In late December 2013, County Fabricators LLC began work on one of its first purchase orders in nearly a decade. The client: Tappan Zee Constructors LLC.
The order was something small like steel plates, but it was for the company consortium designing and building the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement at a bid-winning cost of $3.9 billion.
Following months of emailing and calling businesses to pitch the quality of her steel fabricating companyâ€™s products, Kristina M. Benza, CEO of County Fabricators, said the marketing started to pay off.
â€œItâ€™s sales,â€ she said. â€œAnd thatâ€™s the biggest first step is you have to get yourself in the door and sell people on what youâ€™re making and the experience that theyâ€™ll get here.â€
Benza said she called and emailed potential clients enough that eventually they had to respond.
â€œI think persistence is what gets people here and our philosophy and the quality of our work is what keeps people here,â€ she said.
Since that first order for the Tappan Zee, Benza estimated the company has steadily completed about 100 orders for the new bridge that will connect Rockland and Westchester counties over the Hudson River. The orders have grown from shim plates at the start to 110-foot lifting apparatuses and catwalks that will sit under the bridge.
â€œWe actually fabricated all of the access platforms that will hang from the crane,â€ she said, and those will â€œallow the iron workers to access all of their rigging.â€
Sitting in a conference room at the headquarters of the steel fabricating company off of Marble Avenue in Pleasantville, the 26-year-old CEO recounted how she came to own a majority of the firm started by her father and uncle, Robert and Philip Benza. The brothers also owned and for many years operated Arben Group LLC, a civil infrastructure contracting company in Pleasantville.
â€œThey were always involved in heavy civil construction,â€ she said, and at the time it seemed like a logical next step for them to start a side business. â€œBut they never did anything with it. The company sat dormant for nine years.â€
In 2013, Benza graduated from New York Medical College with a masterâ€™s degree in comprehensive science and was trying to figure out what her next step was going to be.
â€œI saw a lot of opportunities with the Tappan Zee Bridgeâ€ and other infrastructure projects going on in neighboring states, â€œso I took overâ€ the family business, she said.
Part of restarting the business meant buying new equipment, which included a forklift for the yard and an overhead gantry crane that was fabricated at the Pleasantville shop.
But the hardest part, she said, was building a customer base.
â€œI needed someone to give me an opportunity,â€ she said. â€œAnd they did, and we grew from there.â€
Asked if it was her idea to rejuvenate the company, Benza laughed, and smiled affirmatively. â€œEveryone around will probably tell you I was crazy.â€
But to her, it seemed like the natural next step.
â€œI was always the kid that was into Legosâ€ â€” a continued interest evidenced by a display of Lego cranes and trucks near the entrance of the office. â€œI loved to know how things worked and I always loved to be building things with my hands and creating things, and this is kind of a large-scale version of that,â€ she said.
Benza, who grew up in Briarcliff Manor, said she spent time welding in her youth, learning the basics from her father, but it was only recently that she delved into the mechanics of welding through the instruction of her foreman at the shop. About eight months ago, Benza earned the highest welding certification conferred by the American Welding Society.
â€œI wanted to be able to walk the walk and talk the talk,â€ she said. â€œI thought it was important that I had something that could speak to my credibility in terms of examining welds. And I think it helps people take me a little bit more seriously within the industry.â€
What started with one employee about a year-and-a-half ago has grown to eight people working full time in the shop, which she said increases to as many as 15 during busier seasons. Her uncle, Philip, stayed with the company and is chief marketing officer.
Also in the works is the companyâ€™s registration as a state-certified minority and women-owned business enterprise, a status that can be valuable in winning contracts on federally funded projects. The Tappan Zee Bridge project, for instance, has a goal of spending $314 million on MWBE business contracts in order to qualify for federal funding.
Recently, County Fabricators acquired more clients for work on two other bridges, the Bayonne Bridge and Goethals Bridge, both in Staten Island. Similar to the work for the Tappan Zee, County Fabricators is building temporary work items like heavy-lifting equipment used to help bridge workers with the construction.
Working with Tappan Zee Constructors, she said, was a â€œgreat stamp of approvalâ€ and â€œa really great kick-start to everything and to us moving forward.â€
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