Manufacturing in the Greater Lehigh Valley is a prevalent industry that continues to attract a strong workforce from the region and beyond.
Companies even relocated here after seeing the success of others and the benefits offered by the region.
Easy access to major markets and cities, including New York and Philadelphia, make the Greater Lehigh Valley attractive for manufacturers to do business, and each one has a direct impact on the region's economy.
Here to answer this week's “Behind the List” questions is Andrea Funk, CEO of the copper-focused manufacturing plant near Leesport in Ontelaunee Township, Cambridge-Lee Industries LLC.
Lehigh Valley Business: How long has Cambridge-Lee Industries LLC been operating in the region and what are its primary services?
Andrea Funk: Cambridge-Lee is the copper-focused manufacturer and distributor for the plumbing, heating, ventilation and air conditioning, construction, industrial and original equipment manufacturer markets.
Our local ancestry dates back to 1942, when Reading Tube was founded. In 1996, Reading Tube was acquired by Cambridge-Lee Industries, a distributor of copper products, and the company's headquarters were established in Leesport … where our manufacturing campus is located. We continue to act as a distributor through our Industrial Metals Division, where we source customers across the United States with copper-focused products manufactured by other companies.
For example, we sell architectural copper sheet to contractors, copper rod and bar to businesses like East Penn Manufacturing for their battery assembly, and tellurium copper to companies like Hypertherm in New Hampshire for their torch tips in the welding industry.
The other two sales divisions source copper tubing that we manufacture all right here in Berks County. We sell copper tubing to the plumbing wholesale market, where we enjoy a 25 percent share of the U.S. market, and copper tubing to the air conditioning and refrigeration markets.
LVB: What have been some of the biggest hardships and opportunities that Cambridge-Lee has encountered throughout its years in business?
Funk: When the price of copper began to rise, substitution became an issue as much of the residential market switched to inferior plastic tubing.
This resulted in consolidation in the copper tube market, as the U.S. sales of copper tubing dropped from over 600 million pounds to around 300 million pounds per year. Many copper tube mills went under or were acquired.
Cambridge-Lee has been able to remain in business by providing superior service to our customers and recognizing the value of our experienced and dedicated workforce.
In addition, we have adapted by implementing sophisticated hedging tools to insulate our business from the exposure of extremely volatile copper prices.
LVB: Cambridge-Lee is one of the largest manufacturers in the region. What makes the Greater Reading and Lehigh Valley area an attractive place for your business?
Funk: We are so fortunate to be based in Berks County, where there is a strong work ethic, commitment to the community and rich experience in metals manufacturing. We may spend hundreds of millions of dollars on copper per year, but our employees are by far our greatest asset.
In addition, our location provides us access to everything large cities such as Philadelphia and New York have to offer, but is far enough away to still have a hometown feel and local business partners that go out or their way to work with us to support our business and the community.
LVB: How does Cambridge-Lee support our community and stimulate the local economy?
Funk: Manufacturing is so vital to our nation's economy. Through what is known as the “multiplier effect,” every job in manufacturing creates three jobs in the community.
We are proud to work with and stimulate many other local industries, from businesses that supply engineering, construction, supplies, energy, logistics and maintenance resources to vending companies and local colleges. Many of our local business relationships span multiple generations.
Further, our employees are very caring, and we support many local charitable organizations. Cambridge-Lee continues to invest in what we believe are the right long-term things to do for our employees and our community.
In addition to other nonprofits, our company donates $25,000 per year to the Berks County United Way's annual campaign.
We are proud of the commitment our employees have to our community, as well. We hold monthly events, such as reverse agency visits, bus trips, picnics and golf outings, in which our employees raise money for the United Way. Last year, our employees added over $55,000 (up from $8,000 just four years ago) to the company contribution.
Perhaps more impactful, our employees come together and donate their time and talent, sponsored by the company, to deliver meals to homebound seniors, clean up a park, paint a house in a blighted neighborhood, plant a garden at a low-income child care center, run soup kitchens, etc.
LVB: What programs and events does Cambridge-Lee facilitate within the local communities of the Greater Reading and Lehigh Valley?
Funk: We are passionate about the importance of manufacturing in the region and to continue to support and grow our talented and experienced workforce.
We participated in Berks Business Education Coalition's Students Interacting with Business program, in which we hosted students from local middle schools every day for a week for tours and to meet with members of our leadership team.
We participated in Greater Reading Economic Partnership's Manufacturing Day and are huge fans of their Careers in Two Years initiatives.
Cambridge-Lee employees have spoken at local elementary, middle and high schools and sat on panels at the Berks County Chamber of Commerce on topics such as the importance of STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] education and the growing need and huge opportunities for young people entering STEM-related professions.
LVB: What does the future look like for Cambridge-Lee? Does it have plans for growth?
Funk: Cambridge-Lee is investing in our customers' and our employees' future. In the past two years, we invested over $65 million to relocate a state-of-the-art cast and roll mill from Mexico to Berks County to penetrate the high-tech industrial OEM [original equipment manufacturer] copper tube market, which will ultimately add over 200 jobs to the region.
In addition, we have/will invest approximately $5 million each year in 2013, 2014 and 2015 to upgrade and improve our operations. We are excited about our future.