Zurn unveiled a new 20,000-square foot laboratory at 1801 Pittsburgh Ave. that will enable the company to test roof drains on-site rather than hiring an outside vendor to do the work. Jim Martin can be reached at 870-1668 or by email. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/ETNMartin.
Craig Wehr, president of Zurn Industries, knows he’s fighting public perception in the community where the company was founded in 1900.
After the company, now owned by Rexnord Corp., moved its headquarters out of Erie and closed its foundry in 2015, some in the community thought Zurn had closed up shop.
At lunch and a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday attended by about 100 people, including U.S. Rep Mike Kelly, of Butler, R-16th Dist., Wehr and Zurn Industries did their best to dispel that notion.
The company, which employs about 130 people in Erie at three locations, unveiled a new 20,000-square foot laboratory at 1801 Pittsburgh Ave. that will enable the company to test roof drains on-site rather than hiring an outside vendor to do the work.
That adds up to a competitive advantage for Zurn and an opportunity for Penn State Behrend and Gannon University engineering students who will be eligible for internships.
Just a few years ago, moving from concept to production with a new product could take months.Now, with the ability to build prototypes with 3D printers and to test those prototypes on-site, Zurn can move from concept to finished product in a matter of weeks, said Scott Burnett, Zurn’s Erie-based general manager.That means an idea can become a market-ready product in weeks.“We have to be faster. We have to be better,” he said. In a short address to employees, Kelly encouraged them to keep doing just that — to find ways to set their employer apart from the pack. “I was so impressed by how hard the people were working and how they were looking at market opportunities,” Kelly said. “They have such great faith in the future.” Kelly, who said he’s been following the project since this past summer, said Zurn’s investment is typical of a pattern of investing that he’s seen as a result of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. “The tax policy really encouraged investment,” he said. “It would be hard to find a place where it’s not working.” The new lab, which includes a large space where drain systems can be tested under real-world conditions, and conditions that are even harsher than the real-world might dish out, was built in what was once Zurn machine shop.
The machine shop has since been relocated to 1301 Raspberry St., where the company’s foundry was once located. While the company’s foundry is no longer in Erie, drains are still built there, Wehr said. Wehr declined to say how much money the company invested in its new lab, but described the investment as “substantial.”
At least initially, Zurn product manager Matt Lawrence envisions the biggest employment effect will be for interns who will have a chance to learn on the job.
“This should be a fun playground for young engineers at Penn State Behrend and Gannon,” he said. More broadly, however, Wehr said he hopes the investment around engineering sends a signal that Zurn remains committed to Erie.
“We are investing in Erie and we are going to grow in Erie,” he said.