Month: September 2017

American Tinning & Galvanizing

If you’ve driven along the city of Erie’s West 12th Street corridor lately, you probably know American Tinning & Galvanizing.

The brick building at West 12th and Cherry streets has been adorned with a new mural every year since 2011. Robin Scheppner, company president, commissioned the first mural in honor of the company’s 80th anniversary. In the years since, the mural has changed to celebrate other aspects of the community, including the Perry 200 festival and the United Way of Erie County.

The current mural celebrates Erie’s manufacturing industry, proclaiming “Rust Belt? No way, think Robust Belt.”

The exterior murals might be new additions, but the business has operated from the same block since it began in 1931 – that is, since Scheppner’s grandfather, Fred Carlson, left his previous plating company and opened his own just down the street.

Carlson started his tinning business with just one employee, but growth soon followed – both in terms of expansion into different areas and into a larger portion of the space at 12th and Cherry. Today, the company’s divisions operate under third-generation owner Scheppner, who is the fifth family member to run the company.

The plant hums with activity, with workers busy using specialized techniques to provide protection on metal parts. In one room, aluminum pieces receive an acid bath. In another, heavier steel pieces are treated. The company no longer offers the tinning that remains in the name, but it has become a leader in galvanizing – using up to 40,000 pounds of zinc per month.

In the hot-dip galvanizing room, skilled workers use ropes and pulleys to send metal pieces through a vat of molten zinc – heated to over 835 degrees. This work is done by hand – not by automation, as it is at many other galvanizing companies, Scheppner says.

“This is a craft. It gets to the point where it’s almost intuitive” for the workers to tell when a piece is ready, she says.

Uniquely, American Tinning & Galvanizing also includes a fabrication division. The fabrication business got its start in the 1950s, when the entrepreneurial-minded Carlsons recognized that there was a market for the equipment – including racks and tanks – that was needed in the plating processes. That operation, Carlson Erie, lives on within American Tinning & Galvanizing today, and supplies not just internal operations but many external clients as well.

“Almost all of our competitors are also our customers,” Scheppner says.

About American Tinning & Galvanizing: The company specializes in anodizing, electroplating and galvanizing –all of which are metal finishing techniques used to prevent corrosion. In the fabrication department, the company is branching out and using plastics to create equipment for customers. The shelf life of plastic tanks is ten-fold that of the old steel tanks, Scheppner says. The company serves businesses in the Erie area but also competes for contracts, particularly in aerospace, from outside the region. ATG has been accredited by the National Aerospace Defense Contractors Accreditation Program (NADCAP), after a rigorous certification process. This accreditation “levels the playing field,” Scheppner says, when it comes to competing for aerospace contracts because it assures clients that ATG has met the very precise specifications mandated for aerospace equipment.

Why Erie County: For Scheppner, one of the best parts about Erie County is the culture – generally friendly and helpful, with an emerging sense of a community coming together. There’s evidence of that in her latest initiative to boost the 12th Street corridor. Colorful signs have popped up along the street in recent months, thanks to a joint campaign by a group of 12th Street business. In addition, Scheppner appreciates that Erie County offers “the opportunity to make a great living” – and for her, that also includes the opportunity to “give a great living to 69 other people.”

Challenges of Erie County: Scheppner says that finding qualified middle managers is one of the largest challenges facing her business. She says that the company requires someone with both management skill and a knowledge of the metal finishings industry – a combination that is difficult to find. She is hopeful that in the future, a training program can be developed to teach both required skillsets.

Fun fact: When Scheppner’s grandfather left his previous company to open his own, he chose the name “American” so it would be listed first in the phonebook.

Address: 552 W. 12th St., Erie PA 16501 or www.galvanizeit.com

Penn Shore Winery & Vineyards

At many of the businesses I visit, turnaround time is an important factor. The company’s bottom line depends on how quickly they can get orders out to customers, or how many products they can manufacture on a particular day.

Not so at Penn Shore Winery & Vineyards, in North East Township. There, it’s all about the process – and that process sometimes sets its own pace. “You can’t hurry it,” owner Jeff Ore says.

