Community Spotlight: Southwick, Mass.
After 12 years in business, Stephen and Todd Phillips decided it was time to own their own building.
They spent two years looking at sites in Springfield, Agawam, West Springfield, and Windsor, Conn. before they found the perfect location: Southwick Industrial Park.
“We were able to buy 3.1 acres on an industrial building lot for $30,000 per acre, which gave us plenty of room to expand; you can’t touch that price anywhere, and the double whammy was the town’s uniform tax rate. It was a huge incentive to come here,” Stephen said, adding that, prior to building a permanent home for laser-equipment supplier Nitor Corp. four years ago, they had leased space in Westfield and then Agawam Industrial Park.
Today, the brothers are planning to double the size of their footprint, and Stephen calls Southwick’s Industrial Park a hidden gem. “It’s close to Route 57, Interstate 91, 291, and the Mass Pike, and the town’s Planning Board is made up of working-class people who are very receptive and understand business,” he told BusinessWest.
The uniform tax rate, $16.94 per thousand for 2015, and amount of affordable property available for development are among attributes Southwick officials are banking on to spur economic development. There are 50 acres in the industrial park primed and ready for development, another 150 acres that will be available in the future, and about 200 acres of former farmland on Route 57, bordered by Routes 10 and 202, that would be an ideal location for retail establishments, especially since there are new sewers in areas proximate to it.
Other factors officials are relying on include infrastructure improvements; a wide range of recreational opportunities; new residential building; closer ties with the Greater Westfield Chamber of Commerce, led by Kate Phelon, who has held nine ribbon cuttings for them since last year with plans to stage more; and other measures that have evolved as they work to remove impediments to growth.
“All roads are open, and we are working hard to get everything in place for the future. All of the ingredients are here; we have done our part, and our eyes are wide open. We want to help and have things in place so people know exactly what they need to do to open a business,” said Joseph Deedy, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, who has owned MooLicious Farm and Ice Cream for eight years, was on the Planning Board before being elected to his current position, and has owned several other businesses in different states, which helps him understand difficulties new companies deal with.
“We’re looking for mom-and-pop operations as well as light-industrial companies that will bring more to the town than just workers. They will be stakeholders in the community,” he explained.
Doug Moglin agrees. “There is so much opportunity here, and our population is growing,” said the selectman, who is OEM director at Whalley Computer Associates Inc., based in town.
Chief Administrative Officer Karl Stinehart says it’s much easier to do business in Southwick than it was 10 years ago.
The town has worked hard to identify areas that need sewers, and completed phase I of its installation plan, which includes downtown as well as part of the area around Congamond Lakes. In addition, the water quality was improved, which has helped to retain businesses along the corridor as well as allowing them to position themselves for growth.
“The interceptor pipe to Westfield’s treatment plant has been finished, which lays the groundwork for us to move forward,” Steinhart said.
In fact, town officials have been working hard for several years to leverage as much federal assistance as they can before their population hits 10,000, when they will no longer qualify for funding aimed at towns below that number. “We want to make sure we don’t miss out on any opportunities,” he added.
The multi-faceted efforts of Southwick officials are already bearing fruit.
A new, $2.2 million Rite Aid is under construction on College Highway and is expected to open by Thanksgiving. “They’ve been renting space in a smaller building and are expanding to a free-standing building with a drive-thru,” Deedy explained.
Site developer Jesse Saltmarsh of Saltmarsh Industries Inc. in Southwick told BusinessWest an old building was demolished to make way for the new, 11,000-square-foot pharmacy, and contractors are creating retaining walls because they lowered the grade of the land to provide enough space for parking.
“Roughly 90% of the vendors we’re using are local companies,” said site superintendent Gordon Webster of Bass Hatfield Construction, the general contractor for the project, adding that Southwick businesses already working or soon to be on the job include Southwick Electric and Brasca Plumbing as well as a landscaper in town.
Meanwhile, Kearsage Venture Capital Co. recently completed construction of the largest solar farm in Western Mass. on Route 168.
