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Potential buyer for Specialty Filaments surfaces

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January 25, 2007

By JOHN FLOWERS

MIDDLEBURY — Local economic development officials, union representatives and corporate lawyers were working feverishly this week on a deal through which an out-of-state company would buy, and resurrect, the former Specialty Filaments plant at 3046 Case St.

“The development corporation is working closely with a potential buyer of the facility,” Addison County Economic Development Corp. (ACEDC) Executive Director Jamie Stewart said on Tuesday. “If we can put together a deal that is viable, there is a possibility of the re-hire of all of the former Specialty Filaments employees.”

Stewart said the name of the prospective buyer is being kept under wraps pending the purchase of the Specialty Filaments business out of U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Rutland, along with negotiation of a financial incentives package that would give the buyer tax credits and some short-term reductions in electricity rates.

It was on Jan. 5 that Specialty Filaments — a major manufacturer of brush bristles — closed its doors, resulting in the loss of 175 jobs. Company officials cited pressure from foreign competition as a major reason for the plant closing.

The Vermont Department of Labor, ACEDC and Addison County Chamber of Commerce held a job fair on Jan. 18 that drew more than 30 local and statewide employers, along with many former Specialty Filaments workers.

Now there’s a very good chance those workers won’t have to change their employment addresses.

“We made some good headway today,” Specialty Filaments union President Barry Whitney said on Tuesday evening, following talks with the prospective buyers and bankruptcy court officials.

Officials close to the negotiations confirmed the would-be purchaser wants to keep the business in Middlebury, making the same product while offering the same number of jobs.

“We are now in negotiations with the new buyer to come up with a pretty good contract,” said Whitney, who had worked for Specialty Filaments for nine years. “We’re just trying to get a sense of security. We got their first proposal, and we will meet later tonight to iron this out. I’m optimistic.”

Whitney and Stewart cautioned on Tuesday that the deal still faced some hurdles.

The bankruptcy court will need to sign off on a deal conveying the property, noted Stewart.

And Whitney said he believes other prospective purchasers will be able to bid on the property. Middlebury town records show the property, which includes the plant and 60.35 acres, has an assessed value of $1,707,300.

The deal would also be contingent upon the buyers being awarded tax incentives through the Vermont Economic Progress Council’s (VEPC) “Vermont Employment Growth Incentive” program. The program provides a cash payment, based on new job and payroll creation, to companies that have been pre-approved for the incentive.

Officials said the new buyer would also seek temporary electricity rate breaks from Central Vermont Public Service Corp.’s (CVPS) “Economic Development Incentive Program.” That program offers rate discounts of up to 10 percent over a five-year period to eligible new or expanding industries.

The prospective buyer was scheduled to make its pitch to VEPC this Thursday, Jan. 25, according to Stewart.

Middlebury officials, meanwhile, have noticed signs that something has been afoot.

“There have been title searchers all over the office,” Middlebury Town Planner Fred Dunnington said Tuesday evening. “There are signs there is about to be a sale.”

Whitney hopes a deal can be struck quickly, before many of his former colleagues scatter to other jobs.

“Not everybody will come back,” Whitney said. “The longer it takes to get this done, the more people won’t come back.”

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