In Demand: Port of Woodland

By Nicholas Shannon Kulmac, June 21, 2013, Vancouver Business Journal

Summer vacation may have arrived for area students, but over at the Port of Woodland, the furthest thing from officials’ minds is taking a break.

During a port commission meeting this week, officials discussed a number of business-related agenda items, including an industrial-to-commercial zoning change on three acres of land near port property, and a potential policy decision regarding marijuana grow operations.

A plan for pot

According to Nelson Holmberg, the Port of Woodland’s executive director, port commissions across the state are having serious discussions about pot policy after the Port of Willapa Harbor (Raymond, WA) agreed to lease three buildings to a marijuana entrepreneur hoping to take advantage of Initiative 502.

“[During this spring’s Washington Public Ports Association conference], everyone’s advice was that it’s time for our commissions to start talking about what our policies will be in regards to answering the question when a broker or potential marijuana tenant comes looking for space,” said Holmberg.

While port commissioners have been considering pot policies for several weeks now, Holmberg said it has been difficult to make a final decision without knowing what all of the implications of the new law are.

“The biggest things that I’m interested in are the implications on the federal side,” he said. “We would be concerned about whether there would be an impact with federal funding for projects, for example, since [marijuana] is still illegal federally. Then there is the fact that the liquor control board hasn’t released its regulations yet, and they aren’t due to be released until the end of the year. So there is still a lot to learn and it’s hard for us to make decisions as ports without all of the information.”

Commercial activity

Also on the agenda this week, port commissioners were asked to weigh in on a proposed re-zone on a portion of 26.9 acres of vacant industrial land on Schurman Way.

Mark Fleischauer, principal partner at Liberty Evans LLC, originally requested the zone change last year. Liberty Evans, the firm that owns the property, wants to see the land re-zoned from light industrial to commercial, and, according to Holmberg, the firm is now looking to the port for support.

“They’re building a new high school in the same area, there’s already commercial growth happening out there, and this would be another commercial area. We are pretty concerned about traffic impacts and so forth,” said Holmberg. “If there are plans for mitigation of the traffic, to make it easier for industrial traffic to continue moving, that might be something that wets our appetite.”

Industry incubator

Though officials at the Port of Woodland aren’t lining up to support the Liberty Evans project, Holmberg said there is a plan on the horizon that holds the potential to create jobs and long-term economic growth.

The plan, Holmberg explained, is to develop 12 acres of port land (served by the recently improved Guild Road project) into a light industrial incubator park.

“We’ll model it after the one the Port of Walla Walla completed. They’ve had huge success with that project,” he said.

According to Holmberg, port commissioners should begin working on a feasibility study for that project this fall. That study, he noted, will help determine the type of businesses the incubator will serve.

Rising interest

When asked about the uptick in business-related activity at the port, Holmberg said “interest is hotter now than it has been at any time in my three-and-a-half years at the port.” Additionally, he said, the port has enjoyed 18 months of full occupancy.

Holmberg attributed much of the rise in business activity to an improving economy, citing tenant growth with companies such as Advanced Composite Services Inc. He also said the port is doing a much better job at marketing itself.

“We’re doing a better job than ever before of telling our story, letting people know we exist and what kind of space we have” he said.

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