News from the WBA President – July


Dear WBA Supporters,

Hope you are enjoying this beautiful summer. There is lots going on at the WBA.

We invite you to join us for a WBA member appreciation night with the Bellingham Bells on July 26. We are also eagerly awaiting the results of the agri-business economic impact study being conducted on our behalf by the Economic Research Center at Western Washington University. We will unveil the results at a farm luncheon and tour taking place on August 24.  The purpose is to better understand and quantify the impact of the farming industry in Whatcom County. Our hope is that local policymakers will consider this information as they develop policy that impacts this industry and the people employed by it.

We are also keeping an eye on the taxpayer funded study that was ordered by the Whatcom County Council to determine legal ways of limiting the export of unrefined fossil fuels from Cherry Point. We will continue to provide updates as the process moves forward.

We are very excited about the September 28 kickoff of our Youth Engagement and Education Initiative. Mike Andes (Augusta Lawn Care/Business Boot Camp), Erin Baker (Erin Baker’s), Tyler Byrd (Red Rokk), and Anne-Marie Faiola (Bramble Berry) will highlight our chosen group of speakers who will be talking with high schoolers from across Whatcom County about what it takes to be a successful employer and employee.

These efforts all stem from our Step Up for business advocacy, education and research campaign. Go to our website for more information and learn how to get your company involved.

I encourage you to be on the lookout for your ballot in the mail for the August 1st Primary Election. The Whatcom County Council has four positions on the ballot.  The Port of Bellingham has two and there are a number of citywide seats all over Whatcom County that you will be able to weigh in on. The General Election comes in November.

Enjoy the sunshine, and as always, please call me with any questions, ideas or concerns (746-0411).

Tony Larson, President



2017 Summer Issue


It’s Here!  The July issue of Business Pulse Magazine, a publication of the Whatcom Business Alliance, details the Top 100 Companies in Whatcom County.  Click Below to read online or Download and save to read offline later!

ADVERTISING OPPORTUNITIES!  The October Issue is in planning stages now.  We are in the beginning stages of developing online advertising opportunities.  Inquire with Jon Strong at (360) 746-0407 to learn more!


Are you an Environmental Steward?- Submit your Survey!

Recycling and UpCycling Old Wood Pallets at Perry Pallet -June 2017 WBA Industry Tour.

Environmental stewardship refers to responsible use and protection of the natural environment through conservation and sustainable practices.

The WBA is interested in identifying and recognizing the sustainable practices of its local business members.

We think it’s important that the broader community understand not only that business owners and leaders in Whatcom County care about our environment, but also the practical steps they are taking to preserve and protect it.

For example, on a WBA industry tour at Perry Pallet, Inc. in June, Marc Perry detailed for us their zero-waste philosophy in pallet production and re-purposing pallets. If a pallet cannot be repaired, they use the wood to make landscape mulch or sawdust for farm bedding.

We would like to highlight your sustainable business practices in an upcoming issue of Business Pulse Magazine and potentially in a video we will be producing later this summer.

Please click the link below and answer a few short questions if you are willing to share your story or know of another business that may be willing to share theirs.

Thanks in advance for your participation.



Whatcom County is a farming community — but for how long?

Rich Appel of Appel Farms.


Whatcom County is a farming community.

Six out of 10 red raspberries grown in the United States comes from Whatcom County; this area is the nation’s largest producer of raspberries. Whatcom County is also No. 1 in the country at milk per cow, and in overall dairy production, Whatcom is the top county in Washington state.

In total farm production, Whatcom County is in the top 3 percent in the entire United States.

That’s especially impressive, considering that nearly 80 percent of the 1,400 farmers in Whatcom County are not full-time, professional farmers.

But every year, it gets harder and harder for farming business in Whatcom County.

Continued governmental regulation on the local agricultural industry is negatively impacting family farmers’ growth potential and overall success.

For example, continued water rights suspensions over the years mean that more than half of farmers have inadequate legal access to water — a critical resource for anything living, be it plant or animal.

And proposed rules from the Department of Ecology regarding Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations could spell death for many small dairy farms, as costs would quickly reach unsustainable levels for small operations (at an average of 450 cows and a farm gate value of $1.86 million average per farm, Whatcom dairy farms are considerably smaller than the state average and their numbers having been reduced dramatically over the past 10 years).

And it’s not just the farms themselves at stake. Remember those huge economic impact numbers?

