Great Lakes Automation Services

Two words immediately come to mind when I think about my recent visit to Great Lakes Automation Services Inc. in McKean Township: Service and pride.

For starters, Great Lakes Automation is designated as a Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business – and one that is proud of its contracts with the government, and even prouder of its hiring of veterans. Military photos of employees hang on a wall in the packaging division, and military memorabilia decorates office space.

The core of strength and dedication that distinguishes our military members also runs through Great Lakes Automation’s approach to serving its customers.

The company, which designs, manufactures, assembles and ships machines that automate production lines, has been steadily building its business since the current owners purchased it in 2002. They added the packaging and kitting division in 2007, and then acquired Clifton Machining, in Lake City, in 2009.

The company’s leaders – including CEO Ken Fisher and President Mark Fatica – remain committed to providing quality products to their customers. That means fine-tuning automated machine to a customer’s specifications, or developing their own tests to guarantee that products – some of which are used by U.S. troops – will work in the field.

That dedication has paid off in return customers, Fatica says.

“We satisfy the customer, and they come back to us,” he says.

About Great Lakes Automation: The company, which collectively employs about 65 workers, has been at the McKean facility since 2009. Great Lakes Automation largely serves companies in a 300- to 400-mile radius, though it has done business as far away as California, and even in China and Mexico. In addition to working with prime contractors to the federal government, particularly the Department of Defense, the company also works with the automotive, medical device, electronics and consumer goods industries.

Why Erie County: The company’s leaders find Erie County a good location for their business – it has a reasonable cost of living, which keeps business expenses down. For workers, that means that the grass is often greener here, when it comes to how far a dollar will stretch. “Moving into here is easy,” Fatica says. “Moving out of here is tough. You don’t get what you get here anywhere else.”

Challenges of Erie County: Great Lakes Automation, like many manufacturers, is facing an aging workforce and is seeking younger skilled workers. The business requires a variety of skill sets, including mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, tool and die workers, and employees who assemble and package components. They would welcome community college programs that would teach young people the skills they need for the manufacturing floor. “Nobody teaches this anymore,” says Fisher. “So we have to teach it.” In addition, the company would like to see greater collaboration among Erie County businesses, in order to both speak with a louder voice and to support each other.

Fun fact: Great Lakes Automation Services has handled more than 900 installations of automated systems globally.

Address: 8835 Walmer Drive, McKean, PA 16426 or www.glasi.us

 

Coming up next week: We head out to Washington Township to visit Skelton Farms.

Escape Game Erie

Escape Game Erie’s new Millcreek location is in a historic house – built in 1825 – that once was an inn, a tavern, a post office, a general store and a stage coach stop, among other things. It’s fitting, then, that the building’s new use is not just unique but diverse.

Downstairs, a room has been transformed into a ship captain’s quarters, circa 1813. Upstairs, a “crime scene” tape stretches across a room that contains “Da Vinci’s Secret.” Other rooms in the building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, stand ready to become new puzzle rooms.

Owners Jennifer and David Wedzik, who bought Escape Game Erie in June 2016, opened the Millcreek location to expand their options for games. The original location, in downtown Erie’s Meiser Building on West 10th Street, is still going strong with its current two games – “Abducted” and “Forgotten Laboratory.”

The Wedziks bought the business in June 2016 from the original owners, who were from Pittsburgh. The Wedziks had played escape games with their family in other cities and were hooked on the concept.

They see it as an opportunity to offer a unique experience not just for Erie residents, but for tourists as well.

Tourism currently accounts for about 30 percent of Escape Game Erie’s business. The Wedziks are looking forward to the summer travel season, to see if they get a boost in business. They’ve made strides in promoting the game to tourists, working with VisitErie and cultivating a reputation on TripAdvisor.com.

“It’s something that’s fun and different,” Jennifer Wedzik says of Escape Game Erie. “This is something that big cities have. It’s nice to be able to bring that to Erie.”

On a recent rainy Friday evening, my staff and I, along with a few friends, found ourselves locked inside the “Escape the Niagara” room. The local flavor of the story – we had to outwit our captors and escape in time to warn Oliver Hazard Perry about the British – proved too tempting for us to resist.

