AWB launches seven-day Manufacturing Week bus tour in Southwest Washington
The diversity of Washington’s manufacturing sector was on display Wednesday during the first day of AWB’s annual Manufacturing Week bus tour, from a high-tech manufacturer of silicon wafers to a 124-year-old family-owned glove company where workers still make everything by hand.
The third-annual statewide tour celebrates Washington’s manufacturers and the incredible products they make, and highlights opportunities to support a sector that employs nearly 288,000 people across the state.
Manufacturers need public policies that encourage growth, from tax and regulatory policy to energy policy. And they need workers. Young people - and their parents - need to know that today’s manufacturing sector offers high-tech career options with good-paying jobs.
Highlights from Day One of the bus tour included:
Representatives of the Columbia River Economic Development Council, Vancouver City Council, MacKay Sposito, Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce, Port of Vancouver USA, the Clark County Economic Development Council and other community leaders joined AWB staff at SEH America in Vancouver for the first stop of the day.
SEH America makes silicon wafers, employing 1,000 people and leading innovative workforce training programs in local high schools and colleges.
Among those who are learning life lessons and practical workforce skills through these programs is Khalid Hassanein, 18, a high school senior and intern at SEH America
“Problem solving, fixing things — I’ve always been good at that,” Hassanein said.
He aspires to become a technician or engineer at the company, which makes silicon wafers, employing 1,000 people and leading innovative workforce training programs in local high schools and colleges.
G. Loomis employs 100 people in Woodland making high-end fishing rods. They use just-in-time production, making 500 different types of fishing rods for a variety of fish types and techniques.
Will Finn, the mayor of Woodland, joined AWB’s tour of the G. Loomis facility and signed the AWB Manufacturing Week bus.
“They’re a great company,” Finn said about G. Loomis, whose founder, Gary Loomis, still lives in town. “A hundred jobs here is huge for us.”
At the Woodland Walmart, where the bus made a refresh stop, a display showed off some of the Washington-grown products that Walmart stocks and sells, from Vitafusion gummies made at a former candy factory in Woodland to the fair-trade Alaffia skin care products made in Tumwater.
Deborah Herron, Pacific Northwest director of public affairs and state and local government relations at Walmart, noted that Walmart’s “Investing in American Jobs” program encourages and supports American manufacturing.
The Churchill Glove Co. in downtown Centralia makes about 60 pairs of gloves a day, with customers across the United States and tharound e world. Their biggest foreign market is Japan, with other customers in Thailand, Vietnam and Russia.
The company, which was founded in 1895, makes leather from deer, elk, bison, goat and cow into high-quality gloves popular with loggers, rodeo bull riders, motorcyclists, welders and other users who demand reliable, well-made hand protection.
Terri Larkin has sewn gloves for the company for the past year.
“We do lots of gloves. Lots of gloves. You wouldn’t think there were that many hands in America,” she said with a laugh.
Larkin said she appreciates working at a family-owned company that was established nearly 125 years ago. “The owners are wonderful. This is a dream job. I really enjoy it.”
At the new Lacey MakerSpace, civic leaders welcomed AWB staff to a facility that, while still weeks away from its formal grand opening, has already attracted 90 subscribersrs during their soft opening.
Among these at the facility was Conner Snow, a senior at St. Martins University studying mechanical engineering who also works at the maker space.
He said that his job there has been a great way to augment his classwork.
“The stuff we learn about in our manufacturing classes — we’re actually doing it,” Snow said. “It makes it make more sense, that’s for sure — actually implementing it.”
The Lacey MakerSpace will have a formal grand opening ceremony from 4-6 p.m. on Oct. 16.
State Sen. Steve Conway, D-Tacoma became the first lawmaker to join this year’s Manufacturing Week tour during a stop at Greer Steel in Lakewood.
Dave Kapla, manager of Greer Steel, gave a tour of his facility that makes fuel storage tanks and other fabricated steel products. The company also makes railings, stairs and other components for the Washington state ferry system.
The company employs 22 and is looking to hire fabricators. It’s hard to find enough workers, he said.
“Schools are producing fewer and fewer. The young kids don’t want to do this, to get their hands dirty.”
He’s tried automation, but it’s not always the solution.
“I have a robot welder. I fired it. Works too slow. My guys can weld circles around the robot,” he said.
Feed Commodities in Tacoma was named AWB’s Manufacturer of the Year during Wednesday’s visit.
The company collects waste bread and bakery products from across the Pacific Northwest and converts them to animal feed. In just 8 1/2 minutes, the products are heated for food safety purposes, dried, processed, removed from any packaging, and turned into feed popular with dairies and chicken producers.
The company also created a waste reduction company, Normandy Waste Management Systems, to help the food production community learn how to track and reduce waste.
The 2019 Manufacturing Week tour continues Thursday and Friday in the central Puget Sound area before moving to Bellingham and Eastern Washington next week.
We’ll see you on the road.