One of the first things I learned during my visit to Custom Engineering is that it was a two-for-one visit. I was able to tour Lamjen, which also operates at the McClelland Avenue site.

Custom Engineering and Lamjen, along with Venango Machine Company in Wattsburg, operate under the Custom Group Industries umbrella.

Together, they help Custom Group provide a diverse range of products, as each has its own specialty: Custom Engineering, the largest of the three, is known for designing and manufacturing heated platens, as well as hydraulic presses and contract manufacturing. Lamjen focuses on precision machining, often with smaller parts. And Venango Machine produces smaller platens.

That range of services was apparent on my tour of the businesses. Dave Tullio, Custom’s president, pointed out the variety of equipment – from older, manual machines to sophisticated computer-operated machines – that is used to keep the companies competitive. And Jim Ohrn, Custom’s vice president, points out some of the company’s unique capabilities, including drilling through the plates.

The array of products also gives Custom Group an advantage in a sometimes-unpredictable market, by allowing it to serve a diverse group of customers.

“I’d like to say that some of that is management strategy,” Tullio says with a laugh. “But some of it is luck.”

About Custom Engineering and Lamjen: Custom Engineering has been around since 1954, and Lamjen since 1970. Current owner Tom Hagen purchased Custom in 1997, and picked up Lamjen in 2000. (Venango Machine, which opened in 1954, was purchased in 1999.) Combined, the three have about 170 employees. They serve a range of customers, including mining, oil and gas, defense and water management, and their products can be found in everything from airplane interiors to amusement park rides. The company does business at a global level, and identifies China as a major competitor. “The global economy both helps and hurts us,” Tullio says.

Why Erie County: The company’s leaders are active in the community, which they say helps them know where to find resources. Some of those resources have come in handy in the past, Jim Ohrn points out, as the company has found funding through the city, the county and the state.

Challenges of Erie County: Some of Custom Group’s challenges center on the national policy, requiring changes to encourage customers not to go offshore for their business, Tullio says. But some of the challenges are at a more local level. For instance, the company’s leaders see a benefit in having more large, multinational corporations doing business in Erie County, helping to strengthen the overall economy. In addition, the company has found it a challenge to find qualified workers, particularly welders. As a result, the company has worked to create its own welding program internally. “Our claim to fame is the quality of our welding,” Tullio says.

Fun fact: When Custom Engineering began, its largest customer was Formica.

Address: 2800 McClelland Ave., Erie, PA 16510 or www.customeng.com