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5 Questions with Mary Ann Kristiansen, Hannah Grimes Center for Entrepreneurship

Friday, March 4th, 2016

One of the great things about living in New Hampshire is our neighbors, especially those who step up and plug a hole in the fabric of our communities. Such is the case with Mary Ann Kristiansen, executive director of the Hannah Grimes organizations in Keene. As a soap maker, farmer and businesswoman, she noted a shortage of markets in the Monadnock region for people like her and scarce programs for these producers to learn about entering – and succeeding – in these markets. So Hannah Grimes was born – or, we should say – reborn, and now, hundreds of producers, craftsmen, artists and professionals have access to those markets and programs.

Mary Ann Kristiansen ~ Hannah Grimes Center for Entrepreneurship

1. Hannah Grimes is more than just a name for a marketplace featuring local products and an incubator that nurtures start-up businesses in Keene. Tell us about Hannah Grimes and why is she an inspiration?

Hannah Grimes was born in 1776 and married at the ripe old age of 30 to William Stoddard Buckminster. They built the farm and the home in which I live. She was not famous, but what she and her family didn’t make or grow, they bought from friends and neighbors. When I moved to the farm in 1991 and began growing and making things and meeting my wonderful New England neighbors who were doing the same, the lack of a market and business skills became readily apparent. It was before the buy local movement and it seemed like an obvious gap. So in a winding set of events, which generally mark the beginning of most entrepreneurial efforts, Hannah Grimes Marketplace was born. In Hannah Grimes’ time, the markets and skills to come to market were part of the everyday. Those skills and that infrastructure had all but disappeared and needed to be rebuilt.

2. It’s hard to believe the Hannah Grimes Marketplace is approaching its 20th anniversary. Its beginning was definitely a forerunner of the ‘local’ movement and it has really grown in two decades. Why is it important for a community to have a niche like the marketplace?

Having a visible hub like Hannah Grimes encourages people to give their business idea a try and makes it easy for customers to buy local. Friends and family often give a nudge to local artists, producers and growers to “go to Hannah Grimes.” It is a friendly market that offers all the know-how that you need to get started – and to grow if you want. For existing businesses, it can provide an additional market and the opportunity to learn and grow. It makes it easy for residents and tourists alike to buy locally-produced gifts and everyday items from over 300 producers.

3. Congratulations on the 10th anniversary of the Hannah Grimes Center for Entrepreneurship! What kind of businesses have been drawn to the center and what do they find there that contributes to their growth?

The Center for Entrepreneurship broadened our business support programs from local producers and growers to all businesses. We work with manufactures, builders, publishers, farmers, artists, service providers, film festival producers, software companies, marketing firms, lawyers, architects and a whole lot more. Here, as well as at the Marketplace, we provide a hub for businesses and nonprofits. They find kindred spirits and a very wide range of resources regardless of their size, stage or sector. As a small community, it does not make sense to specialize, and I think that is a good thing; we have a dynamic cross section of businesses that come here and that benefits everyone.

4. You have some plans for Hannah Grimes in 2016. Can you share them?

We are planning to purchase an 86,000-square-foot industrial building on Marlboro Street in Keene to create the Center for Innovation. In addition to providing more incubating space, it will provide a hub for a more regional approach to economic development and will focus on high quality job creation throughout the region. The City of Keene is rezoning Marlboro Street as an Innovation Zone and planning to upgrade the street. The building itself has some really cool spaces that range from advanced manufacturing space with giant cranes to nice office space. It is a great opportunity to focus on growth from both the startup perspective and by working with existing regional companies.

5. There’s much of which to be proud  in the development of the marketplace and the incubator in the past 20 years. If you could have lunch with Hannah Grimes, what’s the one question you’d like to ask her?

I’d really love a tour of her farm and I’d love to cook that lunch with her. Only the house was remaining when I bought the property and I’d give just about anything to know how it looked. And I’d like to ask her how she spends her day, some gossip on the neighbors, what she grows, and if she could share some recipes. Whoops, was that four?  I’d have a million questions for her.

Crib Notes

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

The Civil War-era building in the heart of downtown Keene belies the lean, green, sophisticated 21st century manufacturing operation inside the brick walls, with its state-of-the-art computer numerical controlled machinery operated by 43 skilled workers.

Whitney Brothers makes superior quality wood furniture, storage, display and educational play products for children. Their products can be found in schools, childcare centers, libraries and churches around the world.

Today, the plant hums at near capacity as it works to fulfill the largest single contract in its history and it’s an unlikely one: An order from the US Army.

It’s for a total of 3,614 cribs needed to upgrade its child development centers, located on military bases around the world. The order is a 3-year-contract, with two, one-year renewable options. The first year totals $866,000.

Production is humming at Whitney Brothers in Keene.

“Our company believes that childcare and early learning in a child’s first five years are critical to develop into productive citizens and we applaud the US Army for its support of those same values,” said David Stabler, president of Whitney Brothers. “We appreciate that the army recognized our American-made products represent better quality, safety and overall value vs. low-cost imports.”

Winning the contract took patience and perseverance and required meticulous preparation. It began in 2003, when Stabler met with Martha Keene of NH-PTAP, a program of the Division of Economic Development that helps New Hampshire companies sell their products and services to federal, state and local governments. He evaluated the government market, performed the necessary registrations and developed a strategy to generate government sales through the company’s existing network of distributors versus selling directly to the federal government.

The pivotal event in the process would not happen for another eight years. In 2011, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission enacted standards that necessitated the replacement of older cribs in public and private childcare centers with newer, safety-compliant units by the end of 2012. This included childcare facilities sponsored by the government, such as the US Army worldwide Childcare Development Centers. Whitney Brothers had prepared diligently for this opportunity, resulting in the US Army contract award in May 2012.

“We acknowledge the vital role that the NHPTAP and (the Department of Resources and Economic Development) played in helping us win this important contract,” said Brian Vaillancourt, director of sales and marketing. “These publicly funded organizations and the programs, training and assistance they provide helped us gain full visibility in front of the federal government customer and acquire this order. We advocate the current federal administration continue to support these invaluable resources.”

To fulfill the contract, Whitney Brothers hired 13 new employees – a 32 percent increase to its existing workforce.


Dave Pease, CCAS

Program Manager

NH Procurement Technical Assistance Program