Pete Dawson is the 2nd generation leader of Dawson Construction, succeeding his father and the company founder, J.R. Dawson. Dawson Construction works in both Washington and Alaska, guiding some of each states’ largest and most notable construction projects.
What brought you to Bellingham?
I had the good fortune of being born here. But, I had to move away to really appreciate it.
I hear that a lot. Where did you move?
I went to school at Montana State in Bozeman for construction engineering, and worked in Alaska for a number of years. I worked for a Seattle contractor, where I was in LA, Sacramento, Portland, and Seattle. When I was going to be transferred out to Chicago, I decided it was time to come back to Bellingham. It always felt like home. Bellingham has the right balance of recreation and work opportunities.
What would we find you doing on the weekend?
Yeah. Hiking, biking, running, or out on the water. Taking advantage of the outdoors.
Are you a kayaker, power-boater, or sailor?
Power boating, and stand up paddle boards. I take the kids out crabbing, shrimping, and fishing. We have a cabin out in the San Juan Islands.
What do you love best about your job?
We get to build something special or unique for people. We get to deliver a great product, and we get to do it over and over again. We get to see what we do all the time. Examples of our work are throughout the community here or in Alaska.
We’re working on a little brew pub right now in Haines, Alaska. For those people, it’s super special for them. It’s a little project, but very meaningful. It’s great to be part of that at any level.
Do you have a project you built that you’re particularly proud of?
Quite a few. Whatcom Middle School is one in town that I’m very proud of. We were able to come up with a solution and deliver it a year earlier than expected. It was a pressure cooker all the way through to get that done. We had four different superintendents, two different project managers, and we just pulled all these resources together to deliver. It’s a project we’re very proud of.
Is most of your stuff institutional, or residential?
Both. Around this area, we’re more vertical construction. We’ve come out of the competitive bid world, which is more public funded work. The last few years, we’ve shifted to more privately funded work.
In Alaska, we’re much more diverse. We’re working on everything from marine facilities to water treatment plants to hydroelectric. We’re renovating the state capital in Alaska, and a couple libraries. In Alaska, we specialize in a specific region; a lot of remote sites.
In Washington, there are so many other contractors; We have a narrower niche.
What do people not understand about Dawson Construction?
There’s probably two things.
One, a lot of folks think of contractors as a commodity. They’re all going to deliver the same thing, and it’s just a price difference. As far as an industry, there’s a misunderstanding that a contractor’s fee has little or nothing to do with what a contractor will cost you on a project.
As far as a company, we often hear folks associate us with larger projects, like the Wade King Recreation Center, Whatcom Middle School, or the large buildings at Western. Our average project is about four million. But, we have a heck of a lot of $500,000 jobs, and $1 million jobs. That surprises people.
What new business would you most like to see in Bellingham?
I love the balance in Bellingham. We have coal trains and Sustainable Connections. We have the Huxley College of the Environment and the refineries. The balance is great, each feeds off the other. It brings a unique energy. If it weren’t for the business side, I would be afraid we’d turn into an Aspen where it’s too exclusive. It’s a nice push-pull here.
If we could bring another technology firm into the area with a campus and the high-wage earners, that’d be fantastic. But I wouldn’t want to see Bellingham change either, for it to become the next Bellevue.
I also think it’d be great to bring in a relatively clean manufacturing firm, for family wages.
Lastly, a government leg—to help in the future, so there’s a balance in the economy. If we could have brought in NOAA or a Coast Guard base, it’d help us work through the ups and downs of the economic cycles.
Is there a book you’ve read recently that you really enjoyed?
I really enjoyed the Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg. It was hard to put down. It explained a lot of what we do, and how organizations use habits to improve themselves. It talked about how Starbucks uses habits to train their employees.
On the other end of the spectrum, my son and I read each night, and we’ve been going through the Rangers Apprentice series. It’s all about how good will triumph eventually, about honor, and how if you work hard enough, you can do anything. It’s all these great stories and messages, but there’s fighting and kingdoms.
How many kids do you have?
Two. A daughter who’s going to be a junior at Sehome, and my son, who’s going into sixth grade.
Is there a Bellingham business the world needs to know about?
We were just at a pop-up dinner last night called Peqish out of Vancouver, and the Director of Food Development, Lisa Thomson, lives in Bellingham. She teamed up with Wick at Purple Smile to do wine dinners once a month. They’re over the top; just exceptional.
If you’re free on a sunny day, what are you doing?
I love physical activity: hiking, biking, or running. These days, there’s also usually a kids activity. Then we end up on a sunny deck eating and drinking.
Do you have a favorite spot downtown?
Little Cheerful, we go there for breakfast quite often on the weekends. I don’t know if it qualifies as downtown, but we love the Taylor Street dock too. When it connects to downtown, it’s going to be a destination.
What are people always surprised to learn about you?
I was a coin flip away from going into commercial fishing instead of construction. I commercial fished in Alaska while going through college. I just loved it. I saw great opportunities there.
And I’m a telemark skier for over thirty years from my Montana days. People think of me as just an office guy.
If you had to enroll at Western today, what would you study?
It’s somewhat predictable, but probably engineering and industrial arts. If it wasn’t that, it might be economics and finance.
Is there a local charity or cause you want to call out?
As an organization, we focus on youth and education, so we’re active with the YMCA. On my bucket list, I’d love to find a way to be a game changer and help at-risk youth.
Is there anything I didn’t ask you that I should have?
What I’d love to see for Bellingham—I’d love to see the waterfront develop. It’s a big recruiting tool, people are here because they love the community.