I won’t give away any secrets of the game, but I will say that we made it out just under the wire – with four minutes left on the clock. As Jennifer Wedzik had predicted, each team member brought something unique to the puzzle-solving process.

For me, underlying the fun of this particular game was a sense of pride in the history of Erie County – and that’s part of the draw for Jennifer Wedzik, a self-proclaimed history buff, as well.

“‘Escape the Niagara’ was a natural connection with Erie,” she said. “It just made so much sense. It brings that connection home.”

About Escape Game Erie: Escape games started as mobile apps in Japan, and then took off as in-person experiences, Jennifer Wedzik says. The trend made its way to the United States several years ago, and various escape games began popping up in larger cities. Escape Game Erie opened in 2015. The Wedziks, who hire a professional game designer to create their puzzle rooms, are currently working on adding new games. The business appeals to a wide range of people – from kids’ birthday parties to grandparents, Jennifer Wedzik says. Companies use it for corporate team building, but it’s also a fun option for couples looking to socialize or spend a special night out, she says.

Why Erie County: For the Wedziks, Erie County is home. The family has lived in other locations around the country but was happy to return to their roots. In addition, the Wedziks are pleased to be able to bring something unique to the community – something that they see as supplementing the already strong tourism draws of Erie County.

Challenges of Erie County: Jennifer Wedzik says part of the biggest challenge for the business is getting the word out to the public – and also educating the public about what to expect when they play the game. It’s not scary at all, she says – instead, it’s about finding clues, solving puzzles and working as a team. The owners also found themselves frustrated by some municipal “red tape” as they worked to move into their new location.

Fun fact: Escape Game Erie donates $2 of every ticket for the “Escape the Niagara” game to the Flagship Niagara League.

Address: 4838 W. Ridge Road, Erie, PA 16506 and 23 W. 10th St., Erie, PA 16501 or www.escaperoomerie.com.

 

Coming up next week: We visit Great Lakes Automation Services in McKean Township.

Larson Texts

Although Larson Texts specializes in teaching math, my visit to the Millcreek Township office left me with a different lesson: Perseverance.

As CEO Matthew Totzke describes, the company was launched after Dr. Ron Larson, a professor at Penn State Behrend, tried to write four different mathematics textbooks over the course of six years. When he finally succeeded in capturing a publisher’s interest, he got not one offer but 15.

“He hit upon something that really resonated,” Totzke says.

That “something” was a student-centered approach to teaching math. And Larson continued that mission, joining with fellow Behrend professor Bob Hostetler and expanding Larson Texts over the years.

Though Larson Texts built a steady business writing textbooks for other publishers, that undercurrent of perseverance emerged again. This time, it pushed the company to take on a new enterprise – an undertaking that, while challenging, nevertheless held the promise for a big future.

In 2008, Larson Texts launched its Big Ideas Learning subsidiary, which would allow the company to publish and sell its own textbooks. The enterprise, which puts Larson “in control of our own fate,” according to Totzke, shows how the company has embraced a true entrepreneurial spirit.

The perseverance to pursue Big Ideas has paid off for the company. In spring 2018, the company plans to launch its K-5 textbooks, which would give it a full K-12 product line in mathematics.

A few months later, the company plans to be putting the finishing touches on an expansion of its current headquarters, which is inside the renovated former Belle Valley School. The new 35,000-square-foot space will allow the company to continue to expand – which it has been doing steadily since the launch of Big Ideas, growing from about 50 employees then to more than 100 now.

Through it all, the company has remained true to its original philosophy: Help the reader. That was Dr. Larson’s idea for his student-centered text, and it’s how Larson Texts continues to operate. These days, that includes supplementary study aids for students (while other companies charge extra for that, “we give it away for free,” Totzke says) as well as thoughtfully designed texts for teachers.

“It’s the same for every book,” Totzke says. “We construct our materials in a way that respects those using it.”

About Larson Texts: The company, which still writes textbooks for other companies as well as publishing its own, employs a stable of mathematicians and educators, as well as graphic artists, typesetters, marketing professionals and more. The company can count itself among the top three or four K-12 mathematics textbook companies, Totzke says.

