Manufacturing jobs have declined across the United States, but the picture isn’t bleak in some rural Washington towns.

According to the US Department of Agriculture, manufacturing is more important to rural economies than to urban economies and provides more jobs and higher earnings than other sectors in rural areas.

Refrigeration cooling units built by Colmac Coil in Colville, Washington
Custom-engineered solutions for national clients from a small town company
(Courtesy Colmac Coil)

That’s certainly true for Colmac Coil in Colville, a city of about 4,800 in rural northeastern Washington. The company builds heating and cooling solutions for industrial customers, such as custom-engineered refrigeration units for national food processors and, this year, for vaccine storage during the pandemic.

As the second-largest employer in Colville, Colmac Coil is a steady presence in an area that has seen declines in natural resources jobs like logging and mining. The family-owned business was founded in 1971 and continued to grow steadily under both former company president Bruce Nelson (’80 Ag. Eng.) and current president Joe Fazzari (’01 Mech. Eng.).

Fazzari first worked with Colmac as a student in WSU mechanical engineering professor Charles Pezeshki’s design class. After graduation, he eventually returned to the Colville company.

“Little did I know that a senior design project was going to lead me to becoming president of the company,” Fazzari says.

Small town life was definitely a draw. “I love to visit big cities and travel all the time, but I don’t like traffic,” he laughs.

While it is sometimes difficult to recruit new professionals to Colville, there are distinct advantages to the location. Eleven WSU alumni work for Colmac Coil, including Joseph Schweitzer (’19 Mgmt. Info. Sys.) in marketing. They like the lower cost of living, easy pace, and proximity to nature.

Schweitzer’s home is only a five-minute walk from work. He loves skiing, which is really close to Colville. He also says, as a small company, he knows his work is crucial for Colmac Coil even as a recent graduate.

“I have higher-level responsibility, like strategizing on campaigns and coordinating trade shows,” Schweitzer says.

Fazzari agrees that “even an entry-level person in a small company makes a big difference.”