RAPID CITY, S.D. • A few years ago a friend approached Tim Torpey, suggesting that he look into the growing trend of the prefabrication and modular building market, something that would likely continue to impact the construction industry.
Torpey, who already had been working in the Rapid City area, took a chance and, with two investment groups, started B&T Manufacturing, a prefabrication company that opened in 2015.
“A friend of mine saw this emerging prefab market growing,” Torpey said. “He said this is what he saw happening in the future of the construction world, and asked if I would be interested in getting something going in the Rapid area. And so we did.”
Now five years later, Torpey is looking at how far he has come. The prefab building market did trend upward and is keeping the company busy today. This past fall the company marked a milestone with the opening of its new manufacturing facility.
“We're up and running,” Torpey, who works as the general manager, said in a phone interview with Prairie Business. The 60,000-square-foot building, located on the east side of Rapid City, provides the company more room to meet the demands of its growing business.
B&T specializes in the manufacturing of bathroom and kitchen pods and modular steel frame products customized for building projects, mostly for those businesses in the hospitality arena such as restaurants and hotels, but also for hospitals and even residential real estate projects. B&T delivers the ready-to-assemble material to the project site, and it is customized and packaged in a way so it can be easily assembled sequentially.
The former facility, located in Black Hawk, S.D., just outside of Rapid City, was a spur-of-the-moment-decision at the time because the company was growing so quickly and it needed space to produce. The building worked for several years, but it didn’t provide the ideal working environment for prefab work.
“The previous facility that we worked out of was kind of clunky,” he said. “It wasn't set up very efficiently. … We really didn't get a good manufacturing flow out of it.”
The new building provides much more space to work, but also accommodates for future growth.
“We are just about wrapped up,” he said in late November. “We're still doing some touch-ups, tenant improvement work and things like that, but we’ve moved all the operations over there.”
He said it’s the perfect holiday gift for him and his team – a team that is growing. Torpey has 15 employees currently but looks to add an additional 10 within the next couple of months. His friend was right: prefab is the way of the future and is marking the present, at least in some markets.
According to MaketWatch, the global prefabricated building market, including residential projects, is expected “to rise at a considerable rate during the forecast period, between 2021 and 2026.” Growth, in part, is anticipated because prefab projects are often more affordable and can be built in less time, according to another report.
It took a good couple of years for Torpey to get clients and projects on the books, explaining it takes eight to 12 months before a project comes to life. But business demand continues to grow, especially from other states where most of B&T’s clients are located.
Torpey said overall it is a growing field, but it is a market that has stalled in the Upper Plains region. His answer for that: Those who work construction in the area already have their own niche markets and are leery of trying something new.
He gets it. After all, why rock the boat if it is already steady? Still, he hopes one day more local industry workers will see the benefits of prefab and modular.
“They're just not excited about it as other folks are in regions where labor shortages, and quality around labor shortages, are a concern,” he said.
Now that Torpey and his team have their new work space, he is focused on other goals for the company in the new year, the main ones being around continued growth and client expansion “so we can get sustained projects,” he said. “We really want to be able to increase our production rates at the facility, and in a year and a half we’d like to be able to simultaneously take on a couple of big projects. … We see the potential of what could be.”
Revolving challenges are finding and retaining qualified workers to contribute, but Torpey has an idea for that as well. He recently reached out to area veterans, tapping their lifelong skills.
As a veteran himself, Torpey said it has always been an important approach to him and he plans to do more of it in the future.
“I really want to put more emphasis on hiring veterans,” he said, noting so far the response has been “very positive,” which, for him, adds more excitement about what the future may bring for the company.
As for the industry, he views good things on the horizon and said, from his perspective in the business, the prefab and modular trend will only continue to grow. If that’s the case, that means it eventually will become more popular in the region.
All good things to look forward to, he said.
Andrew Weeks may be reached at 701-780-1276 or firstname.lastname@example.org.