Schweitzer bringing 100 jobs to Lewiston

Maker of high-tech equipment also plans expansion in Pullman, Mexico

By Elaine Williams of the Tribune

Thursday, October 7, 2010

PULLMAN – Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories expects to add about 100 jobs at a $10 million to $12 million, 106,000-square-foot manufacturing complex in Lewiston near Village Centre Cinemas.

The building would be on 25 acres in the Port of Lewiston’s Business and Technology Park SEL will purchase, assuming the deal is approved by port commissioners on Tuesday.

The site is large enough SEL could more than double its space in Lewiston in the future, said Edmund O. Schweitzer III, president of SEL. “We feel there are quite a few people in Lewiston who would like to work for us.”

Many details of the project, which is expected to be completed in about a year, are still being finalized such as what SEL will make on the site, Schweitzer said on Wednesday.

The growth in Lewiston is one element of a three-part plan for the maker of high-tech equipment used by electrical utilities and power-intensive industries like mining.

SEL will construct a 70,000-square-foot, $7 million, three-story building on its 130-acre, 10-building Pullman campus where SEL anticipates adding about 150 jobs in the next year.

The new positions would bring the total to just more than 1,500 in Pullman, where SEL makes shoebox-sized digital protective relays that locate problems in power lines and explain why problems are occurring.

The new Pullman building is called the “Solution Delivery Center” and will be built in about a year. It will house engineers conducting research and development as well as six oversized classrooms, where employees will help customers test products such as communication systems for utilities before shipment. The communication systems convey information among substations, generating facilities and master control stations.

At the same time, SEL is adding 68,500 square feet to 100,000 square feet of manufacturing space in San Luis Potosi, Mexico where it already employs 400 and is creating about 100 new jobs in the next year.

SEL makes small control houses in Mexico containing digital protective relays produced in Pullman that are connected to computerized control panels. The houses can be moved in their entirety to electrical substations, which makes them faster to install than when the components are separate.

The choice to grow in Lewiston was based largely on the 141 employees SEL already has who reside in Lewiston, Clarkston, Asotin or Lapwai, Schweitzer said.

They could have 11/2 hours per day more with their families if they didn’t have to drive as far, Schweitzer said. “Let’s take the careers to where the people are and cut out the commute. That’s the big advantage.”

Lewiston had other strengths. Initial estimates put the cost of the manufacturing building at about 10 percent less than if it were constructed in Pullman, and housing in Lewiston is more affordable than in Pullman, which might help recruit employees, Schweitzer said.

Schweitzer’s selection culminates about 10 years of work by the city of Lewiston, the Port of Lewiston and Valley Vision to attract the company that has experienced steady growth since its inception in the early 1980s.

The Port of Lewiston and the city of Lewiston wrote the zoning for the Business and Technology Park so that it could accommodate SEL, said David Doeringsfeld, manager of the Port of Lewiston. “I believe it’s a wonderful opportunity to bring high-tech jobs to the valley. SEL wants to make a significant investment which will benefit our economy for years to come.”

Doeringsfeld described SEL as an “admirable company.” The company has a reputation for treating its employees well and providing outstanding customer service, Doeringsfeld said.

SEL officials declined to specify how much it will be paying its new hires.

The reasons SEL is expanding are varied. It has introduced a number of new products like metering equipment for power that’s more efficient and less expensive than other options in the marketplace, Schweitzer said.

The metering helps businesses complete tasks such as measuring their electricity to be sure they’re being billed accurately or monitoring how much energy they’re using to make an item.

The slow economy made electrical utilities hesitate in their decisions about purchases as they waited to see how the federal stimulus package would unfold, Schweitzer said. “There’s a pent-up demand. For a year and a half people held up.”

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