Clayton Homes hit an important milestone last week with the construction of the 10,000th home at the company's plant in Sulphur Springs.
The numbers work out to more than three houses per day being built at the plant, which began production in the fall of 1997.
"People really don't understand the amount of homes that we've built out of here, and have built over the years," said plant manager Mike Duncan. "We go across eight different states and build homes for a lot of different markets from here."
On Aug. 20, 1996, Clayton Homes and the local economic development corporation an-nounced plans to build a 100,000 square-foot manufacturing plant in Sulphur Springs, the company's 18th such facility.
Sulphur Springs beat out four other communities considered for the site, with the EDC pledging about $1 million worth of preparation work on the building site and another half a million to the construction of the plant. In return, the company had to employ 175 people within two years.
They met that goal with ease, and today the plant has 217 employees during the slow part of the year.
"We usually have between 260 and 280 when at full production," Duncan said.
According to News-Telegram figures, the plant has contributed an estimated $50 million in payroll in the past 12 years.
Clayton Homes was seen as a solid, aggressive company when it came to Hopkins County, and the company has only gotten stronger since being acquired about five years ago by Berkshire-Hathaway in a move spearheaded by Warren Buffet.
"There's been a lot of change, and a lot of growth," Duncan said. "The biggest change came when we became a part of Berkshire-Hathaway and Warren Buffet. Since we've been acquired, we've grown dramatically, acquiring some of our competitors and growing in the retail end, the manufacturing end, and the finance side."
The perception of Clayton Homes as a mobile home builder had some skeptical about the impact the company would have on the local economy. Most, however, changed their minds when they actually saw the finished product.
"We still find that, for the people who haven't seen our product, the preconceived notions have been erased and changed by the time they walk away from looking at the product," Duncan said. "It's a matter of changing the perception of an old trailer to, hey, this is a home constructed in a weather-free environment that's just as good as site-built. Really, in the product itself, it's very hard to see the difference between the quality of our home and what's built on-site — except in the affordability of it."
There are 43 different floor plans produced at the plant, ranging from entry-level homes in the 1,200 square foot range to 2,400 beauties loaded with all the options. Prices range from the mid-$30,000 range to upwards of $100,000, depending on the amenities and improvements made to the home site.
House number 10,000 was a three bedroom, two bath home of about 1,500 square feet that feels bigger than the numbers indicate. The house has upgraded appliances, stone accents on a breakfast bar, and huge palladium windows in the den. Visitors were struck by the quality of the fixtures and attention to detail.
The homes are also touted for their energy efficiency, saving the average homeowner about $33 a month, according to calculations by Clayton Homes.
"They've got insulation in the roof, walls and floors, so it's like a refrigerator of insulation," said one person inspecting the home. "They actually had to put passive air flows so they could keep outside air coming in because it was so efficient."
While unemployment figures are up in most markets due to the economic downturn, Clayton Homes in Sulphur Springs is actually taking applications for production workers.
"We hope to see our business take off, as it normally does, in the spring," Duncan explained. "We tend to get a little more backlogged with the number of orders that we have and have to look at gearing up again. As with most companies, we kind of slow down a little bit in the winter."
The stability of Berkshire-Hathaway, Duncan added, "has certainly been a blessing for us."
"Every industry, to some extent, suffers when the economy goes through these cycles," he said. "We tend to follow the housing cycle, and it's been a challenging time for us, too, but we've probably weathered it better than most because of the stability of the company. We have a very positive outlook that, when we come through these turbulent times, we're going to do better than we've ever done."
That attitude comes in part because of a harsh reality: When all dust clears from the financial turmoil, some builders in the construction industry will no longer be around.
"The ones that are left standing will be able to cater to the demand that's available," Duncan said. "We feel like we're going to be there when things start to come back, so we'll be ahead of the curve.
"And the more people learn about the type of homes we build and it becomes more accepted, certain people that might only consider a site-built house or existing home will say, 'Wow! I didn't understand the types of homes that they're building out there." We feel like we're going to get part of that market. What we have to do is get the word out more about the type of products we can build."
For those who've never seen the products Clayton Homes put out, they'll get a chance to do so this Saturday when Clayton Homes will have a community open house, offering tours of the factory and information about the homes built at the Sulphur Springs plant. The open house will be from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
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