REDC looks back on 75 years
By Bruce Edwards
STAFF WRITER | November 12,2012
STAFF FILE PHOTO
Officials stand in front of a sign at a Rutland Airport Industrial Park in this undated photo. Members of RIDC, or the Rutland Industrial Development Corp., in 1994 voted to change the organization’s name to Rutland Economic Development Corp., or REDC.
Even 75 years ago, parking was a problem.
That’s when a group of Rutland businessmen banded together to do something about a lack of parking downtown. So in 1937, the group formed the Rutland Development Corp. and opened the city’s first municipal parking lot at the corner of Willow and Edson streets.
But what started as an organization to create more parking became the major driver behind industrial development in the region.
Over its 75 years, what is now the Rutland Economic Development Corp., attracted a long list of companies including GE Aviation, Moore Business Forms, Metromail, U.S. Samica, Ellison Surface Technologies, Kalow Technologies and The Vermont Country Store.
Not all those companies are around today. But others, like GE Aviation, Kalow Technologies and The Vermont Country Store have grown.
Over the years, a number of businesses that either relocated or started here found homes in one of REDC’s industrial parks.
As REDC prepares to hold its 75th annual meeting and gala celebration at the Holiday Inn on Friday, REDC Executive Director Jamie Stewart said credit for laying the foundation for the economic development that has taken place goes to that early group of business leaders, including Albert Cree and Robert Mitchell.
“Those two guys really did a phenomenal job at rallying the business leaders in the community, to picking the right people to get things done and to keep the ball moving forward,” Stewart said.
Art Crowley, a lawyer and longtime observer of Rutland’s political and business scene, said REDC’s success can be traced to Cree, Mitchell and Roland Seward.
At the time REDC got its start in 1937, Cree was CEO of Central Vermont Public Service Corp. Seward owned Seward Dairy and was active in the Republican party. Mitchell was a Statehouse reporter with the Rutland Herald and later became its publisher.
Crowley said over the years Cree, Seward and Mitchell “were the three heavyweights” when it came to economic development.
He recalled one story that Seward told about Cree’s take-charge attitude.
One day at the end of a business meeting, someone suggested forming a committee to study the issue at hand. According to Seward, Crowley said Cree agreed a committee was a pretty good idea but said a committee of three was way too many and even a committee of two can be “cumbersome.” At the end of the discussion, Crowley said Cree left no doubt about the makeup of the committee and who was in charge. “I’ll handle it,” was Cree’s decision, Crowley said.
“This guy was a giant and we don’t have that now,” said Crowley, a former alderman, who was the driving force behind creation of the Rutland Police Commission.
Among the companies REDC helped bring to Rutland was Moore Business Forms. In 1960, REDC and the Rutland Region Chamber of Commerce teamed up to build a spec building on Seward Road in Rutland Town.
The building didn’t suit Moore but the area did and the company built its own building across the street.
Moore’s arrival in Rutland helped solidify the area’s ability to attract other businesses.
“Coming so soon after General Electric was sold on Rutland, the Moore success gave considerable impetus to the Rutland industrial development program,” noted a June 2, 1982, Rutland Herald editorial on Moore’s 21st anniversary.
But like the changing of the industrial guard, Moore eventually closed its Rutland plant following another mainstay, Tambrands.
In both instances, economic circumstances beyond Rutland’s control were to blame.
The crown jewel in REDC’s stable of employers remains General Electric.
It just so happened that in the late 1940s Tambrands was eyeing a move to Park Street but before that could happen it needed to find a buyer for its building on Columbian Avenue. “So a group from REDC and a group from the Chamber went out recruiting ... 20 Fortune 500 companies to identify someone to look at it,” Stewart said.
Among those Fortune 500 companies was GE, which had a small machine tool parts plant in Ludlow.
“(GE) had been operating their facility for about three years down in Ludlow and had been flooded out several times and were looking for a new home,” said Stewart, recounting the history.
He said GE executives came to Rutland and liked what they saw of the Tambrands plant. GE has been here ever since.
The company that makes compressor blades and vanes for commercial and military aircraft still operates its plant on Columbian Avenue. But needing more space, the company in 1975 opened a larger plant on Windcrest Road in the town.
At the height of the Cold War, the GE plants employed more than 2,000 people. That number shrank with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, dropping below 1,000. Employment has since rebounded to around 1,100 workers. Starting pay at GE is $26 an hour, making it the highest or one of the highest starting hourly jobs in the county.
The spurt in hiring coincides with a major expansion on Windcrest Road to handle new commercial engine orders, especially for Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliner.
On Friday at its annual meeting, REDC will honor GE Aviation as its Member of the Year.
One of REDC’s singular achievements was the Airport Business Park in North Clarendon. Built in the 1980s adjacent to Rutland-Southern Vermont Regional Airport, the industrial park is home to a mix of tenants, among them Knight Kitchens, FedEx, The Vermont Country Store, Kalow Technologies, Ellison Surface Technologies, and Tuttle Publishing.
Today, the Airport Business Park is home to 10 companies with more than 800 employees.
Not all of REDC’s projects have proved successful.
The purchase of the Patch Wegner property, a former foundry behind the Rutland Shopping Plaza, proved to be a disappointment.
“When they bought it and tried to turn it into a business incubator, didn’t do well at that,” Stewart said.
REDC eventually sold the property at a loss to Himolene, which made plastic bags. The federal loan that allowed REDC to purchase the property in the first place was forgiven thanks to efforts by the state’s congressional delegation, Stewart said.
The property is now owned by Joe Giancola, who also turned the former Howe Scale property into a successful business incubator complex.
Although the state Agency of Commerce and Community Development plays a significant role in economic development, much of the work of recruiting new businesses and helping existing companies to expand falls to Vermont’s 12 regional development corporations.
“They really are kind of the boots on the ground for the Agency of Commerce,” said Jo Bradley, CEO of the Vermont Economic Development Corp., the agency which helps finance business development through loans and industrial revenue bonds.
In that regard, Bradley said since its inception in 1975, VEDA has provided $145 million in financing to businesses in Rutland County.
Recruiting new businesses is never easy. It’s on the agenda of every community in the country, so competition is fierce, especially in an economy still recovering from the Great Recession.
“We do have great history in manufacturing,” Stewart said, “but because of our location and rural nature, we don’t sit on the front line of people as they’re looking at their options and opportunities.”
Working in the region’s favor continues to be the quality of its work force and its productivity “which is far superior to most of the country and that’s the strength that we have,” he said.
The challenge, he said, is getting the word out beyond the state’s borders.
Stewart said REDC’s strength lies in its dedicated volunteers.
“It really is a community,” he said. “Whenever we have a success, it’s not REDC, it’s the volunteers and the people that have driven that.”