Site prep to begin at new Schweitzer plant in Lewiston

September opening eyed; number of possible jobs jumps to as many as 250

By Elaine Williams of the Tribune

Friday, January 21, 2011

Site preparation will start Monday for a $12 million, 105,800-square-foot building for Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories in Lewiston, where as many as 250 people may be employed within about three years.

The Pullman-based maker of high-tech equipment for electrical utilities and power-intensive industries like mining plans to open its Lewiston site in September. The company isn’t disclosing the pay range for the crew that will include everything from assemblers to engineers.

It will start with about 20 employees doing precision injection plastic manufacturing, a process SEL already has in Pullman, said Ed Schweitzer, president and founder of the company.

SEL began making plastic, a product it had previously purchased from suppliers, after the company perfected a less wasteful technique that improved the quality and reduced the cost, Schweitzer said.

The plastic serves a variety of purposes, such as being used for enclosures of fiber optic transceivers, components in substations that make it possible for information to be sent over long distances efficiently.

SEL is exploring making new types of products from the plastic, such as very high-precision parts, Schweitzer said.

The waste generated from the plastic making is minimal and the process doesn’t emit odors, Schweitzer said.

The Lewiston staff of SEL will grow with customer demand as other operations are added such as manufacturing circuit boards, protective relays and cables, Schweitzer said.

The Lewiston building could eventually accommodate as many as 400 people, Schweitzer said. “We’re not going to fill the space all at once.”

SEL might get even bigger in Lewiston since it has room to construct another similar size building on the 25-acre site near Village Centre Cinemas that it purchased in the Port of Lewiston’s Business and Technology Park.

The Lewiston project is part of an expansion of the company that now employs 1,400 individuals in Pullman and 2,400 worldwide plus 160 openings.

It’s also constructing a $10 million, 90,000-square-foot, three-story building in Pullman where it already has a 130-acre, 10-building campus.

That new room on the Palouse will house 200 employees in areas such as research and development. It will have areas where customers can test SEL-made systems before they’re delivered. Groundbreaking could happen as early as March and the new facility could be done by October.

At same time SEL is growing in Mexico where it’s adding 68,500 square feet to 100,000 square feet of existing manufacturing space. That staff of 400 is anticipated to increase to about 500. “We know how we’re going to grow because of the product plans,” Schweitzer said.

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