TAIT announces leadership changes

Gemma Hodgson, chief commercial officer and Jess Chalifoux vice president of global business development for TAIT. PHOTO/PROVIDED
Gemma Hodgson, chief commercial officer and Jess Chalifoux vice president of global business development for TAIT. PHOTO/PROVIDED

Lititz-based TAIT, the global group of designers, fabricators and engineers for live and location-based experiences, announced a promotion and a new hire.

Gemma Hodgson has been promoted to chief commercial officer while Jess Chalifoux, brand and marketing industry veteran, has joined TAIT as vice president, global business development with a focus on expanding and growing relationships, identifying and securing new business opportunities and strengthening the overall customer experience.

Prior to joining TAIT in 2006, Hodgson was trained at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School in the UK and then spent years working in stage management and automation for the cruise ship industry. “Her extensive technical knowledge and background has served to catapult TAIT’s tremendous growth in the cruise market and well beyond,” a release said.

“This promotion reflects Gemma’s strong leadership and her absolute commitment to putting our clients first,” said Adam Davis, CEO of the TAIT Group. “At TAIT, we are strengthening our dedication to delivering end-to-end projects from concept to delivery with a focus on understanding both the creative and the technical aspects of our clients’ needs and developing the best strategy to bring each of their unique visions to life.”

“I am thrilled to continue to build upon the accomplishments and partnerships we have established during the past 17 years I have been with the company,” Hodgson said. “I am constantly reinvigorated by the incredible breadth of our work at TAIT, by the vast number of industries we touch, and the overwhelming innovation we drive each and every day. Bringing on Jess will serve to further bolster our position in the industry and I can’t wait for her to hit the ground running.”

Chalifoux brings to TAIT over 20 years’ experience as a lead agency partner to clients all over the globe. She will report to Hodgson.

TAIT’s global team of more than 1,400 employees in 20 offices oversees the creation of complex movement for artists, brands, performing arts spaces and venues in over 30 countries, all seven continents – and even outer space. The company’s clients include Taylor Swift, Cirque Du Soleil, Beyoncé and the Olympics.

Paula Wolf is a freelance writer

Area businesses receive loans to spur business, create and retain jobs

Businesses in Adams, Lancaster, and York counties are receiving new low-interest loans through the Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority (PIDA). 

The PIDA loans will be used to spur and support business growth and will total more than $6.8 million and help create and retain 157 jobs. The loans were announced Wednesday by Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) Acting Secretary Rick Siger. 

“A PIDA loan is a great tool to help companies succeed and thrive here in Pennsylvania,” Siger said in a statement. “The loans will help boost business growth and generate jobs – a benefit to our economy, our communities, and our livelihoods across the Commonwealth.” 

In Adams County, Hickory Bridge Farm, Inc., through the Adams County Economic Development Corporation, was approved for a 15-year, $71,866 loan at a 4.75-percent fixed interest rate to renovate a 6,500-square-foot building located behind the existing restaurant and event venue located at 96 Hickory Bridge Road, Orrtanna, Hamiltonban Township. 

The project includes the purchase and installation of a new HVAC system for the renovated building. The total cost of the project is $145,135. The company will retain seven jobs. 

In Lancaster County, Rock Lititz, LLC, through EDC Finance Corporation, was approved for a 15-year, $2,250,000 loan at a 3.75-percent reset interest rate to construct a 133,600-square-foot multi-occupancy building located at 400 Rock Lititz Boulevard, Warwick Township. 

This project is the fifth loan award the company has received from PIDA since 2015. The new condo will house three tenants – TAIT, Clair Global Corporation, and Major Mega – all part of the live event industry. The project cost is $15,392,926. 

In York County, R & S Fence Co., through the York County Economic Development Corporation, was approved for a 15-year, $1,575,000 loan at a 3.75 percent reset interest rate to develop a 10-acre site located on York Road, Carroll Township to house the company’s new operations. 

Site work, construction of a 15,000-square-foot fabrication building, and a 9,860-square-foot office and showroom are included in the project. The cost of the project is $4,251,000. The company will retain 13 full-time jobs and create eight new full-time jobs within three years.

Tait Towers announces layoffs as entertainment industry stalls

Tait Towers Manufacturing laid off 257 employees from its corporate headquarters in Lititz at the end of March.

The global firm, which specialized in designing and producing stages for live events, announced plans  lay off a large percentage of its more than 900 employees in a WARN notice with the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry. The layoffs are a mixture of temporary and permanent workers, but the company did not indicate how many employees aren’t expected to return.

