From ounces to tons, Powell measures up

John Schmitz/For the Capital Press Steve and Dana Orr, owners of Powell Scales NW, stand next to cattle scales that recently came off the production line.

Family company rapidly expands offerings across Pacific Northwest

By JOHN SCHMITZ

For the Capital Press

Steve Orr is a man who deals with heavy issues all the time, and he loves every minute of it.

The owner of Powell Scales NW, which is headquartered in Scio, Ore., specializes in the design, fabrication, installation and servicing of truck and railcar scales, some with capacities up to 400 tons.

The firm also sells and services smaller brand-name scales, such as those used in laboratories and warehouses.

Orr entered the scales manufacturing business in 1990, when he began working for his father-in-law, Dave Powell. Orr and his wife, Dana, bought the business in 2001.

During the last several years, Orr has been behind the company's rapid expansion throughout the Northwest and beyond. Today, the company has facilities in Bend, Ore., Spokane and Kennewick, Wash., and will soon open a branch in Reno, Nev., in 2012.

The majority of the projects PSNW gets involved with are used in the livestock, truck and railcar sectors.

"Probably the cheapest scales we sell is around $200, and then we get into jobs that are over a half-million dollars," Orr said.

One of the company's most impressive jobs involved the construction and installation of the foundations for 21 truck scales at the Port of Oakland in California.

"That was over a half-million dollars just for the foundations," Orr said.

Schnitzer Steel in Portland and Green Diamond Sand in Dillard, Ore., are two other customers.

Another highlight in the company's portfolio was the installation of six truck scales for the Deschutes County solid waste transfer station, and a similar installation for a disposal company in Fresno, Calif.

In the ag sector, PSNW manufactures and installs a lot of scales in fertilizer plants. The company's Kennewick and Spokane facilities, which earn about 80 percent of their income from agriculture, are heavily involved in the wheat industry.

When it comes to custom-designed applications, Orr, who has a concrete construction background, is the man the company looks to.

"Actually, I taught myself: the school of hard knocks," he said. The actual licensed engineering of the scales is outsourced.

Orr also gets involved with sales, including designing his own ads, while his wife Dana handles the books. Orr's son, Scott, works during the summer as a welder and handyman.

Custom-designed Powell scales are available only through the company.

"We don't sell through a dealer network anymore," Orr said.

Staying competitive in the scales industry requires advertising, and is the case with Powell Scales NW, plenty of it.

"We advertise all over the place," he said. "I spend a ton of money every year in publications, at trade shows and through the Internet."

Once the scale has been manufactured, Orr's crews go to the jobsite, where they construct the foundation and erect steelwork that supports the scales.

Orr said that one of the biggest challenges he faces is convincing customers that it's worth the extra dollars in the long run to build longer-lasting scales. "There are lot of scales out there that are not made to last," he said.

Powell Scales NW maintains a fleet of 10 service trucks that perform scale calibrations, service and repair.

The company is in Booth 117 in the Willamette Building.

For more information on the company, go to www.ScalesNW.com

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