Cheney Free Press -

By JOHN McCALLUM
Managing Editor 

CEOs address WP needs

 

When it comes to business on the West Plains, chief executive officers of three long-time area employers told a large audience at the July 17 West Plains Chamber of Commerce’s monthly breakfast that it was location that brought them there — and it was location that was a main concern of theirs for the foreseeable future.

By location, Zak Designs’ Irv Zakheim, Pearson Packaging Systems’ Mike Senske and DAA Northwest Bob McConkey meant infrastructure — access to transportation to ship their products and bring in customers. Also important was the availability of land, from both a cost and quantity aspect, and access to quality health care services.

Senske said Pearson Packaging located to the West Plains in 1976-1977 mainly because of the proximity of Spokane International Airport and lots of available space to build. He added that most of the customers of the secondary packaging automation manufacturer are from outside the region.

“Eighty to 90 percent are west of Chicago and overseas,” Senske said.

Zakheim said he chose to relocate his business from Los Angeles to the Inland Northwest because of family connections and meetings with local financial experts who said they could support Zak Designs. Many told him the place to locate was in Post Falls, Idaho, or Spokane Valley, but cheap land and proximity to the airport said otherwise, and the company moved north in 2000.

“The only thing that got me to the West Plains is I didn’t know any better,” Zakheim said.

Originally building a 60,000-square-foot facility on 20 acres of land, Zakheim said the region has helped the dinnerware and home décor manufacturer grow into a 250,000-square-foot facility on 40 acres.

“It’s been a great move for us and our company,” he added.

McConkey said by default, his auto auction business needed space, so he moved from Seattle to five acres of land near Electric Avenue and Geiger Boulevard in 1992. Within four years, the need to expand led to purchasing 20 acres on Hayford Road — a location where they now occupy 130 acres.

“We moved on to Hayford Road because it was a quiet, little road with no traffic,” McConkey said to laughter from the audience. Hayford has since become a busy north-south connection between Airway Heights, the city of Spokane and other parts of the West Plains.

All three men saw infrastructure in the region as one of the challenges as the West Plains develops, not only in upgrading what is currently in place but also planning for what might come. Access to transportation to get products to markets as well as employees to and from work, but also electrical power and emergency services like police and fire are all viewed as essential to growth.

Into this mix, Senske tossed the need for streamlining the permitting process for businesses and creation of cooperation between local jurisdictions to install a regulating environment with an infrastructure open to growth.

“No matter how good it is, it can always get better,” he said. “Let us (businesses) grow responsibly.”

Zakheim expressed a need for a higher technologically skilled workforce than what is now available, noting they often have to hire designers from outside the region because of a lack of properly trained people coming out of local universities. Zakheim said they are working with schools such as Eastern Washington University to develop programs and encourage internships that can lead to more full-time work after graduation, but more needs to be done.

McConkey noted that another aspect of infrastructure was sitting in front of the panel in the form of the business leaders who make up the West Plains Chamber, praising executive director Toby Broemmeling for his leadership. This type of infrastructure is vital, McConkey said, in order to mobilize to become politically active, keeping lawmakers in Olympia as focused on Eastern Washington as they often are on Seattle and other areas in the west.

“If you talk to them (politicians), they listen,” McConkey said. “They may not always do what you want them to, but they do listen.”

All three CEOs cited health care as another area of concern, especially the growing cost of good access and coverage for employees. It is a factor of their businesses that is always changing and requires constant study to stay on top of, but is helped along by the fact that Spokane as a regional hub is home to many good facilities.

“Not providing health care is not an option,” McConkey said.

“We have a moral obligation to do so,” Senske added.

John McCallum can be reached at jmac@cheneyfreepress.com.

 

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