The Port of Olympia is about to get its first official general-purpose Foreign Trade Zone warehouse— in Centralia.

On May 3, the Port of Centralia, part of the Port of Olympia’s South Puget Sound Foreign Trade Zone, is scheduled to begin to collect contractor bids on a 21,000-square-foot warehouse to be used for Foreign Trade Zone purposes, says Wendy Paulin, executive director. It could be ready for occupancy before the end of the year.

“We’re really excited about it because two companies in Centralia are interested in using it,” Paulin reports. “We have a great deal of interest from the outside as well.”

Paulin says the move should appeal to smaller firms in particular.

“The Port is going to activate the building for the zone,” Paulin explains. “Those costs don’t have to be borne by the individual user. There’s a huge savings for a small company just wanting to use 1,000 square feet.”

Although there is little to report in the way of new FTZ tenants since Darigold Inc. became the first company to take advantage of the zone in July 1998, says Chris Koelfgen, there appears to be a lot of interest in it. Koelfgen, who represents the zone to prospective tenants, says the zone, which was formed more than two years ago, is moving along a little faster than the average and ranks within the top 25 percent of FTZs across the country based on acreage.

“Theres nothing we can talk publicly about,” Koelfgen says. But, he adds, a company in the Port of Olympia Airdustrial Park is interested in participating in the zone and four companies in Meridian Campus, a Lacey light industrial development owned by the Weyerhaeuser Vicwood Partnership, have also expressed interest. Back in December, the Port of Olympia Commission authorized an application for expansion of the South Puget Sound Foreign Trade Zone to encompass 184 acres of the park.

The local trade zone allows Darigold to import a liquid cheese whey derivative from Canada, process it in the United States, and re-export the final product in a dried form without paying duty on the import. The FTZ designation exempts Darigold from duties on the Canadian whey derivative it processes into a value-added product for export. The Chehalis plant employs 40.

There are five basic questions a business should ask before deciding whether to participate in a Foreign Trade Zone, says Kari Qvigstad, director of marketing and trade development at the Port of Olympia. They are:

Are you globally importing products?

Are there high duty rates or high volumes of imported products?

Is the product being re-exported?

Is there a high rate of damage or rejected cargoes?

Are there cargo delays at the port of entry?

If the answer to any of these questions, is yes, it is worth looking into the feasibility of a zone project, Qvigstad says. For more information, call (360) 754-2929.

By Kamilla McClelland, Business Examiner staff