MANCHESTER — From the corner of a warehouse in Hartford in 1942 to eight locations nationwide, Empire Industries is the poster company for the American Dream.
Brothers Matt and Mark Schauster along with their cousin Pete Schauster and Pete’s brother-in-law Nick Pescosolido are the third generation of their family to run the company, which was founded by their grandfather, Joseph Schauster, and his partner Ernest More.
Empire produces steel pipes, pipe hangers, struts, and strut accessories for an impressive list of clients from Tesla to Google to the U.S. military.
The Manchester-based company boasts a commitment to made-in-the-USA products, which got it recognized by Sen. Christopher Murphy, D-Conn., in late January.
Its other warehouses are in Georgia, Florida, Texas, Wisconsin, Colorado, Arizona, and Washington.
Its growth has not come without “growing pains,” says the director of operations, Pescosolido.
The 55,836-square-foot building on Olcott Street was completed in 1970, when the company was less than half its current size. The company has doubled its staff in the last 10 years.
Empire also faces a changing industry in which manual labor is being replaced by automation.
“I can smell and feel when the machine is running how it’s supposed to,” Pescosolido says. “You don’t get that from a computer or a button.”
While computer automation is handy for cheap production of high numbers of parts and pieces, there is no parallel for one person who can make 20 parts and pieces that are specifically tailored for a specific client, he says.
The problem is that many schools are training students more for fields such as aerospace and engineering. Empire focuses on operating machinery. The company has worked with Asnuntuck Community College to find apprentices and generate interest in manual machining.
“What we’ve tried to really push, especially recently, is homegrown talent,” says Pete Schauster, executive vice president and national sales manager. He says he doesn’t view Empire as having a desperate urgency to bring in younger workers, as other similar companies have experienced. The company prides itself on bringing in workers of any age and helping them learn on the job.
Upward mobility within the company is a big point of emphasis. The average age of the employees there is about 58, according to Pescosolido, and as that group heads for retirement, their positions are opening up to the younger crop of employees. Those jobs go to the people who have shown mastery in their current positions, he says.
“You have to earn your job here,” says Mark Schauster, president of the company. It’s a truth that the men know well.
None of them had plans to take over the family business. When they started working at the family’s business, they weren’t wearing ties in the front offices — they were in the back of the warehouse earning their future careers.
There was never pressure for them to work for the company that their fathers and grandfather built, they say, but there was always pressure to work hard and hold down a job. Eventually, they each were led to work at Empire for their own reasons.
Empire currently employs 82 people at the Manchester location and is a member of the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce as well as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Originally published by the Journal Inquirer
Feature photo taken by Jackie Nappo