Changes at the Top

EDC Appointments Expected to Advance Agency’s Mission
Michael Graney, Alan Blair, and Kenneth Delude

From left, Michael Graney, Alan Blair, and Kenneth Delude.

Alan Blair says a transition in leadership at Westmass Area Development Corp. has been in the talking stages for some time now.

“We wanted to make the change when it made sense to do so,” said Blair, referring to his recent decision to step down as president of that agency, an affiliate of the Economic Development Council of Western Mass. (which he also serves as president), and hand the reins over to his long-time lieutenant, Kenneth Delude. “And that time is now.”

By that, he was referring to both the 10-year anniversary of the creation of the EDC (see related story, page 6), what Blair considered a logical time to take stock of the corporation and its affiliates, but also the state of Westmass, the private, non-profit organization that has developed industrial parks in several area communities.

Westmass, like its sister organization, Westover Metropolitan Development Corp., the non-profit group created by the state Legislature to oversee development of former Westover Air Force Base property into what has become four industrial parks, is a vital cog in regional economic development efforts, said Blair. For Westmass to better carry out its role of job creation, he continued, it was decided that Delude, who has served that agency as senior vice president for several years, would assume the presidency and that additions to the staff would be made.

The move also gives Blair, who will remain in his role as president of Westover, more time and energy to devote to the EDC as it enters its second decade of operation.

“There is a strong imperative to continue Westmass’s mission, which is to continue to find ways to work with area communities to bring jobs to this region,” said Blair, noting that the changes in staffing will help with that assignment. “If we don’t continue to provide space for new development, growth in this region will begin to slow.”

Delude’s promotion is one of two appointments announced by the EDC this month. The other is the naming of Michael Graney, most recently director of the Springfield Business Development Corp. (SBDC) as senior vice president of Marketing and Business Development for the EDC.

Graney succeeds Ralph Carlson, the recently retired vice president of Marketing for the EDC, but he will have a broader and somewhat different role than his predecessor, said Blair. That new job description will also include work in what he called “prospect management.”

Elaborating, he said this is work that takes leads for development in the region — both new ventures and job-retention efforts — and works them through what can be a lengthy, complicated process.

Prospect-management has always been an organization-wide function within the EDC, Blair, continued, and it will continue to be, but Graney, in the ‘business development’ role included on his business card, will play an active role in those efforts.

Delude has been part of the team at Westover/Westmass for nearly 25 years. A former engineer for the city of Chicopee, he has worked for both agencies in all aspects of development, in a capacity that essentially matches prospects with suitable sites in the agencies’ industrial parks.

His responsibilities have included everything from working out purchase and sale agreements and closings for individual parcels, to representing the EDC before boards and commissions in communities where the agency has conducted business. In his capacity as president he will maintain some of the duties, but will mostly be tasked with the broad assignment of making sure Westmass can continue its mission for the long term.

Looking forward, Delude told BusinessWest that his agency has several tasks at hand.

The first involves staffing issues, he said, noting that in addition to securing his successor, he will also look to hire another individual to handle a combination of sales and closing duties.

Those staff additions will help Westmass make some progress with its two primary assignments — filling remaining space in existing parks and developing new parks to ensure that the region has an adequate inventory of land for development.

As for existing parks, some are filled or near that point, said Delude, referring to facilities in Westfield and Agawam, while a recently developed park in East Longmeadow has a few parcels remaining. University Park in Hadley has approximately a third of its 76 acres remaining, he continued, while the Chicopee River Business Park, which has one current tenant and a second deal in the works, will have 10 remaining sites and roughly half its developable acreage left after that second deal is inked.

This fairly limited inventory — the Westover parks are also nearing capacity — makes the development of new industrial parks a priority, said Delude, noting that Westmass officials have been exploring both urban and surburban sites in Hampden, Hampshire, and Franklin counties. There are some options, he continued, but mostly smaller parcels, at least when compared to the two large parks Westmass developed in Westfield and Agawam.

“We may never see a 300-acre park again,” said Delude, referring to the Agawam Regional Industrial Park, built on the site of the former Bowles Airport. “But there are opportunities for smaller developments, and we’re looking at both greenfields and brownfields sites in several communities.”

Graney brings a diverse resume to his new position, one he told BusinessWest he lobbied for as part of his pursuit of a new challenge.

He had spent the previous decade at the helm of the SBDC, an agency now with no personnel and an uncertain future. During that time, the agency contributed to formation of the Springfield Business Improvement District, created a new management model for Symphony Hall and StageWest (now City Stage), and worked unsuccessfully to bring minor league baseball to Springfield, among other initiatives.

Prior to that, Graney managed the Springfield Civic Center, as well as other area arenas and theaters, including the CTNow.com Meadows Music Theatre (Meadows Music Center) in Connecticut, and before that worked on commercial real estate, particularly specialty retail centers.

It was that broad depth of experience that appealed to Blair.

“As it developed, the job description for this position was not pure marketing,” he told BusinessWest, adding that there was no formal search for Carlson’s replacement. “We’re trying to attract investors; we needed someone who understands marketing, but also someone who understands real estate and this region. We realized that this isn’t someone you find on the street.”

The new challenge that Graney has assumed involves equal parts marketing, education, and the management of prospects for the region’s industrial parks, said Blair, noting that, a decade after its creation, the EDC, a unique management model, remains a difficult concept for many in the region to grasp.

Thus, marketing will involve initiatives both inside the region and outside it, said Blair, noting that the EDC takes part in a number of trade shows and conventions involving developers and site selectors. Graney took part in his first, a medical device manufacturers show staged in New York, earlier this month.

As for prospect-management, Graney described it as the process of “turning leads into deals,” and said his background in real estate, building management, and in working with other agencies to get things done, will assist him in that assignment.

“Leads can come from a variety of places, from trade shows to state agencies — there’s a whole alphabet soup of them out there,” he said. “We want to take those leads and work with whomever we need to work with to turn them into deals.”