Spokane Journal of Business

Highwood Global sparks life into old plant

Manufacturer expects to expand capabilities, add staff at old RAHCO site

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-—LeAnn Bjerken
A welder at Highwood Global’s Spokane-area plant works on what’s called a portable silo trailer. Such trailers are used in groups of 12 in oil fracking operations. The company does a lot of work for the oil and gas industry, among other sectors.

A relative newcomer to the Spokane-area manufacturing sector, Highwood Global LP is developing reputation for creating big things at the former R.A. Hanson Co. industrial campus north of Hillyard, claims company president Kevin Kerr.

Having grown into its large industrial space during the past couple of years, the company now is looking to add employees and diversify its product mix, Kerr says. 

“We are a somewhat young company, but most of our crew had already worked together for years when we started Highwood,” Kerr says. “Over time, we’ve become known for developing next-generation machinery and offering quality manufacturing service.”

Kerr says Highwood is a custom manufacturing company specializing in metal fabrication processes used in the creation of heavy machinery. Its services involve developing and manufacturing engineered, electro, hydraulic, and mechanical products for a variety of industries, including aerospace, hydroelectric, mining, marine, oil, and gas.

Frank Owens, director of sales and marketing for Highwood, says most of the work the company is doing right now involves two projects: fabricating frames and pillars used in aircraft construction for a tier-one aerospace supplier, and building portable sand silo trailers for a fracking project in Canada.

Owens says Highwood has built dozens of the silo trailers, which weigh about 25,000 pounds each when empty. He says every completed unit needs a total of 12 trailers, each with a bucket elevator for moving sand, pinned around a stable base.

 “As oil is filtered out, the system pushes the remaining sand back into the ground to stabilize it,” he says. 

Owens says the company makes the trailers, bucket elevators, and base for each unit, a process that can take months to complete. 

“The sand silos are a project we’ll likely be working on for several more months,” he says. “The aerospace work goes a bit quicker as it’s not as intensive.”

Owens says company supplies both domestic and international customers, with most being large national or multi-national companies.

Kerr says Highwood was founded in March of 2015 as an engineering firm in High River, Alberta, and still operates two facilities there that employ about 27 people. 

The company’s headquarters in Spokane was established in September of 2015, when Highwood became the latest in a series of companies to take over operations at 2425 E. Magnesium Road, the sprawling manufacturing complex that served as the original site of heavy equipment manufacturer, R.A. Hanson Co.

“We had a relationship with Hanson Worldwide as a supplier, and it was through that relationship that we came to lease the Spokane site as a home for our manufacturing operations,” Kerr says. 

He adds, “We liked the location, and many of the staff had skills and certifications that can be hard to find in this region. So when Hanson went out of business, we took over their lease, and hired on some of their core employees.”

Late Spokane entrepreneur Raymond Hanson started R.A. Hanson Co. in 1946. In later years, the company became known as RAHCO International, with Hanson’s son, Richard, taking over ownership in 1995.

Richard Hanson operated RAHCO well into the 2000s, eventually selling the company’s name and its materials-handling business to Danish conglomerate, FLSmidth & Co. A/S, in 2007.

After that transaction, Richard Hanson operated the remaining contract-manufacturing operations as The Factory Co. for just over a year, then sold that company to Mark Folsom, of Spokane.

Folsom sold The Factory Co. to TFC International LLC in 2011. The company then rebranded several times, last operating here under the name Hanson Worldwide LLC. in 2015.  

Kerr says Highwood has spent much of the last two years adjusting to the former Hanson location, establishing vendors, and developing the systems and processes needed for manufacturing. 

He says the company currently leases three buildings at the Hanson site that total nearly 200,000 square feet of space and is remodeling one of the buildings to house its administrative offices. 

“Our goal in Spokane is to continue diversifying our client and industry base,” he says. “That means adding staff, modernizing equipment, and expanding the variety of industries we work with.”

Although he declines to disclose exact figures, Kerr says Highwood was able to double its revenues last year, and hopes to do the same this year.  

 “We’re also hoping to grow our staff here from 35 to 50 people,” he says. 

Kerr says much of the company’s growth will depend upon its ability to attract skilled laborers, particularly manufacturers and welders.

“There’s a real shortage of skilled trade workers right now in a lot of industries, so recruiting has been a bit of a challenge,” says Kerr. “But we’re slowly developing more connections here, and we have a lot of good business coming in.”

Owens says the company’s Canadian and Spokane operations occasionally collaborate on work, but each essentially acts as a stand-alone company under the Highwood name.

“As a company, Highwood designs, manufactures, and produces its own line of products that are sold to end users, but we also have the ability to manufacture products according to client specifications,” he says. 

“The Canadian operation is primarily engaged in the design and prototyping of the company’s own proprietary products, while our Spokane operation works more with the manufacture of products according to client specifications.”

Owens says the company generally sees a pretty even match between sales of its own product line versus the products it makes to client specifications.

“It’s usually a good mix between the two,” he says. “But if a customer is interested in developing custom systems or equipment that doesn’t yet exist, we have engineering and production teams that can design and manufacture those as well.”

Owens says about half of all products produced at Highwood are exported, and the company takes care of all building and shipping logistics. 

“In some cases, we also arrange for transport and deliver, assemble, and install the finished product,” he says. 

Kerr and Owens say the company currently sees the most revenue from projects in the oil and gas industries, with aerospace running a close second.

“The U.S. is fast becoming one of the world’s largest oil producers,” says Owens. “Which is exciting for us because that translates to demand for products and equipment that we create.”

Kerr says, “Most of our background experience is in manufacturing equipment for the oil and gas industries, so demand for those products is higher. We’re also seeing more work from the aerospace industry due to our Spokane location, with clients that see us as a lower cost provider than Seattle.”

In keeping with its goal of diversifying, Owens and Kerr say Highwood is currently looking to pursue more contracts in the marine and mining industries, as well as other lesser known sub-industries. 

Owens declines to disclose details about potential jobs in those industries.  

“However, I will say our future looks very bright, and we’re looking forward to the opportunity to bring more of that manufacturing work to Spokane.”

LeAnn Bjerken
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Reporter LeAnn Bjerken covers health care at the Journal of Business. A Minnesota native and cat lover, she enjoys beachside vacations and writing poetry. LeAnn has worked for the Journal since 2015.

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