Factory remains idle
Former workers express doubt Makinsons facility will ever open
It now appears unlikely that a modular home factory that operated briefly in Makinsons will ever open it doors again.
The three co-owners of Builder’s Edge Manufacturing —Greg Hussey, Elmo Russell and Dieter Staubitzer — have ignored repeated requests for interviews from The Compass, and several former employees say they would be surprised if the plant went back into operation.
“ They wanted to get gold from nickels. The company had a lot of potential, but they were expecting too big a profit, too soon,” said Jeff Russell of Coley’s Point, who worked as a carpentry foreman at the plant until he quit last March.
The factory opened in early 2009 in Makinsons, just off Veteran’s Memorial Highway, ina building owned by prominent Newfoundland businessman Ches Penney.
The company staged an elaborate grand opening in April 2009, with federal and provincial officials on hand for the event, and some of the roughly 30-odd employees referring to the operation as a “ blessing” because it meant local employment.
But the plant closed last Christmas for a two-week period, and this past summer, it closed again for what the owners called a 30-day restructuring period.
But the plant remains idle, and that’s bad news for people like Shawn George, owner of C. C. Plumbing in Bay Roberts.
“ They still owe me money. A nice bit, too,” George said last week.
George said he spoke briefly with one of the owners recently, and was assured that the company is trying to cover its outstanding debts.
“It’s too bad it didn’t work out,” George added. “ They were employing people from the area and the spin-offs were pretty good for local contractors.”
George said many of the several dozen people whe once worked at the factory have found work elsewhere.
Some former workers said that if the operation reopens, they believe it will be closer to St. John’s.
“ They were selling most of the homes in St. John’s, and the transportation was eating into the profits,” said Russell, who has since started his own company, JR’s Home Repairs and Handyman Services, and has hired three people who once worked at the factory.
Russell said the working environment at the factory was good until operations resumed early in 2010. He said there was much more emphasis on quantity as opposed to quality, and he said the company was hiring unskilled labourers to do the work of tradesmen.
“ They said, ‘ we have to speed up production, or we’re only going to be here for a few months.’ They were expecting me to get too much from the men. I said I can’t push my men. If I push them any harder they will start pushing back,” Russsell said.
Russell emphasized that the workforce was very good, and he believes the company needed to have more patience.
“If they don’t open again, it wouldn’t surprise me. It wasn’t what they expected. If you take the history of modular home factories across Canada, you would know it takes 10 years to get the bugs worked out.”
The owners promised a whole new way of meeting the region’s housing demands by building modules in their factory and shipping them to the building lot for final assembly.
A so-called “stick built” home that would take seven to nine months to build could be completed and occupied in three to four months, they boasted. They contended the factory would “ take the pressure” off the traditional way of building homes, and described their approach as “ the future of homebuilding.”
“ We realized that the three of us could make this a guaranteed success because we’re our own market. And once we satisfy ourselves, we’ll spread out and sell to someone else,” Staubitzer told Transcontinental Media at the time.
The owners even spoke of exporting their products to Iceland.
But they admitted this summer that sales were slower than expected.
The company received a repayable contribution of just under $500,000 from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.
A spokesman for ACOA, Doug Burgess, said the agency is working with the company to prepare a “go forward strategy.” He also described the company as “a client in good standing,” adding that it has made $60,000 in loan payments.
The modular home factory that operated for a brief period in Makinsons has been idle since this summer. Four home modules (in background) remain at the site, propped up on jacks.
This building was a frenzy of activity earlier this year as some 30 employees assembled modules for homes. But it closed in the summer, and remains idle.