Why Erie County: One of the biggest advantages is proximity to universities, where the local math programs consistently turn out high-quality graduates, Totzke says. Larson Texts uses some of those college students to staff a help desk, where young textbook users can get homework help via chat. And if the upcoming expansion is any indication, it is clear that Larson Texts has secured a long-term future in the community.

Challenges of Erie County: While Larson Texts has had good luck filling math-related positions, the company has faced some challenges hiring for other positions, including tech and marketing jobs. It’s partly due to the unique needs of an education-based company, Totzke says. He says the company has in the past found it difficult to get people to relocate to Erie County for a job, but that efforts to “sell” Erie have been better lately.

Fun fact: More than 5 million students study with Larson Texts books every year.

Address: 1762 Norcross Road, Erie, PA 16510 or www.larsontexts.com

 

Coming up next week: We check out Escape Game Erie, one of the county’s most popular new attractions.

 

 

 

 

 

Hurry Hill Maple Farm

My visit to Hurry Hill Maple Farm, in Franklin Township, came at the tail end of the maple syrup season – a fact that was confirmed by owner Jan Woods.

“Hear that? Those are the peepers,” she said, after we stopped by the sugarhouse. “That means spring is here. The season of mud and snow is over.”

The sugarhouse, a rustic little building tucked away in the trees, is situated down the road from the main building that greets visitors to Hurry Hill Maple Farm.

The main building – a repurposed cattle barn – houses a small shop and a detailed museum. The museum, which highlights the history of syrup making, is designed around the driving force behind Hurry Hill: The 1957 Newbery Award-winning book “Miracles on Maple Hill,” by one-time Edinboro resident Virginia Sorensen.

The book, about a family’s experiences after moving to the countryside and befriending syrup makers, features real-life local figures. Woods, a former school principal, uses Hurry Hill to showcase the book as well as preserve the sugar-making tradition that it details. The end result, Hurry Hill Maple Farm Museum Association, is a blend of history and agriculture.

As part of that preservation, Woods relies on the old ways to tap her trees and make her maple syrup. Silver buckets, some overflowing with clear, waterlike sap, hang beneath spiles from the trees in her maple orchard. There is no network of modern tubes weaving among the trees to collect sap at Hurry Hill. Instead, they do it the way the Chris family did in “Miracles on Maple Hill.”

Besides, Woods says, “No one wants to come take pictures of tubing.”

But savvy uses of technology surface around Hurry Hill, including on a walking trail. Visitors can use their smartphones to scan QR codes on signs, so that they can download information about each location around the property.

It’s just another way that Hurry Hill is weaving together present and past, in order to unite today’s families with history, agriculture and literature.

About Hurry Hill Farm: The operation, like dozens of sugarmakers in the Erie County region, reaches its peak in late winter and early spring. The sap needs several days of the freeze-at-night, thaw-during-the-day cycle to get going, Woods says. But it is open beyond the syrup season. Hurry Hill – including the shop, filled with glowing amber flasks of pure maple syrup and other maple products – is open in spring and fall, and the museum also welcomes groups for private tours.

Why Erie County: Hurry Hill is unique in that it is inextricably tied to its location – not just to Erie County, but to that specific area outside Edinboro that is the real-life Maple Hill. A driving tour, listed on Hurry Hill’s website, even lists locations from the book. In addition, Erie County is square in the maple syrup-making region, which stretches from northeastern U.S. and Canada across the Great Lakes.

Challenges of Erie County: Woods says her biggest challenge might be in getting publicity for Hurry Hill, particularly for the museum. As it highlights the local connection to Pennsylvania’s only Newbery winner, she would like to see a stronger connection to other tourism opportunities in the county. In addition, she is seeing fewer tours of students, as schools are working with limited budgets and greater attention to standardized testing.

Fun fact: Hurry Hill welcomes about 4,000 visitors per year.

Address: 11424 Fry Road, Edinboro, PA 16412 or www.hurryhillfarm.org.

 

Next week: We brush up on our math skills at Larson Texts in Millcreek Township.

