The region’s largest private employer is raising its entry-level wages as it gets even bigger.

Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories announced this week its starting pay is increasing from $15.50 per hour to $16 per hour beginning today.

The hike comes at a time when it has 50 openings altogether at its manufacturing plants in Lewiston and Pullman.

The positions are for entry-level production employees who assemble the electronic devices SEL invents, designs and builds to protect, monitor and control power systems around the world.

Like other full-time SEL employees, the new hires qualify for a number of benefits. Among them are free medical care for themselves and immediate family members at company clinics in Lewiston and Pullman, as well as a stake in the company through its employee stock ownership plan after about six months.

The company needs the employees to help meet the needs of its customers, said Leith Sorenson, SEL’s senior vice president of manufacturing, in an email.

“Demand for our products is up globally and we are hiring in order to keep pace with orders,” Sorenson said. “We serve a critical industry and have been fortunate to be able to keep serving our customers despite the challenges of the last year.”

SEL expanded its payroll during the pandemic, adding more than 100 other positions in the last six months, bringing its number of employees in Pullman to 2,420 and in Lewiston to 610.

SEL’s strength has been part of a robust manufacturing base that helped the region weather the pandemic while other parts of the economy weakened.

The area’s largest employer, Washington State University in Pullman, has shed jobs along with restaurants, hotels and other businesses in the hospitality industry.

Bringing on more employees in Pullman and Lewiston is just one of the ways SEL is growing.

SEL also recently began excavation on a 140,000-square-foot plant on the south side of Moscow where it will fabricate printed circuit boards used in its products. It is scheduled to open at the end of next year.

Williams may be contacted at ewilliam@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2261.

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