Spokane Journal of Business

Wemco plans for new plant still stymied

Frustrated president says he’s ready to abandon plans or move to North Idaho

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Wemco Inc., a heavy-equipment manufacturer based on the West Plains, has been trying for two years to obtain zoning approval to build a new, larger manufacturing plant here and the companys president says hes so frustrated at the delay that hes considering abandoning the project or taking it to Idaho.

Company President John P. Rouse says hes seeking approval from Spokane County to rezone a 10-acre parcel at 5510 W. Thorpe for light-industrial use. He hopes to build a $1 million, 25,000-square-foot manufacturing plant there that would enable to the company to grow. It currently employs 25 people, but might add more if the new plant is built, Rouse says.

Wemco, founded in 1989, manufactures equipment for industrial, construction, and agricultural use at a 15,000-square-foot plant located in leased space at 2823 S. Craig.

The property Rouse is eyeing for a new plant currently is zoned for rural-residential use, but under the countys new comprehensive plan, its slated for light-industrial use, he saysthe same classification hes applied for. The implementing regulations for the new zoning for that area havent been put in place yet.

Despite the apparent appropriateness of the request under the comprehensive plan, a county hearing examiner recently denied Wemcos application.

In that decision, Hearing Examiner Michael Dempsey said that Wemcos completed zone-change application was filed a month before the propertys zoning was changed under the comprehensive plan, so still would be subject to the rural-residential zoning that was in effect when the company filed its paperwork.

Dempsey also said that he believed the proposed use of the property more closely meets the definition of heavy industrial use than light industry under the comprehensive plan, although he also wrote that both metal fabrication and machine/machinery manufacturing are uses allowed under light-industrial zoning.

Rouse says hes asked the hearing examiner to reconsider the decision, and, failing that, is prepared to go before the Spokane County Commission to argue his case. Such a meeting, however, couldnt take place until September, and Rouse says hes getting tired of waiting.

Originally we thought we could build in 2001, then we thought, No problem, were going to be able to build in 2002. Now it looks like itll be 2003 if we even decide to do it, he says.

Rouse says hes particularly upset because his new plant would keep good-paying manufacturing jobs here.

Anybody whos in any leadership role in the public sector is telling you that the one way we can cure the problems of unemployment in the area is to get more jobs, he says, but when you come here and try to start adding jobs, they put up all these roadblocks in your way.

Rouse says that after spending $50,000 on the preliminary work necessary to apply for a zone change, hes now considering abandoning the project altogether, or moving to Post Falls.

The biggest incentive they offer in Idaho is the fact they dont stick up signs that say, No business wanted, he says.

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