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Rise Modular CEO aims to ‘industrialize construction’ with factory-built modular apartments

Rise Modular founder and CEO Christian Lawrence has set his sights on “industrializing construction” using proprietary modular technology to build apartment buildings and hotels faster and at lower cost in a climate-controlled factory.

Lawrence launched the startup in 2018 when he couldn’t find a supplier to build a modular apartment project he envisioned. Real estate has been a passion of his along with a desire to help address the affordable-housing deficit.

“It just makes sense, industrializing construction and building in a climate-controlled assembly line in a factory environment like we do with so many other products in our lives,” Lawrence said.

Lawrence, who has worked in investment banking and private equity, spent six months validating his idea and six more recruiting a “best-in-class” team and designing a production facility.

Several more months and “several million dollars” went into buying and retrofitting a 141,000-square-foot-factory in Owatonna, Minn., Lawrence said. Lean manufacturing assembly-line techniques reduce waste, improve efficiency and boost productivity, he said. Financing came from family and a family office.

Rise Modular delivered its first project in September in Mod42, a 30-unit apartment in south Minneapolis that also was the city’s first modular apartment complex.

The factory assembly-line approach offers potential savings of 10 to 20% on construction costs and speeds the time from groundbreaking to occupancy by 30 to 50%, Lawrence said, generating revenue sooner.

Work is to begin next on a 192-unit, market-rate apartment in St. Paul, the capital city’s first. A nearly 300-apartment project, also in St. Paul, is to follow.

Preconstruction and predevelopment work is underway on more than 2,000 units, Lawrence said.

Rise Modular has 51 employees in Owatonna and 12 at its Minneapolis headquarters.

Q: Why is affordable housing a focus of yours?

A: Affordable housing is in a critical situation locally, regionally and nationally. Modular specifically is a technology that I think can prove very effective in lowering construction costs and speeding up construction while delivering higher-quality and more environmentally sustainable building practices.

Q: What other markets do you serve?

A: We want a healthy product mix between multifamily, which includes market-rate, affordable, permanent-supportive, senior and student housing, and hospitality, hotels primarily. We are working closely with several large nonprofit and for-profit affordable developers to implement our technology to help drive construction cost savings and time savings.

Q: How do you address negative stereotypes about modular construction?

A: Particularly in the Midwest modular and prefab construction have been used for single-family homes that in some cases are a little more cookie-cutter and in North Dakota during the shale boom for man camp workforce-type housing. The precision and quality we can achieve in a factory setting is greater than what can be achieved on site. A 90-degree angle is truly 90 degrees. You’re not dealing with the elements. We’ve built our company, our platform and technology specifically to build high-quality housing and hospitality projects. And furthermore we’ll prove it.

Q: Are you concentrating on the Twin Cities for now?

A: The Twin Cities metro as well as the Denver metro area. We have a handful of projects we’re looking at in Wisconsin, Iowa and Texas. From this facility we can go as far as Nashville, Dallas and Denver. In five to 10 years we hope to have multiple plants across the country. But we are 100% focused and committed to successful delivery of our near-term projects.

 

Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Lake Elmo. His e-mail is todd_nelson@mac.com.

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