Business is booming at old N-plants

The News Tribune

SATSOP – The view out the window of Chris Slaughter’s office at SafeHarbor.com is blocked by a water cooling tower nearly 500 feet high.

And that’s the way he likes it.

That relic of a failed pair of nuclear power plants provides the basis for Slaughter and other employees at the Satsop Development Park to brag about being in one of the most unusual working environments in the country.

“It was a little surreal driving up here the first day,” said Slaughter, who manages customer accounts at SafeHarbor. “But it’s a nice built-in icon. You can’t do much better than that.”

The Satsop nuclear plant site is being turned into a high-tech business park in an effort to spur the economy of timber-dependent Grays Harbor County. But the water cooling towers, which can be seen from Highway 12, will always remain at the site as a sign of the plant’s original intent.

The Grays Harbor Public Development Authority plans to bring more than 7,000 jobs to the area in the next decade, said Tami Garrow, director of business development.

High-tech companies such as online support provider SafeHarbor.com, Internet service provider Techline.com and e-commerce support company Cypress Resources have moved to the area because of its state-of-the-art, high-speed Internet network and low rents.

Boise Cascade Corp. has signed a letter of intent to open a siding manufacturing plant that would bring 120 jobs. Duke Energy North America is negotiating to buy land and permits that would allow development of a turbine power station on 40 acres nearby that are owned by Energy Northwest.

Garrow plans to lure businesses by emphasizing the county’s quality of life, lack of traffic jams and bargain real estate.

House prices there average $91,400, compared to Pierce County’s average of $169,859 in August. But the park is a couple of hours from both Seattle and Portland, far out of the way for most businesses.

Still, park supporters argue that location is becoming less important in the new Internet economy, especially with the business park’s high-speed Internet access.

“It’s a little strange. It’s hard to explain to people what (the park) is,” said Scott Sipe, network planner for Internet provider Techline.com. “It’s an excellent work environment.”

SafeHarbor.com was the first business to move into the park, a year ago.

Grays Harbor reached its peak economically in 1926 when it was the busiest port in the state. Since then the population has remained static, at about 67,000, said Dick Conway, a local economist who publishes The Puget Sound Economic Forecaster.

Between 1980 and 1997, Washington added nearly 1 million jobs. Grays Harbor County lost 2,400.

About 60 percent of the company’s workers live in Grays Harbor County, although some workers make the hour drive from Tacoma each day.

The Grays Harbor Public Development Authority will start selling the site to businesses and site selectors nationwide in the coming months. The development authority is a public-private entity that gets no tax money. Instead, it must raise money through rent, fees and the sale of the pieces of the nuclear plant. That makes finishing the project a bit of a challenge, Garrow said.

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