REDMOND — Imagine getting an order from Lady Gaga, Donny Osmond, Mariah Carey or exchanging emails with Tom Bodett (of Motel 6 and NPR fame), or having your product in hundreds of climbing gyms across the world, or manufacturing highly classified, sensitive military parts.
All that is happening in Redmond as was detailed at the Ninth Annual Made in Redmond tour last week, hosted by REDI, short for Redmond Economic Development Inc.
Speaking to a crowd of about 75 at the High Desert Music Hall, three local entrepreneurs laid out what it took to be successful in unusual niche markets.
“It’s a journey,” said Calvin Mann, president of VocalBooth. “You’re on a journey, you take a path that may not be the path you chose, and if you stay with it, you will learn a lot along the way.”
Mann, a local singer-songwriter, sort of stumbled on the idea in 1997 of building small, portable, modular sound booths for recordings or just quiet space. A fellow musician asked him if he could build such a item. It has blossomed into an array of sound-proof recording studios, small enough for one person or large enough for a garage band. Some ship to clients in just four small boxes and are assembled on site.
“We even built a small room for a couple that lives on a college fraternity row and wanted a quite space to sleep,” he told the group with a laugh.
Booths start around $2,000. Some come with complete recording control panels, air filtration systems and separate recording rooms. They have been shipped as far as Tokyo.
Jake Wood, the person who does the commercial Geico gecko voice, uses one, Mann said.
It wasn’t an easy business, and there were times when there was no money coming in, he said.
“But if you’re an entrepreneur, sometimes you just have to step off that cliff,” he said.
Balms for the palms
Speaking cliffs, where better to develop balms for repairing damaged skin than at Smith Rock State Park, a climbers’ mecca in Central Oregon.
Justin Brown, president of Rhino Skin Solutions, and his wife, Andrea, offer a line of skin creams that help heal damaged skin, especially from rock climbing and other outdoor activities, such as skiing and mountain biking. He also offers hand antiperspirants.
Many of the ingredients are plant-based and some organic chemicals, such as menthol, magnesium, salicylic acid, honey and tea tree oil.
He started in his apartment six years ago preparing solutions and filling bottles with his lotions by hand and labeling them one at a time. Now, he has a small manufacturing warehouse, shipping to more than 300 gyms in the U.S. and Europe, especially Germany. His business has grown about 75% each year and is expected to double next year, he said.
He corresponds with Olympic athletes as well as world-class climbers, he told the gathering.
“I was an ok climber, never destined to be famous. But in what world is this my email thread with these athletes?” he asks with a chuckle.
Since this region is big on pets, the firm also offers High-4 dog care to treat calloused paws, elbows, and even limit the snowballs that form on dogs’ feet while outdoors.
When it comes to custom manufacturing, i3DMFG is lightyears ahead, employing nine, multi-million dollar 3D printers that create parts from metal powders that are layered one upon another, fused together by lasers.
Erin Stone, founder and CEO of i3DMFG, said the firm has contracts with the U.S. Department of Defense, aero-space companies such as Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space exploration effort, and high-tech bicycle manufacturers.
“What a laser printer can do is manufacture pieces that have less moving parts, less subject to wear and failure, and be more efficient,” she said.
To do that, the firm hires civil and mechanical engineers and support staff who program the printers to create the pieces. And it is looking for more talent to hire, especially in the field of additive engineering. It employs 15 people.
How did the business wind up in Redmond?
“I was in additive manufacturing and hybrid-product management, using excess capacity of other people’s additives machines and piecing that together, injected to help create what is known as ‘rapid prototyping,’” said Stone. The goal is to get products from a prototype to market as fast as possible.
However, with metal powders, the time to market is reduced dramatically. Some take a few hours to make, others about nine days, with lasers running 24/7.
“I pitched the idea of starting a plant here to the SBA for funding. Jon Stark (of REDI) and Roger Lee (director of the Economic Development for Central Oregon) were instrumental in helping us way back when,” Stone said.
She got into the business because, “I wanted to create family-wage jobs, so that people can come here, raise a family without having to have two incomes; and enjoy the outdoors, their time off,” she said.
With the pandemic easing, Stark told the group that Redmond’s light manufacturing sector is enjoying a boom, up 28% in employment over the past year. Manufacturing growth is four times the average in Oregon and 10 times that in the U.S.