Nichols ponders Tonasket facility

"While Boeing is looking for another city for its headquarters, Nichols Brothers Boat Builders is thinking about starting another production facility in Tonasket.Unlike Boeing, Nichols Brothers' top managers aren't planning to move to a new city. I'm going to stay on Whidbey Island the rest of my life, said President Matt Nichols on Tuesday.However, Nichols admitted he has been exploring the tiny town of Tonasket in north central Washington as a possible location to produce boat parts to be assembled on Whidbey Island.Nichols said he's been to Tonasket twice, most recently last week when he met with the mayor. According to the town's newspaper, the Okanogan Valley Gazette, Nichols has been feted by the Chamber of Commerce and other community boosters. Tonasket's population is about 1,100, and from Whidbey Island it's a long drive across the North Cascades HIghway to get there. The town has no water access, but it does have a railroad connection with available manufacturing buildings nearby.It's a cute town with wonderful people, Nichols said, expressing interest in setting up a satellite facility there. What he described as modular pieces could be built there and transported to Whidbey.Nichols said he's happy with the status of the Freeland boat yard and how it's zoned in the county's new comprehensive plan. The company has had no environmental problems recently, but on the other hand, it can't expand at its present location on Holmes Harbor. That's why Tonakset looks good to us, he said.Nichols made a Tonasket connection through one of the company's suppliers, Tonasket-based Arduous Aluminum. Its owner, Dave Berry, supplied the interior aluminum for the Jet Cat Express which was launched Tuesday.Nichols said the Freeland yard is busy and several large contracts are in the works, but the days of bursting at the seams with 230 employees may be over. The present staff numbers 160, but due to automation production is about the same. Any additional work may some day be done in Tonasket.Tonasket officials are hoping for the economic boost Nichols Brothers would provide.Alice Attwood, city clerk, said Tuesday that Tonasket has been going through hard times, first with forest products and presently with the fruit industry. We definitely need economic development if you've been reading the papers about the apple industry, she said. In fact, the building Nichols is looking at is part of an apple processing facility that recently closed.Attwood said the town is optimistic that Nichols will come there and provide some badly-needed jobs.I told them I'd give them an answer in 30 days, Nichols said. "

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