The Pittsfield City Council’s Finance Committee has approved tax increment financing to a Massachusetts company that says it can grow jobs and contribute to a stronger tax base during hard economic times.
Shire City Herbals is a startup herbal remedy company that has been getting a lot of attention since it opened in 2011.
While a very public trademark dispute with other herbalist companies a few years ago dominated headlines, the company has experienced grown 70 percent over the last six years.
Co-owner Dana St. Pierre says the company was seeking tax incentives to relocate to Pittsfield so it could hire more workers to produce Fire Cider.
“It’s a very concentrated base of vinegar with fruits, vegetables, honey and spices in it. So it’s something that people take daily, about a tablespoon a day for cold and flu or for general health,” St. Pierre says.
The tax increment finance agreement for Shire City Herbals says all 16 full-time jobs will be retained and relocate to Pittsfield.
City Mayor Linda Tyer says the company has outgrown its current location at a food processing center in Greenfield. The new 20,000-square foot site off Commercial Street in Pittsfield, which Shire City Herbals closed on last week, will allow it to grow employment in the city.
“Their endeavors align squarely with our intention to encourage, recruit, retain diversity within our small business community,” Tyer says.
Co-owner Amy Huebner says it will also help them grow the company’s in-house product management, shipping and receiving and sales. Shire City Herbals ships wholesale with 10 distributors nationwide and online.
“We're planning to put in around 7,000-square foot commercial production kitchen that will be certified by the FDA. And that is kind of the heart of the building,” Huebner says.
But the deal comes at a time when the city is struggling to make ends meet.
Terry Kinnas, a former Pittsfield School Committee member, says he doesn’t want the city to give any money to the business when it’s struggling to pass a budget.
“I don't think it is the part of government to play favorites in giving out tax money like that, and it is a give-out.”
The company says it’s accessing tax credits through the state’s Economic Development Incentive Program’s Tax Increment Finance Strategy, and received $74,000 in tax credits last month. It was also previously approved by the state’s Economic Assistance Coordinating Council.
Pittsfield’s Economic Revitalization Corporation had also granted $20,000 to Shire City Herbals for environmental site assessment and testing. Mayor Tyer…
“This I feel is a small sacrifice for supporting business growth, for retaining and creating jobs, expanding the commercial activity within the borders of our city and developing a healthy, diverse economy and a strong tax base.”
Councilor Kevin Morandi says the city needs to do whatever it can to get businesses to start in or relocate to Pittsfield – especially as budget season rolls around.
“We have to start doing whatever we can do for them. It is so competitive out there and everything. And we're having such a tough time.”
Shire City Herbals’ construction and renovation project for the new site is expected to cost more than $1.2 million. Under the tax finance agreement, the company has promised to create at least 10 new jobs in five years.
The new employees will earn at minimum $15 per hour, according to company policy.
Mayor Tyer says the company’s estimated real estate tax is just more than $300,000, and $27,000 would be forgiven during the entire 10-year tax incentive period.
“Often there is an assumption that when we propose and approve TIF agreements, that there are no taxes being paid, and that is simply not the case.”
Councilor Chris O’Connell says he has been using Fire Cider for the last two years, and feels like he is in great health.
“I mean it’s not some just magic elixir, it really does work. I am testament to that.”
But O’Connell says he is concerned what will happen if the company struggles to grow and afford more workers.
The city’s Department of Community Development says if the company is sold or closes during that time, the tax incentives would be decertified.
Shire City Herbals projects working at its new Pittsfield site until 2027.