Walter Neth, who helped grow his family's Vancouver-based business, Columbia Machine Inc., into a global builder of concrete products-making equipment and package-moving palletizers, died Saturday. He was 91.
Neth helped expand Columbia Machine, working alongside his brothers Fred Neth Sr. -- the company's founder -- and Otto Neth, who was vice president of manufacturing, according to Winston Asai, vice president of finance and chief financial officer for the company.
"Walter was the vice president of sales for Columbia Machine, Inc. and president of Equipment Finance, Inc.," Asai said Monday in an email to The Columbian. "Walter's work was instrumental in helping (the company) become a global company, with active involvement in expanding the company's international sales presence, especially in Latin America."
Columbia Machine, which celebrated its 75th year in business last summer, was founded in 1937 by Fred Neth Sr. In 1945, the company pioneered a hydraulically operated concrete block-making machine.
In the early 1950s, Walter Neth helped sell the block-making machines by hauling a quarter-scale model around the country for five months in a Pontiac panel truck, according to a 1997 story in The Columbian. The model machine would "produce miniblocks on the spot to show potential buyers," according to the story.
Today, Columbia Machine supplies concrete-products equipment to customers looking to build everything from pavers and curbstones to blocks for retaining walls.
The company's palletizers, meanwhile, move and stack everything from beer and paper towels to fruit juice and bottled water.
Columbia Machine, which
has secured lines of commerce in more than 100 countries, employs 500 people worldwide, with about 400 of them based at its sprawling, 320,000-square-foot facility off Grand Boulevard, across from the Fred Meyer-anchored Grand Central shopping complex.
Rick Goode, the company's president and CEO, told The Columbian this past year that the company's focus on staying privately held and family-owned is a key business strategy. Having "second- and third-generation owners," Goode said, has resulted in the company's maintaining a strong balance sheet, robust cash flow and no debt.