Woodworkers get contract from Middlebury College

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(Host) On February 1, a new furniture plant will open in Island Pond. Island Pond Woodworkers hopes to fill the void left when the Ethan Allen factory closed its doors 18 months ago. The first job for the new business will be to manufacture furniture for Middlebury College. Company officials say the contract with the college was key to the creation of the worker-owned business. It’s also part of a larger effort to revive the wood products industry in Vermont.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports:

(Zind) The isolated Northeast Kingdom community of Island Pond and the bustling international campus of Middlebury College are worlds apart in many ways. But there’s one important connection.

In a few weeks the employees of Island Pond Woodworkers will begin producing furniture for the new Middlebury College Library. The job is worth over half a million dollars. When the first of the library’s new study carrels roll off the line, it will represent the return of manufacturing jobs to Island Pond. It will also be a milestone in the effort to create jobs in the state’s wood products industry.

Island Pond Woodworkers is the creation of former Ethan Allen employees. To build their new plant, they needed to line up some serious financing. Don Maiolo is CEO of Island Pond Woodworkers. Maiolo says the contract with Middlebury was key to getting the loans needed to get the company off the ground:

(Maiolo) “We could not have really started off without a contract of this size because of the fact that we needed it to get our financing in place.”

(Zind) For Middlebury College, the decision to do business with Island Pond Woodworkers is philosophical as much as economic. David Ginevan is vice president of facilities planning at Middlebury:

(Ginevan) “The story really wasn’t about study carrels. It was about the way we do business and jobs for people in the state of Vermont. And we’re going to do it in a financially responsible way that benefits not only the college, but those folks in Island Pond.”

(Zind) Middlebury College is one of a number of large Vermont institutions involved in the Cornerstone Project, which is run by the non-profit Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund. The project was created about two years ago to promote the use of wood products harvested from Vermont forests. Edward Delhagen is project manager:

(Delhagen) “Our effort is geared toward reconnecting the state’s large institutions back to the Vermont economy. To work with businesses that are adopting high environmental standards and high environmental practices.”

(Zind) Delhagen says there are no tax breaks or government incentives for institutions taking part in the Cornerstone Project. He says that while the institutions he works with watch their pocketbooks, they value other things as well.

(Delhagen) “Part of the question that people are bringing into the equation right now is, ‘Is economics the only bottom line, or are there other values that we’d like to capture? In this case, support for communities.”

(Zind) Delhagen says the Middlebury College job is the largest so far for the Cornerstone Project. He says Island Pond Woodworkers aren’t the only people who’ll benefit from the contract. It will also provide work for foresters, loggers and lumber mills.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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