January 24, 2020

Mayor announces new businesses coming to Woonsocket

October 29, 2014

WOONSOCKET – Six businesses – four of them from out of state – are relocating their operations into vacant commercial buildings in the city, including the cavernous shell of Walmart, whose 2011 exit is often blamed for dragging down the city’s retail strip. The 1919 Diamond Hill Road building is to be purchased by Ardent Displays & Packaging of East Hartford, Conn. The company employs about 50 people who manufacture in-store retail displays for some of the biggest names in merchandising, including Walgreen’s, CVS Health, Nokia, Family Dollar and Rockport.
The other newcomers include:
n Ross Matthews & Atlas Products of Fall River. The manufacturer of bungee cords and other braided textile products is relocating its entire operation to 333 River St., which used to house Grossman’s Bargain Outlet. The company will employ 10 people.
n Jeweled Cross Company LLC of North Attleboro is moving to a 20,000-square-foot building at 811 Park East Drive, formerly home of LSI Graphics. Jeweled Cross, which employs 25 people, makes crucifixes and other spiritual jewelry.
n A new venture, Iron Rock Mills, will purchase and retrofit the old Woonsocket Sponging Co. on Ricard Street, a small brick mill behind Woonsocket High School and one of the last textile finishing companies in the city. Iron Rock’s lead entrepreneur is Michael Dubois, who will use the building to manufacture and distribute restaurant furniture, including fixtures to support the seven-restaurant Doherty-Sullivan group. The company expects to hire 6-10 people.
The good economic news was announced amid much fanfare by Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt during a press briefing in Harris Hall yesterday morning. Among those on hand in the packed hall were principals of the new companies. None spoke publicly, but in private interviews, they gave most of the credit to the mayor for luring them to the city.
“The mayor made it a little easier for us to get the permitting process in place, which isn’t an easy task,” said Donald Budnick, president of Ardent Displays.
Budnick said his company is purchasing the 122,000-square-foot Walmart building and expects to sink another half-million dollars into retrofitting it for manufacturing. If all goes according to plan, he said the East Woonsocket facility will be up and running by January.
Similarly, David Angelo, CEO of Atlas Products and a resident of Lincoln, couldn’t say enough about how hard Baldelli-Hunt worked to clear a path for the company to relocate to the old Bargain Outlet.
“She extended herself beyond the call of duty,” said Angelo. “She said she would do whatever it takes, and she did.”
The mayor was clearly flattered to hear what the CEOs were saying about her role, since “I know how much effort I’ve been putting into it.” She said Special Projects Manager Joel Mathews and Planning Director N. David Bouley all deserve credit, too, since “We work as a team.”
Upon taking office, the mayor abolished the position of economic development director, pledging to fulfill the duties of the position herself. Some questioned the move, but yesterday she sounded like the business-booster on the 2013 campaign trail. She talked about Woonsocket’s strategic geography inside the golden triangle of Worcester, Boston and Providence, and even proclaimed purple the city’s official hue, saying it evokes the energy and stability that should be the hallmarks of her administration.
Of course, the mayor and members of her staff were bedecked in various shades of purple, and Harris Hall was festooned with balloons the color of grape soda.
“Woonsocket is open for business,” the mayor said, addressing a packed Harris Hall. “Welcome.”
The mayor said she was particularly pleased that she was able to persuade multiple businesses from other states to set up shop in Woonsocket. She said she was also heartened by the prospect of bringing new life to the Walmart building, a lynchpin of the city’s once-thriving retail strip. Walmart’s demise at the site has been blamed for triggering a domino-effect among other big-box merchandisers on Diamond Hill Road, but Baldelli-Hunt said she hopes that restoring the building to active use will bring back some economic vitality to the area.
Scott Gibbs, president of the Economic Development Foundation of Rhode Island – developer of Highland Corporate Park – said the transformation of Walmart from retail to manufacturing space may offer a clue about the future of Diamond Hill Road. The shift jibes with “a new vision” for rejuvenating the tired retail zone that’s supported by prevailing trends in real estate, including an oversupply of retail space.
“It’s a sign of the times,” he said. “There are good opportunities here to reposition big box retail stores into mixed uses.”
Baldelli-Hunt said she was also happy to see the long-idle Bargain Outlet restored to productive use, because River Street is an area of the city marked by underutilized and empty buildings. One big change in the area was the recent relocation of The Plastics Group to 84 Fairmount St., an old textile mill that had lain vacant for years. Now, with the arrival of Atlas Products, she said, it’s increasingly likely that other companies will look more favorably upon the neighborhood as an opportunity for investment.
Though the four new arrivals represent a combined workforce of roughly 100, it appears the relocations will result in the creation of perhaps 30 new positions in all. Budnick, for example, says many of his workers can operate from dual locations, but he still anticipates creating about 10 new jobs. Angelo, on the other hand, says Atlas is shutting down completely in Fall River and doesn’t expect the existing workforce will look upon the commute to Woonsocket as feasible, so he’ll need to replace about 10 people.
Most of Jeweled Cross’s workers are expected to stay with the company, which is moving just a few miles from its existing location.
In addition to the four companies, the mayor announced that two smaller ventures will commence operations soon in other buildings.
In a partnership with NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley, Eric and Bethany Marsland will resurrect the 1920s Champ’s Diner. The Woonsocket couple currently operates Gourmet Pizza & Grill in Milford, which they’re shutting down to jump-start Champ’s, according to NeighborWorks.
The dining car, long a fixture on Park Avenue, was uprooted to make way for new construction in the 1980s and appeared to have been lost to the ages.
A few years ago, however, Joseph Garlick, executive director of NeighborWorks, discovered the dining car sitting in a Providence junkyard and eventually managed to take possession of it.
When NeighborWorks built a new mixed-use plaza at 719 Front St., the dining car was affixed to it as a sort of anchor store. NeighborWorks had been searching for one or more individuals to operate the dining car as a going business ever since.
Also, the mayor said a vacant building at 480 Diamond Hill Road, previously occupied by Traveling Gourmet, will be taken over by a new heating and ventilation company, Modern Mechanical.
The announcement marked the first of two press briefings the mayor scheduled this week to call attention to progress on the economic development front.
Another is scheduled for tomorrow to call attention to four other businesses that have embarked on new construction projects.
“I would like to personally thank the principals of the entities who have chosen to locate their businesses in Woonsocket,” the mayor said. “My team and I look forward to continuing our work in attracting additional businesses both small and large to Woonsocket. We will continue to encourage development and promote a positive business environment.”
Follow Russ Olivo on Twitter @russolivo

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Mayor announces new businesses coming to Woonsocket