Painted Hills Natural Beef, the pride of Wheeler County and a well-known business throughout the Pacific Northwest, is eying an expansion in Gilliam County.
On Wednesday February 24th, an impressive group of people joined an online call to hear of the company’s aspirations.
On the call was:
- Kathleen Cathey, Regional Representative for Senator Ron Wyden’s Office
- Nate Stice, Governor Brown’s representative with Regional Solutions
- Ryan DeGrofft with Business Oregon
- Dawsin Quintin with Representative Greg Smith’s Office
- Peter Mitchell, Port of Arlington
- Jeff Bufton, Mayor of Arlington
- Skye Krebs, rancher in Gilliam County
- K’Lynn Lane, Executive Director for the Condon Chamber of Commerce
- Gilliam Co. Judge Farrar Campbell and Commissioners Sherrie Wilkins and Pat Shannon
Gabrielle Homer who is part owner, Financial Controller and Secretary Treasurer of Painted Hills Natural Beef spoke about the company’s origins and current makeup.
Painted Hills is made up of seven member ranches and sources cattle from over 100 ranches around the northwest. The company processes 400 to 600 head of cattle a week.
The company primarily sells in the northwest, with Seattle being the biggest market but Painted Hills Natural Beef ships across the United States. “It’s a nationwide program,” Homer said and to put in context, clarified that “in scope we market over 200,000 pounds of beef per week. We do all of that from Fossil, Oregon.”
While the company has been hit with a loss of customers in restaurants due to COVID, Homer said that “demand has more than made up for it in what’s being bought at grocery stores.”
Prior to the pandemic, the company was in the process of developing direct to consumer sales. Customers would be able to purchase Painted Hills Natural Beef online and orders would be shipped across the country in this scenario.
However, Homer says that they realized that Fossil is too far from the freeway and quick shipping opportunities. The company began searching for a processor that would portion-cut, package and ship the inventory. “We can’t do that out of Fossil as much as we’d like to,” Homer said.
Homer says that they see an opportunity to have cattle processed in Pasco, Washington and to then have the meat portioned and packed at a facility in Arlington. Beef would then be shipped to Portland and then to customers around the country.
Small-scale meat packing has grown in demand significantly, and the need has been accentuated by the global pandemic. Meat packing facilities were hard-hit by COVID-19 but even prior to the pandemic, small scale and more localized meat processing facilities have been in demand.
If successful, Painted Hills estimates that they will employ between 15 and 30 people in their first year of operations in Arlington with a goal of employing 50 after three years. The company currently employs 12 staff members in Fossil and two employees who work outside of the area – one in Seattle and the other in Portland.
Judge Farrar Campbell asked what kind of facility the company was looking for and where they were at in that process.
Painted Hills Natural Beef is looking for a 30,0000 to 36,0000 square foot facility and talked about the Flex Building that is on the Mesa above Arlington by the airport. Pillar Consulting has provided a preliminary site plan and cost figures. The Port of Arlington is eager to be involved in the effort and sees this as a chance to utilize the enterprise zone that sits above Arlington.
Homer cautions that there is a heavy lift and a lot that needs to happen to finalize this goal. She expects the cost to get the required equipment to be between $750,000 and $1 million.
“These are big, big, big numbers,” Homer said.
Those assembled on the call discussed a variety of programs and funding opportunities that could be leveraged to make this goal more feasible. Kathleen Cathey with Sen. Wyden’s office spoke about USDA funding opportunities and the possibility of eliminating hurdles to get funding for meat inspection facility upgrades. Several USDA funding pots are limited to feasibility studies and do not cover architectural work or builds.
Homer said that the company’s goal is to not just establish operations in Arlington but to make sure that it is sustainable. “The worst thing for us would be to see a closed facility in five years,” she said.
An engineered survey is expected in the coming month and developments will be covered in The Times-Journal.