Like any good welder, Lonnie Benn understands the importance of staying focused.
That approach came in handy a few years ago when Lonnie and his wife, Brenda, decided to start a company specializing in welding instruction. While the couple had previous experience running their own business, timely support from SNAP Financial Access (SFA) proved to be a boost to an operation that is now running on all cylinders.
“We had a goal in mind of where we wanted to go,” Brenda says. “We just needed to go through SNAP to get there.”
Anvil Welding Instruction opened its doors on Feb. 1, 2014 with a mission of training workers to meet a growing need. Each day on the whiteboard at Anvil’s location on Trent Avenue, around a dozen companies are listed in magic marker, all looking for qualified welders.
“We saw that there was a skills gap,” said Lonnie.
It was Lonnie and Brenda’s son, Adam, who first raised the idea of starting a welding school. Lonnie had been in the business in one form or another going back to 1960 when his dad, Waldo Benn, founded Welding Apparatus Repair Inc. near Felts Field. For years, the shop was the primary source in the region for oxy-acetylene regulator and torch repair.
By 1978, the business had added a wide range of welding supplies and gases while changing its name to Anvil Welding Supply. The Benns sold the welding supply company in 1996 and transitioned to maintenance welding alloys and welding inspection, paving the way for a school down the road.
Brenda found out about SNAP’s small business support through WorkSource. The couple began working with SNAP through SEAP (Self Employment Assistance Program), taking classes and working with SFA’s Cara Weipert and Karen Campbell.
“For me, it was an ego thing,” Lonnie recalls. “I thought, ‘I’ve been in business for a while, what am I going to get out of this?’ But I learned quite a bit. The classes were fun and informative. I know a lot about welding but not about running a welding school’s finances. The classes really helped me learn more about how to run a business.”
Lonnie and Brenda received a small business loan through SNAP in September 2014, allowing them to purchase two pieces of welding equipment to help with the testing of students. Two years later, the business was awarded one of four inaugural “SNAP Forward” grants from BECU, further bolstering their efforts.
In just over four years, Anvil has seen over 200 students go through the program. Ages have ranged from 17 to 58 with backgrounds featuring similar diversity. The school has a job placement rate of over 70 percent within the first year of completing the curriculum. Meanwhile, current enrollment at Anvil is near capacity.
“A lot of times, people just need a little hope,” said Lonnie. “That’s what we’re providing here. That’s what SNAP provided us – hope and opportunity.”