Month: August 2017

Contine Corp.

The secret to Contine Corp.’s success just might be the company’s flexibility.

Contine, in Lawrence Park Township, manufactures mechanical and electromechanical assemblies to their customers’ specifications.

Owner and co-founder Connie Ellrich describes Contine as a job shop – providing  a variety of manufacturing services to their OEM customers.  As a result, the company’s leadership is always looking ahead, working to secure the next job or contract.

Experience working with customers throughout multiple industries has enhanced Contine’s capabilities and flexibility. “We have to constantly change,” says Kelly Heberle, quality control manager. “Customers have their needs, and we have to adapt to accommodate them.”

So far, that adaptability has proved to be a successful model for Contine, which has grown and flourished over the years. The company, which originated in Cleveland in 1981, moved to Erie in 1983 and quickly outgrew its rented space. In 1985, Ellrich purchased a new facility, expanding it three times to its current footprint of about 30,000 square feet.

Part of that growth has included the purchase of plastic injection molding equipment.  In addition, Contine’s facility houses both small and large assembly areas, a full service machine shop  and two overhead cranes.

But much more work is underway at Contine. Around the shop, workers are busy assembling devices – including delicate equipment and intricate electronics – with a dexterity born of practice.

“It’s something different every day,” Heberle says.

About Contine Corp.: The company’s agility has been bolstered by a rock-solid stability. Contine has a management team that has spent years working together to build the company, and it also boasts a low turnover rate among permanent employees, Ellrich says.   A good portion of their work has been in the transit industry, which Ellrich hopes will continue to provide a steady influx of business for Contine.

Why Erie County: Contine has found it beneficial to work with other local businesses in Erie County. And overall, Ellrich says, Erie County has been a nice home for Contine. “We have been very successful here,” she says. “It’s been a great place to grow a business.”

Challenges of Erie County: Contine faces some challenges that are common to small businesses, particularly when it comes to health-care costs. The company has found a strategy to contend with another challenge faced by many small businesses: Finding quality employees. Contine uses some temporary workers through a local placement agency, and has then hired people as permanent employees through that process.

Fun fact: Contine is a certified Woman Business Enterprise (WBE).

Address: 1820 Nagle Road, Erie, PA 16510 or www.continedbe.com

Great Lakes Cast Stone

Great Lakes Cast Stone operates on a quiet street in Girard. But once you know what to look for, you can see evidence of the company’s architectural cast stone products all around the region.

For example, you can see the company’s work in the decorative touches on the amphitheater in downtown Erie’s Perry Square; on the new parking garage on Erie’s bayfront; and on the new Crawford County Judicial Center in Meadville.

Steven Henderson, company president, hopes to see more work as other construction projects get underway in the region.

The current level of commercial construction is in many ways unprecedented, offering opportunities for local suppliers but also for owners to patronize local suppliers and contractors – which can maximize the economic impact of a project.

Most of Great Lakes Cast Stone’s work, however, heads to projects out of town, as was evidenced by the rows and rows of decorative pieces – in all stages of completion – that were destined for upstate New York.

As we toured the plant, Henderson walked us through Great Lakes Cast Stone’s wet-pour and dry-tamp processes.

With the wet-pour process, workers pour concrete into molds, where it hardens overnight. The frames are then removed, and the finished pieces are left to cure for 28 days.

With the dry-tamp process – which Henderson compares to building a sand castle – a worker scoops powdery mix into molds, packing it down with high pressure. The mold is flipped over, and the molded piece is revealed – though, like a sand castle, it is fragile and can easily crumble. After being treated overnight with high heat and humidity, however, it hardens to look like limestone.

“Our business is very visual,” Henderson says. “The look of architectural precast or cast stone is a cost effective way to enhance the design of any project.”

Henderson is relatively new to the cast-stone industry – he has business interests in the city of Erie, and about four years ago was looking to branch out into something new. He found what he was looking for in Girard. The company’s previous owner was seeking a buyer that could provide needed local management while maintaining a working affiliation.

