Connor Homes sees resurgence

MIDDLEBURY — The past eight years have been somewhat of a rollercoaster ride for Connor Homes, a Middlebury-based builder of historic reproduction “kit” homes.
The company boosted its workforce from a mere handful to 32 in 2006 as demand for its products grew. In 2007, company founder Michael Connor moved the operation from a 14,000-square-foot space off Exchange Street into the 118,000-square-foot former headquarters of Standard Register off Route 7 South. Connor Homes quickly mushroomed to 70 employees.
But when the Great Recession swept the country in 2008, it hit Connor Homes — and the home building industry in general — especially hard. People who had been eager to invest in new abodes suddenly became wary of making such a large outlay amid a very shaky economy.
“In 2008, we had a lot of (orders) on the books that suddenly got cancelled,” Connor recalled. “It was the typical stock market crash for people in our industry.”
With less business, Connor Homes shrank is workforce, which reached its nadir of 35 workers in 2012. In 2011, Connor Homes had been on the verge of relocating to the former Vermont Tubbs building in Brandon in a deal that would have seen Vermont Hard Cider acquire and expand in the Connor Homes headquarters. But the discovery of some underground contamination (that has now been cleaned up) below that Route 7 headquarters killed that deal.
Business began to rebound for Connor Homes toward the end of 2012 and has continued on that upward trend, to the point where the company now has an all-time high of 72 employees on its roster.
At the current pace of orders, Connor Homes will have designed, built parts for and assembled 50 homes by the end of the year, according to Connor. That would be well ahead of the 35 the company produced last year. And many of the orders the business has received have been for larger homes, at or beyond 3,500 square feet.
“Typically, we have been most successful in the Northeast,” he said of the client base. “We have recently made some good inroads in the Hamptons and Nantucket.”
Connor said several factors have led to the company’s resurgence.
First, a small group of investors stepped forward during the recession to give Connor Homes more financial stability to innovate and weather the tough times.
Second, Connor Homes has diversified its offerings. It is not just a place where homes are designed and prefabricated for assembly on lots throughout the country. The business now makes and sells high-end cabinetry, windows and doors that are gaining increased popularity.
“We are growing in a lot of different directions, and they are all related,” Connor said.
Third, the company has invested heavily in technology, including state-of-the-art machinery and software that allows products to be made more quickly and efficiently.
“Our shop looks a lot different than it did a few years ago,” Connor said, referring to the new equipment.
Word of the company’s commitment to new technology has spread to Middlebury Union High School. Eight of the school’s recent graduates now work at Connor Homes.
“They get an opportunity to learn skills they wouldn’t get in normal construction jobs,” Connor said. “There are more high-tech jobs here than there used to be.”
Add it all up, and Connor is again upbeat about the future of his company, which he is committed to keeping in Middlebury in a building that he wasn’t sure Connor Homes would ever fully occupy. Now an addition isn’t out of the question.
“The goal is to continue to grow the company,” he said. “The bottom line is that we are feeling very positive.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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