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Modular home manufacturer thrives in the former Global Sticks plant

Smart Modular Canada currently employs about 40 people

From producing popsicle sticks to manufacturing modular homes — that's the transformation that's happened at the site of a former novelty wood business just outside Thunder Bay.

Smart Modular Canada quietly started up in Rosslyn about a year ago in what used to be the Global Sticks plant.

"We're doing pretty well. Our biggest problem is production and getting them out the door fast enough," says CEO Bill Boulton.

The company has produced 60 structures to date, mostly for First Nations and mining companies.

But Boulton aspires to grow the business, pointing to the advantages of modular homes and the skyrocketing cost of building a home on-site.

He estimates his customers are currently saving up to 15 per cent of the cost of a standard house. 

Boulton said there's also potential to expand the product line and to expand the customer base beyond northwestern Ontario to Manitoba and elsewhere.

"We can do apartment buildings, we can do hotels, we can do all kinds of different things. So for this facility, the next move will be to put on a second or third shift."

According to Boulton, Thunder Bay hasn't had a modular home manufacturing facility until now.

But having worked previously on the design, sale and installation of modular homes, he said, "the writing was on the wall. There was more demand than our suppliers could keep up with. We were buying from 10 different plants to keep up." 

Those plants are located in various parts of Canada and the U.S.

Boulton said the locally made products are built to the stringent standards of the Ontario Building Code using only CSA-approved materials.

"They're a good, solid house. We actually put about 15 per cent more material into it than a site-built house just because we've got to make a journey down the highway and make it there safely."

He noted that a modular home also shortens construction time from one year to just three or four months.

"We have quite a few different designs, and a lot of people have their own designs. We have engineers and designers on staff who will turn a drawing on a napkin into a house," Boulton said.

Expansion plans include entering the burgeoning market for tiny homes, 300 to 400 square feet in size.

Boulton described them as an affordable solution for people who might not otherwise be able to get into a new house, but said they are also suitable for lakeside retreats and guest cabins.

"Our only limitation here is how much we can manufacture... [but] we're getting a better handle on it every single day. The crew we have here is fantastic. Everybody is really helping to pull the wagon."

Boulton believes ordering a modular home is a good option for people who want to avoid the stress of doing it on their own.

"If anyone's built their own house, it's very stressful on the family. So we like to say we're saving some marriages once in awhile by doing it for them." 

— TBNewsWatch