Category: Manufacturing Page 2 of 3

American Cruising Sails

Anyone who’s ever gazed from our shores during the summertime can see that Erie loves its sailing – and, as a result, has a market for sailmaking.

Several years ago, a group of entrepreneurial-minded local sailors decided to fill that niche, and American Cruising Sails was born.

As two of those founders – company president AJ Miceli and general manager Kim Yamma – showed me around their workshop recently, it was evident that they are not just knowledgeable about the wind and the water, but are dedicated to their craft.

“Erie has a fine tradition of local sailmakers, and we hope to be the next generation,” AJ said.

American Cruising Sails has been in business since 2014, benefitting from both mentorship and referrals from longtime Erie sailmaker Dave Bierig.

Now that their reputation is growing, with orders coming both locally and online, they are looking to grow – eventually hoping to add an additional staff member as well as looking for a larger physical space.

Currently, they are located in the basement of a building on West Eighth Street in the City of Erie – a space that, interestingly enough, once housed another local startup, Erie.net. The location served the needs of the early days of American Cruising Sails, but now they are looking for room to grow.

In the existing space, a giant, 28-foot table nearly fills the workroom. As crisp white material runs the length of it, passing under the busy needle of the sewing machine, it is clear why a table of such size is warranted – and, when hearing about a recent order for a 52-foot sail, why an even larger table is desired.

The room hosts more than sewing – a chalkboard details new orders, and a computer helps with the design and plotting. Across the table from where Kim operates the sewing machine, AJ works on cutting out shapes that will be pieced together.

Elsewhere in the space, bags of sails are ready for repair or, when finished, delivery to customers. New rolls of canvas await their future as new sails. And a small display showcases the Vela line – totebags, pillows, placemats and even Christmas stockings – repurposed from retired sails.

Though a small operation, American Cruising Sails is committed to providing the best service for their customers – something that big-business competitors, whose products are often made in Sri Lanka or China, can’t touch.

“We’re sailors,” Kim says. “We know what we would want in a sail.”

About American Cruising Sales: The company’s small staff is still made up of the four original owners – AJ and Kim, along with vice president Mark Platteter and partner Rosemary Briggs. Like with any startup, the partners began by chipping away at the work on evenings and weekends, before eventually transitioning AJ and Kim to full time. Mark and Rosemary still work at the business part-time. Though about 85 percent of American Cruising Sails’ work is local, they’re also growing their national footprint, having shipped sails to Texas, Florida, Maryland, Vermont and elsewhere.

Why Erie County: A sailmaking business is, of course, a perfect fit for Erie County, with its miles of shoreline and natural bay. But in addition, American Cruising Sales’ owners say they see plenty of potential for their business in Erie County. “We see nothing but opportunities in Erie County,” A.J. says, with Kim adding, “We’re big fans.”

Challenges of Erie County: The challenges that American Cruising Sails faces are universal among small startups – not enough hours in the day, the owners say. But the owners are also seeing a challenging in finding a new space for their loft. They are looking for something of the right size, at the right cost, that is convenient to the bay.

Fun fact: A sailmaking workshop is known as a loft – even if, as in American Cruising Sails’ case, the shop is located in a basement.

About: 1640 W. Eighth St., Erie PA 16505 or www.americancruisingsails.com

A. Duchini Inc.

A. Duchini Inc. has been a fixture on Erie’s east side for generations. That legacy was evident as we toured the site.

Inside the office, current owner Jim Duchini describes the people and places in the black-and-white photos that hang on the walls. His grandfather, Italian immigrant Avellino Duchini, founded the company in 1932, and his father and uncles later took over the business.

Outside in the brickyard, Jim Duchini points out a building that was in one of those old photos. Inside a storage area, he points out rows of molds – still used on the site – that were made by a company run by a man posing in one of the old photos.