Dovetail Gallery

Owner Gary Cacchione’s creativity and enthusiasm are clearly evident in Dovetail Gallery’s offices and workshops, situated in a renovated building on Erie’s east side. The offices are decorated with colorful works of art, and the workshop areas are airy and bright.

Dovetail Gallery, which specializes in upscale architectural millwork, has been at the location since 1992, and the business is looking to expand, Cacchione says. That potential growth is a reflection of the current offerings, but it also represents a vision for a new product line that Cacchione has in his sights.

If history is any guide, Cacchione’s vision might prove fruitful. It was, after all, his concept that launched his business in the first place.

He took a roundabout path to becoming a craftsman and businessman. He originally went to college to be a doctor, but realized that medicine wasn’t his passion – and therefore wasn’t his path in life. He did some work in building and construction, after watching his father in the workshop for years. He ended up building a desk and credenza for a family member who worked at a high-end Washington, D.C., law firm. That gave him connections to other clients and architects, and his business was born.

Now, Dovetail Gallery does high-quality custom work for commercial projects across the country. The company works predominantly with general contractors on high-end facilities in major cities, with only a small portion of its work going into local homes and businesses. As a result, the company brings about $4 million into the local economy each year.

It’s a successful enterprise rooted in Erie County, one that was the result not just of hard work and talent, but also of a willingness to take a chance – to blend all three in order to achieve your dream.

For Gary Cacchione, that chance paid off, and provided him with not just a profession, but a passion.

“I like my job,” he says. “I really do.”

About Dovetail Gallery: The business, which was incorporated in 1985, has made its mark on swanky casinos and posh restaurants in the nation’s largest cities, and even on facilities around Erie. Though the company is known for its woodworking, it also does some work in metal, glass and plastic. The company’s staff, which fluctuates based on orders, is currently at about 20, but Cacchione anticipates that he’ll be back up to a full staff of about 30 employees soon.

Why Erie County: Cacchione, an Erie native, finds that his roots in the community can translate to connections. Connections also helped him overcome some of the challenges of his business, including finding employees with the appropriate cabinet-making skills. He began working with Karen Ernst, who teaches woodworking and furniture design at Edinboro University’s Art Department, to help him find trained workers.

Challenges of Erie County: Aside from the above-mentioned challenges in finding skilled woodworkers, Cacchione cites some of the expenses that can be significant for any small business. He also points out that it can be difficult to get lending as a small business in Erie County, since many of the banks make their lending decisions out of town.

Fun fact: Dovetail refers to a style of interlocking joint used in woodworking.

Address: 352 E. 18th St., Erie, PA 16503 or www.dovetailgalleryinc.com

 

Coming up next week: We head out to Franklin Township to tour (and taste) Hurry Hill Farm.

Rogers Brothers

During my recent visit to Rogers Brothers Corp. in Albion, an array of photos caught my eye.

The vintage black-and-white images, displayed outside company president Jay Kulyk’s office, showcase some of the original Rogers Brothers trailers and highlight the company’s history.

And it’s quite a history – Rogers Brothers, after all, has been operating in Albion since 1905, and it is now run by the fourth-generation of family members.

As Kulyk tells it, the business got its start building bridges and other steel structures, as well as homes, but switched to building trailers once customers started requesting them. Early trailers had a capacity of one ton and were pulled behind the early automobiles and trucks of the time. As the company developed, so did their trailer designs, particularly those designed to carry heavier and heavier payloads.

One of the most interesting images on display at Rogers Brothers was an old advertisement, touting the advantages of the company’s trailers: “Every type, every size, every capacity,” it read. “Your truck will haul at least twice the load.”

Today, Rogers Brothers builds semi-trailers and tag-along style trailers for a variety of industries, including mining and construction. The production process in Albion is impressive in its attention to detail. During assembly, massive steel beams are welded together, gradually creating a skeleton for a trailer as the pieces move along in production. The sheer size of the trailers is remarkable – after all, these trailers must be strong enough to transport huge pieces of machinery.

The large-scale, complex trailers that come off the production line at Rogers Brothers might be unrecognizable to the company’s earlier owners, but it’s clear that the company’s decades-old philosophy remains the same.

