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Drumming up business
And it was designed to be so, as were all the conference rooms inside the Philips Oral Healthcare Inc. building at the Snoqualmie Ridge Business Park. After entering one of the building's six major conference rooms, visitors are greeted with a wide expanse of glass that provides a commanding view of Mount Si.
Kevin Bush, Philips Oral Healthcare's marketing manager, said business has to wait a couple of minutes as guests take in the sight.
"Every meeting starts with, 'Geez, I can't believe you guys work out here in this beautiful area,'" he said.
Those meetings have a habit of starting early. Most people who have business with one of the companies located in the business park travel east from the Seattle area. Thinking the winding trek into the Cascade foothills is rather long, or traffic on Interstate 90 may have slowed to a crawl, they often arrive well before the designated time.
"People are always early for their appointments here," said Tom Clary, president of The Inception Group.
Ease of commute. A unique setting. And one cannot forget land prices that are cheaper than Bellevue and Seattle.
Those three elements have made the Snoqualmie Ridge Business Park an attractive place for companies looking to relocate. As cities such as Redmond, Kirkland and Issaquah quickly fill up, the Puget Sound's high-tech economic engine may be in the future found idling at the intersection of Southeast Center Street and the Snoqualmie Parkway in Snoqualmie.
Les Mace, vice president of business development for The Clary Company International, sees the day coming.
"I've always thought that this would probably be the next high-tech corridor," he said.
The building boom
The Snoqualmie Ridge Business Park is still in its relative infancy. Philips Oral Healthcare, then Optiva, was cast in the role of visionary when it moved from Factoria to Snoqualmie in 1999.
That proved to be the watershed moment for the business park. When a company that employs about 600 people moves to what is perceived to be the sticks, people sit up and take notice.
Snoqualmie Ridge General Manager George Sherwin credited Philips Oral Healthcare's former chief executive officer, Dave Giuliani, for putting the business park on the map, literally and figuratively.
"He stood there and said to his people, 'We're coming out here,'" Sherwin said.
"He visualized being here before anything was here."
The business park's banner year was in 2001, when Northwest Kidney Centers announced it had signed a lease for 7,500 square feet of space inside what would become the Trailside Building to provide outpatient dialysis services. Months later, that was followed by Nuprecon's plans to build a 45,000-square-foot headquarters. The demolition contracting company moved in last December.
Since 1999, development at the business park has sprung up around Philips Oral Healthcare. The city of Snoqualmie constructed its Department of Public Safety-Police Division building at the corner of Southeast Douglas Street and Snoqualmie Parkway, and beside it, the Cascade View Building was erected. The Inception Group's building continues the line along Douglas, which ends with the recently completed Trailside Building.
Turning left onto Bracken Place Southeast finds the vacant Nexus Building, built with reinforced floors in hopes of attracting a biotechnology company to the business park. Curving westward, one sees the Philips Oral Healthcare and Nuprecon buildings.
Of the business park's 21 lots, only 12 have been sold or developed.
There is a lot of room to grow.
A master plan
The 89-acre Snoqualmie Ridge Business Park is part of the much larger Snoqualmie Ridge master-planned development that took shape in the 1990s. The development is zoned for multiple uses, including residential, retail, light industrial and commercial.
In four years, Snoqualmie Ridge has more than doubled the population of Snoqualmie to 3,416, according to a recount conducted last year by the city. Development of the residential area and business park has outpaced the retail area, but that is quickly changing. Soon seven businesses will move into the retail area, and more are expected to follow suit shortly.
Sherwin said the retail area and the business park help set Snoqualmie Ridge apart from other community developments.
"[The business park] provides an opportunity for a balancing of growth, so it's not just residential, it's also jobs," he said.
"This is a true mixed-use project that includes all the elements that a business might consider in making a decision" to relocate, said Tom Bohman, director of Bellevue-based Cushman & Wakefield, a brokerage firm that has worked on Snoqualmie Ridge Business Park deals since last year.
But that's the boring stuff, better left to meetings rooms. Want to know the best way to attract a company to the business park? Put a driver in the boss' hands and let him take a mighty cut at the par-5 first hole - called "Southern Descent" - at the Tournament Players Course Snoqualmie Ridge.
"This is a huge resource that's here. It's wonderful," Debi Frausto said of the golf course. She should know. As vice president of marketing and leasing for Quadrant Corp.'s Commercial Division, her job is to lure companies to the business park.
Traipsing around the golf course, you're presented with another attraction for businesses. Each hole seems to frame the panoramic beauty of the Upper Valley, and that is as much a selling point as price per square foot.
The Snoqualmie Ridge Business Park is capitalizing on that natural beauty. At Philips Oral Healthcare, employees have organized off-road bicycle and hiking clubs, and workers from throughout the business park can often be found walking the area's 20 miles of trails.
"Our culture really embraces the natural surroundings that we have here," Bush said.
"You can go do a power walk here and get out on the trails and work," Frausto said. "We're giving them that environment to do things a little differently."
But there's still the bottom line to which companies must adhere. All the natural beauty in the world goes for naught if the numbers don't add up. Lot prices range between $11.45 and $12.95 a square foot, while space in the Trailside Building, for example, is $16.50 a square foot.
That's cheaper than leasing space in Bellevue or developing in Issaquah, although the economic downturn has lessened that advantage (see sidebar).
The business park has another major advantage over other cities in what's called a "reverse commute." Instead of the usual drive-into-Seattle weekday mornings and the head-for-the-suburbs rush in the evenings, the commute to and from Snoqualmie is mostly free from traffic congestion.
Even locally there's less traffic, as compared to other rapidly growing cities such as Issaquah and Sammamish. When she brings company representatives to the business park, Frausto enjoys pointing out the lines of traffic waiting to turn north on the West Lake Sammamish Parkway or exit onto Front Street from I-90 at Issaquah.
"We love to drive them out here at 3 in the afternoon and drive by Issaquah," she said.
"People don't want to drive a 100 million miles to get to work," said David Ling, Philips Oral Healthcare's facilities manager. "There's more opportunity as you get out this way for that to happen."
His company helps cut down on the commute even further by its involvement in the county VanPool program, which uses vans to shuttle employees to Snoqualmie, where they manufacture Sonicare toothbrushes.
Snoqualmie City Administrator Gary Armstrong remembered a billboard Quadrant had placed in Issaquah several years ago to jolt people stuck in traffic to think about moving to Snoqualmie Ridge.
"It said, 'If you lived in Snoqualmie Ridge, you would be sitting in your home right now,'" he said.
On the move
Quadrant, which owns a total of nine business parks across King County, has different approaches to developing th