Business & Economy

Yogurt maker plans $20 million Brattleboro expansion

Ehrmann Commonwealth Dairy
Ehrmann Commonwealth Dairy is the maker of Green Mountain Creamery yogurt. Photo by Mike Faher/VTDigger
BRATTLEBORO — When Tom Moffitt was putting together a business plan for Ehrmann Commonwealth Dairy, his oft-repeated goal was to hire 40 employees within five years.

He recalls that there were “quite a few disbelieving faces.”

A little over 5½ years since the Brattleboro plant opened, Commonwealth now employs 150 in Vermont. And Moffitt, Commonwealth’s CEO, on Wednesday announced yet another expansion of a facility that produces large quantities of the popular Green Mountain Creamery yogurt brand.

The $20 million expansion is supported by more than $2 million in state and local funding and incentives. Officials pointed to the project’s economic benefits, as Commonwealth is pledging to create 50 more jobs in Vermont and to significantly expand its manufacturing operations.

Tom Moffitt
Tom Moffitt, CEO of Ehrmann Commonwealth Dairy, speaks during an economic development announcement Wednesday at the business in Brattleboro. Photo by Kristopher Radder/ Brattleboro Reformer
“With this expansion over the next two to three years, we will be able to double our production capacity,” Moffitt said.

Ehrmann Commonwealth Dairy LLC, a subsidiary of German dairy company Ehrmann AG, broke ground for its Brattleboro plant in March 2010. The 38,000-square-foot facility on Omega Drive opened a year later.

The business has been steadily expanding since and now encompasses about 68,000 square feet. Running three shifts, six days a week, Commonwealth processes about 110 million pounds of milk annually, Moffitt said.

In 2013 the company opened a plant in Casa Grande, Arizona, that now employs 100. Product distribution reaches from coast to coast, Moffitt said, and Commonwealth ships to the Caribbean and South America.

Moffitt said the growth has been driven by Green Mountain Creamery, Commonwealth’s Greek yogurt brand.

“Honestly, Greek yogurt consumption has actually slowed down over the past couple of years,” he said. “So we’re still growing despite a slowing market and an increasingly competitive market.”

“We attribute that to the quality,” Moffitt added.

It wasn’t a given, however, that the company would continue to grow in Vermont. Moffitt said executives considered expanding in Arizona and looked seriously at building a plant and a headquarters in the Midwest.

“What that would have done is, we wouldn’t have expanded this plant … we would have built another plant the same size as this in the Midwest, with a large office,” he said.

Peter Shumlin
Gov. Peter Shumlin attends Wednesday’s event at Ehrmann Commonwealth Dairy. Photo by Kristopher Radder/Brattleboro Reformer
State, regional and local officials say they worked together to make sure that didn’t happen. “We were competing with Arizona, we were competing with Ohio, we were competing with other governors who were just as eager as I was,” said Gov. Peter Shumlin.

The resulting financial package, Shumlin said, made Commonwealth’s Vermont expansion a “doable project.”

That package includes a $1 million grant from the Windham County Economic Development Program. That’s money from Vermont Yankee owner Entergy, which agreed to pay the state $10 million over five years for economic development in Windham County as part of a 2013 settlement agreement in anticipation of the plant’s shutdown the following year.

Other public funding sources include:

• Up to $100,000 from the Windham County Economic Development Program to match federal funding aimed at upgrading wastewater treatment facilities to support Commonwealth’s growth.

• Up to $648,327 in Vermont employment growth incentives. That money will be distributed over time as Commonwealth expands.

• $200,000 from the Vermont Training Program.

• A $250,000 grant and tax stabilization from Brattleboro.

“We want to do everything we can to make this project work,” said Kate O’Connor, Brattleboro Selectboard vice chairwoman.

State and local incentives also played a big role in bringing the Commonwealth plant to Brattleboro in the first place, noted Adam Grinold, executive director of Brattleboro Development Credit Corp.

Officials “literally moved mountains to help bring Commonwealth Dairy here … and that relationship has really lasted over the years,” Grinold said.

Moffitt acknowledged that Vermont “presented the most complicated expansion option” due to permit and site issues. But in the end, he said, “we were able to pull this together and settle on Vermont as the place where we want to grow the company.”

Branding also played a role in that decision.

“Green Mountain Creamery — our consumers, our retailers, they associate that with Vermont, and our biggest market is New England,” Moffitt said. “It would have been a little bit mentally anguish-inducing if you loved Green Mountain Creamery but the company was headquartered in Ohio or something.”

In addition to expanding Commonwealth’s production capacity in Vermont, the company is consolidating its administrative operations in Brattleboro. Currently, some of those jobs are in Arizona.

Moffitt said a corporate headquarters may be built on the company’s Omega Drive site but also could be situated somewhere else in Brattleboro.

Taken together, the project means Commonwealth Dairy will continue to be “one of the most state-of-the-art, high-tech dairy operations in Vermont,” said Christian Ehrmann, chairman of Ehrmann AG.

“Our customers and partners have been enthusiastic about the quality of our products and our innovations from the beginning,” Ehrmann said.

