n her 1969 book "The Economy of Cities," Jane Jacobs reminded her readers that 19th-century New England supplied the entire nation with everything from saws, axes and ploughs to whale oil, lathes, forges and presses. Immigrants from Lancashire, Yorkshire and other English counties moved to the region in droves after the Civil War, giving it its moniker, and giving birth to the American textile industry.
As the 21st century gets rolling, the allure of some of the region's industrial cities is more akin to museum piece than living, breathing commerce. But some of the region's venerable cities are shining through as optimal locations for a variety of company operations. Snapshots through the lens of corporate facility projects expose communities discovering new visions for renewal, redevelopment and renaissance.
Brewer Site Serves as Model for Region
In Maine, the economies of paper and lumber mill towns encroach and recede like the tide. Some continue to struggle: A deal to purchase two paper mills in Millinocket and East Millinocket fell through in April. The former mill town of Machiasport, meanwhile, has seen some rejuvenation due to investments by Canadian salmon farm operation Cooke Aquaculture.
But the ultimate redevelopment of Maine's working waterfront continues to unfold in the Bangor-area municipality of Brewer, where four years ago industrial construction contractor Cianbro purchased a former Eastern Fine Paper mill complex on the banks of the Penobscot River. The project was able to run a gauntlet of 22 state and federal agencies to get designed and permitted in six months, then backed that up by redeveloping the site in less than six months.
Today, says Cianbro Chairman and CEO Pete Vigue ("Vi-gew"), more than 200 people work on the site, creating industrial modules for such companies as Motiva and a new, unnamed petrochemical client whose first module will ship in May. Another project is the construction of 22 self-contained electric rooms for a nickel processing facility in Newfoundland operated by Brazilian mining giant Vale.
"We are in the process of shipping our first e-room," says Vigue, "a complete structure loaded with switchgear." He says the design-build contract has meant job creation at more locations than Brewer. "We have engaged Stantec to do the design, and thin steel fabrication is being done by Cianbro Fabrication in our shops in Pittsfield and Baltimore. PEP, a Maine-based transportation company, is transporting all the steel. So it's been a very significant opportunity for our company, and for a number of other Maine companies, at a time when the economy is very challenged" and the modular business has slowed.
Cianbro is also involved in a number of industrial infrastructure and end-user projects across New England, from the award-winning Poland Spring water facility belonging to Nestle Water North America to the Gulf of Maine Research Institute in Portland and the Mystic River bridge in Connecticut. Asked if his counsel has been sought by communities across the region, Vigue says he has received his share of phone calls.
"People ask me, 'How did you do this?' I make it pretty simple," he says. "Way back at the very beginning when we announced the project on May 15, 2007, there were about 35 people in the room, from attorneys to environmental consultants, whom we engaged to help us develop a plan to clean up the site and design the facility. I asked them if we could get all of our permit applications done and complete the design by July 15. I was looking at a lot of long faces. They didn't think it could be done. So I said, 'Look, let's keep this really simple. There are 56 days between now and July 15. We're going to be a team. If we work as a team, we can get it done. I'm going to put it in perspective for you: If your life depended on it, could you get it done?' "
Silence ensued, he says, but "believe it or not, all those people completed the application process by July 9. And we had every single permit in hand at least a week early, with the exception of the Army Corps of Engineers permit, which we received in October. It was all about teamwork, collaboration and a 'can do' spirit among all of the stakeholders."
Central to the effort was the desire to make it as easy as possible for those various agencies to evaluate the various applications, rather than taking an antagonistic stance.
"It starts first with a mindset that we can, and we will," says Vigue. "Too often, in our society today, we approach things with a mindset that we can't. Unless we believe in ourselves and have the right attitude, we'll be challenged. These are some of the most challenging economic times that New England has seen in many, many years, and I feel very blessed and fortunate to tell you that, despite all of the issues, what has been created in Brewer is doing very well."
Electric Boat Revs Rhode Island Economy
Rhode Island's industrial revolution heritage goes back at least to 1790, when Samuel Slater operated a cotton spinning mill in Pawtucket, today a National Historic Landmark.
In May 2010, the historically significant location of Quonset Point, in North Kingstown, marked another watershed moment as General Dynamics' Electric Boat subsidiary, which manufactures submarines, received approval of tax incentives from the Rhode Island Economic Development Corp. for a $55-million, 450-job expansion.
"With the expansion of Electric Boat, the soon-to-be completed NOAA facility, and the commitment by Deepwater Wind to construct its manufacturing headquarters, Quonset Point has become one of our most active and important centers for traditional and green manufacturing, innovation and science, and commerce," said then-Gov. Donald Carcieri.
Electric Boat, a division of General Dynamics Corp., has a $14-billion U.S. Navy contract to build eight Virginia-class submarines. The company's Quonset Point expansion will help it to eventually deliver two submarines per year. The upgrades include expansion of an existing building, the construction of a new building and the purchase of manufacturing equipment.
