Frito-Lay celebrates 40 years in Vancouver

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The Vancouver Frito-Lay plantThe next time you munch down a Ruffles potato chip or pop open a bag of Doritos, remember to sing “happy birthday” – the Vancouver Frito-Lay facility, which produces salty snacks for distribution across the Pacific Northwest, celebrates its 40th year this month.

Jeff Ahner, Frito-Lay’s maintenance and engineering director, said that the company has planned several events to commemorate the milestone with employees, consumers and the community.

Activities kicked off on Sept. 13, when local dignitaries, including members of the Vancouver city council, Mayor Tim Leavitt and members of the state legislature, toured the facility.

“We want to let people know we make a great product right here in Vancouver,” Ahner said.

Frito-Lay is also hosting a carnival and facility tour for its 480 employees and their families on Sept. 15, as well as a product giveaway event in a local Fred Meyer parking lot.

“It’s our way of saying thank you and recognizing our long-standing relationship with the community,” said Ahner.

In addition, Frito-Lay will be working with Open House Ministries on constructing a coffee shop, which will help raise money for the local nonprofit. Ahner said that some of the contractors who work with Frito-Lay on a daily basis, such as electricians, will be helping with the project.

The Frito-Lay facility has grown significantly in the last 40 years. According to Ahner, initial production in the early 1970s was around 53 million bags of product per year – that has increased to 350 million bags in present day. The company keeps 11 production lines busy, and 38 over-the-road trucks operate out of the facility, which has increased from 80,000 square feet when it was built in 1972 to its current footprint of 300,000 square feet.

Ahner remarked that Frito-Lay has invested about $4 million every year in capital improvements over the last
10 years.

“Last year we did a major upgrade of our wastewater treatment facility,” said Ahner.

“We also are installing major packaging automation equipment – a $5-million-plus investment – to bring our plant to state-of-the-art,” he added.

Ahner also mentioned that Frito-Lay has a “Green Team” employed to help the company make improvements at the facility.

“We take the environment very seriously,” he said.

For example, he noted, the facility has reduced water usage by 15 percent per pound of product produced, and has reduced landfill waste by 80 percent over the last three years. The company has reduced the amount of water needed in potato processing with recycling and mechanical improvements, and has put in place systems to reuse some of the hot corn-cooking water.

“We are continuing to analyze our water usage and reduce it,” Ahner said.

Ahner asserted that Frito-Lay is proud to have been a member of the Vancouver manufacturing community for 40 years, providing stable, family-wage jobs. He stated that Frito-Lay’s annual payroll exceeds $20 million, and the company experiences very low turnover. In fact, the average employee tenure is longer than 15 years.

“We’ve had a great 40 years in Vancouver, and are looking forward to the next 40 years,” said Ahner.

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