Who’d a thunk it? Success stories from rural Maine

One of the great things about running a successful business Maine, especially rural Maine, is the “Who’d a thunk it?” factor.  Consider the origins of Burt’s Bees, founded north of Bangor by Roxanne Quimby and Burt Shavitz. Today it’s a billion dollar subsidiary of the Clorox Company.

Wyman’s of Maine is a global farm company in Milbridge, not just harvesting wild blueberries from Maine and Prince Edward Island, but other fruit varieties too from their farms in South America. Japanese markets are its top customers.

The Baker Company in Sanford is a worldwide leader in manufacturing equipment to keep laboratories clean of contamination.

These companies also stand out for their strong values: their commitment to the Earth, to their employees and their customers.

Here’s another company to add to the list: Duratherm Window Corporation. Driving by the farm and gardens at Duratherm Window Corporation’s facility in Vassalboro, a full 90-minute drive from Portland International Jetport, you’d never guess the company is the partner-of-choice to the world’s most discerning architects.

Duratherm Window Corporation work at the Barnes Museum in Philadelphia.

Indeed, Duratherm counts such iconic clients as Gehry Partners (established by the legendary architect Frank Gehry), Philadelphia’s Barnes Museum, and the visitor’s center at Monticello, as well as a number of high-end private residences around the world.

A word-of-mouth reputation for fine quality crafted wood windows and doors has helped the multi-million dollar company return to health since the economic downturn of 2008. President Timothy Downing said that during those tough times he read an article in magazine that described the foundation for America’s economic health: manufacturing, energy and agriculture. Mr. Downing saw that as the formula for Duratherm.

“We’re working toward that trinity,” Mr. Downing said. The manufacturer set out to be energy independent. By converting some 400 tons of wood dust that accumulates in the factory every year into to wood bricks and pellets that heat and power the plant, Duratherm has reduced its oil consumption from 21,000 gallons a year to just shy of 6,000 gallons. That’s not all – the company now packages and sells those “Dura-Briques” as low-cost fuel in the community.

“Sustainability is my passion,” said Mr. Downing, who personally gets up on the plant’s flat roof in winter to shovel off the snow.

This summer I took my interns on a field trip to see the business action. They were amused to see a globally recognized window manufacturer maintaining Maine Highland Cattle, growing squash, zucchini, beans and hay, as well as keeping tick-eating chickens on-site as a natural pesticide.

The farm obviously fits in with the agricultural piece from the Forbes article. Not only do the cows graze on the 20 acres of property owned by Duratherm, but the company butchers them and offers the meat as an employee-benefit in a lottery every year. Eventually those tick-eating chickens may provide hard boiled eggs as break snacks, instead of traditional vending machine fare.

The farm played a key role when work was hard to come by a few years ago, Mr. Downing remained committed to keeping his employees productive however he could, most of whom have well more than a decade’s tenure at Duratherm. To avoid layoffs, the company kept staff on board to work the farm when door and window orders were down.

Employee wellness is also a passion of Mr. Downing’s. Duratherm provides 100 percent of health insurance to all, at the steep cost of a half million dollars annually. To make the most of that coverage, the company has contracted with Occupational Medical Consulting (OMC) of nearby Leeds, Maine to nurture the well being of the company staff.  The OMC staff visits the factory weekly with one-on-one coaching for anyone who requests it, helping keep the average employee maintain a healthy weight, eat healthily and reduce smoking.

Farming, briques and weekly wellness coaching may seem peripheral to the core window and door manufacturing business – even profit killers – yet Mr. Downing and his colleagues have integrated and elevated them as their standard for any responsible business. “Once we demonstrate it to others it makes sense to them,” Mr. Downing said.

Embracing a management style known as “Servant Leadership” that he learned from Human Resource consultants J. Gaudet Associates, Mr. Downing works side-by-side with his employees, on the manufacturing floor and on the farm.

What’s next? In pursuit of energy independence, Duratherm is installing solar panels on the building and aims for the operation to be entirely energy independent by next year. Who’d a thunk it?


About christengraham

President of Giving Strong, Inc. Christen advises businesses, foundations and families for how to make a greater social impact.