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Mike Faher

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  • Aula DeWitt

    This is great news for the greater Brattleboro area and for Vermont.

  • Doug Hoffer

    In addition to the $2 million announced here, this company was awarded over $1.5 million in VEGI “incentives” in 2009 and 2012, as well as $640,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds. The total is now over $4 million.

    • James Maroney

      Mr. Shumlin appears not to know that yogurt makers buy Class II milk, which by long standing federal law is priced below the higher paid Class I fluid milk but both are set $5/cwt below the Vermont dairy farmers’ cost of production. In fact, the Vermont dairy industry on track this year to lose over $100M. The state has just given huge tax incentives to a company that exploits Vermont’s dairy farmers, who – does anyone in the administration know? — number about 900, or six times more than the 150 jobs they have just helped to create at Commonwealth. The state has a a new law to tax Vermonters $1.4B over the next twenty years to clean up the lake, and Vermont dairy farms are the principle cause of the pollution. The state has no plan to help Vermont farmers make a profit or to help them convert to organic because the state has no money for such things. What is wrong with this picture?

    • Paco DeFrancis

      Auditor Hoffer,

      The exact concept that we’re “giving” away money to foreign institutional investors via our economic development programs is the very toxic ideology that has led to anemic economic growth and negative population growth across Vermont.

      VEGI is entirely funded on incremental gains in employment growth. Just like TIF districts, this is free money that otherwise wouldn’t exist had the public not stepped in with the investment. We should reward–and yes, provide “incentives”– firms and investors who provide much-needed jobs and capital investment in our state. Massachussetts is on an all-out corporate welfare binge doing everything they can to attract corporate jobs located in other New England states to themselves (2 examples: Keurig in VT and GE in CT). We have to remain competitive with our own programs.

      Let’s start putting our state’s future first and denounce the suicidal “economic justice” agenda pushed by far-left “Progressive” radicals like yourself.

      • Doug Hoffer

        You said, “this is free money that otherwise wouldn’t exist had the public not stepped in with the investment.”

        That is an unproven assumption based on the “but for” statement from the company. It assumes that none of the economic activity would have occurred without the “incentive.” That self-attestation is totally subjective and cannot be audited.

        As for my “agenda,” it is to protect the taxpayers of this state; nothing radical about that.

        • Paco DeFrancis

          The reality is we live in a state to the north of Massachusetts which is willing to spend ~$280k per employee to move GE’s headquarters there from Connecticut.

          Massachusetts has done the same luring Vermont jobs at Keurig Green Mountain from Waterbury and South Burlington to Burlington, MA with generous incentives.

          Charlie Baker and his centrist legislature are corporate welfare enthusiasts knocking on our door step to steal Vermont jobs. As a small state bordering MA we have no choice but to take a pro-active approach to keep Vermont a viable place to live, work and raise a family.

          • Doug Hoffer

            Over the years, Vermont has awarded Keurig $10 million in “incentives.” That didn’t prevent the loss of jobs.

          • Paco DeFrancis

            The state’s VEGI grants to Keurig were entirely devoted to low-wage hourly manufacturing positions.

            Massachusetts targeted corporate positions in management, marketing, finance, etc., including six executives who each had seven-figure compensation packages. A couple people making $1m+ (including CEO with $7m total comp package) can have a big impact on revenues for our small state–especially when we have a super-progressive marginal tax rate of 8.98%.

      • Nancy Kellogg

        “Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of cancer cells.” – Edward Abbey. Check out and consider the de-growth movement. I commend you for acknowledging corporate welfare for what it is. The old unlimited growth economy isn’t coming back – we surpassed our ‘limits of growth’ decades ago and now need to focus on transition strategies beyond the capitalist spin that the one percent will trickle down their ‘prosperity’.

    • Clyde Cook

      For the 150 workers plus another 50 workers for 200 workers total if it all pans out. Total of $4 million or $20 thousand per worker. Piggybacking on Mr. Jacbs comment below, it is a vicious game these Companies use to play the States off of each other. What a terrific world it would be if there were zero subsidies provided at any Local, State or Federal level. I am truly interested in knowing if Vermont will make that back an then some, and thank you Mr. Hoffer, for pointing out all the subsidies that have been provided in the past. Maybe if Vermont had not “presented the most complicated expansion option due to permit and site issues”, many subsides would not have to have been provided to encourage them to be here in the first place.

  • Ann Meade

    I hope this is a good move, but have you seen the yogurt section at the grocery store? So many brands, all good quality and as was noted, the Greek yogurt market has peaked. I always wonder why a successful, growing company can’t raise private/bank/VC funds?

    • John Jacobs

      They are taking what is effectively free money. Private/bank/VC expect to be paid back.

      If VT didn’t offer incentives, then another state would have. Feast or Famine when it comes to attracting businesses and maintaining a friendly business climate

      • Ann Meade

        I do not believe another state would give them $2 million to make VT yogurt. If they can’t afford to expand something is wrong with their business plan.

  • Mildred LaBeur

    Best yogurt ever. Maybe I’ll be able to get it closer to Danville!

  • Katherine Silta

    That is some good news.