Country Home Products plans to leave Vergennes; jobs status updated

VERGENNES — Property maintenance equipment manufacturer Country Home Products will leave its Vergennes headquarters next year, likely taking some of its jobs north to Chittenden County and others to Wisconsin.
The firm’s parent company, Generac Power Systems Inc., updated late last week what would happen to the many of the 120 employees at CHP’s Meigs Road headquarters.
Generac, based in Waukesha, Wis., confirmed this week that CHP will move out of its 75 Meigs Road facility sometime next year to an undisclosed facility in South Burlington. CHP, which first leased most of the 88,000-square-foot building in the late 1990s, now manufactures some of its DR Power landscaping and Neuton lawn mowing products in Winooski, but it’s not clear at this point if that facility will be affected.
The move out of Vergennes will not include the DR Power Equipment store at 1 North Main St., according to store manager Jeremy Brooks. The store moved out of the Meigs Road building five years ago and has done well selling and servicing DR, Husqvarna and Generac products, according to Brooks.
“We’re not going anywhere anytime soon,” Brooks said.
Generac Marketing Communications/PR Manager Art Aiello said in an email to the Independent the move to South Burlington, targeted for the second quarter of 2019, “is intended to better position DR Power Equipment for future growth. DR Power is also adding a number of jobs throughout 2018 and into 2019.”
Aiello also emailed the Independent on Thursday to clarify the status of jobs at CHP’s Meigs Road plant and the company’s plans.
Aiello wrote that about two-dozen jobs are at stake as Generac makes plans to consolidate operations in its Waukesha, Wisc., headquarters and at a new, as yet undisclosed, site in South Burlington. 
Aiello said he had responded in an email to a question posed earlier last week about jobs, and apologized for it not reaching the Independent.
“It appears there was some problem with my email, and it never got to you,” Aiello wrote.
In the missing email Aiello wrote: “DR Power Equipment does not plan to make any changes to its workforce as a result of the move to South Burlington. However, DR Power is consolidating repair shop and shipping operations in Wisconsin with parent company Generac Power Systems, which will improve efficiency in those operations. About 26 DR Power employees will be affected, many of whom are being offered other roles within the company. Those leaving the company will be given severance packages.”
Addison County Economic Development Executive Director Fred Kenney described Generac’s move as “consolidating some operations to the parent company’s site in Wisconsin, Generac’s operation out there, and what’s remaining in Vermont will move to South Burlington.”
Kenney said he worked with Generac to try to find an Addison County site or to see if it could be feasible to renovate CHP’s current headquarters, which it leases from Middlebury’s Carrara family, doing business as Vermont Industrial Parks.
Kenney said Generac determined it preferred Chittenden County, in part to be closer to a larger workforce as the company will look to add employees.
Kenney said he wished CHP was staying in Addison County, but said Generac’s second choice could have been worse than Chittenden County.
“Obviously it’s unfortunate to lose any business from our region for any reason. The upside is most of their operations will stay in Vermont, and the current employees will have the opportunity to stay with the company at the new location. So they’ll be offered severance or they’ll have the ability to stay with the company if they don’t mind traveling up to South Burlington,” he said.
Meanwhile J.P. Carrara and Vermont Industrial Parks executive Bill Townsend said efforts have already begun to find a new tenant or tenants for a building originally erected to house Simmonds Precision employees before that company downsized and changed hands for the first of several times — it is now United Technologies Corp.
Townsend said CHP leases 66,000 square feet on the building’s main level, with two other tenants, WowToyz and Long Trail Physical Therapy, splitting the remaining 22,000 square feet.
Although currently mostly office space, Townsend said in the past CHP’s space has been used for manufacturing and warehousing, and potential tenants could find it attractive for a variety of uses.
“It wouldn’t be difficult to repurpose it,” he said. “There is a lot of flexibility.”
Vermont Industrial Parks will also consider dividing the space in its marketing approach.
“In recent years there seems to have been some demand for smaller manufacturing spaces,” Townsend said. “We want to be as flexible as we can. We would absolutely consider that option.”
Townsend sounded a hopeful note. He said in 2008, right at the beginning of the recession, Vermont Industrial Park had an empty 58,000-square-foot building at 1197 Exchange St. in Middlebury. That structure is now all but full, he said, in part because one tenant, Vermont Coffee Company, rented a small portion of it and then grew dramatically within the building.
“That was one of the great things about having a space like that,” Townsend said.
Vergennes Mayor Renny Perry also spoke on the topic, wearing his hat as the president of the Vergennes Partnership, which is charged in part with enhancing the city’s economy.
Perry said the Partnership’s Economic Development Committee will meet with Townsend as soon as possible to learn more about CHP’s space to allow the Partnership to help market the property.
“We want to have details about what is happening and details about the building itself,” Perry said. “Obviously it’s going to be a large vacant building in Vergennes, and one of the Partnership’s missions is to try to fill it.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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