As an RIEDC project, Electric Boat will receive a Rhode Island sales tax rebate on construction materials and equipment, furniture, fixtures, machinery, computers and facility equipment not already exempt from sales tax under other provisions of state law. The rebate will be applied once Electric Boat meets all of the job creation requirements. To be considered for RIEDC-approved project status, a project must result in wages exceeding the median annual wage by five percent.
"There has been a long and productive relationship between EB and the state of Rhode Island which has helped to sustain and now grow our Quonset Point facility," said John Casey, Electric Boat president. Electric Boat was the first tenant at Quonset Point, establishing its presence in 1973 with approximately 100 jobs. The company currently employs about 2,000 people at its Quonset plant, plus another 1,500 Rhode Islanders at its headquarters and shipyard in Groton, Conn.
Electric Boat in July 2010 took a step toward increasing its Connecticut presence, as it completed its purchase of the Pfizer Inc. office complex in New London. At that time, Electric Boat already had moved more than 300 engineers and designers into the building, and planned to continue to relocate employees there over the ensuing 18 months as Pfizer completes its phased withdrawal from the complex by the end of 2011.
The total number of Electric Boat employees to be located in the buildings will depend on the volume of engineering work the company receives from the Navy, primarily for a next-generation submarine and Virginia-class submarine redesign work.
Pair of Solar Projects Lands in Forever Paired States
The outlines of New Hampshire and Vermont fit together like a pair of shoes in a shoebox, even if the states' political outlooks are like a mismatched pair of socks. One industry uniting the states is solar manufacturing.
In a former IBM facility in Essex Junction, Vt., part of the Greater Burlington area in Chittenden County, Skypoint Solar is building large-scale operations for the manufacture of thin film solar photovoltaics, employing CIGS (Copper-Indium-Gallium-Selenide) module technology. The $55-million, 452-job project, which will create 100 jobs in its first phase, was launched simultaneously with the launch of the company in June 2010, backed by seed capital from its founding management team.
"Skypoint Solar has been created with the goal of quickly ramping up production of thin film solar modules," said John R. Tuttle, Ph.D., Skypoint's CEO. "Our first U.S.-based manufacturing facilities are being designed to produce approximately 120 megawatts per year of solar modules. We will begin producing modules based upon proven amorphous/microcrystalline silicon technology and will also develop follow-on technology solutions targeting improved performance and lower costs. Additionally, we will be deploying our product in Skypoint-owned and operated solar power parks, both domestically and internationally."
The project has been backed by $25 million in tax-exempt Recovery Zone Facility Bonds approved by the Vermont Economic Development Authority, and up to $7.9 million in Green Vermont Employment Growth incentives.
In the Manchester-Nashua, N.H., metro-area community of Hudson, Bedford, Mass.-based solar energy manufacturing systems firm Spire Corp. received approvals for a solar module manufacturing operation at Spire Semiconductor's 90,000-sq.-ft. (8,361-sq.-m.) facility. But the dirt hasn't been flying just yet.
Mark Pearson, assistant town administrator for the Town of Hudson, says the company came before the town's board of selectmen about a year ago, and was in the process of getting a major capital infusion from Korean concern Uni-Chem that involved a sublease, in order to move the project forward. But, he says, "we keep driving by there to see if anything is under way, and we haven't seen anything yet." A spokesperson for Spire says the company's facilities manager indicates there is nothing new to report on the project at this time. The company received $2 million in federal stimulus tax credits toward the project.
A September 2009 announcement from Spire said that Uni-Chem had indicated its intent to lease space from Spire at its Hudson facility "to house the automated 60MW Cell Line and 50MW Module Line. Terms of the sub-lease are not yet fully defined and currently under negotiation. The Uni-Chem integrated Cell and Module Lines are planned to become operational in the second half of 2010. Additionally, Uni-Chem has agreed it will form a US entity, which will purchase 51 percent of Spire Solar Systems, Spire Corporation's system integration business, subject to definitive documentation. Such definitive agreements have not yet been finalized."
Press reports indicated that Uni-Chem planned to invest $40 million and create 150 jobs. If realized, the project would be the area's second major solar-energy product operation, after GT Solar in Merrimack. Pearson says plenty has been happening in the Hudson Industrial Park that includes the site, as well as the Sagamore Industrial Park, both classified as economic revitalization zones since 2008. Pearson says a lot of the activity is related to defense and high-tech manufacturing, some of it for Raytheon subsidiary BAE.
Meanwhile, Spire continues to secure contracts to supply industrial plants in other locations, announcing in March that it would provide capital equipment and turn-key manufacturing lines to German firm Mage Solar to produce PV modules at its new plant in Dublin, Ga., and provide another solar module manufacturing line to a plant operated by Tecnometal in Brazil. Earlier in the year, it celebrated the installation of its lines at Chinese firm Wangxiang's new solar module plant in Rockford, Ill. In October 2010, Spire was named as one of the largest clean-tech company employers in New England.
"With over 40 years in the cleantech industry, Spire does business worldwide while maintaining its headquarters in Massachusetts," said Roger G. Little, Spire's chairman and CEO. "As we grow in the renewable energy field, we will continue to be one of New England's largest cleantech employers."
