Greg Barreto, founder of Barreto Manufacturing, talks about one of his company’s trenchers to a group of local residents who participated Thursday in the Union County Economic Development Corporation tour of the Barreto site located near the Union County Airport. (PHIL BULLOCK/The Observer)
Union County Economic Development Corporation receives first-hand look at multi-million dollar operation that employs 75 workers
Greg Barreto built his first all-hydraulic tiller more than 30 years ago. As a college student he grew tired of fixing tillers, so he began to make his own.
He sold his first tiller to his employer at a rental yard and launched Barreto Manufacturing, Inc. in 1984.
Today the company is a multi-million dollar operation that employs about 75 people — and it’s all set up in the Grande Ronde Valley.
Barreto, who still heads the La Grande-based operations, provided a tour of his shop last week for the Union County Economic Development Corporation.
Surrounded by commercial-grade hydraulic trenchers, tillers and other machinery, Barreto explained that his company ships its products across the nation and around the globe.
Barreto moved his family to La Grande in 1986, where he set up shop for his company. Through the years, Barreto has expanded and added more product lines, something he said comes with watching the industry and making improvements to existing products.
“You’re always making improvements. It’s always evolving,” he said. “You’ve got to have something a little better” than what’s already on the market.
Nearly every component of Barreto’s products is manufactured locally, except for the engines, tires and some hydraulic parts, though Barreto is quick to tell people he has an engineer who does the designing.
“I’m a concept guy, and I approve drawings,” he said.
Staying — and thriving — in business means finding new ways to finish products. Barreto six years ago put up a building at his Union County Airport location and implemented powder coating rather than wet painting.
“One of the things about powder coating is it’s cleaner,” he said. “It certainly gives us a quality product and a faster turn-around.”
The equipment for such an operation is large and required training for Barreto employees. Machines clean parts thoroughly with chemicals and are then coated with a colored flour-like substance before heading into the oven to dry.
He bought the equipment for the powder coating operation new, something he learned from other businesses in the industry.
“We go to these trade shows, we get to know all the other manufacturers and we get to pick their brains,” Barreto said.
Barreto said his company’s growth comes from watching the market and maintaining good relationships. When other trencher companies dropped wheeled machines, Barreto kept producing them.
“We’re selling more of these than we ever have,” he said.
UCEDC Executive Director Dan Stark said the corporation has been considering reviving tours like the one at Barreto Manufacturing for a while now.
“They used to do these many years ago,” he said. “It’s informative.”
Stark said the group would like to incorporate more tours for its members.
Private business memberships dropped off during the recession, so UCEDC has been searching for ways to boost that back up. They also wanted to find a way to give back something to their members, Anderson said.
“We’re trying to make our membership a little more of a social event,” he said. “It’s given us a chance to really see what Greg Barreto is up to.”