Retired Marine celebrates Corps Birthday, hosts open house.
SBA loans helped Great Lakes Automation Services grow and succeed.
MCKEAN, PA − On Veterans Day, about a half-dozen employees won´t be working their scheduled shift at Great Lakes Automation Services, Inc. (GLASi). Owner and retired U.S. Marine Ken Fisher of Edinboro said he believes all veterans should celebrate the anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I with a paid day off.
Fisher is inviting community leaders and media to tour his facilities that provide necessary equipment to Marines and soldiers safeguarding freedom around the world. Fisher served two years in the Marine Corps, was wounded in Vietnam and offered retirement. After a year recuperating, he moved to Erie 40 years ago and has never looked back.
“I came up here and didn´t know what I´d be doing. It´s a nice place to live,” he said. Fisher now owns a company that specializes in designing and building automation parts and systems. Great Lakes Automation Services also houses a packaging and kitting operation and operates a separate screw machine shop in addition to an auto restoration business. Parts utilized at GLASi are mainly American-made and most are fabricated in the Erie area.
GLASi´s tremendous growth would not have been possible without counseling, loans and contracting opportunities from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) in conjunction with the local First National Bank of Erie.
According to Fisher, he and company executives Mark Fatica, president and Bryan Brooks, vice-president, utilized Gannon University´s Small Business Development Center to learn the nuts and bolts of operating a small business. The trio, who were once employed by Assembly Machines, Inc (AMi), left to forge their own company when AMi was sold to DT Industries. Some 10 months later, DT Industries would close its doors and transfer operations out of Erie. 10 years later, the company´s 27,000 square-foot facility in McKean houses the returned AMi business, now employs up to 51, and belies its humble beginnings.
“Times were tight, we had no operating money and had cashed in our 401k plans, savings accounts and mortgaged our houses; we were working out of a converted bedroom and basement offices and two trucks,” Fisher explained. “We secured a small line of credit, moved into an incubator, hired a few talented engineers and designed and built simple assembly equipment.”
Fisher said no one would lend them the money to bid on larger projects, until he heard about the SBA. The agency not only worked with First National Bank to secure GLASi financing to obtain three large contracts, but after a site visit, SBA Western Pennsylvania District Director Carl Knoblock prompted Fisher to change GLASi´s mission and also utilize his status as a Service Disabled Veteran Owned small business owner to pursue government contracting.
“The government itself wasn´t purchasing what GLASi was selling,” Knoblock stated. “But, GLASi could sell automation systems to federal government prime contractors and also diversify to build machine parts because government agencies do purchase parts.” Fisher took the advice, purchased a majority of the company, and turned his focus on government contracting. GLASi soon began designing and building automation systems for large prime contractors. Three years ago, he received a call from a major supplier who provides radio communications equipment to the Department of Defense.
“We bid on the kitting process and did it on time flawlessly,” Fisher said. “We also hired some of our former colleagues at AMi and we´ve since shipped millions of dollars of components maintaining a 100% quality and on time delivery record.” GLASi´s operations expanded several times before they purchased their current location in McKean, adding new machinery and software for engineering and the machining business.
Today, as workers are assembling kits that contain power switches for military vehicles such as Humvees and MRAP armored trucks, a large photo board salutes not only the veterans that work at GLASi, but also relatives of GLASi employees who have served their country.
“We have 24 veteran photos on the board that states ´Our customers guarantee our freedoms. We guarantee our kits “Fisher said. “The employees came up with that saying. The Marine and soldier on the ground are our customers.”