New dairy business on 'indefinite hold'

Posted

Bob Audette

Brattleboro Reformer

BRATTLEBORO — A new business that was proposed by one of the founders of Commonwealth Dairy in Brattleboro is on "indefinite hold," according to Adam Grinold, executive director of Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation.

"It was a bit of a surprise, but Tom [Moffit] has decided he is not able to pursue this project for a variety of reasons."

In 2009, Moffitt founded Commonwealth Dairy with Benjamin Johnson and Ehrmann AG, headquartered in Germany. The facility, located off of Route 5 just south of Exit 1 of Interstate 91, produces yogurt under its own label, Green Mountain Creamery, and under a private label for retailers such as Wegmans, Costco and others.

In 2017, Moffit left Commonwealth and about a year later BDCC announced it was working with Moffit to explore the possibility of opening "a value-added dairy/non-dairy manufacturing facility" — called Culture Made Vermont — in a 35,000-square-foot building in the BDCC's Exit 1 Industrial Park.

Grinold said Moffit's decision to put the new project on indefinite hold is "extremely disappointing."

The price tag for the project was $32.5 million. When he first announced the project, Moffitt said the financing for Culture Made was comprised of structured debt, grants, New Market Tax Credits, the Windham County Economic Development Program and equity investors who have asked that their identities be kept confidential.

Grinold said the BDCC, which had planned to rent the facility to Moffit, is out a significant amount of money.

"We've been working with Tom for two years on this project," he said, declining to reveal exactly how much BDCC had invested in the project. "The loss is staff time and a loss of rent revenue."

But one of the mandates of the BDCC and other regional development agencies in Vermont is to provide support to high-risk, high-reward business proposals, said Grinold.

"We're not always going to have a batting average like in the past," said Grinold. "We and our board recognize the risky nature of this kind of work. We are taking risks and trying to be innovative, but it doesn't always work."

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Other funds promised to the project have not been expended, noted Grinold, including a Vermont Employment Growth Incentive grant and a Community Development Block Grant because they were both dependent on job creation.

However, funds allocated from the Windham County Economic Development Program for pre-development work has been expended, he said.

WCEDP, an economic incentive program, was established with a $10 million grant from Entergy after it shuttered Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon in 2014.

"The project required 15 funding sources," said Grinold. "Pulling all that together and keeping the core moving through pre-development and the permitting process proved to be too cumbersome for Tom."

With the project being on indefinite hold, the BDCC has put the building, the former location of L3 KEO, back on the market.

"The building is available," said Grinold. "We have shown the property to three interested parties so far, two local looking to expand and one looking to locate in Brattleboro."

Grinold said the BDCC turned down a possible lease because the proposal was for a warehouse with only two employees and the BDCC is looking for a business that will significantly expand employment in the region. Culture Made's business planned called for 25 jobs to start, with 100 more as the facility got up to full production.

The town of Brattleboro had also applied for a grant from the U.S. Economic Development Fund to pay half of the $800,000 price tag to upgrade the town's wastewater treatment plant to handle the proposed facilities discharge. In return for making the upgrades, the town would have received $190,000 in connection fees and $47,000 in quarterly fees from the Moffit's facility.

Exactly what Moffit hoped to produce in the facility is still unknown.

"We'll be in the food and beverage business, producing value-added agricultural products," Moffitt told the Reformer in September 2018. "This project is in the very early stages and the industry is very competitive."

Moffitt did not not return a phone call requesting comment. Brattleboro Town Manager Peter Elwell and Select Board Chairwoman Brandie Starr did not respond to an email requesting comment.

Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 151, or

raudette@reformer.com.


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