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Good Move: Relocation to Wood Village fuels Grovtec's expansion beyond firearms industry

Wood Village, state incentives keep company from leaving Oregon -


OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - GroveTec seamstress Sau Wai Chan assembles holsters, rifle slings and other items in the company's Wood Village factory. In these days of wide-open global commerce and outsourcing to overseas countries, running a company that manufactures and fabricates its products exclusively within the United States presents distinct hurdles to remaining competitive.

No one knows this better than Bob Grover, president of Grovtec US Inc., a Portland-area manufacturer of parts and accessories for the firearms, medical and aerospace industries since 2006.

“It’s always a challenge to be the lowest-cost person,” he said. “We’re not the lowest cost in terms of all our products, but quality, deliverability, customer service and all the other areas — that’s where we really shine.”

Last spring, Grovtec relocated its operation from Milwaukie to three buildings in Wood Village, expanding its square footage from 47,000 to 68,000 while adding 12 employees.

The company will celebrate its new location at 23555 N.E. Halsey St. (just north of the Best Western hotel) and the 10 years of growth that made it possible with an open house from 3-6 p.m. Wednesday, July 27.

Grover, 49, a Gladstone resident who runs the sprawling Grovtec facility along with his wife, two sons and daughter-in-law, noted the company’s steady growth in the past decade is accelerating as it expands its mission beyond the firearms industry.

“We will have over 100 employees next year,” he said. “It’s been nice, steady growth — and not just in the shooting industry.”

Grovtec employees work with an intriguing mixture of manual and automatic, ancient and cutting-edge technology on the company’s vast manufacturing floor to turn out all manner of goods and accessories. From leather gun holsters, slings and the “swivels” that attach them to gun stocks, medical and dental instruments and sporting goods to screws and fasteners used in airplane cockpits and chairs, Grovtec’s product line infiltrates practically all aspects of modern life.

Grover as well as Kim Graham, Grovtec’s vice president of sales and marketing, credit that diversification, along with the focus and dedication of the workforce, with transporting Grovtec from its first-year sales of $430,000 to the nearly $7 million mark he expects to hit this year.

“At Grovtec, we have innovative products, a great design team with a history of designing and engineering,” Graham noted. “We know how to make good products and we know how to bring them to market.

“Diversifying out — the aerospace industry (provides) quite a few new customers,” she added. “There is huge growth potential that we’re just scratching the surface on.”

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - GroveTec employs milling equipment that is up to 70 years old, while at the same time using advanced CNC machining gear such as that shown in the photo. Community asset

In addition to the need for considerably more space than the Milwaukie facility provided, Grovtec’s move across the eastside was fueled by a five-year property tax abatement through the city of Wood Village’s enterprise zone program, as well as a relocation-based loan and employee training grants through Business Oregon.

Grover said he spent three years seeking suitable properties and facilities in Clackamas County. Not finding what he needed, Grover was prepared to relocate across the Columbia River to Washington when Wood Village and Business Oregon came forward with incentives.

The latter organization provided Grovtec a $150,000 “forgivable” loan provided the company retains at least 68 employees.

“It paid for the majority of the move (after I) proved I wanted to stay in Oregon,” he noted, adding the approval process is rigorous and took months to complete. “At the same time I found this property, so it all kind of worked out.”

The relocation/expansion investment and additional hires fell well within city and state enterprise zone parameters, and Energy Trust of Oregon credits for sustainable elements incorporated into the new building provided additional “icing on the cake” to remain in state once Grover found the facility he needed.

“When all was said and done, all the savings and everything came close to $250,000. That is a big help for a small business,” he said. “It’s quite a bit they’ve done to prove they wanted to keep manufacturing in Oregon. It made me feel proud about keeping my business here.”

Wood Village City Manager Bill Peterson said the long-term community employment benefits and potential of companies such as Grovtec make a five-year tax abatement a relatively small sacrifice in the long run.

“Grovtec is a magnificent employer,” he said. “There’s just an amazing diversity of employment there … The enterprise zone is not a concern for the longer-term net financial health of the community.”

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - GroveTec machine operator Heap Lock operates a Davenport  automatic screw machine. It is capable of quickly producing machine parts in large numbers. The right direction

Grover, whose interest in target shooting goes back to childhood, got into the firearms business in 1987 as an employee of Michaels of Oregon, working in the recoil pad/scope cover department before moving to the machine shop.

When the Bushnell Corp. took over that company in 2005, Grover helped the transition by traveling to China to train employees.

The change from Michael’s original emphasis on United States-based manufacturing to overseas production spurred Grover to start his own enterprise — one with the old-school, homegrown approach that he always admired.

He purchased Bushnell’s equipment and became that company’s United States vendor during it’s relocation.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Grovtec CEO Bob Grover.“So many people and friends I worked with for so long, I wanted to give back to them,” he said. “I hired a lot of them. In the first six months, the productivity of the employees (ramped up) and I steadily grew my sales.”

With aerospace and sporting goods on an upward trajectory and demand for firearms skyrocketing — as Grover noted often occurs during a pivotal presidential election year — that trend continues at the new location.

Concerned that moving his company 16 miles north would cost him about 20 percent of his workforce, many of whom live in the Milwaukie-Gladstone area southeast of Portland, Grover was pleased when only a couple workers decided against making the trek to Wood Village.

“We spent quite a lot of money, really, to make this building more comfortable so all the employees really enjoyed it more,” he said of improvements to workspace layout and heating and air conditioning. “For them to still remain here bodes well for our team atmosphere.”