A prominent affordable housing manufacturer in Caldwell closed its doors earlier this year.
IndieDwell, a company focused on building affordable housing units made out of recycled shipping containers, stopped manufacturing, and laid off or furloughed 61 employees. The company said it hoped to hire some of the back “starting this week.”
The company got glowing coverage in the local and national press in recent years for its innovative approach to construction, affordable prices, and partnerships with governments and local nonprofits to create low-cost homeownership opportunities. They provided the homes for several small subdivisions developed alongside Boise-based nonprofit LEAP Housing Solutions as recently as last summer.
Scott Flynn and Pete Gombert founded IndieDwell in 2016.
Closed ‘for the moment’
In an email to BoiseDev, Gombert said the factory is currently closed “for the moment” and is in the middle of transitioning to a new product type. He did not respond to a follow up email or a phone call from BoiseDevabout layoffs or provide more details.
“There are a lot of moving parts related to this conversation and the current supply chain issues surrounding the building industry are making it go a little slower than we expected,” Gombert said.
The temporary closure and transition to a new product was news to IndieDwell’s former Marketing and Communications Manager Chris Blanchard, who was let go at the end of April. He said the company was transitioning to a more complex form of manufacturing and it came with unexpected expenses.
“It’s both complicated and it’s not,” Blanchard said. “At the end of the day when a business fails it’s when they ran out of money before they ran out of month. That’s the simple cause of it.”
After the publication of this story, Gombert challenged Blanchard’s comment.
“The comment about running out of money before running out of month is just wrong,” Gombert said.
An expensive pivot
IndieDwell’s spring newsletter from April 20th celebrated coming through the pandemic and shared that the company would press ahead with a new product, instead of shipping containers. These changes were due to new regulations requiring “single trip” containers instead of the multi-use ones IndieDwell upcycling into homes
The email said the company’s new focus would be on cold-formed steel to build the entire module for its homes. But, Blanchard said this brought problems because it requires significantly more equipment.
“In the original model, you’ve got shipping containers,” he said. “You need welding machines and hand tools. You’re not investing $100 million. It’s just a simple set of tools and you can get a factory set up pretty quickly, but when you moved to this other model you’ve got gantry cranes and specialized lifts and now we need wall system racks and ultimately you need a machine that rolls cold steel that are a quarter of a million dollars. It got to the point where this is not a low capital model anymore.”
Gombert said Blanchard’s information wasn’t correct and went into a technical explanation of the new process IndieDwell plans to use. He said the company had to cut staff because there was no work to do during the transition.
“We can’t pay 50 or 70 people on the production line to be sitting there doing absolutely nothing,” Gombert said. “We don’t have the cash to pay that many people and have them do nothing.”
Manufacturing continuing elsewhere
Blanchard said the company moved the remaining contracts IndieDwell is fulfilling for developers in California to its manufacturing operation in Pueblo, Colorado to complete the orders. This factory is under different management and has different funding, Blanchard said.
Gombert said that all projects slated for Caldwell were completed at that facility before it shut down for the conversion.
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announced Wednesday IndieDwell will open a new manufacturing plant in Newport News, in southeastern Virginia. It will create 220 jobs, according to a release from the governor.
“Our Newport News facility is strategically located in the Mid-Atlantic region with access to the interstate highway system, and, most importantly, a strong workforce,” Gombert said in a press release. “Workforce development is one of indieDwell’s guiding principles, and our sincere desire to work with the Southeast Community neighborhood to create new jobs and construction trade training was a driving force behind our decision to select Newport News.”
Due to the labor shortage, Blanchard said the majority of the employees were able to land jobs at other nearby factories. He himself has received several offers for a new job in the area within days of being let go, so he isn’t worried.
“I’m not mad,” Blanchard said. “Most of the other people that left are all at other places already. It’s pretty easy when you’re an executive to do something else.”
Update: Adds additional information from Pete Gombert, including precise number of employees affected.