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Yogurt maker plans $20 million expansion

Ehrmann Commonwealth Dairy set to add 50 jobs, double its production capacity in Brattleboro

BRATTLEBORO—When Tom Moffitt was putting together a business plan for Ehrmann Commonwealth Dairy, his oft-repeated goal was to hire 40 employees within five years.

He recalls that there were “quite a few disbelieving faces.”

A little over five and a half years since the Brattleboro plant opened, Commonwealth now employs 150 in Vermont. And on Dec. 14, Moffitt announced yet another expansion of a facility that produces large quantities of the popular Green Mountain Creamery yogurt brand.

The $20 million expansion is supported by more than $2 million in state and local funding and incentives. Officials pointed to the project’s economic benefits, as Commonwealth is pledging to create an additional 50 jobs in Vermont and to significantly expand its manufacturing operations.

“With this expansion over the next two to three years, we will be able to double our production capacity,” said Moffitt, Commonwealth’s CEO.

Steady expansion

Ehrmann Commonwealth Dairy LLC, a subsidiary of German dairy company Ehrmann AG, broke ground for its Brattleboro plant in March 2010. The 38,000-square-foot facility on Omega Drive opened a year later.

The business has been steadily expanding since then and now encompasses about 68,000 square feet. Running three shifts, six days a week, Moffitt said Commonwealth processes about 110 million pounds of milk annually.

In 2013, the company opened a plant in Casa Grande, Ariz., that now employs 100. Product distribution reaches from coast to coast, Moffitt said, and Commonwealth also ships to the Caribbean and South America.

Moffitt says the growth has been driven by Green Mountain Creamery, Commonwealth’s Greek yogurt brand.

“Honestly, Greek yogurt consumption has actually slowed down over the past couple of years,” he said. “So we’re still growing despite a slowing market and an increasingly competitive market.”

“We attribute that to the quality,” Moffitt added.

It wasn’t a given, however, that the company would continue to grow in Vermont. Moffitt said administrators considered expanding in Arizona and also looked seriously at “building a plant and a headquarters in the Midwest.”

“What that would have done is, we wouldn’t have expanded this plant ... we would have built another plant the same size as this in the Midwest, with a large office,” he said.

State, regional, and local officials say they worked together to make sure that didn’t happen. “We were competing with Arizona, we were competing with Ohio, we were competing with other governors who were just as eager as I was,” said Gov. Peter Shumlin.

Incentives to grow in Vermont

The resulting financial package, Shumlin said, made Commonwealth’s Vermont expansion a “doable project.”

That package includes a $1 million grant from the Windham County Economic Development Program. That’s money from Vermont Yankee owner Entergy, which agreed to pay the state $10 million over five years for economic development in Windham County as part of a 2013 shutdown settlement agreement.

Other public funding sources include:

• Up to $100,000 from the Windham County Economic Development Program to match federal funding aimed at upgrading wastewater-treatment facilities to support Commonwealth’s growth.

• Up to $648,327 in Vermont Employment Growth Incentives. That money will be distributed over time as Commonwealth expands.

• $200,000 from the Vermont Training Program.

• Brattleboro is contributing a $250,000 grant as well as tax stabilization.

“We want to do everything we can to make this project work,” said Brattleboro Selectboard vice-chair Kate O’Connor.

State and local incentives also played a big role in bringing the Commonwealth plant to Brattleboro in the first place, noted Adam Grinold, executive director of Brattleboro Development Credit Corp.

Officials “literally moved mountains to help bring Commonwealth Dairy here ... and that relationship has really lasted over the years,” Grinold said.

Place as brand

Moffitt acknowledged that Vermont “presented the most complicated expansion option” due to permitting and site issues. But in the end, he said, “we were able to pull this together and settle on Vermont as the place where we want to grow the company.”

Branding also played a role in that decision.

“Green Mountain Creamery — our consumers, our retailers, they associate that with Vermont, and our biggest market is New England,” Moffitt said. “It would have been a little bit mentally anguish-inducing if you loved Green Mountain Creamery but the company was headquartered in Ohio or something.”

In addition to expanding Commonwealth’s production capacity in Vermont, the company also is consolidating its administrative operations in Brattleboro. Currently, some of those jobs are in Arizona.

Moffitt said a corporate headquarters facility may be built on the company’s Omega Drive site but also could be situated somewhere else in Brattleboro.

Taken together, the project means Commonwealth Dairy will continue to be “one of the most state-of-the-art, high-tech dairy operations in Vermont,” said Christian Ehrmann, chairman of Ehrmann AG.

“Our customers and partners have been enthusiastic about the quality of our products and our innovations from the beginning,” Ehrmann said.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #388 (Wednesday, December 21, 2016). This story appeared on page A1.

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