Businesses don't see mass exodus from Hanford layoffs

By Loretto J. Hulse and Paula Horton, Tri-City HeraldOctober 23, 2011 

The Tri-Cities is waiting to see exactly how the recent Hanford layoffs will affect the community, but so far there are no signs of a mass exodus out of town for newly unemployed workers.

There still are plenty of moving trucks available for rental -- even for a fast turnout this weekend -- and anyone looking for a place to stow their property while they figure out what to do next can find lots of available storage units around town.

But one storage unit manager said she has seen some units get emptied as people leave town, and RV park managers said some workers have pulled out the recreational vehicles they were living in.

But the consensus, at least for now, is that things are pretty much normal.

"We're right on schedule, slowing down as we normally do this time of year," said Marie Corso, a rental agent at Penske Truck Rental in Pasco. "We do have more trucks leaving the area than coming in, but that's normal for this location."

Fred Bunch, a Kennewick U-Haul dealer, said his phone hasn't been ringing off the hook with calls from laid-off workers, and those who are renting trucks mostly are getting them for in-town moves.

"This isn't anything unusual," said Bunch, who has owned Freddies Trading Post in Kennewick for 53 years and has seen a lot of Hanford ups and downs.

Of the six calls made to truck rental stores, the only one that unusually is busy is Budget Truck Rental in Richland -- which mystifies manager Kevin Damrell.

"I have no idea why unless it's because we're the only Budget in the Tri-Cities and there's six or eight U-Hauls," he said.

Damrell has worked at the Budget store for 18 years and said he's never seen it so busy.

"We've actually been out of trucks on the weekends for about the past four months. We began to get busy at the start of summer, but that's normal. Usually it would drop off by now," Damrell said.

At Airport Mini-Storage in Richland, manager Steve Witherell said they have a questionnaire people fill out when they rent a unit, and so far hasn't seen any influx of renters from Hanford workers.

Dean Paulson, owner of Horn Rapids Self Storage, said he's also been pretty stable and only had two people this summer say they were laid off at some point and needed to store their property.

"I'm not seeing any difference as far as the economy goes as I was a few years back," he said. "I'm pretty filled up. ... I'm seeing more people moving in or getting ready to buy a house and needing to store something before they get into their house."

At On Guard Mini Storage on Aaron Drive in Richland, manager Frankie McBroom said she's seeing some people renting storage units because they're downsizing their homes, but they took "quite a drop" from people moving out of the area.

A lot of her customers are Hanford workers who stored things because they couldn't find a large enough apartment or house they could afford, she said.

"Now they're out of work, they're collecting their stuff and moving elsewhere," McBroom said. "Almost three weeks ago I only had 21 units to rent. Today I have 40."

But, McBroom said she knows that number will go down as new people come into the area.

RV park managers in the region say thye are used to seeing residents come and go.

"What we're going through now is no different than in past years. I've lived here all my life and this is just another of those things. When workers are laid off in one area, they get hired in another," said Brad Butherus, owner-manager of MoonRiver RV Resort in Richland.

MoonRiver is owned by Butherus, a former home builder, his wife, Bev, and Richland developer Milo Bauder. They built it late last year with an eye to attracting Hanford workers.

"For a long time we saw that the guy up the road at Horn Rapids (RV Resort) wasn't able to serve all the people coming to work at Hanford so we built MoonRiver. Now we're working in harmony with each other and passing people back and forth between the parks," he said.

Butherus said all the 119 spaces at MoonRiver were full for six months this year. Then, around July, workers gradually began to leave.

"Now some are coming back, some to work at the vitrification plant or other projects at Hanford. There always something happening out there. It'll go on forever," Butherus said.

Dianne Wright agreed. She's owned Desert Gold Motel & RV Park in Richland for 21 years.

"I've seen lots of Hanford ups and downs, and this one is about the same. People are always coming in to work at Hanford, they stay a few months, sometimes a year or two, then they're off to the next job," Wright said.

Wright said many of the Hanford workers who stayed at her park mainly were there to work at the Columbia Generating Station, a nuclear power plant owned by Energy Northwest. The nuclear power plant was shut down April 6 for refueling. Refueling, also called an outage, is done every two years. Now that the outage is completed, they have either headed home or gone on to work another nuclear power plant outage.

At RV Village Resort in West Richland, departing Hanford workers, many also here to work the outage, left about 30 vacant spaces.

"We were pretty much full for about the last year and a half," said Kevin Davey, general manager for Village Resort. He estimates that 55 to 60 percent of the park's business comes from Hanford workers.

"A lot have worked at Hanford for years and years. They have a house in Idaho or Oregon, an RV here and go home on weekends. So essentially they maintain two households, one is just an RV," Davey said.

Each of the RV park managers said many of their vacant spaces are being filled by snowbirds -- people who winter down south, returning north in the spring.

"They'll leave the Tri-Cities when the weather turns and come through again in the spring," Wright said.

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