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 Rural Florida

Weathering the Storm

Hurricane-rated, eco-friendly housing manufacturer selects rural Carrabelle, Fla. for its new factory.

By Daniel Christopher

It’s not every day that you see a nearly-complete home roll off an assembly line—especially not in rural Florida.  But that’s exactly what is happening in the Carrabelle community on Florida’s Gulf Coast southwest of Tallahassee.

In June 2007, new venture Hexaport Building Systems of Florida broke ground on a 65,000 square-foot factory there to construct GreenSteel Homes. From the 22-acre Carrabelle site, the company will roll out a dozen homes every four to six weeks. So far, the new facility has created 70 new jobs and is projected to create about 100 at full capacity.

The houses coming off the assembly line in Carrabelle are not just any homes, but ones that push the envelope on green housing. They are eco-friendly, affordably priced, and steel-framed. These "Katrina cottages" are mold, mildew, and termite resistant and designed to withstand 200 mile-per-hour winds. The hope is to meet the huge demand for affordable housing in the recovering Gulf Coast region and beyond.

From the new manufacturing plant in Carrabelle, the houses are trucked to home sites in two pieces, assembled in about a day, and then connected to sewer, water and electrical lines. Partners in GreenSteel Homes are Tony Atalla, a manufacturer of steel building components, and Lawton “Bud” Chiles III, a Florida developer who is the son of the late governor and senator of the same name.

According to Chiles, the Carrabelle community has welcomed the project with great excitement.

“The city leaders acted quickly to attract GreenSteel Homes and unanimously endorsed financial incentives to welcome our business,” Chiles says. “They are to be highly commended for organizing a small town’s resources and we are proud in return to bring a state-of-the-art light-gauge steel home construction technology to Florida.”

“Franklin County and the City of Carrabelle demonstrated their eagerness to attract GreenSteel Homes and were instrumental in extending utilities and securing the site,” says Al Wenstrand, president of Florida’s Great Northwest, a regional economic development organization. “This project resulted in a diversification of Carrabelle’s industry, which previously focused on timber and commercial fishing. GreenSteel Homes expansion into Carrabelle added a number of jobs at an above-average wage that match skill sets found in the community. Florida’s Great Northwest, Opportunity Florida, Enterprise Florida, the State of Florida, the local Workforce boards, and the local Chamber of Commerce successfully collaborated to lure GreenSteel Homes to Northwest Florida.”

In total, the city, county and state have all supported the project through a variety of assistance and incentives. The city has invested in the building and the land and the state has assisted with infrastructure through a Community Development Block Grant. GreenSteel has also been able to take advantage of significant tax savings provided by the state of Florida for creating jobs in a rural area, Chiles adds.

“We’ve been able to establish a symbiotic relationship with local officials,” Chiles says. “They say, ‘you’re helping us out and we’re going to help you. We appreciate you bringing jobs into our area and we’re going to do what we can to help your company succeed.’”

“We believe what’s going to happen in Carrabelle is incredibly important for the whole region,” Chiles says. “An affordable home is central to the well being of a family. Out of our factory are coming high-quality houses made out of steel and concrete that are both affordable and storm-worthy. Meanwhile, people will be able to find quality jobs and stay in the communities where they were raised.”

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