Pasco Machine prepares next-generation workforce for next 100 years

Jason Story, owner of Pasco Machine, stands underneath his machine shop’s current sign while holding a much older one from the company’s earlier days. The business celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. (Photo by Kristina Lord)

A 100-year-old Pasco company is charting a course to ensure it can navigate another century by making a significant investment in its future workforce as manufacturers nationwide struggle to find qualified workers.

Pasco Machine launched an on-site apprenticeship program this year to train its next generation of craftsmen.

Jason Story bought the business, in downtown Pasco about a block from the Pasco Farmers Market, from his father 15 years ago, though he was a partner along with his dad and a previous owner for several years.

“We’re the fourth family to own it,” said Story, who has worked there for 29 years.

It’s still a family affair. His son is enrolled in the apprenticeship program, and his daughter is the pump shop office assistant. A nephew and second cousin also work there.

“My dad built a good foundation in the sense that he was adamant about service – service, service, service. We’ve lived on that. And I feel like we’ve been blessed,” Story said.

Diversifying

Over the years, Story, a trained machinist, has done most of the jobs at the shop, with the exception of accounting.

“But we were a lot smaller then,” he said.

Pasco Machine employs 50 people, 32 of whom are craftsmen. When Story took over the business, there were 10.

Story, 49, didn’t plan on joining the family business as a teen. The Pasco High graduate wanted to make his own way in the world.

“It was a dark, dingy, old nasty shop. It wasn’t very appealing back then,” he said.

He started as a floor sweeper. It’s how a lot of employees get their start, including his kids. They sweep the floors, make deliveries and help with odd jobs.

Those who prove to be hard workers and good with their hands are the ones Story wants for the apprenticeship program.

Over time, Story transformed “the full manual shop with OK machinery” into a diversified manufacturing and repair shop by adding new equipment, lighting and air conditioning and improved safety procedures.

“I just wanted to be – simply put – the best machine shop around,” he said. “I knew we had to put money into the company to do it.”

Adding specialized equipment, like a water jet and computer numerical control (CNC) machines, helped Pasco Machine become more diversified. They offer a variety of manufacturing (reverse engineering or refabricating parts) and repair (pumps, conveyor assemblies, food processing equipment) services and stock a variety of materials.

Courtesy Pasco Machine

General manager Rick Perez said being vertically integrated to serve their customers is key to success. He joined the company three years ago, bringing 28 years of experience in the food processing industry, including about a dozen years at Lamb Weston and stints at other family-owned companies.

“Our game plan is to progress with our customers. We want to streamline our processes. We want to be vertically integrated. We have a water jet, we have a pump shop, a turbine and machine shop, CNCs – that’s vertically integrated. Being vertically integrated, as well as a vision to streamline what we’re doing, makes us a unique, strong competitor,” Perez said.

The shop also manufactures parts wineries need and keeps them stocked, said Austin Chapin, territory sales manager. “Winery parts are hard to get,” he said.

Pasco Machine’s primary customers are food processors.

“30% of our work is pump related; 70% is machine work and fabrication,” Story said.

 

Pasco Machine – Fabrication from Focal Point Marketing on Vimeo.

 

One of its biggest customers is Lamb Weston.

Jim Kirkham, plant manager for Lamb Weston Pasco, called Pasco Machine an excellent partner the company has come to rely on for more than 30 years to support its maintenance craft departments.

“One of their specialties is in designing and fabricating new components for our equipment. They are one of the few vendors we do business with that can service our plant needs 24/7,” Kirkham said.

Pasco Machine staffs a rotating on-call team to serve customers around the clock. Team members get compensated well for being on call, carrying a company phone and being available to their customers, Story said.

“We’re an emergency room for these people. Their sense of urgency becomes our sense of urgency,” he said.

Kirkham also complimented the machine shop’s work quality and service speed. He said Lamb Weston has worked with the shop to redesign mechanical components that historically have high failure rates.

“We have seen significant improvements with these efforts due to often Pasco Machinery’s creative solutions. Pasco Machine has and will continue to be a key partner in our business success,” he said.

Future workforce

Manufacturers nationwide continue to struggle to fill critical jobs.

As many as 2.1 million manufacturing jobs will be unfilled through 2030, according to a recent report published by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute. The cost of those missing jobs could potentially total $1 trillion in 2030 alone.

It has been clear to Pasco Machine that it needed to find its future workforce from within.

Students attending Pasco Machine’s school get hands-on practice during a recent class. (Photo by Kristina Lord)

“The reason why the school started is because we could not find the craftspeople to do the job,” said Kelly Davenport, a territory sales manager who’s been with the company for more than two decades.

Employees fresh from trade schools often can’t do the manual aspects of the job, Story said.

“Without this school, I almost feel like there’s no next generation. Because what they’re teaching in schools now, it’s all computerized. While we’re computerized, a big piece of our work is still manual. And there’s always going to be a need for that,” he said.

Tom Nix, a longtime Pasco Machine employee, runs the school and helped develop the curriculum.

The school enrolls five students, including Story’s son Spencer.

Students get paid to go to school, and they’re ensured a job after successfully completing the program.

“We build them the Pasco Machine way,” Davenport said. “You know how hard it is to instill a sense of urgency in people? It’s hard. We’re doing that from the ground up.”

The company has made it a priority.

“It’s been a six-figure investment in the last eight months,” Perez said.

“A deep six-figure investment,” Story said.

The school launched in February, though planning for much of it happened the year prior.

“Here we study out of a book, but probably 80% of your instruction is hands on, on a machine,” Perez said. It’s also a classroom with a classic rock soundtrack, with “Bad to the Bone” blasting from the shop speakers on a recent day.

In addition to bolstering its younger workforce, Pasco Machine recently sent a dozen people through a leadership training program.

The work makes for a rewarding career, as no two days are the same, Story said.

He’s proud of the benefits package the company offers, pointing to its “awesome retirement program.”

“It’s our goal if someone starts their career and finishes it here, they’re going to retire someday and they’re going to live just fine,” Story said.

Next 100 years

Story’s goal is to set the company up for solid, sustainable growth “so it will transition on.”

“Succession is big for us – setting the groundwork for a successful future for the younger people who are here. It’s never too early to start thinking that way.

“We do want it to go for another 100 years. We want to be the best,” he said.

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