Doing Business In: East Longmeadow
This Town Manages to Strike a Winning BalanceEast Longmeadow Selectman Jack Villamaino is a lifelong town resident, from a family that traces its business roots to the last century.
He says that his great-grandfather’s farm is currently the fourth hole at Franconia Golf Course, but in the 1950s, his grandfather started the landscaping and asphalt-paving company that bears his family’s name to this day.
His story is not uncommon in this town of 16,000, where homeowners share space with a thriving retail sector, as well as one of the area’s healthier hubs of industry. He started out as “the coffee boy” for EJ Villamaino Paving contractors, and Villamaino said that there are “tons of guys I grew up with who work for their dads.”
“Those businesses might have started out as entrepreneurial enterprises,” he continued, “but now they employ a handful of people. And I think we’re fortunate for that, because they’re doing work in town, and they still live here. They have a stake in what they do in and around East Longmeadow.”
The town’s percentage of residential property to commerce and industry is around 78% to 22%, he said, and for Villiamaino and others in town, this is a winning mix.
“It’s a well-planned community, really,” said John Maybury. “There’s the proper amount of industrial and commercial development in the right zones.” And he should know; not only has he lived in East Longmeadow for most of his life, but he is one of the community’s most successful business owners, as president of Maybury Associates, a materials-handling firm.
Not far from his company on Denslow Road, the southwestern section of East Longmeadow is home to several world-class manufacturing plants. The world headquarters of Hasbro is nearby on Shaker Road, as well as Lenox Saw and Sullivan Paper, among many others. Maybury calls his and other businesses with a national and global reach “economic importers” for the town.
And while industry stays strong in East Longmeadow, those imported dollars find homes in a robust retail sector. Several large-scale plazas dot the landscape, with mom-and-pop stores alongside national retailers. At the East Longmeadow Center Village, Rocco Falcone said the plaza just filled its last available storefront.
A principal with Falcone Retail Properties, owner of that plaza, as well as the president of Rocky’s Hardware, Falcone is another native son who finds the balance of residential and industry a good fit, not just from the perspective of a fully tenanted plaza, but as a business owner.
“For Rocky’s to be one of the anchor tenants in that plaza,” he said, “this works on two levels. The locals like to do their purchasing within the town, and we have everything that a homeowner would need. But we also have accounts with some businesses in the industrial parks, for maintenance and supply products for the large companies.”
In this, the latest installment of its Doing Business In series, BusinessWest looks at some of those economic importers in East Longmeadow, a town that most observers say has struck the perfect balance between business and residential neighborhoods.
The Family Way
Villamaino said East Longmeadow is fortunate to have maintained this balance, some of which he calls just plain luck in the way developments have evolved over the past few decades.
“But part of that has to do with a master plan that goes back before I was born,” he continued, “with planning boards of the 1960s and earlier.”
As one of the current legislators, he said that Town Hall continues to work at keeping that balance.
“As far as the selectmen go,” he said, “I’ve voted four times — every time, really — in favor of the single tax rate. As long as I’ve been on the board, we’ve looked upon businesses as partners, not prey. We don’t want to subject them to unjustly high tax rates.
“They are dutiful taxpayers,” he continued, “and you have to consider them as landowners that aren’t sapping much of the municipal resources. For example, Hasbro isn’t putting any kids into the school system. Lenox uses their own waste-management system, not what the homeowners are using.”
Talking further about the Lenox complex in town, Villamaino expanded on the legacy from that business, and the original owners, in East Longmeadow. “You can’t credit the Davis family enough,” he said. “They owned it when it was American Saw, and they always made it a priority to keep the manufacturing and headquarters here. When they sold it to Newell Rubbermaid, they lobbied very strongly to ensure that all who were employed here remain here. Lenox employs somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 people. You don’t find that a lot in this area anymore.”
To this day, that home-field advantage has been broadened to encompass many other brands in the NR portfolio, with a list of household names such as Graco, Calphalon, Levolor, and many others. A training facility has been created at the East Longmeadow location for brand representatives of all NR products. “They spent about $50 million upgrading to make this a key component of their whole organization,” Villamaino said. “They’ve invested a lot to stay here, and we want to do whatever we can for them to stay.”
