WALLA WALLA -- The Port of Walla Walla plans to lease its Melrose Avenue manufacturing building to a startup company that plans to bring carbon fiber wind turbine production and an initial 20 jobs to Walla Walla.
Port of Walla Walla commissioners have authorized a lease agreement with New Wind Solutions LLC, a new company founded by Richland resident Mark Kean. The business specializes in turbines for the wind industry and reportedly has a number of foreign orders for the products.
"It's clean manufacturing related to the energy boom," Port Executive Director Jim Kuntz said.
The lease agreement will bring a business to life while also reviving a building that's sat vacant for four years.
The 88,674-square-foot, concrete tilt-up building was once home to Key Technology. In 2006 the Walla Walla manufacturer consolidated its operations at its Avery Street complex. The building has been empty ever since, Kuntz said. New Wind Solutions will lease the building as-is for about $18,500 a month over the next two years. After that the company has three one-year options.
The Port is also negotiating with the firm for space in Burbank. Greg Vierra, real estate representative for New Wind, said the uniquely designed curved blades for the turbines will be made at the Melrose property, but the wind towers are expected to be manufactured in Burbank. The blades would be trucked to the Burbank facility and barged, along with the 60-foot-long, 18-foot-diameter towers, to Portland or Vancouver for shipping overseas. He estimated a need for the Burbank land at several months away and said the company is aware of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' plan to temporarily shut down shipping on the Columbia-Snake navigation system for a navigational lock replacement at the end of the year.
Vierra said New Wind Solutions has 10 to 13 years' worth of orders from the Ukrainian government, Spain, South Africa and Portugal, as well as domestic clients.
After the initial opening, slated to take place in October, the business is expected to grow to 60 to 80 employees, he said. Over time, the company would ideally construct its own plant in Burbank for the operation, Vierra said.
This is not the first energy project endeavor for Kean.
Last spring Kean had been in talks for a wind turbine manufacturing plant in Dayton. At the time that operation was expected to eventually employ up to 600 workers.
The scaled-back version planned for Walla Walla and expected to be operating in the next couple of months continues to build the community's profile as a player in alternative energy.
"This is perfect for us," Kuntz said. "Now we just try to build on it."