DAYTON — Cheese, granola and hot sauce. While that combination may sound less than appetizing, the Port of Columbia hopes those ingredients will help cook up a successful new artisan food center at Blue Mountain Station in Dayton.
Three local businesses have committed to lease space in the new facility on Dayton’s west edge when its first building opens late next year. Two more businesses are close to making a commitment.
“We’re very excited to have these people on board so early,” said Port Manager Jennie Dickinson. “If all those businesses come through, Building 1 will be full.”
Grass Roots Goats (cheese and yogurt), Gypsy Girl Granola and Big Kahuna Ltd. (hot sauce) have agreed to lease space in the first Blue Mountain Station building, which is expected to open in September 2013. The two unannounced tenants have tentatively agreed to lease the remaining space.
Building 1 includes eight leasable spaces of approximately 575 square feet each. Some tenants are leasing more than one space. The spaces are designed specifically for food processing and packaging, and they will be built to each tenants’ specifications.
A commercial kitchen of approximately 1,000 square feet will also be included in Building 1. It will be available not only for BMS tenants, but also for anyone wishing to rent commercial kitchen space on an hourly basis.
“We want the kitchen to be a communitywide asset,” said Dickinson.
The building will incorporate a small retail space where products made by producers at Blue Mountain Station can be sold.
“Businesses will likely sell through local stores, farmers markets and other outlets,” said Dickinson. “Even though the focus of the project is wholesale food manufacturing, it’s important for the public to be able to come and take part in what’s happening here and for the tenants to add the additional retail revenue to their bottom line.”
Dickinson points out that Building 1 has been designed so that additional tenant space can be added onto its west end at a later date if the demand is there.
Construction of Building 1 is scheduled to begin in April 2013. It is being funded by a $750,000 grant from state economic development funds that were appropriated during the 2012 legislative session, along with $200,000 in matching funds provided by the Port.
“We asked for this grant because we were approached by several small businesses that didn’t have the means to build their own facility,” said Dickinson.
Besides the initial building, the Port is in discussions with businesses that may be interested in establishing a flour milling operation at Blue Mountain Station. That facility would likely be financed and built by a private entity.
“The mill would benefit existing brands by re-establishing local processing as well as encourage value-added product development and support for sustainable farming operations in our area,” Dickinson said.
The Port has also been in discussions with firms who do food co-packing about setting up operations at Blue Mountain Station. These are companies that contract out preparation and packaging services for small firms who market food products under their own label.
The Port first announced plans for Blue Mountain Station in 2008. It was the result of a study by consultants Gary White and Dennis Miller, who were hired by the Port to develop an effective economic development strategy for the Port and the Dayton region.
White and Miller interviewed community leaders and surveyed other successful rural communities. Working with the Port, they developed the concept of Blue Mountain Station, which was envisioned as a place where sustainable, natural and organic food products could be processed and packaged.
In 2009, the Port received a $1 million grant and loan package from the Washington State Community Economic Revitalization Board to purchase land and develop infrastructure for the project. The Port and several local government and business entities went together to provide $100,000 in matching funds.
The Port purchased 28 acres of land just west of Dayton in late 2009, and in 2011 eight acres were developed with infrastructure and parking facilities. This year, landscaping of the developed portion of Blue Mountain Station was completed.
“This has been a long process in a struggling economy,” said Dickinson, “but it was important that we be ready as the economy picks up. And we’re ready.”