Rajendra Pawar just can’t seem to master retirement, but when it comes to building and rebuilding companies and then building a brand new one from scratch, the founder of Summit Utility Structures in South Allentown can hang with the best of them.
“Being as this was his third retirement, he’s really bad at it,” jokes his son, Ranjeet Pawar, who serves as Director of Marketing for the new company. “He can go sailing for a week, but that’s about it. Then he needs a challenge.”
The latest challenge is a steel fabrication start-up that will make materials such as anchor bolts, tubular steel arms, bracing packages and assemblies typically used in erecting and supporting utility structures such as electrical distribution and transmission poles, according to the company website.
“It just doesn’t seem to work out,” Raj Pawar says of his retirement record. “It becomes boring getting up in the morning and thinking ‘what am I going to do today?’
Pawar’s management team, which includes his son, longtime colleagues Lew Grant, Vice President of Sales and Engineering; Fred Holman, Plant Manager; and daughter-in-law Neha Pawar, Director of Operations; are preparing to submit their first bids within the next few weeks and the company could be producing products by June or July.
“Within three years we will have over 40 employees,” Ranjeet says. “That’s part of the agreement with the Governor’s Action Team” providing some of the initial start-up capital with low interest loans for the company.
Raj Pawar is no stranger to steel fabrication for the utility industry. In 1988, frustrated with lay-offs in other jobs, he created Summit Manufacturing in West Hazelton to manufacture high-mast lighting, and traffic steel poles used primarily in Department’s of Transportation infrastructure projects. Within a couple of years Summit became a major supplier for electric utilities and cell tower distribution companies. It made only a few poles within its first year but by 1998 Pawar had built it into the fourth-largest company in the industry in the United States, his son said.
He sold the company that year but the new owner didn’t have Pawar’s experience within the industry and by 2002 it was failing and in bankruptcy. Pawar bought it back, rebranded it as PennSummit Tubular and brought it back to employing over 200 employees by 2007. In 2008, having become the third-largest company in the industry, he sold it to Valmont Industries Inc. which had much more experience in the field and wanted to maintain and grow the business. Pawar stayed on with Valmont for several years in a consulting role where he helped the company building one of the largest steel pole and galvanizing facilities in his native India.
“From my dad’s point of view,” said Ranjeet, “if it has anything to do with steel he knows how to do it. Between the three of them (including Grant and Holman) they have about 135 years of experience. This whole thing came together because these guys don’t like not having something to do.”
Unlike PennSummit, which focused on the high mast steel pole manufacturing, Summit Utility Structures will produce the ancillary products also needed to erect poles, which allows them both avoid direct competition with Valmont and actually work in a supporting role in the industry.
The past several months have been spent obtaining the required permit approvals from the City of Allentown, designing the machinery layout, conducting product quality control tests and launching the hiring process. The management team has also worked with Allentown Economic Development Corp. to obtain a loan through the City of Allentown’s Enterprise Zone program and a loan through the Pennsylvania Minority Business Development Authority.
Ranjeet praised Executive Director Scott Unger and Economic Development Specialist Anthony Durante for their down-to-earth approach and assistance during the start-up process.
“A wide range of high quality fabricated metal products have been continuously produced in the City for over a century and we are very proud to have such a seasoned team in Summit Utility Structures add to that long tradition,” said Unger.