Category: Informational

50 businesses later: What we learned

Every week since January, I’ve crisscrossed Erie County, visiting different businesses – manufacturers, offices, farms and more.

My goal was to determine what is good about doing business in Erie County, as well as what is challenging about doing business here. The answers to the first question can help us as we look to capitalize on our assets and entice new businesses to move here. And knowing the second means we can better help current businesses succeed.

As each week passed, several trends emerged – patterns that transcend industry.

For example, most of the 50 businesses I visited are family-run, and many have been in the same family for generations – some for more than a century.

But no matter whether old or new, many of the businesses started with an entrepreneurial vision. That’s the kind of spirit that helped build Erie County into a manufacturing powerhouse in decades past, and it’s just the kind of attitude that county government and others are fostering as we look to shore up our economy with solid, family-sustaining jobs.

Speaking of jobs, there was a surprise tucked away in many of these businesses. Quietly, and without making headlines, many of these businesses were growing. Some had added employees over the past year or so, and others envisioned doing so over the course of the next several months. Some were even expanding their physical buildings, or looking for new locations in Erie County that offer more space.

Overall, I am impressed not just by the depth of skill that is evident in our Erie County businesses, but by the breadth of those businesses themselves. In Erie County, we can create tiny, intricate parts and huge, hulking equipment – and everything in between. We have innovative technology, skilled artisans and savvy entrepreneurs.

As we work to strengthen our economy, we do so knowing that these businesses – and the talented workers they employ – remain a source of pride for our community, and the bedrock of Erie County.

Why Erie County: Answers varied when I asked about what’s good about doing business in Erie County. An overwhelming number of businesses said the low cost of living, compared with other cities, makes Erie County a desirable place to do business. Others pointed out that while we have a small-town feel, we are able to pair it with big-city amenities like entertainment, shopping, arts, sports teams and more.

Another key is less about quality of life and more about the cost of doing business. Specifically, many businesses pointed out that Erie County’s location is an advantage, whether because of ease in shipping goods out or getting raw materials in. Another asset comes from a support network for businesses that can provide a boost when needed – including financing, planning or start-up advice.

Challenges of Erie County: In one notable trend, many business owners reported that they struggle to find workers with necessary skills and training – so much so that most that I talked to support the creation of a community college in Erie County. The need is a concern now, but it will become more urgent as experienced workers retire.

Fun fact: Of the 50 businesses, three have “American” in their name, and two each have “Great Lakes” or “Lake Erie” in their names.

Welcome to 50 in 50

When you think of Erie County’s businesses, what comes to mind? Maybe it’s large manufacturers like GE Transportation and Lord Corp. Maybe it’s our health care facilities or colleges, or the shops, restaurants and hotels that serve both residents and visitors alike.

The truth is, all of those – and many more – are essential in our community. We rely on the large corporations like Erie Insurance, just as we do on smaller manufacturers, independent service providers and specialty shops. These companies sign our paychecks, invest in our communities and help put Erie on the map.

My resolution for this coming year is to tell the stories of some of these businesses. Each week for the next 50 weeks, I will visit a different Erie County employer. I invite you to join me on the farm fields and factory floors, in specialty shops and small businesses.

By the time this journey is complete, we will have crisscrossed Erie County and gotten a peek into the varied businesses that drive our economy, shape our community and add vibrancy to Erie County.

Coming up: Read about my visit to Accudyn in Millcreek Township.

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