Nappanee, Ind.-based Gulf Stream Coach Inc. has already launched production of emergency housing units – RVs specially equipped for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) – for housing evacuees from Hurricane Katrina. And the company is hiring additional employees to ramp up production.
“We are producing units for FEMA already, and we were able to switch production like a light switch overnight since we’ve done this for so many years,” said Brian Shea, head of motorized operations for Gulf Stream, a company that has traditionally positioned itself as a “primary supplier” of special units for the government’s hurricane-related emergency housing needs. “We saw the extent of the (Hurricane Katrina) story, so we knew we were going to have to switch our production over.
“Initially we’re hiring about 200, both for FEMA and for our continued growth in the industry.”
Dan Shea, Brian’s brother and president of the company’s towable division, was unavailable for comment.
Other manufacturers are watching the situation closely, as some are estimating that the government – and insurance companies – may wind up needing anywhere from 6,000 to 7,000 units all the way up to “tens of thousands of units,” given the destruction involved with the hurricane that earlier this week bulldozed its way into the Louisiana and Mississippi Gulf Coast.
“I think it’s going to be fairly big,” said Shea. “So, we are looking at every opportunity to switch product and facility volume because they (FEMA) need product fairly immediately, and we still have to get product to our dealers. We’ve proven that we can do that in the past because we’ve done both.”
FEMA units, which typically lack holding tanks, usually include residential-style toilets and refrigerators.
Meanwhile, we’re told, some southern dealers already have been trying to order hundreds of FEMA-style units right out of the blocks from manufacturers, even though those RV builders in some cases aren’t sure yet whether they’ll wind up assembling FEMA units this time around.
And an unknown number of RV retailers are already doing business with FEMA utilizing existing inventories. Shipps RV Center LLC, a FreedomRoads dealer in Chattanooga, Tenn., for one, was sending about 60 trailers to FEMA while “scrambling for orders of 2006 product to replenish stock.”