Timber framing company weathers economic storm, is ready to expand

Saturday May 25, 2013


Senior Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- A local company specializing in post and beam timber frame structures has seen a boost in business and is looking to hire, a sign that the housing market is rebounding, company officials said.

Vermont Timber Frames, which incorporated in 1993, managed to hang on through the prolonged economic downturn. Many of their competitors did not, however, creating more opportunities for the company that did not exist before.

"It looks good, but I don't want to say that," co-owner Tom Harrison said. "We've lost a lot of competition throughout the country. One of the biggest parts of our sales increases has been picking up some sales reps that worked for our main competitors, some good competitors."

Those sales representatives, with years of experience, have helped Vermont Timber Frames secure sales across the country. Harrison said the six temporary employees have recently been hired through a local agency. There are currently two shifts and about 20 full-time employees, but a third shift may be added in the near future.

Cautious approach

The company is taking a cautious approach to growth, however.

"I'm still answering the phones. We used to have a receptionist, marketing manager and all of that. Now I just wear a lot of different hats," Sales Manager Jeff Brooks said.

Harrison and co-owner Paul Martin first met in 1991 on a project in New Orleans to rebuild The Cabildo. They launched the company two years later in Bennington before relocating to Cambridge, N.Y.

Last year Vermont Timber Frames moved into the former Bennington Iron Works building in Bennington after purchasing it at auction. Harrison said he is happy to be back in Vermont and in a larger space that will allow for continued growth.

While some believe Vermont is not friendly to businesses, Harrison said he strongly disagrees. "I don't know how anybody could even make that kind of a statement in Vermont. Maybe if they've never worked in New York," he said.

Owning a business in Vermont is much more preferable to New York, according to Harrison.

"There really is no comparison, really, in operating between the two states. In New York state, it's almost an adversarial relationship between businesses and the government and so forth," he said. "They find a reason why they can't help you."

The company manufactures the posts and beams and other components of timber frame structures using a 5-axis automated machine. Under the name Timberline Panel Company LLC, structural insulated panels are also manufactured on site. The panels, used to close up the structures, are energy efficient.

"It's been huge. We started Timberline in 2007 and the timing couldn't be better -- the same year oil hit $100 a barrel," Brooks said.

Having the ability to design and manufacture the frames and panels on a single project has given the company an advantage over many competitors.

"We knew that we could do that type of construction. We knew that energy prices were not going to come down substantially and that energy efficiency is always going to be important," Harrison said. "We've seen a push in that direction for that last 30 years, but now it's become more mainstream."

Vermont Timber Frames is projecting solid growth in manufacturing frames. In fact, the company is now accepting contracted work from other timber frame companies.

The panels offer even more promise, though, according to Harrison. "The real growth potential for us is the panels. That can become mainstream construction," he said.

It's already among the largest timber frame companies in the country. But, Vermont Timber Frames could soon double its number of employees. Harrison said the company could reach 40 to 50 employees in a year "if we see the housing market continue to come back."

"It's coming back at a good pace. It's not coming back at a crazy pace, which is good. If it continues and we keep building a backlog of business, I think that would be reasonable," he said.

For now, the company will look to keep up with the work it has already locked up.

"We've seen demand like we haven't seen in about five years, and that's a good thing, but it's gotten us very busy very fast. I love having those kinds of problems. We'll rearrange priorities as best we can to satisfy everybody," he said. "We're taking everything we possibly can without jeopardizing quality and without killing people."

Contact Neal P. Goswami at ngoswami@benningtonbanner.com, or follow on Twitter: @nealgoswami


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