by Kirby LindsayIn November, three visitors from Taiwan toured Fremont. On the way from the Rocket to Theo Chocolate, along North 35th Street, they asked about Asko Processing. The white-and-blue main building fairly dominates the north side of the block, and pointing at it and invoking the words ‘industrial business’ usually suffices as explanation for visitors. However, these were engineers who asked intelligent, substantive questions, and left this tour guide scrambling, and determined to find answers.
The Simple Facts
In 1970, Dave Kelly relocated the Asko headquarters to Fremont, from a site near the Seattle waterfront where he started in 1967. Dave still serves as president of the company, but Mike Kelly - Vice-President, General Manager of the Fremont facility and Dave’s son – recently took time to answer my nosy neighbor questions.
As he described the business, Kelly drew its similarities to service business. At Asko, they coat metal parts to wear longer, last longer (not corrode,) and look better, to specific engineering requirements set by their customers.
Asko does not manufacture the parts they process. “Someone gets a contract, and they agree to manufacture the part and get it coated before assembly,” Kelly explained. Asko does work for national as well as international customers, because, “we perform a number of processes, so instead of sending it to 3 or 4 companies, they can have all of their finishes done here,” he stated.
“We tend to handle jobs that are difficult or complex,” Kelly said, and he takes pride in how the Asko crew will rise to meet challenges. They process a wide variety of parts, including many for the aerospace and electronics industries. As an FAA certified shop, they are qualified to bring parts back to original manufacturer condition. “Being a service company,” Kelly joked, means they get asked, “how high can you jump,” and his answer is, “how high do you want us to?”
The Never-So-Simple Reality
Their employees – around 125 work in the Fremont headquarters – operate three shifts, including Saturdays, although the majority work during weekday hours. Yet when an airplane must have a part processed immediately to return to the air, the folks at Asko work whatever hours are needed to get the job done.
Employees can earn a lot of overtime, and the company pays well, as is common in industrial businesses. They also cover benefits for employee family members. They provide on-the-job training, and hire people “off-the-street”, yet they also work with the South Seattle Community College vocational program, and take on their interns. Kelly even assists with instruction at the school, where he teaches students about employer expectations.
Perhaps this partially explains why employees stay at Asko. Where Dave Kelly started the tradition of doughnuts for the whole crew in acknowledgement of an employee’s birthday or anniversary, Mike Kelly now picks up the treats. “We have a lot of employees that have been here over 30 years,” he observed. From doing the doughnut runs, he well knows how frequently they celebrate anniversaries of employees at the company for 20, 25, 30 or even 35 years.
A few of those employees are family. Besides Mike Kelly, one of his sons, a cousin and a brother-in-law also have jobs at Asko. Still, everyone must start at the beginning, and learn almost every aspect of the business before taking a supervisory position. Kelly worked his way up, he explained, to become General Manager, “and I’ve only been here 31 years.”
The company always looks out after its customers, its employees - and the neighbors. They give serious and continual attention to preventative and proactive safety measures. The employees get regular training on safety matters, and Asko works closely with the Seattle Fire Department. “As far as I am concerned,” explained Kelly about the firefighters, “they are our partners.”
Asko Processing has slowly but steadily built a significant profile on North 35th Street, in the Fremont industrial area. Recently, that profile expanded with the addition of the building previously occupied by the Alexander Gow Fire Equipment Company, into which they will move their shipping and receiving. Close examination only shows the hard work, dedicated employees and attention to detail that have made it possible for the business to grow and thrive here for over 40 years, so far…
©2011 Kirby Lindsay. This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.