Community Spotlight: Chicopee
Chicopee Is Well-positioned for Economic GrowthThe city of Chicopee is known as “the crossroads of New England,” and Mayor Richard Kos says its transportation infrastructure, diverse mix of businesses, and abundance of available building sites play a role in its economic stability and capacity for growth.
“The city’s insignia is ‘Industraie Variae,’ and Chicopee has a variety of industries that show the breadth of its diversity and help it to weather economic storms,” the mayor told BusinessWest.
Four major highways — Interstates 90, 91, 291, and 391 — exit into Chicopee, and state roads, including Routes 33, 116, and 141, connect to the city’s six neighborhoods, or communities — Chicopee Center (Cabotville), Chicopee Falls, Willimansett, Fairview, Aldenville, and Burnett Road.
Kos, who was mayor from 1997 to 2004 and took office again in January, said his goal is to help Chicopee realize its full potential, especially in its business parks and sections of the city that have not seen much growth in recent years.
Kenn Delude, president and CEO of Westmass Area Development Corp., cites the Chicopee River Business Park as an example of an area poised for development. The park, built on the grounds of the former Oxford Country Club and Springfield Rifle Range, is located at the intersection of I-90 and I-291, and contains plots that vary in size and could be used for office space and/or manufacturing.
“The park contains 147 acres and has fully permitted sites for sale that are complete with utilities,” Delude said, adding that 826,000 square feet of space has been pre-permitted, and incentives are available for qualified businesses. “The sites range from 15,000 to 45,000 square feet, although we could accommodate up to 100,000 square feet. The infrastructure is there, the prices are appropriate, and Westmass will handle the permitting.”
Kos said the industrial park was developed in cooperation with Springfield and contains land in both cities. Infrastructure grants have totaled $4.2 million, but growth has been slow over the past 12 years, and a streamlined permitting process has been created to promote development.
Delude told BusinessWest that many other areas of Chicopee are also rife with opportunity. “Chicopee has existing buildings that are available and ready for occupancy. There is also potential for new construction, and at the same time, the city continues to accumulate land and develop Air Park South,” he said.
The park contains about 80 acres of vacant land acquired from the city by Westover Metropolitan Development Corp. It is located between Burnett Road, Chicopee Municipal Airport, and the Chicopee River Business Park.
In addition, Economic Development Manager Tom Haberlin says there are a number of buildings for sale that were erected in the ’80s and ’90s and are good buys. “They’re available for 25 cents on the dollar in terms of market rate, and can be retrofitted for manufacturing for less than it would cost to build something new.”
For this issue’s Community Spotlight, Kos, Delude, Haberlin, and other city officials talked with BusinessWest at length about opportunities for new business, as well as about firms that recently moved to Chicopee or have chosen to expand and relocate their enterprises within the city’s boundaries.
“My transition team has helped to identify opportunities for economic development,” Kos said.
An exciting development is slated to take place at Westover Air Reserve Base. In addition to the fact that the Great New England Air Show will be staged there again this year, fears that the base could be closed due to military cutbacks have been relieved, thanks to recently passed legislation.Delude said the state Legislature has allocated $177 million that will be shared by six military bases. Westover will use its funds to tear down antiquated hangars built to house B52s during the ’50s, replacing them with new, modern hangars with space that can be leased by corporate aircraft.
“The public/private investment will enhance Westover and mitigate its costs,” said Kos. “This is the first time that a state has made an investment in a federal military facility, and it reflects the commitment of the community to withstand base closures.”
The city, MassDevelopment, and Western Mass. Development Corp. will be involved in the project, and city officials hope it will lead to an aviation-repair program in Chicopee Comprehensive High School’s Career Education Development division.
Another newsworthy development is the renovation of 150,000 square feet in a building on Champion Drive that was home to the packaging manufacturer RockTenn and sat empty after the corporation closed its Chicopee operation five years ago. The space will be occupied by the German firm Menck Windows.
“They chose to locate here because of the workforce and the city’s ability to train students at Chicopee Comprehensive High School for high-level precision-manufacturing jobs,” Kos said.
