The Times - Serving Waitsburg, Dayton and the Touchet Valley

By Ken Graham
The Times 

Columbia Pulp Ramps Up Hiring

Combined employment in the region is expected to be at least 125 by year-end


DAYTON – Columbia Pulp is now well on the way to having the employment impact in the area that community leaders have been hoping for for nearly five years.

In an interview with The Times last week, Columbia Pulp CEO John Begley said that his firm received about 100 resumes during a job fair in Dayton earlier this month. Hiring fairs have also been held in Walla Walla and Pomeroy.

“We will begin making offers in about three weeks,” Begley said. He said that most jobs at the company’s main facility near Starbuck will start in mid-to-late fall.

Begley said that construction of the new Columbia Pulp plant near Starbuck is going very well, and that startup is now expected in December. “Construction progress has been delayed slightly due to weather issues, as well as delays in deliveries of parts and supplies,” he said.

Begley said that the strong economy has increased demand for some of the needed parts, which has slowed deliveries.

By the end of the year, Begley said that combined employment for Columbia Pulp and related operations should be about 125. That includes 90 workers at the main plant near Starbuck, 15 in Columbia Pulp’s main office in Dayton, 10 employed by affiliate company Columbia Straw at their office near Starbuck, and 11 at Columbia Pulp’s pilot plant at the Port of Garfield in Pomeroy.

The pilot plant is designed to run small batches and test batches for straw pulp products, as well as serve as the company’s training facility.

During the interview, Begley addressed an issue that has been in local news recently about the sales and use tax deferral Columbia Pulp received from the state of Washington in late 2014. The waiver was granted because Columbia County was considered a high unemployment county at the time. It’s an incentive that’s commonly granted to employers who are building or expanding facilities in rural parts of the state, he said.

During a recent regular meeting, Columbia County Commissioners expressed surprise and disappointment that the county would not be receiving the influx of revenues they were expecting from the county’s share of sales and use taxes for equipment and materials used in the construction of the Starbuck facility.

Those funds would likely have amounted to more than $500,000, they said, but the state’s deferral means that the first payment will be delayed for three years, and then the total will be spread out over five years. And if Columbia Pulp lives up to its employment and operations commitments over the next few years, it may qualify for a total waiver of those taxes.

“It wasn’t a secret,” Begley said last week of the waiver. He added that he was surprised that the commissioners seemed to be caught by surprise. He said he was sure that the commissioners on the board in 2014 were aware of the waiver, as were members of the county’s planning department staff at the time.

Begley said he’s disappointed that so much attention has been drawn to the sales tax waiver issue, since the positive economic impact to the area from the new facilities will far outweigh the impact of the waiver.

“We expect our business to add $70 million per year to the region’s economy,” he said. This includes salaries and wages, as well as purchases of straw – at least 250,000 tons per year – from local farmers.

While the amount of property taxes Columbia Pulp and its associated firms will pay in the county is unclear at this time, it will unquestionably be significant, Begley said – many times more than the company is saving from the one-time sales tax waiver.

He said he expects that the state will conduct an appraisal of the company’s facilities later this year, which will determine the assessed value and property tax levies the firm will pay in the county.


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