That history continues to influence A. Duchini Inc. now, 85 years later. Jim Duchini talks with pride about how the company donates block to build baseball dugouts in honor of his uncle. That’s just one example of how A. Duchini Inc. has given back to the community – and to other companies.

Jim Duchini is forging ahead with the same principles that guided his father and grandfather: Create a quality product. Serve the customer. And give back to the community.

About A. Duchini Inc.: The company got its start thanks to the entrepreneurial drive of Avellino Duchini. He was an experienced mason, and when the company stopped making blocks, he bought the machine and started making hand-molded blocks himself. The company now uses much higher-tech machinery to produce products including block, bricks and pavers. The company also manufacturers specialty masonry that is more energy efficient. The company sells real and man-made stone to both construction firms and homeowners; sells and installs fireplaces; and also operates an Ace Hardware store on site.

Why Erie County: Avellino Duchini ended up in Erie, where he had family members, after he came to the U.S. from Italy in the 1920s. It has been home for the Duchini family ever since. Today, A. Duchini Inc. has deep roots in the community, with its products present in many familiar buildings around the area. Current owner Jim Duchini is a third-generation owner; his children, who are also involved in the company, represent a fourth generation of Duchinis in the family business.

Challenges of Erie County: Building regulations, and in particular the inspection regulations that are used by the city of Erie and other municipalities in Erie County, have been hard on the company’s business, Jim Duchini says.

Fun fact: The A. Duchini Inc. facility is capable of producing tens of thousands of blocks per day.

Address: 2550 McKinley Ave., Erie, PA 16503 or www.duchini.com

Great Lakes Automation Services

Two words immediately come to mind when I think about my recent visit to Great Lakes Automation Services Inc. in McKean Township: Service and pride.

For starters, Great Lakes Automation is designated as a Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business – and one that is proud of its contracts with the government, and even prouder of its hiring of veterans. Military photos of employees hang on a wall in the packaging division, and military memorabilia decorates office space.

The core of strength and dedication that distinguishes our military members also runs through Great Lakes Automation’s approach to serving its customers.

The company, which designs, manufactures, assembles and ships machines that automate production lines, has been steadily building its business since the current owners purchased it in 2002. They added the packaging and kitting division in 2007, and then acquired Clifton Machining, in Lake City, in 2009.

The company’s leaders – including CEO Ken Fisher and President Mark Fatica – remain committed to providing quality products to their customers. That means fine-tuning automated machine to a customer’s specifications, or developing their own tests to guarantee that products – some of which are used by U.S. troops – will work in the field.

That dedication has paid off in return customers, Fatica says.

“We satisfy the customer, and they come back to us,” he says.

About Great Lakes Automation: The company, which collectively employs about 65 workers, has been at the McKean facility since 2009. Great Lakes Automation largely serves companies in a 300- to 400-mile radius, though it has done business as far away as California, and even in China and Mexico. In addition to working with prime contractors to the federal government, particularly the Department of Defense, the company also works with the automotive, medical device, electronics and consumer goods industries.

Why Erie County: The company’s leaders find Erie County a good location for their business – it has a reasonable cost of living, which keeps business expenses down. For workers, that means that the grass is often greener here, when it comes to how far a dollar will stretch. “Moving into here is easy,” Fatica says. “Moving out of here is tough. You don’t get what you get here anywhere else.”

Challenges of Erie County: Great Lakes Automation, like many manufacturers, is facing an aging workforce and is seeking younger skilled workers. The business requires a variety of skill sets, including mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, tool and die workers, and employees who assemble and package components. They would welcome community college programs that would teach young people the skills they need for the manufacturing floor. “Nobody teaches this anymore,” says Fisher. “So we have to teach it.” In addition, the company would like to see greater collaboration among Erie County businesses, in order to both speak with a louder voice and to support each other.

Fun fact: Great Lakes Automation Services has handled more than 900 installations of automated systems globally.

Address: 8835 Walmer Drive, McKean, PA 16426 or www.glasi.us

 

Coming up next week: We head out to Washington Township to visit Skelton Farms.

