Highmark Marine Fabrication, LLC, will be holding an open house Saturday to celebrate the grand opening of its new location on Mill Bay Road.
The business, which provides marine welding and fabrication services, has been in Kodiak since 2014, when it was started by Cooper Gregory Curtis. Until earlier this year, it operated out of a rented space on Near Island. Curtis bought the property on 2018 Mill Bay Road in January.
“We’ve been remodeling since and expanding our capabilities,” Curtis said. Saturday will provide the Highmark Marine Fabrication team an opportunity to celebrate their expansion and show off their new gear to Kodiak’s commercial fishing fleet owners, who will be returning to town as the salmon fishing season comes to an end.
“We’ve grown a lot every year since I started the company but definitely since I bought this place,” Curtis said.
The business outgrew its space on Near Island soon after it moved there, but Curtis struggled to find a property to buy or rent for his business.
“We were out of room. I had all the work I could ever want, but we couldn’t fit enough guys into the shop,” he said. “There’s not a lot of property or land for sale or rent for shop space in Kodiak.”
Curtis purchased the Mill Bay shop from the owner of Kodiak Metals and Supply, which no longer operates. Curtis said the remodeled shop will offer all the services previously offered by the two businesses.
Curtis, who grew up in Talkeetna, moved to Kodiak after receiving training at the Alaska Vocational Technical Center and joining the Marines.
His business was originally supposed to be “a one-man show,” he said, but he now has 20 employees. He says he tries to hire locally as often as possible, and all but five or six workers are local.
The shop provides a wide array of services, including welding, sandblasting, thermal spray coating and painting. The array of services means that Highmark Marine employees are trained carpenters, welders and painters.
“I try to find local hard-working people I can depend on, and then I make sure that I train them,” Curtis said. “So I’m not always looking for the highest trained people. Because it’s really hard to get people to move to Kodiak and stay here.
“There’s just such a limited workforce to pull from in Kodiak, and there’s a lot of work to be done,” he added. “I’d much rather take people who deserve it, and train them and pay them accordingly, to do a good job, rather than try to import people. I try to use Kodiak people when possible.”
The move to the new shop on Mill Bay Road coincided with a staff expansion from 12 to 20, but Curtis said employees are still busy enough to work seven days a week, and he may expand again.
“I could probably still use one more guy, and then come November, I could probably use three or four more guys. So we’re always looking for manpower,” he said.
According to Curtis, Highmark Marine offers unique services on the island. While there are plenty of welders, his business is the only one that has the capability to complete large-scale projects, with 12 welders on staff.
“Nobody else has anywhere even close to that. So we can do pretty large-scale projects,” he said.
Highmark’s biggest projects are for the Coast Guard. This summer, they performed a four-month repair on the Alex Haley and the Douglas Munro, two Coast Guard assets docked in Kodiak.
The winter also brings more work on Kodiak’s commercial fishing fleet. While boats are the business’s main focus, they also have done welding projects for Kodiak Electric Association.
Highmark Marine can provide what Curtis calls “turnkey service,” meaning they can complete any work a boat operator needs, without contracting any outside work.
“We go down to a boat, and a repair will consist of welding, fiberglass, and paint work. It allows us to do all of it without having to hire somebody else,” he said. “It’s easy for the customer. And it’s just easier for us as well.”
Highmark Marine’s range of equipment allows them to offer services seldom found in Kodiak and other places in the state.
The CNC Waterjet allows them to computer design parts and cut them out of a variety of materials, including wood, glass, marble and metal. The business also has mobile sandblast equipment and ultra-high-pressure water jet blasting, which are only available in around five other businesses in Alaska.
The expanded business is also a direct distributor for a number of suppliers, including 3M products, PPG coatings, and Central Welding Supply, which produces abrasives and industrial and marine coatings, tools, equipment and welding supplies.
“When we moved here, we pursued becoming direct distributors for all these huge corporations, because instead of going through a middleman, we can go straight to them,” he said.
Curtis said his goal is to provide services that Kodiak needs.
“My only goal is just provide the services that folks need, obviously marine focused. We will pretty much take on any job. But we’re here for the local fleet,” he said. “That’s why I like Kodiak — because most of our boats are locally owned.
“We’re proud of the work we do and what we do to help people,” he added. “So if that means expanding, because people want to do more work here, then that’s what we’ll do. If it means maintaining, then that’s what we’ll do.”
The shop will be open to the public Saturday between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., and a barbecue lunch will be held between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. The event will include giveaways and raffles.
The open house will give visitors the chance to see the shop’s CNC Waterjet, and check out the space’s newly remodeled showroom and inventory. The event will also include the opportunity to meet factory representatives from the shop’s suppliers.