Kennewick construction company auctions itself off

KENNEWICK -- It took Bob Bertsch 25 years to build his construction business and just a day for it all to go away.

Bertsch's Kennewick-based Ashley-Bertsch Group went on the auction block Friday at 9 a.m. By 4 p.m., Booker Auctions had sold off almost two dozen vehicles and trailers, tons of power tools and supplies, even the gas-fired fireplace in the office.

Bertsch, 65, said he is down-sizing because the tax burden got too expensive to stay in business.

After a quarter of a century of building a successful enterprise at 5903 W. Metaline Ave., Bertsch sat back and watched as about 200 people bid on what was left of his company -- boxes of electrical parts, a drafting desk, high-end office furniture, TVs, computers and even the phone system.

Anything that could be carried away, was.

"I am tired of carrying all the tax load," Bertsch said. "I renew 13 licenses here every year just so I can spend money in this city."

Bertsch makes no attempt to conceal his frustration with the costs government imposes on small businesses like his.

"Government is killing small business. We used to have 24 employees at our peak. Now, all of those people who used to work here are in unemployment lines," he said.

Seeing all his life work and hard-earned gain sold off wasn't easy, Bertsch said, but the sale was successful enough to ease the hurt.

"I wasn't as emotionally attached as I thought I'd be," Bertsch said at the end of the day while sitting in what used to be the company's conference room in the 5,000-square-foot office building.

Most of the auction action took place inside and outside a 4,000-square-foot warehouse.

The buildings and 3.2 acres of property already had been sold. The Kennewick School District paid $960,000 and plans to expand the Tri-Tech campus on Kellogg Street to the site, Bertsch said.

Bertsch, who is a commissioner for the Benton Public Utility District, said selling off the company's assets doesn't mean he is retiring.

"I like what I do. All of my work has been relationship-based, with mostly referrals and negotiated jobs," said Bertsch, who expects he will be doing much of the same in his home-based, husband-and-wife operation.

Bertsch told a friend at the auction he is selling out because government was taking more out of his business than he was.

But auctioneer Merle Booker said Bertsch's wife put it differently.

"She said Bob told her he was shedding his skin," Booker said. "I'm not retiring. Just slowing down."