Prior to the layoffs, Tait employed 900 people in 14 offices and has worked on projects for clients such as The Olympics, NASA and National Geographic.

In the notice, Tait wrote that the layoffs are a direct response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the hit the life entertainment industry has taken since states began closing non-essential businesses.

“As our live event clients adapt to the new reality of prohibitions of public gatherings and restrictions on travel, we’ve seen an increasing drop-off in most aspects of our business,” the company wrote in the WARN.

WARN notices, short for Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act notices, must be filed with the state Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industries by any business with more than 100 employees that plans to lay off or furlough workers.

Prior to announcing the layoffs, the company wrote in a press release that it was “ready, willing and able” to deploy emergency resources during the pandemic, noting that its employees’ experience in building portable and temporary structures could be used to manufacture ventilators, hospital beds, desks, medical relief beds and more.

Tait Towers Manufacturing was not available for comment.

TAIT acquires UK staging company

Lititz-based TAIT has acquired UK-based Brilliant, combining two of the largest live event staging companies in the world. (Photo: Submitted)

Lititz-based TAIT, one of the largest live event design and staging businesses in the world, has become even larger with the acquisition this week of a competing European staging company.

Company officials on Tuesday announced the acquisition of the entire share capital of Brilliant Topco Ltd., based in Wakefield, Yorkshire in the United Kingdom. Founded in 1983, Brilliant has worked with clients ranging from the Spice Girls and Coldplay to the Virgin Formula One Racing team and installations at The Dubai Mall.

TAIT has been in operation since 1978, building stages for some of the most high profile events in the world, including the Super Bowl Halftime Show and the Olympics. It has also done staging from acts that include Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga and the Rolling Stones.

Financial details of the acquisition were not disclosed.

“This really is a perfect cultural match,” said Adam Davis, chief creative officer at TAIT. “We are excited to share with Brilliant our technology, assets, and lessons learned over our 40 years in the live event business. We found a true partner in Brilliant and share a deep belief in delivering excellence to our customers and their fans.”

Company officials said the sharing of TAIT Navigator, a proprietary automation and show platform developed by the Lititz company, will allow Brilliant to serve a broader range of customers.

No immediate changes to Brilliant’s corporate structure were anticipated, officials said, and both companies will continue to operate as separate entities until an integration pan is finalized. TAIT will continue its partnership with Rock Lititz, the live event innovation campus being developed in Warwick Township, while Brilliant will maintain its relationship with Production Park, a similar campus in England.

“We have built the brand brick-by-brick with an equal focus on spectacle, design, employees, and customers,” said Ben Brooks, managing director of Brilliant. “That is what makes being part of TAIT a perfect match, culturally we are 100% aligned.”

More music moves as Rock Lititz plans expansion

When the first building started to take shape five years ago on the future Rock Lititz campus in Warwick Township in Lancaster County, the plan was to turn a former farm into the Hollywood of the concert industry.

The 100-foot-tall, 52,000-square-foot building simply called The Studio was the first piece of the puzzle that officially opened in September 2014, reportedly bringing in some of the biggest names in entertainment like Taylor Swift to U2 to get a feel for the staging being built by TAIT and Atomic and the sound produced by Clair Global.

The second piece of the puzzle was the construction of Pod 2, a 250,000-square-foot building adjacent to The Studio that opened in 2016 and now houses nearly 30 different businesses within its walls. Add in the Hotel Rock Lititz, a five-floor, 92,000-square-foot hotel with 139 rooms that opened last fall, and the Rock Lititz campus has become its own self-sustaining location for the behind-the-scenes workers that make concerts and other live events come to life.

Now the partners in the Rock Lititz concept are taking the next step, putting plans forward at the Warwick Township Planning Commission meeting Sept. 25 for construction of new buildings on the 96-acre campus.

The plans for four new buildings to be constructed on the Rock Lititz campus will be presented before the Warwick Township Planning Commission meeting on Sept. 25. (Image: Submitted)

The planned construction calls for four buildings, adding 285,000 square feet of multi-tenant space, a 38,000 square-foot rehearsal studio and a 10,300 square-foot community theater spearheaded by Michael Tait, founder and former CEO of TAIT.

