copyright the Chronicle August 20, 2014
by Joseph Gresser
DERBY — A champagne toast celebrated the opening of the brand new U.S. headquarters of a family business that started in a Quebec garage 30 years ago. Louis Garneau, the founder of the company that bears his name, raised a glass along with Governor Peter Shumlin, state senators Bobby Starr and John Rodgers, local officials, and a host of other guests Thursday morning, August 14.
The toast followed the ceremonial ribbon cutting that inaugurated the 60,000-square-foot building.
As he did so, Mr. Garneau thanked everyone who helped the company, which makes all manner of cycling equipment, be successful. He particularly thanked the stitchers who turn out the jerseys, shorts, and other garments created by the company.
Of the almost 100 people employed by Louis Garneau USA, about 40 work in production. They, and the crews from the shipping and customer service departments, were released from their normal duties to witness the ceremony, but did not stay for the toast.
In his welcoming remarks, Mr. Garneau recalled his career as a bicycle racer, one that culminated 30 years ago when he represented Canada at the Olympic games in Los Angeles. Mr. Garneau displayed a memento of that competition, holding up a jersey with a Canadian maple leaf emblazoned on its back.
After his retirement, Mr. Garneau and his wife, Monique Arsenault, opened a business making biking clothing in his parents’ garage. They remained in that facility, rent free, for five years before increased business forced them out of the space.
Mr. Garneau’s parents, Paul and Jeanine, were present to celebrate the occasion, but Mr. Garneau noted the absence of an old friend and former business partner, Jack Nash.
Mr. Nash, who was present at the ground-breaking for the new building last August has since died. He met Mr. Garneau when he managed the Stowe Bicycle Club team, for which he and Mr. Garneau raced. Mr. Nash later opened Onion River Sports in Montpelier.
Both Mr. Nash and Mr. Garneau’s father are honored, along with Ms. Arsenault, by having conference rooms named after them.
The fledgling company opened an office in Montpelier in 1986 and moved to Main Street in Newport three years later.
In 1999, Louis Garneau USA moved its headquarters out to East Main Street in Newport, where it continued to do business until the opening of the new facility.
Mr. Garneau said the $8-million cost of the new manufacturing and shipping facility is the most he has ever committed to a single project.
Governor Shumlin was enthusiastic in his praise of the expanding business.
“A Vermont story doesn’t get much better than this,” he said praising Mr. Garneau’s vision.
Noting a recent study of economic growth in Vermont, Governor Shumlin said, “It isn’t coincidental that this little county has the fastest growth rate of any county in Vermont, including a little place called Chittenden County.”
“You beat them due, in part, to people like Louis,” he declared.
Governor Shumlin pointed out the importance of the connection between Quebec, where Louis Garneau has its headquarters, and Vermont.
“Quebec is our biggest trading partner, we share a border together, we work together, we have family together,” he said. “The only thing that separates us is a border,” he said.
Mr. Garneau introduced his sons, William, who graduated from St. Michael’s College in Burlington, and Edouard, who continues to study in Vermont, and his daughter Victoria.
His sons, he said, have studied business and will carry on in the firm after he retires, which he assured all would not be for a long, long time. Victoria, who is 17, plans to attend college to study design either in Florida or Vermont, Mr. Garneau said.
Governor Shumlin shouted out his recommendation, “Vermont!”
After the speeches and a benediction from Father Pierre Dupont, guests were escorted on a tour of the new plant.
As Governor Shumlin and his group walked up the main steps to the second floor, Mr. Garneau pointed to a painting mounted above the open stairwell. It was an American flag painted over a ground of photographs of Louis Garneau workers.
The painting was one of a series created by Mr. Garneau in honor of the new plant. Mr. Garneau graduated college with an arts degree and has continued to paint throughout his career.
According to Heidi Meyers, a company spokesman, Mr. Garneau has sold over $250,000 in paintings with the proceeds going to charities.
Upstairs, Mr. Garneau’s varied interests could be seen in the décor. Near the receptionist’s desk stood an antique penny farthing bicycle. In Mr. Garneau’s office, along with a classic Schwinn bike, were three silkscreens by Andy Warhol.
Mr. Garneau’s interest in the artist was confirmed when the group was led into a show room where the wide array of cycling products made by the company was on display. The room was named in honor of Mr. Warhol, who was noted as a cyclist himself.
In addition to helmets, jerseys and other bicycle outfits, the room featured several high tech racing bicycles crafted from carbon fiber.
When the group was led into a gym provided for the use of company employees, both Mr. Shumlin and Mr. Rodgers immediately seated themselves on stationary bicycles and began pedaling.
They began a standing race in earnest when Mr. Rodgers leaned down over his handlebars in an apparent attempt to outdistance the Governor.
At the conclusion of the impromptu race, the group once more returned to the tour, looking in on the stitchers at work on a product line that includes both generally available products and ones commissioned for cycling clubs and teams around the country.
The group then adjourned to the company’s lunch room for a celebratory meal.
contact Joseph Gresser at [email protected]