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Plymouth’s loss of firm is gain for West Bridgewater

By Christine Legere
Globe Correspondent / February 16, 2012
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With the town of Plymouth unable to offer an acceptable new location, a rapidly growing manufacturing firm is now headed for West Bridgewater’s industrial district, where it will enjoy tax breaks, enough land to continue growing, and direct access to a major interchange.

Cheer Pack North America LLC, which employs 35 workers, seals straws onto flexible pouches designed to hold items such as juice or baby food. The company opened a 30,000-square-foot plant in Plymouth’s industrial park last summer, and the operation has flourished. Company leaders have been looking to expand to a much larger facility.

“Cheer Pack looked at Plymouth first,’’ said company spokeswoman Amanda Verash-Morris. “They really wanted to stay, but they weren’t successful in finding a location due to zoning. We would have been really happy to remain in Plymouth.’’

Plymouth officials would have liked to keep Cheer Pack as well, and enjoy the benefits of the company’s planned $23 million expansion, but there were no locations to offer, said economic development director Denis Hanks.

“This goes back to what we’ve been preaching for 10 years,’’ he said. “We’ve got to have shovel-ready sites or buildings ready to go. Other towns have so much more product: hundreds of thousands of square feet available.’’

Hanks said the largest vacant building in town now is the former Sam’s Club in Colony Place, a commercial development adjacent to the industrial park.

“I don’t think a manufacturer would have been allowed by Colony,’’ Hanks said. In any case, Sam’s is 146,000 square feet - still too small for Cheer Pack’s needs.

A year ago, Plymouth selectmen appointed an Industrial Land Use Committee to study what the town could do to expand that segment of the tax base. Currently 94 percent of Plymouth’s 100 square miles is within residential zones or is part of the Myles Standish Forest. About 4.4 percent allows industrial-type activity, and most of that 2,900 acres has been developed to some degree, according to the committee’s recent draft report.

“One of our largest parcels in the industrial park is 7.6 acres, which can only accommodate a building of 70,000 or 80,000 square feet,’’ Hanks said. “We need to expand our industrial zones so we can have sites ready, but we still have a long way to go. Right now, we’re losing companies all the time because they just don’t have a place here.’’

CDF Corp., one of three partners that make up Cheer Pack, has its headquarters in Plymouth and will remain. Verash-Morris said it would have been ideal if Cheer Pack could have remained close to CDF, which also manufactures plastic goods.

In West Bridgewater, Cheer Pack will lease a vacant building on United Drive just off Route 24. Initially, it will use 187,000 square feet, but owners expect to eventually use all 300,000 square feet in the building.

Cheer Pack is working with town officials on permitting.

The company is also discussing the possibility of securing tax increment financing, which will afford state and local tax breaks.

“The West Bridgewater town officials and boards have been absolutely great to work with,’’ said Cheer Pack’s project consultant, Rod Jane of New England Strategies. “They have been responsive and very helpful. This is clearly a business-friendly town.’’

Cheer Pack plans to invest about $23 million over the next five years in renovations to the building, and buying and installing machinery and equipment. Meanwhile, its workforce will grow.

“We expect to go to 140 or 150 employees,’’ said Verash-Morris, adding the company hopes the Plymouth staff will make the 26-mile drive each day and stay on.

Marc Garrett, a member of both the Industrial Land Use Committee and Plymouth Planning Board, said the town has moved away from industrial to commercial use in the past decade. Colony Place, for example, was initially industrial but now is a commercial overlay district filled by retailers and office space.

“The Industrial Land Use Committee is trying to get build-ready sites, but to keep Cheer Pack, we would have had to be done with all our stuff 12 months ago,’’ Garrett said. “In our draft, we’re talking rezoning strategies, amending existing zoning regarding building massing, and reducing parking to allow more room for production.’’

The committee will look to produce build-ready sites that are easily permitted and cost-effective to develop, Garrett said. “They should also be off highway exits and have good visibility.’’

Town Manager Mark Stankiewicz said it’s too bad Plymouth could not accommodate Cheer Pack.

“It’s unfortunate they couldn’t find a similar facility in Plymouth that they could grow into,’’ he said. “The good news is they’re moving not too far away, so workers can keep their jobs.’’

Christine Legere can be reached at christinelegere@yahoo.com.

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