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"Always give good measure” is a phrase Dale High’s father, Sanford H. High, coined. It was more than a saying; it was a blueprint for how to do business and lead a fulfilling life.
In 1931, Sanford, the son of a Mennonite farmer, bought a small welding shop on Lemon Street and opened High Welding Company. With the $7,500 purchase, he also acquired the firm’s first welding truck—a 1929 REO Speedwagon. In he wintertime, he’d travel to Baltimore to thaw out frozen pipes. After working eighteen-hour days, he’d often sleep inside his truck in sub-zero temperatures, tucked underneath piles of blankets. Dale, his youngest son, remembers being a part of the family business as young as age thirteen when he would paint steel twisted pickets for bridge railings on Saturday mornings. “I was always attracted to the business from the time I was young,” he says, his passion and enthusiasm still very evident in his role as Chair of the Boards of the High companies. In its early days, the High company provided job shop fabrication and on-site repair of bridges, and other steel structures throughout the city and county.
Dale describes a specific example of his father’s hard work, integrity, and commitment to the community: “I remember on Saturdays, come noon, all the neighborhood kids would be lined up at the door with their broken bicycles and wagons and he’d stay there as long as it took, for nothing, and fix all these neighborhood kids’ toys. I’d get antsy and be ready to go home. He’d say, ‘Nope, we gotta take care of this person.’ I learned a lot from him.”
The summer of his seventeenth year, Dale remembers going to his father and telling him he needed to grow the business. Dale presented the idea of a second shift—to get full use of the machines and be able to handle more jobs. “At seventeen, I believed I could do anything,” he says. “We created chaos, and first shift—they didn’t want to see us coming, and when they saw us coming, they’d lock up their tools and then they’d have to fix everything all day long that we messed up all night long,” he says, laughing at the thought. Eventually, he went to the first-shift supervisor and started to problem solve, asking for help and cooperation. “By the end of summer, it was working and we were viewed as a valuable asset—and it’s been going on ever since.”
Dale graduated from Elizabethtown College with a business degree. “Elizabethtown College’s motto is ‘Educate for Service’ and that made an impression on me because it fell in line with my roots, but it was a good reinforcement that service is what it’s all about,” he says. “We’re not here for ourselves, ultimately it’s what we can do to make the world a better place; it’s the things we can do to help make it better—for our customers, for our communities. Elizabethtown College is the proud home of the S. Dale High Center for Family Business, which was established in 1995 as a way to value the unique contributions of family businesses in Central Pennsylvania. The High Center affords owners the resources they need—including advice, peer groups, special speakers, and council on how to transition their business to the next generation. With more than eighty members, it’s one of the largest and longest running of its kind in the country.
Giving back to the community is at the core of the High companies. In the past year, they have given to almost three hundred nonprofits. The High companies contributed the bronze and granite REO Speedwagon sculpture at 27 East Lemon Street. The S. Dale High Family Foundation has really escalated its giving as well—including education scholarships and monies toward public art, like Lyman Whitaker’s Silent Symphony wind sculpture by the Lancaster Train Station. “We’ve challenged the community sometimes too, and we’ve taken positions such as the convention center and downtown hotel which was controversial—and we took the arrows on that. We thought it was important. We still think it is,” he says. Today, in its 85th year, tourists and residents alike can see the impact of the High companies on iconic places like The Fulton Theatre and The Lancaster Marriott at Penn Square as well as Greenfield Corporate Center. “We have other things that we have targeted to do, not just downtown but in the community at large that will create jobs.”
Upcoming projects include The Crossings at Conestoga Creek, the addition to the Marriott, additional single and multifamily homes, The Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences. One of their largest projects to-date is the replacement of the Tappan Zee Bridge over the Hudson River. Family owned and professionally managed, with 2015 revenue of $643 million, the High companies is involved in steel and concrete fabrication, construction and design, as well as developing, owning, and managing more than nine million square feet of residential, retail, hotel, and corporate center real estate valued at nearly $1 billion.
Dale High is a visionary who continues to inspire his team and the community to make remarkable achievements toward building a better future in Lancaster. He’s a passionate leader who believes in constant reinvention, creativity, and sustainability. Most importantly, he’s compassionate—remembering those things his father and his education taught him that true leadership is serving others. His legacy is most certainly The High Philosophy, the companies’ guiding principle of building trustworthy relationships and being innovative leaders.