Omega Pacific Inc., a Spokane manufacturer of outdoor climbing, rescue, and safety equipment, plans to move its operation out of the Airway Heights Corrections Center this summer into a building it recently bought in Airway Heights. The move will require the 22-year-old company to hire as many as 60 workers to replace the inmate work force it has used for about nine years.
The company plans to move its manufacturing operations from the prison, and also move administrative and shipping offices at 8003 W. Sunset Highway, into a 21,000-square-foot structure at 11427 W. 21st, starting in June, says Michael Lane, Omega Pacifics sales and marketing director.
Omega Pacific plans nearly to double the size of that building this summer to accommodate its operation, he says. The company hasnt selected a contractor yet for the planned expansion, which will result in a 40,000-square-foot facility, he says.
The whole move will cost the company about $1.5 million, says Omega Pacific CEO Rob Nadeau, adding the company has been going through a bidding process.
The building at 11427 W. 21st was vacant when Omega Pacific bought it. The structure formerly housed Calvert Technologies Inc., an electronics manufacturer that closed its doors in 2002.
Omega Pacific currently employs about 80 workers, of whom about 60 are incarcerated in the medium-security prison.
In a recent ruling the Washington state Supreme Court forbid private companies that sell goods on the open market from using prison labor to make their products, Lane says. That means companies such as Omega Pacific, which have participated in Class I Corrections Industries Programs, will have to find non-inmate workers.
Were going to have to fill those inmate positions, says Lane. The chances are good that it will be a one-for-one situation. But a lot of this is still up in the air. With the prisoners, we didnt have the burden of providing health insurance for them.
Omega Pacific says it had intended to leave the prison before the ruling.
The timing of the ruling is largely coincidental, says Nadeau. Weve been preparing for a move like this for some time, actually. This only pushes the timeline a bit forward. We do not expect our customers to notice any change at all.
Omega Pacific, which is owned by Bert Atwater, was founded in the Seattle area in 1982. The company moved its operations to Spokane from Redmond, Wash., in 1995.
The company makes climbing gear such as carabiners, mountain axes, nuts, ice screws, and other hardware. Its main product is the carabiner, which is an oblong metal ring with a spring-loaded gate through which a rope or other climbing apparatus can be threaded.
We are the largest manufacturer of carabiners in the country, says Lane. Some of our customers are REI, EMS, and Mountain Gear.
Omega Pacific also has plans to produce several new mountain-climbing products, including a link cam, which is a mechanical device used for climbing safety, and additional ice-climbing tools.
Lane declines to disclose the companys revenues and market share. The move will not affect the companys ability to fill orders, Lane says.
Finding and training new workers will be a challenge, he says.
The company will try to hire as many of the inmates who have worked for it at the prison as it can after theyre released, he says. But were going to have to move forward.
Omega Pacific says it has paid pays its prison work force $8 to $10 an hour, which he says would be competitive with other light-manufacturing employers in the Spokane area. Lane says pay for the workers whom the company will have to replace its inmate workers will be similar.
Omega Pacific has used inmate labor as part of the Class I Corrections Industries program since it moved here in 1995. The federal-state program allowed inmates to work for private companies within a prison, and make a competitive wage, Lane says.
The Washington state Supreme Court, however, declared that the program is inconsistent with the states constitutional language, says Lane.
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