City of Homes Boasts an Inviting Mix of AmenitiesJohn DeVoie, his brother, Chris DeVoie, and Don Watroba opened Hot Table in the 16 Acres neighborhood of Springfield in 2007. The restaurant specializes in paninis, and the trio chose Springfield as the site for their new business because the city is their home and they are Springfield natives.
“We love the place and want to see it thrive,” John said. “We also saw an opportunity, as there was an underserved market there. Western New England College, which is now a university, was right across the street, and Springfield College was right down the street. And the college community didn’t even have a local coffeehouse.”
Their success led the restaurateurs to open a second location on Main Street in 2009, which is 1,000 feet larger and boasts an outdoor patio. John said the downtown site has also drawn a large crowd, and their location has one of the highest concentrations of working people in one location in Western Mass.
“I couldn’t be happier about our growth and the fact that we have expanded under the current economic conditions,” he told BusinessWest. “Everyone has to come into Springfield eventually, whether it’s for jury duty, to go to the hospital, or to see a lawyer, and the density of the population and traffic provides a real opportunity for businesses.”
The diverse population and the fact that economic incentives abound in the city are among the strong motivating factors for entrepreneurs and established businesses looking to relocate their operations, said Mayor Domenic Sarno, now winding down his second two-year term in office.
“The city is the economic engine for the region, and we have incentives for any and all businesses, from the mom-and-pop operations to businesses on a larger scale,” he said, adding that economic help can be found via initiatives like the city’s small-business loan program, which lends companies up to $20,000, its neighborhood storefront program, and special tax assessments that add gradual increments to a company’s tax bill after an expansion.
Bruce Stebbins, administrator for business development, explained that the city will exempt the value of improvements for a period of time and gradually ease them into a company’s tax bill. “The state also offers tax credits, because we are designated as a Gateway City, so we consider ourselves an affordable location for companies looking to serve the Northeast market,” he added.
Sarno cited access to broadband as another advantage. The city has allowed the Mass. Broadband Institute to thread a 21st-century communications network through a network of underground conduits that will result in broadband service up to 1,000 times faster when it is complete.
Business property exists in many neighborhoods, and the city has worked hard to streamline its permitting process. Christopher Moskal, interim chief development officer, said officials have spent three years on the project and eliminated many of the hoops businesses once had to jump through.
“We bring all of the necessary departments to the table for a one-stop shopping experience so businesses can get the permits they need quickly and save money,” he said.
Carl Frattini, director of business development for Northeast Utilities, says the city is easy to work with. “Our solar program focuses on using restricted-use properties such as brownfields to accommodate large-scale PV facilities. These projects offer economies of scale that make them more cost-effective, but they often have complex permitting requirements,” he explained.
“On May 12, we announced the Indian Orchard Solar Facility, a 2.2-megawatt project located on a 12-acre brownfield site in the Indian Orchard section of Springfield,” he continued. “The city was well-organized, particularly the Springfield Redevelopment Authority, and they did an outstanding job working with us to make this project happen. Given the time and resources necessary to develop these types of projects, it’s more than reassuring to know the city, along with community stakeholders like the Indian Orchard Citizens Council, are ready and willing to collaborate.”
Sarno cited other benefits of operating a business in Springfield. “We have a railroad, and the Springfield Technical Community College Enterprise Center is a great place for startups. And the city offers a complete toolkit for new and expanding businesses,” he said.
For this, the latest installment of ‘Doing Business In,’ BusinessWest looks at the current conditions in the City of Homes, and why there are some good reasons to consider the unofficial capital of Western Mass. as a place to locate or expand a venture.
Chet Wojcik is a real proponent of Springfield. He moved Alliance Medical Gas from North Carolina to Agawam in July 2010, and the following January, the owner and CEO relocated the firm to the Scibelli Enterprise Center in Springfield.
“We wanted to be in a building that was historically preserved, and all of the state and federal resources are in this building,” Wojcik said, ticking off agencies that range from the Mass. Small Business Development Center Network to the federal Small Business Administration to SCORE.
Wojcik has taken advantage of activities staged by the STCC Business Incubator, also located in the downtown site. “This city is pro-business,” he said.
Available property includes public and private sites that run the gamut from the former School Department headquarters on 195 State St. to sites in the Hollywood section of the South End that are included in the South End Redevelopment Plan, which has spurred a great deal of infrastructure work in the last few years.
“There are business parcels in every neighborhood, and we feel we can offer workforce-planning programs that businesses need to succeed in Springfield,” said Moskal. “We work hand-in-hand with them to provide skilled labor.”
An example of this is a collaborative effort between the School Department and Smith & Wesson, which brings high-school juniors and seniors into the company for hands-on experience and mentoring programs. “They are introducing their line of business to prospective high-school graduates,” Moskal said.
Nicholas Fyntrilakis, assistant vice president of Responsibility for MassMutual in Springfield, agrees that the city has a lot to offer. “This is MassMutual’s 160th anniversary. The business started as one person in a rented office and has grown to a Fortune 500 company,” he said. “Springfield has provided us with a terrific workforce locally and regionally, and is a terrific place to live and work. For those thinking of planting a flag in Springfield, we are centrally located with great access to highways, a nearby airport, and broadband fiber optics. Plus, the city is really committed to helping small businesses grow and transition.”
Fyntrilakis is also on the board of the nonprofit corporation DevelopSpringfield, which is dedicated to advancing development and redevelopment projects and expanding revitalization within the city.
“We offer grants up to $10,000 to businesses on Main Street and State Street,” he said, explaining that companies are required to provide 25% in matching funds for improvement projects. “It is a really nice initiative that is unique to Springfield. The economy and demographics of the city are also diverse, and the general climate toward business is positive.
“Folks are eager to support businesses, and many have had a lot of success,” he added, pointing to the Puerto Rican Bakery on Main Street and Red Rose Pizzeria, which started out small and has grown exponentially over the years to include a banquet facility.
Mary Ellen Scott says Springfield is the center of all of the activity in Western Mass. She opened United Personnel 26 years ago, and believes it is a perfect place for business owners who want to be situated in an urban setting, but also want to forge strong connections in the community.
“I grew up in Boston and lived in New York City for 10 years, and I believe Springfield is a great place for people to live,” she told BusinessWest. “It’s a smaller city and a place where people develop relationships. If I lived in New York City, I probably would not know the mayor personally or the president of MassMutual. You can walk down Main Street and say ‘hi’ to five people you know in one block.”
Scott, a member of the Economic Development Council of Western Mass., added that Springfield has a ready supply of labor. “My company is in the business of supplying people, and there is a diverse workforce in Springfield,” she said, adding that United is able to fill employers’ needs for positions in offices, light-industrial settings, manufacturing, and more.
At Home with the Idea
“Springfield also has easy access to highways for distribution purposes. And there is a lower cost of living here than in Hartford, Boston, or New York City, which means savings for employers,” Scott continued, listing more reasons why business owners and managers should give the community some consideration as a landing spot.
“The city has its issues,” she continued, “but the pleasure of living here far outweighs them, and city officials are really trying to make it a better place.”