Coffee roaster’s arrival boosts local micro industry
BY JON O’CONNELL, STAFF WRITER / Published: December 3, 2017
Facing an oppressive growth environment in New Jersey, Joseph Fernandes III needed a new place to grow his family’s company.
His three-year search ended in Dunmore, and whether he meant for it or not, Socafe’s impending arrival advances a blooming micro industry in the region — coffee roasting.
“I love that more roasters are coming into the area, I think it creates a brain trust to have excellent product,” said Mary Tellie, owner of Electric City Roasting Co. in Throop and Zummo’s Cafe in Scranton.
She started her roasting company in 2003 and employs eight people at her Northeast Pennsylvania roastery.
In South Canaan Twp., the clergy at St. Tikhon’s Monastery bookstore and print shop began roasting coffee commercially under the name Burning Bush Coffee Roasters last year.
They produce smaller batches of specialty coffee, maybe a few hundred pounds of coffee per week, said bookstore manager the Rev. Innocent Neal. Their client base is growing to include other businesses like restaurants. They ship coffee to customers around the country.
Socafe, which roasts, grinds and packages certified fair-trade, organic coffee for private label customers, didn’t settle on Dunmore because Lackawanna County offers anything special to coffee roasters, and the fact that three roasteries are growing so near to each other is probably more coincidence than anything.
“It’s not so much that Northeast Pennsylvania is particularly attractive for coffee roasters,” Fernandes said. “I think it’s an ideal place for my business.”
He found a pro-business environment with lower electric and gas utility costs than in New Jersey, where costs are rising. He expects an already stiff tax environment there will only get worse.
He tapped the Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce to find the Grove Street building and to work with the Lackawanna County economic development department and the Governor’s Action Team, a government group that helps expanding or relocating businesses .
Socafe promised to invest $2.5 million and to create 130 jobs. A strong, dependable local workforce was part of his reason for moving, he said.
A half-dozen workers are prepping the building, which needed little work, installing high-efficiency lighting and doing minor maintenance.
Harrisburg offered the company a funding proposal that includes a $130,000 Pennsylvania First grant, an $18,000 WEDnet grant for employee training and $130,000 in job creation tax credits to be issued when the jobs are created.
“He really is a true example of what we want to see here in Northeast Pennsylvania,” said Bruce Reddock, an economic development specialist with the chamber who worked extensively with Fernandes. In moving to Dunmore, Socafe will revive a dilapidated industrial building and fill it with family-sustaining jobs, he said.
“He’s committed to the area, and that’s certainly what our mission here is to do,” he said.
The 166,500-square-foot building, first built in 1919 with a number of additions built in the following decades, operated as a silk mill until the 1990s. Elijah Miller, with Hinerfeld Commercial Real Estate, brokered the sale between former owner, Walter Schautz and Socafe.
The company plans to be 50 percent operational in Dunmore by the end of the year. It will maintain production during the transition and move segments, including roasting, grinding and packaging divisions, one piece at a time.
“We don’t have the luxury of just being able to stop and move, which would be the easiest thing,” Fernandes said.
He plans to be fully up and running by the second quarter of next year. His family, including his parents, who still step in to help manage the company during times of growth, will relocate to the area, which was part of the incentive to move, he said.
“I personally like the pace of life,” he said. “There’s so much there that personally appeals to me and my family.”
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