A Mississippi State symposium on factory-built housing Thursday [March 11] will explore emerging construction technologies that could reshape the state's forest products industry and spur economic development.
"Factory-built housing represents the future for the forest products-based industries,” said forest products department head Liam Leightley. "An industry is emerging whereby the basic building blocks for houses are made within a factory setting.”
About two-dozen representatives of the manufactured housing industry, Mississippi Development Authority and county economic development organizations are expected to discuss the merits of establishing a factory-built housing industry during the 10 a.m.-3 p.m. gathering in Room 119 of the new Franklin Building.
Al Schuler, a West Virginia-based U.S. Department of Agriculture research economist, will be keynote speaker for a 10:15 a.m. session. He will follow opening remarks by Leightley.
Other scheduled speakers during the day include: Larry Barrow, associate professor and director of digital research and imaging for the MSU College of Architecture, at 11 a.m.; architecture professor Michael Berk, discussing sustainable mobile home research, at 1 p.m.; and Kimberly Brown, director of the architecture college's Fred Carl Small Town Center, at 1:30 p.m.
The event is co-sponsored by the university's Forest and Wildlife Research Center and forest products department, also with the College of Architecture and the Carl Center. The program also includes wood product presentations at 2 p.m. and closing remarks at 3.
"The industry effort goes beyond the established ‘manufactured' or ‘mobile homes' and is directed toward making the modules for a two-story, two-garage home in a factory setting,” explained Leightley.
While the "pieces” for factory-built housing already are present in different elements of the wood-based industry, he said MSU is uniquely positioned to assist development with automated wood conversion operations, architectural design, engineering, wood durability, marketing, and design for low-cost manufacturing through "lean manufacturing”—doing more with less, and more quickly.
Leightley said the hyper-competitive nature of wood-based industries today means that elements of the wood conversion chain-milling and furniture manufacture are especially at risk.
"These elements possess a deep skill base and assets associated with the conversion of wood, and contribute to the $14 billion forestry and forest products industry in Mississippi,” he said. "Rather than lose this skill and the associated assets, they could be used in creating products required for the modules needed for factory-built houses.”
Leightley cited a recent report on emerging housing construction trends titled "Demographics, the Housing Market and Demand for Building Materials.” Authors of the study predicted an increase in U.S. housing demands and a shrinking availability of skilled laborers in the building trades. They also anticipated that "the bottom line is that the housing industry will partner with those building material suppliers (manufacturers and distributors) who understand their need to automate, cut costs and reduce the cycle time at the building site.”
Leightley observed: "Obviously, there is plenty of opportunity for us to pursue a range of research thrusts and provide very real economic development in the housing sector.”