(Photos: Dylan Van Weelden/Chris King)
“I also believe that presenting bicycles as a business is something new for many of these people to hear. It’s not the same old ‘environmental, the-sky-is-falling, cars are evil’ message.”
— Chris Distefano, Marketing Director at Chris King Precision Components
Portland’s bike-related manufacturing potential continues to be a hot topic locally and nationally. Late last month, several staffers from the U.S. Department of Commerce toured the manufacturing facility of Chris King Precision Components in Northwest Portland. The staffers got an up-close look at the challenges and opportunities faced by a successful company that exports highly-regarded and Portland-made bike frames and parts around the globe.
Among the visitors from the Department of Commerce were; Nicole Lamb-Hale, Assistant Secretary for Manufacturing & Services; Michael Masserman, Director of the Office of Advisory Committees; and Jennifer Woods, Senior International Trade Specialist.
Assist. Sec. Lamb-Hale recapped her visit in a blog post at Trade.gov. Here’s the excerpt about Chris King:
“… I learned how this small business is able to use forward-thinking, innovative and sustainable methods to become a leader in the production of high-end precision aluminum, steel and titanium bicycle components. Not only are its parts currently being used in the Tour De France, but nearly 40 percent of the company’s products are exported to Europe and Asia.”
The occasion for the visit was a U.S. Manufacturing Council Listening Session. Among the manufacturing executives who spoke at the event was Chris Distefano of Chris King Precision Components. I asked Distefano a few questions via email about the event:
You were invited to speak at the listening session. What were you asked about?
“We were asked to give a background on our company, how we came to be in Portland, how Portland is good/bad for our business and then to offer our top two requests to the Dept of Commerce for help. My specific comments were about export tariff inequity and workforce development/vocational education…
Everyone wants to talk about “Made in America” as the promise of the future but no one talks about who is making it. Vocational education needs to orient towards a dedicated career path, a desirable career path, and not be labeled as a last-minute bailout for someone who “can’t” go to college…
As for import tariffs… Our products have an 18% tariff applied to them going into countries such as the UK and China. Benchmade Knife Company spoke of 50% into South America. These tariffs impact the customer price of our product and limit our growth in these markets as we see none of that 18%. In return, these countries import to the US with tariffs of 5% or less.”
How were your comments received by the Commerce Department staff? What type of response did you get?
“The vocational education message was very well-received and was echoed by every presenter afterwards. I was taken aback by how many people came up to me afterwards to thank me for my comments… Overall, though, the panel was interested in what we do here at King and, like most of mainstream America, impressed that there is a business to be made with bicycles.
I have also noticed that where we meet alongside businesses that manufacture train cars, mining wear parts, and other heavy industrial components that bicycles are a refreshing subject. I also believe that presenting bicycles as a business is something new for many of these people to hear. It’s not the same old ‘environmental, the-sky-is-falling, cars are evil’ message.
I was asked what “best practices” the council should consider to make policy that will drive manufacturing in America. My response was that we should focus on “basic practices” and not “best”. I spoke of two people I know, Andrew and Jason. Andrew is a smart young man who will likely seek his career through a college degree. Jason, also a smart cookie, loves to make things, fix things, and just may be better suited to a skilled career. Andrew and Jason are my sons, 10 & 7 years old. Our local middle school has had an industrial arts program right up until this coming school year. What happens if that program isn’t back in place by the time Jason gets there? Does he have to follow the same path as Andrew? It’s the responsibility of parents and the educational system to provide desirable options for our kids. Shouldn’t Jason have the opportunity to achieve what Chris King has? How can America regain it’s manufacturing prowess without workforce development?”
Portland is well-positioned to become a national leader in bicycle-related manufacturing and there’s growing momentum to make it happen. Stay tuned for more excited developments on this front.