Because farming provides support for many other local industries, the success of other independent organizations in Whatcom County is at risk. Bellingham Cold Storage and Perry Pallet, for example, provide services integral to the operation of local farms. Any decrease in farms’ viability negatively affects them, too.

Not to mention community-facing businesses like Edaleen Dairy, a growing and thriving business that, like the other companies mentioned, employs locals. Any constriction on Edaleen’s dairy operations inevitably means a loss in the company’s ability to run its five ice cream and milk shops in the county.

On August 24, in collaboration with Whatcom Family Farmers, the WBA will host the rollout of a Whatcom County agri-business economic impact study at a luncheon that will include a multi-farm tour.

After a delicious lunch and this special presentation, which will provide the most current economic data regarding berry, dairy, produce and the other businesses impacted by agri-business in Whatcom County farms, you’ll be taken on a tour where you can better understand what these businesses do on a daily basis.

If you love shopping at farmer’s markets and buying from local farms, now is the time to Step Up and help protect Whatcom County’s family farmers. Sign up on the Whatcom Business Alliance website to attend. One of the best ways to help family farmers in the Pacific Northwest is to get the facts. We’ll see you there!


Navigating Successful waters: Allure of water runs deep for Bellingham Yacht founders


By Tamara Anderson-Loucks

What started as a small, three-person yacht brokerage in Bellingham over three decades ago is today a thriving full-service, family-owned yacht brokerage and charter service. Owners Dean and Donna Ouilette and Dean’s brother Nick Ouilette have successfully navigated Bellingham Yachts through the sometimes-choppy waters of the pleasure boating industry, attributing success to hard work, perseverance, and a focus on their customers.

Dean Ouilette said Bellingham Yachts is in the business of “facilitating fun on the water.” While Ouilette has had a love of the outdoors since childhood, his interest in pleasure boating was not seeded in his youth in Maine.

The allure of the water and traveling the world drew him to the Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, N.Y. Following graduation in 1979 he joined the Merchant Marines. He and Donna moved to Bellingham, and he accepted a position as 3rd Mate aboard ARCO tankers (Atlantic Richfield Company). While he loved his time on the water, he grew tired of being away from his family.

With extensive commercial boating experience and a passion for spending time on the water, Dean and his wife Donna purchased Bellingham Yachts in June, 1984. Two weeks later Nick Ouliette, also a Merchant Marine Academy graduate and professional seafarer and engineer, moved to Bellingham and joined them.

Dean Ouilette said, “We came into the business as professional mariners and had zero experience in the pleasure boat industry. But it’s worked out – that was 33 years ago.”

Initially the company subsisted as a three-person brokerage operation selling used boats and as a bareboat charter service renting privately-
owned boats to persons qualified to operate a vessel on their own. Ouilette compared the bareboat charter service to “property management, but with boats.”

In 1986 an opportunity came up for Bellingham Yachts to become a dealer for a unique yacht built in Delta, B.C., called West Bay SonShip. Four years later the team at Bellingham Yachts went in search of additional quality lines to represent, and in 1991 they became a dealer for Sabre Yachts of Raymond, Maine.

Bellingham Yachts now ranks as the second oldest dealer in Sabre’s domestic and international dealer network. Bellingham Yachts has earned Outstanding Dealer of the Year five times, and Dean Ouilette was awarded the prestigious Sabre Yachts Broker of the Year for top sales achievement in 1996 and 2006.

In ‘96, Bellingham Yachts became a dealer for Back Cove Yachts, a sister company to Sabre in Rockland, Maine, and most recently for Cutwater Boats, a family-owned boat manufacturer located in Monroe, Wash.

“It’s no coincidence we offer two lines manufactured in Maine. We grew up in Maine, and wanted to introduce the quality of Maine-manufactured boats to the Pacific Northwest,” Ouilette said. “All the boat lines we offer have great synergy. They complement each other, and it’s been really helpful to have a variety of sizes and price ranges for people to look at.”

Bellingham Yachts has 12 full-time employees, plus some part-time employees and contractors. This past February they opened a second location – at the Port of Everett – to better serve their large client base in the greater Seattle area.

“People are busy,” Dean Ouilette said. “If they’re going to buy a boat or need to service their boat, it’s difficult to make the time to drive to Bellingham. We wanted to make it easier for our customers. Since we opened we’ve sold four boats we may not have sold otherwise, so the Port of Everett proved to be a great choice of locations. The Port was very welcoming, and it’s encouraging to be welcomed by a public port in that way.”

