More than a decade after Carrabelle attracted a modular home builder to its Hexaport factory building on John McInnis Road, a venture that eventually flopped, city officials may be willing to try a similar project.
At their June 7 regular meeting, city commissioners reviewed two proposals, and decided to pursue further talks with Little Custom Homes, a modular home builder out of Wilson, Arkansas.
After an animated and enthusiastic intro from Kip Kane, who described himself as a “semi” resident of Carrabelle with a place at The Moorings, the commissioners heard from William Denton, owner of Little Custom, who brought with him two staff members, Emanuel Campbell and Robert Adams.
“Number one they’re looking to expand number and number two they like Carrabelle,” said Kane. “This should be your next manufacturing property. There are 1,000 lots in Carrabelle with nothing on top of them.
“Their idea works well in rural areas, where not much is going on and people are starved for jobs,” he said.
Denton told commissioners from the outset that “Craftsman-style means using your hands, using your hands, using human labor.
“We employ the people in the community where we build out houses,” he said. “We would hire local people who already have a background in carpentry and we would retain them to build these houses.
“Carrabelle matches what we’re looking for on the coast,” he said. “I was astonished at some of the lots that were available here.”
Campbell said the company offers additional training in the building of their homes, and that one of their outreaches, in Mobile, Alabama, has hired 75 local people, including a handful from the area’s homeless shelter.
“We can train them enough to have skills, train them so they can start their own business,” he said. “We have a great product, a great brand.”
Adams said the company would hire locally, at upwards of $20 an hour. “You can’t let those guys stand around in the room for very long,” he said. “We hired trainable labor, not skilled labor.”
He estimated the company would start with 15 to 20 local hires, with hopes of eventually hiring for times that number.
He said the company delivers a complete product, but that finishers are frequently employed by the buyers who want to fully outfit the homes on their property. “When they see that shell leave that factory they want to follow,” Adams said. “People want to service those houses, some of the finished work, it’s better for us to let it go.”
Denton said the company has done work on Dauphin Island, Alabama, which required structures that could withstand wind speeds of 160 mph. “We decided to build every home to that,” he said. “When we come here we’ll do the same thing.”
He said construction materials would be stored on site, and there would be a sales area as well. “We don’t like to create a lot of startup expense,” Denton said. “We like to put our money in the employees.”
He said the average home would be a little under 1,000 square feet, including a porch, although they could be small as 6000 square feet.
The commissioners did not detail numbers, but there was talk of three five-year leases, with the initial offer being for Little Custom Homes to pay $2,500 a month for the first six months, followed by an increase.
“That’s the main thing we want to put people to work,” said Commissioner Keith Walden. “You put people to work we’ll lower the rent.”
The commissioners agreed to continue discussions with the homebuilder.
Commissioners also heard a proposal from Martin Ben Baruch, who wanted to use the site to do boat storage, as well as maintenance and repair on boats.
“That’s pretty much the whole idea,” he said, proffering an offer of $1,000 a month, and increasing that every two years by $250 a month, for a 10 year term and renewals after that.
Ben Baruch said he would start out by employing only himself. “Maybe one more in the future,” he said. “At the moment there’s nothing happening right there.”
Walden said he believed the city could get more for the building. “I just think that’s an awful cheap price for such a big building, for someone who’s not employing anybody but himself,” he said.