The Journal’s View: Manufacturing sector sees wins, deserves bright spotlight
~June 2nd, 2022
While the housing crisis in Spokane has dominated headlines in recent months, the manufacturing sector has recorded some big wins—somewhat quietly.
Inland Northwest manufacturers deserve a greater spotlight for the goods they’re producing, the jobs they’re providing, and the investments they’re making in facilities in the Spokane area.
One of the significant examples appears on the front page of this issue of the Journal. Spokane-based pharmaceutical maker and packaging company Jubilant HollisterStier LLC is planning a $193 million expansion of its plant in East Spokane that’s expected to double its injectable-filling production capacity by 2025. That’s on top of the current, $92 million filling-line expansion, which is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2024.
The news comes just weeks after the Journal reported Mercer International Inc.’s plans to sink $50 million into improvements at its cross-laminated timber plant in Spokane Valley. After buying the shuttered Katerra facility just under a year ago, Mercer is looking to add a second shift and ramp up the 253,000-square-foot plant to full production.
Meantime, Liberty Lake-based video-surveillance technology manufacturer OpenEye has crested 200 employees and anticipates growing close to 300 workers by the end of this year in an effort to keep up with growing demand.
And longtime, Spokane-based wood products maker PotlatchDeltic Corp. has announced plans to strengthen its land holdings with the acquisition of Atlanta-based CatchMark Timber Trust Inc. That transaction is expected to be completed in the second half of this year.
Gary Ballew, vice president of economic development at Greater Spokane Incorporated, says the manufacturing sector’s success is tempered by some of the same challenges it and other industries have faced for more than a year now. Specifically, the industry is still grappling with supply-chain issues, and labor shortages persist.
Even so, Ballew says, some Spokane companies are benefitting from a trend of customers wanting to source products domestically, in an effort to remove the uncertainties that emerged with the pandemic of counting on items made and shipped from overseas.
“There are definitely some tailwinds in the industry right now,” he says.
Growth in manufacturing represents growth in family-wage jobs in the Spokane area in an industry that typically doesn’t have a high barrier of entry. According to figures from the Washington state Employment Security Department, average annual wage for manufacturers in the Spokane area was just above $58,000 in 2020, the most recent year for which data is available. With the wage inflation experienced over the past year, it wouldn’t be surprising to see that number crest $60,000 soon, if it hasn’t already.
While challenges remain present and a settling economy is likely in the near future, the post-pandemic success of Spokane-area manufacturers is a big positive for the business community at large, and that deserves to be recognized and celebrated.