If the Tooth Fairy ever decides to hang up her wings and jump on the health-care jobs wagon, she might consider touching down in the Cascade...
If the Tooth Fairy ever decides to hang up her wings and jump on the health-care jobs wagon, she might consider touching down in the Cascade foothills at Sonicare.
This is about the time of year the top-selling electronic toothbrush company — with more than 10 million units sold worldwide — starts ramping up to its traditionally busy holiday sales season by hiring temporary and seasonal workers at its rural Snoqualmie headquarters.
Already the fourth-largest medical-technology employer in the region, Sonicare’s Snoqualmie plant is the workplace for 415 engineers, administrators, manufacturing workers and call-center staff.
It’s about a 30-minute jaunt from its sister plant in Auburn, where 132 workers package and ship the assembled toothbrushes around the world.
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Starting this month and through November, Sonicare fills 20 to 40 seasonal openings to gear up for the holiday rush. Yet when it comes to the production-plant floor, most year-round assemblers are Sonicare veterans, says company human-resource specialist Holli Morley.
“We don’t have a lot of turnover,” says Morley. “Many of our assemblers have been with us for more than 10 years.”
These workers have seen tremendous company growth.
Sonicare begin spinning its first bristles for customers in 1992 under locally based Optiva. By 1997, business magazines were touting it as the country’s fastest-growing private company.
Two years later, Sonicare moved from its Bellevue base to its current 176,000-square-foot Snoqualmie facility. Shortly after, Dutch business giant Royal Philips Electronics acquired the company and gave it a name makeover: Philips Oral Healthcare. Within months, Sonicare produced its 10 millionth rechargeable power toothbrush.
“When we first started, our products were assembled by hand,” said Morley. “Now it’s more about assembling our products with the help of robotics and automation.”
Most of the plant’s original manufacturing workers, says Morley, have since brushed up on their skills on the job, so they now run the current machinery that creates the toothbrushes.
Design of this dental dynamo comes from Snoqualmie-based engineers. Inside the sleek device, a microprocessor controls the head’s movement and battery charge. A laser-tuned resonator maintains precise bristle velocity.
“I know it’s going to sound funny, but a lot of people come to work for us because they’re very passionate about our product,” says Morley.
And while good oral health is a strong incentive for sales, vanity doesn’t hurt either.
Teeth whitening and smile improvement are all the rage in the United States. Adults continue to flock to cosmetic dentistry or orthodontia.
Teeth whitening — the most-requested procedure in the industry — grew by more than 300 percent between 1996 and 2000. Consumers spent nearly $300 million for packaged teeth-whitening systems during the four-year span.
Statewide there are about 19,360 direct biotechnology and medical-technology jobs at last official count — a figure that many industry officials believe is closer to 26,000 today.
These jobs spin off another 62,500 in related work, according to a study prepared for the Washington State Biotechnology and Biomedical Association.
Wages are healthy, too. The same study shows biotechnology and medical-technology workers in this state earned an average $68,000 in 2001 — $30,000 more than average wages in the state.
Now Sonicare is part of the Philips Domestic Appliance and Personal Care division — with connections to others in the Philips family including Philips Medical Systems, with Philips Ultrasound, headquartered in Bothell.
The leading medical-technology employer in King County, Philips Ultrasound has a payroll boasting more than 1,750 workers — more than twice the size of the next largest local medical-technology company.
“Our employment is steady, but there’s room for growth and other opportunity,” says Steve Kelly, spokesman for Philips Ultrasound.
“The equipment we manufacture and market can catch diseases earlier in their progression. Knowing you work in a place that makes a difference in people’s lives every day is just another reason that it’s a nice place to work.”
The company’s Bothell facilities — including basketball, racquetball and volleyball courts, and an in-house coffee bar — are good morale boosters, too, Kelly adds.
And the potential for international connections? That doesn’t hurt.
“Philips brings in a lot more career opportunities for us, not just as a local company but as a global employer,” says Morley. “People are always intrigued about the global opportunities with different divisions, but a lot of people come out to Snoqualmie and see how beautiful it is here and never want to move.”