Photos by Leah Nash
A self-described “smaller to midsize” forging and casting company, Ulven Companies grossed about $37 million in 2011 — a figure Dan Ulven expects to increase about 20% this year. The combined companies employ 175, up from about 120 five years ago. To maintain that growth, Ulven has undertaken several new sales and manufacturing initiatives. These include “reenergizing” the Skookum product line, which has had “tremendous success” in defense — less so in the commercial sector, Ulven says. To help boost that market, Ulven Companies hired a new vice president of sales last year, and Skookum is aggressively promoting products such as blocks used by the utility industry.
Skookum also doubled its square footage a year and a half ago. A major expansion is under way at Wolf. Another development is a series of federal grants Ulven received through the Oregon Manufacturing Extension Partnership to help lead the forging plant through a lean manufacturing and administrative process. “We’re looking at our plant layout, cell layout and how efficiently you can pass that product through your manufacturing centers,” Ulven says. Along with new capital investments, the lean process has already helped boost sales by 37%, he says.
A proud made-in-the-USA manufacturer, Ulven touts the fact that he employs “hard-working Americans who actually make a product and not just a service.” But he also says finding qualified people is the company’s biggest challenge. The company has had several general, site and maintenance manager positions open for a few months, he says. To help grow talent, Ulven Companies recently partnered with Oregon State University’s engineering internship program. One of those interns was recently hired as Ulven’s first industrial engineer and has already helped Ulven Companies save $25,000 a year in natural gas bills, Ulven says.
Ulven himself started working for the company sweeping floors while in high school, then worked his way through the foundry and operations before focusing on new business development. Today the company is solidifying a generational change in leadership. Ulven’s younger brother, Mike, recently became COO, and his father is now chairman of the board. But the Ulven Companies’ focus remains the same: diversity in products, services and types of materials.
“My favorite part of the job is interacting with people and helping customers find innovative solutions,” Ulven says. The company’s versatility, he adds, “allows us to maintain business in good economies and bad.”