Cross-state connections become clear as #MFGisWA tour hits Kittitas, Grant and Stevens counties (w/ video)
A bubbly froth spills out of a machine inside the plant at the Lane Mountain Company, a manufacturer that’s been making silica sand just outside the rural Stevens County community of Valley since 1961.
The whir of gears and pumps fills the air along with the scent of pine oil, one of the ingredients added to the water mixture that’s washing crushed and ground sandstone on its journey to becoming silica sand.
Except for brief shutdowns for maintenance, the operation runs 24 hours per day, manufacturing the raw ingredient used to make windows, bottles, cement, asphalt shingles, and recreational sand for golf courses among other uses.
On Tuesday, Lane Mountain was the final stop of the fourth day for AWB’s tour bus, which is traveling the state through Friday to highlight the role of Washington manufacturers in the health of the economy.
Anderson Hay was the first to export Washington's prized timothy hay to Japan beginning in 1971. The relationship came about after Japanese business leaders, who were investing in American race horses, noticed timothy hay in Kentucky and asked where it came from. In Japan, timothy hay is a native grass, but they were attracted to the green bales they encountered in Kentucky. After contacting two other companies without success, they came to Anderson and asked whether they could try shipping some to Japan, said Rodney Van Orman, Washington division operations manager for Anderson Hay & Grain Co.
"Sure, let's give it a try," co-founder Ron Anderson said. Now the company sends 25 trucks back and forth to Seattle’s ports twice per day.
From Ellensburg, the tour traveled to Quincy, a town that has been transformed by the burgeoning data storage industry. A longtime agricultural community has seen a revitalization as data centers have come to the area, said Lisa Karstetter, TechSpark manager for Microsoft, who hopped onto the AWB Manufacturing Tour bus to give a tour of Microsoft’s two data centers in the community.
“The data centers have really transformed this area,” said Karsetter, who formerly worked in economic development for the region. She said the increased tax base from the data centers has fueled investment in the town, including a new school, library, public works building, and fresh energy in community groups. She’s also seen young people moving back to town after leaving to find work in bigger cities.
“It’s all been really, really good,” Karstetter said.
Next up was Central Bean Co. in downtown Quincy, which processes 20 varieties of beans grown nearby in the greater Columbia Basin.
The company has long sold to domestic customers, but last year shipped a few containers of product to Australia.
“This year they wanted more,” said Central Bean employee Samuel Gonzalez III, so the company is gearing up to send around a dozen containers of their product Down Under.
Genie Industries in Moses Lake is one only two stops on this year’s Manufacturing Tour that is a repeat from last year’s inaugural tour. With more than 1,100 employees, Genie is a major employer that is about to celebrate its 20th anniversary in Grant County.
It operates four production lines (the company calls them “value streams”) that collectively produce 41 units a day — including three of the 180-foot boom lifts that are the tallest in the world.
After visiting Genie, the bus traveled north of Spokane to Lane Mountain.
The operation is easy to miss driving by on Highway 321 between Spokane and Chewelah, but it’s an important of the local economy and Washington’s manufacturing sector. Fifty employees work at Lane Mountain, driving trucks and working in the plant that transforms sandstone mined from the nearby Huckleberry Mountain Range into 400,000 tons of silica sand every year.
Much of the silica produced at the plant goes to Cardinal Glass in Winlock, Lewis County, where it’s used to make glass for windows. Last year’s AWB bus tour happened to stop at the Cardinal Glass operation, illustrating how the state’s diverse manufacturers are often connected.
The tour continues Wednesday in Spokane, Walla and Tri-Cities. Follow along on Twitter at @awbolympia.