Let Me Take You Higher
New Haven, Conn., was one of 15 regions highlighted by the Natural Resources Defense Council earlier this year for its progressive approach to public transportation. In late 2010, it was highlighted for the progressive transformation of a former firearms manufacturing site now called Science Park, which welcomed the announcement that Higher One, a technology and payment services company focused on higher education, would retain 165 positions and create 203 more via an expansion.
Higher One currently occupies building No. 25 at Science Park, a business incubator located at the former Winchester Repeating Arms Co. site. The company, in partnership with Winstanley Enterprises, Forest City Residential Group and Science Park Development Corp., plans a $45-million project to rehabilitate two vacant buildings in the development to be used as Higher One's new headquarters.
Founded by three graduates of Yale University, Higher One moved to Science Park in 2004 with 24 employees. It now employs more than 360 people at offices in New Haven and Oakland, Calif. The new project calls for environmental assessment, remediation and hazardous material abatement and build-out of 140,000 sq. ft. (13,006 sq. m.) at Science Park. The company expects to add more than 200 new positions in New Haven by January 2015.
"We were looking for a location that would enable us to experience significant cost savings over time, provide space for sufficient future expansion and give us flexibility to create a positive workspace to help us attract and retain top quality employees," said Mark Volchek, co-founder, chairman and CFO at Higher One, in December. "We are very happy that we could find such a location in New Haven."
The state Department of Economic and Community Development is assisting the project with $5.5 million in grant funding for environmental remediation and construction and up to $18.5 million in tax credits through the Urban and Industrial Sites Reinvestment Tax Credit Program. The Connecticut Development Authority plans to support the project with $1 million in sales and use tax exemptions, subject to approval from its board of directors.
Kelly Murphy, New Haven's deputy mayor for economic development, says Science Park has seen more than $100 million in investment over the past three and a half years, part of a $2-billion-plus construction boom in the city that doesn't include projects pursued by Yale.
"We were recently awarded a $16-million TIGER grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to begin taking out Route 34 highway and replace with urban boulevards," she writes. "More importantly, it will pave the way for the construction of a new 400,000-sq.-ft. [37,160-sq.-m.] lab/office space anchored by a major commercial tenant and being developed by Winstanley Enterprises, which has 1.2 million sq. ft. [111,480 sq. m.] already in New Haven."
Murphy notes that Bloomberg recently recognized New Haven as having the lowest residential rental vacancy rate in the country, "and our office vacancy rate in downtown is about 8.5 percent, significantly lower than the national average."
Bricks and Brownfields
Lowell National Historical Park preserves and interprets the history of the American Industrial Revolution in Lowell, especially the textile industry that boomed in New England in the 19th century. Today, Lowell, which celebrates its 175th anniversary this year, is one of 40 communities nationwide that have a federal Renewal Community designation. The designation offers special incentives including wage credits, accelerated depreciation, increased Section 179 deductions, and capital gains exclusions for businesses and developers that invest in Lowell. The 19th century mill buildings provide opportunities for low-cost acquisition and rehabilitation for small and large companies, backed by an education system that includes nine new schools, as well as the University of Massachusetts Lowell and Middlesex Community College.
In October 2010, the City of Lowell; the Town of Sanford, Maine; and the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, based in the western Massachusetts city of Chicopee, received EPA grants of approximately $175,000 each to foster clean-up of brownfield sites.
The City of Lowell will focus on at least six brownfield sites in the Tanner Street Corridor, just south of the city's central business district. Sanford, in southwestern Maine, will focus on 20 brownfields in the Mill Yard area in downtown Sanford, once the economic heart of the city. Officials in the Pioneer Valley will focus on downtown Chicopee's West End neighborhood, for which the city developed a revitalization plan in 2009.
"Chicopee's downtown West End was once the industrial core of the city," read a public hearing announcement about the process released by Chicopee in March. "Today, several former mills and commercial properties in the area are abandoned or underutilized, including the historic Cabotville Mill complex and the former Hampden Steam power plant site. When cleaned up, neighborhood brownfields may be suitable for residential, commercial, recreational, and industrial re-use, or for use in sustainable solar or geothermal energy production."
Other projects in Chicopee include the 28-acre (11.3-hectare) former Uniroyal/Facemate site, now rebranded as RiverMills. First developed as a lumber yard in the 1870s, it later saw manufacturing of bicycle tires, then car and truck tires and adhesives until 1980, when Uniroyal closed its plant. Facemate Corp. purchased the site in 1981, and leased portions of the Uniroyal buildings to various companies for manufacturing, printing, machine shops, office, storage and health care facilities.
Eleven vacant buildings remain at the site. Michelin North America, Inc., acquired the assets of Uniroyal, Inc. circa 1990 and is considered a partner at the Uniroyal property. "As of February 2011 the project has progressed to the point where buildings 1-6 on the Uniroyal site have been removed to the foundations," says a city report.