Pre-fab builder eyes Lee location
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff
LEE -- The owner of a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based company is interested in finding a site to build pre-fabricated homes in either Western Massachusetts or Southern Vermont.
Peter G. LaBonte, the founder and CEO of Advanced Building Solutions, Inc., had originally expressed an interest in locating in the William Stanley Business Park in Pittsfield, but has now set his sites on Lee.
LaBonte said he is interested in a building located in the Lee Corporate Center at 480 Pleasant St., which is owned by the Lee Industrial Real Estate Corp. He’s also submitted bids on structures in Greenfield and East Longmeadow, and has explored sites in Springfield and Southern Vermont.
Advanced Building Solutions currently hires employees only when it has contracts that need to be filled, LaBonte said. But with a manufacturing facility, LaBonte said Advanced Building Solutions could employ up to 125 workers when the plant is in full operation.
"We’ve been working on this project for awhile," said LaBonte, who is originally from Hingham.
His goal is to establish a facility in Massachusetts to build pre-fabricated buildings that would address a need for housing in both the state and the Northeast region, and develop an economic cluster based around green and sustainable building techniques.
"Berkshire County seemed like an ideal place for that," LaBonte said.
According to the Pew Charitable Trust, clean energy and the green economy were the country’s fastest growing job sectors between 1998 and 2007.
"We think it speaks directly to the natural resources that exist here, and the labor pool that we can draw from," LaBonte said. "There are a lot of smart, clever people making things here."
LaBonte said he has placed an offer on the building on Pleasant Street, and is waiting for a response from the Lee Industrial Real Estate Corp. John Toole, who heads that organization, said the group has spoken with LaBonte.
"We don’t have anything to report because we’re still in negotiations," Toole said.
LaBonte said he had previously expressed an interest in the three former Schweitzer-Maudit paper mills in Lee, particularly the Greylock Mill, but said, "there’s brownfield issues there."
Those three properties were recently sold to a Midwestern-based developer.
As for the Stanley Business Park, LaBonte said the 52-acre site on East Street has transportation issues. "There are some challenges as far as moving things in and out," he said.
At one point, LaBonte said his company obtained an option on a parcel at the Stanley Business Park, but left after Waterstone Retail Development of Need-
ham twice proposed building a retail complex there. Water-
stone, which dropped the project for good last year, had been interested in developing a 16-acre parcel at the park known as "the teens."
"We had an option on a small portion, and after we scoped out what we needed, we needed additional land," LaBonte said. "In the meantime, that developer came forward. Their place would have been in an adjoining parcel, but we gave up on it, essentially. And the building cost was going to be significant."
LaBonte has also spoken with William Mulholland, the vice president of community education and work force development at Berkshire Community College, regarding the kinds of job skills workers at his facility would need.
"I spoke with him about a year and a half ago," Mulholland said, adding that at that point LaBonte’s business seemed "very conceptual."
Mulholland believes LaBonte’s idea would fit in the Berkshires, and that county workers have the skills required to manufacture pre-fabricated buildings.
"It’s a niche business," Mul-
holland said, "but the skills are fairly common skills. He just needs a good reliable work force that knows assembly construction with access to wiring and plumbing and anything else that needs to be done with prefab work, and truck access."
Given Lee’s proximity to the Massachusetts Turnpike, Mulholland said, "I’m not surprised he went to Lee."
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