Ornament manufacturer calls Rhode Island home

PROVIDENCE, RI – Dick Beaupre is about as local as you can get. He's been a Rhode Islander all his life, born and brought up here. But Beaupre's company could have ended up in California. After college, he went out West to work as a chemist. Only one thing brought him back to the Ocean State.

"My wife went crazy out there and kind of forced me back," he says.

During Beaupre's brief time in California, he invented a new technique for decorating pieces of metal. A combination of photographic film and strong chemicals made it possible to cut intricate designs onto thin sheets of brass. When Beaupre came back to Rhode Island, he brought the technique with him and eventually opened his own company - Chemart.

That was in 1976, when Rhode Island's jewelry industry was still booming and Chemart's process was perfect for designing everything from brooches to cufflinks. The company was so successful it outgrew its original location in four years. Not long after, Beaupre found a new client looking to make something completely different - Christmas ornaments.

Chemart has been making the annual ornament for the White House Historical Association ever since. The contract makes up a third of the company's business. And so because of these ornaments, Chemart barely noticed the decline of Rhode Island's jewelry industry.

Now Chemart makes ornaments and keepsakes for all kinds of organizations- alumnae associations, garden clubs, museums. Larry Lefebvre, Chemart's vice president of operations, says the company can take orders as small as 250 pieces, making it attractive to groups that have tiny budgets and tight deadlines.

"That's the niche business, that's the kind of program that's not likely to head overseas because it's very small, the lead times are very short, so they're looking for product in two or three weeks, obviously that's not something I think China's interested in," he says.

It's that specific market that's allowed Chemart to remain in America, but what keeps it here in Rhode Island? It's not the wife that made Dick Beaupre leave California.

"She's no longer my wife. I've been married a second time for 21 years, " he says.

Now there are practical reasons for sticking around. His company requires so many environmental permits and special processes for disposing chemicals it's not easy to pick up and move. But there's also an emotional explanation.

"I like Rhode Island. I'm a native here," he says.

Beaupre says he loves the quality of life in the Ocean State, the beauty of Narragansett Bay, being close to his family. And the bottom line is Rhode Island is home.

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