The Stabler Companies Inc.
The Stabler Companies Inc.
635 Lucknow Road
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania 17110
Telephone: (717) 234-3106
Fax: (717) 236-1281
Web site: http://www.stablercompaniesinc.com
Sales: $200 million (2004 est.)
NAIC: 212321 Construction Sand and Gravel Mining; 233110 Land Subdivision and Land Development; 234110 Highway and Street Construction
The Stabler Companies Inc. is a privately-owned collection of subsidiaries primarily involved in transportation-related products and services and real estate development. The anchor of the company is Eastern Industries, Inc., which builds and repairs roads and provides quarry aggregates used in the making of concrete. Eastern also owns Work Area Protection Corporation, a Chicago-area maker and distributor of cones, drums, barricade lights, vests, "stop/slow" paddles, message boards, and other safety products. In a similar vein, Protection Services Inc. offers traffic control products and services, including signs, barriers, cones, and electronic message boards. Precision Solar Controls, based in Garland, Texas, manufacturers solar-powered highway message systems and traffic lights. Stabler's ASTI Transportation Systems subsidiary is involved in a wide variety of high-technology transportation products, including traffic congestion detectors, over-height vehicle detectors, flooded roadway detectors, speed limit systems, roadside cameras to help monitor and improve traffic flow, and alarm systems to alert construction workers when a vehicle has violated a safety zone. Stabler Land Company is a real estate development subsidiary, whose primary interest is the Stabler Center, a planned corporate and residential community located in Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley, strategically located near New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. Finally, Stabler Companies also owns the Center Valley Club, a tournament-caliber golf course that is part of the Stabler Center. The company also operates DBS Trans Inc., which provides helicopter service for the affiliated companies, and SCI Products Inc., holder of patents on several of the Stabler's products and operator of a sales force for Work Area Protection and Precision Solar Controls.
INFLUENCE OF THE GREAT DEPRESSION
The man behind the Stabler name was Donald Billman Stabler, born in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, in 1908. He learned the value of hard work from his father, George William Stabler, who had been raised on a Pennsylvania farm, cobbled together an education by attending a Williamsport business school, and then became a circulation director of Grit, a weekly newspaper popular with rural America. The younger Stabler was able to attend Lehigh University, a well-regarded engineering school, and earn a bachelor's degree in civil engineering in 1930. He then took a job with a Pittsburgh contrac-tor, Dravo Corporation, but due to the Great Depression that was precipitated by the stock market crash of 1929, he was laid off after just six months. His father then managed to pay for Stabler to return to Lehigh and earn a master's degree in 1932. He now found work with a Harrisburg contractor. Although the pay was meager, just $15 a week, the work was challenging. "It was the best training I've ever had in my life," he told the Allentown Morning Call in a 1989 interview. In 1940 Stabler was ready to strike out on his own, and with $1,300 in savings he laid the foundation for the Stabler Companies by starting Stabler Construction Company in Harrisburg. He already had a contract in hand, having made a successful $40,000 bid on a road work contract in Huntingdon County. He also operated a sole proprietorship, Donald D. Stabler Contractor. The early years were a struggle, however, and to make ends meet he also served as superintendent of public works at Fort Indiantown Gap, a facility that would soon be humming with activity as the United States entered World War II. Stabler attempted to enlist in the military but was rejected because of poor eyesight.
Following the war and a brief recession, the U.S. economy roared to life and the federal and state governments made a vast commitment to a highway building program, deemed an important component of national defense given the potential need to moved troops and materials from coast to coast. As a result, Stabler received a bounty of road building contracts. The year 1955 was a watershed for Stabler's business and his family. He merged Donald B. Stabler Contractor and Stabler Construction Company to form Stabler Companies, and in that same year began to diversify. He added to Stabler Companies by forming Protection Services to produce construction safety products and acquired State Aggregate, a sand and gravel company that operated quarries in northeastern Pennsylvania. But it was also in 1955 that his daughter, Beverly Anne, turned 16 and received a driver's license. On a family trip late in the year, Stabler and his second wife, Dorothy Louis Stabler, were driving in one car while his daughter followed in a second car. She was struck by a drunk driver, was severely injured, and was for many years confined to The Woods School, a institution in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, devoted to the developmentally retarded and people with the kind of head injuries Beverly received. The incident sparked the philanthropy that would become a hallmark of Stabler's life. He and his wife launched the Donald B. and Dorothy L. Stabler Foundation to support central Pennsylvania colleges and hospitals. He also became a generous supporter of Lehigh University, not only contributing money for building programs and establishing scholarships but also by devoting his time. He served as a member of the board of trustees for more than 30 years, and during his two-year term as head of the school's alumni association, he traveled almost 20,000 miles to visit 30 alumni clubs, the most any president ever completed.
