Exclusive: A King in the White House

Chris King shares his importing success story with all the President’s men (and women).

By Sal Ruibal
Photo by Dan Barham

The U.S. used to be a global power in the manufacture of bicycles, the fertile ground where the bike-building Wright Brothers took flight and Schwinn was the world's gold standard. Today, most bikes and much of their parts are made and assembled in Asia while the U.S. factories and the Americans who used to make a living working in them became idle and obsolete.

One exception has been Chris King Precision Components, a Portland, Oregon, based company that has carved out a big piece of that billion dollar economic pie. On Sept. 6, company founder and CEO Chris King made his way to the White House, where he had the leaders of several other job-saving, economy- boosting U.S. firms meet with Obama administration officials to share their formulas for exporting success.

"They said we represent a good example of how the small businessman in America can compete," he said Tuesday while a large crowd of bike manufacturers, bike shop owners and cyclists perused his company's line precision-milled parts and Cielo Cycles. The Chris King brand is one of the most powerful in the bicycle industry.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce Nicole Lamb-Hale and her staff heard how King reversed the flow of American dollars to Asian bike makers by producing American parts of such high demand that exports to China, Taiwan and Europe are now 40% of King's sales.

While Asian bikes might be seen in the U.S. as inferior in quality but strongly competitive in price, the market for high-quality parts has seen growth because the rising Asian middle-class has increased demand for what King calls, "the real stuff."

King says he was humbled by the invitation to get involved in the nation's democracy.

"It was moving to see the history there. We received a macroeconomic briefing by White House officials in the Roosevelt Room, just one door down from the President's office."

The President was in Colorado over the several days that King was in the Washington, D.C., but he did witness Obama's arrival in the Air Force One helicopter on the White House lawn.

"I was impressed that the President's staff was looking for things they can do to improve our economic climate and were eager to receive input from people who are living it," he said.