Wednesday, January 17, 2018

GMO Salmon Company Headquartered in Maynard

Fifth in a multi-part series AT THE MILL.

AquAdvantage salmon with unmodified salmon, both about 12 months
of age. Both types of fish reach the same size as adults, but it takes
 the non-GMO fish about twice as long. Photo courtesy of AquaBounty.
A new innovation in salmon aquaculture has started to reach market - genetically engineered Atlantic salmon that reach harvest size at 16-20 months instead of 28-32 months for aquaculture of unmodified salmon. The fish are brand named AquAdvantage®. The company is AquaBounty Technologies, Inc. The company’s headquarters is officially located at Mill & Main, Maynard, Massachusetts.   

This does not mean that there are tanks of giant fish lurking in the basements of the mill buildings, striving to escape into the Assabet River. Point of fact, there are no salmon in Maynard whatsoever. Never have been. Never will be. Most day-to-day operations, research and production take place in other locations. Only three staff are actually situated in Maynard.

AquaBounty management standing in front of Maynard’s mill pond. L to R:
Ronald L. Stotish, President/CEO, Dave Conley, Director of Communications,
Dawn Runighan, Facility Manager (Canada), Chantal March, Regulatory
Compliance, Alejandro Rojas, COO, Christopher Martin, General Counsel,
David A. Frank, Treasurer/CFO, and Henry Clifford - VP Marketing and Sales
Photo courtesy of AquaBounty. Click on photos to enlarge.
The life cycle of the Atlantic salmon varies, from one to four years as a small fish in a fresh water river, followed by two to four years in the ocean before returning to the same river to spawn. Unlike some Pacific salmon, the Atlantic species can return to the ocean after spawning and then back to the river in a year or two. Adult salmon are on the order of 30 inches long and weigh about twelve pounds, although potentially much larger if they delay returning to spawn for a first time or are repeaters. Trophy-size fish can top 50 pounds. Survival research suggests that it takes about 8,000 eggs to end up with two sexually mature fish.

Due to over-fishing and destruction of riverine habitat, there is no longer much in the way of a natural commercial catch. Instead, salmon fish farming - aquaculture -  uses fresh water tanks for the first year and then massive cages in the ocean to raise salmon to maturity – from egg to harvest – in 2.5 to 3.0 years. For Atlantic salmon (but not for various Pacific species), a point has been reached wherein less than 10 percent of the market is wild-caught.

What AquaBounty did was transfer a gene from Chinook salmon and a promoter sequence from another gene, from ocean pout, into Atlantic salmon in order to continually produce growth hormone rather than seasonally, as in wild fish. Several systems are in place to prevent accidental escape of GMO salmon to potentially breed with or out-compete wild salmon. First, the fish being raised for market are sterile females. The fertilized eggs from the breeding females have no male chromosome, and an egg treatment causes the hatched female fish to be sterile. The breeding facilities have physical and chemical barriers to prevent physical escape, and the locations for raising marketable fish (Panama, and soon, Indiana) have no connection to the ocean. In theory, a fish raising facility could be created in Maynard (big fish in the mill pond, anyone?), but that’s not going to happen.

Atlantic salmon can reach tremendous size (this one topping
60 pounds) just by staying in the ocean a few more years
before returning to the river to spawn. Internet photo.
Advantages for salmon aquaculture in land-based tanks versus ocean cages – true for GMO or unmodified fish - include better food-to-weight gain efficiency, lower risk of diseases, less predator loss and a lower transportation carbon footprint. 

The method of inserting these particular genes into Atlantic salmon was finalized more than 25 years ago. All the intervening time has been getting government approvals to produce and market the fish, which has taken far longer than any GMO plant approval. The very first batch actually brought to market was to Canada, in June 2017. Looking into the future, one might expect to see a fish store display with three trays: wild salmon, farmed salmon, GMO farmed salmon. Priced accordingly. Consumer’s choice, just as it now is with organic versus non-organic.

As to when sales might commence in the United States, Mr. Ronald L. Stotish, President and CEO of AquaBounty, replied “We intend to introduce AquAdvantage® salmon into the U.S. market as soon as the Import Alert is lifted.”

