Minimum wage hike will have ripple effect

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min wage webcopyright the Chronicle June 11, 2014

by Joseph Gresser

Local employers say a rise in pay for those at the bottom of the ladder is sure to increase salaries for those on the higher rungs.

That will be good news for many workers, they say, but could come at the cost of increased prices for goods and services.

Vermont’s minimum wage will rise on New Year’s Day 2015 and on each January 1 until 2018. The Vermont Legislature voted to increase it from the present level of $8.73 an hour to $10.50 in four annual jumps.

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Jay Peak’s plans for rec center remain in limbo

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Jay Peak Resort hopes to build this recreation center on the ski area’s Stateside.  The front entrance is planned to be 14 feet tall and face the Stateside parking area.  The back wall of the metal-faced building would be 22 feet tall and face Route 242.  Inside, the proposed center would have climbing walls, a movie theater, arcade games, and a horizontal ropes course.  Image courtesy of Jay Peak Resort

Jay Peak Resort hopes to build this recreation center on the ski area’s Stateside. The front entrance is planned to be 14 feet tall and face the Stateside parking area. The back wall of the metal-faced building would be 22 feet tall and face Route 242. Inside, the proposed center would have climbing walls, a movie theater, arcade games, and a horizontal ropes course. Image courtesy of Jay Peak Resort

copyright the Chronicle February 12, 2014

by Joseph Gresser

JAY—Jay Peak Resort’s plan to build a recreation center with a 145-seat movie theater and climbing walls remains in limbo.  The Jay Planning Commission and Zoning Board (two bodies with one set of members) tabled the application Monday night until March 10.

The commission came out of a deliberative session that lasted an hour and a half to express its dissatisfaction with the area’s provisions for parking for the new facility and concern about the building’s effect on the views along Route 242.

The planning commission met Monday night to reconsider the project, which had been refused a permit based on parking and public safety concerns after it was first presented in January.

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Flight Design USA will hire 100

Governor Peter Shumlin cuts the ribbon on the Stateside Baselodge on Friday, December 20.  On hand to celebrate the opening, from left to right, are:  Vermont Commissioner of Commerce and Community Development Lawrence Miller, Filippe Acciolye, an investor in the project from Brazil, Ariel Quiros, co-owner of Jay Peak, Governor Shumlin, state Senator John Rodgers, state Senator Robert Starr, Bill Stenger, co-owner of Jay Peak, Steve Wright, marketing director for Jay Peak, and William Kelly, counsel for Jay Peak.  Photos by Joseph Gresser

Governor Peter Shumlin cuts the ribbon on the Stateside Baselodge on Friday, December 20. On hand to celebrate the opening, from left to right, are: Vermont Commissioner of Commerce and Community Development Lawrence Miller, Filippe Acciolye, an investor in the project from Brazil, Ariel Quiros, co-owner of Jay Peak, Governor Shumlin, state Senator John Rodgers, state Senator Robert Starr, Bill Stenger, co-owner of Jay Peak, Steve Wright, marketing director for Jay Peak, and William Kelly, counsel for Jay Peak. Photos by Joseph Gresser

by Joseph Gresser

JAY — At the opening of the new Stateside Baselodge Friday, Jay officials threw in a pair of bonus announcements.  A new aircraft company will bring more than 100 skilled jobs to Coventry, and the sale of the Spates Block on Main Street in Newport to Jay Peak co-owners Bill Stenger and Ariel Quiros has been finalized.

At a press conference that followed the opening of the 84-room hotel, Mr. Quiros said he has bought Flight Design USA, the company that announced plans this summer to assemble and sell ultra-light planes at the Newport State Airport in Coventry.

Flight Design USA was the American branch of a German company, and the initial agreement allowed the Newport branch to act as one of six U.S. distributors of the company’s two-seater plane.

The new company, called Flight Design Americas, LLC, will have exclusive rights to sell planes in North America, South America and Central America, Mr. Quiros said.

The company expects to hire around 100 engineers, trained mechanics and assembly workers, he said.  It projects sales of as many as 200 planes a year by the third year of production.

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Hungry Vermonters face cuts in aid

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Joe Patrissi at the NEKCA food shelf. Mr. Patrissi said it was fully stocked on Monday morning, but demand is great, and a few hours later several of its shelves were bare. Photo by Tena Starr

Years ago, Kim Arel found herself in a tough spot.  She had two young children to feed, and for a brief time the only way to swing that was to visit a food shelf.  “I was surprised to see other people there that I didn’t think I would,” she said in a recent interview.

Later, when she was in a better place, Ms. Arel decided to pay it forward, and became a donor to food shelves herself.  And for the past 12 years or so, she’s been running the food shelf in Jay, which serves five towns.

Last week, she said, many of her clientele were talking about the latest round of cuts to 3SquaresVT, the program that helps poor Vermonters put food on the table.  “They don’t know what they’re going to do.”

