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Blokable’s vision excites Inslee on Vancouver tour

Company plans to mass produce, ship modular homes

By , Columbian staff writer
Published: June 4, 2018, 5:09pm
4 Photos
Gov. Jay Inslee, center, watch as Bryan Parmenter explains part of the production process at Blokable’s Vancouver plant. The company has its first modular housing units coming online this summer. Photos by Natalie Behring for The Columbian
Gov. Jay Inslee, center, watch as Bryan Parmenter explains part of the production process at Blokable’s Vancouver plant. The company has its first modular housing units coming online this summer. Photos by Natalie Behring for The Columbian Photo Gallery

A Vancouver operation hoping to put a dent in the affordable housing crisis hosted Gov. Jay Inslee on Monday, giving him a preview of its plans to mass produce and ship dwellings.

Blokable, a maker of modular homes called “bloks,” spent an hour giving the governor a tour of its new facilities in the Fruit Valley neighborhood, where workers showed off machines that build the units quickly.

Inslee said the company’s potential to cut costs — to ultimately offer housing cheaper for renters and homeowners — made the company a worthwhile visit.

“I was very excited to hear about Blokable’s vision,” he said, adding that the process could also be more environmentally friendly than current practices. “It’s clear we need to reduce the cost for affordable housing, and at the same time we need to improve the quality.”

But Inslee, who spent the day also making stops to tour the new events center at ilani and to tour Daybreak Youth Services in Brush Prairie, said that the 2-year-old company still has a lot to prove.

“It’s every startup in the world: The proof is going to be in the pudding the next several years,” the governor said. “But it looks like they’ve got a great start and a very realistically fresh vision. And it is fresh.”

Blokable was founded in March 2016 by Aaron Holm, who previously managed the brick-and-mortar efforts of e-commerce giant Amazon. The company set up a manufacturing plant in Vancouver soon after.

Blokable has already impressed quite a few investors. Last fall, it netted $4.8 million in capital from a mix of tech and real estate companies, including Vulcan Inc., the real estate firm and philanthropic outfit backed by Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen.

Blokable expects to have its first people moved into bloks this year, with developments coming online in Edmonds and Auburn. Though many more are arriving in Washington every year, Inslee said the state needs innovative approaches to meet the demand.

“We need to do more because we’ve got 65,000 people moving here every year, and we’re not building half those numbers of units,” he said. “And we have to find a way to build more housing stock. You cannot solve this problem just with subsidies.”

Holm and co-CEO Nelson Del Rio said they thought the tour went well.

“It was great,” said Holm. “It was interesting to watch him sort of put the pieces together around housing and manufacturing and realizing those are two key elements coming together — and it’s core to what we’re doing.”

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