By Hiroko Sato
LITTLETON -- Eight months after Town Meeting approved a tax break for a Millbury manufacturer to open a new plant in town, the company is moving forward with the plan to renovate a vacant factory on Ayer Road and create dozens of jobs there.
The tax deal, which will amount to $77,220 over 20 years, was a big deal for the company, said John Finn, business development manager for FIBA Technologies, which creates high-pressure gas containment equipment.
What really mattered for the business expansion, though, was the $772,644 state tax grant that the company secured through the town, according to Finn. It's a tax-credit program for which the company could have never qualified had it not been for the incentive agreement with the town.
Some selectmen say that's how they help the companies to leverage the town's incentives when providing one.
Even though FIBA will enjoy a discount on the added value of the renovated property, the municipal government will end up raking in more tax revenue in the long run as the result of the job growth and reuse of the building that has sit there empty for years, said Selectman Alex McCurdy.
"That's an excellent adaptation for what we call the old pre-stressed (concrete manufacturing) building" at 53 Ayer Road, McCurdy said.
FIBA Technologies is renovating the former precast concrete plant on the 62.74-acre property on Ayer Road for an anticipated opening of its new factory there in November. The company, which operates out of 11 sites, including the Millbury headquarters and a Westboro facility as well as a location in Taiwan and a joint venture in India, intends to produce groundstorage and tube-trainer equipment at the Littleton plant. Founded in 1958 by Frank Finn under the name of Mass Oxygen Equipment, FIBA has grown into a company with 350 employees, including 159 in Massachusetts, while remaining a family-owned business. Of those, 100 came from the acquisition of Amko Service Company in Ohio in March.
For fiscal 2013, the town will provide a 25 percent discount on the improvement the company made to the property, which it bought for $3 million, under the Tax Increment Financing program. The discount rate will decline by 5 percent each year. Once it reaches 5 percent fiscal 2017, it will remain the same through fiscal 2032.
The town submitted the application to designate 53 Ayer Road as an Economic Opportunity Area under the state's Economic Development Incentive Program following the Town Meeting approval of the tax-increment financing agreement for FIBA. The state Economic Assistance Coordinating Council approved the application in December.
The five-year state tax grant calls for the business to add 67 full-time jobs at the site over the next five years. The company has already hired 10 workers to prepare for the opening in Littleton, Finn said. The 67 jobs will likely include three management positions, five professional positions, 18 skilled and 41 unskilled manufacturing jobs, ranging in salary from $30,000 to $75,000.
Some selectmen and Town Administrator Keith Bergman said they are pleased with FIBA's move to Littleton. Selectmen Chairman Ted Doucette said businesses and job growth are important to the residents and that companies that locate in Littleton have access to TIF and state tax breaks that can help expand their businesses.
Bergman said the town has closely worked with the state Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development to secure grants under the EDIP and MassWorks programs to help companies like FIBA and Sam Park & Co., which is developing the 90-acre mixed-use complex called The Point on Great Road.
Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, also welcomed the news of FIBA's job growth in Littleton. He said, however, that it's important to understand how much role such tax incentives play in companies' decisions to relocate or expand their businesses in the region.
"The question always is, 'Would that company have come to Littleton anyhow (even the tax breaks were not available)?'" Eldridge said on Wednesday.
He noted that companies often choose the region for the infrastructure and the availability of workforce.
Finn said on Tuesday that the region has a "good mix of labors that supports what we do." Besides, the company has been in business in Massachusetts for decades.
"It's the right place to be," Finn said.
Bergman said, however, that FIBA had told him the fact that Littleton was on the list of communities where TIF and EDIP tax breaks are available put the town on the company's "radar screen" when searching a site for the expansion.