Some of the world’s most successful, multi-billion dollar companies – Amazon, Microsoft, Apple, and even Disney—started in a garage. And so has Wallowa County’s newest startup—Wallowa Valley Cleaning Products.
The fledgling company intends to produce its unique environmentally friendly laundry detergent, household sanitizer, dishwasher soap and other products here in Wallowa County. They want to create jobs, and they also plan to eventually support local schools’ science programs as well. They’ve spent three years developing their product, partly in a Joseph garage. They plan to begin selling products locally in June, and across the northwest soon afterwards.
Michael Harvey, the founding partner and driving force of Wallowa Valley Cleaning Products, moved to Wallowa County about three years ago. But he was no stranger to the region.
“Fifty-five years ago, our Minnesota boy scout troop was studying Chief Joseph and his life. Thirty years ago, I visited the Wallowa Valley for the first time,” he said. “In 2016 I moved to Joseph. I thought maybe I’d retire.”
Harvey, trained as an environmental lawyer, spent 35 years working in various roles supplying advanced chemical materials to companies such as Intel, Apple, and Samsung. Retiring was not exactly what happened.
“I was reading labels of supposedly “green” home cleaning products,” Harvey said. “And I was shocked to see that even the “green” brands contained many ingredients harmful to the environment and/or humans, and some didn’t even clean very well.”
He took his 35 years of corporate experience and put it to work, figuring out how to make more effective, safer & sustainable home cleaning products free of harmful compounds like sodium laurylsulfate, ammonium sulfate, optical brighteners and stain ”removers”.
But he didn’t do this alone. Harvey found seven partners for the new venture, each with expertise in a field related to his new and as yet unborn products, including the chemistry of cleaning, sources and production fragrances and essential oils, production of cleaning compounds, industrial engineering, and of course, marketing. They devoted three years to planning the products, exploring how to produce them, and providing sustainable packaging. Most of this happened in Harvey’s Joseph home with occasional trips into the garage to try out new ideas.
The result is twelve different products, including dish soap, laundry products, surface cleaners, and dishwasher detergent. Their ingredients are free of any environmentally harmful compounds. And they are very effective cleaners. Fragrances come from certified essential oils. “Our laundry products have been tested against current big name brands and we meet or beat everyone,” Harvey said. Harvey’s partner Ryan Kelly, whose Albany plant presently makes the WVCP products noted that “Now, with newer technologies and with the chemistries we’ve put together, these cleaning products perform really well. It’s a very exciting line of products; they’re very effective.”
But it takes more than careful formulation to produce a truly “green” product. There’s packaging, too. Wallowa Valley Cleaning Products wanted to avoid sending plastic to landfills or contributing to ocean pollution.
“We decided to make our containers refillable, so you don’t need to recycle them or toss them. You can just keep refilling them,” Harvey said.
The fledgling company invested about $25,000 with a Canadian company to design and produce a super-sturdy refillable bottle.
Every locally sold refillable plastic container will come with a metal “dog-tag” bearing a computer-readable bar code cabled to its handle. That tag entitles the customer to refill their cleaned containers. It will also allow the company to determine how many times the container is refilled, and how long it lasts. “That should help keep plastic out of the landfill and also let us track the longevity of our designs,” Harvey said.
So far the formulated cleaning products have been shipped from Albany to Joseph, and packaged in Mike Harvey’s garage, using a big, somewhat experimental shiny machine that premeasures the exact amount for each bottle. Harvey or one of his friends or partners has done the actual work of filling them. It’s been a trial run to see which processes might work quickest and most efficiently.
“The manufacturing process will be moved to Wallowa County as soon as a proper local location is found,” Harvey said. “We want to, and expect to, provide year-around family wage jobs. The mayor of Joseph, Teresa Sajonia, is actively working to help locate a site.”
Harvey and his partners all want to eventually support local science, technology, and math education in Wallowa County’s schools.
“Our secret dream,” he said, “is to build a local observatory from which Wallowa valley young people will be able to learn science by studying astronomy.”
Will Wallowa Valley Cleaning Products be the next Microsoft, Amazon, or Disney? “I don’t know,” Harvey said. “But so far, every venture I’ve started has been successful. I hope this follows suit.”