Katrina's Angels

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Katrina brings boom to Rocky Mount

Date: 10/30/2005

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Katrina brings boom to Rocky Mount

Fleetwood Enterprises, a maker of manufactured homes and travel trailers, has received a big contract from FEMA.

By Duncan Adams
The Roanoke Times

ROCKY MOUNT -- Some people will tell you Hurricane Katrina's destruction delivered good news for companies that build what were once called mobile homes.

But Joe Regan won't.

Not because it isn't true. California-based Fleetwood Enterprises accepted an order last month valued at more than $170 million for travel trailers and manufactured homes that will be delivered to the Federal Emergency Management Agency to house people rendered homeless by the hurricane.

The Fleetwood Homes factory in Rocky Mount will build 233 of the 3,000 manufactured homes Fleetwood Enterprises has contracted to supply. (Fleetwood Enterprises, which is a leading manufacturer of recreational vehicles, also accepted an order for 7,500 travel trailers.)

Regan, 57, is general manager for Fleetwood Homes in Rocky Mount. Regan, a native of Yazoo City, Miss., has been in the manufactured housing industry for more than 35 years. Regan said his industry has long served people who fight daily battles to get by. And bad news for them can't be considered good news by him, even if the hurricane victims' storm-driven homelessness yields work for his factory and nine or 10 more jobs in Rocky Mount.

"We work with the people who barely get by, who barely keep their cars running, who barely make ends meet," he said.

Fleetwood employs about 175 people in Rocky Mount. Of those, about 140 work in production. At full capacity, workers can build up to a dozen homes a day, assembly-line style, laboring under-roof with hole saws and nail guns at the plant in the Franklin County/Rocky Mount Industrial Park.

But the plant has not been operating at full capacity. Regan said sales of manufactured homes have been flat industrywide for some time.

"The market runs in a cycle," he said. "The industry is self-leveling, just like any other industry."

As of Thursday, Fleetwood Homes in Rocky Mount had built 53 of the 233 homes slated for delivery to FEMA in Brooklyn, Miss., by Jan. 8.

The FEMA homes and other manufactured homes are built atop a steel chassis custom-built by Fleetwood workers. Axles, wheels and tires make the homes road-worthy and portable. They can be set up and moved and set up and moved again, as FEMA responds to needs for emergency housing.

Because Fleetwood Enterprises is but one of several companies scrambling to build temporary housing on a deadline for FEMA, key materials and components are sometimes scarce, Regan said. On Thursday, when the plant had planned to devote the day to its FEMA homes, a delayed delivery of specially designed axles pushed the work back a day. As a result, Thursday became a more typical production day, when workers toiled on several different models of manufactured homes.

The model specified by FEMA is a single-wide manufactured home, 14 feet wide by 60 feet long. It must be engineered and built to code for "wind zone III" standards, which require that the home be resistant to structural damage from sustained winds of 110 miles per hour.

The FEMA homes feature three small bedrooms and one full bath. They are furnished. They have central air and heat and kitchen appliances. Their doors are wide enough for wheelchairs to pass through.

Regan said the homes constructed by Fleetwood should be identical in appearance to those built by other manufacturers.

Might there be more orders from FEMA in the weeks and months ahead?

"Sure," Regan said. "The end has not been defined by FEMA."