BRATTLEBORO—When state Commerce and Community Development Secretary Michael Schirling visited Brattleboro in late June, he toured the rapidly growing headquarters of G.S. Precision Inc.
But before that, Schirling took a look at a nearby empty building — the former home of L3 KEO, a defense contractor that closed its Brattleboro operations earlier this year.
That itinerary held some significance: Even as Windham County economic development officials celebrate the near-completion of G.S. Precision’s $17 million expansion at Exit One Industrial Park, they’re focused on finding a tenant for the park property that had been occupied by L3.
They’re seeking a company that not only will fill the 24,000-square-foot building, but also will bring much-needed jobs, said Adam Grinold, Brattleboro Development Credit Corp. executive director.
“We’re holding out for the right company to come along,” Grinold said.
Exit One Industrial Park dates to the 1980s, and administrators say it was the “first project owned and managed” by Brattleboro Development Credit Corp. Situated just off Interstate 91, the site hosts a variety of businesses as well as a 500 kilowatt solar array designed to cut down on BDCC’s utility bills.
G.S. Precision expansion
The area nearly was dealt a severe blow several years ago when G.S. Precision — a maker of machined components for customers including the aircraft, medical and automotive industries — appeared poised to move to New Hampshire as part of an expansion plan.
But federal, state, regional and local officials assembled a lucrative financing package to keep G.S. Precision here. The deal included a $2 million loan from a fund created by a shutdown-settlement agreement between the state and the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant.
G.S. Precision broke ground for its expansion at the industrial park in late 2015, and Grinold said the project is scheduled for completion in the next few months. The company is “well on their way” to hiring the roughly 100 additional workers needed for the expansion, Grinold said.
Schirling’s Brattleboro stops on June 29 included G.S. Precision; expanding yogurt maker Commonwealth Dairy; and gluten-free baker Against the Grain. In a later interview, he said he was impressed with the variety and “vibrancy” of businesses in the area.
“The scope of what small businesses and some of our larger businesses are doing — it’s inspiring,” Schirling said. “It’s not something that resonates with Vermonters as much as it probably should.”
Just up the road from G.S. Precision’s headquarters, however, the news hasn’t been so good.
In terms of job numbers, L3 KEO was nowhere near G.S. Precision. Nevertheless, the Northampton, Mass.-based defense company eliminated 15 local positions and left a key industrial park building empty when departing from Brattleboro in early January.
At the time, an L3 announcement said it was a “difficult but necessary decision in our ongoing effort to streamline business operations.”
Brattleboro Development Credit Corp. owns the former L3 building and has been marketing it to potential tenants. Grinold said he’s seen inquiries from a “variety of people” about uses including food production, manufacturing, and warehousing.
“It’s very adaptable,” he said.
Maintaining the two-story building at 343 John Seitz Drive without a tenant is “a bit of a struggle,” Grinold said. “It’s a hardship on our organization. We’re a nonprofit.”
At the same time, he said BDCC administrators don’t want to “just rent it out to the first person asking.” Though plans could change, the current emphasis is on finding a tenant who wants the entire building and will bring jobs consistent with the region’s economic development strategies, Grinold said.
He noted that, aside from the vacant L3 building, there isn’t much space left at Exit One Industrial Park.
“It just speaks to the lack of industrial space currently available in the Windham Region, and the need to use what is available for the most jobs,” Grinold said.
While filling the vacancy may be a challenge, Schirling believes it’s also “an opportunity to be really mindful about growth and job creation.”
“The other side of the coin is, you’ve got some great space for people to take advantage of the energy that’s in that Brattleboro ecosystem right now,” Schirling said.