Peter Rathjen (right) and Clayton Lemke (left) work in their Industrial Place office of Talon Fabrication this week. The pair have grown their business during a time many other companies in the same line of work have been struggling.

Metal fabricators get nod in Top 40

Penticton company bent on boosting local economy by creating jobs here at home

Driven.

It is simply the best word to describe Peter Rathjen and Clayton Lemke, co-owners of Talon Fabrication Ltd.

The pair of 20-somethings, nominated for the Top 40 Under 40, have grown a company during a time when many in their industry were trying to figure out how to survive.

“I decided to move to my hometown of Penticton because the costs were cheaper and I would be closer to my family.

Then, of course, the housing starts all went and we almost went under,” explained Rathjen.

“We diversified into gates, railings and different types of things and we started to get really busy.”

Talon Fabrication, located at 118 Industrial Pl., manufactures items for the logging and mining industry, and produces quality, custom-built metal products such as gates, railings, staircases, fencing, wine industry items, structural steel and other metal work.

They do site visits, design, drawings, fabrication, delivery and installation of their products.

For Rathjen, the entrepreneurial spirit and his work ethic started at a young age. As a child he said he would set up shop on Eastside Road to sell potpourri, his toys and cherries he had picked.

That transferred into his time at Princess Margaret Secondary School and Pen High when he started his own T-shirt company and was thinking of taking over distribution for a major-label skateboard brand, that is, until he found out how much capital was involved and how much clothing is wasted each year.

“That is when I started sweeping the floor in a welding shop in Vancouver and said, ‘This is a job I would never do because it is dirty work.’ Now I have my own company doing it,” said Rathjen.

All of this with a smile on his face.

“Yeah, most of the time,” he said with a laugh. “I have been lucky to be around a lot of business people that have been very successful. They are amazed I want to sit and talk with them for hours over a beer.

“I have sat for many, many hours picking their brains and finding out what mistakes they have made, what drives them and how they cope with daily life,” added Rathjen, who also thanked local businessman Harry Volp for his mentorship.

After finishing his apprenticeship in metal fabrication at BCIT, Rathjen was given a shot at an apprenticeship which grew to being a lead hand at a shop in Vancouver.

He couldn’t contain his entrepreneurial spirit and started a mobile welding truck on the side.

Rathjen would get off of his regular job, then head out in the mobile truck until 10 or 11 p.m. as well as work on the weekends.

At 22 he decided he wanted to work for himself and started Talon in 2007. He brought on partner Lemke, who is 25, in 2011.

“You can go work for somebody or create something yourself and there has been many times I have said I should just go work for someone else,” said Rathjen

“It would be easier, but as you start building the company up and people are dependant on me for work, jobs, and you are seeing a lot of your creations out there you can be proud even if you want to pull your hair out.”

It is why Rathjen wanted to build his business in his hometown of Penticton. It is a way he can pay it forward for the apprenticeship opportunity he received by offering apprenticeships to students from his community.

For the past five years, Talon has offered work experience and part-time work to high school students.

Recently graduated students from Pen High and Maggie have also been offered jobs and metal fabrication apprenticeships with the company.

Talon also stays in touch with Okanagan welding teachers to find people to bring under their wing.

“A lot of companies don’t want to do apprenticeships because the students have to leave for five weeks out of the year and it costs a lot to train new people,” said Rathjen.

“It is easier to hire people that are skilled, but someone did it for me and they didn’t have to. From that I was able to be where I am today.

“Even if the people don’t work with us the full apprenticeship I find it makes the market better around here. We get a lot more skilled fabricators.”

At peak times they employe eight to 10 people and on any given day Talon Fabrication is working on projects to supply three to four different types of industries. Their work has taken them all over the province.

Custom heavy equipment operators cabs of the forest industry and a hazardous waste disposal grinder/compactor are two of their very successful manufactured products.

Rathjen said they also work with some of the top homebuilders in the Okanagan and have established a reputation for taking on challenging work and being available at any time, which has set them apart.

They have also developed a new product line of wine barrel racks that are free standing with rollers for rotating and cleaning that have become popular.

Talon is innovative in its designs and that is what keeps them busy and striving to accomplish more.

“There is a lot of good days when you finish something and you stand back and can be proud of it. All the workers can see it and the customer is really happy,” said Lemke.

“You get all of that working together and the feeling can be addicting.”

With so much on their plates, the two businessmen said when they do get a day off you can mostly find them enjoying what Penticton is all about — the outdoors.

“I don’t do good with spare time,” said Rathjen.

“I took a week off for Christmas and ended up tearing my house apart and installing a fish tank in my wall and a whole bunch of other stuff.

“If I have spare time I come up with new products and designs which creates more work for myself.

“I have a very hard time with sitting. I am driven to build and supply jobs and build on talent.”

Penticton Top 40 under 40 is presented by the Pospera Credit Union in partnership with the Penticton and Wine Country Chamber of Commerce and JCI Penticton, with support from the Canadian Youth Business Foundation BC-Yukon. Nominations should be sent to manager@penticton.org with the subject line ‘Top 40 Nomination.’ Please include nominees’ contact info and a brief reason for nomination.

 

 

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