Outdoor Research, a leading independent manufacturer of outdoor apparel and accessories, this week was named Washington state 2012 Innovator of the Year in the large company category by a panel of seven judges assembled by Seattle Business Magazine.
The award, which will be featured in the May issue of Seattle Business, is the culmination of the publication’s Washington Manufacturing Awards, which honors companies whose work results in growing or advancing the manufacturing sector in the state. Six winners were chosen in different categories at an awards ceremony Thursday night, April 26. Representatives of roughly 270 manufacturing companies located in the state attended the event.
The Innovator of the Year award recognized Outdoor Research’s commitment to operating a state-of-the-art apparel and accessories manufacturing operation just south of downtown Seattle that employs more than 160 people.
In choosing Outdoor Research for the award, judges noted that Outdoor Research has been growing its domestic manufacturing capability in recent years and hiring new manufacturing staff, the result of its success building gloves for the Special Operations Forces of the U.S. military; its work to improve the efficiency and quality of internal manufacturing processes; its strong product design and development capability; and the company’s overall management excellence, said Leslie Helm, editor of Seattle Business.
“There was strong consensus among the judges that this is a really well-managed company,” Helm said.
Demand for high-end, specialized products like the Modular Glove System – built for the Special Operations Forces of the U.S. military – has resulted in 38 percent growth in manufacturing staff at Outdoor Research’s domestic manufacturing facility. The facility is located in the same building as the company’s headquarters in Seattle. Outdoor Research also uses the operation as a prototyping lab for its consumer outdoor product division, which allows it to build and test new outdoor products with very quick turnaround times.
“Innovation is crucial to the success of Washington state’s manufacturing economy,” said U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.). “Outdoor Research is a great example of this American manufacturing success. I am particularly proud that America’s troops are safer because of new technologies coming from right here in the Northwest.”
In the nomination for the award, examples of innovation called out include the Outdoor Research’s ‘work smarter, not faster’ approach. OR developed a variety of sewing-machine modifications that save time and reduce the possibility for repetitive stress injuries among workers. The nomination also called out the company’s efforts to develop and/or employ the most innovative equipment and processes. Among other distinctions, its domestic facility pioneered the equipment necessary to build seam-taped Gore-Tex gloves, working in concert with W.L. Gore & Associates. It is the only facility in North America with certification from Gore to build seam-taped gloves and mitts.
“Having domestic manufacturing located in the same building as our offices gives Outdoor Research a number of strategic advantages, and we’re excited that our success with domestic production has also meant we’ve been able to help create new jobs in our home state in recent years,” said Alex Kutches, President of Outdoor Research. “We’re very honored that the judging panel for Seattle Business recognized what we’ve been doing on the manufacturing side as worthy of this year’s Innovator of the Year Award.”
Kutches said that Seattle has a long history in high-quality garment manufacturing, and the skills of the staff who work in its manufacturing operation – many of whom have worked there for much of Outdoor Research’s 30-year history – has been key to the company’s success in designing and building high-quality products for military applications. On average, employees on the manufacturing side of the business have been with Outdoor Research for more than a decade.
“Having a top-notch facility is important, but the biggest thanks is due to the incredibly talented staff that conceptualize, design and produce our gear,” Kutches said. “We’re certainly proud that their work helps support the work that our troops do every day.”
Technologies and manufacturing capabilities offered by companies nominated in this year’s awards ranged from medical devices, bio-fuels and steel manufacturing to lasers and heavy machinery.
About Outdoor Research
Based in Seattle, Wash., Outdoor Research designs and manufactures functional solutions for human-powered adventure. Outdoor Research offers technically innovative and superior apparel, headwear, handwear, gaiters, storage and shelter systems. Product testing and high-quality construction is backed up with OR’s Infinite Guarantee®. Outdoor Research enthusiastically supports the outstanding conservation, access, and educational efforts of a variety of organizations and encourages our customers to do the same. Outdoor Research – Designed by Adventure®.