Made in the 'Burbs
While many U.S. manufacturers have chosen to outsource their production, some area firms have stayed close to home, boosting local economies and keeping jobs in our backyard
by Sharon A. Shaw, J.F. Pirro and Bill Donahue


Last month more than 110 million football fans peered over their hoagies and beer to watch a Super Bowl commercial titled “Halftime in America.” Narrated by Clint Eastwood, it was meant to promote Chrysler as the Detroit-based institution of American ingenuity and quality. But many people saw it as much more. Whether meant to be political or inspirational or a combination of both, the debate sparked by its message made clear that Americans still take pride in the things they make.


Though the jobless factory worker is commonly used to portray unemployed Americans in this economy—the United States has shed nearly 8 million factory jobs since manufacturing employment peaked at 19.6 million in 1979—the sector is surprisingly strong. According to the United Nations, the United States remains the No. 1 manufacturing country in the world, out-producing China by more than 40 percent.


U.S. manufacturers have also placed near the top of world rankings in productivity gains over the past three decades. U.S. manufacturers have abandoned products with thin profit margins, such as consumer electronics, toys and shoes, and instead seized upon complex and expensive goods requiring specialized labor. Higher productivity and a specialized work force have meant a leaner manufacturing base honed by efficiency, but U.S. factories are finally adding jobs after years of shrinking their collective work force; they added 136,000 workers in 2010—the first net increase since 1997.


The effect is being seen locally as well, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia’s general economic index. Due to increased orders and sales, manufacturing in the Philadelphia region expanded in February at the fastest pace in four months. In the following pages, Suburban Life highlights several of the local companies—from small-order craftsmen to global lifesavers—who are leading the resurgence at home.



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Just Born



Hatfield Quality Meats


Drill Master

Portable drilling rigs from West Chester’s Schramm provide quality and peace of mind when profitability—and, in some cases, human life—is at stake


On August 5, 2010, a collapse at the San Jose Mine in Copiapo, Chile, trapped 33 miners. Seventeen days later they were located at a depth of more than 2,300 feet below ground. For six weeks the world watched as an unprecedented rescue effort took place and, on October 10—several months ahead of schedule—all were brought safely to the surface. This amazing story was made possible by a local company, whose equipment was visible in newscasts from around the globe: Schramm Inc. of West Chester.


In business since 1900 and at its current location since 1917, Schramm manufactures portable drilling rigs for land-based applications: oil and gas, mineral exploration, geothermal, well water and, of course, mine rescue. Of the nine drilling rigs deployed to rescue the Chilean miners, four were manufactured locally by Schramm.


“It was like participating in the 21st-century version of Apollo 13,” says Fred Slack, vice president of business development for Schramm. “Miracle after miracle happened.”


The event brought such attention to the company that it needed to set up a new website server just to handle the additional traffic—most of which was thanking America for its technical contribution to the rescue.


In the 110 years Schramm has been in business, we have had no greater reward than contributing to save the lives of [those] 33 men,” Slack says. “At all levels of the company, from our janitor to the CEO, we have a tremendous feeling of satisfaction in making a positive contribution to history.”


A sense of national pride is nothing new to the 250 employees of Schramm. Of the nearly 200 rigs they manufacture each year, roughly 50 percent are exported to drilling operations in more than 80 countries around the world, and yet at least 75 percent of the content is made in the United States by Schramm and other suppliers.


U.S.A. manufacturing continues to lead the world in quality and reliability,” says Slack. “When it’s all said and done, you get what you pay for. Companies buy our rigs for peace of mind in extreme operating environments at remote locations around the world.”


Some of these rigs are located in exotic places such as Cameroon, Iceland, Uzbekistan, Senegal and Mongolia—often hundreds of miles away from the nearest service supply chain. When operating downtime can cost the owner tens of thousands of dollars per day in lost revenue—and, in the case of the Chilean miners, human life—quality is paramount. “The reliability and pride of craftsmanship cannot be outsourced from overseas,” Slack says.


Schramm has fourth-generation employees in multiple departments and, according to Slack, continues to foster the training of local students by sponsoring scholarships to area institutions and relying on “home grown” talent. The company was recently honored with the Manufacturer of the Year Award for 2012 from the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce. Its compound annual growth (50 percent in 2010 and even more last year), significant export sales and ongoing contributions to its local community all played a role in the receipt of this honor. —SAS



Not Born Yesterday

Peeps and other sweet treats owe their heritage to locally based Just Born


Peeps, the chick-shaped marshmallows, are an iconic symbol of spring. The colorful treats have been found nesting in Easter baskets for the last 87 years—but many do not realize that the manufacturer, Just Born Inc., has been headquartered locally in Bethlehem (since 1932) and Philadelphia (since 2003, when it purchased Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews). Just Born also produces the snack-counter staples such as Hot Tamales and Mike and Ike candies. The company is still family owned and dedicated to the communities where it is based.


“It is important to us to remain integral contributors to the local economies,” says Ellie Deardorff, spokesperson for Just Born. “We have a talented and dedicated work force of nearly 600 associates to whom we are devoted and consider part of the Just Born family.”


