Hood River, OR– Governor Kate Brown toured Cardinal Glass Manufacturing’s Hood River facility. Tucked away in the scenic hills of Hood River, the factory supplies insulated glass for the residential window and door market. During a site visit, Governor Brown spoke to workers, saw the manufacturing process, and gained insights into Oregon’s recovering manufacturing industry.
Why Hood River?
When Cardinal Glass expressed interest in building a facility in Oregon, they had precise requirements: the location had to be around 1000 feet above sea level. That’s due to the complex manufacturing requirements for producing insulated glass.
Insulated glass is made when two panes of glass are sandwiched together with pressurized gas between them. The elevation of a manufacturing location affects the ambient air pressure, which affects the pressure of the gas trapped between the glass during production. In their research and development, Cardinal Glass found that glass produced around 1000 feet above sea level creates a stable product. One that can withstand the changes in pressure as their glass products travel to their final destination. Mitigating possible shattered doors and windows with changes in air pressure.
As Cardinal Glass worked with Business Oregon to find a location in Oregon, they landed on a former mill site in Hood River surrounded by apple orchards. The location sits at around 700 feet above sea level, a sweet spot for their manufacturing process. Now, years later, Cardinal Glass is a significant employer in Hood River. Employing nearly 400 workers, and expanding their footprint to meet the growing demand for their products.
Governor Brown’s Visit
The pandemic has hammered Oregon’s manufacturing sector, but the impacts have not been felt equally. While some manufacturers had to limit operations or close their doors due to a lack of demand for their products, others have seen their business boom.
Cardinal Glass Manufacturing is one of those booming industries. While experts predicted a drop in manufacturing industries tied to the housing market, the rise in home improvements and the exceedingly hot housing market has spurred demand for construction materials. And there is a lot of demand for the insulated glass windows and doors Cardinal Glass’s Hood River facility produces. Even still, manufacturing facilities like Cardinal Glass are experiencing challenges as the economy recovers.
Governor Brown toured the facility to gain insights into Oregon’s recovering manufacturing industry, hear about how Cardinal Glass adapted to the pandemic, and listen to their needs as Oregon’s economy recovers.
On the Tour
Governor Brown embarked on a guided tour of Cardinal Glass’s facility. The clean and orderly facility exemplifies state-of-the-art manufacturing processes as well as a strong commitment to safety. Walking around the facility, it becomes clear that Cardinal Glass has everything down to an art.
Cardinal Glass invested in machinery that limits workers’ touchpoints with potentially dangerous panes of glass using the latest technology. Doing so improves safety and reduces waste. Limiting potential hazards for workers on the job and reducing product losses during manufacturing.
Plastered on the walls, on signs, and even on the steps of stairs, safety messages are hard to miss. And when you are working in a facility with thousands of panes of glass that could break at any moment, safety is a priority. At the start of each shift, workers gather in a group for a safety debrief.
Governor Brown was able to join one of these groups, hearing how the team leader proactively addressed possible hazards and safety concerns. At the start of each day, workers are reminded of safe workplace practices. It also provides an opportunity for the team to build relationships with one another, improving safety for all and building a strong company culture.
The Governor also heard about the competitive wages Cardinal Glass provides, supporting workers and their families, and the broader Hood River economy. Most positions start at $18/hour and only require a high school diploma. On average, many of the jobs at the facility pay $50k/year, more than the average salary of local teachers. And the company provides comprehensive benefits packages for their employees, something many workers appreciate.
Like Uriel Contreras, who explained to Governor Brown that one of the highlights of the job is the benefits provided, health insurance is a benefit he enjoys along with the competitive pay.
While Cardinal Glass has done well throughout the pandemic, never closing its doors, they are not immune to the challenges Oregon manufacturers face. The most pressing issue: a shortage of workers.
Currently, Cardinal Glass is operating at 80% of its ability due to a lack of workers. That’s why they are working 24 hours a day, six days a week, to keep up with the demand for their products with the existing workforce they have. Sorn Reppen, a production manager, noted that he could hire 40 workers at a moment’s notice. But the labor market in Hood River is tight. And other local companies are competing for the same pool of workers.
There aren’t enough workers to go around.
Before the pandemic, there was already a shortage of workers; the pandemic only exacerbated that problem, and it’s costing money. Lots of money. The manager of the facility noted they are losing about $20 million a year because they aren’t operating at full capacity. That means Oregonians are missing out on good-paying jobs and that economic activity is going elsewhere instead of staying in Hood River. And that’s a problem.
One of the most significant factors is affordable housing in the area.
Hood River is a beautiful, desirable place to live. That makes the real estate market unaffordable for many working families. Sorn Reppen, a production manager, said around 25% of the workforce at the Hood River facility comes from The Dalles. And housing is a significant barrier to working at the facility. You can’t go to work if you can’t find a place to live reasonably close to work.
Overall, it became clear that workforce shortages will be a significant issue as Oregon’s manufacturing industry recovers. And while Cardinal Glass has experienced discrete supply chain issues, the nature of their vertically integrated company insulates them from many of the problems other manufacturers are facing.
Overall, Governor Brown remarked of her visit, “As Oregon recovers from the pandemic, we must also do everything we can to support manufacturers, like Cardinal Glass Industries, in operating to their full potential. Oregon has always relied on good-paying jobs in manufacturing, which is why manufacturing is a core tenet of my 10-point plan for economic recovery.”
Our state needs manufacturing to recover and come back stronger than ever. Because a diverse economy is a strong economy, so many families and communities rely on manufacturing jobs to thrive.