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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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Plan sees jobs boost in Belle Glade
Darcie Lunsford
A company striving to launch a new lightweight building material is in talks with county and state economic officials about opening a manufacturing plant in Palm Beach County's poor rural communities near Lake Okeechobee.

If Fort Myers-based Composite Building Structures (CBS) can pull it off, the 196,000-square-foot plant and administrative facility could employ as many as 2,000.

Average wages for the largely assembly-line jobs would be $27,000, according to CBS documents.

The project is still in the early stages, with three potential sites being considered in the Belle Glade area, said Brian P. Crowley, CBS' director of special projects, who also is a West Palm Beach real estate consultant.

The plant is needed to manufacture CBS' patented residential structural frames, exterior walls, roofs and rebar from a fiberglass composite, modified from a substance once used in fighter planes, according to CBS documents.

On Nov. 16, the start-up company had the latest in a series of meetings with the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County.

The agency has been working with the group for 11 months, BDB President Kelly Smallridge confirmed.

"We have really tried to facilitate this project every step of the way," she said.

Landing a job-generating industry in the Belle Glade area is a priority because the area's unemployment rate is more than three times the coastal area.

"It is not a done deal," Smallridge said. There are still many outstanding issues.

CBS says it has sold 500,000 private placement shares at $1 each so far, but it needs $5 million to open an interim facility and $24 million to execute its strategy. It also has to cut a real estate deal and hopes to be able to tap county and state incentives to help support the project.

Among the sites CBS is looking at is a 700-acre tract along State Road 80 owned by the state, but leased to sugar growers.

The plant would open in a 45,000-square-foot temporary facility, most likely a military-style Quonset hut, with 182 employees able to build the shell of 30 homes a day and ramp up within two years to 999 workers assembling 300 shells daily, according to CBS President James P. Antonic. The rest of the jobs would be contract installers.

CBS' fiberglass composite products are designed to take the place of wood frames and concrete block construction, Antonic said. The shells and wall panels are flexible and able to withstand winds up to 350 mph, as well as earthquakes, he said.

The material also is far lighter than wood and concrete and can be manufactured and installed in two weeks. It also costs about 10 percent to 15 percent less.

In 2003, Antonic was involved with a group seeking to do a similar rollout in DeSoto County, which was billed as a generator of 1,750 jobs. That company, Advanced Composite Technology, was headed by Jay Jones and is now defunct. Antonic was recruited by Jones, but organized the scientists who engineered the final composite material and was able to keep control of the product.

He reorganized into CBS this year.

E-mail Real Estate Editor Darcie Lunsford at dlunsford@bizjournals.com

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