• They're almost done building that big white cube in Tacoma. But what is it?

    By: Kate Martin, the News Tribune

    Updated:

    After nearly a year of construction, that big, white cube near Fircrest is about to open for business.

    So what the heck is it?

    It’s the future of frozen-food storage, right here in Tacoma. The NewCold warehouse on South Orchard Street could open in January, with full operations expected by the end of next year. By that time, it could employ around 100 workers.

    At 25 million cubic feet, NewCold’s warehouse is among the largest cold-storage buildings in the country, said Jonas Swarttouw, business development manager for the company’s U.S. operations. It cost about $50 million to build.

    Robots — essentially a system of cranes and conveyor belts — will assist the employees in moving frozen goods from one place to another in the approximately 140-foot-tall building, where food is stored at 5 below zero Fahrenheit in a low-oxygen environment to prevent fires.

    Automation means goods ordered today could be ready for shipping tomorrow, Swarttouw said. A traditional cold-storage warehouse, without robots, might take twice as long or longer to assemble goods for shipping, he said.

    “It means a lot of work at night and more movement in a short period of time,” he said. “Customers can accept orders until a later moment and ship sooner to their customers.”

    NewCold’s Tacoma warehouse is the first in the United States for the Netherlands-based company. Trident Seafood signed on early for space, Swartthouw said, and NewCold is in contract discussions with more potential clients.

    “We are definitely focused on expanding our business if the needs or wishes of potential customers are there,” he said.

    Such customers might include food producers or supermarket behemoths like Kroger — not people looking for extra freezer space for that deer they shot last fall.

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