Going Green

Pacific Mobile Structures
Written by Nate Hendley

Pacific Mobile Structures is carving out a niche as a provider of “green” modular buildings, and earning accolades and new business for its efforts. Based in Chehalis, Washington, Pacific Mobile sells, rents and installs innovative mobile and modular structures.
Pacific Mobile comprises three divisions: major projects, rentals, and sales and workforce housing. The company has clients in the medical, education, government, corporate and religious sectors. Pacific Mobile also provides workforce housing for construction projects, oil fields, mining, and more. The company leases and sells quality mobile office space to contractors and government agencies, and provides re-locatable classrooms to schools. In addition, it offers turnkey design and construction of modular structures such as school facilities, administrative buildings and workforce housing.

“We sell to public agencies; we sell to private individuals. We explore opportunities in all segments of modular construction except for single family mobile/modular homes,” explains Patrick Allen, major projects sales representative.

Pacific Mobile operates eight branch offices throughout the west, in Washington State and California as well as Oregon and Idaho. The firm also has a presence in Texas and has done business in Utah, Wyoming, Montana, and Alaska, among other states.

“We moved into Texas four years ago, and initiated our first workforce housing project in Carrizo Springs. We currently have a second location that we’re developing in Freeport, Texas, south of Houston,” which will open in April of this year, says Tom Coyle, Vice-President of Major Projects.

Pacific Mobile works with designers, architects and manufacturers to make their modular designs a reality. While the major project and workforce housing segments typically wait for orders to come in before having modular structures built, the sales and rental division maintains “a rental fleet of thousands of modular buildings spread out across the states, which then can either be sold or leased. A lot of contractors rent them for construction site trailers, and you’ll see small businesses renting them too,” says Allen.

A greener approach
The company has earned a reputation for its work on “green” modular classrooms, through its involvement with the SAGE (Smart Academic Green Environment) project. The idea for SAGE came from academics at the Portland State University (PSU) School of Architecture. The notion was “to create a classroom that is both environmentally friendly and healthier than the standard modular classrooms you see on school sites,” says Allen.

“We’re passionate about creating resource-efficient buildings that improve the learning experience for students and the bottom line for administrators, which is why we’ve helped pioneer the SAGE (Smart Academic Green Environment) classroom. SAGE combines green building practices with the latest thinking in healthy learning environments. The result? A cost-effective, award-wining, re-locatable classroom alternative.”

PSU professors and students developed a design, and Pacific Mobile and modular building manufacturer Blazer Industries, along with other groups, came on board to make the project a reality. Pacific Mobile’s mission was focused in part on marketing the idea: “We wanted to create a classroom that was not only green and healthy but affordable to school districts, private schools, et cetera,” says Allen.

A prototype SAGE classroom was unveiled at the Greenbuild 2012 conference in San Francisco. This prototype picked up a 2013 SEED award for excellence in public interest design. The “Social Economic Environmental Design” (SEED) network consists of designers with “an interest in community-based design practice,” states the group’s website.

Pacific Mobile began selling the SAGE classroom model, a tough assignment initially given that the SAGE design is more expensive than traditional modular classrooms. What it delivers, however, boasts tremendous added value. Pacific Mobile made its first SAGE sale to the Edmonds school district in Washington State. More sales followed, and to date, the company has sold SAGE classrooms to over 30 schools.

SAGE’s green features include a ventilation system which dramatically boosts the amount of fresh air available inside. Paints used in the structure contain low or no amounts of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). Large, plentiful windows let in plenty of sunlight and ceilings are vaulted. Windows are made from aluminum, not vinyl. Special insulation in the walls releases heat into the building when it’s cold outside and keeps things cool when it’s hot out. A Thermoplastic Polyolefin (TPO) roof and low-velocity fans keep the inside temperature at a pleasant 72 degrees Fahrenheit. Fiber cement siding is used on the exterior (a must in the rainy Pacific Northwest, says Allen). A steel floor option (versus the usual wood floor in a modular classroom) keeps the structure rigid and protects the building from abuse when being moved from site to site on school grounds.

Whether they are SAGE classrooms or other modular buildings, Pacific Mobile has in-house project management staff who can perform installation work if needed. The company offers full turnkey services and can arrange for plumbing, electricity and other infrastructure to be put into place by trusted sub-contractors.

A family atmosphere
Pacific Mobile Structures is a family-owned company, founded in 1983 by Dick and Jean Haakenson. In 2011, Dick and Jean retired and sold the company to their children Garth Haakenson and Gretchen Moore. Pacific Mobile remains a family business, something the management believes in and doesn’t intend to change.