Rogers Brothers

During my recent visit to Rogers Brothers Corp. in Albion, an array of photos caught my eye.

The vintage black-and-white images, displayed outside company president Jay Kulyk’s office, showcase some of the original Rogers Brothers trailers and highlight the company’s history.

And it’s quite a history – Rogers Brothers, after all, has been operating in Albion since 1905, and it is now run by the fourth-generation of family members.

As Kulyk tells it, the business got its start building bridges and other steel structures, as well as homes, but switched to building trailers once customers started requesting them. Early trailers had a capacity of one ton and were pulled behind the early automobiles and trucks of the time. As the company developed, so did their trailer designs, particularly those designed to carry heavier and heavier payloads.

One of the most interesting images on display at Rogers Brothers was an old advertisement, touting the advantages of the company’s trailers: “Every type, every size, every capacity,” it read. “Your truck will haul at least twice the load.”

Today, Rogers Brothers builds semi-trailers and tag-along style trailers for a variety of industries, including mining and construction. The production process in Albion is impressive in its attention to detail. During assembly, massive steel beams are welded together, gradually creating a skeleton for a trailer as the pieces move along in production. The sheer size of the trailers is remarkable – after all, these trailers must be strong enough to transport huge pieces of machinery.

The large-scale, complex trailers that come off the production line at Rogers Brothers might be unrecognizable to the company’s earlier owners, but it’s clear that the company’s decades-old philosophy remains the same.

According to Kulyk, today’s Rogers Brothers sets itself apart by customization, specializing in building trailers to fit a client’s needs. Like the founders, it has adjusted its business to best serve the customers – and still provides trailers for every type, every size, every capacity.

About Rogers Brothers: If you’ve ever seen heavy equipment being hauled behind a truck on a highway, there’s a good chance you’ve seen a Rogers Brothers trailer in action. The company does business in all 50 states and even internationally. It has provided trailers for the mining industry in South America, including in Chile and Peru. The company employs about 50 people in its Albion facility (which is a union shop).

Why Erie County: It’s clear that Rogers Brothers is deeply rooted in western Erie County, not just by the family ownership, but also by the family ties among employees. The company has second- and even third-generation employees working at the business. Kulyk is himself a fourth-generation employee – his great-grandfather, Louis Rogers, was one of the original founders. Kulyk’s brother and sister also work at the company, as do his wife’s brother and his sister’s husband. His son and his nephew have done part-time work at the company, representing a fifth generation of Rogers descendants working at the business.

Challenges of Erie County: The challenges that Kulyk recounts reflect geographic and economic realities broader than just Erie County. Transportation of completed trailers can be costly, he says. In addition, Rogers Brothers often finds itself with higher overhead costs than its competitors, he says, because competitors in the South have lower labor costs, whether they are union or non-union shops. The inability to compete with general competitors, cost-wise, is one of the reasons that Rogers Brothers turned to the custom work that is now its specialty.

Fun fact: It normally takes, on average, four to six weeks for a trailer to be constructed at Rogers Brothers.

Address: 100 Orchard St., Albion, PA 16401 or www.rogerstrailers.com.

 

Coming up next week: We explore the millwork at Dovetail Galleries in Erie.

 

Eriez

My recent visit to Eriez was an intriguing look at the capabilities of magnets and also at the scope of a global business rooted in Erie.

One of my biggest takeaways, however, was in the management’s glass-half-full approach to business.

The optimistic viewpoint was apparent in the company’s approach to their workforce, where employees are given opportunities to advance from entry-level positions to more advanced – and higher paying – jobs. Even the idea of an aging workforce, which has caused many manufacturers to worry about the prospect of losing years of institutional knowledge, is viewed as an opportunity at Eriez.

While the loss of that skillset is a concern, it also invigorates the workforce, President and CEO Tim Shuttleworth says – “it’s an opportunity for someone waiting their turn to move up.”

