Family-Owned Businesses Honored for Successes in the Valley

NORTH LIMA, Ohio – The decision to expand and move Schwebel’s Bakery to a site on Midlothian Boulevard – away from the soot of the industrial steel mills nearby – once came down to a family vote.

Alyson Winick said her grandmother, who raised six children on her own after her husband’s death at a young age, wanted to move the business. The vote failed, six against and one for it.

“And the one, won,” Winick said. The business moved.

Running a successful family business can mean balancing relative dynamics, perseverance and a lot of sweat and tears.

The Mahoning Valley businesses honored Friday at the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber’s Family-Owned Business Recognition Dinner at The Lake Club are no different than most family businesses operating across the country.

Many stories told were of businesses striving to honor family members of the past, those who founded the business with a dream and overcame hardships to give their families a better life. Several of the honorees took the stage with the next generation, those who may one day be tasked with not only keeping the family’s legacy going, but adjusting to ever-changing technology and continuing to grow the business through the ups and downs.

Rob Cochran, president and CEO of #1 Cochran, was the keynote speaker at Friday’s event.

The statistics are against them, according to WFMJ meteorologist Andrew DiPaolo, who served as the master of ceremony. He pointed out only 30% of all family-owned businesses make it to be taken over by the second generation, and only 12% are third-generation businesses.

Still, family-owned businesses employ 60% of the nation’s workforce and are responsible for 78% of all new job creation, said DiPaolo, adding that 5.5 million businesses are family owned and generate 54% of the GDP.

Rob Cochran, chairman and CEO of Pittsburgh-based #1 Cochran, which recently expanded into the Mahoning Valley, said the people factor is a big part of success – those you work with and those who are your customers. He pointed out that all companies have relationship challenges that can impact the business, including ego issues, trust issues, self-awareness issues and blind-spot issues.

“And within families, the emotionally charged pull that can happen when things go awry can be even more raw and combustible. So it is even more critical this junk is flushed to the surface, discussed and managed in a proactive way,” Cochran said.

Cochran talked about the importance of training the next generation, helping them adjust to managing a family business through both strong economies and difficult times.

“Within the spirit of this policy I’ve tried to convey to my children, while education is important and highly valuable – get as much of it as you can – success in business is more about grit. The strength to get punched in the mouth and get up and keep moving,” Cochran said.

Several of those receiving awards Friday personified that kind of grit as they navigated their businesses.

Christine Yanssens accepts the Sapientia Ventures Success in Succession Award on behalf of Iron City Wood Products. She was joined by her son, Andrew, left; son-in-law, Tucker Cope; and husband, DJ.

Christine Yanssens and her husband, DJ, were forced to put into place an emergency plan of transition for Iron City Wood Products in 2010. It followed the tragic death of her father, Dave Muslovski, who founded the business with his wife, Denise.

“Tonight is bittersweet for our family because we’re missing two key components, Yanssens said through tears. “Their blood, their sweat and their tears built the foundation from which we have been able to grow and prosper. It’s an honor to accept this award in my dad and my brother’s memory.”

Iron City Wood Products, a customized pallet management solutions company based in the Ross Industrial Park in Youngstown, received the Sapientia Ventures Success in Succession award.  The company, founded in 1987, buys and sells used pallets, crates and bulk bags. It also manufactures new pallets, helping its customers find standard and nonstandard, hard-to-find sizes. Additionally, the company uses recycled, reclaimed wood for many of its pallets, which minimizes waste.

The other finalists for the Sapientia Ventures Success In Succession were Gorant Chocolatier and Rydar Group.

At left is Guy Coviello, chamber president and CEO. Accepting the Huntington Social Impact Award on behalf of DeSalvo Construction are Sandra Algoe, Joe A. DeSalvo, Tammy DeSalvo and Joe K. DeSalvo. At right is Sam Huston, Huntington Bank’s Mahoning Valley community president.

DeSalvo Construction was presented the Huntington Social Impact Award. As he accepted the award, Joe DeSalvo talked about the importance of family to the business – their family, their business family and many of the contractors and suppliers they work with, which are also family-owned businesses.

