line. A federal appeals court suspended an order that MGA stop selling Bratz products last year and give ownership of the brand to rival Mattel Inc. by this year after Mattel previously won a lawsuit over the rights to the doll.
Larian said the 10th anniversary of the Bratz doll is this year and there will be new products available in August.
Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tom Murdough, founder of Little Tikes and Step2 Companies, (left) joins MGA Entertainment Chief Executive Isaac Larian to celebrate Little Tikes' 40th anniversary at their plant in Hudson Thursday. MGA Entertainment is the parent company of Little Tikes. (Paul Tople/Akron Beacon Journal)