Showcase for Commerce: BCL Manufacturing among those that have benefited
JOHNSTOWN – The 27th annual Showcase for Commerce is set for next week in Johnstown.
The business and industry trade show attracts more than 100 national and regional exhibitors, and it provides a great networking opportunity for local businesses.
People may think of vendors packed into the Cambria County War Memorial Arena displaying their latest products when they hear about Showcase for Commerce. Or perhaps the annual news conference when details of business contracts are announced. While impressive, it's only part of the story. The rest happens the other 51 weeks of the year without the media fanfare.
The home of BCL Manufacturing is located along a bucolic stretch of Route 601 outside of Windber in Somerset County. Bill Sipko had a modest start to his metal fabricating business with only a handful of employees in 1994.
Today, BCL has nearly 50 employees with plans to add more, and Sipko said Showcase for Commerce has been one of the reasons for his company's success.
“With Showcase, our first invite down there, we were out in the concourse area with a little table and just a few parts and components, but we got a couple of breaks and met some customers,” Sipko said. “So we grew the business, but I saw at an early time that the only way to really compete was to be a step ahead with technology and equipment."
Sipko said he was committed to invest in the latest high-tech equipment to meet the demands of his customers, including BCL's latest addition, a million-dollar laser cutter, allowing BCL to shorten production time. and his investments in technology have paid off.
"I'd say what we did the first year we now do in about two weeks, as far as volume,” Sipko said. “So it's come a long, long way."
An integral part of that journey has been Showcase for Commerce. It has allowed Sipko and others access to government acquisition leaders, defense contractors and subcontractors and other businesses to build relationships that have lasted for years.
"We have no sales department,” he said. “We've never had a salesperson. We've just been word of mouth and reputation. That's got us where we are today."
“I think that's the beauty of showcase is that allows a company like BCL Manufacturing to really get to know people throughout the country,” JARI president Linda Thomson said. “What's great about BCL is he works in the government sector, the defense sector. he also works in the commercial sector, and he uses the showcase for both."
Sipko expected to continue hiring new employees over the next three to five years. He said high tech automation hasn't decreased, but rather increased, his current number of workers.
“The old myth was if you have robotic welders or automated machines, you're eliminating people's jobs,” he said. “It's so much the opposite for us. By cutting faster, by processing faster with the new machine tools we have, we need more and more people to support the rest of that.
"It's ironic, but the more investment I made in technology and automation, the more people I have to hire."
Lessons learned at the showcase have helped other area businesses as well. The more exposure they get because of Showcase, the more they've been able to expand - not only regionally, but nationally and internationally.
"We can never stop selling the wonderful attributes of this region, the workforce that we have,” U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus said, “The companies like BCL that we have. It's a very important institution, Showcase is, to reaffirm the good works the in this region are doing."
"When you have people from Washington, D.C., national leaders, and they see what's happening here, it's very impressive and inspiring."
Showcase for Commerce begins Wednesday, May 31, at the War Memorial. There will be exhibitors and news conferences. But it's the working relationships that have been developed that have had the greatest impact on the business community.