BANGOR, Maine — Maine’s biggest cheesemaker will take over the former Grants Dairy plant as part of a plan to bring as many as 50 jobs to Bangor.
Pineland Farms Inc. will consolidate its cheese production operations in New Gloucester and Mars Hill at the former Milk Street milk processing and bottling plant. Renovations are underway, said Erik K. Hayward, senior vice president at the Libra Foundation, the Portland-based nonprofit business incubator that owns the dairy company, and plans to spend as much as $5 million on the project.
The pending $115 million sale to Bob Evans Foods of the Mars Hill-based Pineland Farms Potato Co. — where Libra also manufactured cheese — forced Libra to relocate its cheese production operations to the Bangor facility, Hayward said.
“[Milk Street] is a strategic location, only a couple of miles from the highway. When you are dealing with milk and other dairy products, transportation is a key element,” Hayward said. “If you were to draw a 50-mile circle around Bangor, you would probably touch on 90 percent of the dairy operations in the state.”
The foundation paid $620,000 for the Milk Street plant, said Craig Denekas, Libra’s chairman and CEO.
Libra has also begun work redeveloping Monson as a center of arts and agriculture.
Bangor officials are happy to see Pineland coming into the city, Community and Economic Development Director Tanya Emery said.
“The building has been vacant a long time and the productive use of the space to support Maine’s industries and create jobs is a win for the entire state,” Emery said.
Garelick Farms’ parent company, Texas-based Dean Foods, closed the Milk Street plant in 2013, laying off 35 workers. Libra expects to hire 20 to 30 workers initially who will cut, wrap and store cheese on Milk Street, work currently done in Mars Hill, Hayward said. More workers will come as Libra adds capacity to the 42,000-square-foot building, which was built in 1991.
“The facility is a lot bigger than what we need for just the cheese operation, so it gives us a lot of room to explore the opportunity to get into other operations such as ice cream, butter, yogurt,” Hayward said.
“Most directly the Bangor move would be supporting the dairy industry. Anything upstream of that — feed purveyors, equipment purveyors and those sorts of agricultural businesses — will also benefit,” Hayward said. “If we do bolster the dairy industry, then by default more hayland and crop production will come into being.”