Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

"Schweitzer announces expansion -- again"

This is dedicated to the PARDner who said at the U of I Economics Club Wal-Mart forum a coueple of weeks ago that Pullman was not growing, and could not possibly support a Wal-Mart Supercenter. Yeah, right. Pullman's days as a sleepy little college town are over. It's time people started getting used to that idea.

From today's Lewiston Tribune:
The juice seems to just keep flowing at Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories.

The Pullman-based electrical components manufacturer announced Monday its intention to hire more than 200 new employees worldwide this year.

"(Schweitzer Engineering) is growing because our employees and the company focus on the needs of our customers and apply technology to solve real-world energy problems," company founder Ed Schweitzer said in a statement. "We are expanding with new products, new markets, as well as internationally."

The vast majority of the new jobs, 168, will be in Pullman, said company spokeswoman Susan Fagan. The demand for new employees comes both from increasing orders from existing customers and expansion into new markets, she added.

"We sell to virtually every utility in the United States," Fagan said. And Schweitzer Engineering already sells its products in 110 countries, she added. "Our goal is to sell in every single country in the world."

The company invents, designs, manufactures and distributes components for electrical grid systems, both municipal and industrial. Its protective electrical relays monitor grids and can scramble information to protect them from attack.

Its products became especially popular after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Schweitzer Engineering added 210 new employees last year, 137 in Pullman. Since he founded the company in 1982, Ed Schweitzer's business has grown to employ almost 1,200 full-time employees at 50 locations worldwide, 860 in Pullman.

All the new jobs will be full-time with full benefits, including membership in the employee stock ownership program for domestic employees, Fagan said.

She declined to name the company's current stock price, a closely held trade secret. But a year ago Schweitzer himself said it was about $400 per share.

The new hires will be engineers, technicians, secretaries, customer service representatives, assemblers, trainers and administrators, according to a company statement.

Ninety positions are currently being advertised, and more will be added throughout the year, according to a company statement.

Pullman Mayor Glenn Johnson called Schweitzer Engineering an "ideal corporate citizen."

"This announcement has such a positive impact on Pullman and the region," Johnson said, noting Schweitzer Engineering recently surpassed Washington State University in United Way contributions.

And Pullman in general has been growing at a good clip, Johnson said, thanks to developers responding to Schweitzer's expansion announcement last year.

Almost 250 residential lots have gone on the market in the last year, and about 100 have been sold.

Another 223 plats have received preliminary approval, Johnson said.

In a statement, the city of Pullman hailed Schweitzer's environmentally friendly operation and the tax revenues it creates.

Schweitzer's own development on 92 acres adjacent to its current location in the Pullman Industrial Park is moving along, Fagan said.

The company's new 90,000-square-foot, five-story headquarters is under construction on a 10-acre parcel there. Another 10 acres on the southeast corner of the location has been rezoned to residential and 30 home sites have been approved, Fagan said.

At last year's announcement, Schweitzer said he envisioned a mix of single-family homes, townhouses, apartments, stores, restaurants and other businesses on the 92 acres.

He said potential employees were having to turn down job offers because they couldn't find suitable housing in Pullman.

Two other buildings -- a 22,000-square-foot research and development building and a 10,000-square-foot maintenance building -- were completed last year.

Johnson said the city is working hard to accommodate all of Schweitzer's needs as quickly as possible, but that no shortcuts will be taken.

"We want to keep our number-one private employer happy," Johnson said, "but there's no rubber stamp to the process."

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