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Food-processing company breathes life in Merix site

Pressure Safe could employ 50 people within a year

A new company is moving forward with plans to operate in a long-vacant industrial property in Wood Village, offering dozens of new jobs and millions of dollars in investment.

The founders of Pressure Safe LLC, a food processing company, announced Wednesday, Oct. 12, that they will lease the former Merix property, 23365 N.E. Halsey St., which has been unused since Forest Grove-based Merix shut down its manufacturing plant in March 2008, cutting 180 jobs and eliminating thousands of dollars of property tax and utility fees to the city.

Taking advantage of the enterprise zone on the 90,000-square-foot property, Pressure Safe plans to start up operations by the end of the year and provide an initial 25 to 30 full-time jobs, and up to 50 full-time jobs within a year.

Pressure Safe was founded by members of the Morasch family, which has owned and operated Morasch Meats in East Portland since 1953.

Michael Morasch, president of Morasch Meats, said Pressure Safe will specialize in sterilizing and preserving meats and other food products using high-pressure processing (HPP) technology. He said Pressure Safe plans to invest $3.66 million and occupy an initial 32,000 square feet of the Merix property.

When the company is operational, Morasch said, it will be one of four companies nationwide and the only company in the Pacific Northwest that provides HPP service to other companies, including Morasch Meats.

Wood Village City Administrator Bill Peterson said serious discussions with the Morasch family about moving to the property began in late September. Matt Wand, a Gresham attorney and state representative, served as legal counsel for the family.

'Absent the business decision by the Morasch family to invest, this conversation would not be happening,' Peterson said. He praised the Morasch family for taking the risk of starting a new company in the current economy.

Five-year enterprise zone approved

To woo Pressure Safe to the former Merix location, the Wood Village City Council on Tuesday, Oct. 11, approved five changes to the enterprise zone around the Merix property, which the city created in May 2008 as an extension to the adjoining Columbia Cascade Enterprise Zone in Troutdale and Fairview.

The enterprise zone initially provided a three-year tax abatement on the Merix property to eligible corporations. Pressure Safe requested that the tax abatement extend to a five-year option, meaning the company would not have to pay property taxes from 2012 to 2017 as long as it meets the enterprise zone requirements.

'Before they made a final commitment, Pressure Safe wanted to make sure that the enterprise zone was competitive with other enterprise zone offerings in Gresham, Troutdale, Portland,' Peterson said. The city will still collect a statutory service fee from the company in years four and five, Peterson said.

As required by Wood Village's enterprise zone, Pressure Safe will have to invest at least $2 million in capital improvements, which includes new construction, machinery and equipment; offer full-time wages averaging at least 150 percent of the state's minimum wage, or $14.79; provide benefits to full-time employees that meet the national average of comparable businesses; provide sufficient training and advancement opportunities to employees; and have a plan for purchasing materials and supplies from East Multnomah County businesses.

'They have to meet those standards to get the (property tax) abatement,' Peterson said.

Pressure Safe also requested concessions regarding water, sewer and fire utility fees and on building permit fees to control start-up costs, Peterson said.