Financed companies aim for new jobs, expansion
By Ann McCreary
Several local businesses are creating new jobs, building or expanding retail and manufacturing facilities, and providing needed services with financial backing from the Methow Investment Network.
Without the support of investors from the network, expansion of those local businesses would not have been possible, and the valley might have lost a longstanding local business, said three business owners who received loans. That financial support, they said, means long-lasting economic benefits for the valley as a whole.
“This has a transformative power,” said Jonathan Baker of eqpd, a local specialty bag manufacturer that is expanding production capacity with support from the Methow Investment Network. “In the next five years you will how these investors helped create a wave in the local economy.”
In 2014, eqpd (pronounced “equipped”) began producing its “indestructible” LastBags made from industrial fabrics in a remodeled shed at TwispWorks. Since then, the start-up has steadily grown its production and product line, which it now sells from Twisp to Japan. Local and regional businesses and organizations — schools, stores, sports teams and non-profits — have partnered with eqpd to offer bags with their logos.
“The intention has always been to export — to create a useful, desirable product that is wanted everywhere by everyone,” said Baker, eqpd co-founder and senior designer.
“We’ve become successful on a scale that can sustain us outside of the valley,” Baker added. “We are stable year-round employment. If it’s smoky here, it doesn’t matter — people are still buying our bags in New York and Germany. This sort of diversity is very important to the overall economic health of our valley.”
The company’s ability to sell products beyond the valley was part of the appeal to investors in the Methow Investment Network who have provided $200,000 in loans to eqpd. With that that investment, the company is moving toward new expansion.
“It completely changes what we are able to do,” Baker said. “Investors understand the growth that is needed to accomplish these goals and the results that can follow.”
Baker got involved in the Methow Investment Network in the early stages of its formation last year, because he has experience in launching other companies before eqpd. He began talking with investors about his strategy.
“It took about five months and couple rounds of conversation. I would sit down with the lead investor and he would ask the hard questions. With these questions, they challenge you to make sure your business is organized, has a plan forward and is healthy. The business will become stronger when you have mentors like this. That is exactly what I want,” Baker said.
Four investors provided funding through a seven-year loan that will enable eqpd to purchase new manufacturing equipment and hire new people. “We will be able to produce the raw parts five times faster and assemble those parts three times faster,” Baker said. With a full crew, eqpd can now produce 100 bags a day; that will increase to 300 bags a day with the same crew after the new machines arrive in March, Baker said. The company is renovating additional industrial space in Twisp to accommodate the larger equipment and expanded manufacturing capacity.
The company has already brought on two new employees — its first salesperson to promote eqpd products and a lead production worker, bringing its staff to 10 people. Baker said he expects to hire 12-plus people in the next five years for year-round jobs that pay a living wage.
“We’re hiring people in the age range that this valley always talks about, the 20s and 30s. These are good, non-degreed jobs. As an entrepreneur, I have a deep spot in my heart for living wages and post-high school opportunities,” Baker said.
The Methow Investment Network has helped Baker grow a vision. “I wanted to bring design and manufacturing to a place with soul, identity and need. This town captured my heart,” said Baker, who moved here from New Hampshire. “Five years later, I have four investors loaning me $200,000 to make this happen.”
A loan from the Methow Investment Network secured the continuation of a local plumbing business in the Methow Valley, and gave Tiago Pacheco the opportunity to establish his own business.
Dwight Filer, who owned and operated Filer Plumbing for the past 30 years, was the only plumber available in the Methow Valley who focused entirely on service and repairs, including responding to plumbing emergencies like broken water pipes. When he decided last year to retire, the valley could have lost a needed service.
Pacheco, who worked in plumbing and construction, hoped to have his own business, and submitted a business plan to the Methow Investment Network. He wanted to purchase Filer Plumbing’s equipment, including specialized plumbing tools and a utility van, and other business assets.
