Who is behind Culture Made?

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BRATTLEBORO — Exactly who is behind a proposal to turn a closed factory into a "value-added dairy manufacturing facility" is being kept secret at this time.

"Sometime ago, a group of investors contacted me to say they are looking for a location," said Adam Grinold, executive director of the Brattleboro Development Credit Corp.

Grinold told the Reformer on Tuesday that he is operating under a nondisclosure agreement and can't reveal who the principals are.

"They had been looking in New York, California and other states," he said. "But what they recognized is, the Vermont brand brings a premium in the market."

Culture Made Vermont hopes to lease 353 John Seitz Drive, in the Exit One Industrial Park, which was formerly occupied by defense contractor L3 LEO.

Grinold had been hoping to keep the proposal under the radar, but it came to the community's attention when the Brattleboro Select Board's agenda for its April 17 meeting was released.

"The project will create 46 new jobs in the next two years at this facility, with no less than 51 percent made available to households of low or moderate income," Assistant Town Manager Patrick Moreland wrote in a memo attached to the agenda. "[W]e can expect substantial job creation as the project reaches its full potential at some point late in its first five years of operations."

According to documents supplied to the Select Board, the BDCC will acquire new equipment and renovate the building.

"The principals recognized BDCC and the region as having the experience and the capacity to take their vision and do some additional work beyond site location in pre-development work, managing the construction aspects and providing a New Market Tax Credit structure," Grinold told the Reformer on Tuesday.

According to the Vermont Secretary of State's Office, Culture Made Vermont LLC is a registered company in the state with a designated business office of 28 Vernon St. in Brattleboro. Though there are no principals listed for the business, Downs Rachlin Martin is listed as Culture Made's agent. DRM, the state's largest law firm, has a local office at 28 Vernon St. A request for comment from DRM was not returned.

"In complex and large development projects like this, often some pieces get out ahead of the project," said Grinold. "This includes the Community Development Block Grant hearing, which took place at the board meeting."

During the April 17 meeting, the Brattleboro Select Board approved a $1 million implementation grant application to the Vermont Community Development Program on behalf of the BDCC. The CDBG program, which is administered by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, allows states to award grants to projects "that develop and preserve decent affordable housing, to provide services to the most vulnerable in our communities, and to create and retain jobs."

The Select Board also committed to at least $840,000 in municipal sewer/water upgrades to hook the proposed facility up to the town's culinary water system and wastewater treatment plant.

Moreland told the Reformer that the cost for upgrades would be recouped from user fees paid by the factory once it is up and running.

Select Board Chairwoman Kate O'Connor told the Reformer that other than assisting in the grant application process, no town money has yet been spent on the proposal.

"This is no different from anything we or the BDCC has done before," she said.

She also noted that the town won't be making any further commitments until the principals are identified.

More than $28.5 million of the $32.5 million project cost "will come from private investment capital here in Brattleboro," Moreland said during the April 17 meeting. He said the town usually applies for two to three Community Development Block Grants each year and has been "very successful as a community doing that."

The proposal calls for 46 new jobs within the next two years with more to follow. Salaries are expected to range between $40,000 and $168,750, with more than half the jobs being made available to households with low to moderate incomes.

"We have the capacity as an organization and a region to take a vision and move that vision through the process," Grinold told the Reformer.

According to the website of the UMass Amherst Extension, "Value-added describes what happens when you take a basic product and increase the value of that product and usually the price by adding extras in the manufacturing process, or by tacking on extra products and/or services."

Dairy producers add extra value to milk by processing and marketing products such as cheeses, bottled milk, yogurt, ice cream or butter.

According to the U.S. Department of Treasury, the New Market Tax Credit program "incentivizes community development and economic growth through the use of tax credits that attract private investment to distressed communities." It's intended to attract private capital into low-income communities by permitting individual and corporate investors to receive a tax credit against their federal income tax in exchange for making equity investments in specialized financial intermediaries called "community development entities."

In Brattleboro, the area characterized as a distressed community is bounded by High Street/Western Avenue in the north, Guilford Street in the west, the Connecticut River in the east and the Vernon town line in the south.

According to its website, in 2015 and 2016 alone, the BDCC facilitated more than $13 million in incentives and leveraged more than $40 million in private and public funds for businesses including Commonwealth Dairy, Chroma Technology, G.S. Precision, the Brooks House and the Community College of Vermont.

Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 151, or raudette@reformer.com.

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