(Photo above: Sam Mieir of Composite Approach gestures while telling tour members about the company | by Steve Kadel)
The fifth annual Made in Redmond Tour gave 55 community residents a chance to visit four local manufacturing companies on Friday, Oct. 6, which was National Manufacturing Day.
Those on the bus tour saw Composite Approach, Evolution Aircraft Co., Medline ReNewal and Treasure Valley Coffee Co. Representatives of each company described their firm’s history, products and other factors that have made them significant contributors to the Redmond economy.
Jon Stark, senior director for Redmond Economic Development Inc. (REDI) which sponsored the event, said the goal is to have community leaders tell others what they saw and learned in order to spread the word about Redmond’s manufacturing muscle. Despite having only 27,000 of Deschutes County’s 175,000 to 180,000 residents, Redmond is the home to almost one-fourth of the county’s manufacturing companies, Stark noted.
“Manufacturing is a key part of any community,” added Steve Bettis of Medline ReNewal, who serves as REDI president.
At Medline ReNewal, 1500 NE Hemlock Ave., tour participants learned it’s a division of the $9 billion global corporation Medline Industries. The Redmond outlet reconditions more than 1 million surgical devices annually, which cuts costs for their health care delivery clients as well as reducing material taken to landfills. Bettis said there’s a simple reason they’re growing fast: “We save people money.”
Half of Medline ReNewal’s sales are in compression sleeves and tourniquets. Bettis said a small surgery center can save 30 to 40 percent on reprocessed supplies rather than the single-use variety. The Mayo Clinic, with which the company has a contract, can save 40 to 50 percent through volume buying, Bettis said.
But there’s an image problem to overcome.
“For a lot of surgeons, there’s a stigma attached to reprocessing,” Bettis said. “It’s our biggest challenge.”
He described the thorough process every item undergoes, from decontamination to final inspection. Eight employees work on each of the 5,200 items reprocessed daily at the business, which occupies 12 acres of land the company bought from the city of Redmond.
ReNewal has been in Redmond since 2001 with about 175 Central Oregon employees. Bettis complimented Redmond city officials for helping the company build its new site in 18 months.
“We could not have built that building in a year and a half in Bend,” he said. “Redmond really supports local business.”
Composite Approach, at 2241 SW First St., specializes in design consultation, project research and development, and manufacturing integration as well as contract production. The products range from aircraft to automotive, motorcycle, drones, and more. The company has 38 employees — up from 10 just two years ago — and jobs pay $14 to $35 per hour.
Two of Composite’s clients are Earth Cruiser of Bend and Strata Aircraft of Redmond. The company moved to Redmond from Bend last January, and general manager Sam Mieir said most of their employees have aircraft backgrounds.
Composite is building on the legacy of Central Oregon aviation pioneer Lance Neibauer, who founded his homebuilt aircraft kit company Lancair in Redmond in 1981. The company was sold and moved to Texas this year, although the industry continues to flourish locally.
“If you want to build a composite aircraft, there is a lot of talent here,” Mieir said. “This is Mecca for knowledge of composite aircraft.”
Stark, of REDI, said more composite aircraft come out of Central Oregon than any other place in the world. Up to 1,000 people were employed in the aviation industry in this area before a recession reduced those numbers.
“Now it’s going again and there’s demand for employees,” Stark said.
Evolution Aircraft Co., 250 SE Timber Ave., is part of the industry with 25 to 50 employees, depending on the time of year.
“We turn out 12 to 16 (planes) a year,” said parts manager Robert Williams. “With our planes, you are pilot in control. You are one with the plane. You really feel it.”
Evolution, located at 4620 SW 23rd St., opened in 1992. It builds 49.9 percent of the aircraft and the owner/builder finishes the rest. The instrument panel, which can cost $250,000, is built in the company’s avionics shop. Engines cost about $500,000.
“(Price) goes up pretty quickly,” Williams acknowledged.
Most of the firm’s sales are within the U.S., although four have been sold outside the country. Williams said they can incorporate customer suggestions for customizing a plane, including designing a plane with a parachute.
With the tour participants in need of coffee by late morning, it was fitting that the next stop was at Treasure Valley Coffee Co. The firm was born in Bend prior to 2000 and relocated to Redmond this past summer. They provide a wide range of break-room products, primarily coffee but also water in 3- and 5-gallon bottles, paper products, and first aid supplies.
Javan Shull and his wife, Jackie Shull, are co-owners of the operation. They distribute their coffee from Warm Springs to Klamath Falls and east to Burns. Javan said coffee products include filter packs to put in brew baskets, portion packs which offer consistency of product, and whole beam coffee.
“There are very few (companies) that do everything we do without product diversification,” he said. “We provide all the coffee equipment and we clean that once each month.”
When Treasure Valley moved into its new Redmond building last summer, it expanded the firm’s storage space from 1,900 square feet to 3,600 square feet. “And we have a lot more bench space” for employees, said Javan, who is a 1992 Redmond High School graduate.
In reviewing Redmond’s manufacturing scene, REDI’s Stark said the total dollar amount of wages paid to manufacturing workers grew 63 percent from 2011 to 2016.
Redmond Mayor George Endicott took the occasion of the tour to tout more facts about Redmond’s employment. He said 1,300 people are employed in Redmond manufacturing companies, and that the manufacturing sector expanded by 50 percent from 2011 through last year.
Endicott said more people now commute from Bend to Redmond for work than the other way. He joked that it makes Bend a bedroom community for Redmond.
In light of October 6 being National Manufacturing Day, the Redmond City Council honored owners of the four companies that were visited with plaques signifying their economic contribution. The tour from 8am until 2pm received support from Columbia Bank, which provided lunch; High Country Disposal, which arranged transportation; and Earth2O, which donated bottled water.
The annual manufacturing tours have become so successful that REDI is considering organizing a similar program for eighth-grade students. Stark said it could be a way for youths to start focusing on career possibilities, perhaps opening their eyes to industries they hadn’t known about.