If you want to get a bearing on the state of manufacturing in the Lehigh Valley, you might want to start with Jim Lopez, Managing Partner of Bearings and Drives Unlimited Corp. (BDU) in southwest Allentown.

“We serve about 500 to 700 customers from here and we cover just about everything from Interstate 78 to Blue Mountain,” Lopez explains. “The Lehigh Valley is growing and manufacturing is still happening here. We are very busy. It’s been a steady growth since we opened the doors and we are busier now than we have ever been.”

Bearings and Drives Unlimited Corp. can, as the name implies, supply a wide variety of bearings and electric motors to almost any industry, but their inventory goes far beyond that. BDU also carries drive chains and belts, electric motor parts, hydraulic hose assemblies, and fluid seals. Additionally, the company’s customer service department can provide electrical motor repair services and application engineering assistance.

Lopez, a Jim Thorpe native who now lives in the Easton area, joined BDU in 2005 after a career with a large public company that sent him and his family to St. Louis 20 years ago. He and his wife decided to return to Pennsylvania to raise their family and he joined BDU in 2005. In 2007 he became a partner and he opened the Allentown sales and distribution facility a year later.

Part of BDU’s steady increase in business, he says, comes partly from the manufacturing world’s rebound from the recession that started in 2008, but a good portion of it comes from BDU’s focus on top-notch service and quality. Lopez’s 30,000-square-foot warehouse carries about $5 million in parts at all times and his team of approximately 20 employees is on-call 24-7 for service, parts and education developed for customers to help them get the most out of their machinery.

That focus is apparent as soon as one steps into the BDU showroom at Mitchell Ave. and 29th St. SW.

The room is designed to honor the manufacturing history of the Lehigh Valley, from Mack Trucks and Bethlehem Steel to the cement kilns that put the region on the map and helped build a nation. Murals display the history of these manufacturing icons, including a classic Mack fire truck that was used by a town near where Lopez grew up, to the immense steel forges now memorialized at Steel Stacks in Bethlehem.

“This room is meant to be two things: One, a tribute to the industrial history of the Lehigh Valley; and two, a reminder that we are ‘old school.’ We still supply true service to our customers. We are very different from our competitors, and this room is meant to convey that,” Lopez says.

BDU is actually a family of companies founded in Souderton 36 years ago by Mark Stevens. Stevens and his original partner literally started in a garage and have since grown to eight locations – including seven BDU facilities throughout eastern Pennsylvania – and a service facility in Quakertown. The sites are selected with the idea of maintaining no more than a 30-mile radius from their customers to ensure the best service, Lopez explains.

Other BDU locations include Souderton, Hazelton, Williamsport, Wilkes-Barre and Towanda, and Prynn Bearings in Philadelphia.

“Each of our locations is run by an owner. That’s an advantage to our customers because the buck stops here. We can make the decisions they need,” Lopez said. “And we are the only locally owned and operated company of our size and type in the Lehigh Valley.”