Doing Business in: Westfield
Former Manufacturing Center Boasts Diversity
Lynn Boscher says anyone looking to establish or relocate a business should set their sights on Westfield.
“The city has it all,” said the director of the Greater Westfield Chamber of Commerce. “What makes it ideal is that is has easy access to the Mass Turnpike and Route 91, which draws traffic from the surrounding areas. We have our own short-line railroad and city-owned airport that can handle any type of plane, including 747s, and there is a wide range of commerical space available that ranges from downtown storefronts to land suited for industrial development.
“Westfield State College is here, and Holyoke Community College is just over the hill, so there is a good educational system,” he continued. “Plus, there is a good cross-section of housing in virtually all price ranges.”
The so-called Whip City — buggy whips were once manufactured there — boasts a streamlined permitting process, and in the past five years, the tax rate has become more competitive to attract businesses, Boscher said. “Plus, there are two hotels right off the turnpike. And Westfield is also becoming known for its restaurants, culture, entertainment, and shopping; there has been an influx of people due to the quality of life here.”
Frank Demarinis is president and project engineer for Sage Engineering and Contracting Inc. in Westfield. His recent projects include a building which houses Root’s Gymnastics (operated by his wife, Kari), along with All Star Dance Center, owned by Kim Starsiak, and Westfield Infant and Toddler Service. He has a day-care center next door to that building which is under construction and set to open in September.
Demarinis established his company in Westfield six years ago and was able to get a tax incentive from the state because the area is slated for economic development. He said other communities have a limited amount of land available for building compared to Westfield.
“Because of the amount of land here and the tax incentive, it’s an ideal location to start a business,” he said. “Plus, the town does its best to help and is very open to new industries that bring jobs to the community.”
Kari Demarinis opened her gymnastics business in March 2008 and has already expanded from 12,000 to 19,000 square feet. “Westfield has always been a big sports town, and we felt this was a great central location,” she said. “My husband and I looked at the map before I started my business here. Westfield has a small-community feel, and our kids go to school here through the School Choice program, although we live in Montgomery.
“The city is filled with hardworking people who support small businesses,” she added, noting that the Parks and Recreation Department conducts programs in her gym.
Lisa McMahon agrees. “The most wonderful thing about Westfield is its community spirit,” said the executive director of the Westfield Business Improvement District.
A plethora of events, ranging from concerts on the green to entaintainment offerings sponsored by BID and the nonprofit volunteer organization Westfield on Weekends, highlight businesses as well as the community. “Westfield is a big land mass, but it has such a small-town feel,” McMahon said. “People care about their neighbors here, and you can get an urban feel and suburbia all in the same town.”
Starsiak’s dance studio was in North Plaza for 13 years and doubled in size when she moved into Demarinis’ building. “I’ve lived here all my life, and this is a hometown community,” she said, talking about the blood drive her business is sponsoring. “Doing this goes hand-in-hand with the fact that Westfield is very family-oriented. Every month there are new housing developments going up, and since we are only one and a half miles from the turnpike, we draw business from Southampton, Northampton, Holyoke, and Easthampton. Westfield borders the hilltowns, so we also draw business from Westhampton and Montgomery.”
Starsiak has found city officials and other business owners do all they can to promote each other’s success. “We all have a vision to make it a very healthy and welcoming community,” she said. “One of the big attractions is that everyone wants to support each other. Westfield is a city where business owners are very united and our business is growing, which has a lot to do with businesses working together.”
Westfield’s Business Improvement District includes 190 downtown properties. Two years ago, the agency put signs in empty storefronts which read, “this building isn’t empty. It’s full of opportunity.”
The marketing ploy resulted in many calls, and a number of properties were rented as a result. But right now is even an better time for businesses to move downtown because of the changes occurring there over the next 18 months, McMahon said. “We are undergoing an incredible transformation and are poised for growth.”
Storefronts on Main and Elm streets are undergoing renovations and will soon be ready for rent. But perhaps the main reason to locate a business downtown is because hundreds of students from Westfield State College will soon move into apartments there.
Steady growth in enrollment at the college led to an increased demand for student housing that exceeded the school’s on-campus housing capacity, so the plan is to house students in leased apartment space downtown.
The first group is scheduled to move into a building on Thomas Street in the fall. “By September of 2011, the building will be full. The college is also looking at Washington Street and plans to renovate a building there which will house 90 students,” McMahon said. BID has been meeting with a group of students who say they would like to see retail clothing shops, bistros, and restaurants downtown.
In addition, the $60 million Great River Bridge project is almost finished. The old camel-back truss bridge, which provides a north-south crossing over the river, used to be a bottleneck for traffic. A new bridge was built that runs parallel to the old one, and both will be open soon, along with a small park on both sides and a new train bridge slightly higher up, as trucks used to get stuck under the old one.
“At the same time, private development is taking place on Main Street and at the corner of Broad and Court streets, which will add new downtown office space,” said McMahon. “Infrastructure has also begun on Main Street, and the downtown green is undergoing a makeover. Three historic buildings are also being renovated on Elm Street, which will have commercial space on the first floors and 19 affordable-housing units above that space.”
To add to downtown’s culture, the college opened an art gallery there, and an artists’ cooperative recently set up shop. “There is so much happening, and downtown is really poised to pop within the next 18 to 24 months. So it’s a great time to plan,” she said.
Frank Demarinis says the downtown revitalization will affect all of the businesses in Westifield. “It’s a really good idea,” he said, “a positive thing which will have a trickle-down effect.”