TALENT — Electric vehicle maker Brammo Inc.'s purchase of the Walmart building here could bring another 130 jobs to the local economy over the next 18 to 24 months, founder and Chief Executive Officer Craig Bramscher said.
Brammo's plans to purchase the 90,000-square-foot structure was announced by Walmart Friday. Retail operations at the store will end in August when the new Supercenter opens in south Medford.
"We'll probably be doing more final production and assembly here for the North American market," said Bramscher. "We'll build the Empulse (motorcycle) here for the U.S."
Research and development capabilities also will be expanded with the new building, Bramscher said. Presently the firm has 65 employees working in three leased buildings in Ashland.
"We will be able to consolidate all of them in one building, and we will be able to expand the scope of what we are doing in the valley," said Bramscher. "It will give us the opportunity to expand really quickly if the market supports it."
Demand for drive trains and batteries the firm produces has been increasing, and they will be assembled in Talent as well, said Bramscher. A small retail space will be incorporated into the design.
Confidentially agreements do not allow disclosure of the sale price, said Bramscher.
Brammo will retain one of three lots it has purchased in Ashland and probably sell the others, he said. Plans to build a pair of two-story buildings on Jefferson Avenue in Ashland will be put on hold, although the company may build a test dirt track there as originally planned, Bramscher said.
Rezoning of part of the Talent site and securing of a conditional use permit to allow assembly work will be required by the city. Currently the building sits in two different zones, one of which needs to be changed to allow the CUP.
"We need to make sure that the city will allow us to occupy the building," said Bramscher. "We believe that the city is very supportive based on conversations with (Planner) Mark Knox and the mayor."
Knox said once an application is received, the zoning and the CUP process would take four to five months. A meeting with neighbors would need to be held, then the issues would go the Planning Commission and ultimately the City Council for approval.
Bramscher said the firm would move as quickly as possible to occupy, with January 2013 being the earliest date. Given its size, the firm may only occupy half the building initially.
City officials, Walmart and economic development agencies began working together early this year to avoid letting the site sit vacant for long.
"We actually had a number of parties interested, and Brammo seems to be a great fit," said Jennifer Spall, director of regional public affairs and government relations for Walmart.
"The city was a great partner in helping us talk about the site and talk about what the city has to offer," said Spall. "That made it an attractive site for economic development."
Knox said he was pleased to hear about the sale.
"Any option to fill that space with jobs and utilize the parking lot better than what it is now is a good thing," he said. Brammo's occupancy would not preclude development of more retail space or perhaps restaurants along West Valley View Road at the location, he added.
"I think employees are excited because everyone is a little cramped in the current facilities," said Bramscher. Employees who live in Talent, White City and Medford also will enjoy a shorter commute, he noted.
Bramscher wouldn't discuss specific future products, but said there are lots of things on white boards.
"We're obviously very excited about electric vehicles in general," said Bramscher. "As the technology improves the broader the offerings can be."
Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.