“Our success in filling the existing 250,000 square feet of tenant space at Pod 2 and subsequent interest by other live-event industry businesses indicates to us that there is a need and an opportunity to bring more talent, creativity and technology to the Rock Lititz Community,” said Andrea Shirk, Rock Lititz general manager. “We intend to grow as a collaborative community to better serve our clients.”

Pod 1, which is designed to be split into two segments surrounding The Studio, and Pod 5, placed at the southwest corner of the property across the Santo Domingo Creek, will lease space similar to the model being used in Pod 2. Shirk said the “industry cluster” model promotes collaboration and innovation between different companies in the concert sector.

Some of the existing businesses already filling spots in Pod 2 include: Pyrotek Special Effects, a company specializing in concert effects like lasers, pyrotechnics and confetti with offices across North America; Upstage Video, a production company providing video screening for everything from PGA Tour events to corporate premier events like Microsoft; and Control Freak Systems that creates its own software and hardware for video, audio, lighting and motion control.

Shirk said demand from businesses wishing to come onto the campus has been the impetus for the building of pods 1 and 5. While she wouldn’t comment on the price tag for the project, estimates at the time for the Pod 2 construction were around $21.8 million, according to news reports in the Central Penn Business Journal.

“We look forward to bringing together more incredible talent from different sectors from within the live event industry,” said Shirk. “The diverse mixture of expertise within the Rock Lititz Community is driving unmatched innovation, further cementing Lititz as the center of businesses supporting the live event industry.”

Demand for more rehearsal space is also driving the need for the construction of Studio 3, Shirk said, which will sit next to the original Studio on the campus. The new studio will be slightly smaller than the original, Shirk said, but will offer similar amenities like dressing rooms, a production office and catering facilities.

The most unique portion of the proposed project is Mickey’s Black Box, the 10,300 square-foot community theater that will sit near the entrance to the campus. Tait, whose nickname is “Mickey,” said he envisions the theater as a place where emerging and professional playwrights, actors, choreographers and dancers could come to hone their craft.

The theater is designed to seat about 265 people, Tait said, with seating and staging that can be easily reconfigured to any dimension needed for a performance. He called the concept for the building a “blank canvas” that offers flexibility in production of shows.

“I want to provide a space that recognizes and supports the arts at a community level, that connects artist and patron, and that elevates the presentation and exchange of ideas,” he said.

If the project is approved, Rock Lititz officials said construction could start as early as the end of this year. Plans call for all four buildings to be constructed at the same time using many of the same companies and workers involved in The Studio and Pod 2 projects.

Shirk said the construction manager for the project will be Ned Pelger of Elizabeth Township-based Pelger Engineering & Construction, and the general trades contractor is Bottom Line Contracting of Warwick Township. The architect of the buildings is Benjamin Asher Samberg of West Lampeter Township-based Lancaster Architectural Works.

Dan Zimmerman, Warwick Township manager, said he always envisioned some sort of business center going into the 96-acre spot just west of Route 501 and Newport Road and sitting north of Lititz because it was zoned campus industrial. What Zimmerman said he couldn’t have imagined was how specialized the campus would become and how it has transformed the community.

“The magnitude and the nature of it becoming this international location for a specific service and a specific industry that I wouldn’t have imagined,” Zimmerman said. “And kudos to the three original partners – TAIT, Clair Global and Atomic – to have the initiative and say, ‘Let’s see what we can do here.’ But it’s been collaborative, and it’s worked out.”

Rock Lititz hasn’t come with some detractors. Shortly after The Studio opened, local residents began to complain about their houses shaking from the reverberations during rehearsals. A major soundproofing project of the building was undertaken, and most of the complaints ceased. The new studio project incorporates the same soundproofing measures, Shirk said.

Some residents have also complained about the loss of farmland at the campus, Zimmerman said, but the project comes with the stipulation of transfer of development rights (TDR) to add money into preservation efforts of other local farmland. Zimmerman said the amount of TDR money raised from the Rock Lititz project will finance the township’s preservation projects for years to come, including two farms that are set to be preserved by the end of the year.

Zimmerman said the biggest impact Rock Lititz has had locally is creating a space of smart development that has brought high-tech jobs and tax revenue to the community, providing a place where young people want to live and work.

“What I think is really interesting and what people a sort of overlooking is the retention of the youth in the community,” Zimmerman said. “It’s an industry that’s very attractive to young people. I’ve observed people say their son decided to stay and that they’re working out at Rock Lititz after getting a degree in engineering. So a lot of times there’s the exodus of youth, particularly in the state of Pennsylvania.”