ONTARIO, Ore. - ONTARIO — The long-vacant Select Onion site has a new owner. Ohio-based Fry Foods finalized the purchase Jan. 1. The deal was two years in the making, David Fry, the company’s vice president, said in a phone interview today. Fry would not reveal how much his company paid for the property, but did say that once the plant is fully operational, it could mean as many as 350 new jobs.
The property, located north of Ontario along Stanton Boulevard, near Interstate 84, has been vacant except for storage since Select Onion filed for bankruptcy in 2012. When that happened, Fry Foods, which also operates a plant in Weiser, began looking at the facility, Fry said.
“We were hitting the limitation of our production capacity at the Weiser plant,” he said.
Fry Foods opened its Weiser plant, which employs around 250 people, in 2006. It was a natural location, Fry said; Malheur County is the source of most of the company’s onions. Fry Foods is in the appetizer industry, creating everything from onion rings to cheese sticks to jalapeño poppers.
With some products — like onion rings — it’s “more economical to make the product there versus shipping it to Ohio to make the product,” Fry said.
The Select Onion site was a good place to expand the company’s Western Treasure Valley operations. “Once the new building became available, we were actually having discussions with the new owner, who just bought it from Select Onion, about acquiring the building,” Fry said.
He said Kit Kamo with Snake River Economic Development Alliance “did a great job getting things done for us.” Kamo helped coordinate talks between the company and major players, including the local job service, utilities, community representatives and others, including Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, who could help make the purchase happen.
Another factor, Fry said, was county’s enterprise zone, which offers businesses exemptions from local property taxes on new investments such as plants and equipment. After Select Onion went out of business, Malheur County sought to expand its enterprise zone to include that property, in an attempt to make it more attractive to prospective buyers. Business Oregon approved the zone expansion last May.
There are still some hurdles to cross before the plant can begin operating. Fry said there are some issues with getting the facility up to code and the company still has permits to apply for. But he’s hopeful the plant will be up and running by midsummer.
The facility will open somewhat gradually; Fry said adding production lines would be an ongoing process. He declined to say how many production lines the facility would hold, for fear competitors might see that information.
The plant could be fully operational in a few years, he said. “We’re hoping when it hits full stride to employ 300 to 350 people,” Fry said. He said he was grateful to Kamo and SREDA for the work they put in to making the deal happen. The state of Oregon was also great to work with, Fry said, and the governor’s office helped as well. “Without the help of all the entities, we probably would not have been able to do the project,” he said.