Category: Service

Radius CoWork

It’s appropriate that Radius CoWork is located in the Renaissance Center. As a company, Radius typifies the innovative spirit that is essential to Erie’s renaissance.

You might have heard the story by now – after all, it has been featured in the national media. In a nutshell, Radius CoWork was co-founded by Erie natives Sean Fedorko and Bill Scholz.

Fedorko returned to his hometown after working in Washington, D.C., and intended to use a coworking space for the few months he planned to be here. Finding no such place, he joined forces with Scholz, who had recently returned from the U.K., where he’d completed masters work in the economic logics of entrepreneurship. The two decided to organize Erie’s first coworking community.

In doing so, Fedorko, Scholz and the dozen other initial coworking members tapped into a youthful, vibrant energy that is gaining traction in Erie. A new generation of professionals feel – and are helping to fuel – the momentum that is creating an urban movement toward a revitalized Erie.

Radius has emerged as a key catalyst in that effort. With more than 80 members now in the community, Radius is thriving, just two and a half years after its founding.

The hum of activity is evident on the ninth floor of the Renaissance Center, where the members – freelancers, remote workers and small-business owners alike – work independently but in a shared space as peers and friends. They share expertise and resources, but they also share interests and social events. It’s that mix that is not merely appealing to the younger workforce but, according to Fedorko, is essential.

The coworking model gives people a freedom to work anywhere in the world without working alone. It’s an economy of scale so that people can afford offices and services needed to operate a business, but more importantly it connects passionate, talented, ambitious peers. It’s a place to find connections to experts and information, to exchange lessons learned from experience, and to find new solutions together that will support one another’s business growth.

As Radius is helping its community members succeed in their professional pursuits, they are feeding into the energy that is making the business thrive. And that, in turn, works in concert to fulfill the founders’ vision of making Erie into a city they want to live in – and the city they know it can be.

About Radius CoWork: The company, which opened its doors in May 2015, offers several membership options. Depending on the level of membership, community members can set up at an open desk for a day, a month, or secure a own dedicated workspace 24/7. But membership comes with more than just a flat surface to rest a laptop on. Members also can tap into a secure network, receive postal deliveries, make use of meeting spaces, attend classes hosted by other organizations – and, more than anything, be part of a community of peers. To that end, Radius works to build a sense of community both within the workspace and with the community at large, hosting Lunch & Learns and other public events.

Why Erie County: The company has filled a niche in Erie County, as there was no dedicated space for coworking before its creation. And as one of the businesses at the forefront of the revolution that is growing in Erie, Radius is poised for growth. “We’re unfinished, but we’re rapidly developing,” Fedorko says. “There are still many opportunities we’re pursuing as Erie’s coworking community evolves. We see tremendous untapped potential here.”

Challenges of Erie County: Radius CoWork’s founders realize that there is still a risk-averse and cost-averse mindset in Erie County that is gradually adapting to new national trends in workstyle, lifestyle and business investment. A new risk tolerant, ambitious and adaptive attitude is the sort of thinking that Radius hopes to foster – and one that the owners see as inherent in the modern attitude of professionals. As the generation that grew up adapting to rapid changes in social trends and technology, they likewise are adaptive in their business models, creating value so that people can mutually serve one another productively to meet the needs of the communities they live in.

Fun fact: A third of Radius CoWork’s community members work remotely for employers outside of Erie County.

Address: 1001 State St., Suite 907, Erie, PA 16501 or www.radiusco.work

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

Hoffman Industrial

Hoffman Industrial is in the business of moving things.

It’s fitting, then, that the company is continuing to move forward, even with a 171-year tradition in Erie.

Hoffman was founded in 1846 by using horses to move houses. As manufacturing rapidly advanced in the industrial age, however, the company leveraged its rigging and moving skills and moved into machinery. Today, Hoffman Industrial – the oldest rigging and machinery moving company in the United States – no longer moves houses, instead focusing on the specialty skills of moving heavy and hulking pieces of machinery with a deliberate and even delicate touch.

President and owner Art Hammond, who bought the westside Erie business about three and a half years ago, is focused on ensuring that his company is the best at what it does, and that it has a strong – and satisfied – customer base to prove it.

