C.L. Sturkey Remains on the Cutting-Edge During Pandemic; Utilizes SBA’s Emergency Relief Loans

CL Sturkey presentation

C.L. Sturkey, Inc. in Lebanon, Pa, is a family-owned small business that manufactures permanent and disposable microtome blades and permanent knives used by histology and pathology labs in hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, educational institutions, medical and veterinary schools, and industries throughout the world. Established in 1944, the company was acquired in 1992 by Leon and Arbelyn Tarsa, who recognized a trend towards disposable blades and added innovative edge coatings. Today the family-owned medical device manufacturer is led by the second generation of Tarsas: sons Christopher Tarsa is President and CEO of the company, Michael Tarsa is Vice President of Sales, and daughter-in-law Michelle Tarsa is Vice President and Chief Operating Officer.

The company has been a client of SBA resource partner Kutztown University Small Business Development Center for more than 25 years. The Tarsa family worked with International Trade Program Director Martin Brill on export compliance, intellectual property issues, business continuity planning, cybersecurity analysis, and successful applications for Global Access Program grant funds.

“While one can easily define C.L. Sturkey by their innovative ‘cutting edge’ products, it is the intangibles, such as dedication to customers, motivation for continuous improvement, and a genuine commitment to help their community, that really define this company,” said Martin Brill, International Trade Manager, Kutztown SBDC. “Although the company had confronted tariff and non-tariff barriers, design and production challenges, and unfair pricing competition from foreign competitors, nothing prepared them for COVD-19 and the impact to their revenue in Spring 2020.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic occurred, the business was affected by lower demands for elective surgeries and thus a lower demand for microtome blades. The firm relied on the Paycheck Protection Program to keep their employees on payroll until product demand was restored.

“The PPP loan we received from SBA was desperately needed. It helped us keep our workers on payroll and pay out bonuses to those who came to work. We pivoted to a progressive management style, embracing generational differences, and learned to manage people differently during social distancing. Today, doctors, patients, and hospitals are returning to scheduling elective surgeries, and the demand for our disposable microtome blades is back on track,” said Chris Tarsa, President, C.L. Sturkey, Inc. “We have at times leaned heavily on the SBDC to expand internationally, and we owe much of our success to them. As a small company with a limited brain trust, we do not have to have all the answers, but we do know where to find them.”

“It’s a privilege to recognize the achievements of leading Pennsylvania family-owned small businesses like C.L. Sturkey,” said Steve Dixel, SBA Eastern Pennsylvania Director. “Small business owners like the Tarsas have a reputation of innovation, trust, and quality among their customers, suppliers, and vendors. President Chris Tarsa continues the tradition of innovation, customer service, and a drive to survive and thrive in our nation’s economy. SBA and our resource partner, Kutztown University SBDC, are proud to play a role in helping the business grow into the second generation of leadership and beyond.”

Chris Tarsa supports the community where he works and lives. He serves as the Chairman of the Board at MANTEC, Inc., an industrial resource center serving small to mid-sized manufacturers in south-central Pennsylvania; is a board member of the non-profit Cornwall Iron Furnace Associates which supports a local historical site; and treasurer of the Cedar Crest Girls Youth Lacrosse Club. C.L. Sturkey, Inc. contributes to the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, Wounded Warrior Project, Penn State Four Diamonds, and to high school sports teams that are perpetually fundraising.