While the area housing market dipped and retail sales slowed in 2008, Mid-Columbia ports and economic development organizations took their tasks seriously, helping businesses grow and creating new jobs. The local ports use their tax dollars in different ways to accomplish that job creation goal. They sell bare land to companies or lease buildings. Sometimes they develop property for sale or to lease for small business development. The main goal is to create jobs and economic development.
The Port of Pasco sold land to Syngenta, which is in the midst of building a $42 million seed processing plant at the Port’s Pasco Processing Center off Highway 395. The 130,000 square foot facility will produce vegetable seeds that will be sold around the world. The seed processing plant will have about 25 full-time employees and an annual payroll of about $4 million.
Local growers will benefit from the new plant through an anticipated $12 million in contracts that will be offered by Syngenta, a Switzerland-based agribusiness. Jim Toomey, the Port’s executive director, said the development not only brings in millions of private investment dollars to the community, it creates tax revenue without putting additional stress on area schools and city services.
The Port sold 29 acres to Syngenta for the project for $1.2 million and hopes the project will spur more development at the Pasco Processing Center. Toomey said the Port spent $800,000 to improve rail infrastructure in the center to bring the 16 miles of rail line that was built in 1940’s up to today’s standards.
“Now we have the capability to handle containers and bulk rail and we’ve seen a steady increase for the bulk rail demand, especially with an increase of windmill components being shipped,” he said.
Also in 2008, the Port of Pasco began plans to develop two miles of its riverfront shoreline that is not impeded by a levy. “We are striking a development agreement with the city,” said Toomey. “And we are in the design stages of the first building on the land.” The Port hopes to create a riverfront development that includes restaurants and small shops, he said.
The Port, also operates the Tri-Cities Airport in Pasco, which is why its staff is three to four times larger than those at other are Ports and also why the Port’s operating budget is more than twice that of the Port of Benton or the Port of Kennewick.
At the Port of Kennewick, several construction projects were underway on Port property in 2008, said Larry Peterson, the port’s director of planning and development. In June, the port completed a 34,000 square-foot building at Spaulding Business Park for Vista Engineering and in August, construction was completed on an 18,000 square-foot office and warehouse at Vista Field Industrial Park for Consolidated Supply.
One of the largest projects was a 30,000 square-foot building at Vista Field where Infinia will manufacture its solar dishes. The company is expected to add up to 100 new workers at the plant. The Port also sold the land to developers for the South Ridge Village, where a 10,000 square-foot office and retail building has already been built. Peterson said the Port is continuing its $5 million redevelopment of Clover Island where its shiny new office overlooks the marina.
The Port has demolished the former Clover Island Yacht Club to make room for a new 12,000 square-foot building. The club will lease the bottom level of the two-story building and the top level will be available.
The Port is also planning the develop the Willows Trailer Court off East Columbia Drive, which it bought in 2007 for $1.5 million. During 2008, port officials negotiated to buy the old trailers on the 6.75 acre property. Once all the trailers are removed, the property may be sold to a private developer. Peterson said the goal is to create a vibrant, attractive waterfront with restaurants, condominiums and small shops.
At the Port of Benton, 2008 was a landmark year. The Port celebrated its 50th anniversary. It continued work at Prosser’s Vintner’s Village, where Milbrandt Vineyards completed its 3,000 square-foot tasting room, followed by Bunnell Family Cellar’s 3,700 square-foot tasting room next door.
The Port sold the final two lots at the wine village to brothers Bob and Roger Gamache who have started construction on a 3,000 square foot tasting room for Gamache Vineyards. Since land in the initial development had all been bought, port officials bought 17 acres adjacent to Vintner’s Village that they plan to start developing this year.
At the Prosser Airport, port officials also built a 12,000 square foot addition to the existing FruitSmart headquarters, allowing the company to expand production. And also in Prosser, Mike Hogue and Bud Mercer finished a 15,000 square-foot, 65,000-case wine production facility for Mercer Estates at the Port’s Prosser Wine and Food Park. Hogue and Mercer are also completing a 12,000 square-foot tasting room and barrel storage facility adjacent to the production building.
In Benton City, the port purchased an existing building that it is remodeling to transform into two retail store fronts for wine or wine-related businesses.
One of the Port’s proudest projects of 2008 is its new $1.5 million freight transload facility, which opened in October at Richland’s Horn Rapid Industrial Park off Kingsgate Way. Henningsen Cold Storage is operating the 7,200 square-foot temperature controlled facility and the Tri-City and Olympia Railroad pull the cars from North Richland to connect to Union Pacific or Burlington Northern Santa Fee rail lines.
The Port is also in the process of reconstruction of the runway at the Richland Airport, a project with a price tag of about $2.2 million. FAA grants paid for 95 percent of the construction. Scott Keller, the Port’s executive director, credited the port’s staff for its success in obtaining grants totaling $4.8 million during 2008.
Keller said the Port spent $9.4 million on capital projects in 2008 and collected about $3.1 million in lease and other revenue. It collected $1.8 million in taxes, which the port uses to build roads and improve infrastructure to attract new tenants to port facilities. TRIDEC, a regional economic development organization was involved in many of the area port’s larger projects, including Syngenta.
Deanna Smith, TRIDEC’s marketing director, said the organization responded to 78 businesses seeking information about the area, from what properties and services are available to demographics and worker availability. “Competition for facilities is intense,” Smith said. “Although many companies narrow the list of potential sites in a few months, some cases are managed over a much longer period of time.”
Much of TRIDEC’s business recruitment is done behind closed doors, takes hundreds of hours and can end abruptly. “This year we made the final cut on two very significant projects, however, then the economic downturn started, many nationwide projects, including those, were put on hold for the moment,” she said.
Much of TRIDEC’s focus this year went to trying to encourage Areva to build its new uranium enrichment plant in the Tri-Cities – only to have the company announce it would go to Idaho. “Losing a deal like that when it’s down to two locations is never an easy pill to swallow, but the good news is that Areva will continue being a major player in our community and our relationship with the corporation is solid,” Smith said.
Smith said TRIDEC employees attend marketing and sales trips outside the state and collaborate with the state’s Community, Trade and Economic Development office on Team Washington trips to market the state. Although a large amount of time was spent recruiting businesses to the area, TRIDEC staff also visited existing manufacturing companies in Benton and Franklin counties to determine what needs they have, future plans and how the organization might help them.