EASTERN INDUSTRIES: KEY 1976 ACQUISITION
Despite his personal tragedy and increasing volunteer work, Stabler continued to grow his business empire. The next addition of note came in 1965 when he launched DBS Transit Company. It initially supplied trucks to Stabler's construction and materials companies, but later it would provide helicopter service to the subsidiaries. The most significant acquisition in the history of the Stabler Companies occurred in 1976 when Eastern Industries, Inc., was purchased, along with subsidiaries Elco Paving and Elco Hausman Construction, which provided blacktop, sewer grading, and concrete construction services in the Lehigh Valley. The business started out in 1941 as Eastern Lime Corporation and provided limestone to cement companies as well as agricultural limestone and crushed stone for ready-mix concrete and highway construction. Eastern added its first quarry in 1957 and a year later became involved in the blacktopping business when it acquired Harlem Blacktop, Inc. The company entered the block and masonry industry in 1961, and in 1965 the collection of business began operating under the Eastern Industries name. Over the next decade it added further materials, equipment rental, and construction assets until in March 1976 Stabler's Protection Services bought 98 percent of its stock. The year was also noteworthy because Stabler, now in his late 60s, underwent successful open heart surgery.
The mission of Stabler Companies Inc. (SCI) is to focus its most valuable asset, the employees, toward the common goal of long-term growth and prosperity for the employees' families and for SCI and its wholly-owned subsidiaries.
Despite his age, Stabler looked to new challenges in the 1980s, moving beyond the construction field he knew so well to real estate development. In 1983 he formed Stabler Development Company to own and lease his real estate interests, primarily the quarries that supplied aggregate for construction purposes. A year later he launched Stabler Land Company to develop 1,700 acres of Lehigh Valley property. About 1,600 of those acres were acquired in 1984 from Gulf & Western Natural Resources Group, the land part of New Jersey Zinc Company and available after the mining operations were shut down in 1983. Knowing that Interstate 78, which would provide a direct link to the New York metropolitan area, was likely to be built, Stabler believed that the Lehigh Valley was set to enjoy the benefits of its proximity to major Eastern Seaboard cities and envisioned building a major technology research center, similar to Princeton's prestigious Forrestal Center, home to such major research facilities as the Plasma Physics Laboratory. "I have always like the Valley," Stabler told the Morning Call in 1995, adding, "When this opportunity came along, it was sort of the fruition of an inward dream I really didn't realize was there. It just sort of developed as my thinking went along." What would one day became the Stabler Center became his "baby," as he once describe it, and the preoccupation for the rest of his life.
Going from vision to realization, however, required a great deal of patience and resolve. First Stabler had to secure permission to build by winning over area residents concerned how such a massive development would affect the rural character of the community. An example of Stabler's commitment to the project and salesmanship occurred in January 1985 when he faced some 200 hostile residents at an area high school. With his only aid a chalkboard, he made his pitch. "Stabler turned his 5-foot 5-inch frame to the blackboard and began scribbling in big letters," according to the Morning Call. "The development's assessment, he said, would be at least $168 million. The township supervisors and school district officials at the meeting perked up. That meant at least $10 million in real estate taxes." He further wrote, "Add 50 percent to your township budget. Triple your school district budget." Furthermore, he argued that development was coming to the area whether he did it or not, whether the residents liked it not. He offered them quality development from someone with a concern for the local environment. "We don't want any trash development. We want something to be proud of. We're not big city slickers. We're just like you guys." According to the newspaper account, "The crowd grew silent. Stabler put on his raincoat and, followed by his architect, slowly marched out of the auditorium, leaving behind the message on the blackboard…. Several months later, Stabler's plans for an office park were approved."
The township approvals he needed were all in place by 1987, but Stabler soon faced another major obstacle: a real estate crash that caused a slump in the corporate real estate market. However, because his business was diversified, he was able to wait out conditions. In the meantime, Stabler did not neglect his core businesses. In 1986 Eastern acquired Work Area Protection Corporation, the largest maker of traffic cones in the United States, followed in 1990 with the addition of Precision Solar Controls Inc., a major supplier of solar-power message systems, LED traffic lights, and monitoring systems.
Stabler's vision for the development of the Lehigh Valley began to take shape in the 1990s, but progress proved elusive. Stabler had always predicted that the project would take 20 to 25 years to be completed, and was aware he would not be alive to see his dream fulfilled. What he did witness were essentially minor achievements. The Center Valley Club and its upscale 18-hole public golf course opened in June 1992, and later in the decade it would host a pair of PGA Nike golf tournaments. In the meantime plans for a three-story office building fell through and only a handful of companies located facilities in the massive site. In 1994 an ALDI Foods distribution center opened on a 66-acre lot, followed by offices of a law firm and AD computers, a payroll processing company. In 1995 SPJ Properties of Parsippany, New Jersey, was hired to lure research and technology-oriented companies and other major businesses, but nothing materialized from these efforts.