It’s complicated. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the fish as safe for human consumption, and ruled in 2015 that labeling as GMO, or not GMO, or not bothering to label one way or the other, would be voluntary. Then, a bill signed into law by President Obama in July 2016 called for mandatory labeling on all genetically engineered foods, but the government granted itself two years to create the new regulations. Next, tucked into the 2016 federal budget was an Import Alert prohibiting any introduction of genetically engineered salmon until the FDA either publishes final labeling guidelines. This was continued in the 2017 budget. There is also a federally filed lawsuit pending. So, the definitive answer appears to be “You will see it when you see it.” 

Disclosing that I own shares in AquaBounty. And am willing to eat GMO fish.      

Monday, January 1, 2018

Building No. 5, Maynard's Mill

Fourth in a multi-part series AT THE MILL.

Four years after the bankruptcy and closure of the mill in 1898, the American Woolen Company, as new owner, was putting the finishing touches on a brand new building designated No. 5 then and still with us as No. 5 now. From The Maynard News, dated March 14, 1902: “Where eight months ago stood a long row of wooden sheds, today stands one of the largest single mills in the world…” 

Building No. 5 behind the temporary flume that was in place 1916-1918
for the construction of building No. 1. Structure in left corner is chimney.
The rapidity of the construction was all the more remarkable because room for the foundation on the south side had to be blown out of solid rock (explosives likely bought from the American Powder Mill, down the road), while the north side required a temporary dike in the millpond to allow for the pouring of concrete. The article describes the work crew as numbering 500, more than half of them Italian laborers, working day and night. Carting was contracted locally, so there was full employment for horses, too.

Completed, the building spanned 690 x 106 feet, five stories above a basement, so providing more than 400,000 square feet of floor space. Two floors were dedicated to looms, with the other floors providing space for carding, spinning, dressing, spooling and drawing-in. Each floor of the mill was powered by electric motors and illuminated by electric light bulbs, with the electricity produced by the mill’s own coal-fired, steam-powered generators. Floor-to-ceiling windows added natural light.

In this photo from 2000, Building No. 5 is to the right. At the time of its
completion in 1902 the two other buildings fronting on the mill pond had
 not yet been built (No. 3, middle, 1911 and No. 1, left, 1918).
Bringing this new building on line more than doubled working space at the American Woolen Company operations in Maynard, and brought employment to 2,000 men, women and teenage children. The town’s population reflected the mill’s expansion, more than doubling from 3,100 to 6,400 between 1900 and 1910. These were the years that brought so many European immigrants to Maynard.

Current occupants of building No. 5 include Stratus Technologies, which leased a bit more than 100,000 square feet starting summer of 2015, and the Battle Road Brewery and Brewhouse, open for business February 2017. The brewhouse has outdoor seating overlooking the millpond (weather permitting).  

“Five” has figured mightily in American art. Circa 1920, the poet William Carlos Williams published “The Great Figure,” a poem that in 32 words captured the cacophony of moment and sound on a hot, July, city night: “Among the rain/ and lights/ I saw the figure 5/ in gold/ on a red/ firetruck/ moving/ tense/ unheeded/ to gong clangs/ siren howls/ and wheels rumbling/ through the dark city.” The poem scrolls down the printed page, short line after short line, but when read aloud, not too fast, but without pauses for commas (because there are no commas), it is a tone poem, and itself whole. As told by Williams to a friend, he was so struck by the sight and sound of the firetruck that he took paper and pencil out of his pocket and wrote the poem – or at least the kernel of the poem – standing there on the sidewalk.

"I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold" Charles Demuth (1928). Inspired
by William Carlos William poem "The Great Figure" The
original is 30 x 35 inches. Click on images to enlarge.
In 1928, inspired by Williams’ poem, American artist Charles Demuth painted “I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold.” The work, in oil paint, graphite, ink and gold leaf, is 30x35 inches. Between 1924 and 1929, Demuth completed eight abstract paintings as tributes to modern American artists, writers, and performers. Demuth left the painting in his will to Georgia O'Keeffe. She in turn bequeathed it to the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, where it resides. The three 5’s in the painting and the partial curve of a fourth convey that image of the firetruck receding away from WCW that night. The rest is a city street, store windows, street lights and a subtle scattering of references to the poet. For anyone with a computer, it’s worth a search on the painting’s title for a screen viewing.

In 2013 “I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold” was one of twelve works of art featured in stamps issued by the U.S. Postal Service. For dollhouse collectors, it is possible to purchase picture frames that are a good size match for postage stamps. What a way to collect famous paintings for a fraction of the cost (at a fraction of the size).

