By Justyna Tomtas
The Port of Chehalis is expected to receive more than $3.8 million in grants for three projects, one of which could bring as many as 300 well-paying jobs, and another grant that could be the largest in the port’s history.
At Thursday’s port meeting, Chief Executive Officer Randy Mueller said the port is currently in discussions with a biotech company that is looking at a site along the intersection of Jackson Highway and Rush Road in Chehalis.
The port is not releasing the name of the company until a deal is finalized.
The port was initially one of 50 sites the company was looking to locate to, Mueller said. Now, those numbers have dwindled down and the port is one of three sites the company is exploring.
Dubbed “Project Desert,” the company would initially bring 200 jobs, a number that would grow to 300 jobs in five years. The average salary is $56,000.
The Port of Chehalis applied for $1 million from the distressed counties fund, or .09 funds. The committee unanimously recommended the approval of the funds. The Board of Lewis County Commissioners will consider a resolution on Monday, but Mueller said they have already indicated their support for funding the project.
Of the $1 million, $200,000 would be available immediately so the port could make the property “shovel-ready” for the tenant. Then the remaining $800,000 would be available once a contract was signed with the company.
Even if “Project Desert” fell through, Mueller said, completing the work would help make the site near Dawson Court ready for another interested tenant.
Rick Rouse, senior director of operations at the port, said the scope of the initial work is to rework the site, known as the Dawson Road Commercial Site, so it sits on one tax parcel. Currently, a small portion of the property is on a separate tax parcel. Then the port would do phase one of the environmental site assessment. Rouse said since the site historically was used for agricultural purposes, he does not foresee any site contamination. Work would also include a geotechnical review.
Mueller said the majority of the occupants of the building would work in a clerical role, and said a small portion of the building deals with the biomedical aspect of the company.
Port of Chehalis Commissioner Mark Anders said the company would have a major impact on the local community.
“It’s a game changer type of business, so it’s worth that type of investment,” he said.
If the resolution for the funds is approved at the Monday meeting of the Board of County Commissioners, Mueller said, port staff is ready and prepared to start work immediately.
The port also expects to receive $250,000 in .09 funds for a regional stormwater facility. The stormwater pond would service several properties. The .09 committee also unanimously recommended that the county commissioners approve the funds, Mueller said, and the item will also be voted on Monday morning.
The largest of the grants is in the amount of $2,577,800 from the U.S. Economic Development Administration.
“This is pretty exciting, something that’s really fun and a long time coming to the port,” Rouse said. “The port hasn’t seen this kind of federal assistance on a project maybe never, ever before.”
The funds would help construct two building pads that would be able to house a 136,000- square-foot building and a 120,000-square-foot building at Maurin Road Industrial Site 1. The preliminary work to the site has already been completed, such as the site design and grading plans, and many of the needed permits are in hand.
The port also plans to bring a road and utilities to the site.
Given that Lewis County is both economically distressed and has experienced a natural disaster, the grant would cover 80 percent of the project. The remainder of the $644,500 to complete the $3,222,300 project would have to come from local, state or port funds.
Although the Port of Chehalis has been approved for the grant, Rouse said it has to wait for Congress to approve its budget first.
“The Seattle office is waiting for a letter from headquarters on how much money Washington will get and to see if there will be enough money,” Rouse said. “We’ve never got a grant of that size before.”
Rouse said the Seattle Economic Development Administration’s office is confident they will receive the funds.
The news of the grants helped cap off the best year ever for the Port of Chehalis, which saw a record amount of property sales in 2016.
“We did have our best year ever, then we got the news about the grants,” Mueller said. “That’s $3 and three-quarters of a million in grant funds. It blows away anything we’ve ever received and that’s on top of everything else happening.”
The Port of Chehalis has a budget of about $1.2 million, so the grants allow them to do work far outside of its financial scope.
“The bad news is the 2017 budget is already obsolete and it’s not even 2017 yet,” Mueller said with a laugh. “We have to do a supplemental budget at some point to account for these grant funds, but we are in a really good spot.”