Manufacturing in Lancaster County - Lancaster Chamber of Commerce
Leaving a Legacy: High Companies
150th Anniversary, Chamber Updates

by S. Dale High, Chair Emeritus of the High Companies

Our High family did not specifically choose to locate a business in Lancaster, PA, in 1931, when my father purchased a small welding shop (still memorialized at the original location on Lemon Street) to create High Welding Company. It could not have been more fortuitous, however, as he had simply tried to make a living where he was planted.

A culture of grit and strong work ethics was already established in our community of craftsmen and entrepreneurs. Many immigrants arrived in Lancaster bringing their considerable talents and skills with them, the result of which were important contributions like the Conestoga wagon, the long rifle, and much more, resulting in important contributions to our country’s development.

Also, at that time, while there was not a lot of thought about how ideal the location was for heavy manufacturers with easy access to steel mills and other resources, and the proximity to the major markets of the rapidly growing East coast, manufacturing began to grow in Lancaster with the likes of Armstrong, RCA, Slaymaker Lock, Hamilton Watch, and a fledgling High Welding Company that was to grow into the High Companies of today.

My own experiences at High began when I was very young, 13 or 14 years old, going to our shop on the corner of James and Water Streets with my father to work on Saturday mornings. Most of my work at that time was painting bridge railings. As a child growing up, our assets were very limited. Our personal car, for example, had a hitch to pull a welder trailer during the work week, and when I got in the back seat of the old black 1937 Dodge on Sunday morning to go to church, my feet were perched high on boxes of welding rods for use during the next week.

When I was a junior in high school, our company had moved to Old Philadelphia Pike in East Lampeter. I always wanted to be part of the family business, and so I approached my father about the need for the company to grow to support our expanding family. He said that we could not afford to expand or purchase new equipment, even though there was a large market opportunity. I pushed repeatedly then to start an additional shift. He said, “Okay, if you have so much conviction around this, you do it.” Being 17 and feeling invincible, I took on the challenge. After causing lots of issues in both productivity and quality for our 1st shift, I appealed for their help. They allowed our 2nd shift a 2-hour training overlap and gave us temporary experienced workers from 1st shift for oversight. By the time I returned to my senior year of high school, it was working pretty well.

When I graduated from Elizabethtown College with a Business Administration degree and joined High full-time in 1963 as its first college graduate, we were beginning to grow in size and move from repairing old bridges to building new ones. I worked with my father, Sanford, and brothers, Calvin and Don, initially. Early on, I was convinced that we were to have a culture that respected all co-workers and would give back to our community reinforcing what I learned at Elizabethtown, whose motto was “Educate for Service”. Out of that, we developed The High Philosophy of building trustworthy relationships and being innovative leaders, as it was clear to me that “we are creating the environment we needed so that our culture could persevere.”

Over the years that followed, along with a strong team of leaders and other High family members, I was able to help lead the company to diversify its efforts, which later proved helpful in light of the cyclical nature of our enterprises. Today, the High companies include steel bridge superstructure fabrication and erection, precast concrete building systems, heavy hauling transportation, steel and precast erection services, metal processing and distribution, general contracting and architectural design, parking garage engineering, repair and maintenance services.

High also includes a full-service real estate group of companies offering development, brokerage, property management, and investment solutions, and other ventures, all while operating with an environmental consciousness and a keen interest in aesthetics and sustainable building practices for the long-term. The company holds industrial, multi-family, hotel, and retail assets throughout the eastern United States, with the largest concentration here in Lancaster County. Greenfield, a thriving business park and center for community, was the start of the real estate business, and today is one of the company’s largest assets.

We have been so fortunate to benefit from a great leadership team, supported by outstanding co-workers. It has been a life-long opportunity to work with those with vision, outstanding values, strong work ethic, respect for each other, and a mindfulness and compassion for our community. I have always felt strongly that “outstanding service to our organization, our customers, and our community is what it means to be a leader”.

Philanthropy has long been a value of the High Family’s commitment to our community, whether through the High Foundation, corporate, or personal giving. We are, after all, only stewards of the assets allotted to us, so it is only natural that they should be shared with others as we have the opportunity. “We are not here for ourselves; it is what we can do to make the world a better place . . . for our customers and for our communities, that counts.”

Along with many other organizations, I have had the opportunity to serve as a past chair of the Lancaster Chamber, the PA State Chamber, and served on the Board of the U.S. Chamber. The Chamber merged with the manufacturing association in Lancaster many years ago and has served manufacturers of Lancaster County well, in my opinion, with combined assets and leadership. Congratulations to Lancaster Chamber on an outstanding 150-Year Anniversary!

There are many challenges facing manufacturers in our area today. Among them are skilled labor shortages and supply chain challenges. Helping to address these challenges, we have partnered with the Spanish American Civic Association, Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology, Lancaster County Career & Technology Center, among others, toward a more skilled, inclusive, and diverse workforce. As immigrants served an important role in building our communities in the past, so an increased flow of immigrants can bring strength, innovation, and vitality to our businesses and community today! It is my belief that we benefit from the best ideas and skills, no matter who brings them forth.

A skilled, diverse workforce leads to economic value and prosperity for our community, the result of which is more manufacturing remains in our County, which also goes a long way to solving supply chain issues. It is important for the business community to be involved in helping to create a better community.

I have long believed that we need to be mindful about our future with visionary business strategy, but also with an aligned vision for our community. The High companies were fortunate to lead and be part of projects that achieved shared company and community strategy and vision, whether through the revitalization of Olde Town Lancaster in the late 70s and early 80s, or through the development of the Lancaster Marriott at Penn Square hotel/convention center project twenty years ago.

Because of my concern about the impact of losing family businesses in our area, I helped start The High Center at Elizabethtown College. I saw that if these businesses did not transition ownership locally, community engagement and investment were often lost. Some 130+ businesses now benefit from this program.

It is exciting for me to contemplate the future of Lancaster County, say 25 to 40 years in the future. What could our community be like if we work together to forge a future of purpose and intent, rather than simply drifting aimlessly. Lewis Corell said, “if you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.”

My own years are more limited now, but I am encouraged when I see young, enthusiastic, and entrepreneurial leaders emerging to lead us into the future. These are folks who see the big picture and are determined to cut through the divisions and lack of civility that can be seen around us to make a positive difference right here, right now, and into the future.

The Lancaster Chamber was proud to be celebrating its 150th Anniversary this past year, alongside our business and education communities. Thank you to High Industries for being our Presenting Sponsor for our 150th Anniversary Celebration! This article was first printed in our 150th Commemorative Edition of Thriving Magazine. You can read more here: 150th Commemorative Edition of Thriving Magazine

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