One of Auburn's largest companies leaving state



Posted on August 18, 2009 at 2:57 PM

Updated Tuesday, Sep 29 at 10:27 AM

Video: Auburn mint leaving Washington state

AUBURN, Wash. - A $200 million dollar a year company is leaving Washington state and taking half of its work force with it.

Over the past three decades Ross Hansen has grown his small coin shop into one of the largest mints on the planet. Northwest Territorial Mint in Auburn has made commemorative coins for everything from presidents to popes. Now, though, Hansen says higher taxes are forcing him to move to Nevada.

"I'd say doing business in the state of Washington is like being married to a beautiful womanwith a bad attitude," said Hansen.

Hansen says 2 years ago the state told him he had to start paying a manufacturing tax that is costing the business one to two million dollars a year.

"We just can't remain competitive with that," says General Manager Don Routh.

Hansen put out the word that he was looking to move and was courted by states as far away as Wisconsin. He settled on Nevada after buying out a competitor there. About half of his 150 employees are leaving the state with him.

"I have to go where the work is," says plant manager Tom Boyle.

Some workers can't leave, however.

Knifesmith Jonny Whiting has a wife and family nearby. He says the mint is the sort of business Washington should be fighting to keep.

"This place is basically recession proof. We're hiring people right now," said Whiting. "They offer paid vacations and health care - you see less and less of that these days."

State revenue officials lament the loss of the business, but say with the budget deficit the way it is, it's hard to justify tax exemptions to anyone right now.

"We're sorry to see them go, but Washington is still a very good place to do business," says Department of Revenue Spokesman Mike Gowrylow. " There is no exodus from our state. In fact, the number of businesses here have doubled over the past 15 years."

Still, these jobs will be hard to replace. The mint employs everyone from artists who hand-draw the designs for the coins to machinists who bang them out on the presses.

Says artist Pat Lucas-Morris, "It's definitely Washington's loss."