For Henderson, that worked out well – he was able to purchase the business, and in the process save 18 jobs that would have been lost if the facility had closed. Plus, it’s a good fit for him personally.

“Each project is completely different,” he says. “I like the work.”

About Great Lakes Cast Stone: The company covers 18 states, roughly ranging from New England down to Virginia in the east, and western Ohio down to Mississippi in the west. Their work is predominantly commercial, with about 70 percent wet-pour and the remainder dry-tamp. The company is certified, and Henderson details with pride the procedures – including frequent testing – that the staff goes through to ensure that they only offer quality products. “This stuff doesn’t look that precise, but a little change in sand or color throws everything off,” he says. The quality of the finished product is the most important consideration.

Why Erie County: To Henderson, Erie County has the benefits of being a pleasant place to live, with a low cost of living and without urban stress. In addition, he has seen first-hand the benefits of working with agencies in the county, namely the Erie County Redevelopment Authority. He was able to purchase Great Lakes Cast Stone with the help of the authority, which he praised for making the process easy and seamless.

Challenges of Erie County: Some of Henderson’s challenges are common to small businesses, and to businesses in his line of work. For example, he finds it challenging to find extra money in the budget for technical improvements he would like to make. The long-term nature of construction projects also means that he must play a long game to make sure there is the right amount of future work for the company. “In this business, it’s feast or famine,” he says. In addition, however, Henderson is frustrated when he sees out-of-town businesses doing architectural precast work on local projects. He actively supports local businesses when possible – including Team Hardinger, for transportation – and wishes that Erie County projects would be more active in supporting Erie County businesses.

Fun fact: Transportation can be expensive for Great Lakes Cast Stone – their cement weighs 150 pounds per cubic foot.

Address: 711 Beaver Road, Girard, PA 16417 or www.greatlakescaststone.com.

Animalistic Chainsaw Carving

On busy Route 6, Scott Dow has carved out a niche business for himself – pardon the pun. With his business, Animalistic Chainsaw Carving, he is showing how arts and business intersect.

Dow’s business, which straddles Elgin Borough and Wayne Township, is immediately recognizable to anyone who has traveled along Route 6. A hulking Bigfoot lumbers through the parking lot. A wizened face emerges from a tree stump. And ghoulish zombies rise from the ground and hang from a roof.

The creations – intricate and whimsical – continue indoors, where Dowd has a gallery of creations, including more fine-arts pieces.

It reflects his artistic training. Dow, who has a master’s in fine arts from Edinboro University, wanted to find a creative outlet when he started his chainsaw carving.

“I wasn’t going to just carve bears,” he says. “I was going to be different from everyone else.”

But, Dow says wryly, it turns out that “people want bears,” and they’ve turned out to be his second-biggest seller (eagles hold the top spot).

Watching Dow carve is observing an artist at work. As his chainsaw cuts and slices, a shape gradually emerges from a towering tree stump. Soon it will be another Bigfoot, this one with arms swinging. Dow occasionally steps back from the spray of wood chips to view the piece from different angles before diving back in, the path of his chainsaw established.

In nice weather, Dow carves his creations in the parking lot outside his workshop, in view of the traffic passing by on Route 6. It’s a prime location that has supported his business, allowing him to dedicate himself full time to the business for the past five years.

On the day we were there, several cars pulled off – either to browse or buy – during our brief visit. One couple, from Florida, had been there before and stopped again to explore.

The traffic on Route 6 was a pleasant surprise for him – a prime location that has supported his business and brought out-of-town visitors past his shop.

“There’s always a lot of campers and kayaks coming by, and these people are always in a good mood,” Dow says.

About Animalistic Chainsaw Carving: Dow uses white pine, mainly sourcing his material from felled trees that loggers don’t want or leave behind. He does some on-site carving work and participates in a few festivals, but he’s mostly content to carve at his workshop and sell from his gallery on Route 6. In general, he prefers to carve a piece first, finding something suitable for the tree, and sell it once complete, rather than taking orders.

