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ESCO shuts down a production line in original Northwest plant

by: MICHAEL SHULTZ - An employee works with a ladle before pouring molten metal into a casting to create one of ESCO's productsESCO announced Monday it will lay off 20 full-time employees and about 50 temporary workers as it discontinues a production line in Northwest Portland at the end of 2014.

The plant at NW 25th Ave was established over 100 years ago. It makes cast metal parts for mining, construction, industrial, oil and gas applications.

Jon Owens, ESCO Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President, said some parts made on the line were obsolete, while others could be made elsewhere for less, closer to where they were needed.

"The demand for mining products has softened as global commodity prices have fallen. Also, as ESCO innovation has led to expanded product offerings, older and outdated products have become obsolete. ESCO is discontinuing over 1,500 of those products at year’s end, many of them manufactured in the affected line."

He cited Asia and South America as places where parts could be made and used.

Some of the parts were used in dragline rigging in open cast coal mining. These include the chains, sockets and connectors that move the giant bucket that grabs the coal, Owens told the Tribune.

"We're innovating in new products and we do use lean manufacturing to continuously improve our operations."

He added that the cost of production for the older line is significantly higher than at other ESCO facilities. “Our customers are demanding more value in an increasingly competitive marketplace, making adjustments like this difficult but necessary.”

The reason for announcing the layoffs six months in advance was to give workers the chance to apply for other ESCO jobs. The bulk of the jobs lost are blue collar, production line. Owens said those skills were applicable at ESCO elsewhere in Portland.

According to Owens, the announcement is particularly hard because the line is among ESCO’s oldest. “Generations of families are employed at ESCO, and some of our employees worked on this line right out of high school. We are losing a bit of our history and that’s a poignant change for a 100-year old company. But clearly this is hardest on the full-time and temporary employees who are directly impacted. That’s why we’re providing them as much advance notice as possible and working with them to find other jobs at ESCO or another opportunity.”

ESCO employs more than 900 people in Portland and makes more than 2,000 different products here. "ESCO’s Mining Division has greatly expanded its product offerings to meet changing customer needs," said a company spokeperson in an email. "In the process, older and outdated products have become redundant or obsolete. ESCO has been working with customers to transition them to newer, better products, and at the end of the year we will discontinue more than 1,500 older products. Dragline rigging is just one example of our products."