GreenSteel Homes Get Start in Carabelle

GreenSteel Homes Get Start in CarabelleGreenSteel Homes Get Start in Carabelle

By Jason Dehart

The small coastal town of Carrabelle expects to receive a big economic boost when the doors open on a new factory that manufactures hurricane-proof and environmentally friendly houses called GreenSteel homes.

“It’s going to put a lot of people to work. It’s going to be a good thing,” said Mayor Wilburn “Curley” Messer, who was elected in September.

“It couldn’t be a better day for Carrabelle,” said former Mayor Mel Kelly. “This is exciting to be a part of an environmentally sound factory and good-paying jobs for people.”

Winning the site selection for the new plant happened on her watch.

“People see this as an opportunity to be involved in something bigger than themselves,” Kelly said. “This is one of the most exciting things to happen in Carrabelle – ever.”

Homes built by GreenSteel are environmentally friendly and affordable, according to Lawton “Bud” Chiles, Tallahassee developer and company president. Chiles’ business partner is Tony Attalla, who owns a steel fabrication-frame manufacturing facility in New Hampshire. Together, they are doing business as Hexaport Building Systems of Florida.

The homes are small and feature “Katrina cottage” floor plans and designs by Tolar Denmark Architects of Mississippi. Their hurricane-rated and termite-resistant design should make them especially appealing to Gulf Coast residents from Florida to Louisiana. That’s the market Chiles is targeting.

“I’m getting 10 to 12 e-mails a day from people concerned about insurance costs and floods,” Chiles said. “We’re going to be very busy with making homes.”

After several months of promoting the new housing factory, Chiles said anticipation is starting to build regarding the homes, which he said cost $100 a square foot and ought to go far in creating “work force” housing. An 1,100-square-foot, three-bedroom home with site and foundation could cost in the $125,000 range, Chiles said. A conventional home might cost twice that much.

Feedback has been very positive, Chiles said. It’s not just private homeowners who are interested in the homes.

“We’re getting an unbelievable response,” he said. “It’s amazing the number of cities behind the eight ball trying to produce work force housing. Developers, cities and counties with property want to do joint ventures. This could be the beginning of something extraordinary.”

Located off Airport Road in Carrabelle, the plant is expected to be up and running in January. Once open, it will be able to churn out 400 houses per year. The homes will be constructed with wiring and plumbing and then trucked to home sites in two pieces. They can be assembled in about a day and then plugged into the local water, sewer and electrical service lines.

Carrabelle invested local money and received a Community Development Block Grant to build the $6-million factory. The city also has provided a 99-year lease on the 21-acre site for $10 a year.

At full production, the plant will employ from 250 to 300 people, Chiles said. Kelly said she hopes those are all local people.

“This is exciting to be part of a environmentally sound factory with good-paying jobs for people who live here,” she said. “It’s one of the greatest gifts we can provide.

“It’s an incredible gift to Carrabelle,” Kelly said. “I keep saying it’s a gift to the community and children; they’ll be able to get their first job here, a job with benefits. It’s truly important and sets a high standard for others.”

Cliff Butler, president of Gulf State Community Bank, also longs for the day when Carrabelle’s children can find good jobs close to home.

“We lose a lot of our young people when they graduate,” he said. “For those who want to come back home, there should be something to come home to.”

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