While Bellingham Yachts has prospered during its three decades in business, it wasn’t always easy. The Ouilettes had to manage economic downturns that severely impacted the viability of the pleasure boating industry. Many brokerages shuttered.

“The luxury tax years in the early ‘90s almost single-handedly destroyed the boating business, with 45,000 jobs listed in an 18-month period,” Dean Ouilette said. “That, plus the recession after 9/11 and the most recent recession – it’s a challenging business.”

Ouilette attributed their survival to his faith, his experience in the Merchant Marine Academy, the company’s conservative fiscal management, and their relationships with their customers.

“I believed God would take care of us, and going through the academy is very difficult,” he said. “You develop the ability to persevere. We also recognize that there are lots of options for discretionary spending, so we strived to take great care of our customers and their boats.” He said that during the latest recession “we had many customers call to ask if we were okay. That says the world to me, because they didn’t have to take the time to do that. It’s those relationships that sustain us.”

After 33 year of relationship building, the Ouilettes have helped to create fond memories for many generations of families in Bellingham and throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Read more about Whatcom County Businesses in Business Pulse Magazine online or Subscribe and receive a hardcopy.


Education Initiative Putting Whatcom County students on the pathway to success


By Business Pulse Magazine & WBA STAFF

We gauge our success or failure by many measures in the education system, but the most widely-used statistic is on-time graduation rates.

While an 80 per cent graduation rate for Whatcom County in the 2015-2016 school year was above the national average, we still lost 20 percent of our children who did not complete high school. And only 30 percent of our graduating students go on to earn some type of post-secondary credential. It is that second statistic that is most alarming and that is reflected in the median earnings for Whatcom County in 2013 (latest year available) – $25,559.

Partnership for Learning, the education foundation of the business organization Washington Roundtable, cites a study by Boston Consulting Group, Pathways to Great Jobs in Washington State, projecting 740,000 job openings over the next five years:

“The majority of job opportunities—particularly those that will support upward mobility and good quality of life—will be filled with workers who have post-secondary education or training.”

The Whatcom Business Alliance (WBA) recognizes the impact of an unprepared workforce on the Whatcom business community not only from the business perspective but also – and more importantly – from the community perspective. We need our young people to be college, career, and citizenship ready, equipped with the skills and knowledge that lead to success in life.

With that vision in mind, the WBA is launching a Youth Engagement Initiative to reach out to high school students across Whatcom County.

The goal of the Youth Engagement Initiative is to educate Whatcom County high school students on the opportunities for employment and entrepreneurship and to offer mentorship through the career decision-making process. The WBA is partnering with Junior Achievement (JA) to introduce the Job Shadow curriculum to Whatcom County high schools.

In conjunction with the curriculum, the WBA will coordinate site tours of local businesses and provide opportunities for the students to engage in mock interviews and resumé review with human resource professionals.

David Moore serves as president and CEO of Junior Achievement of Washington. He said of this new program: “Junior Achievement of Washington is thrilled to partner with the WBA to provide Job Shadow opportunities to Whatcom county youth. This partnership will provide juniors and seniors in local high schools with critical work readiness education, hands-on experience, and exposure to community business leaders who can answer their entrepreneurial and career questions.”

This three-pronged approach of education, experience, and exposure is designed to inspire and educate young people to make smart academic and economic choices. “We do this while preparing our next generation for business success,” Moore said.

The Youth Engagement Initiative begins with a kickoff event at Bellingham Technical College on September 28th. The program features successful local business leaders and video introductions to employment opportunities in Whatcom County with local, national, and international companies.

The lineup of program speakers: Mike Andes (Augusta Lawn Care/Business Boot Camp), Erin Baker (Erin Baker’s Wholesome Baked Goods), Tyler Byrd (Red Rokk Interactive/Invent Co-working), and Anne-Marie Faiola (Bramble Berry Soap Making Supplies).

The ongoing activities of the Youth Engagement Initiative will build on member involvement. The WBA is forming an Education/Workforce Readiness Task Force made up of business people, educators, and community leaders to guide the vision and activities.

Ultimately, the K-12 education initiative will connect with a post-secondary education element to ensure that the young people of Whatcom County are career, college and citizenship ready for the 21st Century.



Catalyst to success: Confidence in Capabilities. Design-based solutions put Innotech Processing Equipment on the map


By Tamara Anderson-Loucks

When breaking into a new industry, Tim Kaptein said it’s never easy to be the ‘new guy on the block’ –  particularly when you’re young with no industry-specific experience. However, that didn’t stop him from chasing his dream to fabricate custom equipment for the food processing industry.

