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Kaite brings jobs, builds industry cluster: port's recruitment strategy effective.

It used to be when the Port of Chelan County announced a new business was moving to town, people would call and ask how much they paid, said Port Executive Director Mark Urdahl.

"This time they say, 'Where do I apply,'" Urdahl said.

Hard times mean the unemployed have less leverage and are less choosy about the jobs they will apply for.

Urdahl called the situation "regrettable," but the Oct. 31 announcement that the Kaite Group, which will manufacture paper egg cartons and other food boxes is moving into a port-owned building in Olds Station, is a positive turn.

"One of the things with the great recession, not a lot of companies are considering expansion or relocation," Urdahl said.

The Kaite Group is a multinational company which started in Hong Kong and specializes in making pulp paper products and energy production, with 11 factories worldwide and two thermonuclear power plants, which deliver power to northeast China.

Here, they will take advantage of the relatively cheap hydropower to manufacture paper products. The company plans to start production in March and will hire about 30 people to start and add 20 later.

The company also has two import and export warehouses in Southern California.

The company's desire to use local resources like orchard waste and inexpensive energy makes the company a good fit, Urdahl said.

While power prices in Chelan County are low, other places in Washington have less expensive land prices, like Moses Lake and Quincy, that are also attractive to companies looking to locate in the state.

A lunch with Company representatives and port officials along with Wenatchee Mayor Dennis Johnson helped solidify the company's decision to open a facility in Wenatchee, Urdahl said. The room where the lunch was served overlooked the port property and scenic fall colors helped them come to the decision, he said.

"Liking the view is great, but they have to be profitable to stick around," Urdahl said.

The difference in Wenatchee is the quality of life the area offers to employees.

"Companies we tend to court are ones that don't have really definitive shipping needs we can't meet," Urdahl said. "Companies that value the quality of life for their employees."

Urdahl said the port also worked to ensure the transition into the area was as easy as possible for Kaite, doing things like working out cost estimates and setting up meetings with permitting agencies.

"We tried to be as helpful and welcoming as possible," he said.

Something as simple as promptly returned phone calls can mean a company choses one place over another, Urdhal said.

"A company like this in a big city is a little fish," he said. "We understand what 50 jobs mean in this community."

The Kaite Group will be one of a few companies in Wenatchee creating paper products, which means adding some competition, but it also builds a cluster of similar businesses in the area.

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This is one of the strategies the port uses when attracting companies, Urdahl said.

"We'd like to build on the strength of the existing structures here," he said.

Information technology, value added agriculture and wineries are a few of the cluster industries in the area. Wenatchee is also home to a medical cluster that would be nice to build on, Urdahl said.

"When they're not competing they can contract with one another," he said.

In the current economy, the port does try to concentrate on building these clusters, but most companies with good track records and good compensation packages are welcomed with open arms.

"To hold out for $25-an-hour Boeing jobs would mean a lot of empty property," Urdhal said.

Jobs at the Kaite Group company locally will most likely pay in the $12 to $15 an hour range, Urdahl said, but the wages are not imbedded in the lease agreement.

"We have to be very mindful of the economic conditions we're in," he said.

The Kaite Group is leasing the 38,000-square-foot building for $18,666 a month, which is the market price for similar tenants, Urdahl said.

The lease is for five years. After that time is up, the company may want to expand into a larger space or buy their own property, he said.

"Of course we'd like to get more but then you start getting non-competetive," he said.

The building was constructed by the Port of Chelan County in 1989 and was occupied by Jansport for 10 years. It has also been home to Pacific Aerospace and Electronics but has been empty for the past year.

The port tries to guide companies into looking at privately owned properties to avoid competing with private companies, but this building, next to the port's office on Olds Station Road, is the only vacant building large enough to house the company.

"It's fairly new, in pretty good shape and not a lot of work needs to be done to move them in," Urdahl said."

The company currently is working on setting up so they can be in production by February or March.

The day the lease was approved, Kaite had a truck ready to be unloaded, Urdahl said.

"At 8:30 they had a truck idling in the parking lot. The driver was in the waiting room," he said, waiting for the papers to be approved so he could start unpacking.

"I've never had one quite go down to that kind of wire."

By Alison Gene Smith

Reporter
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Author:Smith, Alison Gene
Publication:Wenatchee Business Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2011
Words:906
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