SADSBURY TOWNSHIP — Eric Hoover always has been mesmerized by building big machines.

“It’s something my dad was into,” said Hoover, 41, president and chief executive officer of Excalibur Machine Co. Inc. of Conneaut Lake. “It’s always fascinated me.”

Hoover remembers going with his dad on weekends to T. Bruce Sales, a fabrication foundry in West Middlesex. He worked there himself on weekends while still in high school. He then worked for several area manufacturers following graduation in 1982.

But it was his fascination with building large machines that led Hoover to form his own metal fabrication firm, Excalibur, in 1988 while still working for others.

Since concentrating on his own firm full time in 1998, Excalibur had seen explosive growth. It now has 107 employees at three sites in western Crawford County — two near Conneaut Lake and one at Linesville. Excalibur makes large parts for the locomotive, mining equipment, material handling and power generation industries.

The company has had a 350 percent growth in sales and has gone from a 6,000-square-foot facility near Conneaut Lake to three buildings with 67,000 square feet, according to Janie Diamond, spokeswoman for the U.S. Small Business Administration.

That growth has earned Hoover the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Small Business Person of the Year for Pennsylvania award for 2006.

He heads to Washington, D.C., later today to take part in National Small Business Week, and he’s in the running to be named National Small Business Person of the Year — to be selected from among the 53 state small business winners, including the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and Guam.

Hoover said he’s had a drive to succeed ever since he was a small child when he was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at 22 months of age.

It’s determination that’s helped him overcome physical adversity to develop his own business.

“What I wanted to do was build hospitals for sick kids to treat them for free,” said Hoover. “I want to have money to do that. That’s what my drive was.”

Hoover credits his doctors, family and friends with helping him over the disease.

“I had great doctors. They had me keep my joints limber as possible and said I would grow out of it. There was one doctor who predicted I would spend my life in a wheelchair.”

Determined not to be physically handicapped, Hoover became extremely disciplined, but is quick to credit others with helping him.

“There were exercises I had to do and I did them. My family and friends wouldn’t let me get down,” Hoover said.

The mindset has carried over into Hoover’s business life.

“We are blessed with a ton of good people,” he said of the growth of his business. “That’s the best thing we have.”

Hoover has no intention of slow things down, either.

Right now, the Linesville shop is putting on a 60-by-300-foot addition. The company also is looking to hire another 30 to 35 people.

“That’s what’s exciting,” he said. “Our plans are to keep on growing.”

The firm doesn’t have much foreign competition because often the parts it makes are large and would be difficult or expensive to ship from overseas.

The company also gets creative in getting more work from customers — often by offering to assemble a part for a customer or doing some other service, he said.

While he’s not going to be building a hospital as he had planned as a young boy, Hoover does have plans to help out the community financially.

Excalibur Charities formally is getting started this year to offer financial aid to needy groups and high school scholarship programs are planned for Conneaut Lake and Linesville, he said.



Keith Gushard can be reached at 724-6370 or by e-mail at kgushard@meadvilletribune.com

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