When I visit a contract metal fabricator, often the focus really isn’t about the metal parts or the fancy machinery. It’s about co-workers, who often happen to be family members. Some aren’t blood relatives, but they might as well be. There’s a real sense of community at these shops. I’ve met brothers as business partners, married couples as entrepreneurs. Something about these close working environments grounds people.
At E&E Metal Fab in Lebanon, Pa., I recall sitting across from the owner, Willy Erb, in the front lobby, starting an interview. “Hold on,” he told me. He left, then proceeded to get about a dozen team members, all family or close friends. Although the interview began formally, it ended with laughter all around. We could have been finishing up Thanksgiving dinner.
As another example, I recall visiting the Tapani sisters, co-presidents at Stacy, Minn.-based Wyoming Machine several years ago. Each finished the other’s sentences. When taking notes, I had trouble deciphering who was saying what, even though I recorded the conversation. Their voices were distinct enough, but their inflections were spot-on identical. These sisters are close.
Everyone watched in shocked horror Friday, not knowing what to do but hug their loved ones a little closer. I don’t pretend to know the cause or the cure of such horror. Personally, I’m having a hard enough time digesting the event.
I’m just happy to cover an industry with people having such grounded character. It wasn’t the only thing that passed through my mind when hugging my daughter on Friday, but it was at least one brief thought of many that helped me get through the day. For that, I thank you all.