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Erickson flying high: More than 100 employees hired

In the boom-and-bust world of aerospace manufacturing, Erickson Inc. is arguably in a boom cycle.

The global aviation firm, principally known for its Sikorsky S-64 aircrane helicopters, has seen its share of the downside over the past decade, but the reinvigorated company is keeping busy here and abroad.

Erickson has three operation sites in Jackson County — a manufacturing plant on Willow Springs Road, a warehouse on Kirtland Road and a maintenance and operations center at the Medford airport, where its composite blades are developed and tested.

The crowded parking lots at Erickson’s Willow Springs Road site at the north end of Central Point, are indicative of a local payroll of more than 400 workers, a growth of more than 100 jobs in recent months. Worldwide, the company has an estimated 700 employees.

The first of three aircranes — two fleet additions and one replacement — destined for South Korea is due for delivery in October, with the next two due for delivery in November 2019.

“Our Willow Springs hangar is pretty jammed up,” said Commercial Aviation President Andy Mills. “Our Southern Oregon plants are busier than they’ve been in four years.”

When Erickson last published its average salary three years ago, the figure was $65,000 — about $25,000 more than the average $40,000 income in Jackson County. Given the competitive marketplace for the skills involved in the building and maintaining of helicopters, company officials say those numbers have climbed.

“There are only so many aircraft technicians in the valley, so we’ve had to go out and recruit in other parts of the country,” Mills said. “That’s always been an issue for us, but that’s good because we are bringing more people to Southern Oregon. Our pay scale is set by the market, and our industry pays higher than average.”

Erickson’s presence not only boosts wages, but it provides marketing ammunition for people recruiting business to the region.

“Whenever we go to trade shows or conferences, we like to drop names like Erickson or Harry & David,” said Colleen Padilla, executive director at Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development Inc. “When they hear names like that, people don’t think we’re in some remote corner of the West Coast. It brings name recognition to Southern Oregon and helps us leverage additional opportunities. “

A decade ago, Erickson surged into the spotlight, pushing beyond its forestry, firefighting and odd job roots after ZM Private Equity Fund acquired the company, moved the headquarters to Portland and acquired Evergreen International Aviation’s helicopter unit. Company shares became publicly traded in 2012, soared and then crashed when defense contracts declined along with gas and energy exploration.

Hundreds of employees were laid off, and the company sought court protection before re-emerging from Chapter 11 in 2017.

“We’ve ramped-up our business to where we were three or four years ago,” Mills said. “We went through a period where we had no orders at all.”

While orders and contracts produced a flurry of media releases during the previous regime, present CEO Doug Kitani, who took the reins last August, is more reserved.

That’s in part because defense contractors working with Erickson often prefer low profiles, Mills said.

“Defense work is more volatile,” he said. “But we’re holding our own.”

Erickson’s fleet of 20 S-64s continues to tackle firefighting assignments in Australia, Chile, Greece and Turkey, and will no doubt be active during the summer fire season. A crew was deployed in Scotland earlier this year to build a power line.

“I think we’ll be doing more there,” Mills said of Scotland.

Even though one helicopter is staying home in the Rogue Valley to test composite blades, three-quarters of the fleet is in service.

“We’re busier than we’ve been in the last two years,” he said. “There are more people entering the firefighting market, but we still feel like the dominant player.”

— Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or gstiles@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness or www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.

Mail Tribune file photo Erickson has rebounded from some tough years and has been hiring as its helicopters are in high demand for a variety of tasks worldwide.