Food processing and metal fabrication highlight Day 6 of bus tour celebrating Washington manufacturers (w/ video)
The Tyson Foods meat processing plant in Wallula, just outside the Tri-Cities, is one of the smallest in the company's beef division but at 1,400 employees it's an important part of the regional economy.
Employees come from throughout the Mid-Columbia to work in the facility, which offers a has operated under a variety owners since 1966.
The AWB bus stopped at the facility before dawn on Thursday, the sixth day of a seven-day bus tour highlighting Washington's diverse manufacturing sector.
David Tobias, the plant’s human resources manager, has worked here for 35 years, starting on the production floor and working his way into management.
A few miles away at Douglas Fruit in Pasco, the morning shift was busy packing apples into boxes when the AWB bus pulled into the parking lot. The company is about two-thirds of the way through harvest, said David Douglas, the third-generation of his family in the fruit business.
One of the things we’ve heard consistently from manufacturers is the need to train and educate the next generation of manufacturing employee. The next stop of the day was at the Tri-Tech Skills Center in Kennewick, a school that’s equipping high school juniors and seniors from throughout the region to work in a variety of fields including manufacturing.
Tri-Tech has 922 enrolled students in 19 programs including drone manufacturing and aviation, a relatively new program that’s seeing success. Other programs include auto body technology and construction trades, a program that gives students the opportunity to design and build a tiny house and help construct houses for Habitat for Humanity.
The bus headed north to the Ste. Michelle Wine Estates WSU Wine Science Center in Richland, home to the WSU Viticulture & Enology Program for grape and wine education and research. Agriculture of all types is a major employer in the Mid-Columbia, but the growth of the wine and grape industry in particular has been remarkable over the last few decades.
From there, the bus detoured to the Hanford Site and a stop at the B Reactor, the world’s first full-scale nuclear reactor, before heading to Prosser for a stop at Chukar Cherries. The company, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary, employs 50 people year-round and up to 150 during the busy Christmas season. Its best known for its dried, covered cherries, but also makes a variety of other items including covered nuts, granola and salsa. The process still relies primarily on hand labor.
The bus headed north once again for the final two stops of the day at FarWest Fabricators in Moxee and Seneca Foods in Sunnyside.
FarWest was founded in 1983 in a facility originally used to make fireplaces before moving into sheet metal fabrication. It now employs 105 people shipping product throughout the Western states.
The bus tour concludes Friday with stops in the Columbia River Gorge, Vancouver, Chehalis and a closing rally in Olympia.
Follow along on Twitter at @awbolympia.