MOSES LAKE - Grant County is an enormous, eclectic expanse, running from the columnar basalt around Grand Coulee Dam to the flat and arid Hanford Reach. Bigger than the state of Delaware, it has a mix of diverse towns and cities, all with unique needs for economic growth. This has been both a challenge and an opportunity for the Grant County Economic Development Council, according to Executive Director Jonathan Smith. In the last year the EDC accomplished a great deal, according to Smith, working with both industrial and retail economic development. Smith says the EDC has had to tailor its services to the needs of each community in the county. He can tie about 280 new jobs in Grant County in 2012 directly to activities of the EDC.
Grant County is growing and as it grows its economy is expanding. According to Patrick Jones, executive director of the Institute for Public Policy and Economic Analysis at Eastern Washington University, Grant County's population is increasing and is projected to hit 100,000 around 2016 or 2017. The U.S. Census estimates that it is currently around 91,000. That growth will be countywide, according to Jones.
Agriculture is the number one economic sector in the county and is not going away and will in fact become more important. In 2010, 24.4 people were employed in agriculture out of every 1,000 persons working. In Washington state, the figure is 5.9 persons. Payroll for agricultural jobs in 2010 was a little more than $18 million. This was a slight decrease from years before but that is due to less people working in agriculture rather than lower wages.
The number two economic sector in Grant County is government, including the PUD. The number three economic activity is manufacturing. That should continue to grow as long as the county maintains its advantage on electrical rates, according to Jones. But it's still an open question of where most of the economic growth in the county will come from. "Could Moses Lake or any community near Interstate 90 capitalize on its location to become a logistics center?" Jones asks. Also, Grant County Airport could attract aerospace growth. "I can't help to think that given the current management and leadership it won't be successful in some way."
Growth in professional services such as lawyers, doctors, and engineers is possible, according to Jones, but the question is how much growth will actually occur.
Retail sales have also grown despite concerns about retail "leakage" where dollars are spent outside the county. Retail in Grant County has grown faster than the state average but some of that growth could be due to the construction happening in the county. Retail is the fourth largest economic sector in the county. Retail sales leaving Grant County and being lost to neighboring counties such as Benton (Tri-Cities) is apparent but appears to be lessening as retail has continued to grow in Grant County.
The annual wage in Grant County has increased faster than the state but is still behind. More money in the pockets of residents leads to more spending which in turn leads to more growth. Grant County has a very young population which can become a good workforce for employers.
Home values grew in 2012
Housing affordability for first-time homeowners is better than the state average. This has been a long-term trend but the gap has narrowed somewhat as housing has become more affordable in other parts of the state as the housing bubble on the west side of the state collapsed.
"The trends for Grant County are really encouraging," Jones said. In all the "classic metrics" Grant County is doing better than the state as a whole.
Tourism is a growing part of Grant County's economy. Between 2001 and 2008 tourism tax revenue doubled. That is the hotel/motel tax used to pay for promoting Grant County tourism. Since then, there hasn't been as much growth but things have not fallen off, according to Bob Adler, chair of the Grant County Tourism Commission. "Last couple of years we've held our own and that's a good thing," Adler states. While other counties saw a large drop-off in tourism during the past few years, Grant County hasn't.
Jones adds that per-capita tourism spending in Grant County is equal to that of the state. "You don't see that in Spokane or Walla Walla," he says. "We probably are Washington state's recreation destination," Adler stated, pointing out all the different activities available here. "There's a huge amount of amenities in the county," he adds. "I'm looking forward to 2013 being a good year for tourism," Adler concludes.
Pacific Coast Canola
One of the successes of the Grant County EDC is bringing Pacific Coast Canola to Warden. According to Matt Upmeyer, general manager, the construction of the crusher in Warden is "progressing very well and right on track." The company anticipates a first quarter 2013 startup. All major equipment is installed and staffing is mostly wrapped up with 43 full-time and two part-time positions. The company is looking to hire two or three additional personnel before startup. There are also 10 people working outside of Warden.
The facility will produce two products: Canola meal which can be feed to several different species of livestock but primarily goes to dairy cattle. The other product is food-grade Canola oil. The plant is designed to produce 300 million pounds of oil a year. The product will also be suitable for bio-diesel. The company hopes to obtain as much of the Canola seed as possible locally.
Future growth at the Warden plant will come "if the markets warrant it," Upmeyer says. "Nothing is out of the question" but the demand for Canola oil and the availability of seed will drive future expansion.
"We're very excited to be a fixture in the community," Upmeyer stated. "We plan to be there for the long haul and are proud to be part of the community."
Amway is building a plant in Quincy to produce organic botanical concentrates for phytonutrients, according to Jim Brundidge, director of nutritional product operations for Amway. Ground was broken Aug. 29 and construction started in October. The mild weather has helped and the construction is ahead of schedule. The company is still aiming for a second quarter 2014 start up. The plant will employ a lot of new technologies so there will be a great deal of testing before the plant begins production. There should be about 30 employees when the plant is operational. They will be looking for employees with advanced manufacturing skills as the jobs will be very technical. Management will start moving into Quincy the first part of 2013.
Raw materials will come from Amway's Trout Lake Farms in Kittitas County and near Ephrata and will include alfalfa and Echinacea.