Kaptein, backed by skills acquired over 20 years in metal fabrication and design, set his sights on the local berry processing market in 2013. With confidence in tow, he made his pitch to local farmers, signed his first sale and established the company’s presence in the food processing equipment marketplace.

“Tim knew he could build great equipment, so he approached some local berry farmers and sold himself,” his wife Tracy said. “He explained his capabilities, his belief in sound design and quality of product and his commitment to customer service. His confidence got him our first customer with Innotech Processing Equipment.”

Berries are delicate, and must be processed carefully. Equipment for the industry is not generally mass-produced, as every processing facility is unique, with different needs both in function and size. Getting farmers to trust in the capabilities of the fledgling startup was key.

“Tim needed to know the ins and outs of how to treat the product, so he would hang out at the farm and processing plant to gauge how to best build the equipment to solve the farmer’s problems,” Tracy Kapstein said.

Innotech’s ability to troubleshoot issues when designing equipment helped the company land a contract to build food processing equipment for Lynden’s Maberry Packing, a berry grower and processor.

“With food processing, cleaning is important. They came to us with ideas to make our conveyor equipment more sanitary,” said Aaron Kurashige, production manager for Maberry Packing. “When choosing to work with Innotech, it boiled down to the quality of work and craftsmanship and their innovative solutions to problems.”

Kurashige added that in addition to Innotech’s designs and reliability, the company’s prompt response to customer service helped solidify their relationship over the past three years.

“Tim and the Innotech staff really understand the seasonality of our business,” he said. “We can call them 24/7 during our season if we have an issue. It’s nice to have someone who is responsive at all hours when you need a hand. In our business, downtime is a serious issue.”

With berries being a seasonal commodity the Kapteins needed to ensure the manufacturing line was busy year-round, so they expanded their business to fabricate equipment for other produce as well as seafood, meat, and dairy products.

Through word of mouth and a couple of initial trade show appearances, the company grew. They now serve customers throughout the West Coast, from Alaska down to California.

Success Breeds Expansion

Innotech Processing Equipment is a trade name registered to Innotech Metal Designs, a company the Kapteins founded in 2012. Innotech Metal Designs focuses on the design, fabrication, and installation of industrial, commercial, and residential metalwork, from small kitchen accents to large-scale commercial projects. Since its inception five years ago, overall sales have doubled and the company now employs 11 people, including administrative staff, designers, and fabricators.

To accommodate the growth of Innotech Processing Equipment the Kapteins recently broke ground on a new 12,000 square foot facility on Guide Meridian. The larger building will provide more production space, making it much more efficient to fabricate larger equipment and will have space to offer additional services.

While the new facility may be the largest outlay of capital for Innotech, the Kapteins have always understood the value of investing resources back into the company.

Tim Kaptein said, “To maintain a high level of professionalism, we continually invest in new fabrication, design and engineering equipment. We’re able to provide our customers with detailed 3-D drawings, so they can see exactly what they are getting upfront and be confident in our capabilities to provide them exactly what they need.”




Speak now, or forever hold your peace

Tony Larson

by Tony Larson

 I’ve always been of the school that you should speak now, or forever hold your peace. I think speaking up for your beliefs is a positive thing, providing you do it respectfully. I’ve instilled that in my children, and I admire it when I see it in others, regardless of whether or not I agree
with them.

Respectful, informative dialogue is imperative on issues of community importance. Respectful pushback is a good thing as well, and should be welcomed if your desired outcome is to make good decisions. One of the roles the Whatcom Business Alliance plays is sharing accurate and relevant data and information from industry experts on issues important to public policy, as it impacts local businesses and the families that work for them.

Before the founding of the WBA in 2012, I received consistent feedback from many business leaders in Whatcom County relating to engagement in public policy matters, especially issues considered controversial to some. Business leaders would say, “our policy is to keep a low profile and say nothing. We love this community and support it in many ways, but we’re afraid that when we speak up, we’ll become a target.” 

A target of what? Perhaps a target of those with differing opinions? 

Many members of the WBA got a sense of how that works when they received a letter dated May 22nd of this year from a San Francisco-based organization called Stand.Earth, with offices in Vancouver and Bellingham. The letter requested that WBA members “…immediately cancel their membership in the WBA and withdraw their participation.”

They assured our members that Stand.Earth would “…be working to daylight the deleterious rtole that the WBA is playing in local public policy”, and they should cancel their membership in order to “…avoid being caught up in this growing controversy.” They requested our members give them an answer by June 5.

