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