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Seattle firm looks to NCW agriculture as hot investment

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WENATCHEE — One of the state’s largest independent investment banks has cast its eye towards agriculture in eastern Washington with hopes of helping local farms and orchards plan, expand and become more profitable, say its top executives.

Agriculture is a hot sector right now,” said Michael Butler, CEO of Seattle-based Cascadia Capital. “Its growth and consolidation are being driven by international market forces that shouldn’t be ignored.”

North Central Washington ag operations are especially attractive, said Cascadia execs, because of the steady supply of water — a valuable and volatile commodity in much of the world — along with low-cost hydropower.

It’s hard to estimate the incredible value of these resources,” said Butler. “They will ensure steady growth of the industry for decades to come.”

Recent Cascadia Capital transactions include PetSmart’s $160 million purchase of online pet supplier Pet360 and securing $10.7 million in funding for Valant Medical Solutions, a provider of systems for medical records and electronic billing.

In August, the CEO and a handful of Cascadia execs met with NCW fruit growers, wheat ranchers, mint farmers and food processors to, said Butler, “begin establishing relationships that will work far into the future and benefit families and businesses.”

The visits capped nine months of groundwork by Cascadia to introduce the bank’s services — financial consulting, strategic planning, next-generation succession, investment possibilities — to NCW ag businesses ranging in size from family farms to global fruit companies.

What we’ve found,” said Butler, “are industry dynamics that are forcing change — huge consolidation among fruit growers, generational transitions of family farms, markets opening around the world — with lots of middle-market farmers and ranchers wondering what the next step might be.”

Said Butler, “Maybe they need outside financial capital to expand and profit, and maybe they don’t. We want to help them think through the growth process, help them come up with a plan.”

Cascadia team member Jim Barnyak, a regional rep for trillion-dollar BNY Mellon financial services in New York, said, “So many middle-sized operations need to figure out what they do best and what they want to do when they grow up. For many, it’s grow up or get gobbled up.”

Barnyak said any strategic plan for the mid-sized family farm should include the owners’ vision for the business — “What’s the family want from their operation?” he asked — and a hard look at what specialty niche they occupy now or could occupy later.

Figuring out the value of the business and analyzing future “risk and return” is also a large part of planning for the future, he said. “It all comes down to what the owners and family members are comfortable with.”

Butler said this type of planning involves a lot of number crunching, but establishing a relationship between the business and the bank is the crucial element.

A friendly introduction and casual conversation are two of the best business practices I know,” he said. “From there, we can begin to work together.”

Reach Mike Irwin at 509-665-1179 or . Read his blog Everyday Business. follow him on Twitter at @MikeIrwinWW.