Schweitzer breaks ground in Lewiston

Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories starts work on new building in Lewiston to house $10 million plant

By Elaine Williams of the Tribune

Friday, February 11, 2011

White poles topped by two yellow triangles marked the footprint of Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories’ new 105,800-square-foot building in Lewiston Thursday at a groundbreaking for the $10 million plant.

The investment by the Pullman-based maker of high-tech equipment for electrical generation, transmission, distribution and use is one of the most significant changes in Lewiston’s manufacturing landscape in decades.

The building will be the home of the third-largest manufacturer in Lewiston behind Clearwater Paper and ATK, the ammunition maker.

It will support 10 to 15 other businesses, Lewiston Mayor Kevin Poole said. He was one of more than 200 SEL employees, elected officials, city employees and economic development boosters on hand for the event.

They were spared what the company’s founder and president, Ed Schweitzer, described as the typical “corny” display of executives wearing hard hats backward as they dig with gold-painted shovels. Instead, a track hoe moved a few shovelsful of ceremonial dirt.

Processes similar to those that SEL uses to make its manufacturing efficient are involved in the building project, Schweitzer said. Before any earth was moved, a complicated study was completed to determine how to disturb the least amount of dirt without sacrificing any function of the building.

When crews got on the ground with a global positioning system unit, they discovered by repositioning the location less than a half-foot, they could avoid scraping the equivalent of about 150 dump-trucks of dirt.

SEL expects to occupy the building in September. The first people to work there will be about 20 operators, technicians, engineers and support staff for precision-injection plastic manufacturing. That number may rise to as many as 250 employees in three years in a building capable of housing 500 employees working two shifts.

The growth will come as sales of SEL’s products increase and the company adds operations such as making circuit boards, digital protective relays, meters, communication equipment and cables.

No matter where any new employees hired to work in Lewiston start, they have the opportunity to rise within the company. Last year SEL had 100 promotions from the manufacturing floor, said Adina Bielenberg, a spokeswoman for SEL.

If demand merits, SEL has the capacity to construct another building of the same size near the first on the 25-acre site the company purchased in the Port of Lewiston Business and Technology Park near Village Centre Cinemas.

Williams may be contacted at
[email protected] or (208) 848-2261.