He’s working to build that base by promoting the advantages of Hoffman Industrial – emphasizing that Hoffman workers have the equipment, the experience and the proper insurance to safely move big machinery.

It’s dangerous work, he points out, and it’s not for amateurs. There are angles and math calculations to figure out, and new circumstances with every job. “There’s so much to worry about,” Hammond says. “You have to have patience.”

Hoffman Industrial has further been investing in its equipment and in its employees – making sure workers have necessary training and skills – and has touted that experience in efforts to increase business.

Hammond has added some advertising and is working to expand the marketing and online reach – “We realize that even with a niche business like rigging and machinery moving, an online presence is essential for growth,” he says – and he’s also making sure his employees know of the company’s efforts.

A sign in the employee breakroom spells out the company’s philosophy fairly clearly: “Hoffman Industrial Co. will only employ and promote people who support and satisfy customers.” And upstairs, in a small office, a list hanging on the wall keeps a running tally of new businesses added so far this year – more than a dozen to date.

With so much activity, it’s clear that this moving business is not content to stand still.

About Hoffman Industrial: The company, with 11 workers, has a mix of seasoned and younger employees. Hoffman sends younger workers out for training and certification, since the rigging work is dangerous, and a strong skillset is imperative to employee safety. The company serves businesses in about a 250-mile radius of Erie, largely focusing on manufacturing but also serving other industries, including health care. Here in Erie County, Hoffman is the approved primary rigging company for GE Transportation.

Why Erie County: Hammond sees a lot of positives in Erie County, including its livability. He also says that Erie County still has a strong manufacturing presence – which is essential for businesses like his. When manufacturing is robust, he says, manufacturers “do a lot with their money. They invest in new machines.” And when that happens, Hoffman Industrial is there to move out the old machines and move in the new ones.

Challenges of Erie County: Hammond does, however, say that it is vital that Erie County shore up its manufacturing sector to help stave off future decline. “We have to grow the manufacturing base so that ancillary businesses like us grow. Anything that hurts manufacturing hurts us,” he says. In addition, Hammond would like to see a greater effort from Erie County companies in supporting local businesses. “Nothing irks me worse than an Erie company hiring an out-of-Erie company,” he says.

Fun fact: Hammond is only the second owner of the company to have come from outside the Hoffman family.

Address: 1510 Irwin Drive, Erie, PA 16505 or www.hoffmanindustrial.com

Rudy’s Shoe Repair

In a small corner storefront on the City of Erie’s west side, Rudy Rodriguez is doing more than repairing shoes – he’s living the American dream.

The El Salvador native and his wife, Adriana, have run Rudy’s Shoe Repair since 2015 – a decade after Rudy came to the United States.

His path to becoming a business owner is, as Adriana describes, “quite providential.”

After experiencing problems with his feet, he saw a local podiatrist and then was referred to Walk Rite, a local store that offers footwear and other services for people with foot problems. There, with the help of Walk Rite owner Nathaniel Zimmerman, Rudy started training to learn how to make custom orthotics – and thus the dream began.

“As soon as I started training, I just fell in love with it,” says Rudy, who worked as a tailor in El Salvador. “I saw so much potential.”

Soon, he was working full-time out of the Walk Rite shop, filling a need for shoe repair in Erie.

Before long, Rudy’s Shoe Repair expanded into its own space, at the corner of West 26th and Myrtle streets.

Since then, business has been steadily growing, mostly by word of mouth.

Now, looking around the workshop, crowded with shoes in for repair, Rudy and Adriana see another possible move in their future – an expansion of their successful enterprise to a larger storefront, maybe one with living space above for their family.

When asked if he ever expected to be an entrepreneur – “empresario,” or businessman, as Adriana explained in Spanish – Rudy’s answer is clear: Never. He never pictured himself owning his own business.

But now, with his shop doing a steady business by filling a niche in Erie, perhaps he has realized a dream he never knew he had.

