MIDDLEBURY — A surging company offering English instruction to corporate professionals throughout the world has picked Middlebury as the spot in which it will expand its operations and bring as many as 100 or more good paying jobs to the area by 2013.
The company, called e-Corporate English, provides intensive language training and coaching in-person, online and over the phone. It was launched in 2007 by Deborah Schwarz, an entrepreneur, foreign language expert, and past attendee of the Middlebury College Language School’s summer programs (in Russian and Chinese).
Schwarz is president of the company, currently headquartered in the Mediterranean island of Malta with sales offices in France, Switzerland and Shanghai, China. Under her leadership, e-Corp. has developed a variety of teaching tools — including hands-on trainers, Web-based programs and instruction over the telephone — to give international business people proficiency in English, the leading language of trade.
“English is a strategic tool,” Schwarz said during a trans-Atlantic phone interview with the Addison Independent on Monday, noting recent references to the language as the “great economic equalizer.”
She added it is becoming increasingly apparent that to succeed in the business world, a person needs at a minimum “a computer, a car and English.” Schwarz established e-Corporate English to provide the latter.
She came to the job with a diverse background. Schwarz was trained in international law in a joint program at Harvard Law School and the Russian Research Center. She joined the U.S. State Department, Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, where she worked on the Russian text of the SALT II Treaty. She then worked for a major interior design construction company as special assistant to the president.
Schwarz set up as the English language training programs for Thompson Groupe in Europe and subsequently founded e-Corporate English, which began with a staff of eight. That number has grown to around 125 serving such clients as Google, global insurance and asset management company AXA, international telecommunications technology company Alcatel, and multi-national banks BNP Paribas and HSBC.
That client list is growing, which sent Schwarz casting about the United States this year for a suitable spot in which to expand her business.
Company officials assessed expansion spots based on four criteria: the quality of the local workforce, prevailing tech/communications infrastructure, linguistic capacity, and easy access to national/international markets.
The e-Corporate English search came down to Oregon, New York and Vermont. Schwarz said the Green Mountain State proved to be a particular draw, in part for its quality of life, environmental track record and good colleges and universities.
“We felt Vermont would be a great home for us,” Schwarz said.
She looked over some potential sites in the state’s population hub of Chittenden County this past August, but couldn’t pin down exactly what she was looking for.
That’s when a Middlebury College alumnus advised her to check out Addison County, noted David Donahue, special assistant to college President Ron Liebowitz. The college is already established in the language business, thereby presenting some opportunities for collaboration with a like-minded enterprise like e-Corp.
“I think she saw an opportunity here,” Donahue said. “Certainly, Middlebury College being here plays a significant role, but she, I believe, was attracted to the Middlebury community.”
Schwarz agreed, and was familiar with the surroundings based on her participation in college summer language programs. In September, she visited Middlebury to see what it had to offer.
She met with local officials, entrepreneurs such as Charlie Kireker, area business leaders, Addison County Economic Development Corp. Executive Director Robin Scheu, college officials and lawmakers.
Schwarz toured some facilities in the area and quickly warmed to the former Vermont Electro-Mechanical Assembly Services (VEMAS) space at 1197 Exchange St. Plans call for e-Corp. to occupy roughly 6,700 square feet of office space, with the availability of more square footage if the company should need it, according to Bill Townsend of J.P. Carrara & Sons, the company that owns the building.
Townsend said the VEMAS space — located between tenants eDoc Innovations and Vermont Coffee — has been vacant since early 2007.
“We have received over the years a fair number of inquiries (about the space): it just hasn’t worked out for one reason or another,” Townsend said.
Until now, that is. Townsend said he is pleased that e-Corp has agreed to a multi-year lease, adding a new presence to Middlebury’s industrial park. That presence, Schwarz said, will begin next year with around 35 e-Corp. workers, a number expected to grow to more than 100 by 2013. Those employment targets go hand-in-hand with e-Corp’s successful application for a series of loans, tax incentives and other support extended through the Vermont Economic Development Authority and other agencies. Details of that aid package were to be unveiled in concert with a formal announcement of e-Corp’s arrival, scheduled for Thursday morning, Dec. 9, at the Vermont Statehouse.
Schwarz said e-Corp will soon begin hiring staff for its Middlebury office, with a variety of administrative staff; technical support; human resources specialist; people who will develop content for the company’s English language offerings; and “e-tutors” to deliver the product to clients.
Salaries will run the gamut, ranging from around $30,000 per year to more than $100,000, said Schwarz, who plans to reside in the Addison County area.
Addison County Economic Development Corp.’s Scheu was ebullient that Middlebury was able to land e-Corp.
“Obviously, it’s very exciting,” she said.
Scheu credited several state and local groups for helping put together an attractive proposal for e-Corp.
“This was a perfect example of ‘it takes a village,’” she said of the multiple entities that pulled together to sell Middlebury. “We were able to respond to just about everything (Schwarz) was looking for.”
Meanwhile, Middlebury College officials are eager to discuss potential partnerships with e-Corp. While the institution is world-renowned for its foreign language programs, its Middlebury-Monterey Language Academy offers English as a Second Language (ESL) instruction. The college also recently established Middlebury Interactive Languages (MIL), an enterprise specializing in “world language products,” including on-line courses and a full-immersion residency program.
“We have gathered experience in on-line delivery (of language programs),” noted Prof. Michael Geisler, vice president of the Middlebury College Language Schools, Schools Abroad and Graduate Program.
While potential partnerships are discussed, Geisler said the college could make its students available for e-Corp internships.
JOBS FOR COLLEGE GRADS
And some of e-Corp’s jobs could be attractive to the spouses of current Middlebury College employees who have thus far not found work in the area to match their qualifications, noted Donahue.
Looking into the future, e-Corp.’s arrival is likely to add to Middlebury’s growing reputation as a regional hub for language-related technology and teaching, officials said. This could encourage other like-minded businesses to locate to Addison County’s shire town.
“Work globally, affect locally,” Scheu said.
Middlebury Selectboard Chairman John Tenny added his voice to the chorus of officials hailing e-Corp.’s imminent arrival.
“I am excited for the community that we have this new opportunity,” Tenny said.
“It comes about because of some thoughtful, hard work by a number of people looking to steer this business to Middlebury,” he added.
“It highlights the need for more aggressive economic development work in the community.”
The selectboard is scheduled to consider some new economic development strategies at its next meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 14.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]