Those cuts, which will take effect on November 1, are due to the expiration of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding, which passed in 2009 and included a temporary increase for help with food through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).  The temporary boost increased the monthly SNAP benefit by 14 percent. Continue reading

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Tenants prepare to leave historic Spates Block

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Betty McQuillen’s father, Harold Jenks, bought Farrant’s Flower Shop in 1927 from John Farrant the son of its founder.  It was started in the nineteenth century and is the oldest continuously operating business in the city.  Ms. McQuillen said it will be centered on Farrant Street after its Main Street shop closes in December.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

Betty McQuillen’s father, Harold Jenks, bought Farrant’s Flower Shop in 1927 from John Farrant the son of its founder. It was started in the nineteenth century and is the oldest continuously operating business in the city. Ms. McQuillen said it will be centered on Farrant Street after its Main Street shop closes in December. Photo by Joseph Gresser

by Joseph Gresser

NEWPORT — John Daggett carefully placed boxes, pieces of furniture and random possessions into the back of a box truck parked on Main Street here Friday.  Over the past couple of weeks, Mr. Daggett said he’s helped around five households move out of the strip of buildings on the south side of Main Street known as the Spates Block.

The buildings, which run from Center Street up to Second Street, will be demolished in late winter to make way for a retail and hotel complex known as the Renaissance Block.  In preparation, landlord Doug Spates is clearing them of their tenants.

Mr. Daggett said he moved out of the J.B. Police building not long ago and into a new apartment that is also owned by Mr. Spates.

The new apartment is “beautiful,” he said.   “It’s definitely going to be a big change from here.  Where I was living everything was included.  Now I have to pay my own heat and light.”

Mr. Spates is charging a lower rent for the new apartment than he was for the old one, Mr. Daggett said.  That will make it easier to afford the new bills.

On a warm September day John Daggett pauses for a moment as he loads a truck with the belongings of Spates Block residents who are rushing to move before their October 1 deadline.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

On a warm September day John Daggett pauses for a moment as he loads a truck with the belongings of Spates Block residents who are rushing to move before their October 1 deadline. Photo by Joseph Gresser

“Sometimes I get a little behind on my rent,” he said, but he added that Mr. Spates is willing to work with his tenants.  He said Mr. Spates has given him odd jobs to help him out when he’s short, and he’s helped prepare new apartments for people who are being displaced from Main Street; he’s even helped some move.

Stephanie Forest also moved from the Spates Block recently.  She now lives in Derby Line in a bigger apartment that, at $500 a month, is $50 less than the one she rented in Newport.

Mr. Daggett said the change is going to be hard on some people, even if they get help from Mr. Spates.  For many, he said, “It’s definitely a tough adjustment.”

“With all these cutbacks it’s going to be hard on people the first year,” he said.  “I hope when they tear things down and put things up it straightens out the economy.”

Bill Stenger, the co-owner of Jay Peak Resort and one of those seeking to replace the Spates Block, told members of the press earlier this month that he hopes to contribute to an improvement in the city’s economy by building the Renaissance Block, a hotel and conference center on the site of Waterfront Plaza, and a biotech research and manufacturing facility on the site of the old Bogner building.

All of the projects are to be financed through the EB-5 visa program.  Foreign investors in a job-creating business are able to get a green card and eventual citizenship through this federal program.

The Spates Block in 2013 is a faint echo of what it used to be.  Soon even that echo will fade when the block is demolished this winter to make way for new shops and a hotel.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

The Spates Block in 2013 is a faint echo of what it used to be. Soon even that echo will fade when the block is demolished this winter to make way for new shops and a hotel. Photo by Joseph Gresser

In order not to cause more harm than necessary to city businesses, Mr. Stenger said he will wait until after the Christmas season to take ownership of the Spates Block.

He said he wants to allow the businesses to get through the big retail season before they have to move.  When it comes time to build the Renaissance block, Mr. Stenger said the work will be done from the rear of the building to avoid creating traffic problems on Main Street and interfering with other businesses in the city.

“It will be like construction in New York City with the fence with holes in it to watch the workers,” he said.

When complete he said the hotel will boast 64 suites, a pool, a brew pub, and retail space on Main Street.  Mr. Stenger said he expects the hotel to appeal to researchers working on projects at the biotech center as well as regular visitors to Newport.

The building will be open for business in 2015, he said.

The Renaissance Block will replace a collection of buildings that have seen better days, but represent a significant chunk of Newport history.  When the city submitted its application to join the state’s designated downtown program, it prepared a listing of historic buildings in the Main Street area.

According to that document, the J.B. Police building, in which Mr. Daggett lived until recently, was one of the three oldest on the Spates’ Block.  It was built around 1900, 18 years before Newport was organized as a city.

The building was first called the Arlington Block, but received its current name after Police’s Fruit Store moved into the ground floor.  The store was owned by Gasper Borella, who moved from Italy to Plymouth, New Hampshire.  There he added Police to his name.

Carol Bonneau cooks breakfast for Newport residents at Family Recipe, her restaurant.  She plans to keep feeding people until she has to leave and, if possible, to go out with a big party on Main Street.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

Carol Bonneau cooks breakfast for Newport residents at Family Recipe, her restaurant. She plans to keep feeding people until she has to leave and, if possible, to go out with a big party on Main Street. Photo by Joseph Gresser

His son John B. Police took over the store when his father returned to his homeland.  His name is still emblazoned on the front of the building.  The Police family owned the building for the next 61 years.  The only store now open in that building, and one of only four businesses on the block, is Newport’s oldest continuously operating business, Farrant’s Flower Shop.

Betty McQuillen was minding the store on Monday.  Her father, Harold Jenks, bought the business from John Farrant in 1927, Ms. McQuillen said.

