The Port of Pasco is mulling whether a second food processing center should be its next effort to attract private development and more jobs.
It's one option being considered now that the Pasco Processing Center has few vacant lots left.
Port commissioners met recently with Pasco City Manager Gary Crutchfield to discuss whether the city had the capacity to provide the waste water system needed for another food processing center.
The city and port are trying to decide if a second food processing area would be another "home run," like Jim Toomey, port executive director, said the Pasco Processing Center has been.
When Syngenta bought property to open a $42 million seed processing facility in 2009, the port estimated the project brought $150 million worth of development to the area, 500 year-round jobs and another 500 seasonal jobs.
"In every respect it's been a success," Crutchfield said.
The center brought several food processors who have made investments in the community and added to the tax base for the city, county, school district and port, he said.
And the city's $6 million water system at the center has been paid for by the users, Crutchfield said.
The processing center has become a classic example of how an economic development project can make a difference in the community, he said. And its success has encouraged local officials to pursue other projects, including TRAC and softball and soccer complexes.
The first land sale in the Pasco Processing Center was in 1994 to JR Simplot. The company bought 34 acres and a plant opened in 1995.
The Pasco Processing Center includes about 250 acres, 175 of which were meant for food processing companies or industries that support the processors. Of that land, there is just one 19-acre parcel remaining, Toomey said.
A couple smaller parcels are still open, but would be more suited to service companies that work with food processors, he said.
The city operates 10 spray fields, where processing water containing dirt and processed nutrients is blended with well water and sprayed on farm circles, Crutchfield said.
The city council will consider a project that would make the system more efficient Monday, he said. That could allow the current food processors to expand on land they already have. But it isn't likely to allow for more than that to use the system.
Tests have shown that the system is not only taking up the nitrates from the process water, it's actually decreasing the nitrates in the groundwater, he said. "It's performed better than expected."
But buying more acreage for spray fields looks to be too expensive, Toomey said.
Still, he said, "Common sense tells us that food processing is a high probability market for future growth and expansion."
And value-added food processing is a natural fit, Crutchfield noted, since access to raw products is one of the area's strengths.
Toomey expects access to railways will be a crucial issue, as well as the availability of water and parcel sizes.
The port would need more than 200 acres to attract heavy industrial companies like food processors or manufacturing, he said.
Now, officials need to determine if that gut feeling about food processing is right.
Crutchfield suggested that they hire a company to determine what the food processing industry could look like in the next 20 to 30 years to see if that fits what the city and port can offer.
Toomey said officials will be talking with food processors and others in the industry to get a better feel for what the needs are. That's how the port and city ended up deciding on the Pasco Processing Center in the late '80s.