Month: October 2017

McInnes Rolled Rings

McInnes Rolled Rings, which just celebrated its 25th anniversary, isn’t the only manufacturer of seamless rolled rings in the country. To stay competitive, then, they had to find a way to set themselves apart.

“We differentiate ourselves by being faster,” says Tim Hunter, president and CEO.

That means the company zeroes in on getting products made for its customers, and getting those products delivered in a timely manner. That turnaround time is even touted on the company’s website: “We ship in as few as five days.”

McInnes keeps the operation focused on that work, rather than branching into other services that would funnel away resources, Hunter says.

It’s a strategy that seems to be paying off for McInnes. The company serves more than 1,000 customers in North America – from Canada to Mexico, coast to coast – and is the fastest producer in its size range, Hunter says.

Part of that efficiency in service can also be attributed to advances in manufacturing. Thirty years ago, Hunter says, we could produce eight to 10 rolled rings in an eight-hour shift. Today, we can turn out 20 in an hour, thanks to modern equipment and procedures.

The old process “was used for thousands of years,” Hunter says. “But the technology changed dramatically.”

About McInnes Rolled Rings: The company produces seamless rolled rings – “just like your wedding ring, but bigger,” Hunter describes – that that can withstand high stress. The rings are used in products and equipment in a variety of industries, including oil and gas, aerospace, construction, mining and even healthcare. The smallest rings, which are about 10 inches in diameter, might be used in aircraft equipment, while the largest, 12-foot rings – which can weigh 8,000 pounds – might be used as flanges on oil and gas pipelines. McInnes’ employment has stayed fairly steady at around 80, even during down times in some industries.

Why Erie County: One of the greatest advantages of being located in Erie County is proximity to raw materials, Hunter says. About 90 percent of the company’s materials are within 100 miles. This helps McInnes keep to its efficient production schedule.

Challenges of Erie County: One of the biggest challenges that McInnes Rolled Rings is facing echoes something I’ve heard from other employers, particularly manufacturers, in Erie County – securing a trained and capable workforce for the future. Hunter has identified a need for a pipeline to ensure that younger workers get the training they need to fill the gaps that will be left by retiring employees, who often have a deep skill set. “We have wonderful people working here now,” Hunter says. “The question is 10 years from now.”

Fun fact: McInnes operates the sixth-largest press in the nation – a press that was built just a short drive down 12th Street by Erie Press Systems.

Address: 1533 E 12th St, Erie, PA 16511 or www.mcinnesrolledrings.com.

Berry Global

For a plastics company that stays on the cutting edge of beverage packaging trends, Berry Global’s Erie plant has a definite sense of history.

The facility itself, in the heart of Erie’s Little Italy neighborhood, got its start in 1895 as Heisler Locomotive Works, a maker of steam locomotives. It changed hands over the years, turning to metal stamping and metal crowns before transitioning to plastic caps in the early 1990s.

That history is apparent in the sprawling factory. In some areas, original wooden beams are evident. Other parts of the building are new, the result of a recent $4 million expansion.

What has remained constant through the years is a focus on quality – a focus that has made the Erie facility a standout in Berry Global’s network.

“We’ve made a conscientious effort to focus on the quality of the products that we’re putting out for the customer,” says Bob Guthrie, the Erie plant manager. “Because without the customer, you’re nothing.”

Erie plant leaders speak with pride about how customers have been known to request products made in the Erie facility. That attention to detail is a credit to the employees – some of whom have been there for decades, and have proved themselves to be resilient problem-solvers during the years of ownership changes, Guthrie says.

The Erie plant also prizes its focus on safety, which includes something that I haven’t seen at any of the other businesses I’ve visited – a circle painted on the floor that guides workers about forklift safety.

The Erie facility’s leaders are likewise proud of their commitment to their Little Italy neighborhood – a pocket of the city that has undergone its own share of changes over the decades. But Berry’s Erie leaders embrace their role as a positive influence on the neighborhood.

“We have the opportunity to stay here and help give it a new stability,” Guthrie says.

