Food processing, warehouses key to Adams County’s future

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OTHELLO — You need to cast your nets where the fish are.

Which is helpful, both as actual and metaphorical advice.

“We didn’t have a plan in 2014,” said Stephen McFadden, director of economic development for Adams County. “We didn’t know what industry sectors to invite, and who would be successful if invited.”

Adams County is a small county in terms of population, fewer than 20,000 people, more than half of them living in and around Othello. So, the county’s options for increased economic development are limited.

But, as a business location, Adams County does have some things going for it. According to John Boyd, principal of The Boyd Company, a consulting firm that help businesses and governments select potential sites for new business, Othello has a ready-made infrastructure for food processing and Ritzville has easy access to the I-90.

Which suggests Othello as a home for more food processing firms, while Ritzville might make a good hub for warehousing and distribution.

“I cannot stress the importance of operating costs,” Boyd said. “Ritzville has some of the lowest power costs in the country, and land costs one-tenth of what it costs in premier industrial markets.”

Boyd said that Othello already has a fair amount of expertise in food processing thanks the presence of Simplot and McCain. However, both Boyd and McFadden said they were looking to capitalize on that knowledge and expand past potatoes.

“We’ve got two of the largest potato processors in Othello, and we’re not looking for a third,” McFadden said. “Instead, we’re looking at fruit and vegetable processing, beverages, or boutique and niche food processors.”

McFadden added Othello is looking for more smaller firms rather than a few larger companies, and possibly something that will prompt new opportunities for local farmers.

“Boyd specifically pointed out hummus as a growth opportunity,” McFadden said.

Othello is already host to a Hinrichs Trading Co. facility, which processing chick peas, the main raw ingredient for hummus.

McFadden said his office is trying hard to make growth a great deal more focused and intentional in Adams County. For example, he says they have identified a good potential site for an industrial park along I-90 near Ritzville, and the county along with the Port of Othello is looking a major industrial wastewater treatment and reuse system for the port’s industrial park near Bruce.

“We’ll build it all in one place, it’s designed to serve food processors for the next 50 years. It’s modular and expandable,” McFadden said.

McFadden said the project would cost about $50 million, and would be similar to projects in Quincy and Walla Walla.

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached via email at countygvt@columbiabasinherald.com.

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