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As pandemic wipes out businesses, a wave of start-ups is swelling in western Washington

One former HVAC worker started a woodworking business after he lost his job during the economic downturn.

ARLINGTON, Wash. — Main Street America has been decimated by the pandemic, but some people have been able to come out from the pandemic unemployment nightmare and create a dream job. 

When Jeremy Elkins lost his HVAC job to the COVID-19 pandemic, he knew he had to create another opportunity.

"I was sitting at home with nothing to do and trying to figure out what my next career choice was gonna be," he said. "I knew I'd do something. I just didn't know what it was."

Elkins always loved woodworking. He said he finds it "therapeutic." That therapy turned out to be good medicine.

Figuring people are staying and eating at home more, Elkins started making one-of-a-kind epoxy river kitchen tables.

"I figured if I give this my best shot and it works out, great. If it doesn't then I'm in the same boat as everyone else. There's nothing to lose."

Some experts believe that mindset is feeding an explosion in new business applications across the country.

In Washington state alone, about 6,500 businesses have closed since March, according to the state Department of Revenue. But according to the U.S. Census Bureau, Americans turned in 1.5 million business applications in the third quarter of this year as compared to 859,000 in 2019.

Elkins said that "nothing to lose" attitude gave him the courage to step out and create his own furniture business, "Untreated Art."

He said he thinks it could work for a lot of people.

"Now would be a good time to take that gamble, to go for it," Elkins said. "If it doesn't work out, at least they tried."

One key to Elkins' success has been social media. He said it's essentially free advertising. One YouTube video of his work alone has 8.5 million views. He has almost 160,000 followers on Instagram.

Since July, Elkins has been able to hire two full-time workers — both refugees from the restaurant industry.

He opened a workshop in downtown Arlington, replacing a business that fell victim to coronavirus.

But while things are looking up, the reality remains. Elkins has a wife, and a 1-year-old daughter, along with a dangerous job that involves power tools and high voltage electricity.

All of it with no health insurance for his family or employees. He just can't afford it.

"With the proper safety guidelines, we can avoid injuries," he said, literally knocking on wood.

For now, Elkins said he focuses on the business and is confident 2020 will be a year he'll never forget, in a positive way.

"If you were to ask me a year ago if this is what I'd be doing, and this is the place I'd be working, I would've shrugged it off as a pipe dream," he said.

That "pipe dream" is becoming a reality.

Elkins said he has enough work to last at least six months — hopefully enough to get him through the pandemic.

He has no plans to go back to his HVAC job.