The future of a Jamestown sheet metal manufacturer was in doubt a few years ago, before Heather Turner and her husband, Ricky, stepped in to acquire it in early 2014.
If Blackstone Business Enterprises' owner couldn't find a buyer, the business was in danger of closing, taking 88 jobs with it, Heather Turner said.
The Turners now run the renamed Blackstone Advanced Technologies as a team. Heather Turner is the president and Ricky Turner is CEO. The company has 75 employees, a dropoff she attributed to industry fluctuations.
As a contract manufacturer, Blackstone serves industries including the military and public transportation. It makes furniture for Navy submarines and produces metal casings for HVAC systems on subway cars. The company doesn't disclose annual sales figures.
It's been a learning experience for Heather Turner, a Jamestown native who graduated from the University at Buffalo. Several years ago, she and her husband were living in Chicago, where she worked at DeVry University while he was at United Airlines. More recently, they were in Ithaca, where Heather worked in Cornell University's alumni affairs office while Ricky pursued an MBA. Family friends notified them Blackstone was for sale, on a compressed timeline, and they decided to take the leap.
Manufacturers want to recruit younger workers, and the Turners, who are both 31 years old, are promoting that same message. Heather Turner talked about growing in an executive's role, and where she and her husband hope to take the business.
Q: What motivated you to return?
A: I've always wanted to move back here: family, I wanted to get involved in the community, I wanted to raise my kids. ... This was like the shining star to move back to the area.
Q: How do you and your husband divide the leadership duties at Blackstone?
A: I do all the production out on the manufacturing floor. I do a lot of the hiring and firing, the day-to-day relations with the guys out on the floor or in the office. I also deal with every HR department issue. Ricky's mainly out looking for new customers, building customer relationships, more of a sales role for him.
Q: What has working at Blackstone been like compared to what you imagined it would be?
A: I think it's a challenge every day, but it's rewarding. It's a great relationship I have with everyone out on the floor. I also am up to date on all the HR policies, and working with the production, getting to know our welding procedures, our new laser [machine] coming in. So the day-to-day interaction I have with everyone and the amount of learning I have is something that I could never trade.
Q: What's been the biggest challenge you've faced?
A: I would say finding qualified candidates to fill the positions. ... Welding would be our biggest area. Even the small soft skills — positive attitude, attendance — I would say that's a struggle most often.
Q: What has been the most rewarding?
A: Getting to see behind scenes and also building the relationship with all of my 75 employees. It's nice to see them coming to work every day. I get to know their family background. And just seeing the products made, once they're complete.
Q: You and Ricky have run Blackstone for a few years now. What kind of reaction have you received in the community?
A: I think it's a great opportunity for individuals to see what Ricky and I have done in taking the big leap into buying a company in the area. It's so unfortunate that a lot of small businesses have left. I think that's the real reason why the younger generation doesn't want to stay here, because they think that the jobs are leaving. I hope Ricky and I set an example for the younger generation that it is doable and to keep the jobs local, and there is opportunity.