That same attention to the positive – along with a breadth and depth of production capabilities and markets served – has kept Eriez in a strong position even during downturns.

When one sector falters, the company – which is headquartered in Erie County but has a presence on five continents – focuses on the half of the glass that is full, Eriez’s management team says. That is, Eriez focuses on the sectors that remain strong.

Eriez is unique in that it serves a diverse array of industries and produces an array of equipment, all on a global scale. As we toured the facility on Asbury Road in Millcreek Township, we saw vibratory equipment, such as conveyer belts that shake pieces down a line – just like you shake cereal out of the box, as Eriez’s Charlie Ingram, vice president for sales and marketing, describes. We saw powerful magnets used in food production that can detect even tiny pieces of metal. And we saw large electromagnetic separators that are used mainly for industrial work.

That kind of innovation fits in with Eriez’s roots, emerging as an entrepreneurial idea 75 years ago, and it’s the kind of big-picture thinking that is keeping the company ready for the next opportunity yet to come.

About Eriez: Eriez had its start in the 1940s, when O.F. Merwin developed a magnet to serve his customers in grain mills. Today, the company employs about 300 workers at two facilities in Erie County – one on Asbury Road and one on Wager Road – and employs hundreds more at locations around the globe. The company’s mission statement is rooted in the golden rule – meaning the management aims to treat its customers and its employees in the way they would like to be treated. In fact, an eye-catching display in an Eriez meeting room illustrates that mission in a way that reflects the company’s global footprint: The familiar sentiment is repeated in philosophies from an array of world religions.

Why Erie County: Eriez’s management says that the company can recruit from Erie County’s talented workforce – and that includes area universities that produce interns for positions like engineering. Here, the company again takes a glass-half-full approach, this time in regard to GE Transportation. Though the loss of GE as a local powerhouse has been a blow for the region’s economy, Eriez is able to see a sliver of a silver lining – namely, in its own recruiting efforts. In GE’s heyday, Eriez used to lose a lot of talent to the larger company, and now Eriez is better able to compete for those skilled workers.

Challenges of Erie County: Eriez identifies a need for increased air service at Erie International Airport as a leading challenge. The company’s global footprint necessitates frequent travel into and out of Erie, and Eriez faces lost time waiting for connections at airports, or driving to airports in Pittsburgh, Cleveland or Buffalo. In addition, expanded service to Erie International is vital to the clients that Eriez serves, as it would make site visits – which help sell customers on Eriez products – much easier to plan.

Fun fact: Eriez is one of the founding members of the Erie Regional Manufacturer Partnership, which aims to develop and maintain a skilled workforce.

Address: 2200 Asbury Road, Erie, PA 16506 or www.eriez.com

Coming up next week: We head west to Albion to visit Rogers Brothers.

 

 

Allegheny Wood Works

My visit to Allegheny Wood Works in Lake City reinforced the importance of partnership.

It was partnership that brought the current owners – brothers Steve and Mike Kraus – together in the business.

Both men bring unique business skills to their enterprise, and are thus able to complement each other. Steve Kraus, who has a background in retail, oversees the human resources, sales and accounting side of the business. Mike Kraus, who has a background in finance, now oversees the production and the shipping. Both left their previous careers to buy into the business, which is tucked away on a quiet street in Lake City.

“We’re the biggest manufacturer that no one knows is here,” Steve Kraus jokes.

As the owners since January 2014, the Kraus brothers are now proud to call themselves the largest manufacturer of solid hardwood doors in the country – or at least the largest that they know of.

During a tour of the Lake City facility, the care and craftsmanship that went into every door is apparent. The company prides itself on the quality of its work, starting with the quality of its lumber. We saw the door-making process from start to finish, culminating in the finishing touches applied by workers from Elk Creek Painting.

That brings me to another partnership: Allegheny Wood Works leases space to Elk Creek Painting, which in turn handles finishing work, such as wood staining. It’s a relationship that serves both companies well.

