Building a better economy, one tiny house at a time

House party: The national Tiny House Movement -- and the Long Island regional economy -- should get a boost when Riverhead's Hunter Shelters begins large-scale production of its small-scale dwellings.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

Education and industry are once again joining forces, this time to ensure Long Island has the workforce it needs to capitalize on a burgeoning national industry.

As the environmentally friendly Tiny House Movement builds momentum, an arrangement between Eastern Suffolk BOCES, Selden business-development services provider Dynamic Supplier Alignment and Riverhead sustainable-housing expert Hunter Shelters will school BOCES brains on the science of going small.

The educational cooperative of 51 Suffolk County school districts has incorporated tiny, sustainable houses designed by Hunter Shelters into its adult education program – it’s even erected a Hunter Shelters dwelling at its Bixhorn Technical Center in Bellport – and asked DSA to help work up a curriculum.

“We’re helping to develop a curriculum around this new technology to teach it on the vocational level,” DSA President Ron Tabbitas told Innovate LI, adding the coursework will teach BOCES students “how to manufacture it, how to market it and how to install it.”

Dynamic Supplier Alignment would know. The Selden product-design and commercialization ace has an exclusive 20-year distribution deal with Hunter Shelters, a 2010 spinoff of longtime Riverhead roofing and insulation stalwart J.P. Hunter Co. Based on that inside knowledge, DSA is “providing BOCES with the technical information needed for the curriculum,” Tabbitas noted.

Although this seems like a major score exclusive to Hunter Shelters – a ready workforce pre-trained on its proprietary technologies at no company expense – the theory is that teaching students to manufacture and install this single company’s products will benefit not only Hunter and its future employees, but the regional economy as a whole.

Hunter Shelters and its exclusive distributor are preparing for what Tabbitas termed “a major product launch,” with a range of Hunter-designed structures “going into full production within the next two years.” Hunter’s payoff from the BOCES effort is obvious – but the benefits extend well beyond that, according to Tabbitas.

“This product is going to be manufactured in Riverhead,” he said. “This program is preparing a regional workforce to produce and install the product once it goes into full production.”

Potential customers abound. Spun out of 80-year-old J.P. Hunter Co., Hunter Shelters burst onto the scene in 2010, designing and supplying emergency housing after the devastating Haiti earthquake. Following that humanitarian crisis, Hunter Shelters – which also boasts strong ties to The United Way of Long Island – provided temporary housing to Long Island victims of 2012’s Hurricane Sandy.

Win-win-win-win: The benefits keep on coming from the BOCES/Hunter Shelters/Dyamic Supplier Alignment deal, says DSA President Ron Tabbitas.

A slightly tweaked design, in conjunction with cutting-edge solar-power generators, is now being evaluated for use as temporary medical clinics in Ebola-ravaged West Africa. Meanwhile, the non-emergency-focused Tiny House Movement, wherein dwellers purposely downside their living space to save money and lower their carbon footprints, continues to gain steam, a most lucrative potential vertical for Hunter Shelters and DSA.

The structures come in various sizes and configurations, ranging from one-, two- and three-bedroom tiny houses to buildings large enough to serve as five-bed hospital/decontamination units. The smaller structures can be raised within hours by just a handful of trained workers, and the piecemeal dwellings – which are vermin- and mold-resistant and leave no carbon footprint, according to Hunter Shelters – can be easily disassembled and relocated.

All indications are the Riverhead-produced products will be a runaway hit. The principals are certainly anticipating a large-scale rollout, and “the concern would be that we wouldn’t have a workforce ready to develop and install it,” Tabbitas noted.

Taught by a fully trained BOCES instructor, the adult-education program “Residential Construction, Traditional Building and Tiny Home Living” is slated to debut this spring at the Bixhorn center, with the first course slated to run April 3 to June 21.

In addition to hands-on learning opportunities at BOCES, students will have a chance to “shadow” workers at both Hunter Shelters and DSA, Tabbitas said, learning firsthand how the same insulative panels used in J.P Hunter Co. roofing and insulation projects are used to construct the small-scale dwellings.

“All of the learning will be done on the real product,” Tabbitas said.

No money changes hands through the partnership – DSA is not paid for its curriculum consulting – but the three-headed effort provides fourfold benefits with serious economic chops, according to Tabbitas.

“The Suffolk County economy benefits when the shelters go into production,” the DSA president said. “Hunter Shelters gets the workforce and generates revenue. DSA benefits from getting a commission on the product, and BOCES benefits because they are able to provide enhanced career-training opportunities that infuse new technologies.

“Everybody wins with this type of model.”


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