WITH a degree in forestry from Washington State University and millions of acres of forests in the Pacific Northwest, Greg Weist fully expected to have a long career in his chosen profession. He specialized as a log scaler, the expert who figures out how many board feet of lumber can be produced from a truck full of logs, so that buyer and seller can settle on a fair price.
But with reductions in logging due to environmental restraints and the general decline in the timber industry, he was working less and less. "It got to the point where I was laid off more than I was on," he recalls. It was a tough spot for a young family man with two children. That was about three years ago, when Mr. Weist obtained financial aid from the state and enrolled at Grays Harbor Community College in carpentry and cabinetry courses.
As it happened, his new skills were just what Del and Barbara Fandrich were looking for a year ago, and they hired him as the first employee of their new piano-manufacturing company. Now, he is enjoying what he calls "certainly rewarding work."
"There's something about building pianos that catches the imagination," he says, taking a break from the drill press where he is working on internal parts made of Olympic Peninsula spruce.
"We're delighted with him, just delighted," says Del Fandrich, who used to be head of research and development for the Baldwin Piano & Organ Company.
The Fandrich Piano Company is just what this economically depressed area is looking for: a new company that will put local people to work in a manufacturing operation that has high potential for growth. That it adds value to local timber more often shipped abroad as raw logs is a bonus.
The Fandrich upright piano, which has been in production for about a year, is getting rave reviews from experts around the world. Its patented action led Piano Quarterly to call it "the greatest single technological advancement in the development of the vertical piano in more than a century ... the first vertical ever produced that truly functions as a grand piano."
The company and its nine employees are now completing four to six upright pianos a month, but would like to raise that to one a day by the end of the year. Also, queries and even deposits already are coming in for the Fandrich grand piano, which is still in the design phase and will not be produced for several more years.
Barbara Fandrich, the company general manager, says they plan to develop training programs at local high schools and the community college to prepare piano craftsmen.
Eventually, they hope to employ 200 people. Local officials wooed the couple with remodeled warehouse space, which belonged to the Port of Grays Harbor, and an attractive lease. The state of Washington paid half of Weist's salary for his first three months of training.
"We certainly can't replace logging in the area, but we can make a dent," Weist says. "And we can set an example for other industries."