MACHIASPORT — A $400,000 federal grant that will allow Atlantic Salmon of Maine to expand its processing operation here will help create more than 30 full-time jobs.
Under the terms of the Community Development Block Grant, the town will build and then own a new processing building for a period of years, leasing it to the company.
“They [company officials] now have made a strong commitment to this town,” said Sandra Prescott, chairman of the town committee that helped prepare the grant application. She said the company would match the grant with equipment valued at around $400,000.
The town first applied for the grant in January 1995 but was rejected. Undaunted, officials reapplied last May.
Prescott’s husband, Bill, who serves as the town’s first selectman, said representatives of Eastern Maine Development Corp. in Bangor told him about grants that were available to municipalities to help local businesses expand. Prescott proposed the idea to the Board of Selectmen, and they agreed it was a good idea.
“The president of the company, Frank Gjerst, started talking with Bill [Prescott] and Eastern Maine Development and me, because I have been involved with some grant applications. Gjerst was encouraged to talk with Eastern Maine about the needs of the company. Eastern Maine really acted as a broker between what the town said they would like to do and what the company needed to do to expand,” Sandra Prescott said.
In 1989, Atlantic Salmon converted an old Grange Hall in town to a processing plant. The company, which now employs nearly 100, has been in business about 10 years, seven of those years in Machiasport. Richard Fochesato, processing manager, said the company’s main headquarters is in Waterville and it has a hatchery in Rangley.
Fochesato said that currently salmon the company grows locally are gutted and shipped whole to East Coast customers. “With the new plant we will be value-adding to the process. We will be filleting, portioning and steaking [cutting salmon into steaks] in the new processing plant,” he said.
The project got a boost when an act of nature made a private wharf available. Earlier this year a severe storm caused a boat to break lose from its mooring and slam into the wharf causing the bait house, owned by BBS Lobster Co., to collapse into the harbor. “It was an opportunity we did not stop to think about a second time,” said Sandra Prescott.