Port of Morrow booms as economy strengthens
By MITCH LIES
With Lamb Weston planning a plant expansion at the Port of Morrow, Tillamook County Creamery Association constructing a whey and lactose plant there and Calbee Foods expanding its plant, business is booming at the Port of Morrow in Eastern Oregon.
The Capital Press on March 14 sat down with Gary Neal, general manager of the port, to catch up on port activities.
Q: A lot seems to be going on at the port. Can you fill us in?
A: Lamb Weston has committed to build a major plant at the Port of Morrow. It is in excess of a $200 million capital investment, and it is going to create over 125 new, good-paying jobs, and it will be operational by the summer of 2014.
When this is completed, along with their other operations there at Boardman, they will be producing in excess of 1 billion pounds of finished potato product a year, which will be basically the largest production facilities in one location in the world.
Q: Will they be contracting for more potato acres?
A: They are going to have an additional 9,000 acres of potato ground required for this expansion. And, obviously, they want to get as close as they can to their facilities, so most of that is going to come from the Oregon side of the irrigated ground in our region. It is going to help our farm economy, obviously, and the capital investment is going to create jobs in our region.
Q: What else is going on at the port?
A: We also have currently under construction a whey and lactose plant Tillamook has started, and it is between a $90 and $100 million investment.
This will be their third investment (at the port).
They had the initial investment in 2000, and then they doubled the capacity of the facility in 2005, so they are producing about 120 million pounds of cheese a year there now.
We're excited about that additional activity and the jobs. They'll have over 35 additional jobs on that project.
And Calbee Foods is doing a major expansion. (They produce a potato snack fry for the Asian market.) They have done a couple of expansions for their export business over the years, and they now are creating another expansion for making the product for U.S. distribution.
Also, our planer facility (Upper Columbia Mill) is just finishing an expansion of their kilns, increasing production capacity there.
And also, Columbia Forest Products Co. is just in the process of finishing building a veneer plant.
And ZeaChem is hopeful that sometime by the end of the year they will be able to break ground on a new (cellulosic ethanol) commercial facility.
Q: Added up, it seems like a tremendous amount of activity. Is this unusual?
A: We've been fortunate: All through the so-called soft economy we've seen steady business-related activities.
And some of the businesses I just described have been planning during this period, as well, and finally I think they got to the point to where, yeah, it looks like the economy is going to be good and stable enough for them to pull the trigger and move forward.
And I think sometimes business brings more business. I think industries like to land around other industries.
And our infrastructure is there. We've probably over the last seven years spent close to $50 million on infrastructure. That has already generated over $400 million in private investment, with almost $1 billion in the works.
It takes money. It takes those investments to be able to attract businesses.
Q: What's the progress report on the new interpretive center, the Sustainable Agriculture and Energy Center?
A: It will have its grand opening June 1.
We're excited about that because it will tell the story about our natural-resource based economy and where your food comes from, and the technology involved in its production.
Today, when you are doing natural-resource-based business, you have to be as advanced in technology as you can be to be as competitive as you can be.
With the irrigated agriculture and the satellite technology that we have, and all of the farming practices that we have, and all the infrared stuff, the computers that run this equipment, it is so sophisticated. I don't think the general public realizes that.
So this is an effort to tell that story, as well.