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Estacada company on growth track

(This is a corrected version of the story that appeared in The Estacada News on April 16. We apologize for any inconvenience.)

Life at Northwest Technologies is pretty sweet these days, says Lisa Brookshier, the company's administrative manager. Sitting in a conference room that looks out over a dozen safety-goggled workers -- operating laser machines, hooking heavy pieces of metal to cranes, and staring at diagrams on computer screens -- she describes why.

'If you work here,' she says, 'you are valued. It's an ideal place to work.'

And she's not the only one who thinks so. For three years running, the Estacada-based metalwork company has been included in Portland Business Journal's 'Fastest-Growing Company Round-Up' and in 2007 ranked number 12 on the list.

Not bad for a company that opened its doors fewer than 10 years ago with one customer, one employee and one laser machine. The company, founded by Eric and Doreen Sale, has grown largely by word of mouth and today boasts clients nationwide, 44,400 square feet of manufacturing space, revenues that have increased 200 percent annually, and 57 employees working three shifts, five days a week.

These Northwest Technologies (NWT) employees not only receive a solid benefits package and competitive wages, says Brookshier, but also enjoy flexible time off to spend with family, take college classes and volunteer in the community. 'Happier employees equal better employees,' she says.

'Eric wanted the company to treat customers and employees the way he would want to be treated,' she continues. Sale, she says, is also adamant about contributing to the community. Those metal benches, picnic tables and trash cans you see around Wade Creek Park? Those were donated by the company. NWT also sponsored the mailing of the Estacada Community Foundation brochures and manufactured the signs directing people downtown.

So, what's the problem? Not nearly enough of the company's 57 employees enjoy what Brookshier would call the number one job benefit: working close to where you live.

Of the current employees, she says, only 23-fewer than half-are residents of Estacada. The rest commute from Sandy, Damascus, Oregon City, and Portland. A few make the trek all the way from Beaverton and Tualatin.

Brookshier would love to see this change. Looking to hire three new welders in the next month, she is frustrated by having to place expensive ads in the Oregonian, which generally only attract a handful of applicants. She wants to reach locals: 'There are people here qualified to do this work,' she says.

Brookshier talks about the changing face of Estacada: 'It's called a bedroom community because people sleep here and work elsewhere. But that's changing-the quality of life is why people live here. And there are jobs here.'

'We have to change the mindset about local people who think they have to go to Portland to make money,' she says. 'We're competitive with Portland wages-not even considering the cost of gas. We couldn't say that three years ago.' Brookshier recently did a salary survey and found NWT's payscale in line with, or even above, the average for some of the welding positions.

And if you're a high-school student, the wages are 'way over McDonald's," Brookshier says. 'It can be hard, cold, dirty work,' but NWT is a great place for high-school students to enter the workforce, she says. 'Eight or ten of our employees have graduated [from Estacada High] in the past five years.'

The fact that there are family-wage jobs in Estacada might surprise residents. And they're not only at this company, says Brookshier. In the same industrial park are three other metalwork companies, with more on the way. 'There is still potential for more jobs in the area,' she says.

Despite Brookshier's outreach to the community-advertising in the local paper, holding job fairs, involvement with the high school's work-experience program (one student was recently hired on full-time)-applicants just aren't coming forward from Estacada in the numbers they could. 'The big question is, how do we reach them?' Brookshier wonders.

One step the company is taking is to work with the county to post signage on Highway 224. If allowed, she says, it will carry messages like: 'If you worked here, you'd be at work now' and 'If you worked here, you'd have been home an hour ago.'

Brookshier hopes to catch the eyes of commuters heading in and out of the city and convince them that 'working in the town where you live only adds to your quality of life.'

For information on Northwest Technologies, Inc., call 503-630-2030 or visit www.nw-technologies.com