If you wire it, they will come

For a property manager, the loss of a major tenant in the middle of a less-than-robust market is a crisis. When the Day Road industrial park lost Watson Furniture Systems, Sheri Watson saw an opportunity. And by offering high-speed internet access, she has filled the vacant space and then some with what she believes will be the jobs of the future on Bainbridge.

  • Wednesday, October 24, 2001 5:00am
  • News

For a property manager, the loss of a major tenant in the middle of a less-than-robust market is a crisis.

When the Day Road industrial park lost Watson Furniture Systems, Sheri Watson saw an opportunity. And by offering high-speed internet access, she has filled the vacant space and then some with what she believes will be the jobs of the future on Bainbridge.

“There will be less heavy usage of manufacturing space, but more higher-end jobs that depend on good communications,” Watson said.

The new tenants that have filled the 47,000 square feet of space are businesses like Timbergrass, Music Express and Washington Basket Company that distribute products – many of them imported – throughout the country.

And with the rise of containerized shipping, where a single large container is used for ocean, rail and truck transport without being opened, a remote location like Bainbridge is no longer a handicap.

“They have sales and distribution points throughout America,” Watson said. “They try to keep the shipping containers intact as long as possible, and get it as close to the customer as they can without opening it.”

The Internet links the whole operation, making Bainbridge’s location in the northwest corner of the country irrelevant.

Once in a while, Bainbridge is a central location. Take Visual Apex, a company formed by three former employees of Poulsbo-based Boxlight. One of the principals lived in Seattle, one in Port Ludlow and one in Gig Harbor. When they decided to meet in the middle, Bainbridge was the spot.

“They have a presentation room, shipping facilities and even a shower,” Watson said. “And it’s trendy to have an old loft warehouse space.”

Watson Furniture Systems, a company founded by Watson’s parents and sold to Clif McKenzie in the early ‘90s, announced last year that it was moving to Poulsbo, saying that it needed more room to expand.

At the same time, NET Systems was downsizing, leaving a total of almost 60,000 square feet vacant at the Day Road complex.

Watson thought the best way to entice new tenants would be to give them the technology they need. So she and partner David Jackson formed Day City Internet Services to bring high-capacity band-width to the industrial park.

They bought high-capacity T-1 lines from Qwest and bundled them together to supply bandwidth. The savings comes from a network that relies significantly on wireless transmission of data between remote customers and the central “point of presence” for the park.

Their business-class Internet service costs slightly under $500 per month, and is useful for those firms that have multiple users and need more capacity than a Qwest DSL line, Jackson said.

Watson’s timing was perfect. She filled almost all of the business park’s empty space between April and July, while the Internet access was in the development stage. Now that the access is a reality, the recession has hit with full force, and leasing inquiries have slowed.

Any free time Watson may have, though, will be absorbed by her new duty as president of the Bainbridge Island Chamber of Commerce, a position she assumed Oct. 1.

“I would like to see a government that understands how business works,” she said. “We need dialog between the city and businesses, and between old and new businesses.”

She wants to see simple improvements, like making business-license applications downloadable from the city’s web site. And she would like to see attitudes change.

“Business is a scapegoat for a lot of problems,” she said. “I’d like to see that ‘business’ is not such a bad word on Bainbridge Island.”

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