Arnold’s Simpson Strengthening the Bones of Many Pittsburgh Landmarks
Almost everyone in the Pittsburgh area has seen Bob Simpson’s corporate work, but never seen him.
And they walked through it, sat in it, and drove on it, probably unknowingly.
Simpson’s company, Simpson Reinforcing in Arnold, manufactured the steel rebar, or rebar, found in the concrete bones of landmarks such as PNC Park, Heinz Field and Pittsburgh Paints Arena. Its rebar has also been used in road and bridge projects throughout Pennsylvania and in several other states.
Simpson is currently supplying rebar for the FNB Financial Center being built on the former site of the Civic Arena in the Lower Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh and for the new terminal and parking lot at Pittsburgh International Airport.
“Anything with concrete has rebar in it. It’s just necessary,” Simpson said.
Simpson Reinforcing has been on Dr. Thomas Boulevard in Arnold since 2016. Simpson, 67, has been with the company for 50 years, shortly after graduating from Penn Hills High School in 1972 and before he wore her name.
What would become Simpson Reinforcing was founded by Joseph P. Zottola as Zottola Steel Corp. in 1969. Zottola of Penn Hills died in October 2016.
Simpson joined him straight out of high school in August 1972, shortly before he turned 18. From the basement of Zottola’s house, they made plans for other rebar makers across the country.
“He knew one of my uncles. That’s how I bonded with him,” said Simpson, who earned an associate’s degree in engineering design from Gateway Tech while working for Zottola.
They began cutting steel at a fabrication shop in Penn Hills in October 1972, where it was located until it moved to Washington Boulevard in Homewood in October 1982.
Simpson served as vice president from 1979 until 1995, when he bought the company in Zottola’s retirement and changed its name.
Faced with a rent increase for five buildings on Washington Boulevard, Simpson said a real estate agent found him Arnold’s building previously used by National Material.
“This building is bigger than the five buildings I rented together and under one roof,” he said. “It was a gem in the rough. It was designed almost perfectly for us. If I had to design a building, this is what I would have designed.
Simpson bought the building in September 2015. Although he said the building was in fairly good condition, National Material had left 13 tractor-trailers of old equipment that needed to be disposed of, and he spent about $500,000 on repairs. and renovations.
Simpson gradually left Pittsburgh and joined Arnold from December 2015 to February 2016.
“We never lost a day’s work,” he said.
The following year, Simpson made a 15,000 square foot addition, giving the business 100,000 square feet under the roof. Employment fell from 40 to 55.
Shaun Becker of Shaler has been the store’s superintendent for eight years. He first met Simpson while working for him at The Ice Connection of Pittsburgh, an ice rink in Middlesex which Simpson owned from 1988 to 2010.
“It’s great to be under one roof,” Becker said. “You can control everything and see what everyone is working on.”
Becker said Simpson Reinforcing juggles multiple projects at once and has more than a year of contract work for a variety of contractors, small to large.
“It’s very hectic,” he said.
Simpson Reinforcing produces drawings for rebar. She buys rebar in 60-foot lengths from factories across the country, then cuts and bends them into the shapes needed. On the construction sites, the ironworkers take the bundles of steel, read the plans and tie everything together.
Now, more than in the past, the company pre-assembles rebar in cages at its factory rather than at construction sites, Simpson said. The company is also able to coat its own rebar for rust protection, which is important when used in bridge decks and parking garages.
“We used to send our product to be coated by other coating companies. Four years ago we purchased our own coating processing equipment,” Simpson said. “We now do our own rebar fusion coating in-house. There are very few manufacturers that do this, and it gives us a big advantage.
Simpson Reinforcing may become more well-known later this year when Tom Hanks’ movie, “A Man Called Otto,” comes out. Scenes from the film were shot there in April.
Simpson said the makers of the film not only decided to use his company as Hanks’ character’s workplace, but they also changed the script to use the name Simpson Reinforcing rather than changing everything to a fictional name.
“The director called me and said every scene had your name on it. They asked if they could use my name, and I said why not,” he said. “Tom Hanks works for Simpson Reinforcing.”
Many Simpson Reinforcing employees are in the film as extras, and Simpson is in one scene as a worker with Hanks.
“It was an awesome experience. I had so much fun that day,” Simpson said. “I can’t wait to see the movie.”
Simpson moved from Richland to Clearwater Beach, Florida in 2012. He hopes to retire within the next two years.
“I have a group of young guys who hopefully can take over the business,” he said. “We’ll see how it goes.”
Brian C. Rittmeyer is a staff writer for Tribune-Review. You can contact Brian at 724-226-4701, email@example.com or via Twitter .