Community building is Marpac’s specialty

The fruits of Marpac Construction’s labors are visible all around Washington state. From the 176 housing units above Uwajimaya in Chinatown/International District to Bremerton’s OPS Towers, this privately owned company has flourished into a multimillion-dollar corporation since its founding in 1995 by brothers Donald and Douglas Mar.

Business is flourishing despite the recent downturn in the new-housing market. For the third straight month, the Commerce Department reported a drop in new housing and apartment construction, but the demand for Marpac’s services haven’t let up. “There are more opportunities than we can really go after,” according to Douglas. “We have a bit of a niche. We do a lot of affordable housing, (and) there aren’t a lot of contractors that go after that kind of work.”

Another way the company overcomes cyclical downturns, whether because of slowing markets or because of Western Washington’s notoriously wet winters, is by taking on renovation work. Douglas asserts that “when you do a lot of renovation work, it’s not cyclical at all.”

Since the company’s founding, the Mar brothers have welcomed other partners to their company. Management now includes Herman Setijono, Jon Okada and Sai Chaleunphonh. They have called themselves “a microcosm of the American melting pot.”

Donald said, “We look much different than our competitors. Today, people of color make up 40 percent of our staff. But beyond just looking different, we believe that diversity enriches our working environment.”

Success doesn’t always come easy, as Marpac discovered while working on the Mud Mountain Dam Project in Enumclaw. During that project, millions of dollars in heavy equipment washed downstream when some floodgates were accidentally opened. “This created a huge challenge for us,” recounted Donald, but the team “worked closely with the owner and subcontractors and were able to quickly clean up and retool so that we completed this project not long after the original completion date.”

The company was able to rally around the mishap, and the team credited this experience as one of the biggest reasons for Marpac’s current success.

The brothers also attribute their achievements to some of the lessons their father, Dan Mar, taught them about running a business. Dan Mar passed away in November 2005 at the age of 80.
“Our top priority should be producing a quality project and providing great service to our clients. This philosophy would automatically lead to a broader range of clients and eventually profits would be realized,” said Douglas. This philosophy is included in its business plan.

Douglas believes their reputation for excellent quality and service is what keeps them busy in a slowing market. That reputation has created a wide network of customers who look to Marpac for their construction projects.

Marpac also shares its good fortune with the community. It is often involved with many local nonprofit organizations through sponsorships, donations and performing pro bono construction services.
Marpac Construction is currently working on more than 10 projects across the state, including the renovation of the historic East Kong Yick building for the Wing Luke Asian Museum and several U.S. government projects.

The ownership team has been nominated for 2006 Asian American Entrepreneur of the Year, a program of the Northwest Asian Weekly Foundation.