He, in turn, had it from his father, Thomas Farrant, who Ms. McQuillen said, came over from England and started selling flowers in the late nineteenth century.

“He owned all of Farrant’s Point,” she said.

She said she doesn’t see how her business will be able to afford to move back to Main Street once construction is done on the Renaissance Block.  Her plans call for basing the business on Farrant Street near its greenhouse.

That option won’t work for Carol Bonneau, the owner of Family Recipe, a restaurant that specializes in breakfasts and is only open mornings.  Ms. Bonneau said she’s seen business decline and thinks it’s because people don’t realize she’s still open.

She is and said she plans to stay open until December 1, the date she’s been given to leave the building.  Like Ms. McQuillen, Ms. Bonneau said she doesn’t think she can find another storefront to rent on Main Street.

Her plan is to keep serving breakfasts as long as she can and then to look for a job, she said.  When it comes time to shut her restaurant’s doors she said she wants to go out in style.

If the city allows it, “We’re going to throw a big party on Main Street,” she said.  “We’re going to give out some food.”

She plans to keep all her restaurant equipment and hopes to raise enough money to buy a food truck and take it around to events where she can again cook for people.

Ms. McQuillen said that not having the Main Street storefront will mean a loss of walk-in traffic.  But the business will be able to keep on delivering orders from customers, she said.

The Spates Block has been losing businesses for years.  The Great Outdoors of Newport, a sporting goods store that once occupied two storefronts, moved to Waterfront Plaza in 2006.

Other businesses closed more recently.  Myers Jewelry shut its doors earlier this year when its proprietor, David Myers, retired.

Jocelyn and Cinta’s Bake Shop moved across the street into the newly opened tasting center, and Debi Meade moved her store to the Hood Building on Coventry Street, in the process changing its name from Fabric to Ewe-phorium.

Aside from Family Recipe, the only businesses that remain open are a second-hand store run by Northeast Kingdom Community Action (NEKCA), and TNT Tattoos, which is located in the oldest building on the Spates Block, the mansion built by Converse Goodhue Goodrich around 1870.

Now it shows little trace of its origin, but it may have been the home of Mr. Goodrich and his wife, Almira, whose legacy is the library that bears their name.

The Goodrich mansion sits on the corner of Main and Second streets.  Over the years, it has been repeatedly refashioned.  The building appears as a home in an 1881 map.  By the turn of the century, though, it was home to a millinery business located on the first floor.  In 1925 there were three storefronts and apartments along Second Street.

The main storefront has been vacant since Your Name Here Embroidery was bought by the owners of Majestic Trophies and Northeast Kingdom Signs and moved across the street to their store.  TNT Tattoo, on the Second Street side of the building, is the only business operating in what was the old Goodrich mansion.

On Main Street, Mr. Daggett waited at the truck as a bare-chested man carried a large glass fish out of the building and entrusted it to his care.

He introduced himself as Shawn Hildreth.  Like Mr. Daggett he was helping people move their belongings to their new lodgings.

It was a matter of kindness, Mr. Hildreth said.  “I’m trying to help people.  It’s true, when you do that it comes back to you.”

Mr. Hildreth said he has lived in Newport for 30 years and stayed in Main Street apartments “off and on.”

Looking up at the buildings, he said. “I don’t want to see it go.  I think it’s bad news to see it go.”

Thinking it over for a moment, he added.  “Maybe it will help get some of the hoodlums off Main Street.”

Mr. Daggett smiled broadly and said, “I used to be one,” he said.

Mr. Hildreth laughed.  “So did I,” he said.

contact Joseph Gresser at joseph@bartonchronicle.com

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Legislators tour through Jay and Newport

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Bill Stenger, president of Jay Peak Resort, testifies before the combined forces of the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee and the Transportation Committee Tuesday at North Country Career Center in Newport.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

Bill Stenger, president of Jay Peak Resort, testifies before the combined forces of the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee and the Transportation Committee Tuesday at North Country Career Center in Newport. Photo by Joseph Gresser

by Joseph Gresser

copyright the Chronicle 2-6-13

NEWPORT — A passel of state representatives on a bus tour of the Northeast Kingdom heard firsthand about the issues that will have to be addressed to help the area adjust to $500-million-worth of planned development.  One problem the area won’t have to address is an influx of 10,000 new jobs.

Bill Stenger, co-owner of Jay Peak Resort and one of the main forces behind the new investment, told the legislators that although there will be 10,000 jobs created in response to the investment, the total of direct jobs in Orleans County will be between 1,500 and 2,000.

The rest of the 10,000 figure will be a consequence of the economic activity created by the new business, and will ripple through the state and out into New England, Mr. Stenger explained.

He was the first witness to testify before a combined meeting of the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee and the Transportation Committee, supplemented by one or two members of the House Education Committee.

The legislators arrived for lunch at the North Country Career Center after taking a tour of Jay Peak and hearing the plans for economic development in the Northeast Kingdom proposed by Mr. Stenger and his partners.  They were accompanied on their journey by a group of high-ranking officials from the state agencies of Commerce and Community Development, and Transportation.

When they got to the Career Center the delegation found a crowd of around 90 people, including educators, local officials, business owners and interested citizens had already assembled.

