Most Orange County residents don’t know John Trento, but they see his work every day they drive down the road.
That’s because Trento is the foreman of the county’s sign shop, which makes every county road sign and has them put up anywhere they’re needed. The shop puts out 15,000 signs a year and has over 110,000 signs in the county at any given time, according to Chief Engineer Hazeem El-Assar.
Trento came into this business in the 90s, coming from a private sign making business. He says he likes the bigger scale and the larger amount of freedom he has with the county.
“This is a bigger-scale place,” he said. “There’s a bigger inventory. There’s always something to do. I like having the freedom to work in the shop and make my own thing. It’s very hands-on.”
The shop is a large, wide warehouse floor with cutting tables, rolls of fabric and a lot of open space through which large signs are carried. The process of making signs involves rolling a vinyl strip onto a piece of aluminum. The signs are made visible at night by adding a reflective film.
There’s also a “cage” in the shop where all the signs are stored for when they’ll be needed later.
That, according to Trento, could be any time – the demand is often quick, fast and unpredictable, going by the tides of whenever happens outside – wrecked signs, new business or home developments and more. The job, he said, is one of having enough backstock to be prepared for anything.
“We make a lot ahead of time,” he said. “We keep a lot of school signs and street signs in stock. People always hit the median signs – so we have a lot of those.”
The job also ebbs and flows with the times. In 2007 to 2008 when the Great Recession was in swing, there wasn’t much need for new signs in places because nothing was being built.
“Home construction was so low in 2007 and 2008,” he said. “But back in the 90s, it was a boom. Right now, it’s picking up again.”
The signs also come in handy for more personal – and tragic – reasons. When a Sheriff’s deputy dies in the line of duty, a memorial sign is made and placed on the road, and Trento is responsible for those, too.
So at the end of the day, he goes home with a sense of accomplishment in his work.
“It’s very rewarding to see your work product whenever you drive around Orange County,” he said.