The letter was signed by Field Director Alex Ramel and Extreme Oil Campaign Director Matt Krogh, who operate an anti-fossil fuel campaign out of their Bellingham office. Apparently they take exception to WBA support of Cherry Point companies, which sell legal products that we all use – including Stand.Earth – and which directly and indirectly support more than 10,000 local families with jobs. The Cherry Point industries provide:

• Jobs that pay more than twice the Whatcom County average;

• $200 million in taxes that support local schools and essential local services;

• Support local nonprofits, and

• These organizations and their workers have specific programs through which they have been outstanding environmental stewards and local community partners for the last half century.

The attempted tactics by Stand.Earth to intimidate and bully our members are despicable, and their methods should be condemned by all reasonable-thinking people of good will. This instinct to try to shut down dialogue on important community matters by threatening those who are respectfully sharing their concerns seems to be growing around the country.

It should not be welcomed in Whatcom County.

The WBA is Whatcom County. We don’t claim to speak for everyone, or every business. But, like those who may have differing viewpoints, our members care deeply about this community. Their concerns are real, and their ideas and opinions are invaluable.

The positions we’ve taken on local issues come after much measured dialogue and participation from our members. The first part is to gather information, to make sure it is accurate, to look at the data, and to get feedback from informed and experienced experts.

In addition to the concern about the impact that recent policy decisions surely will have on economic development opportunities and on Cherry Point industry specifically, our members have genuine concern about the potential impact these decisions will have on shifting the tax burden to average local property owners.

To address that matter, we invited Whatcom County Tax Assessor Keith Willnauer to provide a detailed presentation to WBA members. (You can view the video on our website.) He shared how the property tax structure essentially is a closed system. Landowners’ assessed taxes are based on the needs of taxing jurisdictions; i.e., based on the value of their property, each property owner pays a portion of a total set amount.

Willnauer pointed out the two biggest threats to the tax base most likely to raise the average person’s property taxes:

• The Hirst decision by the Washington Supreme Court (see story on p. 64), and the county’s subsequent moratorium on construction;

The ability and desire of Cherry Point industries to keep doing business in Whatcom County.

Willnauer sketched out the positive impacts that Cherry Point industries, in particular BP and Phillips 66 oil refineries, have on the county’s tax base. He said that during the recession, when other governments and taxing districts struggled mightily to cope with tax losses, Whatcom County did just fine. “That was simply due to the fact that both of these facilities were energized and were, in fact, expanding.”

But expansion, and even operation of the refineries in Whatcom County is far from a guarantee. At the May 16 Whatcom County Council meeting, Bob Allendorfer, the refinery manager at BP Cherry Point Refinery, warned the council against taking actions that would discourage investment by BP at its county facilities.

Allendorfer said BP America invested more than $100 million in 2004 to increase its ability to produce clean gasoline. And from 2006-‘11, BP America invested more than an additional $400 million to produce clean diesel products.

He warned that if BP is not allowed to adapt to a changing economic environment at Cherry Point, then Whatcom County would cease to be an attractive place for his company to invest. And without investment, Willnauer said in his presentation to the WBA , the value of the facilities at Cherry Point would decrease dramatically.

“When investors are driven away from their facilities, then their facilities are not as valuable as they used to be,” he said, “assessed value would have to be corrected.”

BP, Phillips 66, Alcoa Intalco Works, and Petrogas operating at Cherry Point all have a massive impact on the tax base of Whatcom County, and any negative shift in that impact could be devastating to the county as a whole, Willnauer said. Petrogas recently petitioned the County for a reduction in their property value assessment from $262 million to $42 million. They are the third of four major property owners at Cherry Point to make a request.

And Cherry Point is not even the only player right now. The potentially massive future impact of the Hirst decision, which essentially rendered many undeveloped lots unusable out in the county – not to mention what it has done to small farmers – is another major concern.

Willnauer said that a conservative estimate of the loss of the value of properties affected by the Hirst decision is 60-70 percent, and it could be as high as 90 percent. “Those impacts are dramatic,” Willnauer said. “Hirst, right now, could create the most dynamic impact on property value I’ve seen in some time.”

Sharing these facts and findings with citizens and our members, and discussing the potential impacts that public policy might have is vitally important. It is especially important to discuss these issues before decisions are rendered.

