PEOPLE OFTEN SAY “American manufacturing” in wistful sighs: once, our forefathers labored in factories; now China makes everything….
“Portland manufacturing,” on the other hand, can be said with a fist-pump. This broad sector employs one out of nine metro-area workers and anchors a fifth of oregon’s economy. And the business is no relic. Venerable firms, like 109-year-old Columbia Wire & Iron Works, combine time-honored knowledge with tech savvy. The next generation of manufacturing entrepreneurs puts new, brawnier industrial muscle behind Portland’s vibrant craft culture.
“We were born out of a need,” says Britt Howard, a 28-year-old fashion designer who started Portland Garment Factory in 2008. “A lot of people in Portland make things, but there’s no larger infrastructure when they want to expand.”
As with many of the manufacturers we chronicle on the next few pages, Howard’s workshop thrives on quality, flexibility, and the conviction that a bright future lies in making stuff here. “Someone might call us with a 3,000-item order one day,” says Howard, whose projects range from slippers to neoprene jumpsuits. “The next, a Portland designer might say, ‘I need 10 dresses.’ I love it.”