Connor Homes furloughs its entire workforce

MIDDLEBURY — Connor Homes has furloughed its entire 65-person workforce at its Middlebury headquarters on Route 7 South, according to company officials, who are now trying to leverage bank loans and Vermont Economic Development Authority (VEDA) funding to keep the company solvent.
Company founder Mike Connor — who sold 99 percent of his interest in Connor Homes in 2012 — is hoping to secure financing to re-acquire the business from a group of investors who currently control it, Director of Marketing Thomasina Magoon told the Addison Independent during a phone conversation early Tuesday afternoon.
The same ownership also acquired J.S. Benson Windows & Doors, and consolidated both operations in the Route 7 facility.
“They thought it would be a good partner for Connor Homes to be able to do both (the homes and windows/doors) with everything wrapped under one roof,” Magoon said. Around 20 of the 65-person Connor Homes workforce did contract work for J.S. Benson, according to Magoon.
Established in 1992, Connor Homes specializes in colonial reproduction “kit” homes assembled in the 115,000-square-foot former home of Standard Register. The company moved to the cavernous Standard Register spot in 2007 in response to growing demand for its products. Connor Homes mushroomed from 32 employees in 14,000 square feet off Exchange Street to 70 workers 2012.
Local economic development officials at the time were hopeful that Connor Homes could ultimately fill the void of the 112 job lost to the local economy when Standard Register left town a decade ago.
But when a deep 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 shaky economy. Connor Homes trimmed its workforce to around 50.
Business began to rebound for Connor Homes toward the end of 2012. The company just last February was featured in a 10-episode run of the popular TV program “This Old House,” during which one of its pre-engineered, 3,000-square-foot homes was assembled for a young family in Essex, Mass.
But times are again tough for Connor Homes, officials said, to the extent that the majority owner-investors recently decided to stop bankrolling the operation.
New ownership, according to Magoon, invested heavily in technology in hopes of making Connor homes a $100 million company. That goal has not  materialized.
“Essentially, the investors said they are no longer funding the company, which is why we had to lay the company off on Friday,” Magoon said. “We have a return-to-work date of the end of the month.”
In the meantime, Mike Connor will seek to reacquire the company he established 25 years ago.
Magoon and Vice President of Sales Heidi Lacey declined to provide names of the company’s majority investor/owners. Two sources told the Independent that one of the investors was Sam F. Pryor IV, of New York.
Addison County Economic Development Corp. Executive Director Robin Scheu learned on Tuesday about the financial crisis at Connor Homes, and pledged to work with state and company officials in an effort to get the business running again.
“I’m concerned for Middlebury and I’m concerned for the employees, it’s a sad day,” Scheu said on Tuesday as she prepared to leave for Montpelier, where she will begin her duties in the Vermont House representing Middlebury. As a legislator, Scheu will be able to exert more influence on state economic development policy and go to bat for individual businesses.
Jamie Gaucher is director Middlebury’s Office of Business Development & Innovation. He has already reached out to Connor and the current ownership to discuss strategies for getting the doors to open again at Connor Homes.
“Connor Homes is a very important piece of our economy,” Gaucher said. “If there is a long- or short-term solution to get these people back on the job, the town is very interested in doing that.”
The Addison Independent will update this story as more details become available.
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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