Month: March 2017

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

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén