As David Barensfeld looked around the meeting room in Ellwood City Forge Friday morning, he was encouraged by one element of the collection of state representatives sitting around the table.
Those representatives — members of the state House Manufacturing Caucus — are members of one of Harrisburg’s few bipartisan caucuses. Several members of the caucus, including co-chairmen Reps. Eli Evankovich, R-54, Murrysville, Westmoreland County and John Galloway, D-150, Levittown, Bucks County, toured factory sites Friday in the Ellwood City area.
State Reps. Jaret Gibbons, D-10, Franklin Township, and Jim Marshall, R-14, Big Beaver, also participated in the tour, along with state Reps. Greg Lucas, R-5, Edinboro, Crawford County; and Bill Kortz, D-38, Dravosburg, Allegheny County.
Barensfeld, president and CEO of Ellwood Group, said the bipartisanship was a refreshing change from typical goings-on in Harrisburg and Washington.
“The way our system works, it seems like we’re finding ways to keep people apart,” Barensfeld said.
The caucus members toured ALLED/Appalachian Lighting Systems in Wayne Township, Ellwood City Forge in Ellwood City and Veka Inc. in Marion Township Friday. Evankovich said the morning agenda at ALLED and Ellwood City Forge offered two widely differing perspectives on manufacturing in Pennsylvania.
“It represented two different perspectives,” he said. “One mature company, 103 years old, and one newer company, but they both echoed some similar challenges.”
The “newer company,” ALLED, unveiled some of its fixtures. Company CEO and President David McAnally discussed some of ALLED’s projects, including the factory lighting at General Motors’ Lordstown facility in 2013, the Allegheny County Jail in 2008 and the streetlight replacement project in Ellwood City that began in 2006 and remains one of North America’s longest-running LED lighting installations.
McAnally said that ALLED was put through rigorous testing and comparisons against other LED lighting manufacturers to win the contracts with GM and to install parking lot lights at Pittsburgh International Airport.
Tanya Rings, vice president for ALLED-affiliated SSL Energy Solutions, said the company needs to get the kind of support from governmental agencies in Pennsylvania that similar manufacturers receive in their home states. With the expected release in the next few months of highway lighting standards from the federal government, ALLED could be added to PennDOT’s list of suppliers, which could be another major coup for the company.
She said other states are more protective of their own companies with public contracts.
“If there’s another LED manufacturer in that state, it’s very hard to penetrate that market,” Rings said.
McAnally said ALLED is committed to the Ellwood City area, but the company’s success could soon force it to outgrow its facility in Wayne Township’s Burnstown neighborhood. Ideally, he would like to see state funding through the ARCAP program to be streamlined so businesses can get grant money more quickly.
Because of the nature of ALLED’s business — the company has to spend a great deal of money on hardware and installation before it is paid for the work, capital has been an issue almost since the company was founded in 2006. Earlier this year, though, McAnally said ALLED picked up an investor that could ease that problem and allow it to expand.
However, he said it has been difficult getting bank loans through the private market, particularly since the banking crash of 2007-08.
“I think small businesses have been thrown under the bus with funding,” he said. “There needs to be more done with public-private partnerships for small businesses.”
At Ellwood City Forge, General Manager Bill Nardone said the company has plowed nearly a half-billion dollars in funding back into upgrading and replacing obsolete equipment over the last five years, which means capital isn’t a problem. The greater issue, Barensfeld said, is regulation.
Barensfeld, Nardone and Vice President Jeff Nystrom said that hydraulic fracture natural gas drilling has been a large part of Ellwood City Forge’s business — the company makes manifold parts for hydraulic fracturing pumps. Over the past year, orders for those steel fixtures have declined, largely because falling natural gas prices have made companies less willing to start drilling new wells.
Those drillers ordered more drill parts than they needed and are now working through their inventory, Barensfeld said.
Nystrom called on state — and, by extension, federal — authorities to create conditions conducive to mining and drilling.
“So much of our business is tied to energy,” he said. “I think there are ways to use carbon-based energy effectively.”
As posted on August 24, 2013 on ellwoodcityledger.com.