Stronger Than Steel: McKeesport Candy Co.

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An Extended Candy Family

"I see new horizons of opportunity. I believe that working together we can develop the industry's full potential to the benefit of wholesaler, retailer, manufacturer and the consuming public."
- Ernest Prince, in his presidential keynote address, 1955 NCWA convention.

As in most small businesses, Jerry Jon and Tom and the rest of McKeesport's 22 employees wear many hats. "Everyone has to assume a lot of responsibility, so there are no rigid rules," Jon comments. He adds, laughing, "One day my father even fixed the elevator."

Says Jerry: "Sure, sometimes it'd be nice to have more people servicing and repairing and doing for you, but we operate very lean. Fortunately, I can fix anything."

More than a team, those that work at McKeesport Candy are like family. Most of them have been with the company for quite some time. In fact, the average length of employment is 20 years, says Jerry, he being the one with the most tenure. The elder Prince joined the family business in 1949. Tom has been with McKeesport for 24 years. One woman worked for the wholesale firm from its founding until she passed away in 1990, a 63-year run.

Walking through the warehouse, Jon asks everyone to tell how long they've been with McKeesport. One shouts, "17 years, next month," another offers, "18 years." Dorothy Ivkovich, who works in the rebagging department proudly announces "41 years. A long time in one spot, huh? All of us are like family."

Jon, who admits that at six years he's the third-newest person at the company, remarks, "This type of business, where people stay this long, probably won't exist in our children's generation. The longevity is something I really treasure."

Surviving a long bus trip together certainly qualifies folks as family. The company offered to take interested employees to the AWMA National Summer Convention & Exposition in Washington, DC, this past July, and eight went. For many, it was their first trip to the show and to the nation's capital. They were impressed, especially Dorothy, who got to put faces to the products she's handled for so many years.

As it has since its earliest days, the McKeesport Candy family is prepared to adapt to future changes in the distribution industry while maintaining its dedication to both the candy business and the business of providing the personal attention still valued by retailers today. "Our business is one of evolution, We will continue to look for new niche markets and high-quality, upscale confectionery," Jon concludes," "I hope we also can continue our tradition of customer service in a world becoming more impersonal."

This optimism echoes that of his grandfather more than 40 years earlier. Ernest Prince wrote in his president's Christmas message to the NCWA in 1955, "As for myself I am optimistic. The candy industry has been kind to most of us in the past, and I'm sure it will be good to us in the years ahead."

Indeed McKeesport Candy has earned that kindness and no doubt will be sweetening life in America's steel town for years to come.

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