Tri-Citians reaching into big store coolers to grab a bag of ice on their way to a picnic, party or boat this summer most likely will be chilling their food and drinks with ice manufactured by a growing Kennewick company.
Columbia Basin Ice’s 15,000-square-foot manufacturing plant off Deschutes Avenue can freeze up to 275 tons of tube-shaped ice a day. It expects to produce nine million bags of ice this year and rack up $7 million in sales.
Customers include Kroger’s, Walmart, Safeway, Albertsons, Circle K, Shell and many others.
Kennewick city water flows into the building via 3.5-inch pipes and then passes through carbon block filtration and water softener systems.
Four compressors produce 650 horsepower to run four large ice makers. The ice forms along 400 stainless steel tubes before being cut into smaller pieces and stored in a 35-ton ice bin, which serves as a holding area before the ice is bagged.
An automated system puffs a jet of air into the bags to open them up before the machine drops the pre-measured ice in. Bags are then sealed and sent along a conveyor belt to be stacked onto a pallet.
The bags come in seven-, 10- and 20-pound sizes and are stored in a 4,000-square-foot freezer set at 16 degrees.
Columbia Basin Ice employs 22 full-time workers, most of them drivers and those working on the delivery end of the business.
The company’s production is seasonal with 80 percent of its business done May through September.
Three partners own the company: David McDaniels, Tom O’Brien and Andy Sorn.
Columbia Basin Ice started production in Kennewick in May 2016 after opening for business the previous year.
McDaniels didn’t know anything about the ice-making industry until he looked at a Walla Walla building he wanted to buy that housed a small ice manufacturing operation called Crystal Clear Ice. He only wanted to buy the building but the more he learned about the business, the more he was intrigued and saw its potential.
He bought the business in 2006 and continues to distribute ice from there to 110 clients. His small company works in conjunction with Columbia Basin Ice as a distributor.
The Tri-City ice market has changed hands several times since McDaniels got involved in the industry — from Arctic Inland Ice to Reddy Ice to Lynden Ice.
McDaniels called the market for ice fractured, leaving “customers totally confused.”
Columbia Basin Ice officials said they’re focused on customer satisfaction and they invested in a new state-of-the-art automated ice-making system, built by St. Louis-based Automatic Ice Systems.
“Other companies haven’t kept up with the latest technology. It’s a dinosaur industry we had to take to the next level and that’s what we did. … Each of our new units is programmable,” said Ryan James, plant manager.
“There are not a lot of places where you can manufacture 200 tons of anything with just one guy,” McDaniels said.
It was an investment that is paying off, McDaniels said.
“You can keep pounding your head into the wall and not get any further. It can cost too much to do but it costs you not to do it. We looked at what the options are out there,” he said.
The company secured a 15-year loan for the business through Washington Trust Bank and expects to have it paid off in two years, McDaniels said.
Columbia Basin Ice owns most of its transportation fleet but contracts with other companies for deliveries. Trucks deliver ice throughout the Columbia Basin, including northeastern Oregon.
The company uses freezers in Yakima, Moses Lake, Wenatchee and Walla Walla for storage.
Columbia Basin Ice plans a community open house from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. June 21 at 6300 Deschutes Ave., Building 106A, Kennewick.
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