RLINGTON — U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen’s visit to the former facilities for Bayliner and U.S. Marine adjacent to the Arlington Airport on Wednesday, Oct. 17, found an area that’s at more than half of its occupancy, according to Brent Nicholson, one of the partners in the ownership group for the site.
“We’re doing pretty well tenant-wise,” Nicholson told Larsen and a number of Arlington city officials, including Arlington Mayor Barbara Tolbert. “By next spring, we could be at 100 percent capacity.”
Paul Ellis, assistant to the City Administrator for Special Projects, noted that Meridian Yachts employed as few as 800 people at the site by the time it shut down at the end of 2008, down from a peak of 2,200 employees. Realistically, Nicholson expects that his tenants will employ a little more than 300 people even at full site capacity, but he agreed with Larsen that the upturn in tenants at the site shows a resurgence of the manufacturing market.
“Only one in 10 want to buy,” Nicholson said. “The rest have wanted to lease.”
Tolbert and Arlington City Administrator Allen Johnson asserted that the city has worked to streamline its processes to facilitate the coming of new businesses, especially in the manufacturing field, an assessment with which Ted Wheeler heartily concurred.
Wheeler, a general contractor formerly of T&E International, officially rechristened his company HCI Steel Building Systems about a month ago, after acquiring a number of the since-defunct company’s equipment and moving into the site east of the Arlington Airport this spring. A self-described conservative, he and Larsen shared a laugh over Wheeler’s admission that he might not necessarily vote for Larsen in the fall, but he emphasized that he was willing to listen to Larsen’s positions.
“Tax increases are killing us,” Wheeler told Larsen.
“Sixty-five percent of our spending cuts are coming from only 35 percent of our budget,” Larsen said. “One-hundred percent spending cuts alone can’t do it.”
Wheeler attributed his own businesses’ survival through lean economic times to a philosophy that prizes fostering consumer loyalty in the long run over generating short-term profits.
“You can’t retire off every customer,” Wheeler said. “Our prices aren’t always the lowest, but they’re seldom ever the highest, and the price we give people is the price they get, unless we can give them a savings if our own costs turn out to be lower. You can’t be greedy.”
Ken Turner of Pacific Tank & Energy voiced his grievances with the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which he saw as blocking loans to his own business even after he showed that he already had customers signed on for his fuel containers, but Larsen disputed that Dodd-Frank was the culprit.
“Regardless, it’s not just our business,” Turner said. “We all have customers who want to buy, but even with Triple-A ratings it’s hard to get financing, even when we already have contracts.”
In contrast to Wheeler, who praised Tolbert and her city staff upon meeting them, Turner had never met Tolbert before that morning, although he’d dealt with Ellis frequently. Both Wheeler and Turner, however, agreed that Nicholson has been an excellent landlord to them.
“Of all the landlords I’ve had, you’re on the top bar,” Wheeler told Nicholson, before telling Larsen and the Arlington city officials, “Brent will even work with you when you’re late on a payment.”
“Hear, hear,” Turner added. “The way that Brent has managed to resurrect this place is nothing short of heroic.”
Wheeler compared the slow recovery of the economy to a steady airplane takeoff, and argued that he wouldn’t want it to go too high, too fast.
“Rather than stalling out, this should lay a solid foundation for a more stable future,” Wheeler said.
“Rick is extremely on top of things,” Turner said of Larsen.