Pennsylvania Printers -- There's Plenty to Love in PA
The rap against central Pennsylvania was that the people were uncultured and had no teeth, Bellis laughs. “That’s not true. We’re located in Amish country, where it’s absolutely beautiful with rolling hills, very pastoral. So you can drive 20 minutes one way and see ballet, or drive 20 minutes another way and see nature at its best.”
Fred Aheimer, vice president of Ralf Printing in Pittsburgh, sees maintaining pace with technology as being one of the toughest aspects of competing in general, and surviving the Pennsylvania talent pool in particular. Declining margins make the process somewhat more difficult, but often times the choice to invest is a matter of survival.
“We were one of the first in the marketplace to purchase Indigo (digital) presses,” Aheimer says. “We installed a quarter-size, five-color Heidelberg press to make us more competitive in the short-run field. With the way the economy was going, we felt customers would be looking more toward short runs, and we wanted to be more competitive. We also installed a new platesetter that produces plates faster and that uses fewer chemicals.
“For us, finding that edge is trying to be as efficient as we can. If you can’t increase the price on your product, you have to be more efficient in producing that product.”
The P.A. Hutchison Co., in Jermyn, began life as a commercial printing firm in 1911, the year before the Titanic sank in the Atlantic. According to President Chris Hutchison, the company began to gravitate toward book manufacturing in the 1980s. The printer has prospered thanks, in part, to a strong interstate highway system and a historically strong workforce.
But the former can prove to be a dual-edged sword, particularly in inclement weather. “We had a very important order that was time-sensitive,” Hutchison recalls. “We shipped the product in the nick of time, but during transit on I-81, a car slid into the tractor trailer and knocked it over a cliff. All of the books were scattered and destroyed.”