“That’s helping to support another 10 families,” Mike Kraus says, in addition to the 27 on Allegheny Wood Works’ payroll.

About Allegheny Wood Works: The company sells solid hardwood doors across the country and internationally, but they’ll also sell one “to the guy down the street,” Mike Kraus says. They do quite a bit of business in new home construction, but they’ve also found that their products – especially custom orders – are in demand for renovations of historic buildings and homes.

Why Erie County: Allegheny Wood Works predates the Kraus brothers’ ownership, but they are content with its location – not just in Erie County, but in west county specifically. They are Erie County natives, and they recently moved their families from elsewhere in the county to the Lake City area. They appreciate the logistics advantages offered by Erie County, and also the relative proximity to quality Appalachian hardwood.

Challenges of Erie County: Some of the challenges that Allegheny Wood Works has faced arise from state laws. In Pennsylvania, unemployment costs can be prohibitive, the Kraus brothers said – so they developed a system to ensure that a worker is a good fit for their company before offering full-time employment. They work with an agency to place workers on a temporary basis, which gives them the option to offer full-time employment once they are confident that the employee will be a strong addition to the Allegheny Wood Works Team.

Fun fact: Allegheny Wood Works does its own etching on glass inserts in doors. No design is too simple or too intricate.

Address: 10003 Railroad Street, Lake City, PA 16423 or www.solidhardwooddoors.com

SEPCO-Erie

When we visited SEPCO-Erie in Summit Township, I expected to learn about the products and processes of the shop. What I came away with, however, was a lesson in communication.

On the day of the visit, SEPCO owner Dan Ignasiak invited me to attend his brief daily meeting with the staff. It was a fast-moving, informal talk that touched on safety concerns and company news, and also included few tidbits of humor and history.

What was best about the experience, for me, was seeing the open platform for communication between the company and the employees – the employees were privy to the company’s progress, and they were also encouraged to highlight suggestions or improvements that they, personally, were responsible for. It’s an idea that Ignasiak implemented after reading the book “2 Second Lean.”

In the meeting I attended, the brief lesson of the day that Ignasiak passed onto his crew centered on a quote attributed to noted American engineer W.E. Deming: “It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.”

That sentiment – which reflects the Japanese business philosophy of kaizen, or constant improvement – is one that SEPCO has taken to heart over the past few years. As we toured the shop floor, Ignasiak pointed out some of the changes that have not only improved the work environment for his employees, but have also boosted his bottom line.

For example, he explained to us how a coolant recycling system that was recently installed now collects, cleans and reuses the coolants that keep the machines running properly. The recycling system helped improve the air quality in the facility, Ignasiak says, and also helps the company save money on coolant. In fact, he says, the system paid for itself in under two years.

It is in those ways that Ignasiak shows that SEPCO-Erie has taken the kaizen idea to heart.

“We’re changing all the time,” he says.

About SEPCO-Erie: SEPCO, which stands for South Erie Production Company, was founded in 1966 by Ignasiak’s father. Today, the company has about 25 employees (some who have been with the company for 30 years) and specializes in fabricated metal parts, especially engine components. The company added its first robotic arm in 2015, with the assistance of a grant from the NWIRC, a nonprofit partnership that serves manufacturers in northwestern Pennsylvania.

Why Erie County: SEPCO has a lot of related support industries in Erie County, Ignasiak says – pointing out that Erie County has a higher concentration of plating businesses than Pittsburgh does. He also mentioned that it is easy for SEPCO to get supplies, since steel trucks can get here easily from major highway routes.

Challenges of Erie County: Ignasiak said he would like to see greater training opportunities for specialized industries – particularly in a community college model that would provide the necessary skills to young people while still being affordable and approachable.

Fun fact: SEPCO’s website seems to say it all about the company, describing the business as “Great people running really super cool machines!”

Address: 1221 Robison Road, Erie PA 16509 or www.sepco-erie.com

 

Coming up next week: We explore Allegheny Wood Works in Lake City.