According to Kulyk, today’s Rogers Brothers sets itself apart by customization, specializing in building trailers to fit a client’s needs. Like the founders, it has adjusted its business to best serve the customers – and still provides trailers for every type, every size, every capacity.

About Rogers Brothers: If you’ve ever seen heavy equipment being hauled behind a truck on a highway, there’s a good chance you’ve seen a Rogers Brothers trailer in action. The company does business in all 50 states and even internationally. It has provided trailers for the mining industry in South America, including in Chile and Peru. The company employs about 50 people in its Albion facility (which is a union shop).

Why Erie County: It’s clear that Rogers Brothers is deeply rooted in western Erie County, not just by the family ownership, but also by the family ties among employees. The company has second- and even third-generation employees working at the business. Kulyk is himself a fourth-generation employee – his great-grandfather, Louis Rogers, was one of the original founders. Kulyk’s brother and sister also work at the company, as do his wife’s brother and his sister’s husband. His son and his nephew have done part-time work at the company, representing a fifth generation of Rogers descendants working at the business.

Challenges of Erie County: The challenges that Kulyk recounts reflect geographic and economic realities broader than just Erie County. Transportation of completed trailers can be costly, he says. In addition, Rogers Brothers often finds itself with higher overhead costs than its competitors, he says, because competitors in the South have lower labor costs, whether they are union or non-union shops. The inability to compete with general competitors, cost-wise, is one of the reasons that Rogers Brothers turned to the custom work that is now its specialty.

Fun fact: It normally takes, on average, four to six weeks for a trailer to be constructed at Rogers Brothers.

Address: 100 Orchard St., Albion, PA 16401 or www.rogerstrailers.com.

 

Coming up next week: We explore the millwork at Dovetail Galleries in Erie.

 

Eriez

My recent visit to Eriez was an intriguing look at the capabilities of magnets and also at the scope of a global business rooted in Erie.

One of my biggest takeaways, however, was in the management’s glass-half-full approach to business.

The optimistic viewpoint was apparent in the company’s approach to their workforce, where employees are given opportunities to advance from entry-level positions to more advanced – and higher paying – jobs. Even the idea of an aging workforce, which has caused many manufacturers to worry about the prospect of losing years of institutional knowledge, is viewed as an opportunity at Eriez.

While the loss of that skillset is a concern, it also invigorates the workforce, President and CEO Tim Shuttleworth says – “it’s an opportunity for someone waiting their turn to move up.”

That same attention to the positive – along with a breadth and depth of production capabilities and markets served – has kept Eriez in a strong position even during downturns.

When one sector falters, the company – which is headquartered in Erie County but has a presence on five continents – focuses on the half of the glass that is full, Eriez’s management team says. That is, Eriez focuses on the sectors that remain strong.

Eriez is unique in that it serves a diverse array of industries and produces an array of equipment, all on a global scale. As we toured the facility on Asbury Road in Millcreek Township, we saw vibratory equipment, such as conveyer belts that shake pieces down a line – just like you shake cereal out of the box, as Eriez’s Charlie Ingram, vice president for sales and marketing, describes. We saw powerful magnets used in food production that can detect even tiny pieces of metal. And we saw large electromagnetic separators that are used mainly for industrial work.

That kind of innovation fits in with Eriez’s roots, emerging as an entrepreneurial idea 75 years ago, and it’s the kind of big-picture thinking that is keeping the company ready for the next opportunity yet to come.

About Eriez: Eriez had its start in the 1940s, when O.F. Merwin developed a magnet to serve his customers in grain mills. Today, the company employs about 300 workers at two facilities in Erie County – one on Asbury Road and one on Wager Road – and employs hundreds more at locations around the globe. The company’s mission statement is rooted in the golden rule – meaning the management aims to treat its customers and its employees in the way they would like to be treated. In fact, an eye-catching display in an Eriez meeting room illustrates that mission in a way that reflects the company’s global footprint: The familiar sentiment is repeated in philosophies from an array of world religions.

