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Great Outdoor Cottages continues manufacturing ahead of move

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The Coastal Business Park in Georgetown is set to become home to one f the county’s largest employer, Great Outdoor Cottages with 150 employees. | PHOTO COURTESY OF BILL PFAFF

Construction has recently started on a new 45,000-square-foot manufacturing plant in Georgetown, and the company that will fill the massive space is already looking to expand its footprint in the future.

Great Outdoor Cottages, a cabin manufacturer that’s been temporarily working out of Millsboro, plans to move into the Delaware Coastal Business Park this fall, expanding operations as demand for affordable vacation spots during the pandemic continues to hold strong.

“There’s a strong demand beyond the manufacturing ability for folks to produce these units,” said John Longino, the company’s chief financial officer. “The temporary facility was really something we needed because we had demand … and we scrambled to make sure not to lose this opportunity.”

Longino said the company, while it continues operations at a makeshift facility in Millsboro and waits for the first full plant in Georgetown to be completed, also is in talks with contractors to build a second 30,000-square-foot facility within the same business park in the not-so-distant future. While the first plant that’s currently in the works would house the basic manufacturing operations, the second would serve as both warehouse space and a prototype plant to explore new designs.

Great Outdoor Cottages, founded by Ocean City, Md., hospitality group Blue Water Development, began operations in late 2020 with a small management team. The company has since grown to 62 employees and plans to expand to 150 staff members once the Georgetown plant is operational.

Blue Water purchases some of the cabins directly, and Longino said that as of Memorial Day, 135 units have been built and shipped to clients in more than a half-dozen locations in Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin, with more than 100 more units set to go to similar locations as well as Florida and New York this summer.

Since the cottages all have a similar layout, the manufacturing process operates as an assembly line, Longino explained. The 400-square-foot, coastal-vibe cabins  are fully equipped with plumbing and electric and each includes two bedrooms, a bathroom, a kitchenette, a sitting area and a screened-in porch.

In the much-smaller, 12,000-square-foot temporary manufacturing space in Millsboro, the operation is much like a jigsaw puzzle. The company purchases steel-frame trailers, stacked five high, with six tires on the bottom set. The frames are separated, tires added to all and each is wheeled to a station where flooring and plumbing is installed. 

It’s then moved to the next station for the installation of walls. Then it’s slid over to another, where it gets electrical and drywall. Then it goes to subsequent stations for finishing touches, including paint. It’s a process of up and over, back and forth, due to the small space the company is working with, Longino said. On any given day, 10 units are at a different stage in the assembly process.

When the company moves to its much larger Georgetown facility, the assembly line will be straight and smooth, allowing for the production of more than two finished units per day, which is the company’s current capacity.

Great Outdoor Cottages’ 7-acre footprint already makes it among the largest new businesses at the county-owned industrial site off Route 9, which shares space with the Delaware Coastal Airport, said Bill Pfaff, the economic development director for Sussex County. He said the county welcomes successful niche businesses that aim to work with other local suppliers. Longino said they’re hoping to soon work with a local frame-builder and have already relied heavily on Lowe’s retail locations in Georgetown and Millsboro.

More production capacity will also mean expanding hiring needs. The company pays its workers a minimum of $15 an hour and is looking for the same types of skillsets as any homebuilding operation. In addition to the competitive pay, retirement savings match and other benefits, employees are also eligible for bi-weekly bonuses that have recently reached $500 per pay.

“It’ll be one of our flagships, meaning one of our top operations, out there,” Pfaff said. “The way it looks, it could be one of the top employers.”

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