A game-changer for South Florida:’ High-tech builder opens factory to create bunker-like storm-resistant homes

Workers assemble steel roof trusses at Onx’s Pompano Beach factory, which opened late last month. (Amy Beth Bennett / South Florida Sun Sentinel)


Outlet: South Florida Sun Sentinel

Published on April 8, 2024

At some point in the not too distant future, hard-pressed Broward and Palm Beach County residents yearning for affordable, storm-resistant homes may find a technologically advanced selection in a new community near them.

More than three decades after Hurricane Andrew blasted its way across southern Miami-Dade County in 1992, a Texas-based homebuilding firm called Onx has set up a factory in Pompano Beach to produce key components of homes that it says can withstand Category 5 hurricanes and winds of up to 175 mph.

The company, which started operations in 2021, is based in New Carrolton, Texas, near Dallas. Late last month, the firm opened its 150,000-square-foot component manufacturing facility dubbed the X+ System Factory west of Interstate 95 in Pompano Beach. The factory employs 50 people, but relies mainly on robotics to produce roofing components and walls containing hurricane-resistent windows.  It’s an apropos time for the opening: Forecasters are expecting “an extremely active” 2024 hurricane season. 

“You don’t see many companies in South Florida that are doing what Onx is doing,” said Matthew Rocco, president of the 180-member company South Florida Manufacturers Association. “The way they are transforming the manufacturing process and the components they are using to withstand hurricanes and tornadoes … it’s going to be a game changer for South Florida.”

The factory’s activation represents another major economic development step for Pompano Beach, which is amidst a multi-faceted initiative for simultaneously lifting its profiles as a place for luxury shoreline living, entertainment and innovation. 

Automated factories are the linchpins of a company strategy aimed at quickly building components and moving them to community home sites for assembly.

From iron-grated catwalks high up in the Pompano Beach factory, visitors can obtain a wide view of an automated process that results in a rapid fashioning of interior and exterior walls made of concrete and roofing components. Windows are embedded in 8-inch thick modular core walls, and light steel roof trusses — longer lasting than wood – are prepared for delivery and eventual attachment to the homes.

Since last year, the first South Florida-area Onx communities have been emerging in the Homestead area, which are not far from two company-run assembly plants in Florida City.

Finished walls with windows at Onx’s new Pompano Beach factory await delivery to a community construction site. The company says its prefabricated homes can withstand 175 mph winds. (Amy Beth Bennett / South Florida Sun Sentinel)

One, an “X+ Pod factory,” builds 20 bathroom/kitchen pods daily, according to a company brochure. The other, an “X+ Component Factory,” builds the foundations.

It takes “6-8 trailers per home for just-in-time-delivery,” the literature says.

The company also notes that it takes 22 subcontractors between eight to 12 months “to build the average home.” Onx says it can build one in 30 days. Why?  “An Onx home is constructed as one system.”

Keeping control

“We currently have 12 communities in progress in Florida,” said Melissa Pinto, vice president of marketing. “It’s a mix of single-family homes and townhomes.”

Some have four bedrooms; others contain five.

The company controls the entirety of the site acquisition, development, manufacturing and installation, sales and marketing, she said. ”We buy the land and we do it end-to-end.”

There are no individual sales. Onx homes can be acquired only in the communities that Onx develops.

Prices are locally aligned “market prices,” officials say. The Homestead-area homes are going for between $400,000 to $500,000, according to brochures.

Onx is connecting with would-be customers via digital marketing, Pinto said. They can view design options on the company website and pick the one they like.

In Florida, she said, “we have 500 homes already built and close to 1,800 people living in those homes.”

Pinto said the buyer profile  “depends on the location.” In Miami-Dade, “you are having a blended-family kind of place,” with older parents living in five-bedroom homes with their children, a form of “multigenerational living.” There are also slightly smaller townhomes occupied by professionals in the tourism and medical industries, as well as people serving in the military.

In Fort Myers, retirees occupy a golfing-oriented community, while near Orlando, “digital nomads” who dislike commuting into the city live in a suburban community in Lake County. “We are seeing a lot of young families moving to the suburban area from the city,” Pinto said.

Factory workers for the homebuilder Onx lay steel rebar within wall forms at the Pompano Beach factory, the company’s newest South Florida manufacturing site for prefabricated homes that can withstand 175 mph winds. (Amy Beth Bennett / South Florida Sun Sentinel)

Third-year ambitions

Founded in 2021, the privately-held Onx, which is funded by friends, family, and high-end investors from Silicon Valley and Toronto, got its start after its founders took their measure of the U.S. housing market and saw opportunity in the skyrocketing costs that have flummoxed would-be buyers.

“We came from Dubai,” Ravi Bhat, the chief operating officer, said in a telephone interview. “During the COVID time we were basically looking at the housing market in the United States and what we could do about it.”

He said the founders picked the Miami area and Austin, Texas, as starting points for their status as the “toughest” markets in the U.S. There were two reference points: The stiff building codes in both areas and the states’ vulnerabilities to weather conditions highlighted by hurricanes, tornadoes and incessant heat.

Homestead, Bhat observed, “was the most impacted area”  when Hurricane Andrew wrecked south Miami-Dade in 1992, smashing thousands of homes and businesses and prompting a population migration into Broward County and other points northward.

Onx homes in On Alba in the Homestead area. (Onx Homes/Courtesy)

The company asserts its homes can withstand Category 5 hurricane winds of up to 175 mph. Bhat and Pinto said the claim is based on artificial-intelligence simulations performed by engineers in both Dubai and the United States.

“My plan is to subject an entire home to a wind-tunnel test,” Bhat said.

“We have plans to expand in Florida  from the southern tip to Orlando to Fort Myers and in between,” he added. “We have plans to go across Florida to build these resilient homes.”

In Fort Myers, which was victimized two years ago by Hurricane Ian, “the people love our homes.”

As for when Onx homes might be rising in Broward and Palm Beach counties, Pinto said the hunt for development space is in progress.

“We are looking for land in Broward County and in Palm Beach, and also in Pompano itself,” she said.