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Tri County Lumber & Truss is SBA Eastern Pennsylvania’s 2020 Entrepreneurial Success of the Year

Forest & Field, a kitchen & bath showroom and design center, will open at the Columbia County Business Park in Lightstreet in 2021 as an expansion of Tri County Lumber & Truss.

The U.S. Small Business Administration has recognized Tri County Lumber & Truss in Berwick with its Eastern Pennsylvania Entrepreneurial Success of the Year Award for 2020. The Chamber of Commerce was part of the presentation ceremony with John Coates, Tri County President, held Tuesday, September 29th.

Tri County Lumber & Truss, formerly Fahringer Lumber, has a 30-year history in the Coates family. The business is under the management of the second-generation with John as President. During John’s tenure, he overtook the operations of a truss manufacturing plant in 2008 and in 2010 developed a Kitchen and Bath department. The business offers building materials; design and remodeling services for kitchens, baths, decks, and outdoor spaces; lumber products; contractor educational courses and events; tools and tool maintenance; and services for contractors and homeowners.

“It’s a privilege to recognize the achievements of leading Pennsylvania entrepreneurs like John,” said Steve Dixel, SBA Eastern Pennsylvania District Director. “Small businesses like Tri County Lumber & Truss, that are able to thrive, diversify, and anticipate their customer needs for the long-term, are essential to our nation’s economy. SBA, our resource partner Wilkes University Small Business Development Center (SBDC), and our lending partner SEDA-COG are proud to play a role in helping them expand and continue to succeed.”

John O. Coates has been a client of Wilkes SBDC since Spring 2017. He worked with Business Consultant Ray Haden to realize a business plan and financial projections replete with heavily researched financial assumptions for the design center construction project. The firm plans to open a 10,000 sq. ft. kitchen and bath showroom and interactive design space, called Forest & Field, in January 2021. Located at the Columbia County Business Park in Lightstreet, it will be a destination center for the region.

Coates worked with Fred Gaffney, Chamber President, to discuss options at the Business Park and consider financing options. “John has taken a very deliberate approach in utilizing resources in the region to evolve his business,” said Gaffney. “It is gratifying to see his ideas coming to fruition, as well as being recognized by the SBA.”

“One of the biggest frustrations in taking the operation to the next level is also a source of pride for Mr. Coates; specifically, in getting the expansion project absolutely right,” said Ray Haden, Business Consultant, Wilkes SBDC. “Initially, the expansion was massive, and John reflected on the purpose of the expansion – which was essentially showcasing designed kitchens and baths, appliances, window and door displays, and a working kitchen for chef demonstration. This strategy enabled a level of authenticity to realize the true needs related to the expansion and ultimately realize an expansion project that best served the operation and the local and surrounding areas.”

The Wilkes SBDC is a member of the Pennsylvania Small Business Development Centers’ statewide network which provides quality, no-cost, confidential business consulting and training to small business owners and entrepreneurs thinking about starting a business, contemplating expansion or change in a current business, or are developing a new product.

Tri County Lumber & Truss worked with SEDA-COG’s SBA 504 Loan Program Certified Development Company (CDC), to structure the financing package for the expansion project through an SBA 504 Loan. CDCs are nonprofit corporations promoting economic development within their community. CDCs are certified and regulated by the SBA, and work with SBA and participating lenders (typically banks) to provide financing to small businesses, which in turn, accomplishes the goal of community economic development.  The SBA 504 Loan program is a powerful economic development loan program that offers small businesses another avenue for business financing, while promoting business growth, and job creation.

“Despite its high level of visibility and ease of access, the rural location selected for the design center has been underutilized for many years,” said Tina Showers, Principal Program Analyst, SEDA-COG. “It will be in an area that has been designated by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as distressed. Mr. Coates’ strategy to expand at this location exemplifies a sense of commitment and contribution to the Columbia County area. In an era where there are big box stores in almost every neighborhood, it is refreshing to see a small business not only serve the community in this capacity – but expand and grow.”

“Mr. Coates’ deliberations with the expansion project also took into consideration what would work for his employees, so they would not be overwhelmed,” adds Dorothy Lane, Director, Wilkes SBDC. “COVID-19 slowed them down for two months, but with SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan, EIDL Advance, and Paycheck Protection Program Loan, they were able to maintain payroll, prevent layoffs, and continue to purchase inventory and stay current on their existing debt.”

“It’s wonderful to be recognized as SBA’s Entrepreneurial Success of the Year,” said John O. Coates, President, Tri County Lumber & Truss. “We’re honored that Wilkes University SBDC nominated us and that SBA selected our business. The support from the SBA, Wilkes SBDC and SEDA-COG enabled us to expand and construct a state-of-the art kitchen and bath showroom and design center that will become a destination and revive the local economy with job creation and sales revenue.”

Whatever the situation, John’s contributions tend to have one thing in common: the community in which he calls home for himself, his family, and his business. He donates to the local Rocky Boxing Club and Berwick Christmas Boulevard. Mr. Coates retired as past President and Board Member of the Central Columbia School District. He is presently on the Board for Berwick Hospital and serves on the Berwick YMCA’s Fundraising Board.

SBA’s Eastern Pennsylvania Entrepreneurial Success of the Year award winner is selected annually from among nominees located across the 40 counties of eastern Pennsylvania. National Small Business Week recognizes the small business community’s contribution to the American economy. Learn more about National Small Business Week at

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