Performance Castings

The story of Performance Castings is one of commitment to Erie – in more ways than one.

The company, which specializes in iron castings, has been operating at East 16th Street in the city of Erie since 1988, when it emerged from the bankruptcy of Erie Castings.

Owner Steve Konzel committed to continuing that history when he purchased the business just over two years ago. Konzel, who is an Erie native, says he was looking for an opportunity to stay and make a livelihood in his hometown – and Performance Castings offered that chance.

Today, he is working to make sure that Performance Castings continues to provide that livelihood not just for his family, but for his employees.

Part of that means making sure that his work stays diversified, he says.

Performance Castings makes parts for a variety of industries, as part of a concerted effort to withstand downturns in any one sector. So if, for example, the federal government cuts spending, Performance Castings won’t be devastated by losing some work for the Defense Department. Or if the oil and gas industry falters (as it did in recent years), then the company can rely on business from other sectors to weather the storm.

Today, that means that there a variety of parts for a variety of industries – including mining, oil and gas, sewer and drain, commercial valve, rail, heavy equipment, logging and more – coming out of the East 16th Street foundry.

The foundry is located in a historic building and follows a well-established manufacturing process, but this company clearly has an eye on the future as well as a respect for the past.

About Performance Castings: Performance Castings, which has around 20 employees, manufactures iron castings, from the initial steps of weighing and mixing materials to form alloys through to shipping the finished products to clients. One interesting aspect of the company’s work is how it has been affected by technology. Thanks to remote capabilities and 3D printing, foundries such as Performance Castings now can do business with customers across the country – whereas in the past, it would have been limited to companies located just down the street.

Why Erie County: For Konzel, Erie County is home, and that’s where he chose to plant his roots. But from a logistics standpoint, Erie County also ready access to the raw materials needed to operate his business.

Challenges of Erie County: The biggest challenge that Konzel has faced has been finding workers. He readily admits that the work isn’t always easy or glamorous, but it is a paycheck with benefits – and one that offers opportunities for further training and advancement. He has had some luck hiring recent refugees that have been resettled in Erie, and is always eager to find employees who are willing to be conscientious and hard working. Konzel also says that another challenge facing his industry comes in disparities in foreign trade – the different costs of doing business that can create an uneven playing field for businesses such as his.

Address: 242 E 16th St, Erie, PA 16503

 

Coming up next week: We learn about Verify Services in Waterford.

All-American Hose

Touring the factory floor at All-American Hose in Union City is a lesson not just in fire hoses, but in appreciating everything that goes into the manufacturing process.

“Most people take fire hose for granted,” All-American Hose CEO Ron Stanley says. “Where does fire hose come from? It’s on the trucks, and they use it and water flows through it. But where does it come from?”

A lot of it, as it turns out, comes from right here in Erie County.

All-American Hose operates the facility in Union City and one in Fairview Township. Combined, the two locations employ about 140 workers.

The company has been making lay-flat hose since the 1970s, first as Snap-Tite and later as All-American Hose. With the fracking boom in Pennsylvania, the company shifted a large part of its operations to manufacturing hoses for the oil and gas industry – a decision that proved costly when the boom went bust in 2015, leaving the company, and the livelihoods of its employers, at risk.

In 2016, private investors acquired the assets of the company, and Stanley, as the new CEO, was able to reassure the employees that their jobs would remain – and remain in Erie County.

Today, the Union City facility is again a flurry of activity – intricate looms spin threads into tightly woven hose liners, which are then fed into machines that merge them with lightweight polyurethane or more traditional rubber surfaces. Completed hoses are flattened and rolled up onto giant spools, receiving quality checks and rigorous testing all along the way.

With production going strong, Stanley is focused on rebuilding – especially rebuilding the relationships with distributors and customers that were damaged during the previous owners’ troubles. It’s all in the interest of shoring up the company’s foundation so that it can potentially expand to new capabilities, Stanley says.