Why Erie County: Eriez’s management says that the company can recruit from Erie County’s talented workforce – and that includes area universities that produce interns for positions like engineering. Here, the company again takes a glass-half-full approach, this time in regard to GE Transportation. Though the loss of GE as a local powerhouse has been a blow for the region’s economy, Eriez is able to see a sliver of a silver lining – namely, in its own recruiting efforts. In GE’s heyday, Eriez used to lose a lot of talent to the larger company, and now Eriez is better able to compete for those skilled workers.

Challenges of Erie County: Eriez identifies a need for increased air service at Erie International Airport as a leading challenge. The company’s global footprint necessitates frequent travel into and out of Erie, and Eriez faces lost time waiting for connections at airports, or driving to airports in Pittsburgh, Cleveland or Buffalo. In addition, expanded service to Erie International is vital to the clients that Eriez serves, as it would make site visits – which help sell customers on Eriez products – much easier to plan.

Fun fact: Eriez is one of the founding members of the Erie Regional Manufacturer Partnership, which aims to develop and maintain a skilled workforce.

Address: 2200 Asbury Road, Erie, PA 16506 or www.eriez.com

Coming up next week: We head west to Albion to visit Rogers Brothers.

 

 

Allegheny Wood Works

My visit to Allegheny Wood Works in Lake City reinforced the importance of partnership.

It was partnership that brought the current owners – brothers Steve and Mike Kraus – together in the business.

Both men bring unique business skills to their enterprise, and are thus able to complement each other. Steve Kraus, who has a background in retail, oversees the human resources, sales and accounting side of the business. Mike Kraus, who has a background in finance, now oversees the production and the shipping. Both left their previous careers to buy into the business, which is tucked away on a quiet street in Lake City.

“We’re the biggest manufacturer that no one knows is here,” Steve Kraus jokes.

As the owners since January 2014, the Kraus brothers are now proud to call themselves the largest manufacturer of solid hardwood doors in the country – or at least the largest that they know of.

During a tour of the Lake City facility, the care and craftsmanship that went into every door is apparent. The company prides itself on the quality of its work, starting with the quality of its lumber. We saw the door-making process from start to finish, culminating in the finishing touches applied by workers from Elk Creek Painting.

That brings me to another partnership: Allegheny Wood Works leases space to Elk Creek Painting, which in turn handles finishing work, such as wood staining. It’s a relationship that serves both companies well.

“That’s helping to support another 10 families,” Mike Kraus says, in addition to the 27 on Allegheny Wood Works’ payroll.

About Allegheny Wood Works: The company sells solid hardwood doors across the country and internationally, but they’ll also sell one “to the guy down the street,” Mike Kraus says. They do quite a bit of business in new home construction, but they’ve also found that their products – especially custom orders – are in demand for renovations of historic buildings and homes.

Why Erie County: Allegheny Wood Works predates the Kraus brothers’ ownership, but they are content with its location – not just in Erie County, but in west county specifically. They are Erie County natives, and they recently moved their families from elsewhere in the county to the Lake City area. They appreciate the logistics advantages offered by Erie County, and also the relative proximity to quality Appalachian hardwood.

Challenges of Erie County: Some of the challenges that Allegheny Wood Works has faced arise from state laws. In Pennsylvania, unemployment costs can be prohibitive, the Kraus brothers said – so they developed a system to ensure that a worker is a good fit for their company before offering full-time employment. They work with an agency to place workers on a temporary basis, which gives them the option to offer full-time employment once they are confident that the employee will be a strong addition to the Allegheny Wood Works Team.

Fun fact: Allegheny Wood Works does its own etching on glass inserts in doors. No design is too simple or too intricate.

Address: 10003 Railroad Street, Lake City, PA 16423 or www.solidhardwooddoors.com

SEPCO-Erie

When we visited SEPCO-Erie in Summit Township, I expected to learn about the products and processes of the shop. What I came away with, however, was a lesson in communication.

On the day of the visit, SEPCO owner Dan Ignasiak invited me to attend his brief daily meeting with the staff. It was a fast-moving, informal talk that touched on safety concerns and company news, and also included few tidbits of humor and history.

What was best about the experience, for me, was seeing the open platform for communication between the company and the employees – the employees were privy to the company’s progress, and they were also encouraged to highlight suggestions or improvements that they, personally, were responsible for. It’s an idea that Ignasiak implemented after reading the book “2 Second Lean.”