Why Erie County: Dow has an easy time accessing quality material – logs and tree stumps – for his pieces, thanks to the plentiful forest land in our area. In addition, he has found that his location along Route 6 has been a boon for his business, as it brings both Erie County residents and out-of-area tourists right past his door. “From Memorial Day to Labor Day, this is an amazing place to be,” he says.

Challenges of Erie County: The seasonal traffic also has a downside, which includes an annual slowdown in the colder weather months. In addition, the job itself has its challenges. Dow must grapple with physical demands of the job – including staying healthy and safe. He also faced a learning curve when he first began his business. Dow had never before used a chainsaw before starting his venture, and says it took years to master the upkeep and use of the equipment.

Fun fact: The biggest piece Dow has created is a 22-foot Tyrannosaurus rex that he installed – emerging from woods into a clearing – for a customer in the Catskills.

Address: 11543 U.S. Route 6, Corry, PA 16407

Laser Creations and Windtek

Laser Creations operates out of a sprawling facility next to railroad tracks in Platea. Decades ago, when Platea was known as Lockport, the building was home to a lumber mill on the banks of the Erie Extension Canal.

It’s fitting, then, that today Laser Creations operates a full wood shop, creating custom wood products for laser engravings.

“We’re still working with lumber, from rough cut to finished product,” says owner Mark Youngs.

Those products range from wooden plaques and key chains to ring boxes and decorative keepsakes, all engraved with custom logos, designs or seals.

But the wood work is only a portion of the business. About 40 percent of Laser Creations’ business comes from doing jobs for other companies, Youngs says. That includes creating laser-cut items for advertising and other uses.

The job-shop work dates back to the company’s beginnings, when it was founded as a business services company in 1969 by Youngs’ father, Walter Youngs – a man that Mark Youngs describes as “a constant entrepreneur.”

Mark Youngs must have inherited some of that entrepreneurial spirit: Laser Creations isn’t the only enterprise in the family.

Another Platea business, Windtek, is owned by Youngs’ wife, Wendy.

Windtek, less than a mile down the road from Laser Creations, constructs and sells windsocks and runway lights.

In the small shop run out of the Youngs’ garage, Wendy Youngs oversees the company founded by a family friend – and fellow aviation enthusiast. Today, Windtek takes pride in selling quality equipment to airports and airfields, as well as oil rigs and other facilities.

Wendy Youngs, who has run the business for 17 years, handles the business side, while other employees work on stitching the heavy-duty windsocks and constructing other products.

“It’s an opportunity for a little retirement business,” Wendy Youngs says.

About Laser Creations and Windtek: Laser Creations had its start on the city of Erie’s east side before Mark Youngs’ father purchased the property in Platea. At one point, the bustling company had 50-plus employees working two or three shifts. Today, about six employees work at Laser Creations – though Mark Youngs believes that the company has the potential for growth, with some added marketing. Laser Creations is largely a regional operation, contracting with a Butler-based company. Windtek, which has four part-time employees, mainly sells to aviation customers who see ads in trade publications. Wendy and Mark are engrained in the aviation culture, and as a result are friendly with Windtek’s competitors. Windtek sources its heavy-duty premium windsock fabric from the mills in the South – “We’re all-American,” Mark Youngs says proudly.

Why Erie County: For the Youngs family’s businesses, Erie County presents a good geographic location – even in the mostly rural Platea area. “At one point, we were the best kept secret in Erie County,” Mark Youngs says. Erie County is not too far from major metropolitan areas, with travel easily accessible, he says.

Challenges of Erie County: Some of the challenges of Erie County are really on a broader level, Mark Youngs says – foreign competition is a challenge for his business, with lower-quality, mass-produced items made overseas available for less than the hand-made products created in his shop. He also sees federal and state regulation and red tape as a detriment to encouraging the entrepreneurs that are badly needed to restart the economy. He sees a need to build up Erie County’s economy as a whole, as smaller businesses like his feed off larger businesses.

Fun fact: Mark and Wendy Youngs also own the Green Roof Inn in Platea.

Address: Laser Creations, 10043 Peach St., Girard, PA 16417 or www.lasercreations.com. Windtek, 10451 Peach St., Girard, PA 16417 or www.bestwindsocks.com.

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