A spanking new white fiberglass research boat was berthed at the Eastport breakwater's inner basin during the week of February 25. The Tidewater was awaiting departure for the last leg of its voyage to its new owner, the William and Mary College Virginia Institute of Marine Science. If all goes as planned, Tidewater's builder, Millennium Marine of Escuminac will be the new tenant of about half of the Eastport city‑owned Guilford mill building as a manufacturing satellite to its New Brunswick operation.
Washington County Manager Betsy Fitzgerald is coordinating the final piece of paperwork needed to comply with federal Economic Development Administration (EDA) grant requirements that will be used to upgrade the building and purchase equipment. EDA needs to sign off on the paperwork before the partnership is a done deal, thus the cautious optimism expressed by all parties involved.
Millennium's Guimond family has been in the boatbuilding business since the 1940s and specializes in custom fiberglass designs ranging from 20' to 60'. It manufactures fishing boats and for the last decade has been designing and manufacturing custom boats for government services and specialty workboats. Its boats are found throughout North America and in parts of Europe. They are used for research, aquaculture, law enforcement, exploration, passenger and cargo carrying.
Millennium President Cory Guimond explains that his company is the last one standing in the province, and the location has restricted the company's growth. During the winter the water freezes up, meaning a four‑hour drive to the nearest port for sea trials. Compounding that difficulty is the company's isolation, which restricts the ability to find qualified employees. Eastport, he says, has a number of assets, including the port, from which he would be able to draw. He could utilize the port to ship those boats made for foreign customers. The Boat School, if it gets back into gear, could supply him with skilled graduates. And he anticipates finding qualified employees or people who can be trained from the community at large.
The New Brunswick operation will stay at its current capacity of 18 employees with the Eastport facility supplying fiberglass product for the Escuminac site as well as "completing more and more product for the U.S. and foreign market," Guimond says. Within the first year of operations in Eastport, Guimond anticipates hiring 18 employees and expanding by 10 annually until he reaches a maximum of about 50.
The City of Eastport has been searching for a composites‑related business to locate in the city‑owned Guilford mill since it qualified in 2010 for a $1.4 million U.S. Department of Commerce EDA grant, which requires a $75,000 match from the business and job creation. One portion of the grant will be used for building upgrades and the other portion used for equipment purchase, including an exhaust ventilation system.
Guimond is optimistic about Eastport. He's now relieved that a partnership in 2007 with entities in Edenton, N.C., didn't work out. "The community was going to build a new building," he says, but then the recession hit and the money wasn't there. "We had big plans, made investments." But, he adds, "I'm quite pleased about Eastport, about Maine." It allows him closer proximity to his home base and family members.
Originally the City of Eastport, in partnership with the county, was the EDA grant applicant, with Ocean Renewable Power Company (ORPC) as an interested party. Since the initial grant application and award, ORPC has changed its business model with its manufacturing supply needs met from a range of already established businesses. The company notified the city in 2011 that it would not need the facility and would do all in its power to help the city find a tenant. The city reached out to the composites industry and economic development organizations for assistance in its business search. The city was under pressure to find a business that could meet the grant's requirements before the term of the grant expires in spring 2013.
The paperwork between the city, the county and Millennium is wrapping up, says Fitzgerald. "There's one more step. It's a detail piece," she explains. As a part of the change to the EDA grant application, the three need to outline the change in equipment needs from the original application. "I'm hoping to have everything to them [EDA] by the end of the month [February]." She notes that the outcome "seems very positive" but needs to be finalized by "getting all our ducks in line." In terms of concerns about meeting the spring deadline, Fitzgerald comments, "It's as much for the EDA as it is for us."
Guimond says he's eager to get started as soon as possible but hopes no later than early summer. "I have people ready to sign the dotted line for boats, so they need to get built."
City Manager Jon Southern says that if Millennium becomes the tenant, "It's a perfect fit for Eastport" because of the city's maritime and boatbuilding heritage.
Guimond says of staffing, "They'd be full‑time, year‑round."
Millennium, Southern reiterates, has been exploring the possibility of a U.S. manufacturing base for a number of years. "There are economic factors in having it in this country." Southern explains that the company has many U.S. customers, and with the Jones Act, being able to build in the U.S. greatly eases the sale and transport of boats to customers.
"It will be a proud day in Eastport to see a boat leave that has a 'Made in Eastport' sticker on it," Southern adds.