Insitu to build, increase jobs in Bingen

Unmanned drone maker will move its testing, production operations




Drone maker and Boeing subsidiary Insitu Inc. announced Wednesday it will move its production and testing operations to the Columbia River Gorge town of Bingen, which is also the company’s current headquarters.

Insitu, which makes unmanned aircraft for military and surveillance operations, plans to add two new buildings to its waterfront campus, called Bingen Point. It’s located at the Bingen-based Port of Klickitat on the Washington side of the Columbia, located directly across the river from Hood River, Ore. Although Bingen will be Insitu’s only production site, it is unclear whether another Gorge community will be selected to house the company’s headquarters.

Insitu, which employs approximately 800 people in communities up and down the Gorge, started searching for a new headquarters site this year. The selections were narrowed to two Gorge sites — Bingen Point, where the company already houses some operations; and a site 21 miles upriver in Dallesport at the Columbia Gorge Airport.

Insitu expects to sign a lease agreement for the Bingen facilities this summer, according to a company press release. Construction is scheduled to start in 2013 on the two buildings, a 70,000-square-foot production facility and a 30,000-square-foot building for testing engines. Employees who now report to production jobs in Stevenson will be housed in the new buildings.

Meanwhile, the company remains scattered across a number of leased sites, including its 42,000-square-foot manufacturing space on Stevenson’s waterfront and an office for 80 employees in Vancouver’s Columbia Tech Center development.

In Hood River, Insitu holds a commanding presence in one of the town’s largest office structures, the four-story former Sprint telephone building off Interstate 84, overlooking the Columbia River.

Insitu President and Chief Executive Officer Steve Morrow said the Bingen site is more efficient for production.

“(It will) enable us to be even more responsive and affordable in meeting growing customer needs,” Morrow said in a company-issued statement.

Insitu manufactures surveillance drones equipped with cameras that can film and transmit real-time video without being detected in war zones. They are being used in Afghanistan and Iraq. The drones are also used for nonmilitary purposes, such as marine life surveillance.

Morrow is a retired Navy veteran who has worked for Boeing Co. defense programs since 2002. He replaced longtime Insitu CEO Steve Silwa in April, just after the U.S. Defense Department released its Aircraft Procurement Plan, which outlined $259 billion in Pentagon spending that will triple drone purchases over 10 years.

Morrow has already demonstrated his ability to capture some of the defense-spending windfall for Insitu. Just one month after Morrow’s April installment, Insitu landed an $83 million Defense Department contract to provide operation and maintenance services to the department’s unmanned ScanEagle aircraft through 2012.