U.S. postage stamp from 2013 of
"I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold"
Which is exactly what I did. On eBay, I was able to buy the stamp from one vendor and a "Dollhouse double matted gilded Victorian picture frame miniature (from Jacqueline's)" from another, combined cost about $12.00. The frame included a rectangle of clear acetate to simulate glass. The size of stamp and frame is 1:24 inch scale, meaning 1 foot is 1/2 inch. This is a popular size for adult dollhouse collectors in the U.S.; in Great Britain a 1:12 scale is more common. Sometimes, collectors want their dollhouse to have a dollhouse. This calls for the dollhouse to be 1:12 scale and the D-in-D to be 1:144 scale. People doing stop-motion animation may work in 1:6 scale, meaning 1 foot is two inches, and characters therefore 8-12 inches tall. Often heads, hands and feet are disproportionally large so as to not look too much like miniature people. This also allows for more detail on face construction and movement without the characters getting too large. Barbie and the early G.I. Joe action figures are 1:6 scale. The action figure hero and villain market (think comic book and sc-fi movie characters) tend to be in 1:10 scale. These are often used in adult audience intended stop motion animation, as seen on the cable TV channel Adult Swim, meaning that sets and props need to be custom made rather than dollhouse standard sizes.     

Wednesday, December 27, 2017 and Corporate Volunteering blimp visits Maynard. From the collection of the
Maynard Historical Society. Click on photos to enlarge
Third in a multi-part series AT THE MILL.

Back in the spring of 2014,, at one time a famous technology disruptor in the jobs search industry, moved away from Maynard, giving up on its lease of 300,000 square feet at the mill and moving 625 jobs to a smaller space in Weston. Monster had arrived for the birth of Clock Tower Place in 1998. Its growth, shrinkage and finally, abandonment contributed mightily to the arc of Clock Tower, which came to an inglorious end a year later. For such a large company, Monster was a lightly visible presence in town, sponsoring blood drives and an annual road race to benefit the Boys and Girls Club. At its peak a thousand employees showed up every day, but the company did not work as hard as it might have to be an actively participating citizen. hot air balloon
For Monster, the arc of the company's presence in Maynard roughly paralleled the company's course from a technology innovator to a technology can-it-catch-up-again. When men stand on a corner near a Home Depot, and other men drive up in pick-up trucks looking for day labor, that's a job exchange. Ditto a bulletin board covered with business cards next to the door of a diner. Put the jobs offered on paper and disseminate copies, and it's a newspaper's jobs section. Now suppose the match-ups are computerized. Potential employers post and search. Potential employees search and post. Inclusion and exclusion criteria filter the searches. Voila, Monster!

Initially, Monster owned the niche. It was the first public job search on the Internet, first public resume database in the world, and the first to have job search and job alerts. The company went public, i.e., sold shares on a stock exchange, in December 1996. Valuation peaked in 2000 at $8.5 billion.

Much was written about Monster’s decline. What went wrong? From Woody Allen, in the movie Annie Hall: "A relationship, I think, is like a shark. You know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark." Monster was a dead shark. It was too late to social media, to apps, to niches, to better search engines. These days, CareerBuilder. Indeed, Glassdoor and LinkedIn dominate the generalist jobs market, while DICE, TheLadders, USAJobs and LookSharp service niches. In 2016, what remained of Monster was purchased for only $426 million. The company continues to downsize. This fall the monster itself was re-imaged as large, purple and hairy, with glowing eyes, but it is in no way clear that this will reverse the trend.  

The new (2017) Monster is large, furry and purple. Interestingly, this monster,
the old Monster and Gossamer (below) have  a thumb and three fingers on
each hand. It's an American animation thing dating back to the 1920s.

Much like Monster, most of the companies in the mill, and for that matter, the owners and operators of Mill and Main, are near-invisible to the inhabitants of the town. One exception is Battle Road Brew House, which has involved itself in Octoberfest, the veterans-support pub crawl and a 5K road race. The other tenants, the ones whose employees step out for meals and shopping in Maynard’s stores, are the economic engine helping this town prosper. Can they do more than just shop? Yes!

