Article: As Port of Centralia Turns 30, Rebranding Effort Launched

November 12, 2016

By Justyna Tomtas, The Chronicle

Founded in September 1986: Port’s Industrial Parks Employ 937 People, Pay $53.5 Million in Salaries, Wages and Benefits Each Year

Celebrating its 30th anniversary, the Port of Centralia is stronger than ever and looking forward to its next 30 years.

That was the message from port officials at a celebration held at Dick’s Brewing Co. in Centralia on Thursday, where the port unveiled a rebranding effort it has undertaken to better market port properties.

Originally founded by a vote of area residents on Sept. 16, 1986, the port has grown to become the largest employer in the community, and the biggest contributor to the tax base, said Kyle Heaton, executive director of the port. 

Port Commissioner Matt Evans said the rebranding effort, which includes a new logo and a new website that will be launched on Nov. 21, focuses on showing the port’s presence and importance in the community.

The rebranding effort was led by Gallatin Public Affairs. 

Evans, who has been on the board for five years, said the port will continue to be fiscally conservative as it grows.

“Essentially it’s reinvesting what we do into the community, so that we can have more opportunities,” he said. “The port is key to ensuring all our services are covered, and that our city has funds to grow and make the city a more beautiful place and a more liveable place.”

All three port commissioners, as well as Heaton, said the port will play an important role in filling the gap left behind by TransAlta as it phases out its coal-fired operations. 

To see exactly how much of an impact the port is making on the community, the port hired ECONorthwest to create an economic and fiscal impact report of the two industrial parks. 

Findings in the report show the 32 businesses operating at the port’s industrial parks employ 937 people and pay $53.5 million a year in salaries, wages and benefits.

Local spending by the businesses and its employees trigger economic impacts throughout both Lewis and Thurston counties. An estimated 1,734 jobs and $294.4 million in economic output are attributable to the two parks.

Park 1, with an assessed value of $41.7 million, opened in 1990 and now has 25 tenants, while Park 2, which opened in 2003, has an assessed value of $176.8 million and seven tenants. 

The parks also bring in nearly $2.1 million in local taxes a year and nearly $4.8 million statewide.

Port Commissioner Dan Keahey said those taxes help ensure the city has a better school district and fire district while improving other services within the city. 

“That’s worth the investment and that’s a tax the people decided amongst themselves,” he said. “It’s not government telling them what to do, it’s the people telling the government ‘here’s what we want you to do,’ and we are going to keep doing that. We have a lot of opportunity ahead of us.” 

As the longest serving port commissioner currently on the board, Keahey said in the seven years he has been involved, he has seen many changes.

“When I started, it was when the market was really dead,” he said. “We had a lot of empty units because the market was dying.”

After paying off its debt, the port began to look at where it could invest, bringing Centralia Station to the forefront. The 43-acre development near the Mellen Street interchange will house retail stores, offices, restaurants and other businesses.

“That’s what you do as a port — you look for opportunity,” Keahey said. “How can we create something for this community and develop it to the point where it’s marketable again, so you can get it back on the tax rolls on a much higher value, and that’s what we’ve done with all our properties.”

What used to be farmland now helps generate the over $2 million in taxes for the local community, Keahey said. 

Commissioner Julie Shaffley, who has been on the port commission for 18 months, said during her time she has seen new companies leasing and purchasing properties. 

She said the progression of Centralia Station will bring a bright future to the area.

“I’ve seen the progression of and the progress of Centralia Station, which I think seeing that in the future is going to change all of this community,” she said. “It’s going to give of course an economic boost, but it’s also going to uplift the entire community.”

A major focus is now on Centralia Station, but the port is continuing with other projects as well.

“We’re hoping there will be announcements out there soon,” Heaton said. 

With no vacancies currently available, there are still several hundred acres of land available for purchase.

The one thing that helps make the Port of Centralia unique, Heaton said, is all the forward-thinking commissioners in the port’s 30-year history. 

“That continues today,” he said. 

“I’ve been very fortunate in that I’ve had, not only the current but previous commissioners who have been willing to take on projects.”

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