Here's a short roundup of some interesting business news from last month.
Bus Company Putting Brakes on Tours Dufour Tours is getting out of the tour business. The Berkshire Eagle reported last week that owners William and Barbara Dufour are seeking to sell the 40-year-old motor coach business before they retire. The Dufours, who also operate a regional school bus fleet of nearly 200, have four 2007 Prevost Co. motor coaches. The vehicles run around $450,000.
That's down from a dozen or so back in the 1990s. The company was started by William Dufour's father and uncle in Connecticut and made inroads into the Berkshires after buying Yellow Bus Lines in the 1960s. It now manages most of the school bus routes in Western Mass. and Southern Vermont.
Dufour Tours over the years have included multiday trips to Pennsylvania Dutch Country, DisneyWorld and Canada. Their one-day trips bring people to Boston for historic tours, to Fall River for shopping and New York City for Broadway productions.
William Dufour told The Eagle that several bus lines were interested in buying the tour business; if not sold, the division would likely be shut down.
Walmart on Track
The $17 million Walmart SuperCenter planned for the city's former gravel yard is expected to break ground this spring and be built within the next year or so. That's pretty much on schedule according to a rough time line offered the Planning Board last spring.
The North Adams Transcript reported last month that remediation work at the site, specifically for asbestos, has been completed and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has agreed to a reconfigured intersection at Hodges Cross Road that will eliminate the current jug handle. More cleanup at the site has to be completed before the land, owned by developer Ceruzzi Properties, is sold to Walmart and construction can begin.
Walmart is estimated to generate some $594,000 in revenue for the city, and bring nearly a $1 million in wages annually. The supercenter will be 157,000 square feet and include a 38,000-square-foot grocery.
BJ's Wholesale Club may have a buyer. The East Coast chain put itself up for auction in November; analysts say if a private investment firm purchased it, the company would be better positioned to move into markets dominated by its competitors Costco and Sam's Club.
The chain is currently building a new store in Pittsfield off Hubbard Avenue that's expected to create more than 100 jobs.
The wholesale club first operated by the Zayre Corp. is being eyed by Leonard Green & Partners. The equity firm just bought out Jo-Ann's Stores (which also has a location in Pittsfield) and may launch a hostile takeover if the previously announced auction isn't set.
Update, Jan. 5, 2011, 8:44 a.m.: The Boston Globe reports that the company will close five stores and layoff 500, including 114 from its Natick headquarters.
Defense Spending Benefits State
Two Berkshire County companies — Draper Laboratories Inc. and General Dynamics — are about to reap the rewards of military spending but they're not alone. A column in MassLive.com cites a new study by the University of Massachusetts that shows federal military spending has increased 146 percent in the Bay State in less than 10 years.
The Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security has pumped $146.2 million in conctracts to 237 Western Massachusetts companies just in 2009. The study states "The value of federal defense contracts awarded to Massachusetts firms has increased by nearly 200 percent from $5.5 billion in 2001 to $15.6 billion in 2009" and supported more than 115,000 jobs.
"Even as the overall economy has struggled in the face of two recessions and fundamental industry shifts, defense has surged ahead," writes Allan Blair, president of the Economic Development Council of Western Mass., and Richard Lord, president of Associated Industries of Massachusetts.
The study can also be found at our scribd.com account here.
Editor: In general, we do not provide links to articles from the local papers because they are archived behind a paywall within two weeks of publication. We apologize for any inconvenience.
McCain, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee had opposed a plan crafted in part by Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry and the Navy to double the purchase of coastal defense ship from 10 to 20. That would allow for contracts to two teams, one of which included General Dynamics. The company said the contract would mean 500 positions in Pittsfield for work on the ship's computerized systems. McCain decried the contracts as wasteful.
The tipping point appears to have been General Dynamics' team leader Austal USA, which would reportedly bring 1,800 jobs its Mobile shipyard building facility.
The funding was part of a $1.1 trillion omnibus bill that ran into trouble last week. On Tuesday, a budget extension measure passed, towing along the Navy appropriation. Al.com reports the Senate approved it 79-16 and the House 193-165, with Rep. Jo Bonner of Mobile the only Republican voting in favor.
Original post: 12-14-2010 06:05PM
Pittsfield is holding its breath in hopes Congress will OK expenditures for 10 more Navy coastal ships — a move that could mean 500 jobs for the city.
"We're anxiously waiting for it," Mayor James Ruberto told the Boston Globe on Monday. "It would be just an incredible Christmas present for Pittsfield and the Berkshires."
The Navy is seeking $1 billion to double the number of close-shore combat ships it wants but critics say the first four ships built for the Littoral Combat Ship program haven't justified the need for more.
The House has approved a $1.1 trillion spending bill that includes the ship authorization but Senate has balked; Sen. John Kerry is pushing for approval before an extended deadline expires — along with this Congress — at the end of the month.
