SACO — Ready Seafood has nabbed the last local permit it needs to build a $10 million lobster processing, storage and research center in Saco.
On Monday, the city’s planning board unanimously approved Ready’s plan to build a 64,000-square-foot facility on a 40-acre lot at 1016 Route 1. When building is done in 12 to 14 months, Ready Seafood will be the largest of Maine’s half-dozen lobster processors, capable of processing 100,000 pounds of Maine’s signature crustacean every day.
Ready plans to hire 40 to 50 new people to staff the new operation, bringing its total payroll to about 250 mostly full-time jobs.
“One of our biggest strengths as a company is our ability to pivot on a day-to-day basis to react quickly to the global market,” said Brian Skoczenski, Ready’s chief operations officer. “The main objective of this move is to consolidate our three separate branches. The move will allow us to grow size-wise, but it’s really about increasing efficiency as much as it is size.”
Ready will install equipment to automate part of its production process and use high-pressure processing technology that is still rare in Maine but is common in Canada to extend the shelf life of its lobster products. Shucks Maine Lobster, a processor that wants to build a processing plant, seafood restaurant and education center on the Portland Fish Pier, also uses a high-pressure water system.
Owners John and Brendan Ready believe Saco is the right place for their young staff to grow along with the company. Their team members can buy houses in Saco, near where they work, and will want to send children they do not even have yet to the city schools, John Ready said. Three Ready employees have already bought homes in Saco after learning of the company’s plans.
This will help Ready recruit and retain workers in an industry that often struggles with maintaining a labor force, he said. It helps that the company has built up a year-round business — in part due to its storage tanks that allow it to hold onto lobsters for sale when supply falls or demand spikes — and hires mostly full-time employees, unlike many other lobster companies.
“For us, this is like Christmas morning,” John Ready said. “We are excited to be growing, excited to be getting more into processing with this new technology, which is where we think the industry needs to head to cater to the next generation of foodies, and we are excited to go to Saco, where we think our team will be happy and where we think we can give the city a huge boost.”
The project will breathe new life into a part of the city where officials hope to attract new commercial and industrial companies, said City Councilor Nathan Johnston, noting that the timing is right. Last fall, voters approved a $2.5 million bond to extend sewer service to this zone. In May, Gov. Paul LePage designated Saco a federal Opportunity Zone to encourage investment.
“I think this is a real game-changer for Saco,” Johnston said. “We’re a great residential community, but for the last 15 years or so, Saco has lagged behind on the recruitment of large-scale employers, and the jobs and taxes they bring. People are moving here but working in Portland. Ready is the start of changing that. It will be nice to say come live and work in Saco.”
Once the facility is up and running, Ready will have created the most new local jobs in at least a decade, Johnston said.
Ready already has facilities at the Maine State Pier in Portland, where it has been running its live lobster grading, packing and shipping operation since 2009. In 2011, Ready began processing lobster as Maine Seafood Ventures, opening its plant on Pine Point Road in Scarborough. In 2015, Ready bought the site next door in Scarborough and opened Ready Tubing, a long-term storage facility.
Ready will continue to operate these facilities even after it moves into its Saco campus, Ready said.
With planning permit in hand, Ready plans to break ground Oct. 1, fueled in part by its pending acquisition by Premium Brands, a Canadian specialty foods company. Ready found its soon-to-be corporate parent while looking for a private investor to help it fund the Saco project and speed up what would have been a three-to-five year timeline if acting alone.
From left, brothers Brendan Ready and John Ready, co-owners of Ready Seafood on Portland’s waterfront, sit on the edge of their holding tank, filled with 120,000 pounds of live lobster. (Gabe Souza/Portland Press Herald)
Lobsters at Ready Seafood in Portland on Sept. 10, 2012. (Portland Press Herald file photo)
Plans for the lobster processing storage and research facility Ready Seafood will build in Saco.