BRUNSWICK — Greg Farr was last seen as Brunswick Downtown Association’s first full-time executive director.
He left in 2010 to help restructure RollEase, a Stamford, Conn.-based custom window covering business, but has now returned with the company in tow and plans to expand at Brunswick Landing.
Sometime this week, Farr, senior vice president at RollEase, is expected to sign a lease for an 11,000-square-foot former U.S. Navy Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape School building, which will be turned into the company’s “innovation center.”
RollEase is initially expected to employ 10 workers who will begin researching and developing new technology later this year, including a motorization system to connect window covering controls to a smart-phone app.
The facility, expected to be a multi-million dollar investment for RollEase, is tentatively scheduled to open in July, with plans to expand employment after a year.
Founded in 1980, RollEase may not be a household name, but its operating systems, rolling shade fabrics, and hardware components for custom window coverings can be found in many places: Home Depot stores, hotel across the country, landmarks like the Statue of Liberty and Grand Canyon National Park, and skyscrapers like the Tapei 101 in Taiwan and International Commerce Centre in Hong Kong.
Calling the expansion an “important strategic initiative” for the company, Farr said he chose Brunswick for the innovation center after looking at potential sites in several states, including some that were less expensive.
He said it only took 2 1/2 hours to convince his board of directors last fall.
“I’m an officer of the company, so I have a fiduciary responsibility to the company,” Farr said on a recent morning, “but I think I’ve done my numbers objectively enough to prove that the opportunity is here.”
Besides RollEase’s corporate headquarters in Stanford, Conn., the company also has facilities in Lenoir, N.C., and Phoenix.
Farr said he’s also willing to offer himself as an ambassador for the area, to help attract more businesses to Brunswick Landing.
“I would be willing to meet with prospective customers or companies,” he said, “and tell them why this is a good infrastructure and why this is a good area for businesses and families.”
Steve Leveseque, executive director of the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority, said this wouldn’t be the first time a tenant has offered to help, but it’s always welcome.
“That’s the best marketing that you can have, when your customers want to promote you,” he said. “That’s why it’s important for us to keep good relations with our customer.”
Before Farr settled on moving the innovation center into the former U.S. Navy building at 8 Leavitt Drive, he considered having RollEase become the first tenant of TechPlace, a manufacturing-driven business incubator being developed by MRRA.
However, because of schedules and specific costs associated with moving into the facility, Farr said his company decided to seek its own building so it could move on its own schedule and work more closely within a budget.
Farr said he thinks his company can become an anchor tenant for the former naval air station, like Kestrel Aircraft and Tempus Jets before it, and help MRRA fulfill its goal of becoming a manufacturing and innovation hub.
“If MRRA and the town of Brunswick can draw one or two more businesses like ours, he said, “there will be a cascading effect and you’ll have enough critical mass that (other companies) start looking at the area.”
Farr said he has been in contact with Kristine Schuman, an account executive with Maine’s Department of Economic and Community Development, who he said has been helpful. But he wishes more local and state officials would reach out to convince businesses why Maine is the place.
“A lot of states have fairly formalized programs, where they give an overview on how to give your business a high chance of success,”Farr said. “We really just don’t have anything like that.”
That said, however, Farr said he’s excited about bringing his company back to a town he loves.
“I always like doing things that are new and challenging ,” he said. “And to come back to Brunswick and to start something new here, I feel really good about that.”
Greg Farr is senior vice president of Connecticut-based RollEase, which will open a product development lab at Brunswick Landing.