Historic Canton light pole manufacturer gets second chance to make an even bigger mark in the important industry it helped to shape.

Successful manufacturing operations are driven by innovation, productivity and safety. They continuously work to get better at each.

Union Metal Industries Corp., at 1432 Maple Ave. NE in Canton, found itself struggling in these three key areas after more than 100 years in business.

Equipment, customer and employee issues had taken a toll on the company, which is the third-largest domestic producer of steel and aluminum poles.

In 2018, Leonard Levie of American Industrial Acquisition Corp., which owns more than 80 businesses, stepped in to purchase Union Metal. Levie brought in the Cranford Group and Dorset Partners to help turn things around.

Cranford's Larry Small is now Union Metal's chief operating officer. Small
and the Union Metal team have made great strides.

The workforce of 165 has worked hard to "get better every day," according to Small.

"We've got a great team here," said Small. "People matter and you've got to care. If you don't have happy workers, you're out of luck."

The team's efforts resulted in Union Metal earning the 2019 Small Company Turnaround of the Year from the Turnaround Management Association (TMA). And there's more to come.

About 115 of Union Metal's employees are members of the United Steelworkers of America (USWA). Small said the union has been instrumental in the turnaround.

There's also been some help from the community.

"From the day I got to Canton, the people have been wonderful," Small said.

"I've been all over the world, and I've never seen an economic development team as good as this one. They were here helping us the week we arrived."

Small recognized Canton Mayor Tom Bernabei and Deputy Mayor Fonda Williams, Jobs Ohio's Walt Good, the Stark County Economic Development Board's Ray Hexamer and Senator Kirk Schuring for their roles in the turnaround.

A native of Burlington, N.C., Small said the best part of turnarounds is the jobs that are saved.

"Growing up, my family worked in manufacturing," Small said. "Every time
we save a job, I think back to my family."

Union Metal specializes in poles for lighting, traffic control, signage and communication. The company's product is used for electric utilities, mass transit, state public highways, municipal street and traffic, commercial and residential, and communication towers.

The company has one of the most diverse product offerings in the industry with a wide range of finishes and mounting styles, and provides many add-ons and accessories. Customization is a Union Metal specialty.

The nostalgia series features exact reproductions of the poles that lined main streets and storefronts a century ago. Base castings are made from the company's original wood patterns crafted by European immigrant artisans during the 1930s.

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Blueprints of some of these designs are on display in the company's headquarters.

Smart poles are an important innovation for Union Metal. These poles, equipped for electricity and 5G Wi-Fi, are the wave of the future.

Small expects the first smart pole order to ship in January 2020 to a customer out of Hickory, N.C. He has a bright vision for this new product.

"Union Metal was the first company to install electric light poles in 4,000 cities in the United States," he said. "I see us being the first to install smart poles in 4,000 cities, too."

Regarding productivity, Small said Union Metal keeps updating equipment and its team is set to perform.

"Our equipment is in the best shape it's been in since we took over," he said. "And we expect to ramp up to 250 employees by the middle of next year."

The team has continued to perform safely.

"We're all taking safety very seriously," he said. "We haven't had a lost-time accident since this turnaround began."

Of course, there have been some challenges.

"Normally, turnarounds take about one year," Small said. "But we've had quite a few equipment issues, and we had to change some negative perceptions of the former company that had been formed."

But all involved are now on the same page. And keeping things as local as possible is important.

Union Metal teamed with Canton's Agile Networks on its smart pole initiative.

The company works with Canton's AZZ Inc. for pole coatings. And the city of Canton has been a longstanding, valued customer.

As long as Union Metals keeps striving to get better each day, America will benefit from the impact this Canton mainstay continues to make on its communities.