Fenton gets state funding

WILLIAMSTOWN – With new ownership and funding, Fenton Art Glass Co. has hopes to revive the more than century old company in months.

The Fenton Group received a $100,000 investment from the West Virginia Jobs Investment Trust on March 7 to help the company get back into production.

“This process to work with the West Virginia Jobs Investment Trust is rigorous with significant attention to detail,” said Gene Bem, CEO of USGlass. “They are a good partner for us and the community.

“If you live in Marietta or Wood County, you know you have the state of West Virginia behind you.”

The financing is provided through the West Virginia Capital Access Program to provide for operating capital, marketing and advertising support.

“The funds will be used to reinvigorate Fenton’s factory operations and refresh its marketing efforts,” said Keith Burdette, cabinet secretary for the West Virginia Department of Commerce. “Fenton Art Glass has been a fixture in Wood County since 1905. In addition to the direct jobs that supported the employees and their families, the company had been a tourist destination, attracting visitors to the community and to the state.”

Andrew Zulaf, executive director of WVJIT, said the investment in Fenton allows the trust to meet its social mission of creating jobs in the state.

“We believe the new business model and management team lead by Mr. Bem will revitalize the local area and compete nationally and globally,” Zulaf said. “WVJIT is delighted to become a partner in the next phase of Fenton Glass and USGlass.”

Bem said the funding will be done in two stages with the first stage getting paperwork, insurance and other legal items in order.

“Some of those funds will also go to setting up our head office and management so we can get things working,” Bem said.

The second round is for going beyond the hiring of management.

“We hope to bring back the people who worked there and will hire new if needed,” Bem said. “We hope to start the process of hiring in May.”

The main furnace and production of classic lines of art glass was stopped in 2011 following the rising costs of production and declining sales. The company was owned by the Fenton family for four generations until they could no longer continue.

In 2012, the Fenton Group (doing business as USGlass Inc.) acquired the assets of Fenton Art Glass in Williamstown.

“The intention is to revitalize the American glass art craft as well as maintain and rejuvenate the local industrial community,” Bem said. “The Fenton Group looks to re-introduce the legacy of the Fenton Art Glass Co., appealing to the growing number of metropolitan consumers while maintaining Fenton Art Glass’ historical glassmaking traditions and its American-made brand.”