Home to more than 2,000 technology businesses, Vermont’s tech sector employs over 22,000 workers – 6.8% of the state’s total workforce and a segment that earns about 70% more than the median statewide wage, according to a 2021 CompTIA’s Cyberstates report. The tech sector has a direct impact of $2.6 billion on the state’s economy or 8.3% of the total.
“You can’t judge a book by its cover,” said Jay Bellows, president of KORE Power. “The technology market here is impressive and a lot of people don’t realize how many emerging technologies are coming from Vermont or how rapidly the sector is expanding here.”
Bellows can personally attest to this growth, having recently led Waterbury, Vt.-based energy storage company Northern Reliability through an acquisition by KORE Power, a battery manufacturer headquartered in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. The companies partnered on battery energy storage projects and through the new formation as KORE Solutions will accelerate the deployment of their systems while continuing to innovate as the demand for clean energy surges.
Innovations in Energy Storage
Bellows said that KORE is dedicated to solving the challenges that are standing in the way of electrification – replacing fossil fuels with clean energy sources like wind and solar. Electric transportation – which is poised for rapid growth – creates one such challenge. “The United States has lofty goals of taking 290 million combustion engines off the road and replacing them with energy consumers,” he said, “Where does all that energy come from?”
He looks to EV growth as the biggest opportunity for energy storage and considers how solar power, paired with energy storage, can support the increased pressure on the electric grid driven by the transition to electric vehicles.
While making energy more accessible for transportation applications, Bellows’ team is also focused on ensuring energy storage is transportable. This spring, the Waterbury facility plans to roll out the first mobile energy storage systems of its kind, through a joint venture previously established with KORE Power called NOMAD.
“These are market changing,” said Bellows. “They allow utilities and other customers to share a singular asset instead of building infrastructure that’s locked in place. Reducing the costs associated with fixed energy storage lowers the barrier to entry and makes the technology more readily available for applications such as disaster relief.”
The company already helped install a battery backup system at the Vermont State House, the first in the nation with such a system. “We have been able to work closely with the Governor,” said Bellows. “It’s been great to work with the State and we enjoy doing so as much as possible.”
Building a Business Support Network
In prior decades, Northern Reliability focused on growing its reputation in the international market while strengthening its community ties. Bellows first met Governor Scott in 2018 while on a trade mission to Montreal, organized by the Vermont Department of Economic Development.
The mission was financed through the department’s State Trade Expansion Program (STEP), which also provided support for Northern Reliability’s sales team to attend international trade shows, build a foreign language website, and produce digital marketing assets. “State opportunities like STEP grants helped to open more doors, expand our markets, and bring valued international partners to our team,” said Gregg Noble, vice president of sales and development.
Bellows also credits the accessibility of business mentorship and funding opportunities available through a network of State partnerships for Vermont’s ability to support growth-stage companies. The Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies assisted Northern Reliability in securing investment financing through its Seed Capital Fund, which was established by the Vermont Legislature in 2010. Northern Reliability also worked with the Flexible Capital Fund, which provides financing and technical assistance for growing companies in Vermont’s green economy.
“The Flex Fund hit the middle road unlike the options you’d find in the bigger cities with high returns and high percentages. The type of financing available to us here feels specific to Vermont that I don’t think you get in other places,” said Bellows, “The support we got went well beyond the funding, too. We felt like we had a partner we could lean on in challenging times to help get us to the next level.”
Looking to the Future
KORE Power agreed to not only maintain but to expand the Vermont facility with additional space and staff planned for the Waterbury operation. Bellows attributes the decision to keep the company local to the very attributes he appreciates about living and doing business in the Green Mountains.
“This state is an amazing place,” Bellows said. “When people move here, they move here for a reason. When people ask if we’re going to stay in Vermont I say ‘yes, why would we ever leave?’ I am the president of the company and I live here and I don’t want to leave.”
He views his community as a tech and energy hub and promotes it as such to prospective employees. Job opportunities in the clean energy sector are becoming increasingly available as his and other tech companies choose to grow in Waterbury. “I think our industry is very helpful with recruiting. Vermont, in general, has a very green mindset and the talent here is impressive, especially for a state with a population less than 650,000,” Bellows said, “If you think about our company’s roots, Northern Power Systems had well over 100 employees and a lot of those employees never left so there is some pretty good experience to pull from.”
A focus on retaining emerging talent is also a top priority for the Johnson State College (now Northern Vermont University) graduate. “We want that talent to stay so we focus quite a bit on keeping some of our younger talent here as best we can by working with the local colleges.” Northern Reliability developed an internship program and several current employees, who started as interns, have worked their way up through that program.
As he works to fill 25 newly created positions and continues expanding KORE Solutions’ footprint in Waterbury, Bellows may turn to additional State programs such as the Worker Relocation Grant Program to assist with recruitment efforts, the Vermont Employment Growth Incentive for expansion support, or the Vermont Training Program for help with upskilling personnel.
“It’s all been beneficial to us. It’s all helpful,” said Bellows reflecting on his experience growing a Vermont company, “When there are hurdles, these resources help us to overcome and succeed.”
Top Image: Gregg Noble (left) and Jay Bellows in the Northern Reliability Network Operations Center. Northern Reliability was acquired by KORE Power and re-launched as KORE Solutions. Bellows has been named President at KORE Power, and Noble has been named VP of Sales & Business Development for KORE Solutions. Photo courtesy KORE Power.