SBDC Business Advising Saves Aerospace Jobs
Success Story: Washington State
By Hope Belli Tinney, Washington SBDC
When WWII-era buildings at the Port of Moses Lake, Washington needed work in 2013, Sonico, the aircraft parts repair and maintenance business leasing those buildings, was told it would have to depart.
The simplest solution was to move to the I-5 interstate corridor near SeaTac – for close access to the aerospace customer base and a variety of lease options. But Sonico didn’t want to withdraw – or remove 45 good-paying jobs – from the town that had been its home for more than 30 years.
The problem, said company president W.B. “Bill” Perdue, was there was nowhere in Moses Lake to relocate. New construction had been on the drawing board for years, he said, but he’d been stymied in his efforts to find financing for a state-of-the-art Federal Aviation Administration-certified facility.
It took more than three years to work through that problem and others, but Sonico finally began construction of their new 28,000-square-foot building this summer, thanks in part to business advising from the Washington Small Business Development Center (SBDC).
Competent counsel easy to access
In July 2013, with Port officials anxious to move forward on repairs, Perdue reached out to the SBDC for help developing a new construction loan application, identifying prospective lenders and preparing for meetings with them.
The Washington SBDC (http://wsbdc.org/) is a network of more than two dozen business advisors working in communities across the state to provide confidential, no-cost advising to entrepreneurs and business owners who want to start, grow or transition a business.
Hosted by Washington State University, the SBDC also receives funding from the U.S. Small Business Administration and other institutions of higher education and economic development. The SBDC office in Moses Lake is co-located with the Grant County Economic Development Center. Perdue had a long-standing relationship with Terry Brewer, former executive director of the Grant County EDC; but when he needed practical, hands-on advising, he turned to the SBDC.
Bill Perdue and his son, Sonico vice president Jim Perdue, first met with Allan Peterson, the SBDC advisor in Moses Lake since 2004. Peterson then called in Alan Stanford, an SBDC advisor based in Spokane who has more than 30 years’ experience in banking.
The Perdues were under pressure to move quickly, but the process was complex and took longer than they expected. Throughout the twists and turns of meeting with architects, engineers, city officials, county officials, zoning boards, loan officers, appraisers, port officials and the FAA, the company counted on the SBDC to provide calm, competent and consistent counsel.
“Every time I felt uncomfortable or needed help, I called,” Bill Perdue said. “There was not one time when they were too busy to help me.”
Elite facility poses valuation, loan challenge
A formidable obstacle was the Perdues’ desire to build an FAA-certified repair station – including emission control, chemical waste containment and a full-building heating and cooling system – with a construction cost estimated at $4-5 million. But appraisers valued the building in line with other basic warehouse space at a significantly lower amount.
Stanford’s expertise helped Bill Perdue understand what he probably could and could not negotiate. Discussing different loan terms and fees helped Sonico run the numbers to figure out what it could afford without hurting the long-term viability of the business.
The Perdues met with lenders at six banks, but none would finance the project at terms they could live with. Finally, at the 11th hour, they found a lender in Pendleton, Ore., with experience in FAA-certified buildings.
“This was really a case of, ‘I know a guy who knows a guy,’” said Peterson, who had been networking across eastern Washington to help identify possible lenders. If Old World Federal Credit Union hadn’t stepped up, Bill Perdue said, he doesn’t know what he would have done.
“I didn’t want to put up any old building,” he said. “To the best of my ability, I wanted to do it right.”
History with Boeing, NASA, Air Force Two
Perdue – who grew up in tiny Cowiche, Wash., near Yakima – has always wanted to “do it right.” After graduating from Washington State College (now Washington State University) in 1961, he went to work for Boeing. In the late 1970s, he began thinking of going out on his own.
Eventually, he chose to locate his aviation repair service in Moses Lake, where he could afford to lease buildings and could get back and forth to Seattle easily. By aligning wages with Seattle and Snohomish County, he said, he was able to attract great employees who enjoyed the weather and lifestyle in eastern Washington.
“For many years, we were one of two companies doing all of Boeing’s repair work,” Perdue said. In the early days, Sonico serviced and repaired parts on 707s, 727s and 737s, as well as the DC-8 and DC-9.
He remembers getting a call that Air Force Two was grounded in Colorado and needed a replacement part. A jet was dispatched to Moses Lake immediately. Perdue laughed when he said the part cost about $500, but “shipping” was closer to $5,000.
Another brush with fame was when Sonico was tapped to repair a component of NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), the world’s largest airborne observatory. The company has a letter of appreciation signed by NASA engineers.
Expansion, exports on the horizon
With construction underway, completion of the new building is anticipated next year. The company also is expanding manufacturing capabilities and plans to develop the export market – for which the Washington SBDC can provide expert advising.
“Without the help of Alan and Allan, there is an awfully strong possibility that we wouldn’t be in Moses Lake,” Perdue said. “But, I worked really hard too,” he said with a laugh. As a result, he said, the sky’s the limit for Sonico.