Where It All Began
The Blair Companies was established in 1959 when organization founder Donald Devorris returned to Altoona to run Central Blair Electric from a career with GE and a large New York electrical contractor. A few years earlier Don’s father, Mike, had purchased 50% ownership in this three-employee motor repair business. Don soon branched out and founded Blair Electric Service Company, a small electrical contracting business. With the help of dedicated associates, the business grew; specializing in wiring large industrial projects, coal preparation facilities throughout the US, and bauxite facilities in the West Indies.
In 1968, Don acquired an electrical contractor that had a few employees making signs in the back of their Bellwood facility. Not quite sure what to do with that end of the business, but always looking to preserve jobs, Don was introduced to Steve Pellegrine, the cousin of a Blair Electric office worker. Steve was a talented sign maker who had apprenticed in both Pennsylvania and Florida, but was building signs in his garage in Altoona. Recognizing their common goals, Steve and Don founded Blair Sign Company in 1971.
Foundation Built Through Service
Great service set Blair Electric and Blair Sign apart from their peers, and both firms grew quickly within their industries. By 1975, Blair Electric was the largest electrical contractor serving the coal industry, and had established a permanent office in Gillette, WY to service the Powder River Basin, the world’s largest coalfield.
Meanwhile, Blair Sign had established a reputation for delivering high-quality products on time, and grew from fabricating wood-encased cabinet signs, to fabricating complete wood display cases, store fixtures and millwork. By the early 1980's, Blair had spun off a third division, Blair Fixtures & Millwork to focus on these products. Soon after, Blair Lighting was created to distribute lighting fixtures to Blair’s growing base of national accounts, followed by Blair Design & Construction to manage complete store build-outs nationwide.
Partners, Family and Growth
Partnering eventually with nearly every major contractor and developer in Central PA, Don began a real estate portfolio that would eventually comprise well over 4 million square feet of space.
In 1988, Don’s daughter Andrea gave up her Washington D.C. based career in Sports Marketing to begin marketing for Blair. Within a few years, Andrea moved her new family to Altoona and expanded her activities to include managing Blair’s growing real estate portfolio.
The following year, Don's son Philip began a major systems project working part-time from his home in New York City. After three years working late-nights and early-mornings over the phone, Philip left a career with Sony to begin full-time with Blair. Philip helped with the acquisition, management, and divestiture of numerous Blair businesses, but increasingly focused on the sign manufacturing division. Within a decade, it grew from a niche player to an industry leader, with a blue chip account base that included Sheetz, GNC, Regis, Gulf, Texaco, Chevron, Chrysler, Kmart, Bank of America, Verizon, Sunoco, BP, AT&T, General Motors, Sprint, Nextel, Rite Aid, UPS, Target, and Starwood Hotels.
Don understood how to spot winning businesses and to partner with exceptional people, and relied on these dual strengths to greatly expand the overall Blair Companies organization. With every new business started or acquired, Blair’s deal flow expanded, creating additional opportunities. By the mid 1990’s Don began to acquire major active interests in existing ventures, including Cummings International, Piedmont Aviation, Building Concepts Unlimited, Coal Resource Partners, Mar-Par Industrial Insulation, Blair Telephone, Marriott Courtyard Altoona, TEAM Automotive, American Eagle Paper Products, WIN Capital, Chemcut, Delta Health Technologies, Juniata Fabrics, Lee Food Service, and Small Tube Products. The formula was simple – invest with the right people in the right business at the right price. Partners with an ownership interest lead every business Blair is involved with.
Over 100 real estate projects were developed even as the operating companies expanded. Significant properties include the 50-acre Elmwood residential development, 60-acre Strawberry Meadows shopping plaza and commercial site, the 250,000 SF M&T Bank Office Complex, the 210,000 SF Station Medical Center, the 350,000 SF SKF factory/retail site, the 450,000 SF / 160 acre Corning Asahi plant, and numerous warehouse facilities and retail centers. Unique properties were added to the group as well, including the Sylvan View Golf Club, Lakemont Amusement Park, Galactic Ice, and the Blair County Ballpark.
Blair’s current real estate portfolio includes over 4 million square feet, with over 700 acres developed, and 2000 acres of timber and coalfields. Blair’s reputation of integrity and fairness enabled deals to get done quickly. While every deal had a unique story surrounding its creation, several factors were always present –
- sound judgment on the partners involved and business valuation
- opportunistic timing and willingness to take risks
- focus on business growth, job preservation, and community service
Among the many awards for business excellence and community service, few captured the essence of Don’s career as well as the 2005 Blair Chamber’s Lifetime Achievement Award for Business Excellence, and the 2006 Entrepreneur of the Year award from Ernst & Young. An unequaled number of Blair businesses have also been inducted into the Blair County Business Hall of Fame and won associated awards.
Blair’s history of community service includes major gifts to endow entrepreneurship, education, the arts and other programs throughout the community. The Devorris Center for Business Development houses the Altoona Blair County Development Corporation, the Blair County Chamber of Commerce, and a business incubator that helps fledgling businesses to flourish. The Devorris Downtown Center houses the Penn State Altoona Campus’ Continuing Education & Training Center.
Blair believes community service starts with a strong feeling of community at work, a sense of family that has always been evident at Blair. Through all of the growth, changes and moves, dozens of the people and partners that built Blair Electric in the 1960's, Blair Sign in the 1970's, and Blair Fixtures in the 1980's are still with the company. Many of these associates worked at Blair until they retired, and quite a few still have family working for the company today. Blair began and leads today with the same core values –
Excellence – Integrity – Innovation – Family
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