BREWER, Maine — When City Councilor Joseph Ferris became mayor in November, one of his biggest goals was to get a business into the former Lemforder plant, which closed in mid-2010, and “to replace those jobs.”
He found out Monday that he got his wish when Bangor resident Chad Walton purchased the building with plans to make modular buildings — homes, offices, dorms, emergency shelters and others — using recycled, prefabricated shipping containers. Walton’s business is SnapSpace Solutions Inc.
“It’s disappointing losing all those [Lemforder] jobs,” Ferris said Wednesday. “But it’s great to replace a lot of them, even though we don’t know what those numbers will be yet.”
D’arcy Main-Boyington, Brewer’s economic development director, has spent the past year looking for a business to fill the 126,000-square-foot building left vacant when Lemforder, once Brewer’s largest taxpayer and second-largest employer, closed up shop.
“It’s very important to have this building full of employees again,” she said. “In a down economy, having a big empty building is hard.” The opening of a new Brewer business “shows things are changing, and there are positive things happening.”
Walton said he has a list of former Lemforder employee names, and “we’re going to try and get back as many as possible,” he said.
One former Lemforder employee already is on the payroll. Steve Libby, who worked for Lemforder for 22 years in customer service, logistics and warehousing, started at SnapSpace on Wednesday.
Walton said he will need engineers, designers, electricians, carpenters, plumbers, welders, painters and salespeople to put together and sell the prefabricated building structures.
Shipping containers, which are virtually indestructible, can be connected and stacked to create modular buildings, and a range of creature comforts and amenities can be added easily. With trim and siding, they can look like a regular stick-built structure, but cost less and are ecofriendly because they are made from recycled mate-rials, Walton said.
Shipping containers are imported into the United States by a 3-to-1 ratio on the East Coast and a 6-to-1 ratio on the West Coast, which means there is a ready supply available.
“They are just stacking up,” Walton said.
City leaders are pleased with the new Brewer business.
Councilor Arthur “Archie” Verow said providing people with good jobs is “the best part of it for me. It’s very exciting.”
Councilor Larry Doughty said he’s very happy that the building sold, that jobs have been created and that the city will see property tax dollars.
“The city has it assessed at $5 million, so that will help with the tax rolls,” he said.
Councilor Gerry Goss said he’s pleased that Walton wants to hire former Lemforder employees.
“It’s going to put people to work, and when that happens it makes things better,” he said.
Kevin O’Connell, the newest City Council member, said he is very excited about the future of SnapSpace.
“It’s a great idea,” he said. “It’s awesome, and it’s a positive for the city.”
SnapSpace is a good fit for the former car parts plant, City Manager Steve Bost said.
“They’re very innovative,” he said of the modular building structures. “Hopefully, once it takes hold it will be a solid employer in our area.”
Officials from Maine Rural Development Authority, which is supplying some of the project’s funding, and the University of Maine’s Knowledge Transfer Alliance and the Advanced Manufacturing Center will gather at the plant on Thursday with city officials to take a tour.
“I think it’s fantastic that we’ve got a new manufacturing entity in town,” Ferris said. “We wish them well.”
CORRECTION: Kevin O’Connell is Brewer’s newest City Council member.