High-Tech Company Decides To Stay And Grow In Southern Vermont

Jul 12 2016
Howard Weiss-Tisman

The high-tech company Chroma Technology has decided to stay and expand in its current location in the southern Vermont town of Rockingham, after searching for a new home over the past few years.

Chroma Technology will be expanding in $19 million deal that could eventually add another 26 well-paying jobs to the economy in southeastern Vermont.

When the company announced that it would stay in Rockingham after years of contemplating a move, there was a collective sigh of relief across the region. Ever since the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant closed in 2014, Windham County business leaders have focused on rebuilding the economy in southeastern Vermont.

Chroma Technology manufactures optical filters used in biomedical research. It's a worker-owned company, and CEO Paul Millman says all major decisions begin and end with how those choices impact the staff.

"How they do their work is mostly decided by them," Milman says, "as opposed to another company where how you do your work is decided by somebody at a higher level. We spread out some large percentage of all the important decisions that we make."

The precision-coated filters are able to read minute changes in light spectrum, and over the past few years there's been a sharp increase in the number of technologies that use Chroma filters.

Over the past few years, there's been a sharp increase in the number of technologies that use Chroma filters.

And that's put intense strains on the company.

Chroma's been searching for a new home. And while Millman says he never thought about moving out of state, the possibility of Vermont losing the company to a sweet, incentive-laden deal remained a possibility.

Last week, the company announced its plans to stay in Vermont.

"This is our community, these are our neighbors," says Millman. "We had to think about what effect we would have if we left. If 106 well paying jobs left this community, it would have a serious effect on it, a seriously negative effect on it. And that was not something I wanted to live with it. There are political and moral implications to making those decisions, and we have our own political and moral point of view that made us not want to leave here."

"If 106 well paying jobs left this community it would have a seriously negative effect on [our community]. And that was not something I wanted to live with." - Paul Millman, Chroma Technology CEO

That sentiment is music to Adam Grinold's ears.

Grinold is executive director of Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation, a private nonprofit business development group and one of Vermont's 12 regional development corporations.

Grinold is one of the in Windham County who has been tasked with developing a new economy that can survive the closing of Vermont Yankee.

He says even before Entergy made the surprise announcement that VY would close at the end of 2014, there was recognition of the pitfalls facing Windham County's business community.

An aging workforce, high real estate costs, not enough trained workers and pockets of slow Internet service were all identified as roadblocks toward future development.

So when Entergy said 650 high paying jobs would be leaving the region, Grinold's job got much harder.

"The impending closure of Yankee really put some pressure on that," says Grinold. "There was some existing, underlying economic challenges prior, and with the sudden announcement of that closure the efforts took on a whole new meaning."

"We're working on retention and recruitment ... If we're losing businesses during that process, it's a much heavier lift." - Adam Grinold, Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation executive director

Grinold is working with area high schools and colleges to support and expand high tech training, and efforts are being put into developing emerging technologies such as sustainable energy and green building.

But if a company like Chroma pulls up stakes and moves to New Hampshire, Grinold says, it can set back all of that work.

"We're working on retention and recruitment," Grinold says. "We are creating an eco-system where new entrepreneurs feel like they can try, try hard, fail fast, and through that process and that effort and that support system, we'll see new entrepreneurs and new businesses come forward. But if we're losing businesses during that process, it's a much heavier lift."

Back at Chroma, CEO Paul Millman says the company is still working on the final investment package, which will include local, state and federal financing.

Chroma was founded with seven employees and an investment of a couple of thousand dollars. Last year, the company did about $30 million of business, and it has offices in China and Germany.

Millman says the founders never dreamed that optical filters would be used in food safety, robotics and hand-held medical devices — all technologies that are exploding across the globe.

And if everything goes as planned, the light filters will be made in southern Vermont for a very long time.