Smith Brothers Farms’ new milk plant at 26401 79th Ave., Kent, was running at high capacity when small groups of visitors were offered the first glimpses inside of it on Tuesday.
Scott Highland cut the ribbon after a milk toast to everyone involved in making the project a reality.
After 93 years at the same location along West Valley Highway just north of South 277th Street, Smith Brothers Farms decided in the spring to move to a larger dairy production facility a few miles to the east in Kent.
The new facility, which covers 50,000 square feet, is a hefty upgrade from the farm that the Highland’s and Smith’s have used to make their milk for many decades. While a lot of talk from the visitors focused on the shiny new machinery, many of the Smith employees were happy to have a building larger than the farm’s boarding house.
Nate Hansen, who works as one of the company’s accountants, said that it’s nice to have space. Having taken the job at Smith’s out of college, Hanson said that he still hadn’t had any experience in a “real” office setting. While he now has his own office in the new building, he remembers being crammed with three other people into a 100-square-foot room.
“If you put on music,” he said, “everyone had to like it.”
Alexis Yoshimura, who works in customer service at the company’s depot in Woodinville, said that the things she appreciates most are the small changes.
Also at the event were the contractors who helped turn the Heinz frozen soup factory into a milk manufacturing machine. Matt Berg, with general contractor Pro Sales, said that it was cool to see everything come together. In addition to other responsibilities during construction, Berg helped fabricate the enormous 35,000-gallon tanks that hold the unpasteurized milk coming in from local farms.
Donley Zwart, with Cutter Electric, said that the construction and renovations were fast paced. His team had to work hard to stay a step ahead of the design process.
“We didn’t have a lot of time to think about it,” he said, “we just had to react.”
Smith Brothers COO Dustin Highland – a third generation Smith – said that he’s just happy to have the process over with, so the company can get back to business as normal. While the move wasn’t easy or pleasant, Highland said that it was absolutely necessary for a business that had long since outgrown its capability.
“It was pieced together over time,” he said. “As we grew over time and as technology changed and as our business model had changed, we grew along with it. But it was always piecing together, putting the same pieces together in a different way.”
When they realized that they would need new equipment, they considered building a new plant but decided to instead look into buying an existing location.
The Heinz location “kind of fell in our lap,” Dustin Highland said.
The property had all of the things the company needed, he said, from refrigeration to food grade flooring and walls. “So it was already really set up for us, and it worked perfectly.”
Dustin Highland has been with Smith Brothers for slightly over a year, and says he’s had to do a lot of catchup to become knowledgeable about a milk manufacturing facility. He was thankful to the teams at Pro Sales for making sure that he was informed about what was happening during construction.
“They didn’t make me look dumb,” he said.
Dustin Highland also is proud of how the facility turned out in contrast to the old farm, which had been upgraded in jumps and starts.
“It looks how it should look,” Dustin Highland said, “this has a flow of what a milk plant should look like.”
The conveyance mechanisms in the new plant allow a more streamlined flow of milk and a less haphazard operation, which Highland says is better for the product overall.