Good news in a bad economy

Local businesses expand, profit year over year


These days, you can’t click on a news site, turn on the radio or open a paper without the media dragging you down with more scary business news.

It seems every other sentence begins with: “More bad news for the economy came today…” It’s enough to make rational human beings want to cut themselves off from all forms of media.

However, even in the midst of these tough times, there is some good news out there. So in a spirited spring search for sunshine, The Bellingham Business Journal did a little digging and found some golden tales of expansion, upward trends, and feeling the fear but going for it anyway.


Woody Haehn

Owner of Energy Conservation Services


The Good News: Local businesses going energy efficient for the environment and for energy savings drove first-quarter gross sales up 28 percent over 2008.

As profit margins dwindle across most industries, companies are realizing that saving money on a basic cost like electricity can be the difference between the black and the red.

Energy Conservation Services (ECS) is turning this trend into big bucks. Their first-quarter sales were up 28 percent over 2008 and demand is only increasing, said Woody Haehn, owner of ECS.

Haehn said business owners looking to trim costs are interested in energy-efficient lighting systems that can save them 30 percent to 50 percent on their energy bill.

“If you continue to shrink your profit margin, the only way you can continue to survive is you have to cut your expenses,” Haehn said. “So people are looking for ways to shave everything they can.”

Even though a company may desire a cheaper, energy-efficient lighting system, cash flow can still be a problem. So ECS developed a sales pitch businesses haven’t yet been able to refuse.

First, ECS audits the existing lighting systems and calculates the projected energy savings that would come with an energy-efficient system. ECS then recycles the old lighting system and installs the new system with no upfront cost to the business. Haehn said project costs are covered by public-utility subsidies and federal incentives and the rest is deferred over one or two years.

“We’re offering them a way to save money and create positive cash flow with no expense to them,” he said.

Haehn said a company would continue to pay as much as they did while realizing energy savings. The difference from the savings would go to ECS to gradually pay off remaining project costs over a couple of years. After the debt is paid, the business’s overall costs decrease and it reaps the benefit of the energy savings.

Haehn said selling green in Whatcom County is getting easier as more people are aware of the environmental benefits and monetary savings.

“The awareness alone has given us the ability to present the program to more consumers that we did a couple of years ago,” he said.


Rich McDaneld

General manager of Fairhaven Shipyards


The Good News: Fairhaven Shipyards has acquired the neighboring Arrowac Fisheries facility and expects to add up to 90 jobs.

So far, the recession really hasn’t affected Fairhaven Shipyards.

Rich McDaneld, general manager of Fairhaven Shipyards, said the company, whose 120 employees perform 100 percent service maintenance on large ships, is blessed to work in an industry filled with strict government mandates that guarantee demand.

“To this point, we haven’t been hit because to put a ship in the water with a crew on it, there are certain safety standards that have to be met and certain inspections that have to be done,” McDaneld said.

To keep up with demand, McDaneld said the company invested $12 million in a submersible barge, which is a barge that sinks below a ship and rises to bring it above the surface for maintenance. The increase in work has triggered the new hiring and the need for more space.

“Now when we get ready to add the employees, we are going to have the room to add them,” McDaneld said. “Eventually, in three or fours years, instead of running 120 people, we could be running 300 people here.”


John Harmon

Director of the Bellingham/Whatcom County Housing Authorities


The Good News: The joint housing authorities have received $934,586 in federal stimulus funds collectively, which will be used to make energy efficiency upgrades to existing affordable housing in Bellingham and Whatcom County.

As President Barack Obama green-lighted $787 billion in federal stimulus funds earlier this year, one of his big ideas was to invest in forward-thinking infrastructure that creates jobs and prepares the United States for the future.

Some of that money will be at work in Whatcom County very soon, making energy-efficienct upgrades to local affordable housing.

John Harmon, director of the Bellingham/Whatcom County Housing Authorities, said the local housing authorities have received additional funds through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to replace worn-out building components and improve energy conservation for its developments.

“We are prioritizing ARRA work that can be completed within 120 days, per federal guidelines,” Harmon said. “We are interviewing for an architect next week and will be selecting one in a few weeks.”

In Bellingham, Harmon said, the stimulus funds will be used to replace existing heaters with more energy-efficient gas models and to replace water heater tanks with more efficient gas-fired tankless water heaters.

Other properties in Bellingham and Whatcom County will get new vinyl siding and energy-efficient windows and roofs to provide a better exterior building envelope to improve energy performance.


Toby and Phil Heaven

Owners of Sandalwood Salon & Spa



The Good News: The salon recently grew to 2,000 square feet with an 800-square-foot expansion, which added three new styling stations, a manicure/pedicure area, a backroom for the staff and additional storage.

When Sandalwood Salon & Spa’s neighbor, Magnolia Mortgage, moved from Crown Plaza to a new location on Young Street, opportunity was knocking on the walls that separated the spaces .

Phil and Toby Heaven, owners of the salon and spa, said the business had outgrown its 1,200 square feet over the past four years.

“We were maxed out they way we were and we knew that probably by next fall, we were either going to have to be open more days, which has its own complications, or get more space,” Phil said.

In the midst of the recession, the Heavens said the salon is not growing as fast as it has in previous years, but there is still some growth.

“Our numbers are still looking really good,” Toby said.

The expansion also has less tangible benefits than just more space, Toby said.

“There is a better energy flow … and having a backroom for the staff is great because we can sit around the table and chat about things,” Toby said. “It’s good for team building.”

One positive aspect of taking on an expansion during a time of limited construction, Toby said, is that contractors are readily available.

“People were here working on stuff almost before we were ready for them,” she said.


Curt Bagley

Co-owner of Bellhaven Yacht Sales and Charters


The Good News: Bellhaven recently acquired Performance Yachts.

While a down economy can be tough, Bellhaven’s co-owner Curt Bagley said it can also be a time to capitalize on opportunities that will put a business in a better position when the economy picks back up.

Over the years, Bagley said, he had a positive relationship with the owner of Performance Yachts, a Bellingham-based competitor. One day, over a cup of coffee, Bagley’s friend told him he wanted to pursue a different career.

“We just got to talking and the availability of the company became apparent,” Bagley said. “We met a few times after that and we decided that this might work in the interest of both of us.”

He said the acquisition continues a great local name.

“Our position here in Bellingham and at the port is pretty solid and I think that is going to continue with Performance,” he said. “It has such a good name that I certainly want to maintain that good reputation.”

The move also gives Bellhaven an opportunity to further separate the sales and charter sides of the company.

“It gives us a bit more flexibility, in terms of accommodating future customers, not only for repeat brokerage business, but also for moorage and for better service,” Bagley said.


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