ROCKINGHAM — Business is strong at Chroma Technology, as the demand for its high-tech optical filters has never been stronger, company president Paul Millman said Thursday.
Millman shared his good news with a roomful of Chroma Technology shareholders — its employees — as well as U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Gov. Phil Scott.
They were on hand to celebrate the latest milestone for the company, the completion of a $22 million expansion that will ensure the continued employment of about 113 people, and the addition of 25 new jobs.
Millman said the development of self-driving cars and drones means the demand for optical filters will only go up, and the Rockingham company is now positioned to take advantage of that growth with the latest in "clean rooms" for the manufacture of the sensitive filters.
He said it is conceivable that Chroma could grow to "be as big as IBM was in Vermont" with the market for its high-tech product continuing to expand. Sixty percent of its product is exported, he said.
Millman joked that comparing the New Hampshire state motto of "Live Free or Die" to Vermont's "Freedom and Unity" made it an easy decision to stay in Vermont. "Where's the choice?" he said.
Leahy and Scott both were instrumental in helping to fund the expansion. The project took advantage of federal New Market tax credits, community development block grants, the Vermont Employment Growth Incentive, the Windham County Economic Development Program funded by Entergy Nuclear, as well as other state and federal programs. The company worked closely with the Brattleboro Development Credit Corp., as well as the town of Rockingham, on its needed expansion plan.
Adam Grinold, executive director of the development group, said Chroma's future is important to the region "not just because of the number of jobs, it's the quality of the jobs." He said Chroma's efforts are "the model the rest of the state should follow."
Leahy said Vermont needs jobs, and the quality of the Chroma jobs is key.
He pledged, "I guarantee," that as vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee he would continue to find funding for Vermont, whether it is block grants or new market tax credits. "This is economic development the Vermont way," he said.
"This is one of the best places to work in Vermont. Stay here and grow here," he told the employee/shareholders.
Scott said the $22 million expansion now means that Chroma has "a brighter more prosperous future," while making a pitch for bi-partisan cooperation in government.
Leahy and Scott's presence, along with members of Scott's cabinet, at the celebration was a sign of the high interest in the employee-owned company, where starting pay is $37,500 along with a generous benefits package and employee sharing in profit making.
Chroma has been in Rockingham since 2003, and has been growing steadily. The company had considered The Island in downtown Bellows Falls for its expansion project, but time and technical considerations made it expand at its current location in Rockingham, Susan Hammond, chairwoman of the Rockingham Select Board said in a later interview.
The company was so cramped for space, Millman admitted, any company-wide meeting had to be held elbow-to-elbow in the lunch room.
The company was founded in Brattleboro in 1991 after a group of Omega Optical employees left and formed their own company. The company's first home was at the Cotton Mill plant owned by the Brattleboro Development Credit Corp., and Millman joked about the "clean" conditions the company encountered at the former mill.
Millman said the company needed to grow and it had the choice of moving to others states — and even out of the country — but it choose to stay in Rockingham, and in Vermont.
"In Bellows Falls, people love us," Millman said to applause. "This is our community. It's real easy to stay here, it's real easy to do business here."
Contact Susan Smallheer at email@example.com or 802 254-2311, ext. 154.