Port of Olympia Airport Attracting, Expanding Businesses

By Holly Smith Peterson, November 13, 2013, Business Examiner

At the recent Thurston Business Showcase, no one was more excited about business than Port of Olympia airport director Rudy Rudolph.

That’s because, “We have a few businesses going like gangbusters down there,” he said.

With more than 300 acres and nearly two dozen businesses on the property and adjacent NewMarket Industrial campus, commercial growth at the airport is indeed a reality. Current tenants range from aviation services, light manufacturing and entertainment to the state Department of Natural Resources and the Washington State Patrol, and the site’s proximity to I-5 keeps it busy. Clientele for the airport specifically include both private and corporate aircraft owners who utilize the 5,501- and 4,157-foot runways, but it also sees weekly dozens of visitors to Museum of Flight and customers for the surrounding businesses.

One tenant that’s seen massive growth in recent months emergency training company Site Response, where husband-and-wife team Todd and Jonessa Miner started their business roughly 18 months ago. Todd, who was in the fire service for two decades, and Jonessa, a logging family descendent whose background merges Army experience and time as an educational instructor, were both familiar with the problem of on-the-job injuries in many industries.

That combination then sparked a brainstorm: Why not blend the two in a business that provides emergency training for everything from sawmills to day care centers?

Now they’re one airport-site business that’s expanding at a rapid pace, so much so that they recently moved into a new space that gives them three times the size of the old one for their service and retail operation.

Besides providing safety training for companies like Manke Lumber and the Grays Harbor PUD, Site Response also sells equipment and retail consumables like environmental spill products for 150 local giants like Weyerhaeuser. Staff, too, has expanded to four employees and 10 instructors.

“Our constant struggle is finding a balance between family and work,” said Jonessa.

Another growing business at Olympia Airport is Soloy Aviation, where owner Dave Sauter agreed that there has been expansion both for on-site commercial activity and for his own company.

“It does seem to be picking up a little, especially since the end of last year,” he said. “But then that’s probably true for the industry as a whole.”

Also at the airport is A&R Aviation, a local repair company that started in company president Ron Hix’ garage five years ago and now occupies a 60,000-square-foot site with 35 employees. Already for this year the company won the Best Airframe Structures Repair category at the national¬† OneAero MRO Top Shop Awards.

And, currently the company is in the process of expanding its facility by 20,000 square feet to accommodate 10 more employees and increase shop space for more commercial airline repair contracts by the end of next year.

“We’ve grown quite a bit,” Hix agreed. “We chose the site because I’m from Tenino and know the area, so although we’re worldwide, it’s local. And we have a great relationship with the Port of Olympia and the builder. It’s been a good partnership.”

But while growth can be good, Hix knows when to stop. He wants to keep employee numbers below 50 so it can stay a small business, and will limit his services to large commercial jet companies like Boeing, MacDonnell Douglas and Airbus.

“That’s where businesses go wrong and try to do too much, and lose control of expenses,” he said. “We’re rock stars at what we do now, because we’re good at what we do, and we’re happy just keeping it that way.”

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