Just Born helps to foster connections with its employees and their communities by awarding grants to local nonprofit organizations, and through a corporate-sponsored volunteer program that honors its employees’ efforts with recognition and incentives.


“Our associates cook and serve meals in local soup kitchens, assist in animal-rescue shelters, maintain a local park and are actively involved in schools,” Deardorff says. “They also share their talent and expertise on boards and committees for nonprofit organizations. We recognize that a solid community is a significant factor in the success of our business.” 


These acts of goodwill are not overlooked. Each year, Bethlehem hosts Peeps Fest, a four-day end-of-year celebration of all things Peeps; the event culminates in the lowering of a giant Peep replica on New Year’s Eve. In addition to the familiar chick, Just Born has added other holiday shapes, branded apparel, gear and toys to its offerings, which are available at the new Peeps & Company retail stores.


“We believe that all of our brands … bring pleasure to our fans,” Deardorff says. “On an emotional level, they bring back great childhood memories and traditions.” —SAS



Hot Stuff

Dublin-based Kelchner’s has made Bucks County “horseradish headquarters” since the 1930s


Horseradish’s name is odd. It has little to do with horses—or radishes. It’s a root. But in northern Germany, the root is meerrettich, or “more radish.” But meer also means “sea” in German, and the root always grew by the Black Sea. In England, though, meer was interpreted as “mare,” an adult female horse. At least in Sweden, it’s called pepparrot or pepperoot. In Austria, it’s kren—to cry. That makes sense.


In the suburbs, the Kelchner’s brand has made Bucks County horseradish headquarters since 1938. Today, the Delaware Valley—always a robust region for street corner grinders—is still Kelchner’s Horseradish Products’ best market. The Northeast and Mid-Atlantic are “hot” spots for the company’s six products.


Dublin remains Kelchner’s home, though in 2009 Huntsinger Farms Inc., a four-generation horseradish grower and processor in Eau Claire, Wis., bought it. Still, John Slaymaker, Kelchner’s former owner-president, remained on. Together with new president Eric Rygg, the great-grandson of Ellis Huntsinger, they’re making the best horseradish—which now also includes a new creamy (more spreadable) horseradish—even better.


“When we put product in a Kelchner’s bottle, we want it to be the best anyone has ever had,” Rygg says. “The key to keeping horseradish hot is keeping it cold.”


It’s not the root itself that’s hot, though. When it’s bitten or ground, isothiocyanates are enzymatically hydrolyzed to yield allyl isothiocyanate, a natural defense mechanism that makes eyes water and noses burn. “It goes wild and shoots off,” Rygg explains. “When it’s real fresh, it’s almost too hot. But a week, or a month, down the line, it hits the sweet spot, so we error on the side of starting too hot.”

Horseradish products aren’t for the weak of heart or stomach, so they’re perfect for Philadelphians who Rygg says prefer their horseradish in “healthy doses.” “If there’s a bell curve on heat, around here, we skew to the right,” he says. “But horseradish is the opposite of wine: It doesn’t get better with age.”


To keep it moving off shelves, look for Kelchner’s new 3” by 5” serving suggestion cards that promote “out-of-the-ordinary uses,” customized mix-and-match online gift packs and portion-control one-, two- or four-ounce cup sizes that are available for caterers, take-out businesses and supermarkets’ prepared food sections. The company has also recently branded hard-plastic serving bowls, so “you know you’re having the best,” Rygg says. “Taste is king, and we’re in the business of making products that help food taste better.”


Sales soar in November and December, then spike again for Easter and Passover. May starts grilling season. By summer, sales along the Jersey Shore skyrocket. The fall, he says, brings “high caliber” tailgating around Philly, a more refined art than Wisconsin’s basic beef, brats and beer—though the football is better in Green Bay.


Kelchner’s advertised on The Fanatic (97.5 FM), Philly’s first FM sports radio station, last October during what was supposed to be sensational month for the Phillies and Eagles. Kelchner’s products did better than the teams. —JFP



In Full Swing

RxSport, the Norristown-based maker of Chandler bats, carves out its niche by arming gifted baseball players with confidence at the plate


When Phillies center fielder Shane Victorino steps up to the plate, you can’t help but take notice. It’s in his confident stance, in his devilish smile and in the way he seems to dare the opposing pitcher to make the slightest of mistakes. And it’s in the jet-black bat perched over his shoulder, a bat so unlike most others lining the steps of Major League dugouts.


Victorino was one of the first MLB hitters to choose this new brand of bat—Chandler is its name—which is special in more ways than one. In an industry dominated by entrenched companies with big names and deep pockets, Chandler has carved out a niche with its line of coveted high-quality bats, according to David Chandler, the man behind Chandler bats, which are individually fashioned by the craftsmen at Norristown-based RxSport. His goal: to de-commoditize bats by turning them into “works of art” capable of changing the outcome of any game.


“Ultimately what we’re doing is selling confidence at the plate,” says Chandler. “What we’re about is arming the batter with the ability to know that when they do their job, they can take advantage of any situation. They know, wholeheartedly, that when they have that Chandler in their hands, that when the pitcher makes a mistake—and they will; they always do—that they’re going to be armed and ready to take advantage of it.”


