Orion Industries isn’t a secret to many in Puget Sound's manufacturing sector at this point, but it certainly keeps improving on what it does best: provide opportunities.
For 60 years, the company, now based in Auburn, has made it its mission to give a leg up to individuals with barriers to employment. At the same time, it has helped well-known Northwest brands like Boeing, Microsoft and MultiCare to profit and grow exponentially.
Orion, widely celebrated as a Tier 1 supplier to Boeing, is now considered to be the 10th largest aerospace employer in Washington. Last January, for the seventh consecutive year, the firm was awarded Boeing’s Performance Excellence Award, earned by only 3 percent of the vast supply chain worldwide.
“Less than 1 percent of Boeing suppliers have won for seven consecutive years,” says John Theisen, Orion president and CEO.
In April, Orion received another accolade from Boeing: Global Supplier of the Year award in the community engagement category. The employer received this same award in 2011 in the outside manufacturing category, and in 2015 in the corporate citizenship category.
“Boeing’s success is a testament to the partnerships we hold with the finest aerospace suppliers in the world such as Orion Industries,” says Kent Fisher, Boeing’s leader for enterprise supplier management. “Together, we will continue to deliver affordable, technologically advanced products and services that give our customers a competitive edge.”
Orion is more than a one-trick pony, however. Seven years ago, the company launched its contact center services division. That operation has grown into a 200-seat call center that meets the unique inbound and outbound customer support needs of companies, including MultiCare, Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, U.S. Army and Microsoft.
Over the past several years, the firm has forged a partnership with MultiCare to provide backup support to the healthcare provider’s 24/7 call center in Auburn, and also train individuals for jobs at the call center.
“It’s great for MultiCare,” says Theisen, who adds that many who had previous barriers to employment have been tapped for careers at the Tacoma-based health conglomerate. “They not only get our services as a contact center, but we also act as an employment agency for them.”
For Microsoft, Orion has staffed the software giant’s Disability Answer Desk since 2013. These contracted employees provide technical support to users of Microsoft’s accessibility features. For its work, Orion was recognized this year as a Microsoft Supplier Program Excellence Award recipient.
The Auburn operation is also spreading its wings outside the Evergreen State. Its initial such venture began last June, embarking on its first Ability One contract with U.S. Army. Through the agreement, Orion staffs the Army’s online training program help desk at Fort Eustis in Virginia.
“This is a long-term contract and is indefinite, as long as the Army continues to need the services,” says Theisen. “We have 25 agents on that contract. The contract requires that 75 percent of the staff have disabilities.”
It was one development in a year of many for Orion. Last September, it successfully merged with Diversified Industrial Services, a not-for-profit social enterprise in Mukilteo serving and training individuals with barriers to employment via an aerospace manufacturing model, much like Orion. Theisen says this merger added 90 employees to its staff for a total of 425.
Diversified was also a Boeing supplier. The merger, then, helps Orion expand its footprint northward to Snohomish County and north King County to help individuals with barriers to employment in those communities, and also strengthening its supply chain links to Boeing in that region. Diversified is now known as Orion Mukilteo.
“What we have done in the last year with a small operation in Virginia and an expansion to Mukilteo has given us a chance to grow in remote locations,” Theisen explains.
Another growth measure in 2016 was its partnership with World Trade Center Tacoma. This was a strategic move on Orion’s part to expand its international customer base; the Tacoma nonprofit has been embattled of late, but Orion officials have lauded the pact.
“The World Trade Center Tacoma helps us promote our products globally and provide services that enable us to enter new markets,” says Jeff Black, the firm's chief financial officer. “Trade and investment means opportunity for job growth, for wage growth, and for growth of businesses like Orion.”
All of this growth over the past year attracted the attention of REDF, a nonprofit venture capital firm based in California that offers financial support to social enterprise firms doing workforce development. Orion received a five-year grant last year.
“REDF picked us because we are an effective and innovative model for social enterprise,” says Theisen. “This told us that the Orion model is being recognized. This grant will allow us to add services that we wouldn’t otherwise, and to bring those services to a broader population.”
Theisen says gaining the attention of this national player in social enterprise validates the Orion model and gives more credence to replicating it elsewhere.
“It’s inevitable that we will expand our footprint,” he adds.
The enterprise not only provides exemplary products and services, says its leader, but equally important, it supplies man-power and skilled employees to local businesses — something that, unfortunately, is hard to come by for employers in the competitive marketplace.
Last year, 157 Orion participants successfully graduated from the program and were placed in jobs. Half the participants that start the program will stay with the program.
“We attribute this to counseling services by trained certified counselors, coupled with technical and soft skills training, and doing a good job of matching the participant to the job,” says Theisen, who anticipates an even greater graduation rate this year.
Also notable: Orion achieves a 60 percent job placement rate. And of that 60 percent, executives say, 84 percent of participants remain on the job.
“What is unique is we help create pathways to higher paying jobs and address the skills gap that employers are experiencing,” explains Theisen. “We’re providing entry level people with the skills and aptitude to advance in their jobs and serving to employers a solution for their workforce needs.”