State and local officials plus two entrepreneurs posed for a photo on Thursday to celebrate a new factory opening up in the former Car Freshener plant in Berlin: Michael Bergeron, left, DRED's senior business development manager; Diana Nelson of the state Employment Security Office in Berlin; DRED North Country man-on-the-ground "Beno" Lamontagne; Berlin Mayor Paul Grenier; Bob Chapman of Gorham, who owns industrial & commercial buildings & sites in Berlin, Gorham, & Groveton, and Michael Rousseau Sr., who opened the factory in Berlin that might relocate to Groveton. (Photo by Edith Tucker) (click for larger version)
February 03, 2016BERLIN — It was all smiles at the Thursday, Jan. 28, celebration of the startup of the Cedar & Oak furniture factory when plant operator Michael "Mike" Rousseau Sr., of Manchester showed Mayor Paul Grenier, state officials and local press around the well-lighted open space on the east side of the former Car Freshener building off Route 110, now owned by Bob Chapman of Gorham.
The first shipment of finished cabinetry was shipped south on Jan. 22, at the end of the factory's first full week of operation Rousseau explained. His son, Michael Rousseau Jr., manages Amoskeag Fixtures & Design LLC, a retail store in Manchester, as well as sales to other well-known furniture stores, such as Top Furniture in Gorham and Endicott Furniture in Concord as well as Meredith, Plymouth, and Walpole and Conn.
"We make six kinds of armoires," said Rousseau said, as he described the two main looks of the company's finished lines of bureaus, beds, end tables and entertainment centers: bead board "country" and Shaker, including what one buyer has dubbed Modern Shaker. The materials are the antithesis of the particle and chip boards used by "knockdown" furniture makers, he pointed out, noting that the materials are solid and the finishes "water borne," designed to be environmentally safe.
"We'll leave no environmental footprint," Rousseau said.
The entrepreneur said that he had once worked in the defense industry in positions that required a lot of travel.
"I was missing out on family life and spending time with my children," Rousseau said. "I'd always enjoyed woodworking and gardening, and I went into making furniture, capitalizing on my sense of color and style."
His search for a place in the North Country in which to make furniture started three years ago when he was in touch with Benoit "Beno" Lamontagne, DRED's North Country industrial agent, formerly of Colebrook and now of Plymouth.
"I took a good look at the Brown Street furniture factory in Whitefield, but after I did my due diligence I decided it was too far gone to bring back to life," Rousseau said. "Then I looked at an existing building on the former mill site in Groveton and agreed to open operations there."
However, Chapman said, although a lot of work had been completed to clear the site of now-longer-usable buildings, the water-and-sewer project did not go forward as quickly as anticipated.
"Rousseau needed to find suitable space, and so I let him use the space I had available in the Car Freshener building before he made other plans to move to another county," he explained.
Chapman's plan is to have Rousseau stay in Berlin if a company that is close to making a decision to go to Groveton does, in fact, sign the dotted line and close on a lease to bring jobs to Groveton.
"If that doesn't happen, however, then Rousseau will move his operation to Groveton," Chapman said. "Mike Sterling and I are working every day to find prospects to come to Groveton. We're looking to use the available natural gas there."
Right now, the furniture factory only has five workers on payroll.
But Rousseau expects to add one a week for some weeks, possibly ending up with between 18 and 25 workers by year's end. Hiring takes time because workers must be trained to fabricate his lines of furniture.
"I'm also looking to diversify the business by filling a local void in fabricating solid surface countertops," he said, noting that most area businesses that sell vanities and kitchen cabinets order them from Vermont.
Although Chapman would be happy to have Rousseau's outfit stay in the former Car Freshener building, he explained that he is committed to bringing a company to the former mill site in Groveton as soon as possible, especially since he is eager to have two-thirds of Northumberland voters at the March town meeting vote "yes" on their ballots to appropriate up-to-$400,000 of bonds or notes as matching funds for a federal Economic Development Administration (EDA) grant for Phase II of the water/sewer extension on the river side of the former mill site. (If the grant is not received, these funds would, however, not be raised.)
"If I can land another company for Groveton, then Rousseau can stay in Berlin; but, if not, I'll keep my word to Groveton," Chapman said.
Mayor Grenier said, "Bob Chapman has been taking the lead in recruiting companies to come to the City and the county, proving that there are still entrepreneurs willing to come into Coös."