The 250-acre Pasco Processing Center will welcome a new tenant in spring 2017.
Volm Companies Inc. broke ground in August on a 90,000-square-foot, $8.5 million facility in the 5700 block of Industrial Way inside the business park developed by the Port of Pasco.
The company makes mesh bags and other packaging as well as packaging machinery and parts for growers, primarily in the potato and onion industries.
Although headquartered in Wisconsin, Volm is not new to the area.
The Pasco Processing Center’s building will be less than two miles from the company’s existing location at 3405 N. Commercial Ave. in Pasco. While the distance between the addresses isn’t far, the benefits of moving are significant, said Mike Bernatz, chief financial officer for Volm.
The new building will be nearly 25,000 larger, and the proximity to customers in the food processing industry helps Volm in its mission to be the most valued partner to its customers, he said.
“In the fresh produce business, from day to day what’s getting packaged can change dramatically. For us to be that close to the customers and be able to quickly react to their demand is important,” he said. “Not only are we selling them products, we’re providing the post-sale technical support to maintain equipment or tweak things.”
That includes utilizing the Volm Engineering Solutions Team, or VEST, when needed. The company’s group of engineers work with growers and packers on a full range of equipment to get produce from the field to the food shelf, Bernatz explained.
“Some of that equipment is our own self-manufactured equipment, such as weighing and bagging machines, and then we have partner suppliers, for items such as (bag closures) and other vendors like the washing machines for produce,” he said. “We provide all of the equipment, as well as boxes and bags.”
While the 30 full-time employees at the Pasco Volm location have expressed excitement about the new building, the VEST team is especially looking forward to the change, Bernatz said.
“If you took a double-wide and gutted it and made offices in there, that’s what they’ve been operating out of, so they’re delighted to make this move,” he said.
The investment in the new building has helped to reassure employees Volm is committed to the community and its employees. That’s because in 2011, Volm acquired Columbia Packaging LLC, which had been a distributor of Volm products for more than a decade. Volm kept Columbia Packaging’s employees, and while it was always the company’s plan to buy its own facility in Pasco, the recession delayed that action.
“It wasn’t great timing back then,” Bernatz said. “And the (employees see this building) as a real commitment by Volm.”
The Pasco operation averages between 15 to 20 percent of Volm’s overall sales, Bernatz said. The demand for handling, packing and shipping fresh produce has driven the company’s growth, primarily in the onion industry.
“The markets that we serve are not high-growth markets. The onion and potatoes grow 3 to 4 percent per year, but we are looking to potentially expand into other kinds of produce that we can provide packaging for,” Bernatz said. “Our success will greatly impact the needs for staffing.”
As Volm grows and hires, it hopes to attract and retain millennials coming out of school with its new facility that will include an open floor plan to encourage cross communications between groups, as opposed to cornering employees off in closed offices.
“This is our chance to really put our brand on the physical space and the look and feel of what is Volm,” Bernatz said.
Volm’s Pasco location will serve Washington, Oregon, California and the western Canadian provinces.
The new facility is being designed by Wave Design Group of Kennewick and built by MH Construction, also of Kennewick. The project is set to be completed in April.
Port sells land to Volm
The Port of Pasco sold a 7.5-acre lot to Volm for about $623,000, said Randy Hayden, executive director of the Port of Pasco.
Along with its proximity to rail, barge, highway and air, the Pasco Processing Center provides food processors with in-place environmental permits so businesses can fast-track plant construction.
“When we built the processing center in 1995, the intent was to have larger lots for processors, such as Reser’s (Fine Foods), but we saved 50 acres to divide into lots for supporting companies,” Hayden said.
All of the large food processing lots, which range from 20 to 30 acres, have been sold. There are eight smaller lots left, and those range from three to five acres.
“Volm is a direct-support company,” Hayden said. “It’s something we have been hoping for—to expand the secondary food processing industry.”
The Port of Pasco serves all of Franklin County, except for the northeast corner near Kahlotus. The port is currently looking for land for future growth.
Food processing is a target market for Pasco and the Tri-Cities, but Hayden said it could be something different—they’re not limiting themselves. They’re looking to buy 100 to 200 acres within the port district and close to the urban area of Pasco.
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