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A Look Inside Isovolta Aerospace Industry Supplier

South Linn County in Oregon is the unlikely home of a booming aerospace industry supplier, Isovolta Inc. Amid the agricultural firms and wood products companies in this small city north of Junction City sits Isovolta, which makes decorative laminate products for the interiors of commercial...

South Linn County in Oregon is the unlikely home of a booming aerospace industry supplier, Isovolta Inc.

Amid the agricultural firms and wood products companies in this small city north of Junction City sits Isovolta, which makes decorative laminate products for the interiors of commercial aircraft.

In an airliner, "All of the hard surfaces surrounding you are made with our products, or those of a competitor: the ceilings, (storage bins), side walls," said Andrew Healey, senior vice president of aviation and transportation for Isovolta Group, the Austrian parent company of the Harrisburg operation.

Fueled by orders from 150 airlines around the world and a recent agreement to supply Boeing with an environmentally friendly flame retardant resin, Isovolta is gearing up to expand.

Isovolta plans early next year to start building a 12,500-square-foot addition to its 70,000- square-foot facility on its 4-acre Harrisburg site, and to add three technical machine operators to its 65-person workforce, the company said.

Barring events that could ground planes, such as terrorist incidents similar to Sept. 11 or disease outbreaks similar to SARS, worldwide aircraft production is projected to grow, Healey said. Industry leaders Chicago-based Boeing and its French competitor, Airbus, forecast their sales will grow 5 percent a year for the next 20 years, he said.

"We hope to grow faster than that — at about 8 percent a year," Healey said, referring to Isovolta's aviation products units in Harrisburg and Vienna, Austria.

A big reason for the growth in Harrisburg is that the plant will be making "phenoxy polyurethane-based flame retardant resin," a material it developed that Boeing will use to produce its own laminate products, Healey said.

That makes Boeing both an Isovolta competitor and a customer, he said.

"We're custom-making a resin to meet (Boeing's) specifications," Healey said. "We're expecting big orders from Boeing in the first half of next year."

The work for Boeing "is going to drive the next phase of expansion," Healey said.

Isovolta had been growing steadily in Harrisburg — doubling the plant's size in the past decade — even before it began pursuing the Boeing work two years ago.

Isovolta has spent $10 million on expansions in the past 15 years, and "we're continuing to invest at a faster rate in the future," Healey said, declining to disclose the amount the company will spend on this latest expansion.

Healey said he's not aware of any local or state incentives helping to fund the project.

The privately held Isovolta Group, parent company of the Harrisburg plant, has more than 1,500 employees in 18 production and sales locations in 12 countries, according to its website. The Isovolta Group has revenues of about $1.27 billion, but it doesn't share financial figures for its individual facilities, Healey said.

As the Harrisburg plant has grown, so has employment, rising to 65 people, up from 50 people about two years ago, he said.

The factory attracts workers from Cottage Grove to Corvallis. About half of its employees live in Lane County, Healey said.

Isovolta grew straight through the Great Recession, picking up skilled workers laid off by local recreational vehicle manufacturers, wood products mills and the Hynix computer-chip factory in west Eugene, he said.

It's hard to find qualified workers, but "finding the right people was a little easier through the recession," Healey said. "I think we have the best, well-trained and qualified staff in our history right now."

Healey lives in Eugene and manages the Harrisburg plant. He travels monthly to Vienna, where he manages a similar plant double the size of the one in Harrisburg.

Three clocks in his second-floor office in Harrisburg are set to time in Oregon, Singapore, and Austria, underscoring the global nature of his business.

Isovolta is a rarity in this region, said Brian Rooney, Lane County labor economist with the state Employment Department.

"There are very few companies in the region that would actually manufacture things that would go into airplanes," he said.

"There are some small aircraft companies in the state of Oregon, but I would assume that a lot of the companies like that would be in the Seattle area with Boeing," Rooney said.

The Harrisburg company, originally named Skyline Products, started out in a former plywood mill in 1974, making vinyl laminates for United Airlines. Isovolta bought the business in 1988.

The Harrisburg plant specializes in making materials that meet strict standards for commercial airlines and some railways, such as high-speed bullet trains, Healey said. Regular trains, motorhomes and cruise ships use different suppliers of products that don't require the same level of sophistication, he said.

Isovolta's Oregon plant mostly serves the American and Asian markets, and the Austrian facility focuses on the European market, Healey said.

The Harrisburg plant usually completes orders in four to eight weeks, depending on the complexity of the product, he said.

The process begins with mixing and milling raw chemical ingredients to make inks, resins, and adhesives. These are used in coating, screen printing and digital print processes before being laminated or pressed to make the final decorative laminates, which then are cut into sheets or delivered in rolls to customers.

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