ST. ALBANS — Plans to significantly expand Ben & Jerry’s manufacturing facility in St. Albans were confirmed Friday by a spokesperson for the company headquartered in South Burlington.
The company employs more than 300 people at its 20-year-old plant in the St. Albans Town Industrial Park.
Rumors have swirled locally about the size of the expansion, with some indication that it could roughly double the size of the existing footprint, but company officials would not confirm any details saying the planning process has yet to be completed.
Still, confirmation of the company’s plan to expand its production in St. Albans was greeted as good news on the economic development front.
“It shows a commitment to Franklin County. It shows a commitment to our workforce,” said Tim Smith, executive director of the Franklin County Industrial Development Corp. (FCIDC).
“Obviously, a major investment like this can be only good for the community,” said Bill Nihan of the St. Albans Town Selectboard. Other town officials contacted by the Messenger were unavailable for comment this morning.
“We are excited about their continued growth of their brand, the need to increase their production capacity and volume of dairy ingredients. This investment will add demand for dairy products which will support the continued growth from our member farms and dairy farmers in the region,” said Leon Berthiaume, general manager of the St. Albans Cooperative Creamery.
The creamery has been supplying milk to Ben & Jerry’s since the days when the company operated out of a garage in Burlington. Proximity to the cooperative was a factor in bringing the company to St. Albans two decades ago.
Asked if the company will need more land, Smith said, “They should have more than sufficient space.” Ben & Jerry’s owns 42 acres in the town industrial park.
Although he was not familiar with the specifics of the expansion, Smith said, “There’s definitely more production.”
“They’ve been preparing for this,” he added. “I think they’ve been hiring and training for this.”
Having a company with the name recognition of Ben & Jerry’s, and news of its planned expansion here could also boost efforts to recruit more businesses. “It just speaks volumes about the workforce and the region,” Smith said.
Ben & Jerry’s is not the only company to have expanded production in Franklin County. A recent layoff notwithstanding, Mylan Technologies, Inc. has expanded both its plant and workforce in recent years, as has Vermont Precision Tools in Swanton.
“The concern moving forward is making sure we have a skilled workforce,” said Smith.
His comments were echoed by Nihan, who said, “As we all know, when you expand production, you need a lot more people up and down the line from maintenance workers, operators, highly skilled mechanics, electricians and all of that. It creates a demand for hiring these skills. The question is can we fill these skills locally? But there’s wonderful opportunity up there for everyone.”