AYER – Business opportunities, incentive programs and success stories were top items on the agenda at the “Open for Business” breakfast hosted by the Nashoba Valley Chamber of Commerce Tuesday morning.
It was the second such event the chamber has hosted since launching the program in May in Harvard.
With a regional reach that extends into 16 communities, including Pepperell, Townsend, Littleton, Westford and Ayer, the chamber aims to take the program out on the road soon, said chamber President/CEO Melissa Fetterhoff.
The goal is to “help businesses succeed,” Fetterhoff said before the well-attended event got underway.
Besides Fetterhoff, guest speakers lined up at the front table included Kelly Arvidson, vice president of business and economic development at MassDevelopment, Kevin Kuros and Peter Milano, regional and senior Directors, respectively, of the Massachusetts Office of Business Development, based in Worcester; State Representatives Sheila Harrington and Jennifer Benson and Alan Manoian, Ayer’s director of dommunity and economic development.
The speakers, however, didn’t hold the podium long. Their remarks were brief, focusing on the roles of their respective offices and agencies in terms of promoting and assisting businesses in the area and the Commonwealth. The real spotlight was on individual businesses that are making it in Massachusetts. Reaching out close to home, Manoian asked two local businesses to tell their stories. Success stories.
John Kosiba, senior vice president and chief financial officer and treasurer of American Semi Conductor, or AMSC. Previously based in Devens, the company now operates out of the former Cain’s plant in Ayer. The building has been completely renovated, stem to stern, Kosiba said, calling it a “miraculous transformation” into which the owner, Steve Goodman, poured about $1 million to make it a “world-class innovation and technology” facility.
Founded in 1987 by two MIT scientists, the company set out to “revolutionize” the transmission of power, world wide, with a system that is “10 times more efficient” than existing networks, Kosiba said.
AMSC, which also designed wind turbines and now contracts with the U.S. Navy, making magnetic detection equipment, as well as the high-tech wires and cables manufactured in the new facility, grew fast in its early days and the company went public in the early 1990’s. Expansion continued, although it’s ambitious original goal was modified along the way.
The company realized that replacing existing grids with newer, less cumbersome wires the new technology called for wasn’t doable, Kosiba said, particularly in cities, where dismantling the grid would be “too disruptive.”
As the company grew, leaping from “1-G” to “2-G” technology, it required less space, not more and the 400,000 square foot building housing it in Devens no longer met AMSC’s needs, Kosiba said. Basically, it was much too big. They started looking for a new home, spreading the search all over the country before finding the right match in Ayer.
The local move pleased employees and customers, said Kosiba, who lives in Dunstable.
Working with Goodman and Manoian and Ayer Town Manager Robert Pontbriand, Kosiba sketched out a plan and pitched it to his CEO. The rest is recent history, adding jobs (AMSC gives local preference) and providing new revenue for the town.
Manoian praised the company for contributing to Ayer’s economic growth and for helping to “set a new standard of excellence in our town.”
Another such contributor Manoian asked to step up and tell her success story was Tracie Ezzio, who owns Ayer Family Pharmacy on Park Street and is part of the ongoing transformation of that area.
The new pharmacy, which also has branches in Pepperell and Tyngsboro, set up shop in a small brick building that once housed La Sita Restaurant. Vacant for some time before Ezzio bought it, along with the lot next door for parking, the building was restored and remodeled, inside and out. The pharmacy opened last winter.
Ezzio hails from Maine, where her father ran the corner drug store, she said. She’d hoped to take over once she graduated from college with a pharmacy degree, but by then, he’d sold the business, she said.
Undaunted, she stuck with her calling and after working in pharmacies for many years, launched her own business. Now, she has her own “corner drugstore,” with Ayer Family Pharmacy, the only one in town. It’s more than a store to her and she wants customers to feel that way too, Ezzio said.
People come in for advice for everything from swimmer’s ear to the common cold, and customers can count on the pharmacists there. They can also get prescriptions filled by phone, with reminders when refills are due, Ezzio said. Plus delivery to their door.
Representative Shelia Harrington would later attest to that with an anecdote about needing a certain size M&M’s for a seasonal recipe. She couldn’t find them. When the pharmacy got a shipment in, they called her and even offered to deliver the candies to her door, she said. As it turned out, she’d modified her recipe, but the gesture was appreciated, she said.
After each panelist had a say, Manoian wrapped the discussion with big news. Good news.Ayer is expanding its IDFA commercial building facade and signage improvement loan program.
The program helps business owners spruce up their properties and Ayer’s streetscape as well.
“Downtown is looking pretty good,” he said, but there are other parts of town that could benefit from facade makeovers and new signs – Central Ave., Park Street, West Main…”there are commercial corridors here, folks,” Manoian said.
In some instances maybe they can resurrect past designs for a vintage look. The program can help businesses all over town look better, Manoian said, and he plans to ask them all.
New loan parameters feature up to $35,000 for facade makeovers, with the first $10,000 interest free. The interest rate on the principal after that is only 2.75 percent, he said, with a 10 year term.
Tenant busineses can get in on the loan program, too. If they just want a “great new sign,” for example. “We’ll go up to $10,000 for a 10-year loan at zero percent interest, Manoian said.