Release Number: PGH11-09 Janet.Heyl@sba.gov
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JOHNSTOWN, PA – Not many families would acquire a portion of a struggling manufacturer to ensure economic development near their hometown, but that’s exactly what Eileen Melvin and her immediate family did three years ago when they bought into United Metal Fabricators.
“For a decade I worked as a consultant to help spur the local economy,” Melvin explained. “We [my family] thought our purchase and involvement in UMF would be true economic development and save jobs.”
Since she joined the board of directors in 2008 and was subsequently named president and CEO the following year, Melvin has worked to preserve the core of UMFs assets – the workforce and quality craftsmanship – while building a team to infuse technological advances into processing and sales procedures.
In May, Melvin will be honored for her economic efforts by the U.S. Small Business Administration as Small Business Exporter of the Year for both SBA’s Region III and the Western Pennsylvania District. Like the 68 other district winners, her nomination was forwarded to the regional SBA competition (Region 3 covers 7 districts: Delaware, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Maryland, Virginia, Washington, D.C., and West Virginia) where she became regional winner. According to Melvin, UMF, as a staple manufacturer of quality medical supply products, has a rich history. Its humble beginnings clearly depict the work ethic of Johnstown residents.
“UMF was founded by Joe Romano, whose family was en route to New Jersey when the father got hit by a streetcar. Joe had to support the family by working at a medical supply firm, where he swept floors and grinded metal, eventually becoming a vice president,” she explained. “He decided to start his own health products manufacturing firm and with help from his extended family he was able to secure financing. Within years his successful managerial style closed down his competitor.”
Melvin said that about 20 years ago her family became involved with UMF due to her own father’s involvement as legal advisor to the company.
“My family has a health care background. I have siblings who are doctors and my background is in public administration and health care – an ever-changing industry that effects everyone, everyday. I am fascinated by the challenge and opportunity to meet the needs of healthcare providers in service to their patients,” she added.
Melvin explained that while UMF offered a line of quality products consisting of examination tables, stainless steel equipment and a painted line, such as cabinets, the world was changing and UMF did not keep pace with technological and manufacturing advances.
“They didn’t invest in plant equipment and technology, which would track efficiency, expenses, labor and marketing. They didn’t utilize the internet effectively to sell products,” she explained. “But UMF produces excellent products featuring high-grade steel and quality craftsmanship.
To keep pace with purchasing umbrellas that offer exclusive prices to members, Melvin and her team pursued a Group Purchasing Organization contract to sell medical equipment and supplies to members of Novation group. They were awarded a three-year contract that serves hospitals and healthcare systems throughout the U.S. and through partnerships with the Commonwealth and the Southern Alleghenies Planning and Development Commission, UMF increased their exporting by 62 percent with a concentration in Saudi Arabia where Melvin recently participated in a Trade Mission.
“They [the people of Saudi Arabia] want to model their health-care system after ours. And our partnerships enabled us to meet our clients and better understand the people and hospitals in the Middle East,” she added. “Now, across our country and the world, newborn babies are checked on UMF pediatric tables. As they grow up, they are examined on UMF exam tables. And any broken arm or minor surgery will be cared for on a UMF power procedure chair.”
Melvin said UMF utilized the SBA for a loan to go green in their painted cabinet line, changing from a wet spraying paint system with emissions to an eco-friendly powder-spray finish. Their approach earned UMF a Green Award from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
Carl Knoblock, Western Pennsylvania SBA district director, said Melvin’s success is linked to her family’s passion for healthcare coupled with her commitment to keep the core principles of UMF intact. “She is perfect at the helm as she is fascinated with health and related issues yet knows that work ethic and quality are as important as sales for continued growth,” he said. Melvin added while she is honored to be the recipient of the Small Business Exporter Award, it is truly a reflection of the employees and board of directors.
“All of us at UMF are excited about this award,” she said. “It is an entire team effort to produce the excellent quality products that have earned UMF the positive reputation we enjoy in international markets – so credit belongs to every member of our team.”
Melvin and eight other local small business owners and advocates will be lauded at the Western Pennsylvania SBA May 27th Awards Luncheon which will be held at the Sheraton Station Square Hotel Pittsburgh. The luncheon is held in conjunction with the 48th annual celebration of National Small Business Week. Once the festivities begin, the public can “attend” Small Business Week events virtually, via the SBA’s streaming video on the Web at http://www.nationalsmallbusinessweek.com/webcast.php.
Note: If you would like to speak with Eileen Melvin or Carl Knoblock, Western Pennsylvania SBA district director, please contact Janet Heyl at 412-395-6560, ext. 103
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