The mayor added that the manufacturer was impressed by the school’s vocational-training program and the fact that the city is willing to work closely with them.
“Chicopee has a long history of being supportive of businesses and job creation, and tax incentives helped this as well,” he continued. “Menck looked at more than 20 sites in Western Mass. before they chose our city. This will be their first manufacturing operation in the U.S.”
The business is expected to open in June and will create 50 new jobs.
Haberlin spoke about another success story that involves the manufacturer Lymtech Scientific. “They had offers to move south, but chose stay in Chicopee when they decided to expand their Cabotville operation. They purchased a building at the entrance to Westover and made a substantial investment, which was underwritten by the city and Mass Development,” he said. “The building was ready, so it was cost-effective. They built a clean room and, as a result, have grown quickly.”
Delude added that MicroTek, which is located in Westover Air Park West, is yet another firm that opted to remain in Chicopee when it decided to expand its 24,000-square-foot operation housed in a building on Justin Road.
“They looked at sites everywhere, but wanted to stay in the city,” he said. “They purchased a 55,000-square-foot building in the park.”
To add to the mix, T.J.Maxx has become a tenant in Air Park West. “They expanded from 55,000 square feet to 100,000 square feet,” Kos said. “So staying put is moving forward for a lot of our businesses.”
The mayor said one of Chicopee’s assets is the fact that it’s a data crossroads. “When the Mass Turnpike was redone, new data lines were installed, which is important for businesses that need a lot of capacity.”
In another section of the city, a development known as Chicopee Crossing is taking shape. The Residence Inn by Marriott opened in the complex on Memorial Drive, and Buffalo Wild Wings recently won preliminary approval from the city council to build a restaurant with a liquor license there.
Economic growth continues to occur along that busy thoroughfare. In February, Chick-fil-A opened beside Aldi’s supermarket, and the former IHOP Restaurant, which sat empty for a decade, has become the second McDonald’s restaurant along Memorial Drive.
In other areas of the city, the Collegian Court restaurant, a landmark establishment, reopened last year after being closed for seven years, and the Munich Haus also expanded and added a beer garden with 60 seats, Haberlin said.
Meanwhile, the city also continues to make water and sewer infrastructure improvements, and a $9 million bond has been approved by the City Council to install a second water line to the Quabbin Reservoir, which is the source of Chicopee’s water supply. In addition, the city’s sewer-separation project is scheduled to be complete by June 2015. “It will have addressed 80% of the combined-sewer-overflow issue,” Kos said.
Renewal is also taking place in Chicopee Center at Ames Privilege Apartments. The units are located in a former Civil War foundry that made swords and cannons on 1 Springfield St. But half of them were never opened because the city condemned a portion of the building in 1988 due to weakened support beams, and those apartments sat vacant for 20 years, Haberlin said.
But MassHousing closed on an $8 million loan last summer to allow the developer to renovate 94 occupied apartments and completely restore the 40 units that have never been rented. An additional $1 million was provided by the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, and funding also came from the the city itself and private investments. “We’ll finally see a project that was started in the ’80s brought to completion,” Haberlin said.
Moving forward, Kos said the city has much more going for it than its location. There is momentum, land, a business-friendly City Hall, and a large legislative delegation — four state representatives and three state senators — that makes sure the city gets attention from the Commonwealth.
“As we move forward, it is important to recognize Chicopee’s strengths, which include its location, its competitive tax rate, the quality of its utilities, and the benefit of having its own municipal electric supplier,” said the mayor. “I plan to make sure that public and private economic developers, as well as the city team, interconnect on a regular basis so their skill sets enhance their ability and knowledge.”
Which is, indeed, a surefire recipe for success.
Chicopee at a glance
Year Incorporated: 1848
Population: 55,298 (2010); 54,653 (2000)
Area: 23.9 square miles
Residential Tax Rate: 16.51
Commercial Tax Rate: 29.60
Median Household Income: $35,672
Family Household Income: $44,136
Type of government: Mayor, City Council
Largest employers: Westover Air Reserve Base, J. Polep Distribution Services, Avery Dennison Corp., Callaway Golf Ball Operations Inc., Microtek Inc.
* Latest information available