Bus tour highlights legacy of Washington's largest and smallest manufacturers (w/ video)
At the end of a long gravel driveway in rural King County, behind a house and surrounded by trees, sits a shop that for 40 years has served as the headquarters of Hobart Machined Products.
Rosemary and Larry Brester started the company in their garage in 1978.They make parts for a variety of industries, including aerospace and medicine. They have fewer than 10 employees but are on track to produce 75,000 parts this year, many of them for The Boeing Company.
Forty-eight miles away in Everett sits the largest building the world, the giant production plant where Boeing assembles the 787, 777, 767 and the venerable 747 aircraft. Every day, some 40,000 workers pass through the building, making it a good size city.
AWB's tour bus stopped at both places on Monday, the third day of a seven-day bus tour highlighting manufacturing. The juxtaposition of the two companies perfectly illustrated the diversity of Washington's manufacturing sector.The day began just before dawn in Sumner at Bellmont Cabinets, a family-owned company that places a high value on workplace culture. "Fun" is one of the company's core values and one way they demonstrate this is with weekly "Blue Friday" celebrations during football season. The company also supports aid work in other countries and is currently helping to support a village in Haiti.
Bellmont was hit hard during the Great Recession, dropping to about 90 employees, but has come back strong and now employs 330. They assemble 600 cabinets per day, or roughly 40-50 kitchens.
"We're pretty proud of what we've been able to achieve," said Casey Bell, CEO of operations.
Two major challenges are workforce and regulations. Finding workers is probably the biggest challenge at the moment, Bell said. Another major challenge over the last few years has been bringing a new piece of equipment on line. The Pierce County Clean Air Agency has been blocking it, but Bell is confident they will eventually find a solution. "If we tried to set up this plant again, we wouldn't be able to," Bell said.
It's a familiar refrain. Later in the morning, Rosemary Brester would say the same thing about her business.After Bellmont, the tour bus headed to Buyken Metal Products in Kent. The company was founded in 1939 in Seattle by Frank Buyken and employs 30 people making steel, stainless steel and aluminum products for customers throughout the country.
Buyken invests heavily in training for its employees and is rewarded in loyalty: The average tenure of a Buyken employee is 22 years. One challenge: a large customer recently moved a big part of its business to North Carolina, where the cost of doing business is lower.
The next stop was Boeing’s vast Everett manufacturing facility, which covers 100 acres under one roof. The company has been making airplanes here for 50 years, starting with the 747 and continuing through the state-of-the-art 787 and 777 lines.Kathie Moodie, Everett Site Operations Vice President, has been with the company 33 years and calls it “a great place to work.” Like most manufacturers, the company is challenged to find young workers and Moodie is working to attract more young people to careers in aerospace.
The jobs are good not only for young workers, but for the community. In addition to the roughly 40,000 people who work in the facility, the company supports an additional 200,000 jobs in the community, Moodie said.
After touring the production floor, the AWB bus tour ventured south to Seattle for a stop at GM Nameplate, a multi-generation family business and a Boeing supplier. The company, which manufactures electronic user interface products, graphic products and functional die-cut materials, is the largest manufacturing employer in the Seattle city limits.
It was founded in 1954 and employs 1,500 people at locations throughout the world including China and Singapore.
The day ended with a tour of the working waterfront at Fishermen’s Terminal. The terminal, founded in 1911, is home port for 500 vessels in the North Pacific fishing fleet. It serves both as a significant contributor to the region’s economy and a link to the past.
Just like with manufacturing, the maritime industry provides good jobs – some 16,000 at the terminal. And just like with manufacturing, industry leaders are working to attract the next generation.
They’re also advocating for infrastructure spending to restore the 100-year-old Ballard Locks, which support so much of the region’s maritime industry.
“It drives jobs,” said Charlie Costanzo, Pacific Region vice president of the American Waterways Operators, “and it drives a way of life.”Whether it’s in maritime or manufacturing, Washington is fortunate to be the home of thousands of employers investing in their communities and employees. AWB’s bus tour is highlighting many of them, from the biggest to the smallest.
And whatever their size or type of industry, a similar spirit runs through them all. It’s stated clearly and simply in a sign hanging inside the small Hobart Machined Products shop in rural King County: "Legacies Can Be Built in Your Garage."
Take a social media tour of the day's events here, or watch a video roundup below.