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Sussex cabin manufacturer may expand investment

Katie Tabeling

Delaware Coastal Business Park may see around 150 new employees at the great Outdoors Cottages plant when it opens for business. | DBT PHOTO BY KATIE TABELING

GEORGETOWN — The Great Outdoor Cottages plant may just be the beginning of turning the Delaware Coastal Business Park into the preeminent manufacturer for high-end cabins along the East Coast.

Currently based in Millsboro, the venture has already hired 30 employees and secured orders for 161 cabins. But when its new 45,000-square-foot facility in the Delaware Coastal Business Park is built, Great Outdoor Cottages may ramp up manufacturing to 24 hours a day to meet the booming need from its partners.

Great Outdoor Cottages is backed by Blue Water Development in Ocean City, Md., a firm that specializes in investing and managing RV resorts, campgrounds and other attractions. Blue Water Development CEO Todd Burbage explained to state officials Monday that the firm’s partner, Sun Outdoors, is interested in opening a second manufacturing plant in the same business park.

“I was talking to the Sun Communities CEO [John B. McLaren], and he is so excited about this project. He asked me to reach out to Sussex County about taking the rest of the business park,” Burbage told the state’s taxpayer-backed investment board, the Council on Development Finance (CDF). “He has a dream of doing high-end cottages and putting them all over the country.”

Sun Outdoors is a division of Sun Communities Inc., a publicly-traded company that owns and operates 584 manufactured home, RV and marina projects made up of 155,900 developed sites and nearly 45,000 wet slips and dry storage in 38 states, Canada and Puerto Rico. Sun Communities has a market cap of about $23 billion.

Its subsidiary Sun Outdoors oversees 175 RV sites and campgrounds across the country and in Canada, and Blue Water Development has two dozen resort-area properties from Maine to Florida, and as far west as Texas.

Great Outdoor Cottages may serve as a hub for new innovations like the floating cottage for a top outdoor resort companies in the nation. | PHOTO COURTESY GREAT OUTDOOR COTTAGES

Blue Water alone purchases between 80 to 200 of these cabins a year, Burbage said. Great Outdoor Cottages will be a vertically integrated manufacturer for both companies, and plans to appropriately scale up. Cabins — complete with cabinets, showers, beds, refrigerators, sofa, cooktops, microwaves, and fully-furnished utilities — can be sold between $65,000 to $70,000.

Great Outdoor Cottages has spent $5 million on the Georgetown facility, another $1 million in furniture, fixtures and equipment, and roughly $150,000 on supplies to get ahead of the supply chain issues that plague the construction market.

On Monday, the CDF unanimously approved a $927,600 incentive package to support Great Outdoor Cottage’s move to Georgetown. The company already signed a 30-year lease with Sussex County to lease out 7 acres of the business park.

“Your grant money will not fail,” Burbage assured the council. “This is one of the most exciting ventures that Blue Waters has ever undertaken, and we’re really excited.”

The company has already built an upper management team of cabin manufacturing veterans with roots in Pennsylvania and with Blue Water offices in Ocean City. But the shovel-ready land at the Delaware Coastal Business Park is very appealing to Burbage because of the nearby railroad.

“It’s an exciting opportunity in how we can reduce shipping costs and how we get products across the country, which is the 800-pound gorilla in the RV market,” Burbage said. “We’ve strategically chosen Delaware because of that park and the great terms the Georgetown community provides in doing business at that facility.”

Great Outdoor Cottages Chief Financial Officer John Longino also said he and his team are working with Blue Water on innovative designs for new cottages, such as floating cottages to use at water resorts, similar to a houseboat but offering similar amenities of a hotel room.

“There’s a company we’re working with that builds these pontoons, and these units will sit on top of them,” Longino said. “This is an innovative project we’re looking to roll out in marinas all over the country, Blue Water’s already doing it and Sun is very interested in this product as well.”

Once Great Outdoor Cottages’ new facility is open, it will hire 150 people for skilled and unskilled labor, although Burbage suspects that the employment base will double with growth to come. For a beginning laborer, wages would start at $25 an hour. Bonuses are offered based on production volume goals and health benefits are also offered.

Great Outdoor Cottages also works with Quality Staffing Services, as it is tied in with the Latino community on the Delmarva Peninsula. Longino said he anticipates the Latino community to be a large part of its workforce once the plant is fully operational.

“We have a lot of faith in Sussex County,” Longino said. “Delaware is a great place for us to be.”

Great Outdoor Cottages is projected to open in the Delaware Coastal Business Park by July 2022.

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