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Venerable Ayer company looks to expand

Near-52,000 square foot project would add 30 new jobs

The outside entrance to Catania Oils’s manufacturing facility in Ayer, which could have a new expansion built on it
The outside entrance to Catania Oils’s manufacturing facility in Ayer, which could have a new expansion built on it

AYER – With over 100 years of business under its belt, Catania Oils is looking to make room for more development.

The edible oil company located on the eastern side of town pitched an expansion to its manufacturing facility at 1 Nemco Way during the Ayer Select Board meeting on Feb. 18.

The company’s current facility is approximately 96,000 square feet located in front of its corporate offices and distribution facility that’s approximately 115,500 square feet.

Catania has been located in Ayer since 1994.

According to Catania’s Chief Financial Officer Mike Coutu, the expansion will add about 51,500 square feet to the manufacturing facility. It’s expected to cost about $14 million, with $6.3 million in construction costs, $2.6 million for infrastructure and $5.5 million for personal property.

“This investment is the largest single capital improvement project that the company has done in its history,” Coutu said. “We have a fair amount of ever-increasing infrastructure costs that need to be put forth and then the additional capacity of the space gives us the ability to put additional equipment inside, which is what we need to do to fuel our growth and meet our customer demands.”

Coutu said Catania currently has 160 employees in the two Nemco Way buildings, with the proposed expansion potentially creating 30 new full-time jobs over a five-year period. Catania will welcome applicants from Ayer to fill spots in engineering, assembly, quality control and office work.

“The interesting aspect of being in part of Ayer is the fact that our employees shop locally,” Coutu added. “We spend quite a bit of time making our afternoon coffee runs to the Union Coffee Roaster on Main Street, we try to establish working relationships with companies in Ayer and some of our company-wide pizza parties we do with Verona Pizza. We spend a great deal of time, effort and resources in Ayer and the surrounding communities.”

Joseph Basile, Catania’s president, said on Tuesday that the company has seen a 4% increase in business during the coronavirus pandemic with its retail and food manufacturing divisions having increased due to more people cooking at home. From 2015 to 2019, Catania had seen an 8% to 10% growth in business through sales of vegetable oil, soybean and canola oils.

“It has been a challenge to keep up with that demand as national brands struggled to address the increased demand and those consumers turned to private brands which we package for many regional and national retailers across the country,” Basile added. “We’re currently meeting that demand, and the expansion will give us additional capacity as well as the ability to invest in product lines that we currently do not offer our customers.”

Lynn Tokarczyk of Business Development Strategies, who spoke on behalf on Catania at the Select Board meeting, said the company plans to apply for Tax Increment Financing package as part of its proposal. A city or town can approve a TIF, in which a company pays reduced property taxes in exchange for job growth and economic development.

Town Manager Robert Pontbriand said he and other officials had previously had an initial meeting with the Catania team for a “general overview” of the proposal and the TIF request.

He added that the next steps would be for his team and Catania to establish the terms of the TIF before Pontbriand brings that information back to the Select Board. The board would then need to approve the terms to go onto the warrant for the next Town Meeting.

As for the Select Board, there was no negative feedback or questions on the proposal.

“It’s a very nice, positive thing to look forward to, especially with all we’ve been through with COVID,” Board Clerk Jannice Livingston said. “I look forward to continuing the conversation.”