Representative Bill Botzow of Pownal, chairman of the commerce committee, opened the meeting and gave Representative Mike Marcotte of Coventry, his vice-chairman, an opportunity to say a few words.

“I want to thank the legislators for coming up here.  We’re really proud of what we have here,” Representative Marcotte said.

He said of the work that must be done in connection with planned development, “they’re great challenges to have, but they’re challenges we have to meet.”

Mr. Stenger, who was the first witness, told the representatives that it was the “quality and character of the community” that inspired his plans.  Capital, he said, was the key to development, and the federal EB-5 visa program, which allows foreigners to get residency status in the U.S. in exchange for a job-creating investment, has provided an ideal source of capital.

He said the program has allowed Jay Peak to realize good ideas without the necessity of having a mortgage.

When the program got to the point where it needed to be renewed by Congress, Mr. Stenger said, he sat down with Senator Patrick Leahy, who was one of those behind the law, and Governor Peter Shumlin to think of what might be done if the law was extended.

They decided that it would make sense to bring in good new businesses and give them the opportunity to grow in the Northeast Kingdom.

When the bill reauthorizing the program was signed in September it opened a three-year window, Mr. Stenger said.

In those three years two new business, AnC Bio and Menck Windows, will have to be up and running.  Other ideas, such as a hotel and convention center in Newport and a redeveloped block in the city, will have to be substantially complete, he said.

He said that he and his partners have been working closely with educators around the area to make sure that people have the skills needed when it comes time to hire workers.

The issues that will need to be addressed as the current plans come to fruition include transportation, health care, housing, and education and training.

“All those elements are represented in this room,” Mr. Stenger said of those seated behind him.

“Keep our eye on us, because it’s been a long time since this part of Vermont has been a leader.  We’re going to do great work,” he concluded.

Before leaving the witness table Mr. Stenger, smiling broadly, said he was glad that whoever put together a list of projects for the Agency of Transportation included rebuilding Route 242, the road that serves Jay Peak.  “It made my day.”

Mr. Stenger was followed by superintendents Robert Kern of the North Country Supervisory Union, Chris Masson of the Essex North Supervisory Union, and Stephen Urgenson of the Orleans Central Supervisory Union.

Mr. Kern said that many of the schools in the area are old and need work if they are to accommodate an increased population of students.  He asked the legislators to consider providing help for school renovation, noting that Morgan has repeatedly voted down bonds because its voters feel they cannot pay for renovations on their own.

He also suggested that the state needs to provide demographic information to allow schools to make informed decisions about needs they will have to meet quickly.

Mr. Kern said he has no way of knowing how many new workers will be arriving or how many children they will bring with them.

Mr. Masson pleaded for consideration of spreading the development into the Canaan area.  The number of jobs in the community has dropped precipitously since Ethan Allen moved much of its production to its Orleans plant, he said.

Mr. Urgenson asked for a better communications infrastructure in the Northeast Kingdom.  Faster communications and better cell phone coverage will result in greater creativity, he argued.

Representing higher education, Penne Ciaraldi of Community College of Vermont, Ann Nygard of Lyndon State College, and Cindy Robillard of the Department of Labor outlined their efforts to create a partnership to develop job training programs in the Northeast Kingdom.

Ms. Nygard said educators have to build a “cradle to career pathway” for students.

Eileen Illuzzi, interim director of the Career Center, told how her school has worked to anticipate career opportunities.  She said the career center established its hospitality program three years earlier after a visit to Jay Peak.

“Hospitality is not a career choice, we need to make it a destination career,” she said.

She said the career center is “all about options.”  Even students who decide not to complete a two-year career program may have gained something.

Ms. Illuzzi told the story of a student who hoped to go to medical school.  When she fainted at the sight of blood during a visit to an operating room, it gave her a chance to reconsider her path, Ms. Illuzzi said.

The Menck Window company, a German firm, may want to consider working with the career center to create an apprenticeship program, Ms. Illuzzi said, something that accords with their national style.

Patricia Sears of the Newport City Renaissance Corporation gave a ringing endorsement of the city.

“This is Newport’s time, this is Vermont’s time, this is our time,” she declared.

She talked about opportunities that can be created by a planned foreign trade zone, which if approved by the federal government would greatly expand the possibilities of international trade in the area.

“We’re all on the path to awesome,” Ms. Sears announced.

Doug Morton of the Northeastern Vermont Development Association said his organization has conducted a number of studies of transportation needs in Orleans and Caledonia counties.  The studies could use revision, he acknowledged, but the basic information is still sound.

After the scheduled testimony, Mr. Botzow asked if any individuals wished to offer their opinions.  Nick Ecker-Racz of Glover stepped forward to tell the legislators that he thinks that an improved public transportation system ought to be part of their thinking.  He also warned against programs that involved excess regulation.

Finally Mr. Ecker-Racz cautioned the representatives that increased wealth in the community will inevitably result in an influx of drugs, including cocaine and heroin.  Programs should be put in place beginning in elementary school to guard against the problem.

Eleanor Leger of Charleston said she thinks that good local businesses will thrive in the new environment.  She expressed excitement about the proposed free trade zone, which she said could aid her business, Eden Ice Cider, which gets many of its bottling supplies from South America.

