Editor’s Note: Three days after the tour, Brown-Minneapolis Tank issued layoff notices to dozens of its employees and decided to shut down the facility. No mention of the pending layoffs were mentioned during the Showcase tour, which showed off the abilities of the employees and the facility. The layoffs became public on Sept. 25, after The Vidette press deadline had already passed.
Each year, Showcase Grays Harbor invites the region’s power brokers, politicians and business leaders for a tour highlighting the county’s economic strengths and diversity.
This year, the tour focused on the East County, taking four busloads of VIPs on a scenic and informative trek around the region with the main focus being the Satsop Business Park and local agriculture.
“This is about who we are and the positives we have here,” said Tim Gibbs, CEO of Greater Grays Harbor Inc., the regional chamber of commerce, during the welcoming breakfast held at the Grays Harbor Fairgrounds.
There, attendees were treated to breakfast courtesy of the Elma VFW, followed by oral presentations by Fair and Tourism Director Mike Bruner, Hospital Board Chairman Brent Meldrum of Summit Pacific Medical Center and Jim Daly of the Grays Harbor Community Foundation.
Despite a foreboding weather forecast, the group of about 100 was welcomed by sunny skies for an after-breakfast stroll and tour through the fairgrounds. About a half-hour later, the group split up and boarded four Grays Harbor Transit buses bound for Satsop Business Park.
Depending on one’s assigned bus, you were provided with a couple of tour guides who offer highlights and history from an economic perspective.
“You’d think after 14 years we’d run out of things to showcase,” said Don Tapio, the WSU Extension Director, who was a tour guide on one of the buses along with former GGH CEO Leroy Tipton.
On the way to Satsop, Tapio pointed out some of the crops being grown in farms along the way, noting that less corn is being grown on local farms, many which have opted to grow wheat, barley or oats instead as demand and prices for those cereal grains are on the upswing.
“Growers are making much more money on cereal grains,” Tapio noted.
The first stop at the Satsop Business Park was the cavernous manufacturing plant of Brown-Minneapolis Tank, located in the reconfigured turbine building of the former nuclear plant.
The company took over the facility in 2005, and after a year-and-a-half conversion process, now manufactures and ships behemoth industrial steel storage tanks for various uses around the globe.
“They’re for water, fuel, molasses, mineral, just about anything,” said Rollie Irwin, a vice president at BMT and one of the tour guides for the many visitors.
The company, which has 47 employees at Satsop, can manufacture and ship tanks weighing up to 1 million tons out of its 360,000 square-foot plant.
Showcase organizers had hoped to provide a tour of the Business Park’s tunnel training facilities, the underground network of tunnels that are now used to train construction workers and first-responders on projects involving deep tunnel work, such as the new Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement tunnel now being constructed in downtown Seattle or the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system in San Francisco, with its vast series of underground and underwater tunnels throughout the San Francisco region.
While that never came to pass, visitors did get a chance to walk in and around one of the park’s signature cooling towers, soon to be the backdrop of some filming for the movie “Transformers 4.”
A luncheon gathering at the business park’s headquarters was followed by presentations by the Port of Grays Harbor, the Chehalis Flood Authority and Grays Harbor College, the latter of which focused on some of the school’s vocational training programs.
Then it was back on the bus in attempt to beat the weather.
“It’s raining in Ocean Shores,” Tapio said as his group boarded its bus bound for the Oakville area, where the first stop was a colorful one at Dan’s Dahlias.
On the way, Tapio noted that there are 665 farms in Grays Harbor County with the average size being 190 acres. He said the average age of a Grays Harbor farmer is 55 and more than 100 of those farms are run by women.
“And the yields we get on many of our crops are far greater than in many other parts of the state,” Tapio said of the local farming operations.
At Dan’s Dahlia’s, owner Dan Pearson gave the history of his family farm and business, which features six acres of flowers — mostly dahlias — used in the fresh-cut flower industry with Dan supplying flowers for markets and retailers from San Francisco to Seattle.
“It took awhile,” Pearson told the gathering, “but this little old farm in Grays Harbor has finally shoe-horned its way into the Seattle floral market,” Pearson said with a grin as tourists wandered among the dahlia fields.
But as beautiful as his flowers are — he grows more than 600 varieties — Pearson noted that most of his income derives from what can’t be seen — the tubers underground, which are divided annually and sold online to gardeners. That accounts for 80 to 85 percent of his farm’s income, he said.
The general public can order products from Dan’s Dahlias at www.dansdahlias.com. The final stop on the tour was on the farthest outskirts of the county at Austin Daily Farm, where the skies opened up and the tour tried to hunker down out of the pouring rain.
Unfortunately, the robotic milking system that was supposed to be highlighted on this stop — one of only a few like it on the West Coast — was in cleaning mode, routine maintenance for a system that milks each cow three times a day on a 24-hour cycle.
Despite chocolate milk and cookies provided by the Austin family, the torrential rain put a bit of a damper on the last stop and soaked participants were ready to board the buses for the return trip to the fairgrounds and the end to a long but informative and entertaining Showcase Grays Harbor.