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Florida company buys newly sited Clear Water Manufacturing

Almost as soon as Clear Water Manufacturing announced its presence in St. Helens, it disappeared, selling its Oregon-based division to Custom Fab, Inc.

Custom Fab, Inc., announced Monday that it acquired Clear Water’s assets in its Oregon division. That same day, Port of St. Helens commissioners approved a lease agreement with the company, which will take over Clear Water’s lease at Multnomah Industrial Park in St. Helens.

Not long after Clear Water set up a pipe manufacturing shop in St. Helens, Custom Fab was looking for a business site near Portland, Christopher Comins, president and chief executive officer, explained Monday.

Comins said Clear Water came to them and offered to sell out, rather than face competition.

Like Clear Water, Custom Fab makes piping systems for the waterworks industry. The company works with stainless steel, carbon and ductile iron, Comins said.

“We closed on the deal this morning,” Comins said by phone.

“Our goal was to get into the Northwest,” Comins added. “The materials that we manufacture are freight sensitive, so we want to be able to reach customers in one day.”

The Columbia County shop marks the sixth manufacturing site for the Orlando, Fla.-based company. It operates shops in San Antonio, Phoenix, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Orlando.

Comins said Custom Fab has big plans for the industrial site.

“We have plans to expand this operation substantially,” Comins said. “At the end of the day, we’re going to raise their capabilities up to match our other facilities, which will put them somewhere between 40 to 60 employees.”

The low-end projected employee count is five times more than the eight people Clear Water employed. Comins said his company will hire locally and train some of the new employees for their positions. Comins said the hiring will likely take place after the company’s next build-out phase is completed in February.

“Nationwide, we employee about 265 people,” he said. “The longevity of our personnel is our greatest asset. We strive to keep turnover from taking place and we provide a workplace that we hope people are comfortable staying in.”

According to Comins, all of Clear Water’s employees were retained and now work for Custom Fab.

Aside from a planned expansion of the Oregon division’s employee base, Comins said the company plans to use more space in the building than the previous tenant. Port officials say the new company has talked about expanding its lease, but that hasn’t happened yet.

“We have discussed the expansion with Custom Fab, but we have not [acted] on it at this time,” Paula Miranda, the port’s deputy executive director, said Monday.

“We simply assigned the existing lease and the space currently leased by Clear Water Manufacturing, which is approximately 28,000 square feet plus another 65,000 [square feet] of land,” Miranda added.

The resolution commissioners approved Monday did not indicate the amount of building space being leased to Custom Fab.

Monday’s lease approval was held during a special meeting, conducted mostly by conference call. The special meeting was held to accommodate the close of the transfer in businesses that took place Monday, according to Miranda. She said she expects the commissioners to consider an expanded lease with the company sometime in January, which would increase the lease terms from the current monthly rate of $9,554.

In addition to adding more space and employees, Custom Fab hopes to expand its product base, too.

A letter sent out to Custom Fab’s existing and new clients said the company hopes to add additional product lines, including glass lining and other new products.

Custom Fab has yet to obtain a business license with the city of St. Helens, or apply for a change in ownership, a city representative confirmed Tuesday.

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