He’s owned the winery since 2004, when he left his job in the corporate world and moved back to his hometown of North East.

He came home to plant roots, both figurative and literal. He grows about 3 acres of grapes – “it keeps my fingers in viticulture so I know what’s going on, but it lets me focus on the business,” he says – and runs the winery, including making the wine.

Though he grew up among the grape fields, he had to learn the winemaking business – including the details and chemistry that go into the process. Now, however, he speaks knowledgably about each aspect of his operations.

In Penn Shore’s Champagne room, he details the two-year in-bottle fermentation process, holding bottles up to the light to display the sediment and explaining the features that help the bottles withstand the high pressure contained within.

Next door, in the barrel room, he describes the variations in oak – he uses Pennsylvania and French oak – that affect the taste of the wine. The barrels, he explains, are for drier varieties, which the winery does make despite the fact that Erie County wines are better known for being sweet. About 80 percent of Penn Shore’s sales are sweet varieties, Ore says, with the top seller being their Pennsylvania Lambruscano – a red that he describes as starting sweet and ending a bit drier.

He walks us through the bottling process, describing the difference between corks and caps – corks, he says, allow the wine to age, while caps (used mainly for sweet and white wines) are used to seal the bottle so the taste of the wine doesn’t change.

Finally, he leads us to the back patio, where rows of grapevines fan out in a vista that is distinctly North East.

It’s a view that Ore has come to appreciate.

“If I have a bad day, I can go out back and have a glass of wine,” he says. “And if I have a good day, I can go out back and have a glass of wine.”

About Penn Shore Winery & Vineyards: Penn Shore is the oldest licensed winery in Pennsylvania. It received the second license ever issued by the commonwealth after the Pennsylvania Limited Winery Act was passed in 1968 (the first licensee never opened, Ore says). Today, Penn Shore is a popular spot for wine tasting and sponsors a well-attended annual summer concert series, Music in the Vineyard. Though Jeff Ore and his daughter are the only full-time employees – Ore’s wife, Cheryl, is semi-retired – they do hire staff for the concert series and to assist with the field work.

Why Erie County: Jeff Ore says he appreciates the fact that east county has become a destination for wine lovers. Initiatives like the Lake Erie Wine Country trail, as well as the growth of local microbreweries and distilleries, have enhanced tourism around the grape region. In addition, he likes the pace of life, saying that he loves his lifestyle. “If this was a midlife crisis, it really worked out,” he says.

Challenges of Erie County: Like any small business, the Ores face constant challenges of costs and cash flow. In addition, Jeff Ore says, there’s quite a lot of effort that goes into running the operation – both the business side and the winemaking side.

Fun fact: Penn Shore is legally permitted to use the term “Champagne.” A 2006 wine-trade agreement restricted the use of the word to only the bubbly made in the Champagne region of France. But because Penn Shore had been making its wine under an approved label before that, it was grandfathered in – and thus it continues to sell its Pennsylvania Champagne.

Address: 10225 East Lake Road, North East, PA 16428 or www.pennshore.com

Godfrey Run Farm Market & Cider Mill

September is Local Food Month in Pennsylvania – and there’s certainly local food in abundance at Godfrey Run Farm Market & Cider Mill in Girard Township.

There are tomatoes, grapes and other produce that are fresh from Erie County farms. There are baked goods from a Millcreek Township bakery, wine from a North East Township vineyard and beer from an Erie brewery.

And the apples? Those were picked about 200 yards from the back door.

Owner Gary Faulkner grows eight or nine varieties of apples at the business, which is named after the stream that cuts through the property. Some of the apples are sold to customers, and others go into the cider that is pressed on site.

The cider season is just gearing up – they press cider from around Labor Day to the end of the year, he says. At Godfrey Run, that process involves multiple steps, sending the apples and juice smoothly from one piece of equipment to another through the cider room. The cider is treated with UV light to prevent any potential pathogens and then is bottled up, ready to be sold.

Not all of that juice comes from Godfrey Run trees – Faulkner contracts with other Erie County growers. The business works both ways – several other operations sell Faulkner’s bottled cider.