The WBA will not be silenced or threatened by organizations with political agendas from San Francisco, or anywhere else. Important problems will not be solved with less dialogue; they will be solved with more. They will not be solved with less participation; they will be solved with more.

During September last year, the WBA board of directors launched our Step Up for Business Advocacy,  Research, and Education campaign. The idea is to provide an opportunity for local businesses of every size and from every industry to have input and to engage proactively on issues that impact their success and our community prosperity.

I personally invite you to join us. All you have to do is go to our website,, or give me a call at 360-746-0411.

Speak now, or forever hold your peace.



Farm-to-Table at its finest

photo by Tiffany Brooks Photography

By Sherri Huleatt

ACME’s weekly food delivery box brings local food straight to your doorstep.

Several years before “local” food was a staple and brand of Pacific Northwest grocery stores, and before subscription boxes popped up for nearly everything (clothes, cosmetics, and books, et al), two architects had a novel idea:

Instead of searching for local food themselves and bouncing from farm to co-op to grocer, and then juggling the responsibilities of a mom, wife, architect, and homeowner . . . what if local food came to you?

This was the pioneering idea of Joy Rubey and Cara Piscitello, co-founders of ACME Farms + Kitchen, a weekly subscription food box company that delivers locally-sourced, non-GMO, and almost entirely organic food straight to shoppers’ front doors.

Despite having zero knowledge of the agricultural business when they got started in 2011, Rubey and Piscitello’s business has grown 625 percent in the last five years and now brings in $2.5 million in annual revenue. They have 23 employees, 18 living in Whatcom County.

“When we got started, we were overwhelmed with logistics,” Rubey said. “We just started with this idea to feed our little girls healthy food, and now it’s a full production.
I literally went from being an architect to doing every step of the food delivery process. Now I own a food company, which I never expected.”

ACME Farms + Kitchen grew quickly because it filled an immediate need. Parents, like Rubey and Piscitello, wanted to feed their families safe and healthy food, but didn’t have the time or knowledge to source it themselves.

“We started with a mission to make access to local food simple, fun, and delicious,” Rubey said. “At the time, we were both working moms with toddlers, and we wanted someone to make it easy for us to feed our families real food without hauling our kids to the farmer’s market and co-op, trying to meal-plan on the fly.”

Their solution: curated Locavore boxes that include fresh, local, and seasonal food, along with a meal plan and recipes. They also use minimal packaging to reduce waste.

Their large box includes four meals (16 servings) for $84; by comparison, national competitors like Blue Apron and Sun Basket charge about $175—nearly double the price of ACME Farms + Kitchen.

In addition to filling a need for parents, participating farmers were eager to have a more predictable customer base. Instead of sporadic sales at farmer’s markets or piecemeal orders—50 pounds of potatoes here and 20 heads of kale there—working with ACME Farms + Kitchen allowed them to know exactly what bulk orders they would fill each week.

“We define ‘local’ as Whatcom and Skagit Counties, although sometimes we reach a little further for the items we can’t grow here,” Rubey said. “We’ve really wanted to embed ourselves in the community, helping producers grow more food and helping families eat more local food.”

ACME Farms + Kitchen partners with dozens of farmers, ranchers, fishers, and artisan food producers throughout the community. They’ve expanded their services to Seattle, and they opened a facility in Portland in the spring of 2016 that sources its food from Portland-area producers.

Rubey and Piscitello take their services to local schools, too, offering organic lunches at three elementary schools for $5 each. “We feel pretty passionate about kids and their relationship to real food, so any opportunity we find to get kids to eat more local food, we go for it,” Rubey said. “Today, I dropped off what we call a ‘confetti sandwich’ to about 300 kids at Parkview Elementary. It’s a focaccia sandwich with shredded veggies and Fromage Blanc (“white cheese” in French). May sound a little fancy for kids, but they love it.”

Rubey and Piscitello started two charities that support children and farmers. ACME School Days donates 10 percent of ACME Farms + Kitchen purchases to local schools during certain periods throughout the year, and SCRIP donates 5 percent of discounted gift card purchases to local schools.

Going forward Rubey and Piscitello want to expand their idea of helping families and farmers by starting a franchise. “We want to find people who are really rooted in their communities, and split the profits with them,” Rubey said. Their plan is to partner with people who are passionate about local food and have who have boots on the ground; their franchise owners would be in charge of sourcing seasonal food and sharing it with their communities.

Establishing this model could help farmers all over the country establish a more sustainable business, while also creating healthy and viable food communities.