Speaking to his history as a town resident and entrepreneur, Maybury said that there have always been questions about large businesses that choose to stay in this region. “Usually it has to do with money — lower cost of a building, lower tax rates,” he explained. “But when you consider the bigger picture, and the roots that we have been able to sustain here, and the ability to network from here, there’s no reason to go.
“Even though there might be some other areas in the region that we could move to,” he added, “we have been able to retain a competitive advantage by staying local, staying with the people that are here. There’s an excellent core workforce, with a lot of tradesmen and machinists.”
In other words, people like himself. Maybury started the company from his parent’s garage as a teen, and while the business — selling and servicing forklifts and all the equipment behind the scenes to get the goods out on the shelves — has grown exponentially, it has never become too large for East Longmeadow.
Having just spoken at a meeting that day presented by the Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield, titled “Thriving in a Difficult Economy,” Maybury echoed Villamaino’s comments that the town is a good partner for the business sector within it.
“It’s easy to do business here,” he said. “For the people who want to grow here, there’s a clear process through the Planning Board. As long as you put a comprehensive package together, it can happen really quickly. I’m involved in the Western Mass Development Collaborative, which is a part of the EDC, and we do a lot of the industrial-park buildouts. There are some other towns where businesses just can’t get things to happen fast enough, from the time someone has the idea and funding to the time when they want to be underway — that window can be very short.”
Maybury said that his firm has branched out to an office in Wallingford, Conn., and a sister operation in New Jersey. Not only is that good for his business, but also for the town it calls home.
“The cool part for East Longmeadow is that we are still going to be here, as an economic importer of dollars,” he explained. “Like some of our neighbors — Hasbro, for instance, with all of those jobs, selling all over the world, while the money comes back here. Similarly, although not to such a degree, we’re doing business all over Connecticut, the Worcester region, into New Jersey and New York. More than 70 employees here take a paycheck and distribute that locally.”
Center of Attention
Situated at the intersection of two roads leading into the rotary at the town’s center, the East Longmeadow Center Village is a relative newcomer to the retail district of town, but an addition that fits in comfortably with the community.
“In terms of marketing,” said Villamaino, “you can’t go anywhere in East Longmeadow without at some point passing through here. We as a town are lucky to have a few good people take advantage of opportunities to increase retail in town.”
In the not-too-distant past, an A&P sat on the property fronting North Main Street. Falcone said that a group of investors, including his father, bought the parcel, and one of the first Rocky’s went into the former grocery site. In the 1980s, the property increased, encompassing what is now the Healthtrax building, and a subsequent property venture brought along the other parcel, connecting the site to Maple Street.
Today, the bustling plaza is home to A.O. White, Spoleto, Starbucks, Sleepy’s, and a handful of other businesses. The buildings are handsomely styled, and Falcone said that considerable attention went into creating an architectural aesthetic that was suitable for the community. “We wanted a higher-end development that would attract a higher-end tenant,” he explained.
While Healthtrax is currently considering a sublease for what Falcone called a “synergistic” tenant to move into a small portion of that building, the retail component of the sprawling plaza is solidly filled. An adjacent property might be a potential addition to the plaza, but Falcone said that there are no specific plans yet to add on.
In Town Hall, Villamaino said that work continues to ensure that, with regard to East Longmeadow’s growth, those balanced scales are kept even for a town that has watched its population climb in the last few decades.
“Business is a great neighbor,” he said, “and, yes, it does make you a more solvent community. But you don’t want haphazard growth — you want to be sensible, with an eye to the future, so that the decisions we make today aren’t penny-wise and pound-foolish. I certainly don’t think we’re done growing — there are certainly people who want to live here, and I think we’re going to see, as that work base increases, business is going to want to locate itself near that population.”
As he looked out the windows from Town Hall on the busy intersection at the center of town, he smiled and said, “we’ve got a good thing going.”