Julie McDonald Commentary: Transparency at Port of Chehalis Is Refreshing

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After so much negative economic news the past year, it’s exciting to see industries locating at the Port of Chehalis and bringing jobs to the community.

First we heard that the port closed its largest sale ever with the $2.5 million sale of three buildings on 10 acres at 123 Habein Road to McCallum Rock Drilling, a family-owned company with a hundred employees in Lewis County, according to Randy Mueller, the port’s chief executive officer, who updated members of the Chehalis Community Renaissance Team in February. 

“They were growing and wanted to consolidate into one facility,” Mueller said. “We’ve been talking to them for about three years. They do plan on probably doubling their employment in the next two or three years.”

He noted that McCallum hires a lot of workers for entry level jobs as well as more sophisticated positions such as diesel mechanics, rock drillers, drone assistants, powder men and truck drivers.

“They’ve got a number of employees making six figures in very skilled technical work,” Mueller said. The company, which started in 1988, provides drilling and blasting for road and highway construction, quarries, and residential and commercial development throughout eight states.  

Then we learned that Costco will build a large logistics center on 100 acres at the port, the largest building in Lewis County at 1.5 million square feet. 

“It’s not a retail warehouse where you can go and buy stuff, so that’s terribly disappointing,” Mueller said. “Sorry about that. But this is still pretty good.”

The Logistics Center will employ workers to fulfill online orders in five or six western states. The port and Costco still must gain approvals before the center could be constructed, but they might break ground as early as 2022. Mueller said the center should employ 200 people by the end of its first year. Costco employees earn an average of $60,000 a year after working for the company for six years. It’s also a company known for providing employees with good benefits. Just last week Costco announced it will raise the minimum wage it pays its workers to $16 an hour beginning this week. 

“Costco’s rated one of the top three best companies to work for,” Mueller said. A 2018 study by Comparably.com listed Costco, Google and T-Mobile as the best large companies in the United States to work for.

What’s refreshing is to see the news splashed across the port’s website, Facebook page, and local media, plus the posting of decades of port commissioner meeting agendas and minutes on the website. Open government is so important to instilling trust. Secrecy destroys it.

“We just wanted to get out in front and make sure people have the right information,” Mueller said. “We are open and transparent to a fault. We will always err on the side of being open and transparent. When the legal conditions allow us to and it’s appropriate, we’re always going to share as much data as we can.”

Port officials have been patient while working with companies that will bring high-quality jobs that boost the median family income in Lewis County, Mueller said. The secondary impacts of that payroll on the community will be significant as well. The increase in property taxes will also be a boon to Lewis County.

“If it’s in the city limits, it will pay for a cop,” Mueller said. “If it’s in the county, it’ll pay for a deputy sheriff. It’s going to pay for another teacher at the school district. You go down the list and the added property tax revenue from a building like this is really substantial.”

Those developments could spur construction of new housing in the region to meet increasing needs.

“This is all on the planning level right now, so it’s all subject to change,” Mueller said. “Every time I speak I remind folks that this is certainly not a done deal.”

But the outlook for Chehalis is rosy.

 

Chick-Fil-A

Now, all we need is a Chick-fil-A in Lewis County.

After a fruitless trip to Lacey in search of the ever-elusive coronavirus vaccine last weekend, my husband and I decided to stop at the restaurant off Marvin Road, where two long drive-through lines snaked around the busy place while polite workers in red jackets took orders at car windows. The scrumptious chicken sandwiches are cooked in peanut oil, and waffle fries can’t be beat.

It took decades for the wildly popular Georgia-based fast-food restaurant, which started as a hamburger joint known as the Dwarf Grill in 1946 and rebranded as Chick-fil-A in 1967, to open its first franchise in Washington. 

But since that first restaurant opened in Bellevue in March 2015, the company has expanded tremendously, adding restaurants in Tacoma, Lakewood, Puyallup, Vancouver (two), Lacey, Federal Way, Tukwila, Renton, Seattle, Bothell, Kirkland, Covington, Fircrest, Lynnwood, Marysville, Spokane, and Bonney Lake.

Chick-fil-A’s founder S. Truett Cathy, a Southern Baptist who died in 2014, made his children sign a contract saying the company would always remain private, according to an article at https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/311452  All 2,605 Chick-fil-A restaurants across the nation are closed Sundays to give employees time to rest and worship if they wish. Only Alaska, Hawaii, and Vermont don’t yet have a Chick-fil-A. 

I haven’t figured out why the popular restaurant known for its conservative values hasn’t opened a franchise in Centralia, Chehalis, or Napavine yet. It costs only $10,000 to start a local franchise, but competition is fierce. The company opens about 75 or 80 stores each year, according to the article.

But if and when we do have one coming to town, pull out your camping gear. The first 100 customers to camp in front of the new location before opening day receive free Chick-fil-A for a year.

 

COVID-19 Vaccine 

And, if you qualify for the COVID-19 vaccine but can’t schedule an appointment, go to this Facebook page: “Find a COVID shot WA.” List your request and wonderful volunteers will help you find a place to receive the vaccine.

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Julie McDonald, a personal historian from Toledo, may be reached at memoirs@chaptersoflife.com.

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