Made in Central Oregon: Extending the Reach

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Made in Central Oregon may not be a term that’s as well known as made in China, but plenty of Central Oregon companies are beginning to seriously extend their reach out of that region and into the consciousness of Americans, which also helped them get through 2009 a little bruised but still intact.

There are dozens of small manufacturing companies in Central Oregon making products the range from medical devices used in surgeries and solar power inverters to bar soap, diary products and handmade chocolate and of course, beer. A book-length article could be written profiling the companies that comprise this sector of the local economy, pointing out what they do and the year they had weathering the recession.

“These types of companies mean a lot to the local economy because they are not tourist-type or service industry jobs,” Bend Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Tim Casey said. “Right now, with unemployment over 12 percent, Central Oregon can use all the jobs we can get. What these companies all have in common is they develop and manufacture a product locally, and that helps to balance out the economy with manufacturing and other professional-level jobs.”

Standouts in 2009
According to the 2009 Cascade Business News Book of Lists (subscribe online at www.cascadebusnews.com), there were 97 small manufacturers operating in Crook, Jefferson and Deschutes counties this year. The region’s two largest companies, measured by the number of employees, have large-scale operations, like Madras-based Bright Wood Corporation, whose staff of more than 900 workers makes “products that have anything to do with wood,” and JELD-WEN’s Bend-based window division, which produces custom windows and doors with a staff of 500.

“We were hit hardest during the recession in the real estate, banking and mortgage industries, so those (manufacturing) jobs helped Bend get through these tough times and will continue to do so well into the future,” Casey said.

Two companies that continued to shine during the recession are Les Schwab Tire Centers and Suterra, which makes insect control products for commercial, agricultural markets. Both companies have new facilities in Juniper Ridge, the planned mixed-use development that city officials hope will become home to dozens of light industrial companies over the next 20 years; Les Schwab’s new headquarters opened in 2008 and Suterra hopes to move into its facility sometime in 2010.

Aviation Hardest Hit
On the flip side, Bend’s aviation manufacturing industry took a huge step back with the closing of Epic Airlines and Cessna, who both pulled up stakes at the Bend Airport and shut down local operations, each one citing a lack of demand for their products. The City of Bend and Economic Development for Central Oregon are deep into efforts to find new companies with a focus on aviation to relocate to the municipal airport, but only time will tell if aerospace will once again contribute a significant amount of jobs to the local economy.

But there has been some good news for the aviation industry. Butler Aircraft Co., the only aerial fire fighting tanker company in Oregon, moved forward with plans to move what the company calls its “heavy aircraft engine and maintenance facility” from the Redmond Airport to a new, 39,000-square-foot hanger, which it will lease from the City of Madras over 30 years. Plans are for Butler Aircraft to use the facility to maintain its three DC-7s. The move is also expected to result in the creation of 30 new jobs with annual salaries of around $50,000 – a huge boon to the Madras economy.

The following is a list of three local companies that stood out in 2009 for being able to retain the same employee count it had at the beginning of the year, and for further inching their way into the consciousness of American culture.

Deschutes Brewery
If you live in Central Oregon and have never heard of the Deschutes Brewery you must be living in a lava tube. The Deschutes Brewery, founded in 1988, made a huge splash in the then-burgeoning microbrew market when it came on the scene 21 years ago. By the mid-1990s just about every microbrew lover, arguably, had heard of or tried either a Mirror Pond Ale or a Black Butte Porter.

Today, Deschutes has 280 employees, including 160 locally with operations in both Bend and Portland. The company continues to win brewing awards, this year taking home recognition from the Great American Beer Festival, and other contests in Stockholm and New Zealand. But Deschutes Brewery Owner Gary Fish isn’t one to draw attention to being named one of the best in the business by peers.

“We tend to come away with our fair share of awards every year, or seem to, but I couldn’t tell you exactly what they are,” Fish said.

When 2009 began, Fish said he wasn’t sure what to expect.

“The year started off rough, but the economy has come back, relatively speaking, and we feel pretty optimistic, or I should say, cautiously optimistic about the future,” he said. “We’re looking forward to getting past all of this.”

When asked to name a few highlights from the past year, Fish balked at giving a clear answer.
“It’s more of a process, rather than an individual event kind of thing,” he said. “We’re still plugging along, and we’ve been using this opportunity to improve what we do and how we do it, and to get everyone engaged in that process. The good news for us is that everybody has been very good at getting and staying engaged. It’s easier to get people motivated because everyone sees what’s going on around them.”

Bendistillery
Company Founder and Chief Executive Officer Jim Bendis said the makers of Cascade Mountain Gin, Crater Lake Vodka, Diamond 100 Vodka, Hazelnut Espresso Vodka, Desert Juniper Gin and Mazama Infused Pepper Vodka had a good year.

Bendistillery currently is building a brand new organic distillery on 24 acres in Tumalo right off of Highway 20. Bendis said the company will focus on distillation, storage and tasting at the new facility, which is one of the few distilleries in the U.S. that grows its on crops, such as sugar beets, wheat and lavender, on site.

“We just broke ground and it will be finished in six months,” Bendis said.

Another highlight of 2009 for Bendistillery is the company being recognized for excellence by being awarded a double gold medal for its Diamond 100 Vodka from the International Spirits Award.

Additionally, the company recently landed distribution deals in California, Arizona and Hawaii.

“That’s a huge deal for us,” Bendis said. “One of the biggest benefits of doing business in Central Oregon, and one that really makes our products stand out is that we are right at the source of natural juniper, which is what makes a Gin, a Gin. Juniper is the primary ingredient.”

Bendistillery has now been in business for 14 years and has 20 employees.

Breedlove Guitar Company
At the onset of 2009, many observers of the local economy believed that Breedlove, whose sweet spot is manufacturing acoustic and electric guitars, as well as mandolins, was one local company that was positioned to be vulnerable to the economic downturn. Instead, Breedlove got sharp about how it managed its marketing and in reaching out to existing customers.

Company officials, in fact, did it by pounding the pavement. They got out into music stores and festivals, and met musicians face to face in order to tell the company’s story and let people feel and hear the instruments.

“A lot of that company’s success goes to the management decisions that were made,” EDCO Marketing Manager Ruth Lindley said.

Breedlove officials declined requests to comment for this story, but the fact that the company went back to old-fashioned marketing techniques, and pulled off a successful 2009 Breedlove Festival in downtown Bend, and because the name Breedlove is starting to pop up in conversations with musicians as an instrument that can hold its own with Taylor, Ovation, Martin and Alvarez – some of the finest acoustic guitars on the planet.

Stable companies set a floor
Lindley said many of the companies considered to be part of the traded sector, EDCO’s label for manufacturers of consumer products, are an important part of a specific economic cluster in this region, and that the reason so many small manufacturers managed to stay in business through 2009 was because they have an established floor set for themselves.

“These are not the kinds of companies that typically are driven to extreme highs or lows,” Lindley said. “It’s a solid stable sector. Again, a lot of their success this year is due to the management decisions that those companies made, and the fact that some of these companies have headquarters here and operations elsewhere, so they did not see the kinds of extremes they might have seen from a high-tech business perspective. These are solid ongoing companies, and we are thankful to have them around.”

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