Federal Way nonprofit Orion Industries earns accolades for local aerospace work

Federal Way nonprofit Orion Industries earns accolades for local aerospace work

john.gillie@thenewstribune.comFebruary 9, 2014 

Most companies have a singular mission: deliver quality products and services at a profit.

But a 57-year-old Federal Way nonprofit company, Orion Industries, is making a name for itself for its successful accomplishment of two separate goals, one financial and the other social. It not only creates products and services it sells profitably, but it also provides valuable vocational training to the disabled and others that allows them to support themselves and families.

The company recently was named by The Boeing Co. as one of its top suppliers for the fourth year in a row and by the state’s Aerospace Alliance as its company of the year.

The dual-mission company, which has about 185 employees, has not only received accolades for its good products and good work, but it also has maintained its financial footing during the Great Recession, with double digit growth every year in the past decade.

In 2014, Orion expects its revenues will increase by 45 percent, said Kelly Maloney, Orion's director of marketing and communications. “We felt the downturn, but we never had to lay off any of our workers,” she said.

With Boeing’s decision to increase production rates on several of its Puget Sound commercial aircraft assembly lines, Orion is building a new manufacturing plant in Auburn. That 100,000-square-foot plant will consolidate work being done in three separate buildings in Federal Way, allow room for expansion and improve productivity, said Maloney. That new structure near the Auburn airport is due to open in the next several weeks.

The new plant opening will mark another milestone for the company founded by parents of children with disabilities in Federal Way in the late 1950s. Those parents, said Kathy Powers, vice president of sales, were looking for vocational training for their children so that they could earn a living wage and be productive citizens.

When they found little such training available, they founded a woodworking company where their disabled children and others could learn new skills. That company soon transformed itself into a metal-working shop, making parts for Boeing and other aerospace suppliers.

Orion provides not only hands-on training in metal working but also teaches students basic work habits, interaction with fellow workers, communication skills and the value of promptness and quality work.

The company has achieved exceptional results in its aerospace program, said Maloney. The company delivered more than 1.5 million parts to its customers last year. Nearly 99 percent of those parts were delivered on time, and 99.32 percent were without flaws.

Those quality ratings were key to Orion receiving Boeing’s Performance Excellence Award for the fourth year in a row in 2012. Companies that receive the award are in Boeing’s top 3.3 percent of its suppliers, said Orion.

That performance also earned the company the Aerospace Futures Alliance Company of the Year Award in October. Gov. Jay Inslee presented that award.

“Orion is a very successful organization that is moving forward with great momentum,” said Linda Lanham, the alliance’s president. “Not only do they meet the highest standards in quality, on-time delivery and customer support, but they also provide a great service to the community by providing training to people with disabilities and helping them find community jobs,” she said.

Kenny Damey is one of hundreds of workers who learned their skills in Orion’s metal-working program.

He took courses in tool measurement, blueprint reading and shop mathematics at Orion as well as learning to operate the machines that are standard in the business.

The 23-year-old now works for Cascade Gasket and Manufacturing Co. where he recently was promoted to a lead position.

“This job is a good fit for me,” he said. “The whole training opportunity worked out very well.”

In addition to learning metal working skills, Orion counselors helped him find a job that now pays him $14.50 an hour, well over the minimum wage.

While the aircraft parts business remains the core of Orion’s activities, the nonprofit has branched out to teach students office skills and to provide training and services as a phone contact center.

Orion has recently received certification that allows its customer-service representatives to handle calls for health care companies as well as for retail businesses.

Its office skills training program provides participants with skills in common software programs and teaches them social skills necessary to function in office environments.

Students often come to Orion for training from governmental agencies such as the state Department of Vocational Rehabilitation and other programs that help pay the cost of their vocational education at Orion.

The company also accepts veterans and others without specific referrals for entry into the programs.

During their on-the-job training participants earn the minimum wage. While Orion receives funding from governmental agencies for their training activities, the vast majority of the company’s revenue is generated by its conventional business activities, said Orion.

The company views its mission not only as an outreach to workers who need help in developing long-lasting job skills but also as a cost-effective training program for taxpayers.

“Our secret weapon is our social mission,” said John Theisen, Orion’s president and chief executive officer. “We train people with disabilities and other barriers to employment in both our aerospace division and our contact center division, providing one-on-one mentoring and training, Orion’s business success is due as much to our commitment to our mission as it is to our commitment to running successful business enterprises,” he said.

John Gillie: 253-597-8663 john.gillie@thenewstribune.com

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