Industrial park expansion in region fueled by growing demand

Groton — Next summer, those finishing an intense workout at Crossfit Inguz on Leonard Drive will be able to reward themselves by going next door for a little craft beer and cheese.

That's when the Beer'd Brewing Co. of Stonington and The Mystic Cheese Co. of Lebanon are slated to move into a building near the end of the street in the Airport Industrial Park. The foundation has been poured and parts for the 12,000-square-foot building are arriving Jan. 5.

As small, artisan manufacturers looking to expand, the companies had similar needs.

"We kept kind of running into each other, looking through the real estate market for properties, like, 'Oh, did you see this one?' 'Oh, I already looked at that one,'" said Beer'd owner Aaren Simoncini.

Simoncini and Mystic Cheese owner Brian Civitello found that options for small businesses looking to expand into larger industrial spaces are limited in southeastern Connecticut.

With its ability to offer water, sewer and gas, and the upcoming construction of new buildings beyond the one for Beer'd and Mystic Cheese, Airport Industrial Park is helping fill that void in the region. The result has been a steady flow of new tenants.

Christopher McLaughlin began developing the industrial park in 1991, with school bus operator Vancom as the first tenant. The 48-acre park now boasts more than 20 businesses in nine buildings, he said. 

From his experience owning Tylaska Marine & Aerospace, Tim Tylaska understands the struggles Simoncini and Civitello faced in expanding.

Tylaska said he started the Mystic Business Park on Flanders Road in 2002 "because I couldn't find a place for my business, and as a result, I kind of knew exactly what other people were looking for as far as the power and size and the modular capacity of expanding."

Now, all 96 units, which mostly range from 800 to 1,200 square feet, are filled, and there is a waiting list. He has been erecting one new building a year on average and is starting construction on a 12th.

Paige Bronk, manager of economic and community development for the Town of Groton, said of Tylaska, "The reason his story is important is because of demand. We have evidence of demand on Leonard Drive; we have evidence of demand at Tim Tylaska's."

Bronk hopes this can translate into a desire for developers to build spaces in Groton that can accommodate small-to-medium-sized businesses looking to grow.

Bronk has also seen that Groton can't always accommodate businesses looking to grow, from Ivory Ella's decision to move from Groton to Westerly and the town missing out on the relocation plans of Faria Beede.

Ivory Ella, an online clothing retailer benefitting Save the Elephants, had about 18,000 square feet across three buildings in Groton but now occupies 50,000 square feet of a larger building in Westerly, according to co-founder Matt Fiano.

Fiano said the company didn't want to go far because it wanted to retain its local employees but that there wasn't a suitable building in southeastern Connecticut.

Similarly, Faria Beede owner Fred Merritt said, "We looked within a geographic area that we felt was within a similar proximity for a majority of our team members, and there were not very many viable options where we are that would be suitable to our needs."

Faria Beede must now move out of its Montville location because it will be turned into a multifamily housing complex, and he said the search was "definitely more difficult than I had hoped for."

But he feels fortunate to have found space at 75 Frontage Road in North Stonington, where he will now be moving.

More beer in cans

Having a second brew house will allow Beer'd to grow from producing 250 barrels of beer a month to 750, according to Simoncini.

"We just haven't been able to satisfy the demand for the longest time," he said. He plans to do more packaging in cans.

Simoncini said part of the allure of the Airport Industrial Park was the availability of natural gas, water and sewer, along with necessary zoning.

Pending approvals, Simoncini and Civitello plan to open adjoining tasting rooms.

While Beer'd is maintaining its current location in the American Velvet Mill in Stonington, Mystic Cheese is shutting down its mobile shipping-container facility in Lebanon upon moving.

Civitello previously planned to move into part of the warehouse at 75 Crystal Ave. in New London, but after more than half a year of working with landlord John Johnson, the deal fell through.

Johnson told The Day the necessary modifications to the space would have been too expensive and, if Mystic Cheese Company were to go out of business or move, he would be stuck with 10,000 square feet of space that had been "dramatically changed."

Johnson said Civitello's needs for the building were never part of discussions early on, while Civitello said he was upfront.

Both Civitello and Simoncini have praised the Town of Groton for being great to work with.

Simoncini would have expanded in Stonington if possible, but he noted that its more rural setting means fewer potential sites, and he didn't want to encroach on Cottrell Brewing Company in Pawcatuck.

Businesses moving in

The forthcoming Beer'd and Mystic Cheese facility follows the addition of other businesses to the Airport Industrial Park in 2017.

Bearing Distributors Inc. (BDI) began operations at 120E Leonard Drive in August, while the autonomous underwater search system startup ThayerMahan moved into 120B at the beginning of October.

And there's more to come.

Within the next three years or so, Kevin Cook, the owner of Cook Enterprises, plans to develop about 60,000 square feet of industrial/commercial space. One building is going up now, and he plans to divide his buildings into spaces ranging from 1,500 to 12,000 square feet.

Cook's Equipment Rental & Hi-Tec Hydraulics moved from Meridian Street to the industrial park in 2016.

Pequot Commercial agent Judy Walsh said that a buyer she cannot yet name has put a deposit down to purchase 90 Leonard Drive, 8.33 acres of undeveloped land next to Sea Corp. that had been for sale for a long time.

She is also leasing land that Luther Fence owns next to Kongsberg Maritime Simulation Inc. Construction of a 9,000-square-foot office/industrial space there would take about five months.

"Generally, the customers we've found are small, local businesses where people worked hard in their own particular niche, they became successful and have grown and want to expand," she said of the industrial park.

e.moser@theday.com

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