“We’re not here to own the business three to five years,” he says. “We’re here for the long term.”

About All-American Hose: The company manufactures fire hoses as well as hoses for landscaping, agriculture, and the oil and gas industry. It mostly serves municipal customers, with distributors nationwide and in Canada. The bulk of the company’s business comes from the Midwest to the East Coast.

Why Erie County: The company values the experience of its workers, Stanley says. Some of the employees have been doing the job for a number of years, and their depth of knowledge shows. That’s clear as you watch workers capably skim their fingers over a skein of nylon yarn or nimbly tie knots. There’s a skill and a learned know-how that comes from spending time on the job, Stanley says. He also pointed to Erie County’s relatively central location, which is an asset when it comes to freight costs.

Challenges of Erie County: Many of the workers come from about a 15-mile radius, Stanley says – so the pool of new skilled, qualified workers is limited. Otherwise, the company’s major challenges remain the efforts to rebuild the business, renew relationships, and restore faith in All-American Hose’s future.

Address: 217 Titusville Road, Union City, PA 16438

 

Coming up next week: We explore Performance Castings in the City of Erie.

Better Baked Foods

During my recent visit to Better Baked Foods in North East, president and COO Joe Pacinelli told us the story behind the company’s claim to fame – the French bread pizza.

Bob Miller, one of the company’s co-founders, used to bake up pizzas on French bread loaves for his family to sell at local carnivals. One year when a carnival rained out, the Millers were left with a pile of pizza loaves – and no place to store them. They ended up freezing them, which led someone to comment that the frozen pizzas would make a good product for school lunches.

That spark of inspiration – along with a healthy dose of entrepreneurial spirit and no small amount of hard work – grew into the Better Baked Foods that we know today. Now, Better Baked Foods operates three facilities, employs about 425 workers, and churns out more than 400,000 French bread pizzas per day.

On the day I visited, I saw neat rows of French bread loaves go through the assembly line, receiving a dollop of sauce before being blanketed in freshly shredded cheese. They then were sent along a giant spiral track into an 18-minute deep freeze. These pizzas were for school lunches, so they weren’t individually wrapped, but instead were boxed up. All along the process, the pizzas were guided, checked, monitored, and packaged by employees.

I also took great interest in touring Better Baked Foods’ test kitchen, where food scientists were trying out new products. To me, the work in the kitchen signals that the entrepreneurial spirit that helped create those first French bread pizzas lives on in the modern-day company. I see the product development process as a sign that Better Baked Foods is dedicated to improving its foods and expanding its value to its customers, guaranteeing a stronger future for the company and for the Erie region.

About Better Baked Foods: The company, founded in 1964, has facilities in the City of Erie and in Westfield, N.Y., as well as in North East. The bread products are baked in Westfield, and the North East facility largely handles the pizza production. The City of Erie site, added just about a decade ago at the former Van de Kamp’s facility, produces some of the company’s other products, including frozen sandwiches and other hand-helds. There’s a good chance you’ve eaten their products – the company makes food for companies including Walmart, Wegmans, Aldi, Schwan’s, Kellogg’s, Pillsbury, Red Baron, and more.

Why Erie County? A simple answer is logistics, Pacinelli says. Access to highways and the ease of truck transit make it easier for Better Baked Foods to get products into the hands of customers. Also, the cost of living is reasonable compared to other metropolitan areas, he says, which means costs stay more manageable for the company as well.

Challenges of Erie County: Companies like Better Baked Foods can find state taxes a challenge, Pacinelli says, especially when taken along with costs for insurance. Another challenge comes from location: While many of the plant’s workers live in North East, not all do – and it can be difficult to find workers willing to make the drive to North East from other areas of the county.

Fun fact: The average length of service for a Better Baked Foods employee is 18 years.

Address: 56 Smedley Street, North East, PA 16428

 

Coming up next week: We’re checking out FishUSA in Fairview Township

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