Month: February 2017

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.

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