ANACORTES — While the recession has other businesses hunkering down, pulling back or going under, Central Welding Supply is expanding, and one of its two new stores opening this year will be in this city’s Highway 20 corridor. The recession has lowered the price of land and construction costs, giving Central Welding a chance to expand, as well as purchase other businesses, said Dale Wilton, company president and chief executive officer. “There are more opportunities being presented in the past six months because of the economy,” Wilton said.
The Anacortes location will be the company’s second store in Skagit County and put Central Welding closer to its manufacturing and industrial customers on Whidbey and Fidalgo islands. The new store will have seven employees and bring a yet-unknown amount of sales tax to the city.
Central Welding’s other new store is scheduled to open in Redmond on July 13.
The North Lakewood-based company has had a presence in Skagit County since 1983 when it purchased Skagit Valley Welding Supply in Burlington. Central Welding is among the few companies doing business in the county that have been able to expand in the dismal economy. Wilton said that’s because the industrial gas supply business has a diversity of customers.
The company sells helium to floral shops for balloons, carbon dioxide to restaurants and bars for soda and beer, and welding supplies to boat builders, metal fabricators and refineries. When one segment of the business is down, another is up, Wilton said.
“We’ve been very patient for many years. We’ve built a good cash flow and good reserves,” he said. “This window will probably close in six months even if things only turn around moderately.”
Wilton said that he expects construction will start this summer on 2.13 acres on Molly Lane, and the store will open within four months of breaking ground. The land cost $705,000 and is owned by Wilton Family Partnership, which owns and operates Central Welding.
The land is zoned for light manufacturing, which allows for the sales of materials associated with the permitted uses in the zone, said Don Measamer, Anacortes assistant planning director. Other retail isn’t allowed in either that zone or the nearby heavy manufacturing zone.
But not everyone thinks the manufacturing zones, in place since the 1998 annexation, meet the needs of the city or the landowners along the highway corridor.
Nine property owners have asked the city to change their 13 parcels to allow for commercial retail. The request has been turned down before. However, business owners in the city’s historic commercial district have fought proposals to allow retail outside the community’s downtown.
City planning officials postponed the zoning change request until next year.
Lanny Edgeman is a real estate agent with Century 21 North Homes Realty and represents many of the property owners seeking the change. Edgeman said that the manufacturing zones have attracted storage businesses, but they don’t generate sales tax.
“In these 10 and 12 years since the city has annexed it, nothing has happened and they have lost out on many opportunities for retail,” Edgeman said. “I’ll guarantee if they change the zoning, there would be sales in property.”
But city leaders say that more industry will come to the highway corridor. A boat-building company is shopping for land in the corridor, Measamer said.
Wilton said he appreciates the city’s protection of the manufacturing zone. Other cities in Western Washington have passed zoning policies that have pushed out industry in favor of “cleaner” businesses, such as mixed-use retail and condos, he said.
“Industry provides a real family-wage jobs and consistency,” Wilton said. “We think a lot of growth in the county is going to be there.”