Detroit-born Chandler didn’t come from baseball. In fact, he didn’t play organized ball past Little League. His background: handcrafted heirloom furniture.


“I’m not a baseball player, and I’ve always been very forward about that,” he says. “Because I didn’t come up through a baseball system, I wasn’t familiar with so many of the misnomers and falsehoods that can go into manufacturing—that this is the way it’s always been done. It really gave me the confidence to rely upon my practical woodworking experience and metalworking experience to forge ahead and say, ‘This can be done to a higher degree on a scalable basis and make a difference in the performance of a player, whether they’re an amateur or a pro.’


“When people see our bats, there’s a noticeable difference in the finish, and in the quality and execution of the bat; they literally look like pieces of art,” he continues. “Then when they feel it, it feels unlike any other bat they’ve ever had in their hand. … [Chandler bats] are coveted, and we wanted that.”


Victorino, whose VIC8 model ranks among RxSport’s top sellers, is in good company among MLB players who take their at-bats with a Chandler over their shoulder. Other converts include Luke Scott of the Tampa Bay Rays and 2010 American League MVP Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers. Chandler stresses that RxSport does not pay players to use his bats; it’s more about finding the right fit between personalities—both the player and the company, and the man and the bat.


“I was very comfortable with [Victorino] being one of the first players to use our bat because he’s such a fire,” he says. “He grinds it out, and he exemplifies what you’re supposed to take out of this game. … He knows what his goals are, he knows what his purpose is, and he drives on in an almost David vs. Goliath type manner.


“There’s a lot of parallels and similarities between Shane the player and our company, as I see it; we’re fighting and looking to stamp out space for ourselves and prove that we’re every bit as good as any other center fielder out there, so to speak, that we can get the job done, we can take those risks that are calculated and turn them into impressive wins—all those things that Victorino embodies here.”


But it’s not just Major Leaguers reaping the benefits of Chandler’s expertise, and every customer—from the talented high school player at Chestnut Hill Academy to the Golden Glove center fielder in red pinstripes—is equally important. Each maple bat, priced at $175, is shaped to precise specifications at RxSport’s 40,000-square-foot Norristown facility, which includes an in-progress hitting facility.


“The bat is not for everybody,” Chandler cautions. “Although the bat is rather spectacular in what it can do performance wise, there still has to be that skill set and core knowledge base and ability to put it to work for you. There has to be some basis of talent behind it. With that said, we have the ability to work with players to help them develop and maximize their performance at each of the levels they’re going to go through to achieve all their goals and dreams.”  —BD



Pig Tale

A legacy of local delicacies, charitable giving and community support has helped make Hatfield Quality Meats a local favorite for more than century


Although travelers may scratch their heads when they see scrapple or pork roll listed on the menu of suburban Philadelphia diners, there is no denying the local popularity of these traditional breakfast meats.


Many folks don’t realize how fortunate they are until they move out of the area and can no longer find Hatfield scrapple and pork roll,” says Eric Haman, corporate communications manager for Clemens Food Group, parent company of Hatfield Quality Meats. “Then we get calls to see if we can ship these products out to them”—which, he says, they do.


Hatfield Quality Meats was founded by John C. Clemens on a small country farm in 1895. His family began producing a variety of pork products to sell in the Philadelphia marketplace. His sons purchased and relocated the plant to its current location in Hatfield. Still completely family owned, now by the fifth generation, Clemens Food Group combines all of the services and products the company offers including transportation and logistics, cold storage, foodservice and grocery brands.


Haman cites several reasons that its suburban location has contributed to Hatfield Quality Meats’ success, including convenient access to major roads that allow it to ship products up and down the East Coast. Being based in the Philadelphia suburbs helps it attract employees from outside the area, while partnerships with nearby schools such as Delaware Valley College, St. Joseph’s University and Ursinus College have enabled Hatfield to recruit local talent. 


Though development has pushed many of the farms that Hatfield Quality Meats relies on farther to the west, the majority of the pork used in its products is still raised by family farmers located in Pennsylvania.


“We have many great families that raise hogs for us,” Haman says, “and we are proud to be able to help them keep their family on the farm and their farm in the family. … We have been blessed, and we are committed to being good stewards and sharing those blessings through giving back and sharing our success with our team members as well as enriching the communities in which we operate and the neighborhoods where we live.” 


This includes the Shared Success events the company provides to employees on an unscheduled basis throughout the year. These can be anything from a free lunch to a bonus check or gift. This year, for example, just before Christmas, Hatfield gave an iPad 2 to every team member.


The company also donates funds, products and volunteer time to charitable events such as Relay for Life, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and Philadelphia's Walk Against Hunger. Hatfield Quality Meats, a supplier of concessions at Citizens Bank Park, is also in partnership with the Phillies through a program called Home Runs Against Hunger, through which it donates 100 pounds of product to Philabundance for each home run the Phillies hit during the season. 


“We feel that because of our position in the food industry we can have a significant impact in the fight against hunger,” says Haman. This program, he suggests, has helped feed thousands of hungry people in local communities.—SAS