Deal pending for 300-job plant in Blaine

Published on Thu, Nov 8, 2001 by Meg Olson

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Deal pending for 300-job plant in Blaine

By Meg Olson

A pending deal at Blaine Business Park could see a high-tech German housing manufacturer set down roots here.

“We have negotiated a deal and it appears we have an understanding,” said Hans Hermann, president and CEO of TechHaus Washington Inc. “The rest are just mechanics.” TechHaus is proposing to buy 20 to 28 acres from business park developer Doug Connelly and build a 143,000 square foot plant to build pre-fabricated housing the likes of which, Hermann said, this country has never seen.

“We have total vertical integration,” Hermann said. “We buy green lumber and kiln dry it. We import windows and hardware from Germany. We assemble the components. It’s almost like an erector set. You wind up with a product superior in quality much faster than a conventionally built house at a comparable price.”

The plant will use $10 million worth of robotic equipment to build the components. “From measuring to cutting, to drilling it’s all automated and computerized,” Hermann said. “We build the house wall by wall.” Completed walls, floors and roofs are packed into containers and shipped to the construction site where the company oversees assembly. “You get a turnkey house without any architectural restrictions,” he said.

The target market for TechHaus homes is entry-level home-buyers, Hermann said. With the price of land included, a 1,500 square foot home sells for $90,000 to $160,000. Hermann said the high quality of the product – from thick walls to double windows and architectural flexibility – made the product closer to a framed home than what people expect from a pre-fabricated home. “We aren’t building an assembled modular home and hauling it to the site,” he said. “If you make a box there are only so many ways to stack it.”

The technology TechHaus proposes to use was refined in Germany to fuel a housing boom after the fall of the Berlin wall. “There are 70 plus companies in Germany now employing this kind of technology,” Hermann said. “It’s the technology of the future. It just hasn’t caught on in the U.S. yet. We decided the timing is right to bring it to the U.S. now. The housing sector nationwide is booming.”

TechHaus is a new privately held company which combines technical expertise from Germany with development interests here. “It’s a startup in this part of the world but the technology and the key people aren’t,” Hermann said. “We aren’t experimenting with something that doesn’t work.”

Through a close association with east coast developer Columbia Development, Hermann said their product already has a market filling planned developments in Denver, Las Vegas and Phoenix. He said he also has projects planned with the U.S. armed forces and Alaskan tribal housing.

If all goes as planned, Hermann hopes to close a deal on acquiring the Blaine property in the next 30 to 60 days and have the plant ready to open six to eight months later. “We hope to be running by next June,” he said. The company has a three-year development plan to reach 100 percent capacity, when it expects to employ 300 people. Further expansion could add more jobs as the company builds components in Blaine for other plants closer to consumers. “The Washington plant will become the primary facility,” Hermann said.

TechHaus chose Blaine because the location put the plant close to a good lumber source, a good labor source and ample transportation. “Whether by road, by rail or by sea, this is a good location,” Hermann said. “It’s a great place – it’s sort of a sleeper.”
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