“It’s been a crazy ride, without a doubt. I never thought I would fail so much,” Rubey said. “You have to have a sense of humor, so you can laugh at your mistakes.”

Next on the list for Rubey and Piscitello is more community involvement. Now that their business is stable, and they have more staffing, they’re hoping to get more involved with kid’s programs, local schools, and agricultural groups.


Axiom Construction & Consulting: From Despair to the Top 100

Tim Koetje stands before the work his firm Axiom performed on all the roofing and siding on the remodeled exterior of Bellingham International Airport.

By Mike McKenzie, editor for Business Pulse Magazine

Let’s begin this parable with NOW. It’s upbeat, an inspirational story of success and its moving parts. A pretty picture:

Axiom Construction & Consulting, specializing in architectural metal in Lynden, joins the Top 100 list of privately-owned companies in Whatcom County for the first time. With three operations under the parent organization, they did $40 million in sales last year and they employ about 140 workers.

Tim Koetje started it in 2002 with a partner.

That segues to THEN. The hard-edged phase of this allegorical tale. Not a pretty picture:

Well, at first it was. A back story of rivers of sweat equity as a dairy farm kid and workplace laborer. Of large dreams for a teenager living fast and hard and carefree into his 20s. Of riding high (literally) on quick success and earning big bucks with a startup. “If you asked me,” he said, “I was a big deal.”

…Until the bottom fell out.

Tim Koetje had started his company with a few dollars in the bank and a paycheck from Andgar Corporation, and a partner equally enthusiastic and equally skint. They had no jobs bid out, and only their ambition and their work experience in roofing to go on. They scored $300,000 in bids their first year, and hit $1 million by the next year.

Then, kaboom. It all crumbled: Koetje’s business partnership, his family, his youthful positive spirit. He was ready to fold, and wasn’t sure where to turn or who to turn to. At one point, before a stunning encounter with his grandfather Howard “Squeak” Koetje. Tim was saddled with $600,000 owed on a tax bill and debt, and gross sales of $1.3 million.

Koetje, burdened by demons from alcohol, drugs, divorce, and what he termed an “ugly” breakup of his startup partnership, tells a remarkable story of overcoming those obstacles and building a multifaceted business venture with a goal of reaching $100 million by 2020.

The Axiom umbrella includes a company that manufactures panels, Phoenix, and another that performs flat roofing, Axiom Division 7. Halo, a real-state holding company co-owned with Tim’s business partner at Division 7, Jeremy Parriera, owns the Axiom HQ building.

He learned roofing with Scholten Roofing, and after two years he went to work at Andgar Corporation and learned about commercial metal work.

Along the way he leaned on many people who seemed to wear a halo. Bolstered by mentors, family, close friends, and his grandfather’s command, Koetje turned his life around by, he said, “doing things the right way….(and) getting remarried in 2016 and having our son have grounded me. Sara holds my feet to the fire, drives me to reach my full potential.”

WEARING A CAMO jacket over a T-shirt, seated in a meeting room at Axiom’s new headquarters on the main drag heading toward downtown Lynden, Koetje amiably, comfortably, and frankly spelled out the rocky roads he traveled to get to this moment. “I was a troubled person,” he said of some dark years past.

That was putting it mildly. He revealed details of a mixture of long hours at work by day, and long, short-sleep nights of getting high, or drunk, or some combination of the two. “I somehow knew how to draw the line between never letting the night life spill over and interfere with my work life,” he said. “Somehow, I was always ready to perform good work.”

Koetje’s jarring exploits of addiction (“you name it, I’d try it”) poured out immediately, unexpectedly as startling openers to the conversation. “One thing I’ve found if I share openly, it’s always best to be right up front about what happened back then,” he said.

Following this interview Tim read an article in Business Pulse about Sam Moncrieff, who founded Moncrieff Construction after overcoming addictions. Koetje reaffirmed: “What Sam did makes me proud. And if I can share my story like he did then possibly we can help keep somebody else from falling into the same problems. We were on the road to nowhere, and made life changes – people want to know, ‘How did you do it?’”

Koetje reckoned that his upturn in life hung on steely self-discipline and determination, double-down hard work, and “the help of God and great counsel…(from) some amazing people who helped me.”

This past year underscores his 180-degree makeover: Koetje began family anew with his bride, Sara, their new baby boy, Cassius, and started a new company in real estate development, called Rogue. (“I have six companies registered now.”)      They have Paisley, 4, Sara’s daughter by a previous marriage, and Vance, 10, Tim’s son from his first marriage.

