DECATUR — What do Kofi Cockburn and an electric compressor have in common?
Well, according to Decatur’s T/CCI Manufacturing, they’re both “cool.” One led college basketball in dunks. The other helps control temperatures in machines and facilities.
And now, both have an integral business relationship with the success of the company.
To kick off the 7-foot Illini center’s first major deal using his name, image and likeness, Cockburn made an appearance at the T/CCI headquarters Monday to show how the company’s compressor, and manufacturing jobs in general, are “#CoolLikeKofi.”
“We’re excited about T/CCI’s compressors, their cooling vehicles, and for the pursuit of careers in manufacturing, that are cool like … well, you know,” Cockburn said to room-wide laughter.
T/CCI, headed by prolific Illini athletics donors Richard Demirjian and Kara Demirjian Huss, is partnering with 20 different Illini athletes across each of the school’s varsity sports teams for the company’s first NIL venture.
The company and the athletes are embarking on an eight-month marketing campaign to showcase clean energy, electrification and gender-equity movements in the manufacturing industry.
“We see a lot of similarities in Kofi and ourselves,” said T/CCI President Rich Demirjian.
He and Cockburn made a comparison between the center and the company’s founder: both are first-generation immigrants.
“I know what it takes to build yourself up from the ground up, all the sacrifices, hard work and determination,” Cockburn said.
In the kickoff event, Cockburn spoke and mingled with a few dozen local high schoolers, who were eager to meet with the towering star baller.
They took selfies, even shot around at a hallway hoop installation with Cockburn. One of the students, MacArthur High School senior Brooke Swinford, even left with an autographed shirt from the All-America center.
Swinford thinks the Illini athletics image could carry a big marketing impact across the state.
“There are a lot of Illinois athletes we look up to. To see them collaborating with local brands is cool, to see it’s not just a Champaign thing, but that it goes further than that,” she said.
The Demirjian family has financed two major athletics projects: an on-campus indoor golf facility and the recent Demirjian Park, primarily for soccer and track-and-field athletes.
With its wealth of athletics connections, T/CCI worked to identify Illini athletes whose persona and academic pursuits aligned with the company’s self-professed pillars of dedication and grit.
Brad Dancer, Illinois’ men’s tennis coach, made an appearance on behalf of his team’s representative in the company campaign: sophomore Hunter Heck.
The athletes will be using their personal narratives — and social media presences — for the company’s promotional campaign, relating their athletic experiences to tenets for success in the manufacturing industry and business world, said Demirjian Huss.
“We see this as a partnership between the athletes and us as a business,” she said. “We’re choosing those athletes that have the same philosophy as what we do.”
Another slogan to look out for: “Performance counts,” she said, in games and in the marketplace.
“T/CCI works hard to outperform the competition, just like I do on the court,” Cockburn said in his prepared remarks.
The Illinois Manufacturing Association, where Demirjian Huss sits on the board of directors, also made an appearance at the event, highlighting the job openings and direction of the manufacturing scene.
“Manufacturers face a struggle today to find manufacturing workers,” said IMA President and CEO Mark Denzler. “Too many people have this perception of manufacturing as dark, dirty and dangerous. It’s not: Today’s manufacturers are clean and high-tech and sustainable and diverse, and we need to share that message so that we can get more young folks attracted to manufacturing jobs.”