Collette details path to staying, growing in Pawtucket

Collette details path to staying, growing in Pawtucket

Company looking at possibility of leasing downtown space

PAWTUCKET – Five years ago, city-based tour company Collette was in the midst of a “major consideration” of whether to stay in Pawtucket and Rhode Island, said Chief Financial Officer and Executive Vice President Robert Colucci, pictured. Massachusetts at the time was “throwing some pretty good incentives” at Collette and other companies, he said.

Collette, as it always is, was evaluating where it was as a company, especially as it pertains to dealing with continued growth at its Middle Street headquarters, said Colucci. Although the financial aspects of the neighboring state’s courting were attractive, the Sullivan family, which owns Collette, and Collette’s staff knew then that the company belonged in Pawtucket where its roots are.

“That means a lot to a family-run business,” he said. Going beyond the numbers “played a lot into the decision” to stay put, he said.

A year or so ago, Collette began the process of rolling out some new products as part of an aggressive growth effort, said Colucci, accelerating the push to craft a financial framework that would fit that goal of staying in the city.

At a press conference last month, Gov. Gina Raimondo and Mayor Donald Grebien announced that Collette, celebrating its 100th year in business, will expand and create more than 75 new permanent full-time jobs in the state.

The Pawtucket-based company is one of more than 25 companies to expand in or move to Rhode Island through Raimondo’s economic development incentives. To date, the Qualified Jobs Tax Incentive is helping create more than 3,200 new jobs, she said.

While Rhode Island and Pawtucket still represent “a tough place to do business,” said Colucci, “it’s gotten easier for sure” with programs such as this one.

“It certainly helped put us over the edge to stay put and expand here,” he said.

It would have been nice if the Pawtucket Red Sox came to the same conclusion about staying, and Collette executives were pushing hard to make a downtown stadium happen, said Colucci, but in the end, as Grebien and Raimondo noted, state and local officials put their best foot forward and were ultimately “undercut and outbid” in the effort to build the team a new stadium and further revitalize the downtown.

“It would have been a great way to do that, but it wasn’t the only way to do it,” he said.

Knowing what they know now about the plan by the PawSox to leave in two years, said Colucci, Collette executives have absolutely no regrets about recommitting to the city.

“We’re going to do our part to continue to make Pawtucket and Rhode Island a great place to live, work and play,” he said.

He said Pawtucket still has so much going for it, with major new developments coming, a new train station on the horizon, and a newly vibrant brewery scene making headlines all the time.

“We’re really excited about the possibilities, to be honest,” he said. “A lot of towns are revitalized; why can’t we do it here in Pawtucket?”

Colucci said he and owner Dan Sullivan routinely go through the city seeking out ways the company can take a more active role in being part of the city’s renaissance, particularly in the downtown area. They advocated for the coming train station and are now lobbying hard for the planned extension of the Blackstone River Bikeway, a bike path that will run right past their 5.5-acre facility on Middle and Front Streets. The company is willing to put up some of its own money to help develop the path on its own property, he said.

As CFO, Colucci said he had the tough job of weighing the financial aspects of moving, as well as the logistics of transferring some 500 employees to a new headquarters elsewhere, with what Rhode Island was offering to help keep the company. Weighing the pros and cons of staying or going is harder when other states are dangling “statistics and carrots in front of you,” said Colucci, and at a point, it was nice to see the state provide a “strong incentive for us to stay committed and stay” in the city where it started with a storefront a century ago.

Collette continues to add personnel on a regular basis, said Colucci, with 100 potential additions over the next couple of years.

Collette’s most significant issue remains having enough space, said Colucci, which is part of the reason the company is evaluating the possibility of expanding to other parts of downtown Pawtucket. Collette recently acquired another building across the street from its existing facility, and is looking at getting quotes on a rehab of that structure, he said. That initiative is part of a longer term plan over the next three to five years. To address immediate needs and short-term growth needs, the plan is to potentially lease space elsewhere, with the area near the brewery and train station one possibility, he said.

Much of what is driving the current “hyper growth” expansion at Collette is the new Explorations by Collette product, a response to the “huge demand” in small group touring centered around customized unique and immersive experiences, Colucci said.

“It’s a good problem to have,” he said.

Just as consumers are seeking better experiences as they spend their money shopping, they’re looking for the same type of memorable experience when traveling, he said. People on these smaller tours take a deeper dive on the culture of a destination, “coming home with something to brag about,” he said.

The Rhode Island Commerce Corporation is recommending an estimated $1.2 million of tax credits over 10 years for Collette. The company is looking at adding jobs in information technology, business development, product design, professional services and client services. The company will only be eligible to receive the tax credits after positions have been filled and employees have started paying state income taxes.

The Qualified Jobs Program is projected to generate more than $82 million in state revenue over the next decade, according to officials.

“Now in our 100th year of business, we have witnessed impressive growth over the past few years as consumers have recognized the tremendous value of our broad product offerings that deliver unique, immersive experiences to exciting destinations and more choice for travelers,” said Colucci in a statement at last month’s announcement. “We’re committed to both expansion and development over the next several years, particularly in the areas of technology, marketing and product design and development to meet the demands of our expanding customer base.”

Collette is a company with options throughout the region, country, and world, said Rhode Island Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor.

“It is wonderful that, at this important moment in Pawtucket’s history, Collette has agreed to expand in the city that has proudly served as its home for decades,” he said.