Pacific Seafood plans dorms to handle worker shortage

Special Reports

Warrenton company calls plan "last resort" to solve housing woes

WARRENTON, Ore. (KOIN) — The Oregon Coast, like many parts of the state, is dealing with a housing crisis. That’s making it difficult for many businesses to find enough local employees. Now one company is trying to solve its worker shortage by building dormitories.

Pacific Seafood is one of the biggest seafood companies in North America. It employs about 130 locals at its Warrenton plant, according to General Manager John King. But it has to pay staffing agencies to bring in another 50 workers, some from as far away as Centralia.

“So they’re riding two hours in and two hours home after a shift and that’s not sustainable for the people,” King said. He said the plant really needs about 300 people to operate at full capacity, but the lack of housing on the coast is hampering their hiring efforts.

“We’re not unique by any means,” King said. “It’s a real thing for all the businesses around here.”

What is unique is how Pacific Seafood is trying to solve the problem. The company wants to turn a former office building into a dormitory that will house around 90 beds. The dormitory is in part of a fabrication shop the company owns, located off of Highway 104, a little more than 2 miles northwest of the plant. The property sits between a business and a cul-de-sac.

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Pacific Seafood hopes to turn this abandoned office building into a 90-bed dormitory (Hannah Ray Lambert)

The proximity to residential areas has irked some neighbors. In September, one wrote to the City Council raising concerns that the dormitory might decrease property values and increase “the population of the existing residential area by triple without adequate explanation of utilities, water use, recreational use and transportation.”

The city approved a “Good Neighbor Agreement” in late September, but said Monday, October 14 that Pacific Seafood still needs to sign it. Pacific Seafood said it agreed to the content, but needed a notary to finalize the agreement. They expect that to be done within the next day or two.

The agreement stipulates numerous responsibilities, including that the company will minimize traffic by providing a shuttle for workers to and from work, conduct background checks, and build a fence along the south and east property lines.

The company will also impose curfews and no drinking will be allowed at the dormitories, King said. Anyone who fails “to abide by the rules for residing in the dormitory will result in immediate termination and removal … within 24 hours,” according to city documents.

“We want to be good neighbors,” King said.

‘Last resort’

King said the property has already been rezoned and the company is eager to get renovations started once the city gives the final approval. According to the city’s community development director, a decision will likely be made at the Planning Commission’s meeting in November. At that point, it will take another 12 to 18 months until everything is done. So the facility won’t open until late 2020, at the earliest.

King acknowledges that the dorms won’t solve all their problems. It would still fall short of housing all of the additional workers they need to run the plant at full capacity. But it’s a start.

“This here’s kind of our last resort because there’s no place to really put people,” he said. “It came down to the last resort we had, is we’re gonna have to build our own.”

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Employees offload fish at Pacific Seafood’s Warrenton processing plant (Hannah Ray Lambert)

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