Housing Vermont’s New Markets Tax Credit work led to an innovative collaboration among private business, state government and nonprofits to benefit VT dairy farmers who are members of the St. Albans Cooperative Creamery. Funds donated by the Commonwealth Dairy to the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (VHCB) will allow farmers to invest in a wide variety of infrastructure improvements through VHCB’s Farm Viability Program.
“Not only did the recently completed $12 million expansion of our Brattleboro plant allow us to increase production and hire more employees,” said Tom Moffitt, President of Commonwealth Dairy, “but it also allowed us to enhance this special fund, established when the company was founded, to help our milk suppliers. Utilizing VHCB’s highly successful Farm Viability Program will maximize the benefits to our farmers,” Moffitt said.
According to VHCB Executive Director Gus Seelig, infrastructure grants will be awarded in a single competitive funding round. Eligible projects include barn, parlor, hoop house and other facility improvements; construction; design and engineering; energy efficiency upgrades; robotic milking equipment; and other machinery purchases. Applications are due April 28, 2014. Applications will be reviewed by a committee of dairy industry specialists, lenders, dairy farmers and business consultants as well as representatives from the Commonwealth Dairy and the St. Albans Cooperative Creamery. Grant awards will be announced in June.
The Farm Viability Program will make up to $35,000 available for business planning to dairy farmers that are not awarded grants. This will help these Coop members to fine-tune and adjust their business plans so that they can secure funding to implement their projects.
“This is a terrific opportunity for our members to make needed improvements and upgrades,” said Coop spokesman Tom Gates. “We appreciate the commitment of all the organizations that led to this unique opportunity to help our members.”
Nancy Owens, President of Housing Vermont, described how that nonprofit organization and the Massachusetts Housing Investment Corporation (MHIC) partnered to create a favorable financing package for the Commonwealth Dairy expansion.
“While Housing Vermont has a 25-year track record in creating affordable housing, our ability to use the federal New Markets Tax Credit program to provide below market financing for economic development projects in low income areas is much more recent,” Owens said. “In this instance, we joined with MHIC to not only finance Commonwealth Dairy’s expansion, but to also create the opportunity for CD to strengthen their milk suppliers. That’s the kind of extra value both organizations try to bring to each project.”
Joe Flatley, President and CEO of MHIC, added comments on the start-up of Commonwealth Dairy.
“MHIC’s investment in Commonwealth Dairy exemplifies the best of outcomes for low-income communities. We began working with the founders while they searched for sites, stuck with them through the financial crisis, helped assemble $30 million to launch the company, and, recognizing competitive pressures, partnered with Housing Vermont on another round of financing to expand the plant and improve efficiency. The ways in which Vermont government agencies rapidly prioritized the project, made decisions, and offered the necessary support was truly remarkable. Tom and Ben’s leadership has produced results exceeding all expectations—nearly three times the jobs, four times the milk demand, a much larger fund for Vermont dairy farmers. We are grateful for our partnership with Housing Vermont and look forward to more opportunities to invest with them in Vermont.”
Chuck Ross, Secretary of the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, congratulated all of the organizations on creating an inventive means to support the state’s dairy farmers and producers of value-added milk products.
“Commonwealth Dairy’s success here in Vermont is producing big dividends and in a very short timeframe. We have seen a real positive impact for our farmers and our economy. This significant grant from Commonwealth dedicated for capital investments and business planning for St. Albans Cooperative Creamery’s members, coupled with the proven effectiveness of Vermont Housing and Conservation Board’s Farm Viability Program, will help Vermont’s dairy farmers meet the growing demand for high quality milk, create jobs, and support stewardship of Vermont’s most prized working landscape.”
Additional information on the Farm Viability Program is available from Ela Chapin, VHCB, at (802) 828-2117 or firstname.lastname@example.org.