AUBURN — In 2001, after a major customer filed for bankruptcy, Bangor-based Hartt Transportation took a chance signing a new Auburn client.
“Big move, scary move,” President Billy Hartt said. “We weren’t running maybe 75 trucks. I had to buy 25 just to come down here to do this piece of business.”
Based out of the former Buerhaus Insulation factory near Hotel Road, with that one local customer, Gates Formed-Fibre, Hartt’s Auburn facility accounted for 16 percent of corporate revenue in 2001.
Today, that’s up to 42 percent, and 225 Hartt trucks run from here.
On Friday, the company opened its new $5.3 million truck terminal, the first tenant in the new, Hartt-owned Kitty Hawk Business Park.
“Today is a proud day,” said CFO Joanna Bradeen, who shared those figures at a ribbon cutting to huge applause. “We quietly established ourselves here after a Chapter 11 bankruptcy of a large paper company, a bankruptcy that left us stunned. So we jumped in with both feet and never looked back.”
The facility here employs 260 people, “adding more than than $25 million annually to this very local economy,” she said.
Bradeen said the new space has the ability to add up to 80 more employees.
She called Auburn the center of “Maine’s transportation universe.”
Mayor Jonathan LaBonte said the new location off First Flight Drive had many things going for it, such as rail, interstate and airport access.
“This is going to be a great first sales pitch — there’s lots for sale and the Hartt family will happily sell those to buyers,” LaBonte said. “Certainly our door remains open to help you guys grow. I want to thank you for the investment you made here.”
Auburn Economic Development Director Roland Miller said five lots remain in the new business park. Hartt shouldered the costs of adding roads, water, sewer and natural gas to the new park under a tax agreement with the city that will see those costs slowly reimbursed as development rolls in.
“It was a wonderful partnership between the city and Hartt Transportation to get this whole area now ready for development,” Miller said.
Billy Hartt said his father, Delmont, founded the company in 1948 at age 18 with one truck. It now has locations in Bangor, Auburn, South Carolina and Kentucky.
It’s former Auburn facility had 8,000 square feet of usable space, which Hartt had figured would last for a long while.
“At the time I bought it, I thought I was overkilling, ‘This is too much building, I don’t need all this,'” he said.
The new truck terminal is 24,000 square feet with tall, drive-thru bays, space to wash trucks and radiant heat in the floors, all new efficiencies.
“I don’t have to pay $55 to $70 per truck to get them washed,” Hartt said. “We’ve got pavement (here). Over there, we had mud.”
The transition to the new facility will be finished next week and the old Auburn space will likely be sold, he said.
Though this new space is just three miles closer to the interstate and several customers, it will add up. Formed Fiber Technologies remains a customer, though of its five local customers, Poland Spring is now the largest, Hartt said.
“I’m running three miles over there and three miles back (currently),” he said. In this new space “I’m saving six miles, which is big when your cost per mile is $2-plus dollars. You start doing that 100, 200 times a day, it becomes a big number.”