“Agriculture is still an important part of Southwick’s identity, and this is just a different way of farming,” Stinehart said. “And the town is in the process of finalizing a purchase agreement to buy a solar farm north of here. We hope it will save us 15% on our electric bill.”
The new, 66-acre Whalley Park, built on donated land and leveraged with Community Preservation Act (CPA) funding, opened this summer and has increased the number of playing fields, which is important because the town didn’t have enough to accommodate demand.
“It’s a wonderful thing, and we are very fortunate because the private, nonprofit Southwick Recreation Center is right next door, which helps kids in town play on sports teams,” Deedy said.
The Polverari Southwick Animal Control Facility was also finished late last year, which meets another need as it replaced an outdated structure.
“We’re doing all we can to make the community an attractive place to raise a family,” Stinehart noted, adding that $69 million was spent over the past few years on renovations to the town’s schools which are almost complete, and a new track was built with private donations and CPA funds. Plus, the Conservation and Open Space committees have used state and CPA monies to acquire land for agricultural use because there is growing demand for it.
New small businesses are also opening, and two restaurants have new owners. D’Georgio’s is expected to open by Labor Day in the former Brew Too building on Westfield Street, which has been repurposed, and the former Salmon Brook Restaurant on Point Grove Road near Congamond Lake was recently purchased and will reopen as the Legends of the Lake.
The selectmen added that the town offers wonderful opportunities for recreation.
“We pride ourselves on our recreation, which ranges from boating to golfing and open space where people can hike,” Stinehart said. “We have two public marinas and a boat launch on the Congamond Lakes, and a dedicated committee makes sure there is a freshwater fishing tournament there every weekend. There is also the 6.3-mile Southwick Rail Trail, four golf courses, a miniature one, and two campgrounds. Southwick is the home of motocross, we have a very active Parks and Recreation Committee, and the Conservation Commission has acquired land that will be used for parking which will provide better access to the segment of the Metacomet Trail that runs through town.”
Residential construction is also on the rise, and land is being cleared for a 26-home development called Noble Steeds. “It was permitted, then shelved due to the downturn in the economy,” Stinehart said. “There are also a significant number of single lots being developed along major roads.
“The housing market is slowly turning around, and a dozen lots in a private community are being developed around the Ranch [golf course], and with our lucrative tax rate, people can afford to build their dream home,” he went on. “The Shops at Gillett Corners were also sold within the last two years, and the new owners have invested money because they see the future in Southwick.”
Deedy noted that the single tax rate has been a great selling point for the town.
“We’re taking a balanced approach to growth,” he explained. “Our planning board is composed of a group of very dedicated individuals, and we are very cautious and deliberate in making any zoning changes. But few are necessary, as permitted uses for land have already been identified; we look at other communities to see what works and what doesn’t.”
Officials don’t expect the MGM casino in Springfield to affect their community much, other than increasing the flow of traffic from Connecticut. “We will evaluate it in the future to see if we are eligible for any funds and will revisit the issue at that time to see if it affects our infrastructure,” Stinehart said.
However, Deedy pointed out that Southwick is only 15 minutes from Springfield, and its low tax rate may prove attractive to businesses that support the casino. “They may want to relocate to the suburbs once it is built.”
Deedy added that efforts put forth by the town have been aimed at future development.
“We have plenty of land available, and if people can afford it, they should buy it now while it is still inexpensive,” he said. “Members of the select board are always available to talk to people; the last thing we ever want to hear is that someone who owns a company or wants to open one looked at Southwick, but it was too difficult to do business there.”
Which seems unlikely, because officials strive to promote their town and encourage growth in this rapidly growing community.
Southwick at a glance
Year Incorporated: 1775
Area: 31.7 square miles
Residential Tax Rate: $16.94
Commercial Tax Rate: $16.94
Median Household Income: $78,476
Family Household Income: $89,970
Type of Government: Open Meeting; Board of Selectmen
Largest Employers: Big Y World Class Markets; Whalley Computer Associates Inc.
* Latest information available