Written by The Business Journal Staff
United Western Industries
Education: B.S. in criminology
Family: Husband Gary Pirtle; Daughter Natalie Pirtle; Son-in-law Erik Dawley
What we do: United Western is a tool and die/machine shop. We specialize in all types of metal fabrication. Our main business is fabricating parts for Peterbilt and Kenworth Trucks. These parts are shipped directly to the plants where they fabricate the trucks. We ship into Canada, Mexico and all over the United States. These parts can be anything such as A-posts, brackets, steering gears, cross members, and the list goes on and on. Most of the parts get powder coated by Kings River Coating in Sanger or plated by Commercial Electroplating in Fresno. We have done work with Paccar Inc., the parent company of Peterbilt and Kenworth, since the 1970s. The original owners, Clifford Gartin, L.G. Simmons and Zenon Dominguez started by making dies for Paccar Inc. and then began running the dies for them. We continue to do that for them today.
What got you into the business?
I had worked for over 18 years for another manufacturing company and had left there when the owner had retired. I stayed at home for about seven months. It took that long before my husband told me that he had taken me for better or worse, but not for lunch, and that I needed to get out of the house. He was right. So I went to the Denham Agency and they placed me at United Western as a bookkeeper. It was a one person office with the two remaining owners at the time. I loved it right away. They were great to work for and the place felt like home. One of them decided to retire about a year later and that left one remaining owner. He didn’t have anyone he wanted to transfer the business to so he asked me if I would like to buy it so we made an agreement that I would purchase it when he was ready to retire. Unfortunately, he passed away, but I was still able to purchase the business and we carried on. We have employees that have been here for more than 35 years. Being here more than 20 years is not unusual at UWI. I have been here for 26 years now.
What have tariffs shown you about the steel industry in America?
When we heard that there would be tariffs on material, we hyperventilated. As it turned out we had nothing to worry about. The American plants kicked in and more plants came back on line here in the US and no ill effects were felt. I thought I would have to order a stock pile of product to make sure I made it through, and was prepared to do so, but was assured by my supplier that they would be able to deliver and they kept their word. We have been busier these past two years than we have been in a number of years. I tell people that I don’t care what your politics, are but President Trump has really helped the trucking industry and that helps our business tremendously.
Is it difficult to find qualified workers?
With the economy booming as it is in the Valley, getting labor has been more of a problem than getting material. We find that the ability to get qualified labor is virtually nonexistent. We have joined Mike Betts of Betts Co., who started the San Joaquin Manufacturing Alliance, to bring manufacturing education back to the Valley. Its goal is to let the schools and young people know that manufacturing and working with your hands is a good and noble occupation — one that you can make a good living with and be proud to do. The high schools and the colleges have been very receptive of the idea and have worked closely with the Alliance, and we are seeing young people taking advantage of some of the opportunities that are being offered to them now. Until we can get trained people applying for jobs, our best option is in house training. We hire someone and start them out sanding material, move them up to a machine operator, and if they show potential, move them on to other jobs. This is how we have trained one of our laser operators, our CNC operators, even one of our quality positions.
What was the best advice you ever received?
Don’t think you can do it alone. Also, judge people on what they do and not what they say.
What was your first job and what did you learn from it?
In high school, I worked for Marccini & Tordini Insurance Agency in Madera. I learned that an office environment is a lot like a family. You deal with many moods and personalities and getting along with people is key to getting along in business. Be on time, work a full eight hours and keep a smile on your face. My father was first generation Italian here in America. He had a strong work ethic that he passed down and he always told us to not be the last one in the door in the morning or the first one out of it at night. Always do just a little more than what your job requires you to do and it would pay off in the long run. That has always helped me in every job I have ever had.
What do you do in your free time?
Quilting. I take classes at KiKi’s Quilt Shack and have become an avid quilter. I’ve turned one room of my house into my quilting room and I’ve invested more money than I would like to admit in a couple of machines. The classes give me the opportunity to visit with other ladies and a few men who have varied backgrounds and it gives you a chance to relax while sharing ideas and opinions with people outside your own industry. There is a vast amount of knowledge you can learn from other people if you just listen.