Reed Ogden of Barton warned against too eager acceptance of a Walmart scheduled for construction in Derby.  Studies, he said, show that every Walmart employee costs taxpayers $1,000 in support services due to the company’s low wages and benefits.  He acknowledged that the data behind that study was eight years old.

Mr. Ogden pointed to a community-sponsored for-profit store established in Saranac Lake, New York, as an example of an alternative way for people to buy the goods they need at a price they can afford.

Finally, Newport Mayor Paul Monette told the legislators that his city welcomes all the development.  He said that transportation was the only problem he could see.

He said that a bottleneck at the bottom of Main Street could be eliminated by building a roundabout.  Or a new bridge, which he suggested might have to go through the spot where Representative Marcotte’s store now stands, could serve as a bypass for traffic.

In concluding the meeting Mr. Botzow offered a kind of benediction.

“I think the future is bright,” he said.  “I hope in five, ten or 20 years we look back and say ‘we did it right.’”

contact Joseph Gresser at joseph@bartonchronicle.com

For more free articles from the Chronicle like this one, see our Editor’s Picks pages. For all the Chronicle’s stories, pick up a print copy or subscribe, either for print or digital editions.

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Stenger outlines plans worth $600-million

Bill Stenger. left, and U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy

copyright the Chronicle 10-3-2012

by Joseph Gresser

JAY — A $600-million investment plan set out by the owners of Jay Peak Resort Thursday could change the face of the Northeast Kingdom over the next three years.  In the process it could create ten thousand new jobs.

That was the message Bill Stenger, co-owner and president of the resort, delivered in a pair of press conferences, one held at Jay Peak, the other at the Gateway Center on Newport’s waterfront.

Sharing the stage with Mr. Stenger were U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders, Congressman Peter Welch and Governor Peter Shumlin.

Most of Mr. Stenger’s plans focused on Newport.  They included construction of a new hotel and conference center on the site of the present Waterfront Plaza, the replacement of the Spates block with a five-story commercial and residential building, and construction of a 75,000-square-foot research building for AnC Bio, a bio medical research company.

any of the major players in Vermont politics mingle before the press conference announcing Jay Peak’s new investments. Developer Tony Pomerleau, seated at left, talks with Governor Peter Shumlin. Seated next to Mr. Pomerleau is his niece, Marcelle Leahy, who is speaking with her husband, Senator Patrick Leahy. Standing behind Senator Leahy is U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders. Jay Peak co-owner and president, Bill Stenger, waits at the podium at the far right to begin his presentation. Photos by Joseph Gresser

Mr. Stenger also announced that a German window manufacturer will move to Newport and set up shop in a portion of the old Bogner Building.

The Newport State Airport in Coventry will also get a makeover as Mr. Stenger and his business partner, Ariel Quiros, take over the operation of the field.  They will continue to work with Dan Lathrop of Lakeview Aviation, the current operator of the airport, and will add several hangers, a new terminal building and bonded warehouses.

Mr. Stenger did not completely ignore his skiing properties.  At Jay Peak plans call for an expansion on the Stateside of the mountain where a hotel will be added.  An entirely new area is to be developed in the West Bowl, where a second new hotel is planned.

Mr. Quiros and Mr. Stenger bought the Burke Mountain ski area recently and announced a $102-million project that will include four new ski lodges there.

Ninety percent of the projects’ costs will be funded by money raised from the EB-5 visa program, which grants Green Cards to foreign citizens who invest $500,000 in an approved project that creates at least ten permanent jobs.  The new jobs can be created directly by the projects or indirectly as a result of increased economic activity spurred by the new businesses.

The expected total of over $500-million in EB-5 funds must result in more than 10,000 direct and indirect jobs before all Green Cards are issued by the federal government.

The EB-5 program, which has financed most of the $250-million in improvements made at Jay Peak over the past five years, was slated to expire this month.   Congress recently passed a bill reauthorizing the program for another three years, which President Barack Obama signed into law Friday, September 28.

Mr. Stenger gave much of the credit for the three-year extension of the visa program to Senator Leahy.  Unless the EB-5 program gets a further extension, the projects outlined by Mr. Stenger will have to be completed by 2015.

In his remarks Senator Leahy said he already has his staff working on a bill that would make the visa program a permanent part of U.S. law.

The backgrounds of those who seek to participate in the EB-5 program are investigated by federal immigration officials, as is the source of the funds to be invested.  Federal officials also must certify that the expected jobs have been created before a participant is given final resident status and a path to U.S. citizenship.

Mr. Stenger began his explanation of his investment plans by talking about the work that has been done at Jay Peak Resort over the past five years.  He said construction of two new hotels, a golf course and clubhouse, an indoor ice rink, and water park has resulted in a five-fold increase in Jay Peak’s payroll.

At present the ski area employs 1,200 people, Mr. Stenger said.

He said that Jay Peak has completed 75 percent of its expansion plans.  He said the resort plans to spend $170-million between 2013 and 2015 to build 100 homes, new lifts, an 84-unit hotel and a medical center on the Stateside portion of the ski area.

Mr. Stenger said Jay will build new lifts and trails as well as a new hotel in the West Bowl area of Jay Peak.

Moving east, Mr. Stenger outlined plans that would radically reshape the city of Newport.  Along with Mr. Quiros, Mr. Stenger plans to buy the block on the south side of Main Street between Second and Center streets from Doug and Vivian Spates.

