In tiny houses, big hopes for LI’s manufacturing future

Crowded house: A who's-who of regional lawmakers, educators and CEOs came to Bellport this week to learn about Create Local, Make Local.

Educators, lawmakers and commercial interests gathered Monday for a unique technology demonstration stretching from Bellport to Puerto Rico – and to learn firsthand about an ambitious effort to reshape Long Island’s manufacturing landscape.

Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-NY 1) begged off due to the federal government shutdown, but an impressive audience – representing state and town legislators and departments, Stony Brook University, the U.S. Green Building Council, the United Way of Long Island, a half-dozen regional innovation companies and Shinnecock Nation, among others – toured Eastern Suffolk BOCES’ Gary D. Bixhorn Technical Center, getting up close and personal with a slate of leading-edge tech that can spell relief in disaster-stricken areas.

The tech – including eco-friendly Hunter Shelters and Nextek Power Systems’ STAR Battery Energy Storage System and Water Purification System – forms the backbone of an emergency-housing system that can quickly, and with no carbon footprint, provide needed shelter in disaster zones.

It’s also at the heart of Create Local, Make Local, a trademarked program created by Eastern Suffolk BOCES – an educational cooperative representing 51 Long Island school districts – and Selden-based business-development services provider Dynamic Supplier Alignment.

The program is designed to foster the innovation of new technologies here on Long Island while simultaneously creating the local manufacturing infrastructure needed to mass-produce them.

Monday’s audience of regional rainmakers got dual firsthand lessons in the tech and the program’s progress. Essentially, it’s a two-down-one-to-go situation for Create Local, Make Local: Riverhead-based Hunter Shelters, Michigan-based Nextek Power Systems and DSA have the technology and a unique partnership with BOCES that’s already training a future workforce to sell, install and service it.

School house: Hunter Shelters President Jack Hunter (left) holds court Monday in Bellport.

All they need, according to DSA President Ron Tabbitas, are regional manufacturers ready to expand their production capabilities and their bottom lines – and to get them, “we need a contract.”

“We have the right products (and) the right manufacturers, and we are training the right workforce who can execute,” Tabbitas told Innovate LI. “We just need a contract.”

The DSA president isn’t picky. It can be a state or federal deal, Tabbitas says, and it doesn’t have to be huge. The important thing is to get the ball rolling, to sign a contract that allows Create Local, Make Local to partner with an existing regional manufacturer with room for new equipment and a taste for expansion.

“We believe that we have the manufacturing capability here on Long Island with our existing companies to be able to produce this product at a high volume and a low cost,” Tabbitas said. “That’s assuming we get funded by some entity, be it state or federal, to move this into production.”

The manufacturing and distribution of the Hunter Shelter/Nextek systems (assuming they catch on) would eventually require a product-educated workforce, but BOCES et al already have that covered. The educational cooperative has already engaged two “tiny house” carpentry classes specially designed around Hunter Shelter products.

“We would need new workers, whom we’re already training at BOCES, but we don’t need to build new factories,” Tabbitas added. “We can insert this technology into many local manufacturers that already have similar existing capabilities.

Ron Tabbitas: The pieces are in place.

“If a manufacturer decides they want to increase this technology and increase their output,” he noted, “then the local IDA can provide incentives for that.”

Hence the participation of Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency CEO Lisa Mulligan, who joined the other high-ranking tour-takers at Monday’s event. Also on the guest list was a large contingent representing the New York Power Authority – of special interest to Tabbitas, who senses a potential match in the mutual-aid plan hammered out by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rossell.

Four months after Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico, many indigenous residents and visiting relief workers (including teams from New York) are still in need of emergency housing. According to Tabbitas, that sounds like a job for Hunter Shelters, which burst onto the scene in 2010 following the devastating Haiti earthquake and also provided temporary housing to Long Island victims of 2012’s Hurricane Sandy.

“We’re sending New York State workers to Puerto Rico to work on the grid and NYPA has taken the lead role on implementation,” the DSA president said. “In the remote areas, there are very limited conditions, as far as shelter and water.”

Package deal: A Hunter Shelter, loaded with Nextek tech.

Enter the flagship product of the Create Local, Make Local movement, which features various structures in the 300-square-foot range that can be constructed and deconstructed “by four men in four hours,” according to Tabbitas, plus the STAR battery system – which collects and stores solar power to give overworked portable generators necessary down time – and Nextek’s water system, which filters unclean H20 into a potable supply.

Winning the hearts and minds of NYPA would be a huge forward step for the Create Local, Make Local effort, noted Tabbitas, while cementing the Long Island-based movement on the ground floor of what he estimates as a $10 billion disaster-relief market.

“We’d like to tap into that with these locally made products,” he said. “If we’re going to help, why not help ourselves by creating a new manufacturing industry and hundreds of jobs for Long Island?

“When manufacturers agree to bring the product on board, we can work with the local IDAs to offset their initial investment,” Tabbitas added. “And with the training program at BOCES, we’ll have a skilled workforce ready to go.”

There’s no doubting the business model, which “really comes down to government, education and industry coming together,” Tabbitas noted.

“That’s exactly what we demonstrated on Monday,” he said. “We had all those pieces there. Now we need to take the next step, which is execution.”

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