Since 1984, DeSalvo Construction has provided construction services for industrial and commercial projects throughout the Mahoning Valley, while collaborating with architectural and engineering firms. The company, based in Hubbard, leads construction of the Student Recreation and Wellness Center at Warren G. Harding High School. Recent projects include the Akron Children’s emergency department in Boardman, the Shepherd of the Valley facility in Liberty, the Covelli Enterprises headquarters in Warren, the Cafaro Co. headquarters in Niles, the offices of Warren Fabricating and Machining of Warren, the Community Workforce and Cultural Center in Campbell, the Niles City School District’s primary and intermediate buildings, two renovation projects at Youngstown State University and renovations at Stambaugh Auditorium.

Finalists for the Huntington Social Impact Award were Daprile Insurance Group; Thompson Insurance Group, Gibson Insurance Agency; and the Youngstown Blue Coats.

Brian Benyo, center, accepts the HBK Growth Story Award on behalf of The Brilex Group. From left, are his nephew Blake Benyo, son Thomas Benyo, father, Gene Benyo, son Brian Benyo Jr. and nephew Kyle Benyo.

The Brilex Group received the 2024 HBK Growth Story Award. Brian Benyo said he and his brother Alex started their company in 1996. He attributed their success to being at the right place at the right time and having great employees.

“At some point ,the business gets bigger than you,” Benyo said. “And the vision and mission gets bigger than you. And that, to me, is one of the most rewarding things.”

Five independent manufacturing companies in the Mahoning Valley now are under the umbrella of The Brilex Group: Brilex Industries Inc., Brilex Technical Solutions, Brilex Energy Solutions, Taylor-Winfield Technologies Inc. and BBM Railway Equipment. According to the company, each offers custom products and a vast array of solution services, while sharing common values and manufacturing excellence.

The other finalists for the HBK Growth Story were On Demand Occupational Medicine, US SafetyGear and VEC Inc.

Schwebel’s received the Brouse McDowell Local to National Presence Award. Since 1906, Schwebel’s has baked bread for the families in the Youngstown area. The company serves an expanded marketing area with bakeries in both Youngstown and Hebron. It has 20 distribution centers across Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York.

According to the company, it is a market share leader in Cleveland, Youngstown and Columbus as well as Erie, Pa., and Pittsburgh.

Schwebel’s is completing major upgrades to the bakery operations, transportation fleet, distribution facilities and information technology.

Brouse McDowell Local to National Presence finalists were On Demand Occupational Medicine and US SafetyGear.

Barb Ewing, CEO of the Youngstown Business Incubator, was named Business Advocate of the Year.

Barb Ewing of the Youngstown Business Incubator was named the Family-Owned Business Advocate of the Year. Ewing, the product of a family-owned business, credited her family with supporting her and other members of the YBI work family with the actual successes of the incubator. She credits the impact team, advanced manufacturing team and the operations team with doing all the work. 

“I thank you all. I love this Valley and the companies and all the people who are part of it, and especially all the people who are here with me tonight,” Ewing said.

Ewing said she was thrilled to share the honor with the other finalist for Family-Owned Business Advocate of the Year: Kevin Reilly of the Builders Association of Eastern Ohio and Western Pennsylvania.

At the end of the evening, Guy Coviello, president and CEO of the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, announced the Valley’s GDP is above pre-Covid levels and the GDP per employee is way above pre-Covid levels. Additionally, citing Moody’s, he said population is on the rise.

Coviello also announced that the chamber will support the March 22 launch of the Mahoning Shenango Chapter of the Exit Planning Institute, which will create a forum for local professional advisors and business owners to collaborate on succession and transition planning.

“The outcome should be a growing economy and a vibrant region,” Coviello said.

Pictured at top: At left is Guy Coviello, Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber president and CEO. Accepting the Brouse McDowell Local to National Presence Award on behalf of Schwebel’s Bakery are Jennifer Sapp, Mike Illes, Melinda Rombold, Alyson Winick and Jim Behmer. At right is Brian Coulter, partner at Brouse McDowell.

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