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Jobs return to Portland Harbor

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

By Jessica Hoch

The Greenbrier Companies, headquartered in Lake Oswego with a strong presence in Portland Harbor, have received $130 million worth of new railcar orders and will add 260 jobs at their Gunderson railcar manufacturing facility in Northwest Portland.  The company has received over 1,700 new orders and 1,200 refurbishment orders from five companies in North America.

Total employment at the Gunderson facility will return to over 900 jobs. Workers who were previously furloughed during the economic downturn are returning to their jobs, joining new hires and 175 workers from the ocean-going marine barge division who will be diverted to new railcar production due to the fragile state of the marine market.

The new orders will help boost the struggling company, which lost over 500 jobs in the downed economy before making a surprising return to profitability in the third quarter.

“Things are looking up right now. We are cautiously optimistic because there are a lot of moving parts in our industry and what impacts us is dependent on the overall economy and general levels of consumption,” said Lorie Leeson, VP of finance and treasurer at Greenbrier.  “We are excited about the increase and to get Gunderson hiring again.”

The orders are primarily for new and refurbished of double-stack railcars to be built in 2010 and 2011. Greenbrier has built over 80,000 double-stack platforms and modified over 3,000 double-stack platforms over the past four years.

But while the rail sector is starting to chug along again, the barge market is looking dead in the water. Greenbrier is preparing for a steady plummet of marine production as the company’s largest marine customer, which represents over 85% or approximately $75 million worth of the marine backlog, plans to either cancel, modify or postpone orders.  With that lost revenue the company expects marine operations to reach its lowest point.  The company plans to reduce marine production even further in 2011.

The new slew of rail orders isn’t related to the Green Railcar Enhancement Act of 2010, which Greenbrier endorsed in July, hoping to add additional railcar refurbishment orders through a tax incentive program.  That bill is still making its way through the legislative process, and could lead to additional hiring if it passes into law.

Jessica Hoch is an online reporter for Oregon Business.


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