The largest employer in Catasauqua can trace its heritage back to 1882 when the Bryden Horseshoe Company was established.
Bryden, at its founding, had the latest horseshoe technology, a unique design that kept horses from sliding. Phoenix Manufacturing acquired the company in 1928 after Bryden rose to fame producing horseshoes during World War I.
As the need for horseshoes declined, the company reimagined itself into a commercial forging and flanges company. Acquisitions and mergers helped growth, but the company reverted to private ownership.
“Our competition now is from imports,” said Barry Avante, plant manager for the 800 Front St., Catasauqua, operation. Every manufacturing company is beset by foreign competition. One approach is to move production facilities to lower-cost areas.
“We have four generations that worked in this plant,” said Scott Brobst, a supervisor and president of the union. “We don’t butt heads. We work together with management to keep this company going. We treat each other with respect.”
American workers cost more because they need to pay higher taxes. A single company with 58 employees needs to be nimble trying to keep a company viable in a high tax environment.
Phoenix Forging makes commodity products including connectors for steel piping, lifting handles for tanks and compressor fittings. The company distinguishes itself by its commitment to quality and reliability.
There are no BOGO sales, and advertising is limited to trade journals. Yet, the company makes 55,000 pounds of forgings every day.
Forgings and cast in place are different. Forging actually changes the molecular makeup of the metal; it is stronger than cast-in-place molds. Some of the products are boxed and sent to customers, while others get sent to one of the group subsidiaries in Louisiana, Ohio, Ontario or Reading for specialty tooling.
Much of the machine tools used at Phoenix Forging are proprietary and adapted for use with a specific product line. A measure of the company’s success is its ability to bring in technologically advanced tools to keep it competitive. Advancing technology is key to the company’s success because it reduces competition.
“We work with both North Catasauqua and Catasauqua. The borough line cuts through the center of the plant,” Avante said. “We actively support both boroughs.”
Not all employees live in the immediate area, but most are from the area.
“Like Scott (Brobst) said, we have people who have worked here for four generations. Our employees stick around. We have many people with 30-year service records,” Avante said.
“What we look for are people with usable skills. There are schools that teach CNC programming, and we like to hire their graduates,” Avante continued. “It is difficult for us to find the kind of people we need to have. This is demanding, but very satisfying, work.”