Companies discover benefits of locating in Camas-Washougal

Housing prices and quality of life are cited

Denise Fretwell, a machinist at Micro Machining LLC, finishes parts that will be machine-dated with the month and year they were manufactured. The company, which makes precision metal parts such as shafts, spindles, handles and nuts, is located in Building 4 in the Port of Camas-Washougal Industrial Park. Buy this photo

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Bill Walters, a fabricator at Samson Sports, cuts, bends and shapes metal to make custom wakeboard towers. The 11-year-old company also makes fishing towers and racks to hold waterskis, speakers and lights.

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A five-story building under construction in Northwest Camas is expected to be occupied by Fisher Investments this fall. The first four floors will be filled by the 325 workers from the company’s satellite office in Vancouver. Camas is being considered by Fisher as a site for its corporate relocation from Northern California. “Camas did everything they could to be friendly,” said Ken Fisher, the founder, chairman and CEO of Fisher Investments. “There were joint planning sessions to make things go smoothly. Camas was eager to go. There was ‘over the top’ coordination in planning and preparation of installation of water, sewer and utilities.”

There is a lot of hometown pride and the term “Made in America” is on full display at several companies in the Camas-Washougal area.

It is evident at Micro Machining LLC, located in the Port of Camas-Washougal Industrial Park. The company, owned by Ben and Eve Merklin and their son Travis, uses CNC mills and lathes to make precision metal parts such as shafts, spindles, handles and nuts.

“We work in plastics and metals — steel, aluminum and titanium,” Eve Merklin said.

Micro Machining sells parts to assembly manufacturers for military, medical, hydraulic, transportation and aerospace industries. Some of the parts are machine-dated with the month and year they were manufactured.

The company, which also has a welding department, delivers locally to most of its customers.

Micro Machining has been in the 12,000 square foot Building 4 in the industrial park for a year.

“We’re a family business,” Eve Merklin said. “We actually live in Washougal. We wanted to stay local.”

The Merklins have lived in Washougal for 29 years.

Micro Machining has 10 employees, including the three owners.

Sampson Sports

Samson Sports makes fishing towers and radar arches, as well as wakeboard towers and racks to hold waterskis, speakers and lights.

The 11-year-old company’s products are sold to boat companies and dealerships, as well as directly to the public. There are 16 employees.

Samson Sports moved from the 2000 block of “E” Street, in Washougal, to 4325 N.W. Lake Road, in Camas, in 2005.

“The building here is 10,500 square feet,” said Samson Sports owner Scott Parnell. “E Street was 4,000 square feet. We had outgrown that place, and I liked a location on Lake Road that was more suitable for us.

“We manufacture in Camas,” he added. “Everything happens here.”

Parnell has lived in Camas for 22 years.

Fisher Investments

One of the most anticipated arrivals in the local area involves construction of a five-story building in Northwest Camas.

The structure at 5525 N.W. Fisher Creek Drive will be occupied by Fisher Investments this fall. The first four floors will be filled by the 325 workers from Fisher Investments’ satellite office in Vancouver.

It is the first of two planned buildings in the $30 million office complex project.

“Camas wanted it more than Vancouver did,” said Ken Fisher, the founder, chairman and CEO of Fisher Investments. “Camas did everything they could to be friendly. There were joint planning sessions to make things go smoothly. Camas was eager to go. There was ‘over the top’ coordination in planning and preparation of installation of water, sewer and utilities.

“All the local politicians were generally supportive,” he added. “Annexation of that property into the city of Camas was necessary for our project to move forward. Camas did quite a lot to make this work. That was in stark contrast to our experience in California, where local government goes out of its way to stop you from doing expansion.”

Earlier this month, it was announced that Fisher planned to build two additional 30,000 square foot buildings. Information technology department and employees will be housed in 10,000 square feet of one of the buildings.

Fisher cited the city’s long term commitment to the 38th Avenue Transportation Corridor Improvement Project as another positive aspect of opening offices in Camas.

This month, the Camas City Council approved a development agreement with APC Sunrise Summit, LLC; Matthew R. and David R. Lugliani; and Fisher Creek Campus, LLC. The three private entities would front the money to support the cost of design, engineering and permitting for the 38th Avenue project.

The city has applied for a State Public Works Trust Fund loan and federal grants to finance the project. Fisher and APC are expected to qualify for $425,000 in Transportation Impact Fee credits in accordance with city ordinances.

Camas is being considered by Fisher as a site for its corporate relocation from Northern California.

“I do not expect that decision to be made soon,” he said.

Fisher said everything about the Camas area is relatively attractive compared to California.

“You can pull out of Camas and be behind the gate at the Portland International Airport in 20 minutes,” he said. “Camas offers a wide range in variation of home prices. There are former mill houses to new gargantuan houses and everything in between. We have a lot of our employees who live in Prune Hill. The schools are better, and the neighborhoods are safe.

“There is a very wide range of low end to high end of housing [in the Camas-Washougal area],” Fisher added. “That is not true in California. A lot of people cannot afford the low end of the spectrum.”

Washougal Town Square

Adam Taylor, leasing manager of Washougal Town Square, said the local area offers a great quality of life.

“Employees do not have to commute to some sort of downtown or suburban office park,” he said. “There is access to all the beautiful outdoor activities within walking distance or a short driving distance.

“What we try to provide in downtown Washougal is a critical mass of spaces and amenities so people can stop commuting and start interacting,” Taylor added.

He is looking forward to seeing the positive effects of having a Camas-Washougal Economic Development Association, directed by former Camas Mayor Paul Dennis.

“We all need to support each other in promoting the positive attributes of Camas and Washougal,” Taylor said. “There’s an authenticity in both towns that is impossible to create. It’s built into the fabric.

“I think Pendleton Woolen Mills adds to that authenticity and the Georgia Pacific paper mill,” he added. “Both of those huge local employers have a real presence and history here. They lend themselves to vibrant independent downtowns that you just can’t recreate. They are really unique. They are the backbone of the local economy. They’re good examples for other companies and other industries that might look to relocate to the area.”

Washougal Town Square, located at 1700 Main St., is a $13 million development that is Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certified.

Taylor included the lack of a state income tax and a lower cost of living than Portland or Seattle as positive attributes of the local area.

“There is a variety of housing options in Camas and Washougal — all sorts of price ranges,” he said. “That could attract companies with different levels of management and service operations.”

Taylor mentioned access to the outdoors as another positive attribute of the area.

“There is the Columbia River Gorge, Mount Hood and Mount St. Helens,” he said. “You could go fishing on your lunch break if you worked at Washougal Town Square. There’s not many places you can say that.”