New tenant in Legion building

GREENFIELD — An engineering company has opened its headquarters in Greenfield, breathing new life into a vacant building once owned by a local veteran’s group.

Photon Automation, which develops high- powered industrial lasers and builds robotic machinery, has moved into the space at 275 S. Center St. that once housed the American Legion.

County officials say they are excited to have a high-tech corporation in their small community and even more pleased to bring activity to a building that has sat empty since 2013.

August marks three years since financial woes forced Greenfield’s Dale E. Kuhn Hancock American Legion Post 119 to vacate the large gathering hall on the northeast corner of Center and Osage Streets.

The post purchased the 1.7-acre site for $125,000 in 2005 and broke ground on the headquarters in the summer of 2008. The building opened its doors in 2009, but Greenfield Banking Co. filed for foreclosure against the post in 2013.

The building has been empty since then, which was as upsetting for the bank leaders as it was for many members of the community, said Troy Griesmeyer, one of the bank’s vice presidents.

Every so often, the structure on Center Street would be mentioned at a meeting where bank officials would scratch their heads about what do with it — until Griesmeyer got to talking with the Huffman family of Charlottesville at an Eastern Hancock Schools swim meet, he said.

Bill Huffman, a co-owner of Photon Automation, was laid off from a job at manufacturing firm in 2000, he said. He and his business partners opened Photon the same day.

For 16 years, Huffman and his colleagues worked out of their homes. As they added clients and sought more patents, they outgrew what he jokingly refers to as the Charlottesville garage-office that previously served as the company’s headquarters.

Griesmeyer talked to Huffman about the property on Center Street, and Photon began moving in a short time later.

The 1.7-acre site is much larger than what the 13 members on their payroll need currently, Huffman said. But he said he is confident Photon will grow and push the capacity in no time.

In 2015, Photon received a U.S. Patent for a laser welding process that joins together two metals at different temperatures, Huffman said. No other company possesses such technology, and Huffman expects it will allow the company to grow to serve companies in the aerospace, medical device, energy, automotive and consumer electronics industries in the coming years.

“Any time you have to do any critical laser welding, where it really matters — a jet engine or a stint for a heart — where you need to know that welding is perfect, our technology can do that,” Huffman said.

For now, the company is finding positive uses for the open spaces in its new home, Huffman said. The heart of the building serves as office space for Huffman and his employees, while guests coming through the front doors are greeted by a gallery that will feature the works of local artists.

Skip Kuker, executive director of the Hancock Economic Development Council, said he was pleased to see Photon was finding ways to repurpose the old American Legion building. He praised Huffman’s entrepreneurial spirit and said he was eager to see the high-tech jobs Photon will bring to Hancock County.

“These are the kind of people — good, smart people — you want in your community,” Kuker said.

By Caitlin VanOverberghe – Greenfield Daily Reporter