In the meeting I attended, the brief lesson of the day that Ignasiak passed onto his crew centered on a quote attributed to noted American engineer W.E. Deming: “It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.”

That sentiment – which reflects the Japanese business philosophy of kaizen, or constant improvement – is one that SEPCO has taken to heart over the past few years. As we toured the shop floor, Ignasiak pointed out some of the changes that have not only improved the work environment for his employees, but have also boosted his bottom line.

For example, he explained to us how a coolant recycling system that was recently installed now collects, cleans and reuses the coolants that keep the machines running properly. The recycling system helped improve the air quality in the facility, Ignasiak says, and also helps the company save money on coolant. In fact, he says, the system paid for itself in under two years.

It is in those ways that Ignasiak shows that SEPCO-Erie has taken the kaizen idea to heart.

“We’re changing all the time,” he says.

About SEPCO-Erie: SEPCO, which stands for South Erie Production Company, was founded in 1966 by Ignasiak’s father. Today, the company has about 25 employees (some who have been with the company for 30 years) and specializes in fabricated metal parts, especially engine components. The company added its first robotic arm in 2015, with the assistance of a grant from the NWIRC, a nonprofit partnership that serves manufacturers in northwestern Pennsylvania.

Why Erie County: SEPCO has a lot of related support industries in Erie County, Ignasiak says – pointing out that Erie County has a higher concentration of plating businesses than Pittsburgh does. He also mentioned that it is easy for SEPCO to get supplies, since steel trucks can get here easily from major highway routes.

Challenges of Erie County: Ignasiak said he would like to see greater training opportunities for specialized industries – particularly in a community college model that would provide the necessary skills to young people while still being affordable and approachable.

Fun fact: SEPCO’s website seems to say it all about the company, describing the business as “Great people running really super cool machines!”

Address: 1221 Robison Road, Erie PA 16509 or www.sepco-erie.com

 

Coming up next week: We explore Allegheny Wood Works in Lake City.

Verify!

Erin Green was selling phones and phone service when she had her lightbulb moment: Why not work for the clients, instead of the quotas?

Green – who was named Woman Enterpreneur of the Year at the 2016 Disrupt Erie Awards – ultimately turned her big idea into a growing business.

Today, Verify! continues Green’s original mission of advocating for businesses from its headquarters in Waterford Borough. The company helps businesses identify and secure potential savings in their phone and internet services, their cell phone plans, and even their gas and electricity usage.

Green estimates that 8 out of every 10 businesses that Verify! audits can achieve some monetary savings – and others might find a way to save on efficiency. And after those savings are identified, Verify! can help businesses make changes by offering project management services.

For Green, one of the best parts about Verify! is that it brings money into the local economy. About 80 percent of the company’s clients are located outside of Erie County – some in Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York, with others as far away as Florida, Texas and Arizona.

Verify! has been growing, and the company hopes to hire more people this year. But that growth has been careful and deliberate, Green says, to ensure that Verify! maintains the level of service that is its hallmark.

It all comes back to the big idea that built the business: providing the best service that can help its clients achieve success.

About Verify!: The business consulting company currently has a team of nine, with the majority of those employees working as project coordinators. Green, the founder and owner, incorporated Verify! in 2006 after working as an independent consultant since 2002.

Why Erie County: Verify! is committed to staying in Waterford, or the near vicinity, because of the dedication of its staff. The close-knit team is largely from the Waterford area, and Green says she is glad to be able to bring good-paying jobs to the borough. The centralized location of Erie County is also an asset. Verify! can send a representative out to larger business hubs like Buffalo, Cleveland and Pittsburgh on day trips, rather than longer overnight stays.

Challenges of Erie County: One of the biggest challenges that Verify! is facing is finding space to expand. Green is eager to add new employees but has no place to put them, since the current staff has filled every nook of the company’s current building – which she considers a “good” challenge. Verify! is now working with the Erie County Redevelopment Authority to find and secure space to grow.

Address: 706 Turnpike St, Waterford, PA 16441 or www.verifyservices.net

 

Coming up next week: We visit SEPCO-Erie in Summit Township.

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