...Gulf Coast Construction Career Centers  training program,” O’Malley says (ENR 7/30 p. 37). By the end of 2008, when the plant is up to full speed, it will employ 200 to 250 “hopefully union-trained” people, O’Malley says. “We hope when they erect the buildings on site, the contractors will hire union workers.”

Angelle Bergeron
Housing International's Louisiana plant eyes local as well as export market.

The AFL-CIO is committed to helping develop a manufacturing/production economy for the Gulf Coast that pays more than the $6-per-hour hospitality industry, O’Malley says. “We need to work on education reform, job training and the economy itself,” he says. “Contractors and developers ought to be using locally made products because, if you’re going to have an alternative economy to the hospitality industry, this building boom is going to support it. With Housing International, we are talking about panels that manufacture and ship very well. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if New Orleans had an export market?”

As financial lenders, O’Malley and the union’s housing and investment trusts are involved much more deeply than they  would be under more traditional circumstances. “If we came down here, opened an office and that is all we did, there would be nothing happening because recovery is so slow,” O’Malley  says.

He blames bureaucracy and red tape for delays, describing how the union and a housing development company were jointly awarded 196 properties but have only been able to get clear title for 59 so far. “We made a long-term commitment for seven years,” O’Malley says. “It may take longer, but we are making sure that money is available to keep [the development] moving.” 

One jobsite Housing International and Stratford will share is Walnut Square. Housing International is supplying Walton with the day care and community center components for the project. Given the project’s schedule, Walton simply could not wait for Housing International to get up to speed, Petty says.  “I love start-ups because I am one, but they aren’t moving fast enough,” he says.

O’Malley believes the time is ripe for modular manufacturers to set up in the region. “I understand cluster development and expect to see new materials businesses as well,” O’Malley says, adding   that about 90% of housing in other countries is factory-built, compared to only about 10% in the U.S. “This is a great opportunity.”  

Katrina’s devastation also created an opportunity for research and development of sustainable housing, says Lohrey, who markets his steel panels as resistant to wind, seismic, fire and termites. He says they are 98% recyclable.

“We feel the New Orleans area can be in the forefront of exporting green building products and houses,” Lohrey says. “We no longer fly in wood airplanes or ride in wood wagons. Housing is the only industry where we do things the way we did 100 years ago. This is an opportunity to change.”