(Photos © J. Maus)
President Barack Obama made headlines yesterday as he announced a new effort to re-ignite America’s manufacturing base by hiring from within — within the United States that is.
Obama, with Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber and CEO of locally based Keen Footwear by his side, talked up “insourcing” (as opposed to outsourcing, get it?) and laid out several measures to help make it happen. The new initiative seems tailor-made to give a much-needed bump to Portland’s flourishing bike industry.
Large companies like Keen and Intel (with their large presence in Hillsboro) offer exciting potential to put Oregonians back to work — but I wonder if Kitzhaber knows about Chris King Precision Components, Showers Pass, Zen Bicycle Manufacturing, Portland Design Works, Black Star Bags, Ruckus Components, Metrofiets, Sugar Wheel Works, Vanilla Cycles, Wabi Woolens, and the myriad other bike-related businesses that call Portland home.
Each of these companies (and this is just a sampling) have potential to grow their business — and vastly improve our quality of life while doing so — by manufacturing bikes and bike-related products right here in our backyard.
Chris King Precision Components leads the way. The company has grown by leaps and bounds since moving to Portland in 2003. They’ve tapped into our city’s deep reserve of bike talent to find quality employees and now boast a staff of 94 people that do everything from marketing and sales to operating industrial, computer-controlled machines and other heavy equipment. One of King’s biggest bright spots has been international exports of their famed headsets and hubs to countries like Japan and Germany.
We’ll be hearing a lot more from Chris King Precision Components in the future. At the moment, they’re actively lobbying mayoral candidates on their “bikes mean business” platform.
While King already has a foothold in manufacturing, other companies like Showers Pass and Portland Design Works have a mature product line, strong national brand awareness, and highly developed sales channels. They currently have products made overseas — but like Keen Footwear, who makes the vast majority of their shoes overseas but has recently opened a small factory on Swan Island in Portland, there could be opportunities to produce some products locally.
by Jordan Hufnagel.
(Photo: Jarred Souney)
Speaking of producing products locally, another big “x” factor in Portland are the brilliant bike minds and entrepreneurs making top-notch products and innovating existing ones in small shops throughout the city. Shawn Small at Ruckus Components has established himself as a respected expert in carbon fiber. His small but busy shop repairs carbon fiber frames and parts sent to him from all over the country. He also makes chainguards, and is perfecting a line of carbon fiber fenders that could become his break-out product.
From garage innovators to mature companies, marketers to machinists, Portland already has several of the crucial building blocks of bike industry success. Throw in a city known for its biking brand and the myriad health and livability benefits that follows bicycling wherever it goes and you’ve got a complete slam dunk. With more coordination and recognition from local and state governments, the bike industry could follow athletic footwear and craft beer as Oregon’s next big thing.
It’s been three years since Oregon Business Magazine put our “bicycle industrial complex” on its cover. With Obama’s attention, new faces coming to City Council, and an economy that needs a jolt, I can’t think of a better time to build a stronger foundation that will help build our local bike-related manufacturing capabilities.
Let’s make 2012 the year of insourcing in Oregon and let’s not forget about the potential of our home-grown bike industry.
— For more on the potential of bike manufacturing in Portland, listen to this two part interview featuring myself, Bill Stites of Stites Design, Chris Harbert-Erceg of Crank, and the host of Launchpad Radio, Tony Fuentes.