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Start-up Gets Head Start with PCC Training

By Nancy Leon

Australian National Industries (ANI), a metals and engineering conglomerate, decided to open a division of its manufacturing business in Portland, a city thousands of miles from home. The company, deep into the many tasks required to make its new division, Welded Tube Co. of America, a success, teamed up with the city and PCC for workforce development and training.

Locating and breaking ground on the 175,000-square-foot plant in North Portland’s enterprise zone was the first step. Next pulling together a pool of cross-trained employees to do all the tasks necessary to manufacture steel tubing. That’s where PCC comes in. Instructors are teaching classes to the first shift of 17 employees on everything from metallurgy and welding to CPR and goal setting in three months’ time. The plant plans to begin production in April.

ANI first connected with Jess McKinley of the Workforce Development Board to help establish itself in Multnomah County. McKinley helped them find a site well-suited to its purpose. Then, they worked out the numbers to create tax incentives to get the business off the ground.

But still, when you have the acreage and the deal, who will be hired and how will they know what to do is critical. The Customized Workforce Training department of Portland Community College exists with the mission of solving that problem.

According to Kris Lukas, operations manager at Welded Tube, “The main focus is the people. The highest technology, the finest equipment doesn’t matter if the people aren’t there.”

Bonnie Starkey, a manager of training and development at PCC, is charged with creating the new training program for the start-up company.

The math course designed by PCC for the new employees is “right on the money,” says Lucas.

“The safety mindset comes first,” he adds. Each new employee will enjoy 11 weeks of strength training and conditioning, as well as general safety, first aid and hazardous waste management.

As the company gets closer and closer to the beginning of training, which begins in January, both Lukas and Jeff Weber, steel planner and expediter for the company, are excited and optimistic. Weber, newly arrived from company headquarters in Chicago, finds the soggy environment a bit of a challenge, but he’s impressed with the quality of applicants.

“With unemployment so low, I thought it might be a problem, but we’re more than happy with the candidates,” Weber says. In the future, Welded Tube hopes to expand the one work shift to three shifts.

Portland’s economic base will soon be improved by one more company making its home in the Rivergate area, with focused energy from a partnership of business, government and PCC.