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"One of the more promising products, being developed by Composite Building Structures, Ltd., Fort Myers, is a high-tech fiberglass composite that can be used to make the frame and shell of a house."

Wall Street Journal - Marketplace Section - 11/23/05  (See Article)

 

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James Antonic, president of Composite Building

Structures of Fort Myers, Fla., plans to build a $7-million

operation in New Orleans to manufacture studs and

other building materials out of fiberglass.

Seven 2-story condominiums under

construction in Palm Beach County Florida

with both floors supported by fiberglass studs

 

 

Since Hurricane Katrina created an overnight housing shortage in the New Orleans area, residents have been introduced to an array of new housing options: FEMA trailers, Katrina cottages, modular housing and the modular shotgun hybrid, the “Modgun.”

 

A Florida businessman now wants to introduce yet another type of housing to the area: fiberglass. James Antonic, president of Composite Building Structures of Fort Myers, Fla., plans to build a roughly $7-million operation in New Orleans to manufacture studs and other building materials out of composite fiberglass. The operation would also build exterior walls or panels.

 

His vision includes a “construction technology campus” employing roughly 180 people and operating by December. But it’s not a done deal yet. Antonic is still looking for a site although he has considered property along the Industrial Canal. He also needs to build the machines to make his product in New Orleans. He wants to open plants in three or four Louisiana cities to build external walls.

 

Antonic, whose 5-year-old business has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, claims his company is the only one in the world using fiberglass to build houses. He sees fiberglass and panelized homes as the wave of the future. His company has built 23 houses in Florida and one in the Dominican Republic.

 

Since Katrina, Antonic has visited Louisiana every month to meet industry officials and gain support for his product. “We don’t want to come in and tell people what they ought to do,” he said.

 

Built-in savings Fiberglass is 20 percent cheaper than other building materials such as concrete block in part because less material is wasted and fewer workers are needed.

 

A 2,000-square-foot home takes $3,800 worth of 2-by-6-inch lumber. Materials for a fiberglass home would cost the same, he said. But less labor is needed with a fiberglass home. The four exterior walls of a 2,000-square-foot fiberglass home, including a one-car garage, can be built in 48 minutes rather than four to five days in traditional construction, he said.

 

Fiberglass homes can endure at least 350-mph winds, he said.

 

Toni Wendel, president of the Home Builders Association of Greater New Orleans, said this is the first time she’s heard of fiberglass building materials coming to New Orleans. “I would love to meet with him and check on it. I see nothing wrong with new materials and ways to do construction in New Orleans,” she said.

 

Antonic said he is not in the building business and he intends to team with local builders — not compete with them. Two weeks after a builder gives Antonic building plans, the prebuilt walls are installed in one day using five workers, he said.

 

Antonic said each plant is designed to handle 400 builders. He also wants to partner with window suppliers and other industry professionals to provide materials needed to build the wall panels.

 

Site unseen

 

The challenge remains finding a site. “We’re still looking,” Antonic said. He wants to maximize available incentives and investigate property designations such as brownfields.

 

Last year, Antonic negotiated with Johnny Housey, president of Orleans Materials, a 200,000-square-foot steel fabrication business near the Industrial Canal.

 

Housey said he last spoke with Antonic six months ago after New Orleans investment banker Mike Hammer introduced them. Housey said he would be interested in housing the machines to build fiberglass housing but he doubts Antonic can find enough investors and workers to make the deal work.

 

“My end was strictly he needed a place to build these things. It still could happen. But I think he’s got to get the money, got to get all that stuff approved. I think it’s got a long way to go,” Housey said.

 

Hammer, who connects businesses with venture capital, also questions Antonic’s claims of how much wind the homes could tolerate. Hammer said he suggested Antonic license his product to builders of prefabricated homes because venture capitalists are more comfortable with simple business plans.

 

Hammer said he has met with 30 people in the prefabricated and manufactured home business since Katrina, and did not find one he would finance.

 

Antonic said Hammer was unhappy with the way Antonic was raising capital. “I said, ‘Of course you won’t, like it Mike. The only way you’d make money is by investing in it, not being a vulture capitalist,’” Antonic said.•

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