Think of a Seattle company. If you’re under age 50 you probably thought of Amazon, Microsoft or Starbucks; if you’re older you might have come up with Boeing. The fact that the world’s largest aerospace company, one that employs 85,000 people in Washington state (more than Microsoft and Amazon combined), is overshadowed shows how thoroughly tech and retail have come to dominate Seattle’s public image.
Seattle, whose original industries were lumber, coal, shipbuilding and fishing, might wear a white collar now (more likely a graphic print tee), but its manufacturing base is thriving, fueled by innovation and an entrepreneurial drive. “Seattle is busting with this stuff,” said Dave Gering, executive director of the Manufacturing Industrial Council of Seattle, an industry organization. “It’s just that you don’t hear as much about it because we’re off in the corner of the country.”
Brian Abramson and Mark Rylant picked a poor year to go into the housing business.
Immediately after launching Method Homes in 2008, the manufacturer they contracted to build their energy-efficient, architecturally designed, prefab homes went out of business. A year later, Method had sold only two homes. Other sales evaporated overnight due to the credit crunch.
Neither Abramson, a Seattle commercial real estate developer, nor Rylant, a Bellingham general contractor and custom home builder, had experience building prefab homes, but they had partnered before on other projects.
Faced with no way to make their product and no sales, some entrepreneurs would have quit. But, Abramson says “there was no question about whether we would stay in business.”
So they built their own prefab manufacturing factory near Bellingham and, through trial and error, have created a process to build their homes efficiently. Now, Method Homes is a fully integrated company that handles construction from the initial design through final installation, or it does just a portion of a project if that’s what a client wants.