The sweet smell of community

January 8, 2008
By: Tim Heston

The word global and all its derivations are everywhere. Saying a business is a global company may make a good marketing sound bite, but think about it: If your community is home to a company that calls itself a "global enterprise," would you really care?

For instance, I grew up about an hour"s drive from Chocolate Town USA, Hershey, Pa. Driving past the Hershey chocolate factory, I could smell the sweetness (so different from the hog farms in the surrounding countryside). Did I care that the company had one of the most recognizable brands on the planet? Sure, it gave me a sense of civic pride, I suppose, but that"s about it. And, of course, I"ve always had a sweet tooth for its products. But what I and my family really cared about was what Hershey did for the community. The company has done wonders for local education and culture, so much so that from the start the company founder set up a separate entity, the Milton S. Hershey Foundation, to focus on local philanthropy.

Would I care if Hershey called itself global or not? Not really, even if a Hershey"s bar can be found darn near anywhere. But I"m certainly thankful the company supports the community the way it does.

In the neighboring community of Lebanon, Pa., William Willie Erb followed Hershey"s line of thinking. His company, E&E Metal Fab, produces an array of products, from fireplace accessories to cooling-tower components. Many newspaper and magazine printers, for instance, walk on E&E Metal Fab"s fabricated platforms to access their huge web presses. The business started with nine employees; today it has 36. Sales have doubled every year, and employee turnover has been next to nothing; only four have left since the company launched four years ago. This year Erb said the company is on track to hit $5 million in revenue.

This success isn"t the only reason Erb"s company was named as a finalist for emerging businesses in 2007 by the Central Penn Business Journal. And it's also not the only reason Lebanon County recently named Erb as businessperson of the year.

The principal reason, he said, is that the company has given back to the community. For instance, the metal fabricator holds an annual classic car charity event, called Feel the Steel, in support of the local D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program. Not only does this support charity, but it also brings mechanical-minded people to the company"s doors. (Erb said the company has hired several qualified people who took the company tour during the event.)

But more than that, Erb said, We try to treat everybody like family, and have fun. You know how it is & You can work at a place for years and really not get any gratitude. Often, a company owner views an employee simply as an asset, he said, not as a person. Erb wanted to change this when he launched his company. E&E employees celebrate birthdays. They go on fishing trips. They have company picnics.

As Erb put it, We wanted people to go home happy.

Happy employees make happy workers, citizens, and parents, and Erb makes sure his employees can be all three. Employees work four 10-hour days and have off every Friday. If they wish, they can earn double time on Fridays to work on one-off or low-volume jobs. A lot of them have made [an extra] $10,000 a year under the program. How can he do this? Because it"s overtime, he's churning out more work without additional employees. That means he can quote a lower price for these small jobs and give his employees more money at the same time. Talk about a win-win.

Does the firm work on a global scale like Hershey? Certainly not. All the same, I"m sure the citizens of Lebanon, Pa., find E&E Metal Fab"s commitment to the community just as sweet.

Tim Heston

Tim Heston

Senior Editor
FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-381-1314