Faulkner supports growers not just in Erie County but statewide, too. His products are designated PA Preferred (part of an initiative to support local foods), and he is active in the Pennsylvania Apple Program and the Pennsylvania Cider Guild.

In addition, he has been looking into ways to expand and find different uses and new markets for his apples and his cider.

A previous brainstorm created the cider slushy, a favorite treat for visitors to the farm market. I had a taste during my visit to Godfrey Run, and I can see why they’re so popular.

It’s a new twist on a favorite fall flavor that reminds me of how fortunate we are in Erie County, where we have family farms growing fresh produce so close to home.

As Godfrey Run Farm Market’s sign says: “How sweet it is.”

About Godfrey Run Farm Market & Cider Mill: Faulkner has been growing produce for 38 years, first part time and now full time. These days, he almost exclusively grows apples. He expanded his farm market over the years, and is now in his seventh year of making cider on site. The market draws a number of tourists, he says – particularly people who pass by on their way to camp or fish. “A lot of people don’t realize that Erie County is the place in the world – not in the state or in the county, but in the world – to go steelhead fishing,” he says.

Why Erie County: For Faulkner, Godfrey Run is an opportunity to do what he enjoys. He worked as an insurance agent for most of his career, and switched over to run Godfrey Run full time just over 11 years ago. Now, he enjoys the chance to work outside. He also is helping to keep alive a tradition of family farms in Erie County. Years ago, he recalls, family farm stands were plentiful, particularly in west county between Fairview and Girard. Now there are fewer, he says.

Challenges of Erie County: Godfrey Run faces challenges from the most unpredictable source – the weather. Like any agricultural operation, it is largely at the whims of Mother Nature. That includes facing various challenges, like apple scab.

Fun fact: Godfrey Run Farm Market & Cider Mill participated in Farm Aid in Pittsburgh on September 16, representing cider makers in the local food concessions at the all-star music festival.

Address: 8958 West Lake Road, Lake City, PA 16423 or www.godfreyrunfarm.com

Lake Erie Rubber & Manufacturing

 

On quite a few of my 50 in 50 visits, I’ve learned about a business with a long family history, dating back generations.

That wasn’t the case with this one. When I visited Lake Erie Rubber & Manufacturing, the business was exactly one month old – at least under its new ownership.

Jon Meighan took ownership of the Fairview Township business on Aug. 1. The business, formerly Scully Enterprises, was in need of a new owner, and Meighan, an engineer at GE Transportation who always knew he wanted to own his own business, was looking for an entrepreneurial investment.

It was a good match, Meighan decided. He was able to put together the financing – including a $400,000 loan from the Erie County Redevelopment Authority – to make the purchase, and he renamed the company Lake Erie Rubber & Manufacturing.

Now he has his eye on more changes. He is looking to grow the company, by attracting new customers and diversifying that base.

More than anything, he wants to build something that lasts in Erie County. There were other parties interested in buying the business, he said – but many of those would have taken the work and moved it out of Erie County.

Though a Syracuse native, Meighan has made his home here, and he wants to build up his company here. And that’s good news for Erie County.

“We’re not selling to consumers in Erie,” he says – instead, Lake Erie Rubber & Manufacturing mostly sells to outside companies. “That’s money coming into this business, coming into Erie, from elsewhere.”

With Lake Erie Rubber & Manufacturing, Meighan wants to build a legacy for his young family, and to do right by his employees.

“We want our employees to share in the success,” he said. “As we grow the business, we want them to have a part in it.”

About Lake Erie Rubber & Manufacturing: The company has 11 employees, with Meighan making a hire to add a new position in the past month. He hopes to add more employees as the business grows. The company, which makes molded rubber products, largely serves the transportation industry, though Meighan has his eye on expanding to recreational vehicles and agriculture. Their customer base is largely within a 12-hour drive from Erie, he says.

Why Erie County: There are several factors that make Erie County appealing, Meighan says. One notable one is the ready-and-able workforce here. For example, Meighan says, the workers at his company had been capably running the business since the previous owner passed away – now he can work with that capable staff to add new customers and grow the business. In addition, the affordability of purchasing a business is appealing, he says. “This wouldn’t have been manageable in Pittsburgh, Cleveland or California,” he says.

