Tacoma-based aerospace parts manufacturer Tool Gauge has received a grant from the Washington State Department of Commerce to assist with its ongoing facility expansion. According to Tool Gauge, the grant will help the company support its workforce development programs, including training of an estimated 100 new workers and skills advancement for another 50 existing employees.
The $125,000 Work Start grant was awarded in partnership with the Economic Development Board for Tacoma-Pierce County and Impact Washington, a nonprofit small business manufacturing consultant. According to the state’s Department of Commerce, these grants are used as a recruiting and retention tool that is often awarded to companies looking to move into the area or expand. The grants help offset the costs of training new workers so they can be brought up to speed by the time new or expanded facilities are opened. Since the Work Start program inception in 2013, the Department of Commerce has given out approximately a dozen grants to aerospace and advanced manufacturing companies in the state.
According to Jim Lee, Tool Gauge’s General Manager, the grant covers two major areas: value stream mapping and lean, and training within industry—or, teaching staff how to train others. Lee says training is already underway and will be completed by the end of June.
“As we build our new world-class aerospace manufacturing facility, hiring and training new employees will remain our absolute priority which has been a central component of our success for over 50 years,” says Debbie Lee, CEO, Tool Gauge. “As we continue our fast growth trajectory, we expect to create up to 100 new jobs by 2024, growing our workforce to approximately 235 employees in Pierce County.”
Tool Gauge has already hired 20 new staff in recent months and plans to continue hiring over the next three years to support new aircraft production ramp-up. According to Jim Lee, most jobs will be in manufacturing assembly, but there will also be new hires within automation. To assist with automation, the company plans to implement collaborative robots to help with repetitive motion work and load/unload assemblies.
In addition to growing its staff, the facility expansion will see Tool Gauge more than doubling its work space to around 94,000 sq. ft. The $20 million investment will include installation of a new vertical paint system, 2,000 more sq. ft. of space for CNC equipment within the metals division, and an 80,000 sq. ft. expansion of the plastics division that will include larger presses to increase the range of parts the company can manufacture.
Tool Gauge broke ground on construction in late 2018 and is scheduled to complete the expansion by this fall.