Leaves Huge Void
NOTE: Sussex Beat is a log of news briefs and commentary by Eric Magill, publisher of Sussex County Online, with contributions from Sussex County Online users.
The closing of Nanticoke Homes marks the end of an era in the Sussex County economy as one of the nation's largest modular home builders leaves a huge void on the landscape.
The most recognizable landmark in Greenwood, Nanticoke had been a marvel of home building, not to mention a life-saver for many cash-strapped Sussex Countians looking for an affordable first home.
Anyone who has grown up and gone to school in Sussex County since the company opened 31 years ago has had some contact with Nanticoke, whose tours were among the most popular for school kids for years.
Now, it remains to be seen if anyone else can fill the void created by Nanticoke's closing and impending bankruptcy. Not only does its closing cost the remaining 100 employees their jobs, it will also cost the many resellers of Nanticoke homes and it has left about 40 home buyers in the lurch as they scramble to get their homes finished.
The bigger impact, I think, though, will be on first-time home buyers in Sussex County, so many of whom couldn't have afforded such a nice home without Nanticoke.
With its signature ranch homes and its expanding product line over the years, Nanticoke offered a home that was affordable to young families trying to eke out a living on a typical Sussex County salary.
Using its assembly line construction methods, Nanticoke often built homes for $20 to $25 less per foot than comparably sized stick-built homes.
That void will need to be filled, because salaries in the county still haven't risen to the level that allows many Sussex Countians to feasibly afford custom stick-built homes, particularly as beach home prices have steadily encroached on interior portions of the county.
It's been no secret that Nanticoke has been in financial trouble for some time. Closing divisions within the company such as its Shawnee Homes company and a flooring company next door to its Greenwood plant, and laying off 130 employees late last year, the company appeared headed to bankruptcy for some time.
Michael Younus, vice president of sales for Nanticoke Homes, confirmed as much in a prepared statement announcing the closing on Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2002, when he said several factors had resulted in the closing of a firm that once employed 500 Sussex Countians.
And while the closing wasn't unexpected, with some of Nanticoke's resellers dropping the company even before Nanticoke's first round of layoffs, news of the company's financial troubles late last year were not expected given the booming real estate industry.
According to Younus, stricter lending standards and the slowing economy played a role in the company's collapse, but he acknowledged that "mis-steps" by the company played a role, as well -- probably the largest role considering that Nanticoke had sales of $70.9 million as late as 1999.
Hopefully, the Delaware Economic Development Office will succeed in its quest to find a replacement for Nanticoke -- not only for former Nanticoke employees, but also for Sussex homebuyers.
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