Monster's monster has more than a
passing resemblance to Gossamer,
from the Bugs Bunny years.
Corporate volunteer programs are a means of committing to a cause or a community. Especially in a small town, a company can become a useful, visible presence that improves quality of life. And, as these days, more people are looking to live near where they work, contributing to the community benefits the company, as a vibrant community makes it easier to recruit and keep employees. Research clearly shows that a well-organized company volunteer program lowers employee turnover, more than paying for any outlay the company makes.    

How to make this work? Corporate leadership needs to ask employees what they believe or are already involved in as volunteer activities. From this, companies may decide to officially sponsor specific activities, or else have an action plan that acts as a clearing house for company approval of ideas that employees want to pursue. Paid time off and matching funding are useful ways to commit. Lastly, companies need to close the loop – get reports on what employees are volunteering for, and share those stories within the company. And it won’t hurt to coordinate public relations publicity with the town and the local media.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Maynard in Boston Globe 1909

Second in a multi-part series AT THE MILL

Edmin J. Park, reporter for The Boston Daily Globe, must have been a phenomenally fast typist, because his May 13, 1909 opus titled “Maynard’s Fate Hangs on Tariff” clocked in at 2,900 words, with a finishing note that the next day’s column in this series will be from Canton. I have a hard time with 700 words once a week, and this guy was doing four times that, daily.

Park’s title referred to the fact that Congress was in the process of changing tariff law. Twelve years earlier, a loosening of tariffs on imported woolen cloth and clothing has contributed to the bankruptcy of Maynard’s mill, and also Damon family owned mill on the road toward Concord. The American Woolen Company ended up owning both, and prospered greatly when the tariffs were reinstalled. What Park was referring to in his title was the fact that Congress had just passed the Payne-Aldrich Tariff Act, which softened some tariffs, but left the protective tariff on woolen goods unaffected. President Taft was expected to sign the bill into law.

New Village houses, 1902. Click on photos to enlarge. Photo
courtesy of Maynard Historical Society.
The article described in detail the addition of mill-owned housing called New Village – about 300 residences built on streets named after Presidents. Park lauded the factory owners for eschewing row housing in favor of individual buildings, each with its own greenspace. New Village was also called out for having a sewer system – something the rest of Maynard would not begin to have until 1929.

Maynard was described as very much a one industry town, with more than half the men plus many of the women and children working in the woolen mill. Park added that the mill was also generating electricity, both for its own use, and selling to Maynard and South Acton to power street lights. Not mentioned in the article, but it is likely that power – and lights – stopped at a specified hour, as people were expected to be home already. Back in Amory Maynard’s day, the mill rang a curfew bell at 9:00 p.m. Mill workers were warned they would lose their jobs if they were found on the streets after the bell tolled.

Park noted that a large number of immigrants from Finland were employed at the mill, and that Finns made up fully one third of the population of the town. He described the Finns as “somewhat clannish,” but also as good citizens, active in town affairs, having their own church, and and a brass band that performed concerts.

Park added that the Town of Maynard had just voted itself “no-license” (no sale of alcohol) by a vote of 487 to 408. Prior to national Prohibition (1919-1932), individual towns were voting themselves wet or dry. Earlier that year Marlborough and then Hudson had voted themselves dry, so there was a concern that out-of-towners would be descending on Maynard’s bars and pool halls en masse. No-license did not stick. Maynard voted itself wet the next year and the four years after that. Maynard voted dry in 1915, but by then Marlborough had gone back to wet.

Riverside Cooperative Building, corner of Nason and Summer Streets.
Major fire, January 30, 1936. Photo courtesy Maynard Historical Society.
Several paragraphs describe the rise of the cooperative store movement in Maynard. Way back in 1875 a group of employees at the mill called themselves the Sovereigns of Industry. They decided to start buying groceries and provisions wholesale, in Boston, rather from the local stores. Buying trips evolved into having their own store. In time, this cooperative effort was incorporated as the Riverside Cooperative Association, with its own building open to the general public who could become members for an annual fee, and become stockholders for a higher fee. The building was at the corner of Summer and Nason Streets. The Co-op burned in January 1936. The site now hosts a brick building that had been erected for the Knights of Columbus.

The newspaper concludes with a mention that a man did not have to be from a family of wealth or long-time residence to be elected to office. By example, he named one William Jones, Chairman of the Board of Selectmen, who in his day job was a motorman on the Maynard-based trolley that served Maynard and neighboring towns.