“I sent the plan … and actually heard from an investor the next morning,” Pacheco said. “I also heard from four others in the next few days.” Some of those investors, he said, “were Methow Valley people I knew, and I was friends with, but didn’t know they were part of the network.”
Pacheco had six offers from investors and finalized a deal with investors he did not know personally. Through a three-year promissory note, he was able to purchase everything he needed to start his own business, as well as endorsements and referrals. He named his new business Methow Plumbing.
“The main investors, who responded the next morning, were very helpful. They were there for anything I needed in terms of the business, or how to run a business. I asked what caught their attention about my business plan. They said they knew there was a huge need for plumbers in the Methow Valley,” Pacheco said.
“A main part of my plan was making house calls,” he said. “I wanted to focus my business model around that kind of nasty work most plumbers don’t want to do.”
Before he applied for a loan, Pacheco was already laying the groundwork for his own business. He was insured and bonded and had a business license. “I had a brand, a website, a business name,” he said. “I was already legit.”
He and Filer worked out a partnership under which Filer, with 30 years of plumbing experience in the Methow Valley, consults with Pacheco on some jobs.
“The purpose of the network is to help local businesses,” Pacheco said. “Without that, Dwight Filer wouldn’t have sold his business and I wouldn’t have started mine. Methow Investment Network made that possible.”
Pinetooth Press became so successful in such a short amount of time that owners Bryan and Regan Putnam found they couldn’t keep up.
Offering screen-printed apparel with original designs by Bryan, who has a master’s degree in fine arts, Pinetooth Press has operated out of a storefront in Winthrop that opened last summer. Putnam produces what he calls “art for daily life,” to be worn, used or pinned up. He runs an environmentally friendly shop, using only water-based inks and biodegradable solvents in his printing process.
Putnam began selling his apparel in 2015 while teaching art at the University of Oregon in Eugene. He and Regan, both Liberty Bell High School graduates, decided to move back to the Methow Valley in spring of 2016 with the goal of establishing their business here. They rented the Winthrop store on Riverside Avenue last summer.
Putnam was a one-man operation, designing and printing his apparel for sale in the store, and also filling a growing number of custom orders. He was using a small manual printing press that he brought with him from Oregon, working as fast as he could. His local customers include Methow Arts, Methow Trails, Methow Cycle & Sport, Glover Street Market, Blue Store Coffee Roasters and North Cascades Heli-Ski.
“I couldn’t keep up, and started researching what we could do next — how could we grow this?” Putnam said. “We landed on getting an automatic press. Teaching someone to run an automatic press is way easier than teaching them how to print. That was the best way to grow long-term.”
The automatic press, a substantial piece of equipment, costs $65,000. Putnam turned to the Methow Investment Network to help him take his business to the next level.
“The network was the best first option,” Putnam said. “We would not have been able to take the steps to grow that we are without the investments through the Methow Investment Network. As a business that is still only 18 months old, typical business loans wouldn’t be an option.”
In addition to the loan for equipment, Pinetooth Press is benefitting from the mentoring Putnam received while working with the network. “We were able to meet some really great people who advised us on our business plan, offered their assistance and input, and overall supported us through their energy and excitement about what we are doing. The people who ended up investing in our plan have gone above and beyond to offer their help and ideas,” Putnam said.
Putnam said he’s hired his first full-time employee and hopes to eventually employ six to eight people. “My goal is to create jobs with a livable wage, $15 or more per hour,” he said.
To accommodate the new equipment and anticipated growth in the business, the Putnams borrowed money from their parents for a down payment to purchase and remodel the former Motion Auto store on the corner of Glover Street and Second Avenue in Twisp.
The back of the building will have a retail space for Pinetooth Press products, and a production area that houses the printing presses. The front of the building on Glover Street is being remodeled to create two or three retail spaces for lease to other businesses.
“This was a really exciting spot for us. We wanted to do something that is retail-focused, so people will want to come to Twisp to shop,” Putnam said. “Everyone will benefit from more retail business.”