By JESSE BURKHARDT
With the nation seeing a sharp downturn in the overall economic picture in recent months, this might seem like an unusual time for a major business expansion project.
But some innovative industries are continuing to thrive, and that is the category Bingen-based Innovative Composites Engineering (ICE) appears to be in.
ICE currently occupies an increasingly cramped 9,700-square foot building at Bingen Point, and has simply been unable to meet demand for its products with the space it has.
To remedy its space constraints, ICE plans to construct a new business campus just outside the White Salmon city limits. The project would include a 52,000 square foot building for light manufacturing, with a paved parking area to accommodate about 100 vehicles.
Steve Maier, president/CEO of ICE, said the company had been close to moving its operations to Idaho because there was no more room at its Bingen Point facility, part of the Port of Klickitat industrial park.
Maier said the Port of Klickitat has not been able to accommodate ICE's growth requirements.
"We were up against the wall, and there were no options to expand in the area. The Port could do nothing for us, so our choice was, we were moving to Idaho," Maier explained.
With the possibility of dozens of vital jobs leaving the community permanently, the Frank Hunsaker family stepped up to try to help ICE. The Hunsakers, who live in White Salmon, own Hunsaker Oil. Rather than see ICE relocate elsewhere, the Hunsakers made some of their property available for ICE to build on.
"We were within weeks of pulling the trigger on moving when the Hunsakers offered some of their land. The Hunsakers are saving a lot of jobs in the community," Maier said.
Maier, who lives in Underwood, said ICE has had to turn away contracts -- and more jobs -- because the company has not had sufficient room to expand.
"We've actually been turning down work because we're out of space," Maier said.
The site envisioned for the new ICE building is in the area bordered by N. Main Street, Dewalt Drive, and Snowden Road. The property is next to the Hunsaker Oil facility at 1107 N. Main Street, and across the road from Gardner's Funeral Home.
"We're glad ICE can stay in the area," said Bill Hunsaker, Frank's son. "We'd hate to see those jobs go."
The company anticipates having about 60-80 employees working at the new campus by the end of the year.
Currently, ICE employs 40.
With ongoing contracts and new deals with major corporations such as Lockheed Martin Corp. and Northrop Grumman expected, ICE may soon be landing more jobs as well.
"It could easily be a lot more," Maier said.
Maier started ICE in White Salmon in 1989. In its early years, the operation was based in a 25,000 square foot building in the downtown business district and focused on recreational applications. The business is the parent company of NoLimitz Windsurfing, and manufactures the "Skinny" windsurfing mast. Other recreational products ICE developed include carbon fiber bicycle tubing, bladder molded components, bear-proof backpacking canisters, structural tubing, and hang glider control bars.
A fire gutted the ICE facility in the early 1990s, however, and the business moved to Bingen Point.
ICE has moved in a variety of directions since its origins. ICE's products have helped to drive a technological shift toward composites rather than metal, and the business is now an industry leader in developing and manufacturing composite accessories for defense applications as well as the aerospace industry.
Composite materials developed by ICE offer increased strength, lighter weight, low cycle fatigue, and corrosion resistance. These advantages help increase fuel efficiency, offer weight savings, fatigue resistance, better durability, and lower maintenance costs.
Maier said he hasn't yet decided whether he will keep the relatively small space the company now occupies at Bingen Point. The decision may have to wait until the new building is nearly finished.
"We'll see how much we need," Maier said. "With the work we're doing, there is no way to predict how many jobs there will be."
To accommodate the building project, 20.6 acres will need to be rezoned from "residential" to "general commercial," a process now being reviewed by the Klickitat County Planning Department.
If everything goes as planned, work on the ICE campus would begin this summer, with completion scheduled for the end of 2009.