Incentive opens door for tech firm’s expansion

TennMax will build $1M headquarters, add 15 jobs

By Cami Joner, Columbian retail & real estate reporter

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A Vancouver-based tech company will build a $1 million headquarters in Clark County, thanks in part to an economic incentive passed by commissioners earlier this year to generate much-needed local jobs.

TennMax America Inc. expects to break ground within the next month on its 6,500-square-foot office and manufacturing building at 7500 N.E. St. Johns Road. It agreed to create 15 new jobs in order to qualify for the county’s fee holiday, which waived between $6,000 and $10,000 worth of project development fees, according to county officials. Clark County’s three-member board of commissioners approved the incentive in February to attract and retain companies that produce jobs.

Leaders of TennMax, which now employs 10 workers in Vancouver, declined to say when the company plans to hire the additional 15 employees. The company also will get a break by being able to build without meeting stringent rules dealing with stormwater runoff. That’s because a plan for the site was approved 10 years ago to develop an office building that was never built for the property’s owner, Schlecht Construction, which will sell the one-acre parcel to TennMax America.

“Their building has to be the same footprint” to be grandfathered in and follow the old stormwater rules, said Larry Schlecht, president of Vancouver-based Schlecht Construction, the project’s general contractor.

Not having to comply with the state’s new stormwater regulations could lower the cost of the project by about $100,000, Schlecht estimated.

TennMax, which manufactures most of its components in factories in Taiwan and China, has also begun manufacturing parts at its Vancouver facility at 14413 N.E. 10th Ave. But the leased site is too small to handle growth , said Jeff Davis, 51, who founded the company with his Taiwanese business partner Manfred Tseng.

TennMax sells its products -- parts such as radio frequency

devices that are part of a wide variety of electronics -- to companies such as Tektronix and National Instruments. Davis said his company’s products fill a niche market for makers of electronic devices.

He said company sales have doubled each of the the last two years due to the explosive market for mobile devices.

“We sell things to the companies that build the equipment that make the backbone of the cellular network,” Davis said.

The company generates between $10 million and $20 million annually and employs about 250 workers worldwide.

The county’s fee holiday policy applies to “development proposals that can demonstrate creation of a minimum of 15 jobs.” A company official said TennMax will achieve that goal.

“We plan to meet the requirements, but just can’t tell you when it will be,” said Crystal Phillipson, the company’s Vancouver operations manager.

TennMax plans to move into the new building in September from its leased Vancouver site. By the time the building is ready, its employment numbers should be at or near the requirements laid out by the fee holiday, said Marty Snell, director of the county’s community development department.

“We’ll be tracking and making sure they satisfy the terms of the agreement,” he said, adding that county officials would engage the help of the state’s Employment Security Department to help track company employment numbers.

Regardless of its staff size, economic development boosters say TennMax America is the kind of company it had in mind when it urged the county to create the fee holiday, passed by commissioners on Feb. 7.

“We wanted companies that sell outside of our local economy because they bring in dollars from outside our community -- they add to our economy,” said Bonnie Moore, director of business services for the Columbia River Economic Development Council.

TennMax sells its components to companies across the U.S. and in Canada, Asia and European countries

“We worked with them to create a custom package,” said Moore, adding that TennMax is one of 20 similar-sized companies helped last year by the development council.

The nonprofit business and jobs recruiter is funded by a mix of government grants and member dues.

“They (TennMax) are growing, they’re hiring and they’re buying a building,” Moore said. “Those are our ideal clients.”

Editor's note: This story has been modified for clarification. The proposed TennMax site is outside Vancouver city limits.