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Cliffstar enters second Walla Walla year...employment climbs to 70

Walla Walla’s SBDC
helps local business
start...and grow

     David Larson’s dream of having his own business got a jump-start when he turned for advice to the Walla Walla Area Small Business Development Center in November, 2002.
     SBDC Director Richard Monacelli gave him the advice and support he needed to make David’s Aquacut & Builders a working venture.

David Larson

In the process, Larson discovered that he had the trust and respect of many businesses who would support his own plan with letters of intent.
     It soon became clear that there was more than enough demand to make his own shop profitable. So together, Larson and Monacelli developed a business plan and loan proposal that was the basis for a verbal commitment for up to $230,000 in bank financing.
     With several contracts “in hand,” Larson invested $7,000 of equity and secured a $212,000 loan to launch DAB.
     He refurbished the Blaze King building at 400 West Whitman Drive in College Place, installed the required equipment and, suddenly, found himself faced with having to hire employees. It was a need he hadn’t prepared for at this early stage.
     Returning to SBDC, Larson worked with Monacelli again, this time to identify group insurance policies and other benefits that create the environment that retains good employees.
     Today, after less than a year, Larson has two full-time employees and one halftime staff member. He has successfully competed for metal working contracts in Portland and Seattle and has been “pleasantly surprised” at the number of signs, sculptures and other artistic projects his firm has been involved in.

     Larson’s outlook for the future of his young firm is optimistic...and he’s making plans to expand.

    After its first year, Cliffstar Corporation’s Walla Walla operation is on schedule and, according to company officials, “right where we want to be.”
    Walla Walla Plant Manager Shannon McFall said the local facility is now operating around the clock Monday through Friday and sometimes adding a Saturday shift. Cliffstar’s local payroll has grown to 70 full-time employees, more than three-times the number of workers who began training little more than a year ago.
    McFall said that while local volume has increased significantly over the past several months, the product mix is unchanged from original plans.
     “We’re still sticking to three sizes -- 64-ounce, 96-ounce and one gallon -- but our shipments are going to a much larger area than we originally thought,” she explained. “Juices processed in Walla Walla are being shipped all over the country and into Canada.”
     Cliffstar’s initial plans for its Walla Walla plant were to ship goods mostly to only Northwest markets.
     The company, which is the largest private label juice processor in the U.S., has other plants in New York, Missouri, South Carolina and California.

     Walla Walla was selected for its Northwest location as the result of a combined effort by the Port of Walla Walla, Team Walla Walla, Fluor Hanford, Walla Walla County, the City of Walla Walla and Walla Walla Community College.
     As the lead agency, the Port of WallaWalla bought and refurbished the old AgriFrozen Food building, on Dell Avenue, then negotiated a “lease with option to buy” deal with Cliffstar. The Port investment was $1.6 million.
     At the time, Cliffstar President Sean P. McGirr said the availability of the building and the favorable economic development package were factors that influenced the company to locate in Walla Walla.
     While major customers for Walla Walla processed juices include Costco, WalMart, Safeway and Western Family, McFall said recent packaging has been done for smaller retailers like Fred Meyer and Winco.
     In addition, McFall said the firm is beginning to use increasing amounts of juice concentrates from regional suppliers including apple juices from Yakima Valley vendors and grape concentrates from Taggares Farms in the Columbia Basin.
     McFall said the Walla Walla plant is currently bottling 93 different juice formulas in containers that involve more than 240 different labels.
     She said the local operation is now operating at full capacity and there have been “discussions” about adding another production line, “maybe two.”
     “We don’t expect to do any expanding during the next year, however,” McFall added.
Cliffstar was recently recognized by the Eastern Washington WorkForce Development Council as its 2003 Employer of the Year. The Council oversees WorkForce services in Walla Walla, Columbia, Garfield, Asotin, Whitman Stevens, Ferry, Lincoln and Pend Oreille counties. Cliffstar was honored for meeting specific WorkForce criteria and its outstanding worksource development practices.
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