The deal with Saltchuk Resources could close next spring, if all goes well.
Under the plan, some 250 skilled maritime employees would relocate to Everett from Foss' current location along Seattle's Ship Canal, near Lake Union. The former mill site would become home to dry docks, cranes and painting facilities. It also would be the winter home of vessels working for mines and remote oil drilling in the Alaskan Arctic.
"This will transform the waterfront in a very significant way, with a company I think we all really respect," Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson said.
The water-dependent uses Saltchuk plans for the former mill site do not allow for public access, Stephanson said.
Foss says it is the largest U.S. tug and barge company on the Pacific Rim. The company reports about $435 million in annual revenues. It owns about 180 vessels and maintains two shipyards. In addition to its own tugs and barges, it also performs maintenance on fishing boats, yachts and ferries.
"We see tremendous opportunity and potential for further growth at the Everett site, a deep-water port with unrestricted waterways," Saltchuk Chairman Mark Tabbutt said. "And we believe the redevelopment of this site as a shipyard and maritime complex will contribute a vital economic base to the Everett community."
The company's current location inside the Ballard Locks is inaccessible to larger ships.
"This decreases the market that Foss has been able to pursue," Tabbutt said.
The Everett site, company leaders said, gives the company immediate access to a deep, saltwater port. They also hope for long-term growth.
"Two-hundred and fifty is the starting number" of employees, Saltchuk President Tim Engle said. "We don't know what the end number will be 10 years from now."
Foss' current ship-building projects in Seattle will continue at that location over the next several years. Headquarters for Saltchuk, and Foss, will stay in Seattle.
Foss was founded in 1889 in Tacoma. From the 1950s until the late 1990s, Foss was active in Everett, hauling wood chips for Scott Paper Co.
"It's not so much a story of Foss coming to Everett, but Foss returning to Everett," Engle said.
Because the company has yet to develop a site plan, it's unclear exactly when the employees would arrive in Everett. Three years might be a realistic time frame, he said.
Many of the people who will be relocated to Everett already live in Snohomish County, said Paul Stevens, president and CEO for Foss.
If the deal goes through, it could breathe new life into an economic dead zone where Everett city leaders have pinned hopes of attracting future blue-collar jobs. About 700 people were put out of work when Kimberly-Clark shut down its paper and pulp mill in April 2012, following about 80 years of operation. That included families whose employment at the mill went back generations.
A City Council majority early this year rezoned the property to ensure that the immediate waterfront remains dedicated to maritime industry, though other uses are allowed farther from shore.
Major demolition finished up this summer.
"This is in the sweet spot of what we want to do our economy, which is to diversify and create family-wage jobs," said Troy McClelland, president and CEO of Economic Alliance Snohomish County.
Foss' operations also are thought to be compatible with the security concerns of Naval Station Everett.
"We look forward to working with Saltchuk and Foss Maritime," said Capt. James Duke, the base's commanding officer.
For now, the 66-acre site remains covered in crushed concrete debris.
The state Department of Ecology is working on a cleanup agreement for the land, which includes petroleum pollution and elevated levels of arsenic and other heavy metals. Kimberly-Clark will remain responsible for that work. How to remove pollution from the waterway has yet to be addressed.
New construction on the land is expected to take place simultaneously with the cleanup.
Foss is one of five different industrial groups within Saltchuk. Others focus on shipping, air cargo, trucking and fuel.
Saltchuk is a second-generation family business founded in 1982 and is based out of an office on Seattle's Lake Union. The company's name means "saltwater" in the trade language known as Chinook Jargon. It employs 6,500 people nationwide, 800 of them in the Puget Sound region.
The price of the Kimberly-Clark land deal has not been disclosed. It's been in the works for at least six months.
A four-month due diligence period is set to end in mid-January, followed by final closing details.
Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Foss, founded in 1889, maintains local roots
By the time of Foss Maritime Co.'s expected arrival in Everett some time next year, the company will be preparing to celebrate its 125th anniversary.
It was founded by Norwegian immigrant Thea Foss in Tacoma's Commencement Bay in 1889.
A venture that started with a single rowboat soon expanded into a fishing fleet, ferries and cargo boats, according to a history on the company's website.
These days, Foss is headquartered in Seattle. The company maintains 180 tugs and barges, as well as two shipyards for new construction and repairs. It boasts of innovations in alternative fuels, including the world's first hybrid-powered tug and other vessels that run on liquefied natural gas.
Annual revenues are reported at $435 million.
Foss makes its current home port on Seattle's Fremont Cut, inside the Ballard Locks. The location has limited the size of vessels it can build and repair.
That was a big factor in the company's announcement Wednesday that it would relocate 250 employees to Everett's waterfront, where Dallas-based Kimberly-Clark Co.'s pulp and paper mill once operated. Principals for Foss' parent company, Saltchuk Resources, believe Everett gives them their best chance for growing the business.
"We studied every ice-free port from Dutch Harbor (Alaska) to Olympia," said Mark Tabbutt, Saltchuk's chairman.
The Foss family no longer ran the business by the time Saltchuk bought it in 1987.
The new owners, however, maintain local roots, with headquarters in Seattle.
Unusual in the maritime industry, they also have a history of female ownership. Tabbutt, Saltchuk's chairman, and Tim Engle, the company's president, are married to two of the three sisters who own the company. The sisters are the daughters of Michael Garvey, one of Saltchuk's founders.
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