LEWISBURG — From the ground up is how Pik Rite Inc. grew from making three sales in its first year to earning annual gross receipts topping $15 million three decades later.

Farm equipment fabricated by the Valley firm — 475 vegetable harvesters, 1,395 vacuum tanks, 1,550 manure spreaders, for starters — has been used in fields across the United States and exported to 27 countries.

Pik Rite is one of many businesses creating products being used across the state and nation that are Made in the Valley, the theme of this year’s Valley of Progress, a five-part special business section included in today’s edition of The Daily Item.

Pik Rite aims for a $25 million sales benchmark in the coming years, according to company President Elvin Stoltzfus.

If the company gets there, it will be on the strength of its workforce.

Pik Rite employs between 70 and 80 workers in its 50,000 square foot facility along Buffalo Road, two miles west of Lewisburg.

“We have a lot of dedicated employees that have made this possible,” said Stoltzfus, 58, of rural Lewisburg.

The U.S. Small Business Administration named Stoltzfus its Small Business Person of the Year in Pennsylvania. Winners are invited for ceremonies April 30 to May 1 in Wasington, D.C., where the national award will be announced.

A humble Stoltzfus called it an honor, one he said he didn’t deserve.

“I don’t want it to be about me as much about the employees, the organization, the product we build,” he said. “To win this award is an honor, but without the employees and without my family supporting me over the years, that’s what it’s all about.”

Stoltzfus was nominated by the Bucknell University Small Business Development Center.

Pik Rite and the local SBDC first worked together 15 years ago when two mechanical engineering professors from Bucknell helped the firm in the design and development of a vegetable harvester, according to Steven Stumbris, director, Bucknell University SBDC.

The relationship continued with Pik Rite engaging the SBDC’s Engineering Development Services as well as the Environmental Management Assistance Program, he said.

“Elvin’s leadership of Pik Rite, as demonstrated both through his commitment to his employees and his dedication to exceeding the needs of his customers, made him an excellent candidate for this award. He’s a true champion for his employees and not only helps them to develop as individuals but also supports their efforts to volunteer in the community,” Stumbris said.

Seeking solutions

For Stoltzfus, it all started with a tomato.

Raised on a 100-acre farm, he sought a better way to harvest as the field labor-force thinned. There were mechanical harvesters in use in California and the Midwest, but Stoltzfus said he believed he and friend and former partner, Joe Yoder, could do better.

Stoltzfus called Yoder the “genius” of the operation. Yoder designed a mechanical harvester in 1982. Over time, the design evolved. Pik Rite incorporated it four years later.

“In 1986, we sold three harvesters to farmers in New Jersey and it took off from there,” Stoltzfus said.

Union County Commissioner Preston Boop, a farmer himself, spoke to the ambitions Stoltzfus and Yoder shared in seeking a practical solution for farming.

Troubleshooting is part of the farm life, Boop said. Farmers don’t often have the resources up front to cut a check for broken equipment and don’t have time to waste.

“So, farmers become entrepreneurs,” Boop said. “Once you start drawing upon those traits, you realize you can accomplish things no one else has thought of. You can make things work and fix things because you have no choice.”

Pik Rite moved out of a garage and onto its current property in 1990. The initial office was no bigger than any old bedroom in the Valley — 12 by 14 feet. The manufacturing space was 10,000 square feet.

The facility has since grown in size four times over its original space.

American-made

The Pik Rite product line includes spreaders, harvesters, vacuum septic tanks and commercial trucks, dump bodies, parts and service.

The majority of its products are fabricated from start to finish on site. Employees roll and cut steel, weld, sand blast, paint and assemble. More than 90 percent of the materials used are American-made.

“It gives us a lot of pride,” said Stoltzfus, who also is a Kelly Township supervisor.

Pik Rite could be adding a new product to its sales catalog. A melon harvester is in development with a prototype to be tested in California, he said.

There are no plans for further facility expansion in the near future, and there are no plans to sell the company, either.

Stoltzfus wants to grow, and he believes Pik Rite can reach $25 million in gross sales through building on established relationships and creating new ones. It’s all part of continuing to foster the company culture of hard work and positivity, he said.

“That has probably been the single thing that has changed here in our culture. People have a buy-in. They feel safe here and part of a family,” Stoltzfus said.

Find more information on Pik Rite at pikrite.com or on Facebook.

Email comments to escicchitano@dailyitem.com. Follow Scicchitano on Twitter @ericshick11.

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