About Berry Global: Berry is committed to its mission of “Always Advancing to Protect What’s Important,” and proudly partners with its customers to provide them with value-added customized protection solutions. The company’s products include engineered materials, non-woven specialty materials and consumer packaging. Berry’s world headquarters is located in Evansville, Indiana, with net sales of $6.5 billion in fiscal 2016. Berry, a Fortune 500 company, is listed on the New York Stock Exchange (BERY). The Erie facility, with about 150 employees, is part of Berry’s consumer packaging division, and is on track to produce more than 5.9 billion plastic caps this year. The Erie plant also runs engineering services for its division, serving 12 Berry facilities. The Erie products can be seen in bottle caps for soft drinks, juice and water, in addition to some condiments. “You can barely go anywhere without seeing a Berry product,” Guthrie says.

Why Erie County: For Guthrie and the Erie plant’s leadership team, the appeal of Erie is clear – a low cost of living and a wealth of activities and entertainment options. But the county also offers an appealing atmosphere from a business perspective. There are plenty of opportunities for community involvement, particularly in the Little Italy neighborhood. And in addition, the wealth of manufacturers and smaller tool shops in Erie County creates a support network for Berry Global. “If we need something, it’s miles away, it’s not hours away,” says the Erie plant’s Ben Atkins.

Challenges of Erie County: One challenge that Berry Global faces in Erie is not unique to that company, or to the plastics industry. Rather, it reflects a reality that many manufacturers have discussed – the imminent retirement of longtime, highly skilled candidates. Christen Brown, HR manager for Berry’s Erie plant, expects a wave of retirements in the next 10 years, and says the company will face the challenge of finding new candidates who can fill those roles. Having adequate training opportunities for those new employees will be key, plant leaders say. It’s important, for example, to find a candidate with some mechanical awareness, a hands-on ability and a willingness to learn. In addition, Guthrie says, it’s increasingly important for that candidate to have “an awareness of how the digital world interfaces with the mechanical.”

Fun fact: The current workforce of 150 employees at the Erie location have a combined tenure of more than 1,900 years of service.

Address: 316 W. 16th St., Erie PA 16502 or www.berryglobal.com

Velocity Network

Joel Deuterman started his business by building PCs for customers from his house on East Sixth Street. Today, he’s focused on a different kind of building – building up his customer base, and building out a fiber optic network throughoutErie County.

Deuterman is CEO of Velocity Network (VNET), a Millcreek Township company that provides internet, technical support and IT consulting services. Much has changed since he founded the company formerly known as SOFTEK. In 1996, he began Velocity.Net, which offered dialup internet access in 1996. In those days, he recalls, the internet was “like magic.”

“You hit a button and suddenly had the world available to you,” he says.

At one point, they were building 40 or 50 PCs a day, and Deuterman himself would deliver computers to customers’ homes on Saturdays. It was in the name of good customer service – he would connect the cords and set up the modem, so the customer would be ready to go, and be happy with the purchase.

Today, that commitment to good customer service remains, though Velocity Network focuses on providing knowledgeable, responsive and comprehensive tech support instead of building PCs. And it extends to the company’s development of a fiber optic network, now nearing 500 miles of optical fiber throughout Erie County.

The company has leveraged its services into steady growth – from three employees in 1993 to more than 63 now, and with projections calling for more than 100 by 2022.

That growth has led Deuterman to focus on still another type of building – rebuilding. Velocity Network purchased the former Rothrock building in downtown Erie and is in the process of renovating it.

Ultimately, Velocity Network will be headquartered in the heart of downtown Erie and will be a core partner in Erie’s Innovation District – a collaboration that signals an emerging effort to create a vibrant hub in the city.

It makes sense that VNETwould be a key partner in the Innovation District – after all, change is nothing new to a technology company.

“We’ve had to reinvent ourselves several times,” Deuterman says. “That’s the nature of the industry.”

That experience will be useful as Erie looks to reinvent itself as well.

About Velocity Network: VNET serves commercial customers with managed IT services and fiber optic internet services and is now beginning to service the residential market with VNET Fiber, their fiber to the home (FttH) service. The company sees fiber optics as the best option for high-speed internet service both now and into the future, and is working diligently to get all areas around the region connected. That’s not just a convenience for customers – it’s also a boost to economic development in Erie County, says Matt Wiertel, Velocity Network’s director of sales and marketing. The availability of broadband is essential to attracting businesses looking to relocate to any region, and VNET is providing that network with its fiber, he says.

