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Entrepreneur plants aggressive growth plans for lettuce business

Paul Sellew
Paul SellewChris Morris for The Boston Globe

When Paul Sellew heads to the annual New York Produce Show this week as an exhibitor, he will have a promising story to tell.

His business, lettuce producer Little Leaf Farms, will soon double its capacity when a second 5-acre greenhouse opens in the spring next to the company’s facility in Devens. Plans are also in the works for greenhouses in Eastern Pennsylvania and Western North Carolina, each up to 25 acres in size. Bank of America recently provided $18 million in financing for the Devens expansion, and another $20 million for the out-of-state growth.

Sellew might be best known in Boston’s clean-tech circles for his role in founding and leading Harvest Power, a Waltham company that generates electricity from discarded foods and other organic waste. Before his time at Harvest, he founded Backyard Farms, a tomato greenhouse that spans 42 acres in Maine that he later sold to an affiliate of Fidelity Investments. (A Canadian company bought Backyard Farms in 2017.)

Sellew left Harvest in 2015, with the hopes of taking the formula for producing tomatoes year-round in Maine and applying that to lettuce in Massachusetts. He worked with MassDevelopment, the quasi-public agency that oversees the Devens industrial area, to launch Little Leaf. The idea is to produce lettuce efficiently indoors, maximizing available sun and using rainwater for irrigation to challenge the lettuce farms in California that supply New England’s supermarkets and restaurants.

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Little Leaf’s advantage: a fresher product. It can cut and ship lettuce to stores and restaurants within 24 hours of being harvested, compared to a journey that can last a week for West Coast produce.

Little Leaf has grown to a 55-person operation, with annual revenue this year of about $20 million. The company produces more than one million boxes of baby green lettuce in Devens each month, and counts most of New England’s supermarket chains as customers.

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But Sellew sees much bigger growth on the horizon, as evidenced by his aggressive expansion plans. He says his lettuce sells at a price that’s competitive to the West Coast produce suppliers, but offers a better taste.

“We’re scratching the surface,” Sellew says. “Ninety-five percent of the lettuce we’re still eating here is from the West Coast. [But] we’re diversifying the food system, creating a robust alternative to the West Coast product that dominates the market.”

Ex-US attorney joins law firm

It can be a jarring switch, the move from the public sector to legal work in the private sector. But Carmen Ortiz, a former US attorney, has made the leap successfully.

Ortiz will be named partner at Anderson & Kreiger on Jan. 1. She joined the Boston law firm on a full-time basis about two years ago.

Dave Mackey, managing partner of the firm, once worked with Ortiz when they were both lawyers in the US attorney’s office. Mackey went on to spend 13 years at the Massachusetts Port Authority, before leaving public service for Anderson & Kreiger. (The law firm now has nearly 40 lawyers, including 14 partners.)

Ortiz’s seven-year tenure leading federal prosecutors in Boston was not without controversy, with critics raising concerns about overzealous prosecution in several high-profile cases. Those criticisms apparently haven’t hindered her ability to work in private practice, including on internal investigations and white-collar criminal cases.

“We were impressed with her tremendous legal skills,” Mackey says. “It’s not easy starting in private practice. [But] she was just tireless in her efforts to promote the firm and to network and meet with potential clients.”

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New board chair at Wentworth

Greg Janey grew up on Regent Street in Roxbury, less than two miles from Wentworth Institute of Technology. Now, Janey essentially runs the place.

Janey, a Wentworth board member since 2013, has been appointed board chair at the institute, taking over for P. Michael Masterson. The change caps Janey’s long history with the school. He received his associate degree in architectural technology in 1982 and a bachelor’s degree in construction management in 2004. Wentworth awarded him an honorary doctorate of engineering in 2017. He’s an adjunct professor and led the search committee that in March picked Wentworth’s newest president, Mark Thompson.

Janey’s eponymous construction firm is among the most successful in the city, and he attributes much of that success to Wentworth. “I’m proud of where I came from and thankful for the opportunities that I’ve been given,” Janey says. “And I want other people to have that same opportunity.”

Skillsoft selects marketing chief

Software firm Skillsoft is trying to take a new approach with clients, in part by hiring a chief marketing officer from IBM Watson. Michelle Boockoff-Bajdek says she has been meeting with clients over the past several weeks since joining the firm, trying to better suss out their employees’ needs and to develop a more personalized approach. Part of her plans will include marketing more directly to the “learners” who will benefit from her firm’s corporate training software.

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“What I’ve heard is that they really need to understand their learners in ways they really don’t,” Boockoff-Bajdek said. “They want to reach their learners, and engage them better . . . to help them market internally.”

Even though Skillsoft has a major office in Nashua and Boockoff-Bajdek lives in New Hampshire, she’ll be based out of the firm’s office in Boston’s Financial District. However, she expects to spend a significant amount of time on the road.

Boockoff-Bajdek joined Skillsoft from IBM Watson, where she was chief marketing officer after first working primarily with the Weather Company websites that IBM bought three years ago. IBM didn’t acquire the TV portion of the business, the Weather Channel, although the station continued to use IBM’s weather technology through a licensing agreement.

Suffolk a key player in Fla. project

Suffolk Construction has taken on a number of ambitious projects over the years but nothing quite like this.

Suffolk was a key partner in the design and construction of a 36-story hotel as part of the Seminole Hard Rock casino expansion in Hollywood, Fla., that opened earlier this fall. It’s unique because the 450-foot-tall building is shaped like a guitar, and its façade features 355-foot long “strings” lit by light cannons.

Jeff Gouveia was Suffolk’s Southeast president at the time the company won the job. (Suffolk was part of a joint venture with Yates Construction of Philadelphia, overseeing construction.) Gouveia said building such a complex structure required it to be modeled in advance on a computer. “We basically built it from top to bottom, virtually,” says Gouveia, who now oversees Suffolk’s Northeast region. “To see the finished product and to walk through there, it’s pretty amazing.”

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Gouveia says Suffolk took on the job knowing the Super Bowl will be played in nearby Hard Rock Stadium in February, and everyone involved wanted the tower to be done in time for the high-profile broadcast.

“No pressure, right?” Gouveia says. “We just had a Super Bowl that was riding on this finishing in time.”


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