The U.S. Small Business Administration announced on Sept. 30 that Downtown Lebanon’s C. L. Sturkey, Inc. has been named the 2020 Eastern Pennsylvania Family-Owned Small Business of the Year. The company has been locally owned by the Tarsa family since 1992.

“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.”

If you’re not a pathologist, histologist, or laboratory technician, chances are you haven’t heard of C.L. Sturkey, a 76 year old company that makes, repairs, and maintains specialized cutting blades used in microtomes.

Microtomes are machines used by hospital labs, pharmaceutical companies, educational institutions, and medical and veterinary schools to cut very thin slices of tissue for microscopic examination.

Sturkey’s microtome blades resemble long single-edged razor blades. The raw product is formed by partner companies in Virginia and Ohio, then coated and finished at Sturkey’s Lebanon location or by a partner in New Jersey.

The blades are distributed to a global customer base, mainly in Europe and parts of Asia.

Sturkey CEO Chris Tarsa was eager to credit his 25 employee workforce for the award. “It really could not have happened if not for our employees,” he said. “We have a really terrific roster of employees. They’re more like family, actually. That’s where the success comes from.”

Tarsa also thanked Kutztown University’s Small Business Development Center and Martin Brill, its International Trade Program Director, for assistance in navigating international markets and regulations.

Running a small business is always a challenge. Tarsa said the company weathered a downturn in demand earlier this year when the COVID-19 pandemic scuttled elective surgeries worldwide. He says that a PPP loan from the SBA may have saved the business, and that orders are now “relatively back to normal.”

A 2018 tariff on imported steel, imposed by the Trump administration, also hasn’t helped. Microtome blades are made from a high grade stainless steel alloy manufactured only in Japan and Sweden.

“The steel tariff created a problem,” Tarsa said, “in that Japan can put a blade into our markets cheaper than we can, because they are not paying the tariff.”

Clarence L. Sturkey founded the company in Montgomery County in 1944. He traveled from hospital to hospital sharpening microtome knives and selling ones he made.

After Sturkey’s death in 1992, Tarsa’s parents, Leon and Arbelyn Tarsa, bought the company and moved operations to Lebanon. Their sons, Chris and Michael, and their daughter-in-law, Michelle, now manage the company.

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