About Rudy’s Shoe Repair: Though the shop started out by only repairing shoes, now they take on all manner of leather products – purses, jackets, luggage, belts, saddles, even furniture. The workshop features a mix of old equipment, picked up secondhand, and new machines that the owners have invested in. As business has grown, so has the need for help. As a result, Rudy’s is no longer a one-man operation. Though Adriana also works a full-time job, she also helps out at the shop, and they also have two part-time employees. Rudy’s Shoe Repair also recently joined the Erie Regional Chamber & Growth Partnership.

Why Erie County: Rudy and Adriana both say that Erie County – and its people – have been very good to them. That includes the training and guidance Rudy received in starting the business, and it carries through today, when they exchange referrals with other local businesses and rely on a network of mentors to help them as they continue to learn the trade. In addition, they have found it is simply a good place to raise their two children, ages 2 and 6. “A lot of people say there is not much in Erie – but there is. You just have to look a little, and you’ll find great things,” Rudy says.

Challenges of Erie County: The challenges that Rudy’s Shoe Repair faces are not unique to the county, or unique to shoe repair. Rather, it’s the burden of any small business owner who wears many hats – greeting and helping customers, filling orders, doing the finances, etc. In addition, Rudy says he works hard to adjust to the differences in culture and language that distinguish his new home from his native country.

Address: 263 W. 26th St., Erie PA 16508 or www.rudysshoerepair.com

 

Coming up next week: We visit Hoffman Industrial, the oldest rigging company in the United States.

 

Burton Funeral Homes & Crematory

My recent visit to Burton Funeral Homes  & Crematory revealed how the business has embraced both tradition and change.

The tradition aspect is readily apparent in the owners, who represent the fifth generation of the Burton family to run the business. The business was founded in 1876, and there are now four Burton locations around the county. The location that we visited, on West 10th Street in the City of Erie, is located in a historic building that has been home to Burton since the 1950s.

As Karen Burton Horstman spoke about the business, however, it became clear that it is now as much about changing times as it is about that deep-rooted family tradition.

The business has adjusted to meet the expectations of modern customers. That might mean offering more ways to personalize a funeral service – including through things like specialized casket accents, a unique urn, or a custom memorial. They’re also keeping an eye on new technology that other funeral homes have used to personalize funeral services.

And, in addition, they find themselves changing to fit contemporary sensibilities – which sometimes treat the grieving process differently than previous generations.

“We’re becoming a less traditional society,” Horstman says. “People are not valuing funeral services the way they used to.”

Burton has also adjusted the business by offering services that people are valuing – including memorials and pet loss services.

For any aspect of the funeral business, Horstman emphasizes the importance of the grieving process. In fact, that’s one of the aspects of the business that she finds to be the most important. As she explains, the death of a loved one is one of the life events that has the most impact on a person.

“People ask me, ‘How do you stand this work?’” she says. “I tell them that you’re helping someone through the worst time of their life. It’s very sad, but it’s also very rewarding.”

About Burton Funeral Homes & Crematory: In addition to the main location on West 10th Street in Erie, Burton operates funeral homes on West 26th Street and on Norcross Road in Millcreek Township, and on Main Street in Girard. The funeral home employs 40-some employees, almost equally split between part-time and full-time. Burton had one of the first crematories in the area, opening its crematory at the West 10th Street facility in the 1980s.

Why Erie County: Clearly, Burton has strong roots in Erie County. And the owners see that as a distinct advantage. “We have been here a long time, so our name has a good reputation,” Horstman says. But she also emphasized that Erie County is a desirable place to live. As she describes, it has big-city assets without being a big city, while also offering advantages like the natural environment and affordable housing.

Challenges of Erie County: Horstman describes a need for a regional view in Erie County, pointing to her experience of operating businesses both inside the City of Erie and in the outlying areas. As she explains, the City of Erie is home to all manner of nonprofits and services that pay no taxes, limiting the tax base – but residents of other Erie County municipalities also use those services. She sees reginonalism as a possible solution to revitalizing the city and its public schools. “If you don’t have schools, you don’t attract people,” she says. “And then how do I stay in business?”

Fun fact: Burton was founded by A.P. Burton, the son of a shipbuilder who helped construct Oliver Hazard Perry’s War of 1812 fleet.

Address: 602 W. 10th St., Erie, PA 16502 or www.burtonfuneralhomes.com

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