What does a port town in the north east of England and the county seat of Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania have in common? Not much on the surface of it. But dig a little deeper and you’ll start to notice similarities between the fortunes of Grimsby, England and the city of Pottsville, PA.
Just ask Mark Sitcoske, CEO and founder of High Purity New England, an international manufacturer and distributor of single use assemblies to the life sciences industry. Mark grew up in Pottsville, where his 84-year-old mother still lives, at a time when the town continued to prosper from the area’s coal boom.
There aren’t many people from Pennsylvania’s coal region who know of Grimsby, let alone want to talk about it. But Mark, who now lives in Rhode Island where his life sciences business is based, has strong ties with the English town.
FROM COAL TO COD
The story of Grimsby is tied to fish in the same way the story of Pottsville is wrapped around coal, and both places have suffered in similar ways as their industries declined in the closing decades of the last century.
For a period during the 1950s, Grimsby was the largest fishing port in the world, and every family in the town had ties to its dock.
However, after the fishing industry went into a nosedive following a series of conflicts with Iceland over territorial rights, Grimsby struggled to get back on its feet. During the 1980s and 1990s the town pivoted toward frozen food manufacturing in an attempt to rebuild its economic base, but unemployment remained stubbornly high and social mobility stayed low.
Pottsville has had a similarly hard time of it. The demise of the coal industry has brought its fair share of difficulties. The downtown continues to struggle as the local economy shifts from heavy industry toward big box retail and distribution centers.
“Like many places in England, coal has fallen in disfavor and is not used like it used to be. The fish industry declined in Grimsby, just as the coal industry declined in Schuylkill County,” Mark explains.
THE TRIUMPH OF GRIT
Despite the setbacks, Mark is quick to remark on the resilience and resourcefulness of both places.
With Pottsville, he points to the ongoing commercial success of the Yuengling beer company, America’s oldest operated brewery. Yuengling, which famously survived prohibition by selling “near beer” and diversifying into dairy, celebrated prohibition’s demise by sending a truckload of beer to then President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Turning to Grimsby, Mark highlights the success of his business partners who hail from the estuary town.
Phill Allen, managing director of bioprocess container manufacturer ALLpaQ, took a drinks box and turned it into a leading transportation solution for the biopharma sector.
Carl Searby of World Cargo Logistics works wonders across the global life sciences supply chain.
Matthew Pattinson, managing director of creative agency CMA and long-time marketing support to HPNE and ALLpaQ, services clients internationally from CMA’s area office.
And Keith Raper, who works for Phill Allen, leads the charge for European business development at ALLpaQ.
“We’ve all risen up out of economic distress to be involved in high tech industries,” says Mark.
OPEN TO CHANGE
A key component of cultivating commercial success amid changing circumstances is being open to trying out different things. When the old ways are no longer working, it’s important to experiment with something new.
Mark recounts how eight years ago a client asked him if HPNE, then entirely focused on distribution, would start building single use assemblies for use in its bioprocess. He immediately said yes.
HPNE built a clean room in its Rhode Island facility, initiated the manufacturing, and hasn’t looked back since in its passion for providing custom single use solutions to the global life sciences sector.
During these eight years, and driven by the rapid adoption of single-use technology in biopharma, the connections between a man from Pottsville and the English town of Grimsby have deepened fast.
Grit, resourcefulness, and a drive to get things done. These are qualities that continue to mark out places like Pottsville and Grimsby, via New England, in an increasingly complex and interconnected world.