Silicon Forest Electronics: 2017 Forecasts, Threats and Growth Trends

By Jennifer Ferrero

You’ve just completed the boarding process on your flight from Seattle to Minneapolis. As you locate your seat and stow your bag, you notice that the airplane smells a bit like a high school gym – it’s stuffy! You reach up to twist the knob to start the airflow on your seat. The function of the air flow is from a product made by Silicon Forest Electronics! The airflow function is managed by a circuit board that communicates with a fan. Ahh, instant relief.

This product as well as end-consumer and business circuit boards inhabit airplanes, medical machinery and even defense vehicles like tanks. These products are made in Washington by this award-winning and profitable company.

Silicon Forest started in 1998 and was named after Silicon Valley, popularized by highly technical IT folks migrating from the San Francisco Bay area to the forested northwest. The name demonstrates the technical nature of the circuit board work conducted at the company, combined with the quality of life in Vancouver, WA on the Washington/Oregon border.

The 80 or so employees are a combination of administrative and production. The production employees, many with English as a second language (ESL) are trained in:

  • soldering
  • small assembly of components
  • and running automated equipment.

Forecasts for aerospace manufacturing growth

General Manager, Jay Schmidt said that one of their number one areas of growth will be in unmanned aircraft systems to be used in commercial and agricultural uses. He noted that airspace regulations in North America may slow down the growth in this country, but they are producing product outside of the United States.
Schmidt also noted that defense spending will continue to increase. Their products can be found in tanks and military vehicles running systems.

Challenges in the industry

  • Obsolescence of components – Technology is changing so rapidly that Schmidt is concerned with an emerging trend of obsolete components. For example, in the past, when the military would invest in products, they would expect a certain lifetime for that product. Now, with consumer technology growth on the rise, it is affecting military and aerospace electronics components.
  • Counterfeit materials – Companies like Silicon Forest Electronics must be extremely vigilant in product sourcing due to counterfeit suppliers. These suppliers will take used components from old boards and re-introduce them into the supply chain. There has been evidence of counterfeit materials on U.S. made jet aircraft.
  • Cyberwarfare – Cyberthreat is a trend and concern for all businesses. The threat of hackers from other countries getting into servers to steal information, or compromise a company’s infrastructure is of great concern – and expense to companies.

Hiring for growth for companies like Silicon Forest Electronics

Schmidt said that they will like hire 10-20% more skilled production assemblers and technicians to their staff in the coming year. They have developed a relationship with their local Workforce Development Council, Workforce Southwest Washington, to help hire new staff.

Per Schmidt, Workforce Southwest Washington through WorkSource has training funds available that can be leveraged, which allows for more apprenticeships and on-the-job-training. Silicon Forest is utilizing this option.

Darcy Hoffman with Worksource SW Washington said, “The on-the-job (OJT) training program is the same concept of an apprenticeship program. The company chooses who they’d like to hire, and are reimbursed up to $5,000 per eligible new hire.” Hoffman added that there are also funds to send new employees to the local community college for training. This is a statewide program.

“If you are a business that is hiring, there is some level of on-the-job training for individuals. It is a nice fit for all kinds of job opportunities. And the employer is being compensated for getting them up to speed,” Hoffman added. The programs exist statewide. If you are business in Washington, contact your local WorkSource or Workforce Development Council.

For management and administrative positions, the company hires direct through other channels.

Summary

Overall, Silicon Forest Electronics is a positive force in their region for employment and community involvement. They are a company that aims to do-the-right-thing while expanding the business into new markets. Next time you plunk into an airplane seat, think of the airflow courtesy of their circuit board systems and be grateful for their technology.