BRATTLEBORO—While negotiations are still in the early stages, Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation (BDCC) is leading the charge with the town and with state agencies on assembling a funding package to entice a family-owned high-tech manufacturing firm to stay and expand in town rather than build a new facility in New Hampshire.
Keeping the company in town could mean retaining more than 300 local jobs and adding more than 100 new jobs.
Vermont Yankee, another driver of the regional economy, shut down last December and its owner, Entergy, has decreased its staffing levels in the first phases of the decommissioning process. Approximately one-third of the company’s 600 employees lived in Vermont and the average annual wage at VY was $100,000.
Before the nuclear plant in Vernon announced its closure, two big questions loomed over local economic development specialists: What would it mean for the region’s economy to lose so many high-wage jobs? And what would it take to attract or keep more high-paying positions in a region whose residents earn some of the lowest wages in the state?
So when word made it to the BDCC that another major employer was considering a move across the river, the organization went to work.
Some first steps
As one step in a longer process of developing a funding and incentives package, the Brattleboro Selectboard approved two initial funding options at its Sept. 1 board meeting.
First, the board approved a $1 million implementation grant application to the state’s Vermont Community Development Program. The VCDP is the state’s pool of federal Community Development Block Grant Program funds.
The town is applying to the program on behalf of the BDCC, because the state accepts VCDP applications only from municipalities.
Secondly, the board approved a $200,000 loan from the town’s revolving loan fund to BDCC. The fund currently has $480,000 in money available to lend for economic development and business expansion in town.
Need looms for additional capacity
Founded in Wilmington in 1958, family-owned G.S. Precision specializes in manufacturing high-precision machined components, and sub-assemblies for a number of commercial industries, including aircraft engines, aerospace, medical, fiber-optic, automotive, and specialty bearing.
Tucked away at the Exit One Industrial Park, the company moved to Brattleboro in 1985 and opened a second facility in 2008.
GSP also has operated a facility in Guaymas, Mexico, since 2003, acquired Matthews Aerospace Industries in California in 2010, and purchased Knappe & Koester in Keene, N.H., in 2013.
“GSP is a growing business, and we will need additional capacity in the near future,” said G.S. Precision President and CEO Norm Schneeberger.
“Our partners at BDCC and the town of Brattleboro have worked with us to identify the best available options and we have also received financial incentives from the state of Vermont that increase the attractiveness of expanding here in Brattleboro,” he said. “We have a lot of work to do to finalize our plans and will provide updates when more substantive information becomes available.”
For BDCC Executive Director Adam Grinold, the GSP project aligns with the organization’s work on the region’s federally recognized Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS).
One of the goals in the CEDS is to raise the region’s median wage.
According to BDCC’s data, the annual average median wage in Windham County is $38,000. At the individual level, salaries change based on the level of education. Earners with less than a high-school degree typically bring home $21,269. This amount tends to increase with one’s education level, with earners who possess a graduate or professional degree bringing home $42,316.
Grinold added that given the public/private nature of the project, some of the discussions about the package will happen in public, like at the Selectboard. Other parts will happen behind the scenes.
The funding package for this project is evolving, he said. There are multiple partners, funding regulations, and timelines to organize.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have a popping-of-the-cork, a-ha moment yet,” Grinold said.
Good times ahead?
Grinold said he feels very lucky to work in economic development.
Windham County has many resources, development tools, a positive business environment, and committed people working to improve the economy, he said.
Resources he mentioned included the Windham County Economic Development Program, the CEDS, state and federal funding, and a region invested in supporting economic growth.
“I can’t imagine a better time, place, and opportunity to help businesses grow,” he said.
‘Headed in the right direction’
Patricia Moulton, secretary of the state Agency of Commerce and Community Development, was careful to say that the governmental financing package doesn’t guarantee any specific outcome on G.S. Precision’s part. She stressed that the company’s planned expansion project still is in development.
But Moulton also is optimistic that the company will stay and build in Brattleboro.
“We aren’t signed, sealed, and delivered, but we certainly are headed in the right direction,” Moulton said. “We’ve got more work to do to get everything finalized and get shovels in the ground.”
She noted that the town “has been working closely with us on putting this package together.”
Moulton broke down the financing details this way:
• $1 million in Vermont Employment Growth Incentives that will be paid to G.S. Precision over several years.
• $2 million from Windham County Economic Development Program.
• $1 million from the federal Community Development Block Grant program (also called the Vermont Community Development Program). This money is not yet guaranteed and is “application-dependent,” Moulton said.
• $1.5 million in Vermont Economic Development Authority financing. This money has been discussed but is not yet committed.
If awarded in the coming months, the $1 million VCDP grant would, in combination with other funding, help expand the G.S. Precision building in the Exit One Industrial Park. The business’s expansion could mean the retention of more than 300 high-paying jobs with more jobs added by the company.
“This is an all-hands-on-deck approach,” said Town Manager Peter Elwell.
Potential of jobs
At the Sept. 1 board meeting, staff and Selectboard briefly discussed the effort that staff members have expended on administering VCDP grants.
While the speakers agreed that the work is considerable, they considered their efforts and the grant program as an important investment in the community.
In the end, said Elwell, administering the grant “isn’t as much work as it sounds like.”
Elwell said that the project initially included GSP constructing new buildings at the Exit One park. The town was asked to extend utilities like water and sewer to these proposed buildings.
BDCC, however, came back to the town with a plan that would save approximately $5 million from the original proposal by expanding GSP’s existing building and using the existing utilities.
“The magnitude of this opportunity is compelling,” Elwell said.
He expects the board will soon engage in a broader discussion on to what extent it will participate in economic development. Elwell said it is a conversation that will involve the Selectboard, town staff, and members of the public.
Keeping GSP local, however, requires action to retain high-paying jobs, especially in light of VY’s closing, he said.
This project also demonstrates the effectiveness of local and state collaboration.
“The real victory here is the jobs,” he said.