Kingsbury gets a second life -- in Rochester, N.Y.


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Kingsbury Corp., the machine tool company that once was the largest employer in Keene, may still be settling issues in bankruptcy court, but the name and the company still live on, partly in Swanzey but primarily in Rochester -- Rochester, N.Y. that is.

Optimation Technology, which purchased the company's name and assets -- but not its property -- at a bankruptcy sale back in January, recently moved 110 truckloads of equipment to a new building in Rochester that now employs 50 workers. The company also plans to add another 100 employees in the coming year, according to Optimation President Bill Pollock.

"We left Keene," he said. "But the legacy still lives on. Better to leave Keene than the U.S.A."

Only a few New Hampshire employees, including the plant manager, followed the equipment out to Rochester, but about 10 former Kingsbury engineers now work in a 4,600-square-foot building leased by the company in an industrial park by the airport in Swanzey.

The Swanzey building has room for 23, said Brian Simonds, manager of the Swanzey office, and the hope is to expand and hire back some others. (Both facilities bear the Kingsbury label.)

"Activities have picked up here greatly," said Simonds.

The Swanzey office designs machines for Kingsbury's traditional customers, primarily in the auto industry.

Those machines will now be manufactured in Rochester, but the Kingsbury legacy, which dates back more than a century, only accounts for a third of the work of the new company, Pollock said. The Rochester plant also will be manufacturing equipment that Optimation used to outsource. It was this synergy, Pollock said, that caused him to truck the tons of equipment out of New Hampshire.

Pollock said he would have had to abandon the building in any case.

"It flooded time after time," he said. "We felt we had to move. So the question was, where do we move it so that is more sustainable to us?"

Pollock said he did look at New Hampshire locations, but Rochester won out because it would be easier to integrate it into the rest of Optimation's operation. Thus far, it has been very successful.

"We are starting a B shift," he said. "And we are interviewing because of our backlog. We plan on adding another 100 in the next year. We view it as a happy ending."

Meanwhile, the Kingsbury bankruptcy case -- which started when the company shut down in September 2011 -- hasn't ended. The estate still hasn't sold the 2.5-acre-parcel with its 300,000-square-foot industrial building on Laurel Street. The auction has been delayed four times, with the next one scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 9.

One possible reason for the holdup: The New Hampshire Real Estate Commission issued a regulatory complaint against GA Keen Realty, a national firm specializing in distressed sales, for practicing without a license. While the complaint was not issued in bankruptcy court, the debtors quickly objected, saying that such bankruptcy sales are exempt. The commission argued that the bankruptcy court simply could not ignore state law. Bankruptcy Court Judge J. Michael Deasy ruled on Nov. 8 said that, since the firm was acting under the authority of a federal court, it could.

Meanwhile, the city of Keene is still in a dispute over how much of the estate should be assessed for property taxes.

The company had previously requested an abatement from the city to reduce the value of the property from $6 million to $3.8 million and reached a settlement of $4.2 million for 2011, but the company wanted the bankruptcy court to throw that settlement out, proposing a $1.4 million assessment instead. It argued that property isn't worth as much, now that the building is vacant and the company bankrupt. That case is ongoing.

The land sale is not only crucial to how much various venders would get paid, but also how much roughly 60 former workers would receive.

The workers were paid a total of $122,000 from the Optimation sale -- enough to cover the three paychecks that were missed as the company struggled in its last few months. But the state Labor Department estimated they were owed $224,000 if various benefits were included. And the United Auto Workers claimed they were owed $350,000 on priority claims (health benefits, vacation, union dues) and nonpriority claims, primarily older unclaimed vacation time, which would bring the bill to $537,251.

The court did approve an agreement that the workers' pension plan -- which is owed $4.86 million -- would be taken over by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., a federal agency that assumes responsibility for such abandoned pension plans.

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