Posted on June 20, 2013

Journal of Business

By Jessica Valencia
jessicav@spokanejournal.com


Spokane Industries sees employment hold steady after sizeable jump last year


SPOKANE, WA- Spokane Industries Inc., a castings and metal fabricated products manufacturer recently installed a sizeable air filtration upgrade at one of its divisions, after expanding into available vacant space at its expansive quarters in Spokane Valley.

Spokane Industries occupies portions of three buildings in the northeast corner of the Spokane Business & Industrial Park, at 3808 N. Sullivan. The 250,000-square-foot facility is served by rail cars and big rigs that carry away finished products and also feed thousands of pounds of scrap metal into furnaces that will eventually turn the loads into molten metal.

The company, which operates three manufacturing divisions, employs about 300 people, says company spokesman Richard Palmer. That number is on par with 2012 but a sizeable increase compared with 2011, when it employed 230 people, according to data supplied by the company for the Journal's leading Spokane manufacturers list published in May of that year.

The company declines to disclose its revenue, but Palmer says the manufacturer is reliant on its biggest customer, Caterpillar, Inc., based out of Peoria, Ill.

"When Cat is doing well, we're doing well," Palmer says.

Palmer says all three divisions have performed well so far in 2013, adding that "The graphs have all been heading upwards over the least year."

The company installed the new industrial-sized air filtration system, also known as a baghouse, onto a building that its precision castings division occupies. That's one of three divisions that Spokane Industries operates.

Palmer declined to disclose the cost of the system.

The upgrade enables the company to filter out fine particulates and other pollutants generated in the production process at that division, improving the comfort and safety of its employees, and more than triples the filtration capacity of the former system, the company says. The new filtration system installed earlier this year is in addition to a much smaller air filtration system it had been using previously.

The system, situated on the northern side of the precision castings building, is a square blue tower that stretches to the roof of the plant. It enables the manufacturer to filter particulates out of air in a recent 10,000-square-foot expansion into existing vacant space at the building, in addition to a space it currently uses at the plant.

Along with the precision castings division, the company's two other divisions are steel castings division, which generates about two-thirds of the company's revenue, and the metal products division.

The steel castings division, the company's oldest division, focuses on making metal castings of parts for the construction, mining, and transportation industries, among others, he says.

The manufacturer also casts wear parts, which are parts used in heavy machinery that wear down over time due to continual use and friction, such as steel bars used to crush rock. Those bars can be melted down and recycled into other metal products, he says.

The precision castings division, Spokane Industries newest division that formed more than 20 years ago, manufactures much smaller metal parts used in applications such as hinges for dental office chairs and the articulating arms that hold dental tools, Palmer says. It also manufactures small wear parts used in the mining and construction industries in different types of metal, including stainless steel and brass parts that are formed using wax and ceramic molds.

The third division, created more than 30 years ago, specializes in steel tanks used by wineries and breweries. It also builds vessels for more industrial purposes, such as truck bed water tanks and fuel tanks.

"The metal products division, they live and die by the grape growing season," Palmer says, adding that its other customers help supplement its business with wineries. The tanks can be made as large as requested by a customer - as long as it's able to be rolled out through the division's roughly 20-foot wide bay doors, he says.

Palmer says Spokane Industries took a hit during the recession, particularly when Caterpillar began cutting back on orders because of the economy.

"Our biggest customer just went away," Palmer says of Caterpillar during that time. "You don't know if it's going to come back."

Palmer says the company has since started to recover due in part to an increase in international sales.