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.

Performance Castings

The story of Performance Castings is one of commitment to Erie – in more ways than one.

The company, which specializes in iron castings, has been operating at East 16th Street in the city of Erie since 1988, when it emerged from the bankruptcy of Erie Castings.

Owner Steve Konzel committed to continuing that history when he purchased the business just over two years ago. Konzel, who is an Erie native, says he was looking for an opportunity to stay and make a livelihood in his hometown – and Performance Castings offered that chance.

Today, he is working to make sure that Performance Castings continues to provide that livelihood not just for his family, but for his employees.

Part of that means making sure that his work stays diversified, he says.

Performance Castings makes parts for a variety of industries, as part of a concerted effort to withstand downturns in any one sector. So if, for example, the federal government cuts spending, Performance Castings won’t be devastated by losing some work for the Defense Department. Or if the oil and gas industry falters (as it did in recent years), then the company can rely on business from other sectors to weather the storm.

Today, that means that there a variety of parts for a variety of industries – including mining, oil and gas, sewer and drain, commercial valve, rail, heavy equipment, logging and more – coming out of the East 16th Street foundry.

The foundry is located in a historic building and follows a well-established manufacturing process, but this company clearly has an eye on the future as well as a respect for the past.

About Performance Castings: Performance Castings, which has around 20 employees, manufactures iron castings, from the initial steps of weighing and mixing materials to form alloys through to shipping the finished products to clients. One interesting aspect of the company’s work is how it has been affected by technology. Thanks to remote capabilities and 3D printing, foundries such as Performance Castings now can do business with customers across the country – whereas in the past, it would have been limited to companies located just down the street.

Why Erie County: For Konzel, Erie County is home, and that’s where he chose to plant his roots. But from a logistics standpoint, Erie County also ready access to the raw materials needed to operate his business.

Challenges of Erie County: The biggest challenge that Konzel has faced has been finding workers. He readily admits that the work isn’t always easy or glamorous, but it is a paycheck with benefits – and one that offers opportunities for further training and advancement. He has had some luck hiring recent refugees that have been resettled in Erie, and is always eager to find employees who are willing to be conscientious and hard working. Konzel also says that another challenge facing his industry comes in disparities in foreign trade – the different costs of doing business that can create an uneven playing field for businesses such as his.

Address: 242 E 16th St, Erie, PA 16503

 

Coming up next week: We learn about Verify Services in Waterford.

All-American Hose

Touring the factory floor at All-American Hose in Union City is a lesson not just in fire hoses, but in appreciating everything that goes into the manufacturing process.

“Most people take fire hose for granted,” All-American Hose CEO Ron Stanley says. “Where does fire hose come from? It’s on the trucks, and they use it and water flows through it. But where does it come from?”

A lot of it, as it turns out, comes from right here in Erie County.

All-American Hose operates the facility in Union City and one in Fairview Township. Combined, the two locations employ about 140 workers.

The company has been making lay-flat hose since the 1970s, first as Snap-Tite and later as All-American Hose. With the fracking boom in Pennsylvania, the company shifted a large part of its operations to manufacturing hoses for the oil and gas industry – a decision that proved costly when the boom went bust in 2015, leaving the company, and the livelihoods of its employers, at risk.

In 2016, private investors acquired the assets of the company, and Stanley, as the new CEO, was able to reassure the employees that their jobs would remain – and remain in Erie County.

Today, the Union City facility is again a flurry of activity – intricate looms spin threads into tightly woven hose liners, which are then fed into machines that merge them with lightweight polyurethane or more traditional rubber surfaces. Completed hoses are flattened and rolled up onto giant spools, receiving quality checks and rigorous testing all along the way.

With production going strong, Stanley is focused on rebuilding – especially rebuilding the relationships with distributors and customers that were damaged during the previous owners’ troubles. It’s all in the interest of shoring up the company’s foundation so that it can potentially expand to new capabilities, Stanley says.

“We’re not here to own the business three to five years,” he says. “We’re here for the long term.”

About All-American Hose: The company manufactures fire hoses as well as hoses for landscaping, agriculture, and the oil and gas industry. It mostly serves municipal customers, with distributors nationwide and in Canada. The bulk of the company’s business comes from the Midwest to the East Coast.

Why Erie County: The company values the experience of its workers, Stanley says. Some of the employees have been doing the job for a number of years, and their depth of knowledge shows. That’s clear as you watch workers capably skim their fingers over a skein of nylon yarn or nimbly tie knots. There’s a skill and a learned know-how that comes from spending time on the job, Stanley says. He also pointed to Erie County’s relatively central location, which is an asset when it comes to freight costs.

Challenges of Erie County: Many of the workers come from about a 15-mile radius, Stanley says – so the pool of new skilled, qualified workers is limited. Otherwise, the company’s major challenges remain the efforts to rebuild the business, renew relationships, and restore faith in All-American Hose’s future.

Address: 217 Titusville Road, Union City, PA 16438

 

Coming up next week: We explore Performance Castings in the City of Erie.

FishUSA

When I planned my visit to FishUSA in Fairview Township, I expected to hear about how it reflects the world-renowned fishing opportunities in Erie County.

What I found is that though FishUSA does capitalize on its prime location in the heart of “Steelhead Alley,” it actually serves a national and even international customer base.