- Donald Stabler forms Stabler Construction Company.
- Stabler Companies is incorporated.
- DBS Transit Company is launched.
- Eastern Industries is acquired.
- Stabler Land Company is formed.
- Work Area Protection Corporation is acquired.
- The Center Valley Club opens.
- Donald Stabler dies at age 89.
- SCI Products Inc. Is formed.
STABLER DIES IN 1997
On December 30, 1997, a week after he turned 89 years old, Donald Stabler died at his Bal Harbour, Florida, winter home. Eight years younger, his widow inherited most of his fortune, although a great deal of that was already earmarked for the charities the couple had supported for so many years. She would live until February 2005 when she passed away in Florida at the age of 90. Before he died, Stabler groomed his successor, Cyril C. Dunmire, Jr., who was president of Protection Services and then in 1995 became president and chief operating officer of Stabler Companies. Upon Stabler's death, he became chairman of the board. The Stabler Companies carried on without its founder, the individual subsidiaries continuing to pursue their own agendas, while complimentary businesses were added. In 1999 ASTI Transportation Systems, a developer of intelligent transportation systems based in New Castle, Delaware, was brought into the fold. Stabler Companies then formed SCI Products to hold a number of patents and provide a sales force to represent the products of Work Area Protection and Precision Solar Controls.
Although movement had been slow, Donald Stabler's pet development project began to finally take shape following his death, albeit it required some deviation from his original plan for Stabler Center. In 2000 Liberty Properties Trust broke ground on a $10 million, 70,000-square-foot office building that when it was opened was immediately occupied. In March 2001 plans were announced to build a 225-room hotel at the entrance of Center Valley Golf Course, but difficult economic condition forced that project to be put on hold. A similar situation occurred with Optimum Corporation, a Florida Internet company, which in July 2001 agreed to build a $3 million, 25,000 square-foot research and development. Several months later, due to a severe slump in the telecommunications industry, the project was shelved. A minor accomplish in 2002 was the opening of the Allentown Business School at Stabler Center. Also, about 100 homes were built in a residential district that could accommodate ten times that number.
Part of the reason for slow progress at Stabler Center was a desire to stick as close as possible to Donald Stabler's vision. Officials at Stabler Land Development had been extremely selective about tenants over the years, because the company was privately owned and did not have debt to service. This factor, along with difficulties in gaining subdivision permits, prevented Stabler Center from taking advantage of the Internet-boom of the late 1990s, which in many ways turned out to be a blessing in disguise. To help spur development, local officials, desperate for tax revenues, made changes to township zoning ordinances, which would allow for the development of smaller office buildings at Stabler Center, as well as a taller conference center, restaurants, and boutiques. The zoning changes had the desired effect and within two years Stabler Center, in the words of the Morning Call, emerged as "one of the region's hottest development sites." Olympus America agreed to move its headquarters there from Long Island; plans for a 427,000-square-foot upscale mall were announced; D&B Corporation was also looking to build a 167,000-square-foot building to replace its Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, offices; and in December 2005 Sierra Management Company broke ground on the first of a three-building, campus-style complex, with one of the unit devoted to medical tenants. Sierra owned land in the Stabler Center on which it planned to build the long-proposed executive conference center, Saucon Creek Resort. Plans were also in the works for a 372-home "active adult" community. While many of these projects were not what Donald Stabler had in mind when he bought the old New Jersey Zinc property a generation earlier, there was still plenty of land available should a major technology research tenant materialize.
Eastern Industries, Inc.; Precision Solar Controls; Protection Services Inc.; Stabler Land Company; Work Area Protection; ASTI Transportation Systems, Inc.; DBS Transit Inc.; Stabler Development Company; SCI Products Inc.
Ashland Paving and Construction, Inc.; J.F. Shea Company, Inc.; Trafficmaster plc.
Blumenau, Kurt, "Ground Is Broken at Stabler On Another Office Building," Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.), December 9, 2005, p. D1.
Fricker, Dan, "Stabler Will Leave Giant Economic Monument," Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.), February 26, 1989, p. B4.
Higham, Scott J., "Stabler Dreams A Slick Mix For Upper Saucon," Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.), February 22, 1987, p. B4.
McDermott, Joe, "Stabler Center Focus May Shift," Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.), August 7, 2003, p. A1.
――――――, "Stabler Center Taking Steps Toward Fulfillment," Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.), August 20, 1995, p. 1.
"Whatever Became of … Plans For A Conference Center Near the Center Valley Club?," Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.), July 25, 2004, p. B3.