It’s not easy to start a business, but on the flip side it’s an opportunity to do exactly what you want.
For Gaston DiBello, owner of DiBello’s Metal Designs, that’s precisely what he found.
“When the market crashed, that’s when I started, in 2008,” he said. “I always wanted to do high-end fabrication.”
He was newly married and, even though the economic climate was unstable, thought the time was right.
DiBello began his business on Furnace and 10th streets in Emmaus and for four years was the sole employee.
While he enjoyed easily walking to shops and meeting other business owners, he was running out of space as commerce began to grow. So in December, he bought a building at 270 E. Hamilton St. in Allentown for $500,000.
The Allentown property was a familiar site, since DiBello used to buy materials there. It had been Bethlehem Aluminum and then Pennsylvania Steel moved in. When Pennsylvania Steel moved to Whitehall Township, the building sat vacant for a couple years.
At 25,000 square feet, it has ceilings high enough to store the metal spiral staircases that have become the company’s trademark. The building already had an essential element for operations, a crane to lift large objects, and DiBello said he plans to bring in a second crane.
Other areas of the building offer extra storage, plus offices the company needs for organizing materials and warehouse and working space. The second floor had a lunchroom and several other rooms.
DiBello, who has four employees, said he plans major remodeling at the site.
‘JOBS THAT MAKE YOU THINK’
DiBello’s, which works with a variety of companies, completes drawings for projects based on how it thinks it could be built. Engineers examine the drawings and submit them to DiBello’s customers, which could be general contractors, engineers, architecture firms and large steel-fabricators.
While DiBello’s falls into the category of architectural fabrication, it also handles miscellaneous fabrication, which would include stairs, railings and smaller items.
“That’s what we really like most, jobs that make you think,” he said. “Jobs that really are different than doing the same thing every day.”
The company’s two signature jobs are a circular staircase it made for a clothing store in Boston and another for The Row, a Manhattan clothing store owned by the Olsen twins (actresses Mary-Kate and Ashley).
DiBello’s also completed a circular stair for Milos New York, a Mediterranean restaurant in New York City.
DiBello’s also was involved in the construction of Trump Tower in Chicago, creating railings along the river leading to the building, DiBello said.
The company’s work can be found in projects across the Northeast, including Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia and City Sports in Ardmore.
In the region, the company built stairs for new dorms at DeSales University and completed projects for Rob Ashford in Saucon Valley, Outten Chevrolet in Allentown and LANTA Bus in Allentown. DiBello’s current projects include stairs and fabrication at East Stroudsburg University and the stairs for a medical office building on St. Luke’s University Health Network’s Monroe Campus in Bartonsville.
The company did miscellaneous metal work and the stairs for the St. Luke’s Monroe hospital that opened last year and also did some of the structural steel segments for the operating rooms and X-ray equipment, said Jeff Burnside, general superintendent for Lendlease Construction. Based in New York City, Lendlease worked on the St. Luke’s Monroe project, including the medical office building under construction.
“The quality of the work is exceptional,” Burnside said. “The guys are very professional, they are organized. I would use them again.”
SMALL, GOOD TEAM
DiBello has never advertised, and he said he doesn’t plan to grow the company too large.
“I like what I do,” he said. “If we work hard, we’ll do good. The idea is to have a small, good team.”
He views the company as ultimately a welding shop with a couple of machines with plans to add more. About 70 percent of the shop is up-to-speed on technology, and a couple of the machines are computerized.
He plans to hire staff as needed and said it could be a problem hiring young people with the right skills, though he hasn’t yet had that issue.
DiBello said he plans to partner with Lehigh Career & Technical Institute in Schnecksville and said he would join its board.
BENEFIT FOR ALLENTOWN
As DiBello establishes his company in the community, he is grateful for support – including from the Allentown Economic Development Corp. – and is looking to contribute to the region’s economic growth.
“We were looking at that site for some time to find a user,” said Scott Unger, AEDC executive director. “Urban manufacturing has benefits on many levels.
“There are some challenges; many of them are things that can be overcome. We are very excited that they chose that site.”