Why Erie County: Deuterman has found a successful niche in Erie County to build and grow his company, and he has appreciated the relationships that he has been able to form in the community. That includes finding funding partners for the purchase of the Rothrock building – including a $1 million loan from the Erie County Redevelopment Authority, another $1 million loan from the City of Erie, and a $2.25 million PIDA loan from the state. Looking ahead, Deuterman sees a time when businesses in Erie County will be working together to attract and retain workers and create a more collaborative culture across industries.

Challenges of Erie County: Education, in several forms, can be a challenge. For one, the company has been working to inform the public and municipal officials about the benefits that fiber optics will bring to the community. Internally, the company must focus on ongoing training to ensure that their support staff is keeping up with rapidly changing technology, and looking ahead for future problems that customers might face. And, in turn, it means educating the public about technology and potential security threats, like phishing attempts. “A lot of it is educating people to not click on that link,”says Brad Wiertel, director of operations. “You can’t stay ahead of (hackers) – you just have to look at the patterns” and take advantage of security resources to thwart the bad actors on the internet.

Fun fact: The company launched its Velocity.Net dialup internet service in 1996 at a rate of $9.95 per month. That was half the cost of the national average at the time. Today, VNET Fiber offers speeds up to 1 Gigabit per second – that’s approximately 17,000 times faster than dialup!

Address: 2503 W 15th St #10, Erie, PA 16505 or www.velocitynetwork.net

Institute on HealthCare Directives

We’ve been talking a lot lately about entrepreneurism and how it is a necessary component to revitalizing Erie County’s economy. It seemed appropriate, then, for me to pay a visit to Dr. Ferdinando Mirarchi, a physician who has used his research into patient safety risk to launch an innovative healthcare-related startup.

Mirarchi, the founder of the Institute on HealthCare Directives, created MIDEO – or My Informed Decision on Video. The medical ID card utilizes technology to allow patients to clearly state what treatments they wish to receive – or not receive – in the event of a medical emergency.

Like a true entrepreneur, Mirarchi identified a need and worked to create a solution. Existing advance care directives, such as living wills, do-not-resuscitate orders or physician orders for life-sustaining treatment, might be well-meaning but can create confusion, he says.

MIDEO, however, simplifies and streamlines the process. And, vitally, it serves as a translator of sorts to bridge the gaps between legal jargon, technical medical terms and language that patients can understand.

Mirarchi’s TRIAD Research Series – that is, The Realistic Interpretation of Advance Directives – led him to identify the problem and create his solution. Soon after, he began working with several local organizations designed to help startups, including Ben Franklin Technology Partners, Gannon University’s Small Business Development Center and the Innovation Collaborative.

Now, his goal is to grow the business and expand its reach to patients – he has had about 100 people register for a MIDEO card so far, but he’d like to see 100 people per day register. And someday, he’d like to see the business grow into an operation that could provide jobs to Erie County residents.

A large part of that growth will be advocating it to health insurers, who could then offer it to their members as part of a benefits package. That work is underway, as is the effort to spread the word about the advantages of the MIDEO system. It’s all part of the work of a startup – and Mirarchi is ready for the challenge.

About the Institute on HealthCare Directives: The institute aims to serve patients by helping them create effective advance care directives, namely through the MIDEO tool. MIDEO works by embedding technology directly into a medical ID card. A medical professional can use a smartphone to scan a patient’s card, launching a video with the patient’s video testimonial along with clear, easy-to-follow instructions for care. For Mirarchi, the service is vital to ensuring that patients receive the care they want – particularly when they are unable to speak for themselves because of a medical condition or emergency. This also helps families and caregivers, offering them peace of mind that an ailing loved one’s wishes are being honored. But there are also advantages for physicians and hospitals, as having clear directives could eliminate lawsuits that arise over end-of-life care or medical errors.

Why Erie County: Mirarchi started his business in Erie County because he had made his home here – he is the medical director of UPMC Hamot’s Emergency Department, though his company is separate from his work at the hospital. But while some have pointed to Erie County’s aging demographic as a cause for concern, Mirarchi sees that population as a group that might be in the most need of guidance on healthcare directives.

Challenges of Erie County: As Mirarchi is trying to make inroads with providers and insurers in Erie County, and he is also facing the challenge of a slower rate of growth and development in this region, when compared with other areas.

Address: 900 State St., Erie, PA 16501 or www.institutehcd.com

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