By ROBERT WHALE, Auburn Reporter
Since 1957, Federal Way-based Orion Industries has trained people struggling with barriers to employment, helping them land good jobs in the community.
In 2012, the company provided more than 350 people with services, placing more than 110 of them in jobs in King and Pierce counties.
That achievement, company officials say, is worth $3 million to the region.
Today, the company's manufacturing enterprise supplies precision machined parts and sub-assemblies to aerospace, automotive, marine and medical customers throughout the world. Boeing recently named it a Boeing Supplier of the Year - out of 17,000 suppliers in 52 countries.
President and CEO John Theisen says the company is expanding and needs more elbow room.
On Thursday, Theisen grabbed a shovel, stuck on a hard hat and joined other dirt-throwing dignitaries breaking ground on a new 100,000-square-foot building at 1590 A St. NE. in Auburn. The site is 6.5 acres of undeveloped property west of the Auburn Municipal Airport, north of the Metro Park and Ride.
"In doing so, we enhance the ability of these individuals to lead independent and fulfilling lives," Theisen told a crowd of more than 100, beating back the heat under a tent on the park-and-ride lot. "Integrated and diverse workplaces improve our communities. This new, larger building will allow us to continue to grow our services and increase the number of people we serve."
Theisen credited the success of the land acquisition to a collaboration among itself, the City of Auburn, Auburn Mayor Pete Lewis, Auburn Economic Development Manager Doug Lein, King County Executive Dow Constantine, and King County Councilman Pete von Reichbauer.
King County's help was critical because two of the three parcels that make up the site were once county-owned.
Kathy Powers, Orion's director of services, said the building will house corporate operations and the company's growing manufacturing, contact center services, and training and employment divisions when it opens in February 2014.
In Federal Way, Orion employs 225 people in its three buildings. With the move to Auburn, Powers said, the company expects to add to its workforce.
Auburn is a key location for Orion for several reasons. For one thing, it puts the company in closer proximity to its largest manufacturing customer, Boeing Auburn, and positions it closer to a growing cluster of aerospace suppliers, Theisen said. Crucially, being next to the park and ride, it increases accessibility to public transportation for staff and people taking part in the training program.
And who are those people?
"It could be somebody who's born with a disability," Powers said, "it could be somebody who was not the classroom kid in school. I guess that's my best way to put it. Not somebody who got special ed services, but maybe somebody who was born with a severe learning disorder, someone who can't compete academically, who is a better hands-on learner. This provides the place for them to be that hands-on learner and to take those skills that they are learning and bring them out into the employment community.
"… I think if you look at the school systems, it's a sit-down-and-learn-structured environment, and if you don't deal well with that type of intelligence, then you don't think you're smart," Powers said. "The people we deal with are smart in different ways, but they're not smart sitting in a classroom. Some people carry a lot of bags you can't see because of the environment they grew up in."
In 2007, Orion expanded its services to include clerical and customer service training programs. Orion's Clerical and Customer Service Program uses self-directed and group instruction to teach Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office, keyboarding, customer service, filing, office machines and office etiquette, and prepares participants for a variety of positions that require clerical and customer service skills. It recently added a Hospitality and Customer Service Program. The company funds 95 percent of its mission through the businesses it runs.
Nancy Wyatt, COO of the Auburn Area Chamber of Commerce, was beaming at the soon-to-be addition to Auburn's business community.
"Being able to have this close to the Metro bus line — because so many of them don't have cars — to drop them off so they can get right to work and get back to being employed, that's what critical with Orion. And bringing it here is exciting because we are finally starting to see a turn around in projects going on in Auburn. It brings that excitement back, it says that this is the place to be, that this is the economic development that needs to happen, and this is just the start."