WHITNEYVILLE, Maine — More than a year after David Whitney broke ground on a massive balsam wreath facility in Whitneyville, he was finally able to host a grand opening Thursday, surrounded by family, employees and Washington County supporters.
From his first wreath business — selling the fragrant balsam wreaths from the back of a pickup truck across from the Bangor Mall — Whitney has built his business into one of the largest balsam wreath providers in the country. Whitney Wreath now supplies QVC, L.L. Bean and many other customers both online and by tele-phone.
The new facility is state of the art and represents “four generations of business survival in Washington County,” Whitney said. The 75,000-square-foot warehouse can take fir tips from their natural state in cold storage to a finished, bagged and boxed wreath in less than 10 minutes.
The building contains 17 miles of radiant heating, 14 miles of telephone and Internet lines, 20 miles of electrical wires, and is prepared to ship 12 to 18 tractor-trailer loads of wreaths a day — 25,000 packages of wreaths and centerpieces — during peak season.
The conveyor belts were quiet, the loading dock empty and the wreath binding machinery not in use Thursday, but Whitney said production will ramp up by Nov. 1.
At its peak, Whitney’s will employ 600 seasonal workers at the Whitneyville facility and four other locations at Alexander, Baileyville, Presque Isle and Cape Breton, New Brunswick.
When asked if he envisioned the company as it is today while selling those wreaths from the back of his truck, Whitney quickly answered, “Yes. I knew I wanted the biggest and best wreath company and did everything I could to make that happen.”
A major hurdle was overcome earlier this year when Whitney bought 400 acres of land surrounding the facility to settle a lawsuit brought against him last summer by a major competitor, Worcester Holdings LLC, a wreath maker of Columbia.
Worcester sued Whitney over a right of way along one side of the warehouse. The suit put a hold on construction of the wreath-making facility and caused Whitney to lease three other buildings during the peak of wreath season last year. Worcester maintained that it owned property behind Whitney’s and that its right of way ran directly under Whitney’s new building.
Last year, Whitney Wreath was awarded the contract for all wreaths and balsam products for L.L. Bean — a contract previously held by Worcester — and to accommodate the increased orders, Whitney began construction of the new facility.
With those legal issues behind him, Whitney was all smiles Thursday as he thanked his family, friends and the larger community of Washington County for his success.
He said all local labor was used on the project.
“I estimate we put 152 local people to work on this building,” he said. “This is a business that evolved from a sleepy cottage industry to one with value added that has enriched the entire area.”
Sen. Kevin Raye, R-Perry, said Whitney’s expansion “is a proud moment for the economy of Washington County, and we want to see more of this type of business in our part of Maine. It comes as no surprise that this was a home-grown success.”
Raye thanked Whitney for “having the courage and belief in Washington County and the people that you employ and their families.”
Ruth Cash-Smith of Coastal Enterprises said it was even more impressive that Whitney accomplished the expansion in the midst of a recession.
“It means a payroll increase from $900,000 to $1.4 million,” she said. “A doubling of sales, 10 new full-time jobs and 152 new part-time seasonal jobs. This is a Down East success story.”