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The Journal Gazette

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Wednesday, December 06, 2017 1:00 am

OmniSource of pride

Employee shares another side of Rifkin family

Ellen Bero

Ellen Bero is a Fort Wayne resident. 

In the past several weeks there has been much information disseminated in print and electronic media regarding the sellers of the old OmniSource property across from Science Central. The Rifkin family has owned the property for many years, first through their scrap metal recycling operation, OmniSource Corp., and after the sale of OmniSource through a private equity firm. I would like to share a different side of the Rifkin family, one I believe to be more accurate than that portrayed recently in the media.

I have worked for the Rifkin family for the past 20 years, first at OmniSource and now at North River Capital. I remember well from my years at OmniSource how Leonard Rifkin and his three sons, Danny, Rick, and Marty, cared deeply for their employees, many times stopping to talk to them during the workday about their families and important events in their lives. I want to share some very specific examples. Back in the early 2000s when gas prices soared and many of their employees were experiencing extra burdens in transportation costs due to the rising prices, the Rifkin family made the decision to distribute a $20 gas card each week to many of their employees. That continued for several years until after OmniSource was sold.

At the time of the sale, the Rifkin family generously extended some share of the proceeds to each employee having at least one year of service, believing that their employees had contributed to the Rifkins' business success as they built OmniSource over the years. The family continues to provide donations to many Fort Wayne charities through its family foundation, especially charities geared toward children and educational opportunities.

To see the Rifkin family portrayed as “shrewd” and their sale of the property described as a “swindle” is very hurtful to those of us who admire the Rifkin family and their accomplishments. I can only imagine how the Rifkins must feel. The terms of the sale were made with sound business decisions as a basis. That is how the Rifkin family has grown their business over the years and how all successful American businesses are built and operated.

Leonard's father, Irving, was a young immigrant to this country who started his scrap business as a peddler, selling rags from a push cart. From these humble beginnings, Leonard and his sons built the scrap metal recycling business into a much larger operation until OmniSource became one of the largest scrap metal processing operations in North America from its headquarters in Fort Wayne. During that time the Rifkin family as owners provided employment opportunities for thousands of people in Indiana, Ohio and Michigan, many of whom were employed in the Fort Wayne area. Theirs is a true American success story.

The provisions of the deal to sell the property would have been the same whoever the buyer turned out to be. These provisions were not instituted because the buyer was the city. The Rifkin family did not coerce the city into purchasing the property. They offered prime acreage in downtown Fort Wayne for sale, and the city chose to bid on and purchase the property.

The one thing I have learned through the sale of the property is how many inaccuracies have been portrayed in the media. This will be a lesson to remember that not all of what we read in the papers or hear on electronic media should be believed.

I am proud of my affiliation with the Rifkin family over these many years and am grateful for all they have done and continue to do for our city and community.