Miles Fiberglass

In March, Lori Olund became chair of the OBI Board of Directors. We asked Lori this month to talk about her new role, the challenges facing businesses in Oregon, her experience on the board of the National Association of Manufacturers, and much more. Her answers appear below.

Lori is president of Miles Fiberglass & Composites, a family owned company that manufactures a wide range of products, from panels used in refrigerated rail cars to a prototype submersible car built for a Middle Eastern waterpark (more on that below).

The company was founded in 1963 by Lori’s father, Lowell Miles, who developed an interest in composites when, as a student at Portland’s Benson High School, he spotted a fiberglass hull at a boat show. Lowell began to research and experiment with fiberglass, says Lori, and decided he wanted to turn it into a career.

Lowell started by making canoes and garden ponds in a small building his father allowed him to build in their back yard, eventually adding vents for air conditioning units. There were early hiccups, including a partner who took most of the company’s money (but left the canoes), says Lori. The company’s big break came in the form of a contract to make fiberglass hoods for Freightliner trucks.

Miles Fiberglass & Composites, after combining its two facilities into one location In Clackamas, now occupies an area of 93,000 square feet. In addition to rail-car panels, the company manufactures enclosures for telecommunications equipment, components for military vehicles, panels for recreational vehicles and – the biggest part of its business currently – wastewater infrastructure.

Miles Fiberglass & Components is also involved in developing a lightweight composite trailer for electric vehicles. Speaking of vehicles, the company built prototype components for the Aquaticar, an air-powered ride created for the Qiddiya water park under development in Saudi Arabia.

Lori became president of Miles Fiberglass & Composites in 2008, which was a particularly difficult time for the company. The recession had decimated the recreational vehicle industry that accounted for about 80% of the company’s business, says Lori. In response, the company diversified rapidly and developed a repair service focused on wind turbines. The repair service, which continues to this day, was a life-saver and now includes repairing electric buses.

Lori began to work for Miles Fiberglass & Composites as a high-schooler and spent summer breaks filing documents. She continued to work in the company in various capacities after graduating from college, including payroll, human resources, accounting and payables.

Miles Fiberglass & Composites employs about 60 people at its Clackamas facility and works with fiberglass-repair technicians stationed across the country.

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Lori Olund wears a giant pair of fiberglass pants made for an auto shop in Texas.

Q: What’s something readers may not know about Miles Fiberglass?

A: We have made some crazy things over the last 61 years, including a spaceship for the Dark Horse Comics building, a golf cart shaped like a mouse for Bill Gates, a replica of Plymouth Rock for the Oregon City pioneer museum, an ice cream dish for the largest ice cream sundae in the Guinness Book of World Records, a molecule of penicillin for the Clackamas Community College science building (right) and a full-size dinosaur for the owner of Taco Bell.

Q: What motivated you to join the OBI board?

A: My father was a big believer in being involved and serving your time to help make your industry and business community better. He believed you can’t just sit around and complain; you must do something to make it better. So, I wanted to be involved, and OBI is the right organization to be effective in making things better for businesses in Oregon.

Q: What do you consider the most significant challenge facing businesses in Oregon?

A: Being in manufacturing, we deal with a tremendous number of regulations. I feel this and the taxes we are subjected to are our two biggest challenges. The time we spend on regulations is tremendous. It makes it really tough to be competitive on a national level.

Q: What are some things you’d like OBI members to do over the next few years to help address this and other challenges?

A: Get involved and share your stories with your legislators and agencies. Many times, one agency doesn’t know that another agency may be covering the same request or have conflicting requests. It is up to us to educate them so that they understand the reasons behind what we do and why. You need to get involved and not sit on the sidelines. It is the only way to make a difference.

Q: What’s the best piece of leadership advice you’ve ever received?

A: My father always taught me to lead by example. You can’t expect people to do as you say, and then you do something different. He also taught me to make the best of what you have and figure it out. Everything can be solved with a little perseverance.

Q: You serve on the board of the National Association of Manufacturers, which represents employers around the country. What is the most common question board members from other states ask when they learn that your company is headquartered in Oregon?

A: Lately, it has been, “Is it really as bad as it is portrayed?” Mostly talking about the homeless issue. That makes me sad. I tell them there are a lot of Oregonians determined to turn it around. I feel that change is slowly happening, and things are going to get better. We all must do our part to make a difference.

Q: What, if anything, has surprised you during your tenure on OBI’s board?

A: I came on board when Associated Oregon Industries was merging with the Oregon Business Association. It was a lot of change. I am surprised at how well it has gone. This is due to great leadership and a lot of good negotiating. Angela is a great leader and is taking us in the right direction. We are lucky to have her and her team. I think the business community all wants the same thing, to build a better business environment where business can thrive and create a stable economy for Oregon.

Q: What do you wish elected officials in Oregon understood about businesses?

A: That we are good people and want to do what is best for our employees. Most of our employees have been with us for over 15 years. We consider them family. It is what makes me excited about running our business. Businesses also care deeply about the environment and strive to do what is best. This is done by innovation, creativity and constantly improving what we do. We live here, too, and we do care.

Q: What would you tell a business that was on the fence about joining OBI?

A: Get involved. You won’t be sorry. The relationships you build will be worth it. The opportunity to meet other business leaders and legislators while keeping up with what is happening in the state will be worth it.

Q: What makes you optimistic about Oregon’s future as a place in which to run a business?

A: I feel like change is happening for the better. I believe people are starting to listen to one another and want to work together to make this a better place for Oregonians. As a native Oregonian, I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. We have the best playground in the country, so let’s all play together!

Miles Fiberglass & Composites made this penicillin molecule for Clackamas Community College's science building.