The Spates block on Main Street in Newport occupies the space between Second and Center streets. Plans announced Thursday, September 27, at the Gateway Center call for the whole block to be torn down and replaced with a new five-story building combining retail, commercial and residential spaces.

Conceptual drawings by Black River Design show the new Renaissance Block across Main Street from the Goodrich Memorial Library. The top floors are designed to provide residents with a view of Lake Memphremagog. Drawings courtesy of Jay Peak Resort

Plans call for the Spates Block to be razed and replaced with a five-story building.  In accordance with Newport’s zoning code the ground floor would be devoted to retail space.  The second story will be devoted to office or other commercial uses, Mr. Stenger said, while the top three floors will be residential.

An architect’s rendering of the block showed a couple on the top floor of the building, enjoying a view of Lake Memphremagog from the terrace of their penthouse apartment.

The building, which will be called the Renaissance Block, is expected to cost $70-million and is slated for completion in 2014.

The following year the Newport Marina Hotel and Conference Center is scheduled to open on the site of the present Waterfront Plaza on the Causeway.  The cost of the 600-bed hotel is estimated to be $100-million.

The Newport Marina, Hotel and Conference Center, seen here in an architect’s rendering, is proposed for construction on the site of the present Waterfront Plaza.

Mr. Stenger said he is in discussions with Burlington developer Tony Pomerleau to purchase the property, which has extensive frontage on Lake Memphremagog.  Mr. Pomerleau was saluted for his contributions to the state at the press conference, which took place on the eve of his ninety-fifth birthday.

Mr. Stenger described the two projects as bookends for Newport’s Main Street, and asked his listeners to imagine a walk from the hotel up the city’s boardwalk and back down Main Street.

The other Newport developments will be concentrated at the former Bogner property, which was purchased by AnC Bio, the U.S. division of a South Korean biotechnology company.  Mr. Quiros and Mr. Stenger are owners of the U.S. division of AnC.

The biotech company will start manufacturing and distributing products from the existing 90,000-square-foot Bogner building in the spring of 2013.

Work on a 75,000-square-foot research center is to begin next fall at a total cost of $104-million.  The glass tower will essentially be a copy of the company’s research building in Seoul, South Korea.  Inside there will be clean rooms, equipment and research facilities available for lease by other companies or universities, according to William Kelly, the counselor for AnC Bio and Jay Peak.

Mr. Kelly said he expects that researchers will be drawn to the new facility because of the availability of the equipment.

The former Bogner building will have a second manufacturing tenant, this one a German manufacturer of energy-efficient windows.

Mr. Stenger said that one of the people who looked into investing in Jay’s EB-5 program turned out to be someone whose work involved scouting locations in the U.S. where foreign companies might want to locate.

He brought the Newport area to the attention of the owners of Menck Window Systems, who visited the area several times before committing to locating in Newport.

Mr. Stenger said representatives of the company, a 134-year-old family owned concern, were very impressed that Lawrence Miller, secretary of the state’s Agency of Commerce and Community Development, attended the meetings and was solicitous of their needs.

Bringing Menck to Newport will require a $20-million investment, he said, but will result in at least 140 full-time manufacturing jobs.

The Newport State Airport in Coventry will also see considerable investment.  The Federal Aviation Agency will extend the existing runway by 1,000 feet next year from 4,000 feet to 5,000 feet.

This, Mr. Stenger said, will make it possible for larger planes to land and take off, and change the economics of the field.

The existing  runway is to be resurfaced and a separate taxi-way will be built, Mr. Stenger said.

Plans call for the Jay Peak partners to take over operations of the airport, and build a new 10,000-square-foot terminal building, two 15,000-square-foot hangars, a 14,000-square-foot aircraft manufacturing and repair facility, and a 40,000-square-foot bonded warehouse in anticipation of the creation of a Free Trade Zone in Orleans County.

Work at the airport is expected to cost $20-million and be done between 2013 and 2014.

Mr. Stenger credited Senator Leahy with shepherding the visa program bill through the Senate, and thanked Congressman Welch for his work getting it passed by the House.  The legislation passed with overwhelming margins in both bodies.

Each member of the Congressional delegation spoke at the two press conferences, as did Governor Shumlin.  All praised Mr. Stenger and Mr. Quiros for their vision.

Senator Sanders said, “The most popular sport in America is complaining about the federal government.  What you are seeing here is a marriage and partnership between private business and federal, state and local government.”

Secretary Miller, speaking at the Gateway Center press conference, provided assurance that Mr. Stenger’s plans are likely to come to fruition.

He said that sophisticated investors from around the world have carefully examined Mr. Stenger’s plans and made half-million-dollar investments in his projects.

As to whether there are 5,000 people with the skills to take jobs in the new businesses, Mr. Miller pointed out that many people have left the state in search of work.

“We want them back.  We want them home,” Mr. Miller said.