Banner of the newspaper in 1877. Typeface similar to present-day Boston Globe.

The Boston Daily Globe (1872-1960) was the earlier name of The Boston Globe. After troubling early years, the paper firmed up to become one of Boston’s larger newspapers. Competitors were The Boston Post (1831-1956) and the Boston Herald (1846-present). The Globe went public in 1973, was bought by The New York Times in 1993 for $1.1 billion dollars, was sold to John Henry by the Times in 2013 for $70 million dollars. He also owns other stuff. 

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Incredible Shrinking Millpond

First in a multi-part series AT THE MILL. According to one account the millpond was 18.2 acres and the Ben Smith impoundment between the dam and White Pond Road bridge was 18.8 acres. 

Then genius of Amory Maynard was to separate the mill from the dam. By doing so, a large dam could be constructed upstream from where a small dam was, at Mill Street, and the new woolen mill located downstream. This separation created a larger vertical drop. And as water power is created by a combination of volume and vertical drop, more power. By creating the Ben Smith Dam, connecting canal, mill pond, and securing water rights upriver, including to Boone Pond and Fort Meadow Pond, the mill was able to operate year-round with a volume of 100 cubic feet per second, equivalent to 50,000 gallons per minute, and a vertical drop of close to twenty feet.

Aerial view drawing of the center of Maynard, MA (1879), showing the
mill pond much larger then compared to today. Click on photos to enlarge.
Canal enters pond from left. Water exits under mill to river on right.
Power production was on the order of 50 horsepower. Not much, which is why not too long after the railroad reached Assabet Village the mill was adding coal-fired steam engines. By 1879, the year the aerial view image of the center of Maynard was published, the mill complex had grown to six major buildings and two smokestacks. Water was still essential for the steam engines, and to wash the raw wool and the finished cloth after the dyeing process.

The aerial view shows a much larger mill pond than we have now. Size was not essential to maintain an adequate water reserve, as the canal connected the mill pond to the much larger body of water held back by the Ben Smith Dam. Through the years, various projects nibbled away at the pond. The three large mill buildings fronting the pond are partially over the water, and actually required draining the pond in 1916-18 during construction of the last one. When this was taking place a trestle and flume (large wooden pipe) crossed the drained pond from the west side. This was to provide water necessary to wash and process the wool. The trestle had still been relatively intact during a partial pond draining back in 1977. Remnants of the trestle can be seen protruding above the water’s surface when the pond level drops in summer.

Trestle across the millpond, 1977. The trestle was built in 1916 when the
pond was drained for construction of Building 1. It had held a flume that
conveyed water to the mill. Courtesy Maynard Historical Society.
West of Sudbury Road, land was filled in for construction of the school that was associated with Saint Bridget Parish. A large part of the south side of the pond was filled in to create the parking lot that extends to Building 5 (Stratus Technologies and Battle Road Brewery). Land was created on the north side for the parking lot that serves as the site for the Maynard Farmers’ Market. Before the 2008 recession, Wellesley Management, the past owner/operator of the mill complex, had proposed to build an office building on the south side, and either a multi-level parking garage for more than 1,000 cars, or else fill in much more of the pond for parking. This did not come to pass, but clarified that the owners of the mill own the pond. One restriction on the pond owners is that water cannot be diverted from the river to the millpond when volume in the river drops below 39 cubic feet per second.

Mill pond partially iced over, circa 1957. Note that the pond is
much larger than it is today, and there are no parking lots.
The amount of water in the pond is controlled at both ends, a gatehouse on the canal for flow in, and a similar gate near the end of Building 3 for flow out. This past summer, Mill & Main had some problems with the pond mysteriously filling to overflowing despite the summer drought and despite periodically letting water out. Problem solved when water was observed entering at the gatehouse, with an estimated round-the-clock inflow of 10,000 gallons per minute. Scuba divers were hired. Turns out that a tree stump had become wedged in the opening, preventing the gate from closing completely.

Back in the day of looser regulations and liabilities, the mill pond provided recreational opportunities for residents of Maynard. People fished, boated and swam. The pond, fed by water from the river, was far cleaner than the river downstream of the mill’s discharges. But not entirely clean, as upriver, Hudson, Stow and other towns were discharging their own mill wastes. Even so, an ice house was filled with ice every winter. Ice skating took place, with the occasional fall-through, and either rescue or fatality.