Industry officials and students toured the factory floors of several Spokane-area manufacturing companies Wednesday as part of an annual bus tour conducted by the Association of Washington Business.
The tour, in its sixth year, highlighted the importance of recruiting skilled workers as the state looks to boost its 265,000 manufacturing positions.
“The last few years have been challenging, and there’s a lot of uncertainty about the future of the economy,” AWB’s Kris Johnson said in a statement. “Through it all, Washington manufacturers have proven to be resilient. Manufacturing is already a major driver of the economy, and now the state is working toward a goal of doubling manufacturing by 2031.”
The tour showcased operations of six area companies, beginning with Liberty Lake-based Altek Inc., a thermoplastic injection mold contract manufacturer that serves customers in the aerospace, medical, technology and defense industries.
Altek, founded in 1976 by Al Marzetta, operates a 150,000-square-foot facility where it manufactures a variety of parts used in aircraft interiors, medical equipment and satellites.
The aerospace sector makes up about 45% of the company’s business, said Gary Forde, Altek’s vice president of engineering.
“It’s important to be diversified,” Forde said. “It has served us very well. Business has been good this year.”
Altek currently employs 190 people, nearing its pre-pandemic employment level of 205 workers.
“We’ve done pretty well over the year with getting the right talent,” Forde said.
The company will continue to recruit for several roles, including machine, computer numerical control lathe and milling setup operators, Forde said.
The manufacturing sector makes up 8% of the statewide workforce with an average annual wage of $95,777, according to the Association of Washington Business. In Spokane County, 565 manufacturing companies employ more than 15,864 workers with an average wage of $60,788, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In the afternoon, the association’s tour bus stopped at Hotstart Thermal Management, a Spokane-based company that designs and manufacturers thermal management systems from its 140,000-square-foot facility.
The company was founded in 1942 to develop a product to keep school bus engines warm while reducing idling in the winter.
Hotstart’s products are used on trucks, machinery, ships, gas compressors and emergency generators nationwide. It makes more than 10,000 parts daily at its Spokane headquarters, Hotstart CEO Terry Judge said.
While the company continues to focus on products to keep engines warm, it decided to broaden its scope in 2020 to make systems that maintain an optimal temperature range for lithium-ion batteries, which are used in electric buses and energy storage systems.
“Let’s not just look at the engine. Let’s talk about all kinds of energy and power sources, and what kind of opportunities there might be for us out there,” Judge said. “I think a lot of future growth is going to come from energy transition, energy storage and efficiency.
“Energy is quickly becoming one of the most important issues for Washington’s future,” Judge added. “And our challenge is to retain existing energy resources that have given Washington a competitive advantage.”
Other stops on the association’s bus tour included Inland Empire Paper, CarbonQuest, Nick’s Boots and Paw Print Genetics.
The Association of Washington Business serves as the state’s chamber of commerce as well as its manufacturing and technology association. It has more than 7,000 members, including Boeing and Microsoft.