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John Naylor, president of Western Distribution Services, shows off his company's immense new cold storage facility in July near Seattle Tacoma International Airport, a development fruit industry officials expect to boost capacity for ever-growing international demand of sweet cherries in years to come. (TJ Mullinax/Good Fruit Grower)

John Naylor, president of Western Distribution Services, shows off his company’s immense new cold storage facility in July near Seattle Tacoma International Airport, a development fruit industry officials expect to boost capacity for ever-growing international demand of sweet cherries in years to come. (TJ Mullinax/Good Fruit Grower)

Northwest cherry exports will get a shot in the arm this year with a massive cold storage facility next door to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport becoming fully operational.

In May 2017, Western Distribution Services opened a facility with 68,400 square feet of refrigerated chill space in Burien, Washington, not more than 5 minutes away from the Sea-Tac cargo bays. The $58 million building didn’t put up many cherries in the 2017 season as operations ramped up.

However, company president John Naylor expects that to change this year with a race to build more chilled storage, calling for a potential 80,000 square feet of refrigerated space for the fruit industry.

“There’s a lot of money at stake and a lot of exports at stake,” he said.

Most companies build more freezer space rather than chill space, Naylor said, because it’s simpler and easier. “Nobody builds chill; they mostly build freeze.”

Cold storage, however — the kind needed for cherries to make their rapid trip to markets like China, Vietnam and Malaysia — is scarce near the airport, where cherry exports have been surging for the past decade, namely to growing Asian markets.

At 238,210 square feet, the facility is the biggest for the company, based in nearby Kent. However, it far and away leads the firm’s three locations in refrigerated space.

John Naylor, president of Western Distribution Services, shows off his company's immense new cold storage facility in July near Seattle Tacoma International Airport, a development fruit industry officials expect to boost capacity for ever-growing international demand of sweet cherries in years to come. <b>(TJ Mullinax/Good Fruit Grower)</b>

John Naylor, president of Western Distribution Services, at his new cold storage facility in July near Seattle Tacoma International Airport. (TJ Mullinax/Good Fruit Grower)

The company opened in May but handled only about 25 trucks late in the season. Keith Hu, international program director for Northwest Cherry Growers, expects shippers to use the new facility more in 2018.

Naylor envisions the facility as a one-stop shopping center for shipping cherries. Trucks show up from the packing house. Forklift drivers place the pallets in chilled storage while they wait their turn at the airport. His goal is to work with federal TSA to develop X-ray technology in the cold room to avoid delays — and warm weather — out by the runway.

At full throttle, the facility will be able to handle up to 20 trucks per day with 32 bay doors and operate 20 hours a day, six days a week.

Naylor plans to attend fruit conferences during the winter months to spread the word about his cold storage center. •

– by Ross Courtney