News | June 10, 2024

INW Manufacturing Employment Increases Along With Major Projects

By Karina Elias

Collins Aerospace plans to expand its manufacturing space
Collins Aerospace plans to expand its manufacturing space on the West Plains and create 80 additional jobs. | Collins Aerospace

Nine of 10 largest manufacturers add staff over past year

Workforces have been growing in many of Spokane’s top manufacturing companies in recent years, coinciding with plans to further grow this sector as companies announce investments in their facilities that reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars, in some cases. 

Doug Tweedy, regional economist for the Washington state Employment Security Department, says he has been surprised by the steady workforce increase within manufacturing in Spokane, given that the Inland Northwest's economy is a hub for health care and hospitality. Even more surprising is that the manufacturing sector here seems to be bucking the national trend in which manufacturers choose automation over people. 

“We’ve been surprised that manufacturing has been so strong,” Tweedy says. “They are a big part of the economy, though, here in Spokane, in both employment and wages.” 

According to Tweedy, there are 18,000 reported manufacturing jobs in Spokane as of 2023, compared with 15,100 in 2021. Additionally, there are 568 manufacturing companies in Spokane; many are smaller-output companies with two to three employees. 

“The number of manufacturing companies has stayed pretty constant over its history before the pandemic and even after the pandemic,” Tweedy says. “I think manufacturers (here) are in good markets like metal and other products that are selling well.” 

According to the most recent Journal of Business Leading Spokane-Area Manufacturers list, published in April, nine of the top 10 manufacturers increased their workforce from the previous year. 

Jubilant HollisterStier LLC, a Spokane-based pharmaceutical manufacturer and packaging company, is the region’s second-largest manufacturer, employing 830 workers as of April, up from 753 in April of 2023, and 723 in April of 2022, according to the Journal's list. The company is currently in its second phase of a $285 million expansion that is set to create an additional 450 jobs at the biomanufacturing facility, located at 3525 N. Regal, in East Spokane. 

Chris Preti, CEO of Jubilant HollisterStier, says, “In terms of automation, there are some industries that are automated. Ours is not one. Essentially, we need (workers) with a high school diploma, and we bring them in-house and train them for six to eight months.”

Growth at Jubilant HollisterStier, which manufactures sterile injectables and packaging for pharmaceutical companies, can be attributed to demand and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which in part compelled Jubilant HollisterStier’s expansion. 

There is about a 500 million-unit shortfall in sterile vials worldwide that is causing demand and market growth, Preti says. Worldwide, there are 6.7 billion units needed versus what is produced, he says. Jubilant HollisterStier currently makes 30 million vials annually, Each vial provides a five-dose injection that is used by approximately 150 million patients. With the $285 million expansion, Jubilant HollisterStier plans to double its injectable filling production capacity by 2025 to 60 million vials reaching 300 million patients.

“We will (employ) about 1,200 individuals when it’s all said and done over the next three to four years,” Preti says. “Currently, we have about 80 open positions.” 

Jubilant HollisterStier received $149.6 million in American Rescue Plan funds for its expansion through an agreement with the U.S. Army, other Department of Defense agencies, and the Department of Health and Human Services. During the pandemic, the federal government initiated Operation Warp Speed to accelerate COVID-19 vaccine deployment and bolster the entire supply chain by bringing that task to North American manufacturing facilities, he says. Jubilant HollisterStier during that time partnered with multiple pharmaceutical companies that produced COVID-19 therapies manufactured here in Spokane, including Gilead Sciences, Inc., which produced the COVID-19 therapy Remdesivir. 

“As there is a push for U.S./North American production, we have two facilities, one here in Spokane and one in Montreal,” Preti says. “If there was a pandemic, if you needed a second source of supply, you now have two North American facilities that can meet that demand.”   

While Jubilant HollisterStier's work requires a strong human workforce, it varies from sector to sector with some manufacturers choosing to mix and match automation with workers, says Gary Ballew, vice president of economic development at Greater Spokane Incorporated. Additionally, while large multimillion expansions stand out among the manufacturing crowd, growth also can come in the form of investments into upgraded machinery. 

“We’re seeing a lot more production coming out of Spokane and the region,” Ballew says. “Even if manufacturers are not expanding their space, I’m seeing a lot of investment into new equipment, and looking to hire.” 

Additionally, the type of education and certification needed also varies from sector to sector, Ballew says. The sciences for example mostly require a two-year certificate, while other companies look for skilled journeymen who have gained their expertise over a decade of experience. GSI works in collaboration with other industry partners and schools to fill the education and skilled labor gap and get more students interested in working in manufacturing. 

“Spokane is just really well positioned for growth in that sector, and it’s because of the companies that we have,” Ballew says. 

Collins Aerospace, a manufacturer of carbon composite brakes, last month announced plans to invest $200 million to expand its plant on the West Plains at 11135 W. Westbow Lane. The expansion aims to add 70,000 square feet of manufacturing space, growing the site by more than 50% over a multiyear period. 

The expansion is a continuation of a project that was started before the onset of the pandemic and had to be placed on pause, says Nichol Savko, associate director of operations at Collins Aerospace. 

Post-pandemic, the aerospace industry has seen tremendous growth across all sectors, Savko says. The expansion will support services in Collins Aerospace’s existing portfolio while adding new services, she says. About 80 new jobs will be created with the expansion ranging in skill level from high school graduates entering as operators, to technicians, automation technicians, programmable logic control technicians, and computer numerically controlled technicians. While Collins Aerospace is looking for automation gains in many ways, it also requires a certain skilled workforce, Savko says. 

“There were options for where this (expansion) could be,” Savko says. “When you think about Spokane, it’s positioned really well for growth in the aerospace industry. We have a great skilled community, a great skilled labor force, and lots of good schools. It’s just a great thriving community and it made sense to position it here. Manufacturing provides such stable long-term careers, they're not just jobs. We're excited to build and be a partner with all the growth that's happening in this region.” 

Collins Aerospace is a subsidiary of Arlington, Virginia-based RTX Corp., which manufactures products for the aerospace and defense industry. It has 80,000 employees worldwide with 240 employees at the Spokane facility as of April, up from 222 in April 2023, according to the Journal of Business’s list of Leading Spokane-Area Manufacturers. Savko anticipates breaking ground on the expansion in late summer. 

Source: Collins Aerospace