WILLIAMSTOWN -There's been some delay, but plans are still in the works for a Delaware-incorporated company to restart full manufacturing at the Fenton Art Glass plant in Williamstown.
USGlass Inc., headed by New York-based chief executive Gene Bem, announced in September that it had acquired assets of the 107-year-old Fenton company with intent to revitalize art glass manufacturing and create jobs for the community.
Fenton Art Glass and the Fenton Gift Shop are now separate corporations.
In May of this year the Fenton Gift Shop purchased the company name, logos and trademarks, glass-forming moulds and tools; glass formulas and other intellectual property. The lands and buildings have not been sold and all moulds are stored at the factory, according to the company's website.
Both Fenton Art Glass and the Fenton Gift Shop are working with USGlass on the revitalization effort.
"They wanted to be up and running by this fall, but it's an extremely slow process," said Randy Fenton, president of the Fenton Glass Shop, which remains open for business daily at the Williamstown plant location.
July 2011: Fenton Art Glass announced it would stop production of all of its classic glass lines and laid off a majority of its workforce, but continues to produce decorative beads, jewelry and to decorate remaining traditional glassware inventory.
The Fenton Gift Shop remains open daily at 420 Caroline Ave., Williamstown.
Sept. 2012: USGlass Inc. announced it acquired Fenton's assets.
Gene Bem, chief executive officer of USGlass, is raising investment capital to revitalize glass manufacturing at the plant.
More information about Fenton Art Glass is available at www.fentonartglass.com
He said Bem has been busy contacting investors and raising the initial capital to begin operations at the plant, and that process has taken a bit longer than expected.
"We're still very optimistic and hopeful that USGlass, Inc. will be establishing operations here soon," said George Fenton, president of Fenton Art Glass.
He said USGlass would have manufacturing and sales operations at the Willliamstown facility and would license sales of Fenton glassware and moulds.
"I think they're working very hard on this," George said. "But the fundraising has taken longer than expected."
Bem said Tuesday that there have been plenty of offers of shorter-term three- or four-year investments, but he's been working with more long-term investors. He noted that the West Virginia Jobs Investment Trust Board, a venture capital group, is also voting this week on support for the Fenton revitalization.
"We've had opportunities for short-term investments from firms that were less interested in West Virginia business, but we're playing for the longer-term," he said. "Now we have committed investors and that will make for an ultimately stronger company."
Bem said USGlass has made a lot of behind-the-scenes progress since September, but he expects more visible progress to come early next year.
"We're probably within 30 to 60 days of closing out our financials, and we'll be making an announcement about the next steps sometime after the first of the year," he said.
Meanwhile, the Williamstown plant continues to manufacture the company's line of highly-collectible decorated glass beads and jewelry.
"We're also continuing to decorate the inventory of our traditional glass that's still for sale," George Fenton added.
Randy Fenton said the gift shop has reached agreements with USGlass for licensing of the Fenton name, moulds and glass formulas.
"Everything would be under USGlass," he said. "They have a different marketing strategy and would still be dealing their own brands."
Randy said Bem has assembled a team that includes ex-CEOs of glass companies, artisans and other experts.
In a press release announcing its acquisition of Fenton assets, USGlass officials said the company plans to introduce new branding and designers to create modernized product lines, expand operations and distribution channels, and attract the level of talent and expertise that will allow for Fenton Glass to continue producing world class American art glass and consumer glassware for generations to come.
In the same release, speaking of future employment at the facility, Bem said, "We see the Williamstown plant as a special place because you have labor and expertise in the glass-making process you don't find in other places. The commitment of (our) board was to tap into the skills and craftsmen that already exist in America rather than go find it somewhere else."
Earlier this year Bem announced plans to sell Fenton ware in higher-end retail stores like Macy's and Neiman Marcus.
"The gift shop continues to operate, but the future is currently sort of questionable as to how long we'll be here," Randy Fenton said. "But within that limbo, I expect the shop will still be here for probably another year, and I don't envision the gift shop moving anywhere else."
He said long-term, if USGlass is successful, the company would likely use the gift shop facilities to further their business. And part of the agreement with USGlass specifies that the Fenton name and products will continue.
"There are just so many questions that are unanswerable right now," Randy added. "But we're continuing in business. We have quite a lot of really good merchandise and inventory, and will be running a 10-to-11-day sale leading up to Christmas that we hope will bring a lot of people into the shop over the holidays."
Visitors to the gift shop will notice two of the Fenton Art Glass parking lots are filled with trucks fresh off the assembly line from the Williamstown Hino Motors facility on West Virginia 14.
The Fentons explained that Hino is leasing the lot space for temporary storage of the company's vehicles.