Astoria Co-op, Fort George, Westerlund among businesses receiving outstanding awards

By: Edward Stratton - Mar 21, 2013
Source: The Daily Astorian
A large part of Clatsop County’s economic and government representation packed the Astoria Golf & Country Club Wednesday night, as more than 100 business owners and partners, mayors, councilors, commissioners, college leaders, chamber directors and congressional staffers mingled in the main meeting room over light fare.

“We are the business connector for all of Clatsop County,” said Director Kevin Leahy of Clatsop Economic Development Resources, which gathered them for Clatsop County’s first Outstanding Business Awards. “And this event is another example of how we’re trying to build our local economy.”

“We have people from all around the county. We’re all looking for the same thing.”

CEDR, which assembled a selection committee that ultimately sifted through 19 applicants, gave out six awards for different measures of business success and service to the community.

With more than 2,100 shareholders, it’s easy to see how the Astoria Cooperative serves the community. The nearly 40-year-old buying club-turned-store, with a mission of “Building Community Through Food,” took home the Business Service to the Community award for its efforts. 

Over the years, it has helped start the River People Farmers Market, provided organic apples to students at Astoria High School, helped pay for the Astoria Film Festival and supplied the North Coast Food Web with produce at cost. It regularly hosts classes and community gatherings based around healthy, ecologically and socially and economically responsible food production and consumption.

“The neat thing about the co-op – the fact that its community-owned – is that any profits don’t go to shareholders; they go to the community,” said Zetty Nemlowill, the outreach director for the cooperative. “The more successful the co-op has been, the more it’s been able to give back to the community.”

Fort George Brewery and Public House, represented by her husband and co-founder of the business Chris Nemlowill, took home the Economic Impact award. Since beginning nearly six years ago, his and Jack Harris’ business has taken over almost an entire city block, started distributing beer to Portland, Seattle and at least three states and started a canning business. It has added more than 40 employees over that time and become the 15th largest brewery in Oregon.

“Two years ago, we actually passed our 10-year business plan,” he said, adding that he worked with CEDR and Business Oregon, a state business support agency, to better track their inventory, gauge prices when the started sending kegs to Portland and get the canning operation online. “Everyone here has had a part in supporting our company.”

Warrenton High Life Adventures, the idea of which was sparked by the owners’ ride on a zip line tour in Hawaii, took home the Entrepreneurship Award. Owners David and Lancey Larson came home with an itch to their picturesque, bowl-shaped, 30-acre property and home of 20 years near Fort Clatsop, complete with “Lake Larson” in the middle. The latter kicked off the business idea.

“She came home from Hawaii and decided ‘that’s what we’re going to do with our property,’” said Shane Dean, the Larsons’ son-in-law and general manager of High Life.

They festooned cables over it, creating an eight-part zip line tour that opened in June and now seasonally employs up to 15 and is still growing.

Award presenter Larry Popkin, a local lawyer who also co-founded Area Properties, jokingly motioned to install an app on his smartphone by Cannon Beach Vacation Rentals, which won the Business Innovation Award for its creation of online business and attractions guide for visitors to its more than 80 rental properties in Cannon Beach and Arch Cape.

“We’ve developed some housekeeping software, as far as communication between our office and our housekeeping office,” said General Manager Brian Olson, who represented the company along with owner Linda Beck-Sweeney and Operations Manager (and his wife) Barbara Cool-Olson. He said the change saves gas and improves customer service by better coordinating housekeeping staff.

Sweeney said the recession gave them “a small hiccup” but that the market is solid for the company, which now employs nine – up to 15 seasonally – and is seeking students looking for summer work. 

Dean and Evie Larson’s two conjoined companies, Custom Excavation and Trail’s End Recovery, took home the Sustainability Award for their efforts, which takes 5,000 to 6,000 tons of trash per year out of the landfill. Dean Larson thanked Western Oregon Waste and Recology for the partnership, along with ShoreBank and Craft3 for financing.

“Because of their lending, we’ve been able to add 30 employees to our business,” he said, adding that through CEDR his employees have learned important managerial skills.

Westerlund Log Handlers, which restarted log ship exports from Clatsop County after a more than 15-year hiatus, won the Job Creation Award after starting in Clatsop County about three years ago. It employs 40 to 50 people when a ship is not loaded, said Skip Hauke of the Astoria-Warrenton Area Chamber of Commerce, and 70 to 80 when a ship is in.

In addition, Hauke presented Al Smiles, who has been the director of the Seaside Chamber of Commerce for about eight years, with an award for his help in starting CEDR and his service to the community. Smiles will be leaving the chamber this summer.

Leahy said he didn’t want to make a sales pitch at the meeting, but CEDR is still looking for more financial backings for some of its efforts. One includes working with a retired engineer from Intel, BK Srinivasan, to create the North Oregon Coast Business Incubator, which will try to home-grow larger companies in Clatsop County.

At the meeting, he named Tim Regan, a broker with Windermere and member of Clatsop Association of Realtors, as vice president of the incubator, which is still in its conceptual stages.

Leahy said he and the selection committee for the awards will get together in May to critique the event and plan for next year.