Auburn's economy is picking up steam

John Theisen, president & CEO at Orion Industries, addresses the audience during company
John Theisen, president & CEO at Orion Industries, addresses the audience during company's June 6 groundbreaking ceremony in Auburn. Orion plans to build a new, 100,000-square-foot building at 1590 A St. NE.
— image credit: Robert Whale/Auburn Reporter

Auburn's economy is shuffling off the blues that have laid it low since 2008.

Such was the message Auburn Economic Development Manager Doug Lein (inset photo) recently brought to the members of the Planning and Community Development Committee.

And he justified his optimism with plenty of positive numbers.

According to Lein's report, "What's happening in Auburn, Mid 2013," to date in 2013 the City has issued 207 permits either for construction of single-family homes or for additions and alterations to existing structures, having a total valuation of $45 million. That compares favorably to the 145 permits the City had issued by the same time last year, having a total valuation of $32.6 million.

In the commercial sector, the City has issued 134 commercial permits to date in 2013 with a valuation of $92.4 million, compared to 96 to date last year with a total valuation of $12.6 million.

To translate those figures into brick, mortar, wood and glass, here are some of the commercial projects in progress right now:

• Orion Industries: trainer of disadvantaged workers, 108,000-square-foot building, 1590 A St. NE; valuation $11.5 million; 250 employees; broke ground June 7; ribbon cutting February 2014.

• Hospital Central Services Association: hospital laundry, 144,000-square-foot building, 1600 M St. NW; valuation $10.3 million; 165 living-wage jobs; ribbon cutting and opening Tuesday; hiring throughout the summer.

• Novinium: engineering firm; conversion of 21,000-square-foot building, 1221 29th St. NW; relocated for expansion from Federal Way; 50 living-wage jobs; opened June 7.

• O'Reilly Auto Parts: two newly constructed retail stores, Auburn Way North; ribbon cutting December 2013.

• Jimmy Johns, "World's Greatest Gourmet Sandwiches": new building, Auburn Way North, across from Haggens; ribbon cutting December 2013.

• Hop Jacks: restaurant serving burgers and beer, 1402 Lake Tapps Parkway; ribbon cutting, August 2013.

• Don Giovanni Ristorante: family-owned, premium Italian restaurant; ribbon cutting June 2013.

• Green River Community College Trades and Industry building: $10.5 million; ribbon cutting 2014.

• Outlet Collection: $34 million upgrade by Glimcher of the former SuperMall; ribbon cutting October 2013.

And the numbers listed above are only going to get better, said Jeff Tate, Auburn's interim director of Planning and Community Development.

"These are for permits that are issued. We have a couple hundred million dollars commercial valuation in process now or that we know is coming in the door by the end of the month," Tate said.

Lein said Auburn is seeing many spaces that had been low-value distribution facilities undergoing conversion to office space. A prime example is Novinium, which recently turned a 21,000-square-foot building with perhaps 10 people working in it into a structure housing 42 electrical engineers having an average salary of $80,000 a year.

"When we looked at the impact of those salaries to the taxable, collectable sales, it's just amazing," Lein said. "And you can see why we are running at a rate of three times the state on taxable sales. The state just announced a 5.1 percent increase, and they're real happy about that in Olympia. We're running just south of 17 percent."

And when you talk about improvements to existing facilities, "that's job retention," Tate said. "So when someone spends a million dollars on an existing warehousing, distribution center or manufacturing building ... that's not just a million dollar construction valuation, or anything that goes on the tax rolls. It's keeping those jobs here; it's a commitment."

"I get excited about this because it's directly transferable into jobs in our city," said City Councilman John Holman, "good jobs, getting people back to work."

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