Kyle Hicks, plant two manager, and George Botticher, lead man on roofs, look over plans in the Custom Building Systems Inc. plant in Middleburg on Thursday morning.

After a half-decade of financial instability, layoffs and other belt-tightening moves, the modular home industry in the Valley has some exciting news.

It is hiring.

Representatives from a number of local builders expressed enthusiasm for 2016 and beyond and are gearing up for what should be a bounce-back year.

“We are extremely proud of our continued growth,” said Ken Reinard, general manager of Professional Building Systems in Middleburg. “We made some decisions as a company several years ago that have enabled us to provide steady employment to our valued employees and keep our modular factory producing product during what could certainly be described as a very challenging economic climate.”

Those decisions for PBS included opening a second factory to embrace the multi-family dwelling industry when other companies were either laying off large numbers of employees or closing all together.

“The opening of the second factory was very challenging for the staff members of PBS,” said Reinard, who mentioned that PBS is looking to hire 25 additional workers.  “Looking back now, it was the best decision the company could have made. The multi-family market has really been a catalyst for enabling PBS to experience such positive growth over the last few years and it has enabled us to instill a certain confidence in the PBS team — our employees know that the future looks extremely bright at PBS.”

While the primary focus at Apex Homes, also in Middleburg, is single-family homes, the company’s president, Lynn Kuhns, is also very optimistic about the business.

“I feel the market is improving and we’re being very aggressive to improve our market share while taking additional steps to embrace the growth by bringing in more workers and sales people, building additional relationships and expanding our builder base,” he said.

Helping the Jersey coast

Kuhns admitted that there are certain areas of need in the industry that Apex has been able to meet.

“Many houses have still not corrected or fixed from Superstorm Sandy, and we have been able to help fill the need with quality options for those that need them most,” Kuhns said.

Helping residents in New Jersey is also a priority for Ritz-Craft Homes, located in Mifflinburg.

“My grandparents live near the recent flooding, and they gave me updates as it was happening and sent pictures of water lines. The damage has hurt a lot of people and we are proud to work with builders in New Jersey and other places where good homes are needed quickly,” said Myles Biggs, marketing director for Ritz-Craft. “As an industry, we have no where to go but up.”

Durabuilt Custom Homes, of Selinsgrove, has also worked hand-in-hand with New Jersey homeowners who’ve lost everything to natural disasters, working with a special program that helps families who are also in financial crisis.

“A lot of our custom products are going to the Jersey coast. We work with the Future Hope program which helps people who don’t have the funding to get back into their homes,” said Kevin Hahn, Durabuilt president. “We even have certain models planned specificially for that program.”

Technology aids growth

Biggs admits that current technology has aided the modular home movement.

“The internet allows customers to be more educated in terms of what options are available and they can come in here and tell us exactly what they want. When you combine that with the quality and durability of our product, it becomes a no-brainer,” he said. “Plus there are now shows like ‘Breakneck Builds’ on the DIY network that are completely devoted to modular homes.”

That exposure helps the industry tremendously, Biggs said, because there are so many misconceptions about modular homes.

“We’re fighting the stigma that modular homes are trailers, when they’re not. They are customizable homes. Modular doesn’t mean mobile,” he said, touting the product’s durability. “Think about it — these homes are transported in pieces long distances at 55 miles per hour and then lifted into the air and put on a foundation by a crane. That says a lot there about how well they are made. I would challenge people to do that with their current homes and see how they hold up.”

Specialized options

Customization is key for many of the modular home builders in the region.

“From a basic affordable house to a 10,000 square foot structure with endless amenities and options, we try to give people what they want,” said Kuhns. “We do our own cabinet manufacturing, which allows us more customizing and upgraded cabinet options.”

Bruce Bingaman, of Icon Legacy Custom Modular Homes in Selinsgrove, said customization is a key component for his company.

“We try to work with customers to give them exactly what they want. Many of the products we offer in our regular packages would be considered upgrades and extra costs for other builders,” said Bingaman, who admitted that Icon Legacy is also accepting applications at this time.

Millenial market

Part of the excitement for local builders includes the timeline for the Millenial generation.

“They’re the next biggest generation after the Baby Boomers and they’re just now coming into the home buying years,” said Biggs. “It is a new market that is just starting to get tapped into.”

Focus on hiring

Which comes back to the need to hire to stay ahead of 2016 projections.

“For the past five years, we’ve been pretty static, but with a new repurposed marketing strategy focused on customization and contracting projects, we are starting to take off. We are projecting 50 percent growth over the next year,” Hahn. “We’ve been hiring since last fall so we can handle that increase and are still hiring.”

In general, local builders are looking for a plethora of positions with their new hires, with needs for everything from general carpentry and drywall work to electrical and finishing skillsets — along with other positions including sales staff and marketing.

“We’re always looking to tap into the local pool of talented workers. We have a strong labor force here with a strong work ethic,” Biggs said. “Pulling from that resource and mixing in all the positive indicators moving forward make this a very exciting time for our industry.”

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