October 14, 2019

Day 7: Manufacturing Week bus tour concludes with energy, tech, hops and more

By: Brian Mittge   Comments: 0
Lesa Halka started working in electronics at age 16, building printed circuit boards as a summer job. She has worked at UniWest (United Western Technologies Corporation) for 15 years and is the floor supervisor as well as quality control. AWB’s Manufacturing Week bus tour stopped at the facility on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019, the final day of AWB’s cross-state bus tour celebrating and highlighting the state’s manufacturing industry. (Photo: Brian Mittge/AWB)

Seven days on the road ended on Thursday as the AWB Manufacturing Week bus tour cruised through the rich farmland of south-central Washington. From high-tech sensor equipment to award-winning wines, AWB’s 2019 Manufacturing Week tour ended as it began — celebrating the state’s makers, crafters, brewers and builders.

The stops:

Cascade Natural Gas, Kennewick

Natural gas is extremely important to the manufacturing industry. Companies rely on a dependable supply of energy to provide light, heat (or cold!) and power for the facilities that “make the magic happen” for the manufacturers across the state.

Cascade Natural Gas Corp. is one of four utility subsidiaries of MDU Resources, which provides energy to rural communities across eight states. In Washington and Oregon, they serve nearly 300,000 customers across 68 communities in 12 districts, and employ 240 employees.

Highly skilled controllers in a basement control room at the Kennewick headquarters of Cascade Natural Gas monitor the company’s natural gas systems in all those eight states served by MDU Resources.

Adrian Scott, a senior gas controller for Cascade Natural Gas, is one of the small team that work 12-hour shifts monitoring and responding to any issues in the company’s natural gas supply network. Scott, who formerly worked at a depot destroying mustard gas and other chemical weapons, said this job is less stressful.

“After doing demo work, this is pretty easy,” he said.

UniWest, Pasco

The employee-owned UniWest (United Western Technologies Corporation) creates custom diagnostic equipment to look for cracks and anomalies in jet engines, rail axles, auto parts and other safety-critical materials. It’s a second-generation spinoff from Battelle and now employs 58 people in downtown Pasco.

“We started this thing to keep a small business in the community that would provide high-compensation jobs and be here for a long time,” said CEO and Chairman of the Board Mark Gehlen, who describes the job as a “get-rich-slow” opportunity for its employee-owners.

He said its engineers and assembly technicians have high work satisfaction because of the value of their efforts on safety-critical projects that keep planes flying. “You can be really proud of the outcome of the work you do,” he said.

Lesa Halka has worked at UniWest (United Western Technologies Corporation) for 15 years and is the floor supervisor as well as quality control. Before coming to UniWest, she originally started working in electronics at age 16, building printed circuit boards as a summer job.

“The work environment here is awesome,” she said. “The people are great. Fifteen years probably says it all. I wouldn't really want to work anywhere else.”

Plastic Injection Molding, Richland

Plastic Injection Molding employs 15 people creating custom molded plastic parts for other manufacturers and businesses. They have nine injection molding machines that produces 800 different parts.

The company was the first business in Richland’s Horn Rapids Industrial Park more than 20 years ago, and it is just finishing up an additional 28,000-square-foot high-bay manufacturing space.

President and CEO Ken Williams sees himself following in the footsteps of his grandfather, who started a nearby company making metal parts for other manufacturers, except he does it in plastic. His customers are 30% in the Tri-Cities and in total, 80% in Washington. “It’s really fun to make something that solves a problem for a customer. I get a kick out of coming in to work every day,” Williams said.

Barnard Griffin Winery, Richland

Barnard Griffin Winery has been at the same location since its husband-and-wife founders, Rob Griffin and Deborah Barnard, bottled their first vintage in 1983.

“This is a winery that paid its way from the very first year because it had to,” Griffin said. “A great way to start a winery is slow, small and with a plan for growth.”

After years of just that kind of steady growth, Barnard Griffin now produces an average of 80,000 cases annually. Their main variety is Rose.

They are one of just a few Washington wineries that have their own bottling line. The corks they use are derived from sustainable, renewable sugarcane-based raw materials. They do not shrink like conventional corks, so you don’t have to worry about storing the wine bottles on their side.

The second generation of the family is already deeply involved in the business. Megan Hughes, the assistant winemaker at the facility, joined her parents in signing the AWB Manufacturing Week bus.

Yakima Chief Hops, Sunnyside

IPA has become “a thing” all across the world, especially American style IPA, which is why demand for Northwest hops is growing. Yakima Chief Hops in Sunnyside gave AWB a look at their production lines making hops pellets and hops oil extract. During the harvest season, the facility can receive and store 500,000 to 1.1 million pounds of hop bales a day, and about 40 million pounds of hops annually.

Their three hops extractors can process 36,000 pounds of raw hops a day, which is roughly the amount of hops from 18 acres. Two thousand pounds of high alpha variety raw hops pellets will produce about 500 pounds of liquid hops extract. The spent hops, which have a high protein content, are sold for cattle feed.

Yakima Chief Hops started in 1869, and they have 300 full time employees. They are the largest grower-owned American hop seller in the world.

The tins used to package Yakima Chief Hops Oil are food grade, so brewers don’t have to worry about contamination of their beers when transfering hop oil into their brewers vats. One two-kilo tin of hop oil will make 200 kegs of Budweiser.

The company is investing in technology to reduce emissions and re-use its materials.

Anurag Ayade, vice president of the Hypro Group, based in India, has spent the last several months in Sunnyside, teaching Pablo Nava, the Yakima Chief Hops plant lead for extraction, and other employees how to use a new carbon dioxide recovery system that Ayade’s company installed at Yakima Chief Hops’ Sunnyside Two plant.

The new system will allow the company to capture its used carbon dioxide, purify it, and liquify it for re-use. The system, installed just a few weeks ago, will allow Yakima Chief Hops to take what was once a greenhouse gas waste product and turn it into a valuable beverage-grade commodity.


AWB’s Lori Maricle contributed to this report.

Day 7 Highlights