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Teeth Whitening Good for Local Business

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GREG GILBERT / THE SEATTLE TIMES

If the Tooth Fairy ever decides to hang up her wings and jump on the health-care jobs wagon, she might consider touching down in the Cascade foothills at Sonicare. This is about the time of year the top-selling electronic toothbrush company — with more than 10 million units sold worldwide — starts ramping up to its traditionally busy holiday sales season by hiring temporary and seasonal workers at its rural Snoqualmie headquarters. Already the fourth-largest medical-technology employer in the region, Sonicare's Snoqualmie plant is the workplace for 415 engineers, administrators, manufacturing workers and call-center staff. It's about a 30-minute jaunt from its sister plant in Auburn, where 132 workers package and ship the assembled toothbrushes around the world. Starting this month and through November, Sonicare fills 20 to 40 seasonal openings to gear up for the holiday rush. Yet when it comes to the production-plant floor, most year-round assemblers are Sonicare veterans, says company human-resource specialist Holli Morley. "We don't have a lot of turnover," says Morley. "Many of our assemblers have been with us for more than 10 years." These workers have seen tremendous company growth. Sonicare begin spinning its first bristles for customers in 1992 under locally based Optiva. By 1997, business magazines were touting it as the country's fastest-growing private company. Two years later, Sonicare moved from its Bellevue base to its current 176,000-square-foot Snoqualmie facility. Shortly after, Dutch business giant Royal Philips Electronics acquired the company and gave it a name makeover: Philips Oral Healthcare. Within months, Sonicare produced its 10 millionth rechargeable power toothbrush. "When we first started, our products were assembled by hand," said Morley. "Now it's more about assembling our products with the help of robotics and automation."

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