FishUSA operates a small retail shop at its West Ridge Road headquarters, but the true business is in the vast warehouse behind it – and in the technology that keeps its website, www.fishusa.com, drawing clicks and customers from near and far.

FishUSA isn’t looking to compete with the bait and tackle shops that dot Erie County, says Dan Pastore, the company’s founder and president. It has its own angle, and its own aim: to dominate the national online market for fishing tackle and related equipment.

For FishUSA, this means carving out an e-commerce niche that separates it from the larger players in the national market, like Field & Stream, Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s. What FishUSA can offer that the big chains can’t is specialization, Pastore says. A company that focuses solely on fishing can better answer customers’ questions and concerns, more so than a company that also sells hunting gear and camping equipment.

Pastore sees this as an area for future growth in his company – and he knows a little something about growth. FishUSA has only grown since it was launched in 2000. In fact, the company started this year with 13 more employees than it had the previous year.

As the retail industry moves away from brick-and-mortar stores and resettles itself online, Pastore has positioned his company to be a leader in not fishing, but in e-commerce strategy.

“It’s not like how it was where every town needs a mall,” he says. “Only a few online companies will be needed to dominate the market.”

About FishUSA: The company grew out of FishErie.com, a forum for Erie County anglers that Pastore had helped launch from Erie.net, a groundbreaking internet service that he co-founded in the 1990s. Today, FishUSA can count itself as one of three leading national online retailers of fishing equipment. A West Coast-based company specializes in bass, an East Coast company specializes in saltwater fish, and FishUSA covers the rest – including ice fishing, steelhead, walleye and fly fishing. Because the company writes its own code and manages its own servers for its website, it employs programmers, in addition to offering positions in marketing and customer service as well as in the warehouse.

Why Erie County? There’s more to location than proximity to popular fishing spots. For FishUSA, location means an advantage in logistics. The company can ship to locations as far as the upper Midwest, Maine or Virginia in two days – and that’s a service that customers value. In addition, Erie County offers a relatively low cost of living, Pastore says.

Challenges in Erie County: FishUSA, which has its eye on expansion, has had difficulty finding funding assistance Pastore says. The process of seeking aid from the many economic development groups has been frustrating. In addition, Pastore says he has had difficulty finding spacious, modern buildings that could accommodate his growing company. And he also at times has found it challenging to hire programmers, who often flock instead to the larger corporations in the region.

Fast fact: On a busy day, FishUSA has seen as many as 400 people shopping on its site at one time, Pastore says.

Address: 6960 West Ridge Road, Fairview, PA 16415

 

Coming up next week: We visit All-American Hose in Union City.

Better Baked Foods

During my recent visit to Better Baked Foods in North East, president and COO Joe Pacinelli told us the story behind the company’s claim to fame – the French bread pizza.

Bob Miller, one of the company’s co-founders, used to bake up pizzas on French bread loaves for his family to sell at local carnivals. One year when a carnival rained out, the Millers were left with a pile of pizza loaves – and no place to store them. They ended up freezing them, which led someone to comment that the frozen pizzas would make a good product for school lunches.

That spark of inspiration – along with a healthy dose of entrepreneurial spirit and no small amount of hard work – grew into the Better Baked Foods that we know today. Now, Better Baked Foods operates three facilities, employs about 425 workers, and churns out more than 400,000 French bread pizzas per day.

On the day I visited, I saw neat rows of French bread loaves go through the assembly line, receiving a dollop of sauce before being blanketed in freshly shredded cheese. They then were sent along a giant spiral track into an 18-minute deep freeze. These pizzas were for school lunches, so they weren’t individually wrapped, but instead were boxed up. All along the process, the pizzas were guided, checked, monitored, and packaged by employees.

I also took great interest in touring Better Baked Foods’ test kitchen, where food scientists were trying out new products. To me, the work in the kitchen signals that the entrepreneurial spirit that helped create those first French bread pizzas lives on in the modern-day company. I see the product development process as a sign that Better Baked Foods is dedicated to improving its foods and expanding its value to its customers, guaranteeing a stronger future for the company and for the Erie region.

About Better Baked Foods: The company, founded in 1964, has facilities in the City of Erie and in Westfield, N.Y., as well as in North East. The bread products are baked in Westfield, and the North East facility largely handles the pizza production. The City of Erie site, added just about a decade ago at the former Van de Kamp’s facility, produces some of the company’s other products, including frozen sandwiches and other hand-helds. There’s a good chance you’ve eaten their products – the company makes food for companies including Walmart, Wegmans, Aldi, Schwan’s, Kellogg’s, Pillsbury, Red Baron, and more.

Why Erie County? A simple answer is logistics, Pacinelli says. Access to highways and the ease of truck transit make it easier for Better Baked Foods to get products into the hands of customers. Also, the cost of living is reasonable compared to other metropolitan areas, he says, which means costs stay more manageable for the company as well.

Challenges of Erie County: Companies like Better Baked Foods can find state taxes a challenge, Pacinelli says, especially when taken along with costs for insurance. Another challenge comes from location: While many of the plant’s workers live in North East, not all do – and it can be difficult to find workers willing to make the drive to North East from other areas of the county.

Fun fact: The average length of service for a Better Baked Foods employee is 18 years.

Address: 56 Smedley Street, North East, PA 16428

 

Coming up next week: We’re checking out FishUSA in Fairview Township

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