To any who may doubt the reality of his plans, Mr. Stenger offered this assurance:  “We have the mission, we have the vision, we have a love for this community.  We will make it happen.”

contact Joseph Gresser at joseph@bartonchronicle.com

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Even in winter, local food economy is growing

by Bethany M. Dunbar
copyright the Chronicle January 19, 2011
Even in the middle of January, in the middle of an essentially stagnant economy, the local food movement in northern Vermont is showing signs of not only life, but growth as well.
Barb Judd at the Mountain View Stand in Newport is operating a winter market for the first time.
“The more stuff that goes bad in the big world, it pushes people back — back to their roots,” she said. She said more and more, people want to know who grew their food and where it came from.
“People are sick and tired of not knowing.”
She decided to try a winter market and see how it went. She opened up the week before Thanksgiving in the same space where Cinta’s bakery is located just outside of Derby Village. Not all of her food is from Vermont — especially this time of year — but she buys as much local produce as she can find, Vermont chicken and other meats, and she gets wild seafood directly from Massachusetts.
She didn’t have sales statistics on hand during a recent impromptu interview at the store, but she said the response has made her know the timing was right. It took her usual summer customers a while to find her — up Route 5 a bit from her summer location — and she said they sometimes come bursting through the door expressing enthusiasm to have found her again.
“Five years ago, I remember thinking, I am on the edge of something.”
Based on the response, she is considering making renovations to her summer farm stand to make it into a year-round business.
Alicia Knoll, one of the owners of Montgomery’s Café and Newport Natural Foods, said they have seen enough growth in the past five years to hire about three more employees than the businesses used to have.
“I think that people are cooking more,” she said. “We don’t really have prepared foods in our store, we have ingredients.”
She said Steve Crevoshay and Madeleine Winfield built up the store for years. The core base of customers is still coming back, plus more.
“We like to think we haven’t lost that many,” Ms. Knoll said.
“There’s a certain number of people who will always go to Price Chopper.”
On a recent Friday, Gerard Croizet of Berry Creek Farm in Westfield stopped in at Mountain View, and Ms. Judd discussed getting some spinach from him.
Mr. Croizet and his wife, Rosemary, sell organic vegetables, honey, beeswax candles, and strawberries in the summer. They have a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) group with 60 members.
People who want to buy directly from the farm join the CSA and are guaranteed a weekly box of food for 20 weeks. Mr. Croizet said their CSA group has grown by ten people each year (which is more than 10 percent). He has had to turn people away because he wanted to make sure he could grow enough food for all the members, plus continue to supply the Berry Creek farm stand, Newport Natural Foods and Mountain View.
On a freezing cold Sunday afternoon, spinach was growing inside one of his unheated greenhouses. The greenhouse has double plastic walls, and the spinach growing inside is covered by a white light cloth row cover. Underneath the cloth, spinach is green and growing.
Mr. Croizet said sometimes it freezes and looks pretty bad, but after a day or two of sunshine it perks up and grows again. By March there will be enough heat from the sun inside the greenhouse to start more vegetables.
He agreed with Ms. Judd that there is growing demand for local food.
“There’s a consciousness — people are more conscious about what they eat,” he said.
Dairy farming has for years been the driving force in agriculture in Vermont, but in recent years dairy farms have struggled to survive. According to a report recently released by the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, the Farm to Plate Stategic Plan, the number of dairy farms in Vermont has decreased by nearly 91 percent over the last 60 years. The value of milk and other dairy products in Vermont is $493,926,000, according to the report, and the total value of Vermont agricultural products is $673,713,000.
Dairying is not gone but it’s changing. Large farms have bought up smaller ones or leased their land. Some have installed methane digesters as a way of making their own electricity.
The fact that dairy is still a big part of the economy is evidenced by the recently-released list of the top 100 businesses in Vermont, compiled by Vermont Business Magazine.
St. Albans Cooperative Creamery is number ten on the list with revenues of $320-million. Poulin Grain is number 41 with $68-million.
Green Mountain Coffee, which has recently bought a coffee company on the west coast and one in Canada, is the second largest business in Vermont and the second one to have more than a billion dollars in revenues at $1.3-billion. The largest company listed in Vermont is National Life Group with $1.5-billion.
Alternative dairying and artisanal cheese making is a growing area of the dairy economy in Vermont.
The Northeastern Vermont Development Association (NVDA) is running an advertisement looking for someone to “provide outreach to farmers in the Northeast Kingdom region about the benefits of a fluid goat milk producers’ association.”
The position is half-time, for two years, funded by a Rural Business Opportunity Grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture “working closely with the Vermont Butter and Cheese Creamery.”
Vermont Butter and Cheese is also looking for a quality control and lab worker, and two other small cheese and yogurt makers in Vermont are hiring as well. Bob-White Systems in South Royalton just announced a new line of equipment and supplies for farmstead cheese makers.
The potential for growth in Vermont’s food economy is good, according to the Farm to Plate Strategic Plan just released by the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund. After a series of meetings and research into Vermont’s agriculture and food systems, the report was created.
“Vermont’s food system is a significant part of the state’s economy, with total economic output of $2.7-billion annually, employing over 55,500 people at nearly 11,000 private sector businesses across the state. And the state can expect 1,500 new private sector jobs over the next ten years if Vermonters double their consumption of locally produced food from just 5 percent to 10 percent of their total food purchases,” according to the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund’s web site, where the full report is available.
