by Bob Zaruta, President/CEO, NWIRC

I had the opportunity recently to ride along in Mercer County with Lisa Dach, one of NWIRC’s Strategic Business Advisors. It was a great day in so many ways, I had to share some of the highlights. Mercer County is such a cool place with so much rich history and incredibly strong community spirit. And there is no better person than Lisa to plan and lead the day. Her passion, pride, and commitment to the businesses and people in her home area is so apparent. Lisa seemingly knows everybody and is so tuned in to what’s happening. I enjoyed hearing some of the history, gaining local perspectives, and having a mighty fine lunch.

Photo of NWIRC's Bob Zaruta and Matt Heckathorn and Bill Carter of Sharpsville Container.
Matt Heckathorn (L) and Bill Carter (C) with Bob Zaruta (R) at Sharpsville Container.

Our first stop was Sharpsville Container Corporation (SCC), a company in and of itself having a long history dating back to before the Civil War. In fact, in the archives of the Sharpsville Historical Society, there is a picture taken during the Civil War showing draft horses pulling a wagon through the huge doors at the west end of the plant. We met with Matt Heckathorn, Plant Manager and Bill Carter, (Engineering Director), who kindly shared some of the company’s interesting past, along with exciting opportunities happening today and the outlook for the future. As Lisa and I toured their facility, we saw firsthand SCC’s impressive manufacturing capabilities that enable the company to offer a diverse product line of standard and custom engineered containers ranging in size from small to very large. SCC’s manufacturing processes and inhouse expertise with stainless steel, along with their American Society of Mechanical Engineering (ASME) code certification, adds to the company’s value proposition and differentiation in the markets they serve. These are also the reasons why SCC’s customers include some of the largest companies and most well-known brands in the world.

The company’s current business growth and future projections translate into great career opportunities with family sustaining wages. To help create the talent needed, SCC developed an apprenticeship program for welding. The company’s challenge is increasing awareness of career opportunities and of the apprenticeship program. To address these challenges, SCC is considering the creation of videos to excite, educate, and train people.

Our next stop was Muscarella’s for lunch (just across the street from SCC) where we enjoyed great food prepared by Tim Patton. On the way in, Lisa said, owners and brother’s Tom and Tim have a reputation to never disappoint their customers. Based on our lunch and our wait-staff service, and the large crowd that was clearly enjoying their food and experience, I would agree. While at Muscarella’s, we had a chance to catch up with Joe Walsh Sr. of O’Neill Coffee Company. O’Neill’s coffees are ground and roasted in West Middlesex with beans imported from different countries. The company is under the leadership of Joe’s son, also named Joe, and supplies many of the local restaurants and coffee shops in Mercer County.

Photo of Rod Jones (L) and Vivian Jones (M) with Bob Zaruta (R) at Jones Performance Products
Rod Jones (L) and Vivian Jones (M) with Bob Zaruta (R) at Jones Performance Products

Speaking of West Middlesex, that’s where we headed after lunch to meet with some of the great team members at Jones Performance Products including owners David, Rod, and Brad Jones. The company specializes in the production of aftermarket semi-truck hoods and offers a wide selection of new aftermarket semi-truck parts for commercial, medium, and heavy-duty trucks. Their focus is producing the highest quality parts delivered quickly so their customers’ trucks can get back on the road, or stand out from the crowd, as soon as possible. After updating past and potential NWIRC projects with the company, we got our second great plant tour for the day. Rod led the way with Scott Mehler, Controller, and Gary Antus, Plant Manager, adding to the conversation. We also had the pleasant opportunity to have some shop talk with Rod’s daughter Vivian Jones (21) and son Roman Jones (17) who work at the company and represent the 4th generation in this family-owned business. I was so impressed with the knowledge and experience acquired already by these two young people. Vivian and Roman will join others working in manufacturing (in various roles and demographics) as part of NWIRC’s ‘Exploring the Marvels of Manufacturing’ campaign. During October, National Manufacturing Month, these super hero marvels will be featured on social media to showcase and spread the word to parents and educators the success that can come from manufacturing careers.

Like SCC, Jones Performance Products’ business continues to experience significant growth and the future is bright. The company continues to invest in new technologies and improve its processes. They also value their people, place a high priority on employee skill development and job training, and look to have a part in developing and training the future workforce. The company is working with the West Middlesex High School to formalize a co-op/classroom to work program to help students explore jobs and careers in manufacturing and is looking at making investment in video production that can excite, educate, and train the next generation of manufacturing talent.

With all the great manufacturing and other things going on, and the great people to talk with, I can’t wait for my next travel to Mercer County.