Quebec companies scout Coös locations
September 29, 2010
GROVETON — Algae-based bio-fuel manufacturing, hydroponically-grown organic vegetables, plastics fabricated for the medical and automotive industries — these were some of the products which a clutch of entrepreneurs and consultants from three companies in the Montreal area discussed on Friday's whirlwind tour of potential Coös communities, each of which is seeking a new, diversified industrial base.
All three companies that had representatives on hand at Friday's tour also had had representatives at an investors' meeting held the previous week in Concord at the offices of the state Department of Resources and Economic Development (DRED).
Two of Groveton's three selectmen — chairman Mario Audit and Jim Tierney — were on hand at the Northumberland Town Hall to greet the Quebecois who emerged from a chauffeur-driven stretch limousine provided by Capital City Limousine, escorted by Michael Bergeron, state business development manager, along with DRED's own North Country representative, Beno Lamontagne of Colebrook.
GREAT president Claire Prosper of Lancaster welcomed the handful of Canadians and pointed out that the region boasts a good workforce, many with a French-Canadian background. GREAT vice president Brian Bresnahan, a laid-off Wausau worker, explained that the community had been dominated for over 100 years by the paper-making industry and now hopes to replace its single-industry past with several robust, growing companies in the future.
Co-director Jeff Hayes of North Country Council (NCC) and executive director Peter Riviere of the Coös Economic Development Corporation (CEDC) were both also on hand to lend additional gravitas to the mill tour.
The visitors indicated that they are not yet ready to make a decision about whether it would be advantageous to them to open a facility in Coös, but rather were on an exploratory trip. All asked specific questions as they toured the cavernous, echo-filled former Wausau paper mill.
Arthur Ross of Hart Corp. of Avon, Conn., who represents Groveton Acquisitions that now owns the 500,000 square-foot former Wausau Papers mill on 107 acres, including 63 acres on which the wastewater treatment facility is located, answered some questions, and former Wausau employee and now-plant manager Roger Caron of Stark others.
One visitor asked about the environmental assessment reports that have been completed, noting that any hydroponic vegetables would have to be grown in a chemical-free environment to be certified as "organic." Some $300,000 was spent securing environmental assessments from Nobis Engineering, Inc., of Concord.
The 300,000-square-feet of the more modern mill sections have higher ceiling heights, making them, Mr. Ross noted, suitable for more general reuse purposes. The older sections are more challenging, he said.
The rail spurs of the St. Lawrence and Atlantic Railroad, connecting to the Canadian National were of interest to some, and the potential to generate electricity at the Brooklyn Dam and using the Portland Natural Gas Transmission System step-down station to another. The co-gen turbines that were installed by both Groveton Paper Board and Wausau have been sold and shipped south.
One visitor noted that a group of European investors is interested in finding locations in which two always-needed items — energy and food — could be produced.
The economic development tour, partially funded by Public Service of New Hampshire, included two nights' stay at The Balsams and site visits and meet-and-greet opportunities in both Colebrook and Berlin.
Berlin Mayor Paul Grenier and Max Makaitis of the Androscoggin Valley Economic Recovery (AVER), who wears several economic development hats, plus representatives of local business and community non-profits, were on hand at the Northland Dairy for a long, pleasant AVER-sponsored lunch.
A continuous-loop YouTube video that only included Berlin scenes was projected onto the wall during the meal. Local enthusiasts held a Canadian flag at the restaurant's front door when the visitors arrived by limousine, and, before the meal was served, Roy Lionel of Berlin sang "O Canada," Canada's national anthem.
Mayor Grenier ably served as a translator for one visitor who to shy to speak English.
Take-home information on Berlin-Gorham community, including space available in BIDPA's Maynesboro Industrial Park in Berlin and the potential for space surrounding the planned Laidlaw Berlin BioPower LLC facility was at every place setting. Interest was also expressed in seeing the Cascade paper mill in Gorham, this on behalf of potential unnamed European investors not on hand.