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Sumner: A Warehouse Hot Spot With Farm Roots

Hansi Lo Wang
06/16/2011

Sumner, Washington has become a regional hot spot for companies looking to open new warehouses. Amazon is the latest company to set up shop in the city's industrial park. So, what's attracting big business names to this small town? Hansi Lo Wang went to Sumner to find out.

TRANSCRIPT

If you brewed some Green Mountain coffee this morning using a K–cup or bought a cup of joe from a nearby Tully's, chances are it came from Sumner.

Norris: "Be careful of forklift traffic through here."

That's Maria Norris. She's the production manager for the Green Mountain Coffee Roasters distribution center in Sumner.

Wang: "It's a very busy area."

Norris: "Very busy, absolutely."

The building we're in can be easy to miss. It's hidden behind a row of warehouses in a large industrial park on the north end of Sumner. But as soon as you walk through the building's main doors, you can smell what they're up to.

Hulverson: "Coffee beans are being roasted inside the roaster right now."

That's Jim Hulverson. He's the engineering manager at the Sumner plant. Hulverson's worked there since it opened in 2009 — long enough that he says he almost can't smell coffee anymore.

Hulverson: "Monday morning, we'll smell it for a few minutes. And then it's, then it's normal."

But besides bringing coffee aroma to Sumner, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters has also brought jobs — 201, to be exact. And they're among good company — or rather, good companies.

REI, Kellogg's and now Amazon are just some of the big names who have opened warehouses in town.

Dave Enslow is the mayor of Sumner. And he says city officials planned for all of this warehouse activity in the north end of town long ago.

Enslow: "I believe it was about the mid 70s that the council decided that the area north of town would be a great industrial area. And it's taken this long for that just to become that."

The way companies and land developers see it, location–wise, Sumner is perfect for manufacturing and distribution. The city sits on the 50–yard line between the ports of Seattle and Tacoma. But the land the warehouses sit on now used to be farmland. And when the city decided to change the land zoning from agricultural to industrial in the 1970s, it was the beginning of the end for many of Sumner's farmers.

Enslow: "As I recall, a whole lot of them came down and said, Gee, this will change our way of life. But then the next time there was a meeting, they mostly had sold out at high prices, and they weren't, and it wasn't such a big deal to them. So I think it worked for them. I think, if you did that now, there'd be certainly some pushback that says, is this a really good thing to do?"

I tried to talk to current and former farmers in Sumner about what they thought about the warehouses, but most of them did not respond to my interview requests. One former farmer who wouldn't go on tape said it's still a touchy subject.

Today, there's one farm left within the city limits of Sumner: a family–owned turf farm that's surrounded by warehouses. And alongside the main road that cuts through the industrial area, for sale signs hang outside two ranch–style homes with faded white siding. They stand out like sore thumbs, staring down a constant parade of freight trucks. They're reminders of perhaps what this part of Sumner used to look like.

I'm Hansi Lo Wang for KUOW News.

© Copyright 2011, KUOW

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