Entek uses labor study to determine ideal site for new plant

Dec. 10, 2021
The extruder and extruder component maker decides to settle into the desert Southwest after a survey reveals Oregon, where its headquarters is located, doesn't have the workforce capacity for expanding operations.

Read more on the labor crunch: https://plasticsmachinerymanufacturing.com/21248002/.

By Karen Hanna 

For an extruder OEM looking to grow, site selection started with a look at the company’s foundation — its workforce.  

Based in Lebanon, Ore., about 75 miles from the West Coast, Entek Manufacturing is expanding its operations, prepping a new 98,000-square-foot manufacturing and engineering facility a 2-hour plane ride away, in Henderson, Nev. Growing in Oregon was out of the question. 

“We simply could not plan enough labor to keep our production levels at the level we need to serve our customers’ customers,” said Linda Campbell, VP of sales for Entek, which makes new extruders, as well as barrels and replacement parts. 

The Henderson facility will handle production of wear parts, as well as fabrication, assembly and engineering tasks.  

To determine a location where it could find workers, Entek commissioned a labor study. The study ruled out nearby cities Eugene and Portland, about 45 and 80 miles away, respectively, but delivered more promising news on the potential of Phoenix, Henderson and Las Vegas. While the workforce in the Northwest might have the capacity to supply a few applicants for the kinds of workers that Entek needs, the study found that the Southwest can produce several times more.  

“Entek chose Nevada for the new facility because it is a growing area of the country with a strong labor market,” said Kim Medford, president of Entek Manufacturing. “We used an outside firm to do a multi-city survey, and the greater Las Vegas metro area came out first when it came to the availability of skilled labor, such as machinists and engineers.” 

The insights were critical, considering the challenges Entek — along with other manufacturing companies— are experiencing finding workers.  

“I’ve been at Entek for 34 years. I’ve never seen anything like it,” Campbell said. 

The company employs about 100 people in its Oregon extruder manufacturing operations and 10 in support operations on the East Coast; as of mid-November, it was looking to fill about 20 jobs at those sites. 

But Entek already had hired about 20 workers for its Henderson facility, which is preparing to begin churning out products in the first quarter of 2022. 

Campbell was confident the company will meet its target there of hiring about 52 workers — including skilled machinists, controls engineers, fabricators and welders — by the end of 2022.  

The company also continues to monitor the labor market while it orders more than $10 million worth of equipment, including CNC mills, grinders, metal saws and lathes, Campbell said.   

“The equipment that we’re investing in now for Nevada, we’ve had that lens on looking at ‘what could we increase our investment on that could have lights-out capability?’ [It] might be a larger investment today, but it will help down the road, for sure,” she said.  

Campbell said Las Vegas’ unique economy might explain why Henderson, just 20 minutes away, is fertile ground for building a new workforce.    

“One, people actually like to live in that area, the desert area. ... And then, two, the casinos and the establishments that are there in that Las Vegas area are quite complex … and that requires a lot of really technical folks to run those types of things, especially like controls engineering,” Campbell said.  

The growth Entek’s customers are experiencing across a range of industries accounts for the company’s need to expand, Campbell said. According to the company, demand for packaging, recycling and compounding equipment is strong. 

Having found a way to adapt amid a national labor shortage, the company is working to help its customers deal with the same issue, said Tammy Straw, marketing and business manager at Entek. 

“Along the same line, but a little different spin, our customers are finding the same thing that we are, which is that the people who turn the wrenches and do the maintenance-type jobs are nowhere to be found right now, so we’re building up our team of service technicians, and we’re selling that service to our customers,” Straw said.  

Entek also is adapting internally, Campbell said. It has been “very aggressive with our pay scales,” and the company is taking a deeper look at its workplace rules too, she said. For instance, it might relax a standing prohibition on cell phones. 

“We grew up where cell phones on the shop floor is not appropriate. It’s not appropriate. But this new generation, they’re connected. The way they think and the way they operate … maybe we need to relook at that, to allow them that time for their social media or whatever the heck it is that they’re doing on their phones all day long,” Campbell said. “We need to relook at that.”  

Campbell and Straw expressed that the company can continue to grow. When new employees clock in at Henderson, they will do so having trained for two weeks in Lebanon. 

“We wanted them here to learn our processes and procedures, like how we operate as we do, so that when the machinery hits the floor in the first quarter, they’ll be ready,” Straw said.  

Keeping all production near the Lebanon plant and staying in the U.S. mean the company will be able to maintain — or even reduce — its turnaround times, to better serve its customers.  

The company’s initial production plans at Henderson involve building up its inventory of barrels and replacement parts, but, once that’s done, it can concentrate on increasing its extruder output. It is one area of many where Campbell sees growth. 

“By 2023,” she said, “maybe a 10 percent increase?”  


Entek Manufacturing, Lebanon, Ore., 541-259-1068, http://entek.com 

About the Author

Karen Hanna | Senior Staff Reporter

Senior Staff Reporter Karen Hanna covers injection molding, molds and tooling, processors, workforce and other topics, and writes features including In Other Words and Problem Solved for Plastics Machinery & Manufacturing, Plastics Recycling and The Journal of Blow Molding. She has more than 15 years of experience in daily and magazine journalism.