Renovations are set to begin on a former printing press on N. Washington Avenue near the Minneapolis Farmers Market to transform it into a modular housing factory that will employ about 320 people.

It's a $29 million project that has taken developer and former pro basketball player Devean George nearly four years to get to groundbreaking.

"We are bringing economic development to the areas where it's needed and bringing jobs that are needed," he said. "What we are producing is a great need. Housing is a great need. The housing shortage is a great need. It's a win-win for everybody involved."

George Modular Solutions will open with 166 jobs in the fall, and will hire the other 150 or so workers over two years. The workers will make stackable commercial and residential building modules.

The factory fulfills George's commitment to provide meaningful and family sustaining jobs to north Minneapolis, where he was raised and where his mother and mentors worked for decades at the nearby Control Data plant.

Today, the North Side has higher-than-desired unemployment, something George said he is determined to change. He has already built a community center and affordable housing complex in the neighborhood. Now he is bringing manufacturing too.

George bought the building at 1400 Washington Av N. in March for $11.8 million. He is putting more into the renovations, along with funds from Sunrise Banks, U.S. Bank, the Community Reinvestment Fund, $2 million in city funds and $3 million in state grants, George said in an interview Monday evening.

"We are so excited. This is going to be a wild success," said Mayor Jacob Frey, who attended Tuesday's groundbreaking ceremony along with Gov. Tim Walz.

Frey noted George's vision in expanding jobs and entrepreneurship in north Minneapolis, plus "doubling down" on helping create much-needed housing and rent stability.

Modular housing units are slowly becoming more popular and are better known for their cost savings and gentler environmental impact than traditional housing construction methods. George said his project will be different because it relies on steel rather than wood factory construction, so it can be used in taller commercial structures. Wood or "stick" units tend to max out at four or five stories.

George envisions 10-story units and will start by making modular units for his 83-unit Village Creek apartment building in Brooklyn Park and the Upper Harbor Terminal building he will soon start building in Minneapolis.

When the plant is fully renovated and equipped with massive cranes and rollers in December, its jobs will pay $30 an hour, George said, adding the project is "mission-based" and designed to bring change and hope.

Hiring and job training will begin in November with assistance from job training outfits from Emerge and Twin Cities Rise to the Dunwoody College of Technology.

Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development has pledged to provide George's company an additional $750,000 — on top of $3 million already committed — should hiring goals be achieved.