Spokane Journal of Business

New Colfax company eyes strawboard plant

Columbia Ag Fiber looking at bonds, loans to finance proposed $90 million facility

  • Print Article

A Colfax, Wash., businessman is heading a new company that hopes to bring a $90 million strawboard and ethanol plant to the farming community 60 miles south of Spokane.

The businessman, Gary Young, says the new company, Colfax-based Columbia Ag Fiber Inc., is working with an engineering consultant, a financial consultant, and a securities consultant to try to bring the project to fruition.

If Columbia Ag Fiber succeeds in building the plant, it would employ about 130 people, Young says.

The companys proposal calls for the construction of two manufacturing lines to turn wheat straw into pressed-board building products, as well as a facility to manufacture ethanol, a plant-based automotive fuel. Later on, the facility also could make animal feed and other products from the residue generated by the strawboard and ethanol operations, Young says.

Young says Columbia Ag Fiber has selected three potential parcels that would be suitable for the complex, each with about 200 to 250 acres. If the project moves forward, the company would buy property on which to build the plants, he says.

Financing for the project likely would come from a variety of sources, Young says, and could include commercial bonds and state-backed development bonds, as well as bank loans.

Debbie Shephard, properties and development manager at the Port of Whitman County, says one of the parcels Columbia Ag is looking at is in the ports Colfax Industrial Park. Port officials also have discussed issuing industrial revenue bonds to support the plant, she says.

Were optimistic at the port that something might happen, Shephard says. The people weve visited with have seemed to be very credible and very sincere about locating a plant here. We will do whatever we can within our authority to assist them.

Young says the consultants Columbia Ag is working with also are optimistic about the companys chances of obtaining financing. Based on that, he believes construction of the plant could start in about four months.

He was prompted to try to put the deal together because of a desire to help Colfax, his hometown, he says.

I grew up in this area, lived the first 20 years of my life here, then moved out. I came back about six years ago, he says. Upon returning, The first thing I did is realize quite frankly that the city seemed to be on a dying trend and I wanted to bring in some new business.

Young had worked for a number of years as a sales executive in the food-manufacturing industry, with companies such as Nalley Fine Foods and Brachs Confections Inc. Since returning to Colfax, the county seat of Whitman County, he has worked in insurance.

Through contacts at the Colfax Chamber of Commerce and the Port of Whitman County, he became aware of a proposal by another group to build a strawboard plant in Colfax, he says. That proposal didnt pan out, but Young began working with a member of the other group, and soon they were approached by an Atlanta-based consultant, Gerry Hooper, who offered to help obtain financing for the project. Hooper, an engineer, has consulted on other strawboard projects, Young says.

Columbia Ag Fiber incorporated earlier this spring, and has five employees, including Young.

Although Pacific Northwest Fiber, a strawboard plant in Plummer, Idaho, recently closed, blaming a weak market for its products, Young says Columbia Ags plant would have a different orientation than the Plummer facility. It plans to manufacture value-added strawboard that would be used in flooring, architectural molding, and furniture, rather than commodity sheets of pressed board as the Plummer plant did, he says.

  • Addy Hatch

  • Follow RSS feed for Addy Hatch

Read More

Sign up for our E-mail updates

including the
Morning Edition

Join our list