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|Articles - October 2013|
|Monday, September 30, 2013|
Page 4 of 4
Following in the footsteps of his grandfather, who worked at a paper mill his entire life, Steve Beauchamp has operated the heading machine at Portland Bolt for 34 years. Wearing a T-shirt with the sleeves cut off one recent morning, the muscular 55-year-old transferred steel rods with red-hot tips one by one into a giant gray forge. The machine clamped down and, with a deep thumping sound, punched out a hex head.
Beauchamp realizes spending multiple decades with the same company is almost unheard of these days, but he likes the stability. “This is a really solid company that grows,” Beauchamp says. “I feel appreciated here, that my experience is valued.”
Like many small-business owners, Bolt’s Todd emphasizes the family-like atmosphere of his company. “I come out here all the time,” he says, walking across the floor as members of the day shift thread and galvanize bolts. “I know all their names. I’m invested in them, and they’re invested in us.”
In general, manufacturing jobs treat their holders well, according to the Value of Jobs Coalition report. They offer wages and salaries 8% higher and benefits 59% higher than their nonmanufacturing counterparts. Plus, nonwhite manufacturing workers earn 49% more than nonwhite workers in other sectors.
In addition to covering 90% of health insurance premiums and providing seven paid holidays and two weeks of paid vacation per year to start, Applied Plastics pays for a life coach to consult one-on-one with its employees every month. “With a small manufacturer, the company has personality,” Riddle says. “I’m not sure you’re going to get that in a large company.”
Though the long-term employee base of Oregon manufacturers is fairly stable, many have trouble recruiting new blood because the education system encourages students to attend college rather than enter the workforce or enter trade school and young people tend to job hop before settling down. Plus, the practical trades have the “cool” factor working against them. “Most people don’t raise their kids to go into manufacturing,” Scherer says, explaining that many think of production jobs as dirty and low paying. “We’d like to see that perception change,” he says.
Nevertheless, as the overall economy rebounds from the recession and an increasing number of companies reshore their production, the small manufacturers left standing are stabilizing and, in many cases, growing, Scherer says.
Columbia Forge & Machine Works, which produces everything from battleship door handles to pole-line transmission hardware for the Bonneville Power Administration, is in major expansion mode. Because so many other West Coast forging operations have closed down and the Portland manufacturer is successfully moving into new markets, it has seen revenue growth of about 15% each of the last four years, Leaptrott says. Scherer predicts the next decade will be a good one for U.S. manufacturers, especially those in Oregon, because the productivity of the Oregon workforce is higher than most.
To take advantage of the reviving economic climate, basic factory businesses across the state are looking for ways to adapt both what they produce and how they produce it. Many, including Best and AmFor Electronics, are streamlining their operations by incorporating lean manufacturing techniques, often with the guidance of OMEP. Others are adjusting their offerings to better correspond with demand. Layton Manufacturing in Salem, for example, has transitioned from making asphalt-paving equipment to mobile-home-moving equipment and food-processing equipment for companies like Bob’s Red Mill and Frito-Lay.
“When I saw the market was hard to sustain, I started looking for other products that could flow through the plant,” says president John Layton, who made the latest specialty switch in the early 2000s. So far the adjustment has paid off, he says. “We bottomed out in 2008 with the recession but have been enjoying 20% growth every year since then.”
AmFor Electronics, too, is adjusting its offerings to correspond with current economic circumstances. To make use of the capacity left over from a onetime, two-year contract it fulfilled for Advance Auto Parts in 2011, the company is trying to gain traction as a contractor that manufactures other people’s ideas.
“We have excess capacity space-wise and a pretty flexible workforce,” Oliver says.
Even though many of Oregon’s small manufacturers are extremely dynamic as they shake off the downturn and figure out how to grow amid the ever-changing forces around them, they go unnoticed by the mainstream. But it doesn’t bother them too much.
“I know we bring value,” says Todd at Portland Bolt. “I see it in the marketplace.”
Friday, March 28, 2014
BY TOM COX | OB BLOGGER
The next mysterious (or disastrous) event could be one that you or your team might suddenly need to respond to, probably under intense scrutiny.
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
BY JESSICA RIDGWAY
A self-proclaimed “chile head,” John Ford “grows, eats and does everything spicy.”
Thursday, March 06, 2014
BY HANNAH WALLACE | OB BLOGGER
The founder of Pacific Foods talks about why his company has flown under the radar in Oregon, how saving a family-run chicken hatchery has helped his bottom line and why he thinks organic food is anything but elitist.
Tuesday, April 08, 2014
BY HANNAH WALLACE | OB BLOGGER
It may be obvious, but most farmers don’t make a lot of money. According to preliminary data from the 2012 Agriculture Census, 52% of America’s 2.1 million principal farm-operators don’t call farming their primary occupation. Farm cooperatives may offer a solution.
Friday, March 21, 2014
TOM COX | OB BLOGGER
During a recent talk to HR Directors, I asked if they saw leaders trying to solve every problem, instead of delegating to and empowering staff. Every head nodded. Every single one.
Thursday, March 27, 2014
BY JESSICA RIDGWAY | OB WEB EDITOR
Watch this OB Original Video about three Oregon companies and how crowd-funding "kickstarted" their business ideas.
Thursday, February 27, 2014
Our 100 Best Companies project turned 21 this year, so pop open the Champagne. Our latest survey gives us plenty to cheer.
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