Minnesota Report

As we listen to conversations around the legislature about affordable housing, sustainable development, and construction jobs, one would think Minnesota is in desperate needs for new development. This is not the case; many people are working in this industry and the constant work on traditional construction projects is actually part of the problem.

Last week, we attended an annual forum hosted by the Young Leaders Committee of the Minnesota Chapter of the Urban Land Institute, which is not a new organization, it has been in existence since 1936, called Thinking Inside the Box: A Spotlight on Modular and Shipping Container Construction.

During the event, we learned a number of things about the development community, one of which is traditional institutions i.e. lenders and regulators are not embracing new development methods very swiftly and because of this fact, there are fewer affordable housing projects and multi-unit construction projects being completed to offset the ever-increasing housing needs.

The implementation of modular construction over a traditional stick build can be completed in ¾ of the time with a price point that is comparable and create a significant net cost benefit in a commercial setting. Nate Jenkins of Mortenson Construction highlighted a project for Citizen M and showed a development scheduled to take 17 months finished in 13 months with a net cost benefit of $5.32 million. The construction of a modular building allows for the work to be done off-sight and shipped to the location for installation rather than the only work taking place on-sight. This plug and play aspect allow for the plumbing, electrical, and HVAC needs to be addressed in each segment built.

Later during the panel discussion, we were informed about the start of a modular construction company called Rise Modular, currently building a plant in Albert Lea, with eyes on the Twin Cities and Rochester communities.

Shipping Containers

Additionally, we were exposed to the use of cargo shipping containers as a means to recycle a commodity that is being integrated into the United States at a significant rate because it is cheaper to ship build the container and ship it fully loaded from China rather than have it returned.

This surplus of Cor-Ten Steel is structural sound, wind and watertight assemblage and is advantageous because the container is designed to bear 47,000 lbs of weight and its corner points can bear over better than double that capacity. The corrugated side walls are also valuable in the load bearing calculation. This structure also presents an opportunity for off-site construction and the ability to cut apertures in the side walls for windows and doors is best done through the use of plasma cutting torches.

We envision the ability to create a vibrant industry for both the assemblage and off-site work. Once municipalities open their eyes to the socio-economic opportunities this new construction method presents. One, fundamental problem is the International Building Code does not currently recognize shipping containers a viable construction platform for housing.

During the discussion, Breck Crandell, a designer with Three Squared™ out of Detroit, MI, expressed their work with local churches and community groups as avenues to a supportive community for building workforce housing.

In a community development system, it would seem that the goals for affordable housing, sustainable development, and construction jobs might find even greater opportunity by embracing more innovative construction methods. Here is a prime opportunity for the government to lead and business to follow.