Fac­tory re­mains idle

For­mer work­ers ex­press doubt Makin­sons fa­cil­ity will ever open

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE - BY TERRY ROBERTS

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.

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