Q&A: Kim Medford, VP & General Counsel
ENTEK is a global manufacturing company headquartered in Lebanon, Oregon. We have three manufacturing companies under our umbrella. The first makes battery separators for cars, trucks, boats, golf carts, and lawn and garden equipment. For those of you that don’t know, the separator is the insulator between positive and negative plates in the battery that allows ions to flow and the battery to work without shorting out. The second company makes battery separators for lithium-ion batteries for vehicles, cell phones, power tools and toys. The third branch is our equipment manufacturing company which specializes in co-rotating twin extruders used in the medical industry, food processing, plastics processing, and recycling. Tell us about ENTEK. What do you do?
How did ENTEK get started?
ENTEK is a true American entrepreneur story. Our founder James (Jim) Young invented a solution to revolutionize how vehicle batteries are assembled. The automated enveloping technology that he invented is still used in battery manufacturing plants globally. The adoption of the automated enveloping equipment drove market demand for a more polyethylene separator, so ENTEK rose to the occasion and developed a process to produce just that. ENTEK intended to sell the separator production lines to the battery manufacturers, however, the manufacturers found the process too complex but loved the product. Once again, ENTEK met the customer pull and took on the production of the separators. It was now both an equipment and products company. ENTEK has evolved over the years and now produces battery separators on three continents, produces separators for lithium batteries, and designs and produces world class compounding equipment used by companies for plastic recycling and production and in food and medical applications. Innovation started ENTEK and continues to be a core value.
Tell us about your employees. Who works here?
We have an incredibly diverse group of employees. In Oregon we employ about 440 people. Our career opportunities are available for recent high school graduates, PhD scientists, engineers from a variety of disciplines, programmers, machinists and many other skillsets that keep ENTEK growing and innovating. We are fortunate to have a diverse employee base to leverage in cross disciplinary teams for innovation and problem solving. We pride ourselves on being problem solvers, not just problem reporters, at every level of the organization.
What makes you unique?
We are an international company headquartered in Lebanon, Oregon. Most of what we make in Oregon is exported either domestically or internationally. From an economic perspective, we have somewhat of a unique position as an Oregon manufacturing company that is really playing on an international platform. We are also unique in our adherence and commitment to our core values – especially innovation. It is truly something we live by and it is an incredibly important part of the ENTEK culture. Innovation results in a hardworking team, people willing to go the extra mile, and a lot of agility as a company.
What is the biggest challenge you are facing today?
As a manufacturing company we are impacted in some manner by every new or enhanced law or regulation impacting Oregon businesses. The result of continuous new requirements creates means we spend more time and money. It’s really a challenge to meet the new legal requirements, and often they are passed without thought as to whether we are able to do so contemporaneously. New employment, tax, and environmental requirements continue to compound without an openness for dialogue with regulators on how to manage through each new requirement. We are a “can do” company, but we have learned that we can’t do everything all at the same time and be successful for all of our stakeholders.
The other challenge we have is recruiting. We are rural, not in Portland, so we must lure all our wonderful employees to Lebanon, Oregon. Bringing talent into Oregon from outside the state is challenged by both the expense of living in Oregon and the reputation of our schools.
What does the future look like for ENTEK?
The future of ENTEK is incredibly bright. We are engaged in investments for both organic and acquisition growth. Our path ahead is filled with opportunity and we have the right team to execute our strategy. One of our focus areas for growth is U.S. plastics recycling. As China has stopped taking plastic for recycling from the U.S., many manufacturers are developing their own recycling and ENTEK is poised to provide the equipment into that market. We are also serving the “stop-start” vehicle market with innovative products for batteries. We are enjoying annual growth as many parts of the globe embrace new vehicle technologies that reduce carbon emissions.
How do you view the future of manufacturing in Oregon?
For the foreseeable future of Oregon, I think we will continue to see a reduction of manufacturing in Oregon except for companies that have either a very large installed capital base or are dependent on our state’s natural resources. The layering of regulatory challenges in our state continues to diminish the excitement that we once had for continuing to invest in and grow our manufacturing base here.
What makes you proudest about ENTEK?
I am most proud of our people. The team is really what makes us a present tense organization pointed toward a bright future. We have an incredibly talented and resilient team, and being part of that is what keeps me, and many others, at ENTEK.