A Connecticut-based window coverings supplier will open a new 11,000-square-foot design lab at Brunswick Landing and staff it with 10 new high-paying hires after it signs a lease with the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority next week.
The lease was being finalized this week and could be signed as early as Monday, MRRA Executive Director Steve Levesque said.
When RollEase signs, it will be the eighth new company and 42nd overall to join the business park at the former U.S. Navy base that was ordered closed in 2005. Those companies will employ as many as 750 by the end of the year, according to MRRA.
“They’re a good fit for us, for what we’re trying to do,” Levesque said. “They contacted us, and it’s been a very productive discussion from Day One. The process went very smoothly from our perspective.”
That’s largely because Greg Farr, former executive director at the Brunswick Downtown Association and a 25-year veteran of the window coverings industry, made establishing the company’s “innovation center” here his personal mission.
Farr, a senior vice president with RollEase, said he viewed Brunswick Landing as an opportunity to return to a place he loved while also boosting it economically.
“We are happy to be here,” Farr said Thursday from a temporary office inside a Pleasant Street office building. “We could have very easily chosen not to come here,” he said. “But we were predisposed.”
The company will rent its space at approximately $5 per square foot triple-net, Levesque said, which typically means the company will pay its insurance, utilities and taxes separately.
Negotiations moved quickly.
RollEase began its assessment with a visit to the facility Oct. 8, 2013. On Oct. 28, Farr presented his proposal for a research-and-development facility at Brunswick Landing to the company’s board of directors, which approved the move in November. The company then started recruiting, and is now purchasing capital equipment for the plant.
Farr expects construction to begin in March, staff training in April and May and final testing on the equipment in June. A July 1 ribbon cutting is envisioned, and Farr said he already has plans to fly in 20 customers for a focus group in August, “to show them and kind of flaunt the Maine brand.”
To get operational, Roll- Ease will spend $2.5 million on staff recruiting, equipment and office fit-up in Brunswick, Farr said.
Because his company wants to be “communityminded,” he said RollEase also will spend up to $600,000 per year on local products and services, and will look to recruit partner companies to the base. Visits by its customers and clients will inject another $100,000 or more into the local economy each year, Farr said.
Farr said it’s likely a “secondary investment” will occur in Year 2 of the company’s buildout — which could include expanding or upgrading the space and adding staff, after the products being designed there begin to take hold in what he estimated is a $5 billion global market for window treatments.
“We’re going to make this a showplace,” he said. “We’re asking a Mainebased ad agency to build a brochure for us on our capabilities and what we’re doing here that we think will really excite some of our business partners. This business will grow.”
Established in 1980, Roll- Ease designs, manufactures and markets manual operating systems and accessories for soft and hard window coverings used in homes and businesses — the springs, strings, slats and bearings that make a Venetian blind go up and down, for example.
The privately-held company was purchased by Shoreview Capital Partners, an investor based in Minneapolis, Minn., with $600 million in assets.
The Times Record first reported the company’s Brunswick plans Jan. 23 when RollEase began recruiting engineers and designers to staff the new facility, which will be in Building 54 — the former U.S. Navy Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape School.
The posted jobs will pay $60,000 to $70,000 per year, Farr said Thursday, and will require skills in mechanical engineering, experience designing small parts, some knowledge of materials such as plastics and aluminum, and expertise carrying out manufacturing processes.
Because the search for a new facility involved a labor assessment, Farr said he was confident the company will be able to recruit talent locally.
“When we did our due diligence, we were asking around with a company out of Westbrook about availability of engineering talent, schools, work force … They felt very comfortable referring us here: one, because of the support of engineering talent; two, because there would be like-minded businesses; and three because there was a vision of what Brunswick Landing wanted to be.”
Farr emphasized RollEase products — some 5,000 of them — are custom-built for each client and require staff to be “creative and handson” while working in a team-oriented group.
The facility will be built with such collaboration in mind, with open spaces, high ceilings, glass partitions and a demonstration center where window coverings — some of which contain 14 separate, moving parts, Farr said — can be opened, closed and manipulated thousands of times per day. There’s even a game room to keep staff upbeat.
One of the first projects for its Brunswick staff will be to develop a line of affordable, RollEase-branded motors, to enter a market in automated energy management and lighting control systems that could be worth up to $100 million, Farr said.
“We are not a start-up,” Farr said. “We’ve been here and we will be for many years.”
Based in Stamford, Conn., RollEase also has distribution warehouses in Lenoir, N.C., and Phoenix, Ariz.
In Brunswick, the company is seeking a manager for new product development, two to four mechanical engineers, an electrical engineer and an engineering technician.
Meanwhile, its future neighbor, SaviLinx, announced plans to hold a job fair at the site of its new facility from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 4, “looking for customer-service oriented professionals who would like to become part of an exciting, growing team with tremendous opportunities for advancement,” said Heather D. Blease, SaviLinx Founder and CEO.
Blease’s firm plans to hire approximately 10 “Tech Savi” customer service representatives to begin work in the coming weeks. These jobs are full time with benefits; part-time shifts will be available.