Challenges of Erie County: For Meighan, the challenge was finding the right fit – the right business that spoke to his expertise and offered opportunity for growth. Now that he’s found the right businesss, he’s working to build a company that will last for generations.

Fun fact: Meighan might already be lining up the next generation at Lake Erie Rubber & Manufacturing – his daughter was born just five days before he took ownership of the company, and his son celebrated his second birthday on the same day the Erie County Redevelopment Authority awarded him the loan.

Address: 6410 W. Ridge Road, Erie, PA 16506 or www.lakeerierubber.com

Lake Erie Speedway

If there’s one thing A.J. Moore wants you to know about Lake Erie Speedway, it’s this: “We’re still here.”

After the Greenfield Township facility stopped offering weekly racing in 2015, some people thought the business closed, Moore says. But that’s not the case: It merely shifted gears and changed its business model.

Now, Lake Erie Speedway operates as a special-events venue, offering a broader array of entertainment options – yes, including some auto racing.

The past few seasons have included successful ventures like Crash-A-Rama and Monster Truck events, as well as the recent Nitro Circus and Lantern Fest events.

The decision to take the racetrack in a different direction proved to be a good one, Moore says – both for the business and for the overall community.

The numbers alone bear that out:

During Crash-A-Rama and Monster Truck events, only about 60 percent of Lake Erie Speedway’s patrons come from Pennsylvania, Moore says – the rest come from neighboring states to spend their entertainment dollars here.

The Nitro Circus event in August filled the grandstand with 4,000 fans. Last weekend’s Lantern Fest drew 5,000 visitors – some driving seven or eight hours to get here.

Many of those visitors end up supporting other local businesses, including restaurants and hotels, Moore points out. Last year’s Lantern Fest, which drew 3,000 fans, used about 600 hotel rooms, he says.

It’s part of Lake Erie Speedway’s goal to become a destination in the broader community.

“We try to bring in events that help the economy and help keep people employed,” he says.

Though the 2017 season is wrapping up, there are still a few big events coming up.

On Sept. 9, the National Fireworks Association will take a break from their annual expo (held at the Bayfront Convention Center) to offer a two-hour public fireworks display, set to music, at Lake Erie Speedway.

And on Sept. 29-30, the season will close with the 67th annual Race of Champions, which features 100 to 125 cars in a weekend of racing. The race – the second longest consecutive auto-racing event in North America, second only to the Indy 500 – promises to bring yet another crowd to the grandstand at Lake Erie Speedway.

With events like that, it should be increasingly clear that Lake Erie Speedway is still in business. “We’re alive and well,” Moore says. “We’re still doing our best to bring big events to the community.”

About Lake Erie Speedway: As the name implies, the Speedway got its start in auto racing, holding weekly races on its 3/8-mile asphalt track. On an event day, the facility employs about 50 people part-time. Moore, as the operations manager, is the only full-time employee. As an outdoor venue, Lake Erie Speedway closes for the winter, leaving its operations to the summer season. “We only have 90 days to do what we want to do,” Moore says.

Why Erie County: Lake Erie Speedway has found valuable support from the Erie County community, particularly from the Erie Sports Commission, Moore says. The Commission has helped Lake Erie Speedway not just bring in events, but to bring in a variety of events that help to diversify the pool of patrons.

Challenges of Erie County: The weather is a notable challenge for the outdoor venue. But another challenge – competition – is almost a good thing, Moore says. Lake Erie Speedway doesn’t schedule events that would compete with other area festivals, including Roar on the Shore and Discover Presque Isle. But, as Moore says, “Erie’s not a place that doesn’t have stuff to do.” In the summertime, that means Lake Erie Speedway is competing for entertainment dollars with church festivals, beaches, free concerts, fairs and more. “There’s a lot to do. There’s plenty to go around, as long as people go out and do it,” Moore says.

Fun fact: Lake Erie Speedway has 1,396 parking spaces, with more room to park in surrounding fields.

Address: 10700 Delmas Drive, North East, PA 16428 or www.lakeeriespeedway.com

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