In about a year, two new foreign companies expect to be operating in Newport at the site of a former skiwear manufacturer. AnC Bio, a Korean bio-tech firm, and Menck Windows, a German company, are the centerpiece of a $600 million economic development initiative promising to bring 10,000 jobs to the Northeast Kingdom. Chief executives from those two companies gave progress reports in Newport Thursday.
If all goes as planned, AnC Bio expects to start construction this fall on a 75,000 square foot, five-story research and development center on this lakeside parcel where the Bogner company once made skiwear. The existing vacant factory will be retrofitted this summer to house Menck, a German manufacturer of energy efficient windows. Both companies expect to be up and running in 2014. Ike Lee, CEO and President of AnC Bio, says that UVM will provide both potential employees and research and development support for cutting edge bio tech projects.
"Which includes the stem cell science and new medical device[s] and many other stuff which we can also bring in through the house from UVM," Lee said. "We chose UVM as our home team and we will work with them, and all those professors and doctors, nurses, they are willing to work with us. And [about] that part we are really, really fortunate and excited," he added.
Along with adult stem cell research, AnC Bio makes artificial organs. Project organizers say there will also be jobs for less highly trained, more local workers, assembling dialysis machines and other devices. Lee expects the doors to open in December 2014.
At the beginning of that same year, Menck plans to be making energy efficient windows. Todd Bachelder, an executive and consultant from Maine, will take the helm of Menck USA.
"And here in Vermont-- a tradition of woodworking, fine craft, environmental stewardship and awareness-- all these things are obviously going to be key to what we are doing right here," Bachelder said.
But the whole package of Vermont projects cannot happen without an estimated $600 million in mostly foreign financing. Bill Stenger owns Jay Peak Resort and is managing these and three other initiatives throughout the Northeast Kingdom. He has been traveling extensively seeking working capital through a program called EB5, which grants visas to qualified investors.
"We're having great success," Stenger reported. "AnC Bio is north of 50 percent funded. Menck Windows will be funded by the middle of this calendar year towards the fall, fully. And the investment capital is designed to go to rural communities."
Stenger says he has no worries about attracting workers from Vermont and beyond the state with the range of abilities needed for the spectrum of temporary and permanent jobs he hopes to create in five projects, including upgrades at two ski resorts and the re-development of much of downtown Newport.
Changes are also coming to the state airport at Coventry. Ariel Quiros, Stenger's partner, says the airport will house a new kind of lightweight aircraft that runs on gasoline, not airplane fuel.
"And the uniqueness of that is that we will be assembling the airplanes here as well," Quiros said.
Quiros said three of these planes will arrive later in May, for testing. The airport, which is not part of the EB 5 funding, is also slated for runway and terminal improvements. Those permits, and all the others needed for the package of projects, will take time. But Stenger says they are proceeding on schedule.
Asked about whether current tensions on the Korean peninsula are complicating either the funding or business plans in Vermont, AnC Bio CEO Lee shook his head.
"When we live in Korea, of course we feel the tension, but we are used to it and we know we can live through that. Likewise, when we live here, we don't feel much threat from guns. But they think we are always threatened by guns," Lee explained with a smile.
Ariel Quiros, who lived for twenty years in Korea, agreed that the standoff between North and South Korea will probably be resolved well before the Newport projects break ground.