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Bridging the gap to New England

As published on page C1/C2 on March 13, 2006

NB wood products group sets up trade centre in Mass.

By Nina Chiarelli Telegraph-Journal

South Canal Road in gritty Lawrence, Mass. is where abandoned mill buildings go to die.

It's short stretch of road dotted by empty warehouses and long-idled textile mills. It's practically right off Interstate 495 that links northern New Englanders in this town near the New Hampshire border to their more prosperous southern cousins in Boston.

South Canal Road certainly isn't the first place that comes to mind when thinking about gleaming new buildings and freshly constructed homes. Yet.

But Troy Donahue, owner of Miramichi Timber Frames Inc., thinks it won't be too long. He helped renovate one of the long-vacant textile mills on South Canal Road, turning it into the South Canal International Business Center, and 90,000-square foot business center on the banks of the Merrimack.

Those are his company's frames holding that new addition up.

Those are his hours of labour greeting customers as they walk through the door. And those are his wooden floors in some of the centre's offices.

"It's the right place to be at the right time. We couldn't do this on our own," he said.

The Business Center is the brain child of local developer and lawyer Art McCabe, who sees more than empty warehouses and rundown mills in Lawrence.

It will hold a 3,000-square foot storefront for New Brunswick Wood Products Group, a non-profit association that represents the province's specialty and value-added wood producers. Besides office space, the centre will also hold manufacturing, warehousing and distribution on site.

Under the store name Artizan Design Centre, which will be on play on both the words artisan and the American 'center', the store will house products of 15 participating New Brunswick companies, and employ two staffers.

Mr. McCabe hails from Andover, Mass., just one town south. Like Lawrence, Andover was once very prosperous. Both fueled New England's textile industry two centuries ago when immigrants from around the world landed in Massachusetts looking for work and a better life.

And now Miramichiers are doing the same. So are other New Brunswickers; owners of the picture province's valued-added lumber companies, who believe that Lawrence's renaissance - and its short commute to Boston - can help their bottom lines.

Mr. McCabe said he believes Lawrence is on the cusp a rebirth, one that will see gentrification projects, a housing boom and lots of new construction.

"The goal is to help foreign companies coming into the States, to make sort of a soft landing in the States and be able to service the market place all from one place," he said.

"It's not really a question of seeing whether business will work. It's a question of providing a cost-effective option for already-successful businesses to expand."

For just $5,000, the price couldn't be better for Mr. Donahue, who's only been in business for three years. Most of his business comes from commercial and residential construction within New Brunswick. This is a chance for him to expand his business into the lucrative New England market.

"We did this to get exposure to the market down there. It gives us a chance to show them our wares," he said. "It's a real good value for us."

Fred Nott, president of the Wood Products Group, said he sees this as an opportunity for New Brunswick companies to either increase they exports to the market, or break in.

"There's a lot of potential in Lawrence," he said. "Most of our guys make products related to the building and renovation industry, cabinets and doors and flooring and things.

"We're hoping to attract the community of architects, designers and property developers in that Merrimack Valley area. This will be a more direct route for them to that higher end client."

Very often, it's hard for smaller family companies to get store-front attention in distant markets because of the cost of rent, storing product and samples, and hiring staff. This move will see all 15 companies participating able to share resources.

Artizan Design Centre is prepared, if things go well, to expand at the South Canal Business Center, too, Mr. Nott said.

Jeff Goode, vice-president of business development for Mass Development, the public-private economic development agency of the State of Massachusetts, said he believes the Artizan Design Centre will do very well.

"You know," he said, "when the tide comes in, it floats all boats."

The storefront will launch its grand-opening on March 21, with local officials, company representatives, and Business New Brunswick Minister Kirk MacDonald expected to attend.


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