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TOP 100 2013: Latest plot twists don't rattle longtime Lebanon County firms

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Executives with Lebanon County's top companies know they are but a chapter or two in the epic tales of their businesses.

Bethel Township-based Farmers Pride Inc., which does business as Bell & Evans, started its story in 1939. Seventy-four years later, it turns out that what they've been doing all along — providing natural, organic chicken — has become the freshest trend in the food industry.

As for Jonestown-based Jonestown Bank & Trust Co. — well, they've been taking care of other people's money for 140 years. CEO Troy A. Peters says the focus isn't on what the company does, it's on how the company can best provide banking services to its customers.

Farmers Pride Inc. dba Bell & Evans

Scott Sechler, president and owner
Bethel Township

If the story of your business were a book, who would be the protagonist? Why?

Well, if you asked that around here, most people would point to me.

I always tell people that, since I started, if you deliver to customers what people thought they bought — which is just simple words — but most people don't get delivered what they thought they've bought. If they wanted a 4-pound chicken … and they got a truckload of 5-pound chickens, then they didn't get what they wanted.

That's been a big deal for us, delivering people what they thought they bought. … Our prices are double other people's chicken, but people will pay more money for chicken if they get what they want.

Who would be your nemesis?

We do really good here in Pennsylvania and with Pennsylvania government, but I would say Washington, with the ethanol support and uncertain direction in about every category. It's probably the big issue that everybody's concerned with today.

Also … trying to hire and maintain a great working staff. … I think that should be frustrating for almost everybody today.

What's the biggest plot twist your company has had to face?

Ours has been a good one. We've been in organic and specialty foods for 100 years, but now the growth is faster than we can keep up. The really fast growth of upscale, higher-end, natural, organic foods is really going good for us.

What does a happy ending look like for your company?

Well, a great thing for me, my son just started in the business two weeks ago. He's 18. He's going to go on to Penn State … for ag business, but he's now full-time employed in the company. And my daughter is graduating Friday night from (college).

Since they were little kids, I've been exposing them to this business and helping them to one day take over the business. I had them in my office when they were in preschool. …

All of our employees knew over the years that the plan was for these kids to come in here and take over this business. It's been my goal to have this company transition without having a sale. We have hundreds of thousands of people and families that depend on this enterprise, and all the families that produce this stuff, it's all great for them as long as someone keeps this business going for them.

Jonestown Bank & Trust Co.

Troy A. Peters, CEO
Jonestown

If the story of your business were a book, who would be the protagonist? Why?

Main Street America as represented by the Lebanon Valley, Northern Lancaster County and surrounding southcentral Pennsylvania regions.

A community bank, by definition, can only be as strong as the communities that it serves. Even though we serve clients in 48 states, our success and focus points directly to our clients — the independent businesses and consumer households in our immediate market area.

We are fortunate to have a loyal client base of innovative businesses and individuals with a strong work ethic that is the envy of other regions around the state, country and internationally. However, we never take that loyalty for granted, as we know it needs to be continually earned.

Who would be your nemesis?

Lately that role has been played by megasize institutions that, unfortunately and incorrectly, are often lumped into the same category as companies like JBT: "banks." These Wall Street Too Big to Fail firms that look and act nothing like the traditional community banks of Main Street America took highly leveraged and unreasonable risks for the sake of greed. The moral hazard created by these institutions left the rest of us to deal with reams of new and expensive government regulation.

What's the biggest plot twist your company has had to face?

In short, the economy. The most recent economic crisis that began over five years ago changed our industry. Our primary market is relatively stable and conservative in terms of employment, spending and financing. Also, we didn't see an extreme run-up in real estate prices.

But the national and international economies severely affected consumer and small businesses' confidence levels, causing them to implement deleveraging strategies and reduce new spending. The result was a large influx of deposits seeking the safety an FDIC-insured bank provides and reduced demand for new loans, further pressuring margins.

What does a happy ending look like for your company?

Our goal is to improve the financial lives of our clients, so we measure our success one client at a time. If we can help our clients and communities to be successful, we will prosper.

JBT has been writing this story for 140 years, so we don't view it as working toward an ending — just writing new chapters.

Click here to see the list of Lebanon County's top private companies.

Amy Gulli

Amy Gulli

Amy Gulli is the managing editor of the Central Penn Business Journal. Have a question or tip for her? Email her at amy@cpbj.com. Follow her on Twitter, @amygulli. Circle Amy Gulli on .

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