Galen Weibley, Presque Isle's economic and community development director, speaks to the City Council in May. Credit: Paula Brewer / The Star-Herald

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Presque Isle will gain another national business when a longtime Caribou plumbing and heating company moves in.

F.W. Webb, based in Bedford, Massachusetts, operates in the six New England states and New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, with 13 locations throughout Maine. The wholesale distributor will move its only Aroostook County site to Presque Isle in roughly a year and a half.

Since the pandemic began, a declining workforce and inflation have decimated businesses from restaurants to retailers statewide. The latest is Olympia Sports, which announced it would close its remaining East Coast stores, including the one in Presque Isle. But with its business thriving in Aroostook, Webb has outgrown its Caribou space and wants to expand where the activity is, a company official said.

The company will build a $5.5 million building on the former Fairview Acres in Presque Isle, at the corner of Parsons Street and Central Drive. The parcel is part of the Presque Isle Industrial Park.

“Business is growing,” said Derek Wilson, operations manager at F.W. Webb’s Hampden store, which oversees the Caribou operation. “All the new construction that you’ve seen, both residential and commercial, in addition to a lot of the bigger processing facilities — they’re all growing and leaning on us to help that growth.”

The project’s timeline isn’t finalized, but the company hopes to be at the new site before winter 2023, Wilson said.

F.W. Webb’s Caribou building at 420 South St. is about 9,000 square feet. There’s no room for expansion so officials purchased a bigger piece of land to build anew. They decided on Presque Isle because it’s nearer to most construction activity.

Webb will build a 30,000-square-foot building with a 15,000-square-foot mezzanine, and will create four new jobs, according to information it filed with the city of Presque Isle.

The wholesaler deals in plumbing and heating, earthwork, HVAC, refrigeration, building controls, propane and water systems and other industry needs, according to its website.  It also provides industrial repair and irrigation equipment for farmers, which have helped accelerate its growth, Wilson said.

The new location is part of Presque Isle’s Tax Increment Financing district, which the state granted for 920 acres of downtown property in 2021. A TIF allows the government to invest in business upfront and help it get started.

This map of Presque Isle shows its Tax Increment Financing area approved by the state. Credit: Courtesy of City of Presque Isle

The Presque Isle City Council authorized a 10-year agreement on July 6 to assist F.W. Webb with the cost of a fire suppression system. The Presque Isle Utility District’s water supply will not support the project, so Webb will need to build a water tank.

“The intent is to help with the development of their facility,” Weibley said. “It’s not like they’re getting something for free. They are taking on serious capital improvements before getting that return back after 10 years.”

F.W. Webb must pay its property taxes each of the 10 years and will receive part of it back as a refund — 55 percent for four years, 40 percent for three years, then 30 percent for the remaining three.

For instance, the current Fairview Acres property is valued at $200,000. Part of that property tax bill will go into the city’s general fund, Weibley said. The new value that is created from the multimillion-dollar building will be diverted into the downtown TIF fund, which shelters it from being part of the valuation for SAD 1 and Aroostook County.

After the 10-year mark, that money will go into a reserve fund for economic development for the next 19 years for which the city’s TIF district was created. With businesses facing barriers such as inflated fuel and utility costs, as well as difficulty finding workers, those funds could be important.

“We are seeing a lot of new economic development growth within Presque Isle, and the downtown TIF is an important economic development tool that Houlton, Caribou and other towns also use to draw new businesses into their community,” he said.

The TIF allows property taxes on new development to be sheltered in a fund that can be used for city improvements, such as the Maine Department of Transportation’s proposed downtown improvement plan, he said.

F.W. Webb needs to sign the agreement with the city and obtain building permits before they can break ground on their new facility. Wilson of the company’s Hampden facility hopes for a late fall start, depending on the weather.