Brothers Mateo and Andy Kehler of Jasper Hill Farm in Greensboro — and their families — are part of the changing face of dairying.
“If we want things to remain the same, then something’s going to have to change,” says Mateo Kehler.
Dairy farmers who ship to the commercial market — not organic — are getting a better milk price than they did in 2008, but the basic price paid under the antiquated federal system is still just under the average cost of making milk in Vermont.
Organic dairy farmers get about $31 for a hundred pounds of milk (about $2.66 a gallon). That is about $13 a hundredweight ($1.12 a gallon) more than the conventional price.
Meanwhile the Cellars at Jasper Hill — a system of cheese caves where the Kehlers age their own cheese, along with Ploughgate, Cabot, and others — is a business that has seen dramatic growth. Jasper Hill makes 80,000 pounds of cheese a year.
In 2010, Mr. Kehler said, the company grew 50 percent from the year before. By the end of the first quarter the company will have 29 employees. Four years earlier it had four.
Jasper Hill cheeses do not all sell locally. But the word “local” could include Vermont to consumers from Boston or New York.
Mr. Kehler said the cellars are about 40 percent full, and they could fill them right now with cheeses from all over the U.S. and Europe. But their mission is to fill them with Vermont cheeses and help more local farms add value to their milk in hopes of keeping more working farms on the land.
In a region in France called Comté, 3,000 dairy farms are producing a type of cheese named after that region. Their price is based on a team of experts who taste the product of each farm and decide on pay based on quality. Mr. Kehler would love to see something like that happening in Vermont.
Jasper Hill has agreed to lease a section of the new Food Venture Center under construction in Hardwick. Jasper Hill has already hired five employees to work there because they had to be trained. Mr. Kehler said Jasper Hill made a commitment to this project when people were first discussing it, and he is excited to see it coming together.
Louise Calderwood is the interim director of the venture center. It will have five production cells and a warehouse. The meat and cheese cells will each be leased for five years, and there will be cells for people packing wet products such as salsas and jam, a cell for vegetables, a bakery, and possibly dry mixes.
Before construction is complete, demand is exceeding space available.
“I recognize that neither the meat cell nor the dairy cell are going to meet the needs of everybody,” said Ms. Calderwood, who will step down once the facility is up and running. “We already see that the needs are broader than the existing facility.”
The venture center is advertising to find a permanent manager and an operations manager.
More information about the venture center will be available at a meeting at the North Country Union High School Career Center on Saturday, January 22, at 10 a.m.
Another local food project in the planning stages is a Northeast Kingdom Tasting Center, which would offer retail spaces for local farmers and food producers and be a tourist destination. This project, led by Eleanor Leger of Eden Ice Cider in Charleston and Gloria Bruce of the Northeast Kingdom Travel and Tourism Association, is currently under study for its economic feasibility.
The power of the Vermont brand is well known by Bill Stenger at Jay Peak. He said consumers expect Vermont products to be “clean, healthy, safe and authentic.”
The new restaurants at the mountain, Alice’s Table and the Tower Bar, feature Vermont apple cider, Cabot cheddar, Vermont bacon and burgers, and a beer made especially for Jay Peak by Long Trail called Jay Peak Tram Ale.
The chefs have started a garden just outside the new restaurant, and plan to expand it.
He said Jay Peak has always supported the area’s farmers, recently through the Green Mountain Farm to School program, and Jay Peak will continue to look for more ways to do so.
“The relationship with the farm community is pretty indelible, and it goes deep.”
Pete’s Greens in Craftsbury has seen steady growth. The barn fire at his farm on Wednesday, January 19, was a huge setback. But it’s clear that Mr. Johnson will rebuild and his customers will see him through this difficult time.
Mr. Johnson has more than 350 CSA members. His business has seen 15 to 20 percent growth in gross sales in recent years, he said in an interview last fall. Earlier the growth was faster. That’s plenty of growth per year. He doesn’t want it to grow so fast he loses control over quality.
“It’s not like you’re just making widgets,” he said. He has seven full-time employees and 13 in the growing season. He raises 40,000 pounds of beets, 70,000 pounds of potatoes, and 50,000 to 60,000 pounds of greens.
Andrew Meyer has seen growth in both of the agriculture-related businesses he’s got in Hardwick. Vermont Soy sells its products to local independent stores and around New England and New York City. He also sells to food services, including the University of Vermont and Middlebury College.
“We’re starting to introduce products with a longer shelf life,” he said. The company grew 50 percent in 2010 and employs six people.
Vermont Natural Coatings, which makes paints and stains of whey, doubled its sales in 2010.
Mr. Meyer, who is one of the people who started the Center for an Agricultural Economy in Hardwick, sees potential for more growth in the agriculture-related economy if and when more infrastructure can be added.
For example, he would like to see a system for farmers who sell at farmers markets and who have extra produce. A distribution system could be established to sell the rest of their produce in a larger market by getting some farmers together, he suggested.
He’d also like to see a central facility where soy beans and other Vermont-grown grains could be stored, milled, cleaned, and distributed. That way each farm would not have to buy the expensive equipment needed for those tasks.
Curtis Sjolander, who raises vegetables and trout at his farm in Wheelock, is one of the managers of the Caledonia Farmers Market group.
Mr. Sjolander said despite the fact there are more farmers’ markets around than there were in the past, the Caledonia market (St. Johnsbury and Danville) has 50 vendors and is approaching a gross annual sales figure of $350,000. It has been increasing by 10 percent a year.
“Each one of us does better than we ever would alone,” Mr. Sjolander said.

contact Bethany M. Dunbar at bethany@bartonchronicle.com

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