Detroit-based Phoenix Haus moves energy-efficient building firm to GJ

From the left Bill McDonald, CEO and founder, Kate McDonald, chief operations officer, Bill Young, shop supervisor and manager, of Phoenix Haus, builders of energy-efficient prefabricated homes.

When Bill and Kate McDonald were looking to move their business across the country, the brother and sister found that Grand Junction reminded them of the northern Michigan area where they used to vacation as kids.

It also helped that all of the company's sales were coming from Colorado.

Phoenix Haus designs and produces carbon-free, open sourced housing templates for walls that save energy, provide better insulation and allow homes to be more efficient with solar energy. The finished product is known as a passive house, a building that needs very little energy for space heating or cooling. The product is installed by a home builder.

The company was founded in 2010 and had been operating in Detroit until moving to the Grand Valley four weeks ago.

"All of our business is in Colorado and now it's giving us more access to the Pacific Northwest and Montana and some of the Rocky Mountain region," said Kate McDonald, who serves as chief operating officer for Phoenix Haus.

The family-owned business lists Bill McDonald as the founder and his and Kate's mother, who is still in Michigan, as the owner.

The idea for the business stems from Europe, where the model for extra, green insulation is popular in places such as Sweden and Germany and is also catching on in Japan. Some Colorado mountain home builders, new owners and architects showed interest in the product.

As for why it's catching on in Colorado, Bill isn't sure.

"I think people are cool out here," he said. "They really appreciate the science."

Kate's only theory was that the housing market in the Midwest is a little different and a little behind economically compared to Colorado.

Phoenix Haus is currently leasing its warehouse, 2510 Foresight Circle, from Colorado Mesa University and Kate said she hopes to work with students from the school.

The process of moving out of Detroit started about two years ago, with other cities, such as Portland, Oregon, showing interest in the firm. In the end, the incentive package was more favorable in the Grand Valley.

Phoenix Haus will be applying for the Rural Jump-Start program that provides a tax holiday through which a company would be exempt from state income taxes, state and local sales taxes, and county and municipal business personal property taxes for up to eight years.

The Grand Junction Economic Partnership will present to the state Office of Economic Development in December in hopes of adding Phoenix Haus and Pierce Corporation, which recently relocated its main warehouse to Grand Junction, to the program. To qualify, the company must maintain a minimum of five net new jobs with an annual average wage of $40,898. The McDonalds are the only employees moving with the business and the rest — between six and eight — will be hired locally.

Phoenix Haus has been working with the Mesa County Workforce Center and has participated in job fairs and the Job Training Through Development program. That initiative offsets the company's salary costs by 75 percent for a few months while a new employee learns the ropes at the business and both parties can determine if it's a good fit.

"It gives them an opportunity to test drive employees through us," Workforce Center Director Curtis Englehart said.

GJEP Business Development Manager Steve Jozefczyk said Mesa County was recommended to the McDonalds by the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade. He said the process has been easy so far because it's been a good fit and business leaders in town stepped up to help out and offer support.

"It really goes a long way when you can meet everyone and have several different perspectives of what it's like to do business here," Jozefczyk said.

He added that it's exciting to see companies such as Pierce and Phoenix Haus relocate to the area.

"It's great to see companies like that coming to Mesa County," he said. "It definitely helps bring some good paying jobs here, permanent jobs. It gives us an opportunity to show what our local, skilled workforce looks like."

For Bill McDonald, he is excited to be in the Grand Valley and see his company grow with a local workforce.

"There's a lot of opportunity here," he said. "And I think there's just an attitude and sense that people want to work and build."


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