October 8, 2019

Day 5: Manufacturing Week bus tour heads to Central Washington fruit processing, boat building, high-tech timber and more (w/ video)

By: Brian Mittge   Comments: 0

A Hewes Marine worker uses a hand-held plasma cutter to cut up scrap left after the automated laser cutter has made parts from a sheet of aluminum at the start of the production line at the new Hewes Marine factory which AWB toured on Tuesday, Oct. 8. Hewes Marine will hold an open house for the community to tour its new factory floor (after eating grilled hotdogs in the parking lot) on Oct. 18. (Photo: Brian Mittge/AWB)

The AWB Manufacturing Week tour bus began the fifth day of its cross-state tour in Cashmere, where a forward-thinking port district has created a thriving industrial site where a derelict mill once stood.

Continuing eastward, the tour showcased the manufacturing associated with the state’s powerful fruit growing sector, as well as diverse, growing manufacturing base in the Stevens County town of Colville. U.S. Rep. Kim Schrier joined the tour in Wenatchee for the second time (she also toured Boeing's Auburn facility with our tour last week).

More on the tour, which will continue Wednesday in Spokane, Pullman and beyond:

Port of Chelan, Cashmere

The Port of Chelan acquired a derelict mill site in Cashmere in 2008. After years of work, remediation and investment, the site is now home to a thriving modern industrial park.

Several tenants have already made a home in the port’s buildings, including Hurst International. The California-based labeling maker moved into one of the Cashmere Mill District Business Park’s buildings in July.

Hurst International’s six-color custom label press allows customers to print-on-demand fruit labels with traceability, and can print about 15 million labels a day. Their fruit labeling technology can print and label 12 apples per second. They can run two opposing labels at the same time, which does the work of six banks of conventional labelers. Their 2-D labels are able to serve as a “virtual cereal box” to connect consumers with their food source. With a smartphone, consumers can see the date and time their fruit was picked, who the grower is, and even the lot number their fruit came from.

Port of Chelan Commissioner J.C. Baldwin and state Rep. Keith Goehner, R-Dryden, were among the visitors for AWB’s tour of the new facility and its first tenants.

Stemilt Growers, Wenatchee

The next stop was at Stemilt Growers’ cherry processing climate-controlled conveyor line in Wenatchee. The company has invested in technology to maximize efficiency when it comes to harvesting and chilling cherries, since every hour the fruit is out of climate control equals a day less a grocer can keep it in the supermarket.

Here, they sort and pack cherries by size, color, quality and grade, all in a continuous automated process. The facility can process 2,600 tons of cherries a week at peak harvest season.

Nearby, their “fresh cube” distribution center is five stories tall and the size of 9 1/2 football fields. That’s roughly 560,000 square feet, all climate controlled to 32.8 degrees.

The complex conveyor belts and storage facility were all installed by a local manufacturer Van Doren.

Operating the machinery requires a high-skilled workforce, and as a result Stemilt has invested in career development programs, including providing $100,000 per year in scholarships and childcare for their employees. That leads to a long-term workforce.

“Statistically, if you’ve worked for Stemilt for 3 years, you’re likely to be here for 13,” said Daniel Blazquez, the cultural, training and development manager for Stemilt Growers.

Hewes Marine, Colville

Hewes Marine in Colville makes all-welded aluminum boats from 16 to 26 feet long. The company employs 160 people who can finish about five boats a day. The company, founded by brothers shortly after World War II, is still family owned.

“The Heweses really want this place to be here for generations to come,” said Clint Kirry, vice president and a director at Hewes Marine.

Kirry said Hewes craft are the top-selling boats made in the Pacific Northwest: “Everybody thinks they're cool, and when they get in them they know they're cool, and you catch a lot of fish.”

Hewes Marine will hold an open house for the community to tour its new factory floor (after eating grilled hotdogs in the parking lot) on Oct. 18.

Vaagen Timbers, Colville

Forest management is a passion for Russ Vaagen, founder and CEO of Vaagen Timbers, which just shipped its first shipment of cross-laminated timber (CLT) from a newly built facility in Colville that opened this summer.

One of only seven companies in the U.S. to manufacture cross-laminated timber, the company manufactures the building material in custom sections, up to four feet wide and 60 feet long, that are then assembled at construction sites. This “Lego set” style of building can take weeks or months off construction timelines.

Vaagen Timbers products are made from trees that are a “restoration wood,” the lumber coming from the by-products of restoring forests and making them sustainable. Managing forests with sustainable practices helps restore them to a healthy state and also improve wildfire prevention. The “restoration” lumber is then laminated together using a High Frequency Kallisoe press from Denmark that is the only one of its kind in the Americas.

Vaagen Timbers’ three-, five-, and seven-ply CLT panels have already been sold as far away as Finland.

Tyler Curtis, a CNC operator at Vaagen Timbers, has worked at the new Colville company for a month. He grew up in the nearby town of Chewelah.

“I always wanted to come back to Colville, but I'd only come back for a great opportunity,” Curtis said.

That opportunity came up with the opening of Vaagen Timbers. Curtis, who was married last year, said this job can support a family..

“This is a good trade,” he said. “I could see myself being here for the next 20 years and raising a family. Russ is a visionary. This is going to take off.”

Day 5 Highlights