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Liquor firm to relocate, bring jobs

June 30, 2011|By Christine Legere, Globe Correspondent

NORTON — One of the largest family owned liquor distributors in New England has purchased the abandoned General Motors warehouse in Norton’s Commerce Park and plans a $43 million headquarters there. The company, which plans to open for business by next summer, would move 381 existing jobs and bring 35 new ones to the town, company officials say.

Horizon Beverage Co., a fourth-generation family business founded by Morris Sims in 1933 shortly after the repeal of Prohibition, operated out of a garage in Brockton in its early days under the name of Brockton Wholesale Beverage. Over the ensuing decades, other family members joined the firm as it expanded. By 1986, the distributor was headquartered in Avon, where it has remained until now.

Company vice president Michael Epstein said the operation has outgrown its 250,000-square-foot Avon plant. The warehouse in Norton offers 400,000 square feet, and Horizon plans to add another 160,000, he said.

“We enjoyed our time in Avon, but had to look for a larger facility,’’ Epstein said. “We were lucky a pro-business community like Norton had one.’’

Norton Selectman Robert Kimball describes his town as a bedroom community, with a meager 12 percent commercial-industrial base. The town’s single tax rate for residential, commercial, and industrial properties, at $12.68 per $1,000 of value, is considerably lower than Avon’s business rate of $25.96. Horizon paid $285,000 in real estate and personal property taxes to Avon in the current year; while the town may feel the loss from Horizon’s exit, it has a healthy commercial and industrial tax base of 60 percent.

Epstein said the difference in the tax rates did not play a major part in the decision to move, however. “We just saw Norton as a good location for us and our people,’’ he said.

Norton and the state sweetened the deal for the distributor with $2.5 million in tax incentives. Lynn Tokarczyk, president of Business Development Strategies in Medway, helped broker the package between the firm and the town. Business Development Strategies helps expanding companies identify and negotiate government incentives.

The state’s contribution is a $350,000 tax credit over three years. On the local level, Norton voters approved a 13-year reprieve from town taxes on the company’s new construction, through the Tax Increment Financing program, for a savings of more than $800,000. Horizon is also exempt from yearly personal property taxes for that period, saving another $1.6 million.

Norton will receive nearly $292,000 yearly in real estate taxes from Horizon on the existing building, along with about $75,000 in annual excise taxes on the distributor’s fleet of vehicles. Project proponents also predict $500,000 will be spent in area businesses each year by consumers connected to Horizon.

Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southeastern Regional Planning and Economic Development District, said a number of area businesses have been “playing a kind of leap frog’’ recently. “Sysco is moving from Norton to Plympton, and an Avon business is moving to Norton,’’ he said.