The turnaround began in 2004 from a singular aha! moment. “I’d had it, and figured I’d go bankrupt and shut down,” he said. “I went to my Grandfather Squeak for advice. I looked to him to say, ‘Close it.’

“Instead, he said with every ounce of stern he could muster, ‘Tim, you promised all those families you were going to help them. You’d better figure it out.’ And he walked away, mad. I still get chills to this day when I think about that moment.”

Tim knew what to do. He’d learned it toiling on the farm, and at Andgar, and in Axiom Year One. “I put my head down and went back to work – 80, 90, even 100 hours a week. I cut myself off from my family and friends and jumped back into the grinder.”

ONLY A YEAR AFTER rededicating himself, Koetje expanded Axiom in 2005 by adding Phoenix, a manufacturing plant in the very barn where he grew up tending dairy cattle. (The phoenix, a bird in Greek mythology, regenerated by rising from the ashes of the one it replaced.) A couple of years later, services expanded with Division 7 flat roofing.

Up on the roof – that’s where Koetje began his journey after all but flunking out of high school. He worked long hours on the farm alongside his parents and grandparents. “Loved the machinery,” he said. “The animals, not so much.”

He foresaw no future in the dairy barn, or in college. “I graduated (Lynden Christian) with a 1.6 grade point average,” he said. “I might still have the school record for D-minuses.”

Scholten Roofing was hiring. “I immediately joined the workforce. Flat roofing – working with hot tar and rubber – and I worked my way up within the industry. I crushed it there.” Not long after leaving to dive headlong into business, life choices nearly crushed him.

In his own words:

“When I decided to start a business, with a partner who was a good friend, I was a troubled young man. I was deep into alcohol and drugs. You name it, I tried it. I had $65 cash, a paycheck for $1,100 coming in, and no work in roofing.

“I knew only one way to deal with that – work more hours than anybody else. We grew way too fast – $300,000 the first year. Within two years we had $1 million in sales, and 40 employees. But my troubles cost me in a big way. I was still partying, hard.

“The split of the business in the second year was an ugly one, really tough because we had been such good friends. When the partnership dissolved I was left with a mountain of debt. We had a million owed in tax and vendor debt with $1.3 million in billings. I started thinking about how to get out.”

Meeting the demons head-on, Tim stopped drinking, using, and losing. His vision for success and helping others become successful became clear again. “It looked like a cinch to me,” he said. “I studied all aspects of our competitors. The industry had become an entirely different beast with technology.”

To keep up, he taught himself computer-aided design (CAD) and 3-D printing; bought a router and a sheet metal break and shear; learned to design and build some of his own equipment, and, he said emphatically “…brought in key people – like Jeremy Parriera as a longtime friend, now president of Axiom Division 7 .”

Profitability rose quickly again. Axiom hit $1 million in sales again in 2005 and numbers climbed for five years before leveling off after 2010. Then another uptick began in 2013 when the comptroller, Megan Kalma, had an idea for taking the firm to next level and beyond.

“She called for a meeting to examine operations,” Koetje said. “I said, ‘Why? I already know how the company works.’ She said, ‘How are we doing?’ and I said, ‘Great. We’re growing.’

“But we didn’t have a clear picture of how. I was in the way of that. “Megan suggested that we use a facilitator to help draw out my vision and provide the company a path to follow that vision. We brought the team into a meeting aimed at strategic alignment to look at the ‘Axiom Way’ of doing things. I started with one employee actually saying about me, ‘You’re a meddler.’

“We looked at every aspect of the company, and from there they pulled it from my brain, and she wrote everything on a white board. Then she organized it, and we reverse-engineered the company.”

Next up, in progress, a company handbook. “Ethics, processes, systems, efficiencies, how to grow organically or through acquisitions, $10 million at a time,” Koetje said. “It’s not a ‘thou shalt and thou shalt not’ handbook.”

Axiom does business on one foundational premise: Do things right for the customer, he said. “You generate confidence through your history lessons. Ours are built on honesty and integrity. In taking on work we have to bid it right. If we can’t, we just won’t do it.”

As the conversation wound toward an end in the Axiom meeting room, Koetje capsulized his story thus: “At 25 I took a look at the world around me. To get to where I wanted to be I had to do something different. It took five years to get my feet under me. Then I planned it out – get married and settled down with kids by 35. Hit 40, step back from the work. Build a $100 million company by 2020.

“Give or take here and there, that’s where I’ve been, and where I am, and where we’re going.”