Along with the $38 million investment, Brundidge says Amway "truly believes in being a community partner." The company looks forward to being a long-term member of the Grant County community. "We're very excited about relocating," Brundidge says.
Genie has been a long-term partner in the growth of Grant County's economy. While it has had its up and downs, in 2012 growth was strong at Genie. Revenue was up 24 percent in 2012 from 2011 and, according to Glenn Gere, senior director of operations, 2013 looks like revenue will grow 27 percent over 2012.
"We've added a couple of hundred team members in 2012," Gere says. Employment at the factory is around 900, now. The company plans to add more in 2013's first quarter. They are looking for skilled labor, mechanical engineers and maintenance technicians but are having difficulty filling all the positions they have open. Genie needs 30 to 40 welders and 60 to 70 new employees overall in the first quarter of 2013.
Gere states the company's growth has been driven by equipment rental companies replacing their aging and depleting fleets. There has also been a huge "uptick" in the Telehandlers market but since that's usually driven by home construction he's not sure why.
Gere says the corporation has just renewed its lease at the Port of Grant County for 15 more years and plans to remain part of the community. "We like being part of the community. It's been a great relationship so far," Gere added.
According to Al Buckingham, president of ChinaSoft International-US, the company came to Grant County because of the high-tech data centers located here in addition to Job Corps and Big Bend Community College. The Job Corps' IT program and BBCC's computer science program were both factors in bringing ChinaSoft to Grant County. WorkSource in Moses Lake was another reason for locating in Grant County.
Currently ChinaSoft employs four people in Quincy but Buckingham says next year that should grow to 50 and in the future to as many as 200 to 300. Buckingham says there are no limits to how much ChinaSoft can grow due to the demand for its services. "We can keep growing," Buckingham stated. "We really look forward to growing in Grant County." Buckingham says ChinaSoft plans to "engage with all the communities in Grant County" as it expands.
Microsoft came to Grant County originally in part because of the availability of clean hydropower and fiber optics capacity, according to Gregg McKnight, Microsoft general manager of Data Center Architecture and Strategy via email.
Since April 2007, Microsoft has been operating in Quincy with a data center providing its "Online," "Live, and "Cloud" services. In 2010 Microsoft broke ground on its first Generation 4 modular data center and it went live in 2011. Microsoft is now working on what it calls "Modular Data Center" where components called "IT Pre-Assembled Components," or ITPACs, can be plugged in or unplugged to meet capacity needs. When finished all three Microsoft data centers in Quincy should employ 30 to 50 people.
While Microsoft will not discuss future expansion plans, the Quincy facility will continue to support Microsoft's cloud initiatives and growing portfolio services for their customers, McKnight concluded.
Allan Peterson of the Grant County EDC heads up the Retail Taskforce. The taskforce was started by the EDC with the goal of bringing more retail business to the county. It is a large effort with up to 15 members from different walks of life in Grant County including community members, business and property owners, and government officials.
In 2012, the task force split into four committees, each tasked with gathering information about Grant County for potential retailers. The goal was to get information not available on the Internet that would be useful for retailers. Peterson says the group wants to bring new retail to Grant County, not retailers that will compete with existing businesses.
The group is preparing to attend the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) convention in May 2013. The county will have a booth set up among the retailers and those attending from Grant County will have specific tasks such as retailers to talk to and present information. They have targeted 20 companies and are developing information packages specifically for them. "This may be the tipping point" in bringing them here, Jonathan Smith says.
Smith says that retail is growing in Grant County and he credits Peterson who works with small business through the Small Business Development Center (SBDC). Smith says there are three areas of growth: local retail expanding, regional retailers growing, and national retailers locating in Grant County. Through the SBDC, Peterson is helping local retailers expand. The retail task force is targeting regional and national retailers.
The retail taskforce needs input and help from the community, according to Petersen. "We know what fits and what doesn't and we're looking for the closest match." But the more information they have the better the result of their efforts will be.
Grant County EDC
Part of Executive Director Smith's goals for 2012 was to "increase our outreach and activities across the county." The EDC is working with Grand Coulee, Soap Lake, Warden, Hartline, and other communities. "We have the capacity to be of real assistance to these areas," Smith says. For instance, Soap Lake has no industrial land so the traditional efforts of the EDC - bringing in manufacturing and industry - won't happen there. Therefore EDC is working with cities in Grant County to meet their specific and unique economic development goals. For Soap Lake that would be retail and tourism. As an example, there is no one in Grand Coulee who does HVAC work. So the EDC is working to try to bring in a company to do HVAC work even on a part-time basis. This means learning what it would take to bring in such a company.
"Our goal is to listen to their economic development needs." Smith credits having Allan Peterson at the EDC with making it possible for the council to expand its mission. "With him we can do outreach to small businesses like we never have been able to do before."
"We have a lot of things planned for 2013," Smith says. "We have the ability to do proactive development." Before, most of the work the EDC did was by companies finding Grant County through the state or by other means. Now, Smith says, the EDC is going to actively go after both retail and manufacturing for the whole county. Instead of waiting for potential employers to come knocking the EDC will be doing "outreach" both nationally and internationally. Smith would like more input and participation from the community going forward. "Let us know what they see as opportunities so the EDC can pursue them. The support of the Grant County community is what drives us and gives us our direction."