WOONSOCKET — A Massachusetts precision metals fabricator that was looking for a new home has found one at the edge of Highland Corporate Park, where it intends to build a new, $9 million manufacturing plant that the operators of the industrial park say will become the facility’s new entryway flagship.
RESH Inc. of Franklin has reached an agreement in principal to purchase a 6.1-acre parcel behind Cumberland Farms for a 65,000-square-foot structure on Park East Drive, the largest manufacturing site built in the city in at least a decade.
The deal, which depends partly on the City Council’s approval of a tax stabilization pact with RESH, was announced jointly Wednesday by Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt; Scott Gibbs, interim planning director and president of the Economic Development Foundation of RI, which oversees Highland Corporate Park; RI Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor; and RESH President Scott Langley.
“This is a real shot in the arm for the city of Woonsocket,” said Baldelli-Hunt. “It’s proof that the employees of the city and various departments work extremely hard to be certain they’re meeting the needs of investors and reassuring them that coming here is the right decision.”
It’s “especially encouraging,” the mayor added, “at a time when many people have taken a step back because of the pandemic, that we have continued to move this project forward.”
Gibbs couldn’t agree more.
“It’s a big deal even if you don’t consider the pandemic,” said Gibbs. “This is a huge corporate move and an investment that’s creating jobs. It’s a great company that’s tech-based and it’s perfect for the city. And it’s happening in a pandemic. We couldn’t be more happy.”
The city location was apparently an important draw for RESH, as Langley, the president, lives in Woonsocket. So do roughly a third of the company’s workforce of 35 engineers, managers and machine operators, officials say.
“Woonsocket is a great city with a rich history in manufacturing,” Langley said in a statement. “I am excited with the opportunity to grow my company in Woonsocket. We have been impressed by the responsiveness of the city and EDFRI to manage the site planning and permitting tasks that have made this relocation possible.”
Gibbs said landing the company was a team effort in which EDFRI and the city worked to cut red tape and risk associated with developing the construction site. In addition to the tax stabilization agreement that will soon come before the council, Gibbs said the sale of the parcel is contingent upon site planning and obtaining development permits for the parcel – chores that EDFRI and the city have promised to perform, and which RESH didn’t necessarily have time for.
Founded some 33 years ago, RESH presently operates out of leased space at 25 Kenwood Circle in Franklin, and its term there is set to expire in about a year. Gibbs said RESH is a diversified company that makes highly customized components for everything from medical devices like ventilators to telecommunications equipment – and it’s growing fast.
“They were looking around, and they needed to be able to focus on a location,” Gibbs said. “It was the added value that we supplied that enabled us to bring this project to the table.”
To bring the deal together, the city and EDFRI filed a joint application to the RI Commerce Corporation – the state’s economic development arm – for a site readiness grant. To date, Baldelli-Hunt said, the city has received a commitment for “a little less than $50,000” from RICC and will use some of it to offset engineering and permitting costs associated with site planning.
Gibbs said EDFRI was also able to leverage a longstanding relationship with Bowerman Associates of Rhode Island to quickly engage the Providence architecture and construction company, to design and build the new facility for RESH.
It’s unknown whether RESH is seeking additional financial incentives from the state as part of the deal. Matt Sheaf, a spokesman for RICC, couldn’t be reached, but Pryor issued a statement that credits state programs for luring the company to Woonsocket from across the state line.
“We are pleased that RESH Inc., is relocating to Rhode Island – thanks in part to the governor’s economic development programs,” Pryor said. “There is a long and rich history of manufacturing in Rhode Island generally and in Woonsocket particularly. So it’s great that this new industrial facility will be built right here in Woonsocket.”
He added, “Thank you to Governor Raimondo, the General Assembly, and Mayor Baldelli-Hunt for their efforts to make this project a reality.”
Baldelli-Hunt praised Pryor’s “critical role” in negotiating with RESH and thanked Langley for choosing the city as its new address.
Although EDFRI has lent its expertise and resources to bringing the company to Park East Drive – EDFRI doesn’t own the land the company wants to purchase. The company’s purchase agreements is with an unrelated entity, First Mendon Corp., according to officials.
But Gibbs said that because the parcel is essentially a gateway to the industrial park, which it abuts, EDFRI had a strong interest in seeing the parcel developed in a way that is harmonious with other uses in the Highland Corporate Park. Straddling the Woonsocket-Cumberland line, the park is the cradle of the city’s commercial base as well as the home of healthcare and pharmacy giant CVS Health, its leading tenant. Development of land in the park is governed by restrictive deed covenants, but EDFRI has no such power over the First Mendon Corp. parcel, despite its proximity to the park.
Seeing RESH claim the parcel comes as something of a relief to EDFRI, according to Gibbs.
“We couldn’t have picked a better use up there,” he said. “It’s great for the city and its residents.”
The proposed building would have a small section of about 5,000 square feet with two levels, but the rest would be a single-level structure, making the total footprint about 65,000 square feet. That’s slightly bigger than the shuttered Sears Roebuck store in Walnut Hill Plaza.
“A 65,000 square foot building is a significant building,” said Baldelli-Hunt. “It’s not very often you hear of a manufacturing plant looking to build something of this size.”
While permits and the tax agreement are unresolved, the city and EDFRI are actively moving to push the project forward. EDFRI has engaged the services of Crossman Engineering for the development of an access road for the new building.
If all goes according to plan, RESH hopes to be under construction by August and to commence operations in the new facility within a year, officials say.
Follow Russ Olivo on Twitter @russolivo