General Dynamics is partnered with Austal Ltd. on one of two teams that would be selected to each build 10 ships, a plan backed by both Kerry and the Navy. General Dynamics said that guarantee means 500 jobs for work on the computer systems at its Advanced Information Systems plant in Pittsfield. Lockheed Martin, working with Marinette Marine Corp., are the second team.
Sen. John McCain of Arizona, leading Republican on the committee, took Navy officials to task for letting program costs run rampant. McCain has been a vocal critic of the program, using a recent report by the Congressional Budget Office to make his point. Navy officials said the design to buy double the number of ships would help contain costs, saving nearly $3 billion and getting 20 ships for the cost of 19.
Update, Thursday, Dec. 16, 2010, 10:34 p.m.: The Democratic leadership has pulled the $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill that includes funding for the LCS program from the Senate floor. It is unclear if the bill will passed before its Saturday deadline.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Need a gross of Crayola crayons in violet? Now they're just a click away at Cascade School Supplies.
The 80-year-old provider of everything from glue to chalkboards to crayons of every color just launched a new and easier-to-navigate website.
The new site features improved item search options and a multi-level approval option that Cascade says is critical to school district business. The site also offers improved navigation, more specials and sale items, prioritized shipping of orders and delayed shipping options.
Cascade Paper Co. was established in 1931 in North Adams as a wholesale supplier of office and school materials, including furniture. It grew rapidly in the ensuing decades and moved to the Gale Shoe Co. mill on Brown and Grimes street in 1950, when Gale went under. It also operates out of the former Strong-Hewat Mill in Clarksburg.
Founder Robert O. Wells' children continue to own the operation which now offers more than 20,000 "consumable" items, such as those colorful crayons, pens, paper and glue, along with teaching aids and other materials. The company employs about 30 full time and more than 150 during the back-to-school season when it's filling orders from school districts and co-operatives around the Northeast. Cascade officials say it's the leading supplier in the Northeast for the K-12 school supply market.
"Cascade School Supplies is expanding on its already very successful Web business which has been working hand in hand with its catalog and bid business," said the release sent by Vice President Todd E. Shafer.
The new site allows for ordering small amounts as well as log-in area for school district and municipal purchasers to review bids and make bulk purchases.
Digital FX pioneer Douglas Trumbull is planning a sci-fi film in the Berkshires that he hopes will restart the fledgling special-effects industry here that never quite got off the ground.
The news was reported last Wednesday in the Journal of New England Technology. Trumbull, who left Hollywood for the Berkshires three decades ago, continues to operate out of his Southfield studio. But many of the special-effects producers who followed him closed up shop during the 1990s.
He told the Journal:
With luck, the project will inspire new interest in the visual effects cluster in the Berkshires, and perhaps lead a broader film and media industry to take shape in the area, Trumbull said. "People find it so stunningly better than living in New York or LA," he said. "Once you get someone to come and work, they tend to bring their wives and kids. And they all fall in love with the community and don't want to leave."
Last year, Jeff Kleiser of Synthespian Studios in North Adams indicated he was mulling an animated feature that could create hundreds of jobs and help boost the FX industry in the Berkshires.
Trumbull is best known for his groundbreaking work on "2001: A Space Odyessy" and "Blade Runner." The FX maestro talked about his work on "Blade Runner" a couple of years ago at the Mahaiwe in Great Barrington before a screening of the restored film.
DALTON, Mass. — Crane & Co. officials were on hand this morning as the new $100 bill was unveiled in the U.S. Treasury Department's Cash Room in Washington. The Dalton printer has been making the specialized paper for the nation's folding currency for more than 100 years.
The bill includes a variety of high-tech additions to help defeat counterfeiting; the U.S. $100 bill is the most widely counterfeited note.
"As the supplier of the paper used to produce the redesigned $100 bill, Crane & Co. worked diligently to provide the Bureau of Engraving & Printing with paper that contains an updated suite of security elements," said Douglas Crane, vice president, in a statement. "These features were designed to address the government's twin objectives of elevating the security of the world's most recognized banknote, while at the same time enhancing its ease of use — both of which serve to support and extend the public’s confidence in the banknote."
The security includes a micro-optic "Motion" feature that creates simulated images on the security thread that appear to move as the bill is tilted and also switches from one image to another — from $100 to the Liberty Bell — in an stylized inkwell. That should create a major challenge to potential counterfeiters, said Crane.
The bill also has the traditional anti-counterfeit devices like scattered blue and red fibers, a facial watermark of Ben Franklin, embedded security thread that glows under ultraviolet and darker number watermarks.
Crane officials will be demonstrating the bill's new attributes at the Dalton mill on Friday to a select group of officials and press that includes iBerkshires.