Anyone who joins the firm will find a corporate culture based around a family ethos. “When we do surveys with employees, I think our number one comment from them is, ‘it feels like a family business. The owners care about us,’” says Coyle.

“You have a voice with the company if you work for Pacific Mobile,” adds Allen.

At present, Pacific has 129 employees, about the same number as it did last year at this time. The company wants to attract new hires “that meet our values. That’s our number one requirement of a prospective employee to even get past the screening process. Experience comes next,” says Allen.

These corporate values, spelled out on the Pacific Mobile website, include: staying connected (by valuing relationships); being enthusiastic; building trust; being great; and serving others. “When we talk about serving, we talk about serving both internally with each other, and externally. We strongly believe in improving the communities where we work and live. When we interview people, we focus on those five core values. It’s great to have somebody that’s experienced in the modular industry, but that’s only part of it. It’s just as important to find that right person whose behaviors will honor our values,” says Coyle.

In similar fashion, Pacific Mobile prefers working with manufacturers and suppliers that share what the firm calls its “Four Cornerstones of Service Excellence.” These cornerstones are experience, quality, dedication and flexibility.

“It is important to us that the vendors we work with are a good values fit. We’re not looking for someone with the lowest bid. The way we’ve evolved, we push our vendors, we push our manufacturers to be more flexible to reach outside of the box and create a product that is a little bit different than what the regular modular manufacturers would do,” says Coyle.

Pacific Mobile also makes it a priority to engage with the local communities in which it operates, and prides itself on its charitable activities. The company has donated considerable funding and resources to develop a much needed the Boys and Girls Club in Chehalis, Washington, for example. The owners have also built two athletic centers to help underprivileged youth in the area. The centers provide affordable youth sports with scholarship programs available to those that need it.

Innovative projects
The company’s emphasis on service excellence has resulted in some memorable projects, to be sure. Allen points to three in particular. These include an 8,000 square foot two-story structure for Seattle Pacific University intended to house technology classrooms. The project took a total of 150 days, from delivery to occupancy by teachers and students. The structure features roof-mounted HVAC units, special insulation, low-VOC paint and TPO roofing materials. The project was LEED Silver certified.

Another project involved a custom modular building for the Richland School District in Washington State. This job took 76 days from delivery to occupancy. The 17,200 square foot structure in question includes a science lab with safety shower, music rooms, a multi-purpose room for gym class or meetings, a cafeteria with full kitchen, staff rooms, meeting rooms, and more.

“The largest project we did” was with Boeing Company, in Everett, Washington, says Allen. This project involved an 85,680 square foot, two-story office structure intended to house 600 employees at Boeing’s personnel training, dispatch and operations facility. The project took a mere 22 days to install all of the modules onsite. The structure featured steel columns, sheet rock, high-rib steel siding, elevators, and multi-use bathrooms on each floor. “We’re certainly proud of all of our jobs but those ones tend to stand out,” says Allen.

In addition to the SEED award, Pacific Mobile has won a slew of other honors. In 2013, the company earned two first-place awards at a Modular Building Institute (MBI) conference. These were given out in the categories of “Permanent Office under 10,000 Square Feet” (for a project in Arlington, Washington) and “Permanent Modular Education under 5,000 Square Feet” (for a school project in Los Angeles). The SAGE initiative in the Edmonds school district won first prize in MBI’s “Re-locatable Education under 10,000 Square Feet” category in 2015. Pacific Mobile’s founder Dick Haakenson was named to the MBI “Hall of Fame” in 2011. MBI honors are “like the Academy Awards of modular buildings,” notes Allen.

A look ahead
Pacific Mobile’s biggest challenge at present is finding “high quality A-players – superintendents, project managers. It’s a saturated market right now in the construction industry,” says Coyle, and rising labor costs for public works projects are also a concern.

Promotional activities for Pacific Mobile include attending trade shows and membership in organizations such as the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC). The firm also advertises quite a bit and sends its HR department to job fairs in search of prospective employees.

Pacific Mobile has set forth a plan to hit $100 million in annual revenue by 2022. The company also hopes to be in new markets by then. “We’re looking to expand our company into one or two more states in the next five years,” says Coyle.

Pacific Mobile plans to never lose sight of its core principles, however. “We emphasize the quality, dedication and passion in each of our employees,” says Coyle. “We have a set of values we live by along with behaviors that are associated with that and that’s the way we apply ourselves. In the industry, we’re known as a very high quality provider of modular and mobile solutions.”



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