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Manufacturer Describes 'Headwinds' To Operating In Vermont

Steve Zind
GW Plastics quality manager Susan Blow gives legislators a tour of the company's Royalton manufacturing facility, which was one of the stops on a day-long bus tour by two legislative committees.

One of the state’s largest manufacturers says it's challenging to expand in Vermont compared to other states where it operates.

GW Plastics in Bethel and Royalton has been a fixture since the 1950s. The company does plastic injection molding for medical devices and automotive applications, making everything from car seat belt retractors to a device used by surgeons to place stents in arteries.

The company, which employs nearly 350 people in Vermont, was the first stop on a day-long bus tour of Windsor County by two legislative committees.

Because the company also has facilities in Texas and Arizona, CEO Brenan Riehl says it can easily compare the cost of doing business in each state.

He says in most cases, there are what he called "headwinds" to operating in Vermont.

They include the cost of electricity and the expense of a variety of taxes that affect both the company and the employees it wants to attract.

Riehl says legislators need to be more aware of the factors that drive decisions by manufacturers and work with them to reduce their costs. “Vermont can be a little bit insular, so sometimes it’s easy to overlook some of the global market realities that we deal with," Reihl says.

"Vermont can be a little bit insular, so sometimes it's easy to overlook some of the global market realities that we deal with." - Brenan Riehl, CEO of GW Plastics

“If we have a collaborative plan and legislators in Vermont have a clear understanding of who they’re competing against with respect to other states, and where perhaps Vermont doesn’t match up well, we can work together,” says Reihl.

Beyond the lower costs, Riehl says labor is abundant in other states where his company operates, and the company continues to struggle to find workers in Vermont.

“Labor availability is a big issue for us, relatively speaking, compared to the other states in which we have locations, such as Texas and Arizona,” he says.

Riehl cited one instance where the company decided to produce a nebulizer used for asthma in Arizona because it was concerned it couldn’t find the employees to run the program in Vermont.

To help solve that problem, GW is collaborating with a local high school and with nearby Vermont Technical College to train students for manufacturing jobs.

Riehl says the company has experienced record revenue growth in nine of the last ten years.

Steve has been with VPR since 1994, first serving as host of VPR’s public affairs program and then as a reporter, based in Central Vermont. Many VPR listeners recognize Steve for his special reports from Iran, providing a glimpse of this country that is usually hidden from the rest of the world. Prior to working with VPR, Steve served as program director for WNCS for 17 years, and also worked as news director for WCVR in Randolph. A graduate of Northern Arizona University, Steve also worked for stations in Phoenix and Tucson before moving to Vermont in 1972. Steve has been honored multiple times with national and regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for his VPR reporting, including a 2011 win for best documentary for his report, Afghanistan's Other War.
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