Forward Thinking

Richard Goyette was sworn into office as Chicopee mayor in January after surviving a close (350-vote) race with former mayor Joseph Chessey. He assumes the corner office at a time when Chicopee remains in an expansion mode, with a new high school nearing completion, a new city library set to open, and Wal-Mart planning to come to Memorial Drive. These are all projects set in motion during the administration of Richard Kos, who is credited with taking Chicopee, the region’s second-largest city, out of the doldrums and putting it on the road to sound fiscal health and economic vitality. Goyette, who served on the Board of Aldermen during the Kos years, says his predecessor built a solid foundation. Now, he wants to build a house on top of it. BusinessWest talked with the new mayor about his goals for the city, his strategies for reaching them, and his thoughts on everything from Wal-Mart to a planned women’s prison.

BusinessWest:Before we get into a deep discussion about business, economic development, and your vision for Chicopee, tell us why you wanted this job, and at this time in your life and career.

Goyette:"This is something I’ve always had an interest in. I told my wife this, and when Mayor Kos announced that he was not going to run, she and I sat down and had a long talk about it. I didn’t want to look back 20 years from now and say, ’would’ve, could’ve, should’ve.’ Being mayor is something I always wanted to do, and this was my opportunity."

BusinessWest:You’re following Kos, a man who is credited with having not only vision, but the ability to make that vision reality. Is he a hard act to follow?

Goyette:"He is. He did a wonderful job for the city. He built a wonderful foundation — not only with the city’s finances but with a number of projects across the city — and now I’m hoping to build a house on top of that foundation."

BusinessWest:What did you do in the private sector, and do you believe any of those experiences will help you handle the duties of being mayor?

Goyette:"I was sales manager at the Springfield Sheraton for a few years, and before that I was in the aerospace industry; I was in charge of manufacturing at a company called Fountain Plating in West Springfield. After Sept. 11, things in the aerospace industry took a real nosedive, so I took a career change. And I really think my job as a sales manager will help me here. When you’re in the hospitality industry, customer service is important — you have to deal with people on a one-to-one basis. It’s very similar when you’re mayor; I’m basically the salesman for the city.

BusinessWest:How else would you define your responsibilities in this position? Give us your job description.

Goyette:"The mayor is the chief executive officer, so obviously, you have to make a number of financial decisions. Beyond that, though, the mayor sets the agenda and tries to move forward with a vision for the city and what it should be. I’ve lived in Chicopee most of my life — I’m the fourth generation of my family living in the same house in Aldenville — and I have a vested interest in this city. I want businesses to locate here, I want to see investment in my community, and I’m the point person for that."

BusinessWest:Speaking of moving agendas forward, what are your priorities when it comes to economic development in Chicopee?

Goyette:"Like every community in the area, we want to attract companies that are going to bring good-paying jobs. We’ve had some good success stories in the past few years — Channel 22, Williams Distributing, MassMutual’s conference center, and some businesses in the Westover industrial parks. We want to build on that. We have an attractive location, and we have some places for companies to go. There are some lots left in the Westover parks, and we have the Chicopee River Technology Park, as well.

"In addition to attracting new, larger companies, we want to take in some smaller companies and give them the space to get to that next stage. There is room in Cabotville for this type of development. I know Springfield has been successful with very small businesses in the STCC incubator; we’re looking at trying to market Cabotville and some of our other old mills as the place to take the next step — when a company outgrows its space in a smaller facility, we want it to think about Chicopee."

BusinessWest:Wal-Mart is coming to town in the former Fairfield Mall complex. What does this mean for Chicopee and for Memorial Drive?

Goyette:"I think this is going to work out very well for this city. One of the biggest complaints that I hear from people is that they live in the second-largest city in the region, but they have to go to Holyoke or Springfield to do their shopping. There are no major stores here. Wal-Mart is just going to be the start. There is room at the site for six small boxes, and I think you’ll see a lot of interest on the part of major retailers — our first national chain, the Ninety Nine, is going into the spot in front of the old mall.

"This development is also going to bring more people into Chicopee; it’s going to be a huge boost for the businesses currently there. Because of its location just off the Turnpike, it’s very accessible, and people will be coming to Memorial Drive who haven’t come that way in the past. I think this will develop the same way Riverdale Road did — first you had Home Depot, and then Costco, and it took off. Now, you have Chili’s, an Outback, and a lot of other restaurants. We’re expecting similar things.

BusinessWest:Is that good or bad? Can Memorial Drive handle the kind of development that’s being talked about? Are there fears that you could have traffic problems similar to those seen on Riverdale Road?

Goyette:"I think it’s good. People want to spend their dollars in their own community. As far as the traffic goes, I think we have a better arrangement than Riverdale Road — there’s better access and better traffic flow. Once Wal-Mart is in place and those box stores fill up, things are really going to take off; it will be great for our tax base and great for our residents, and it will provide jobs.

BusinessWest:Chicopee is an industrial city that has many large employers. But is fast running out of developable land. What does this mean, and how can the city continue to attract jobs with this apparent handicap?

Goyette:"As our land gets filled up, we’re going to look at redevelopment of existing buildings and underutilized parcels. One site we’re looking at for the long term is the former Uniroyal complex and the adjacent Facemate property (see related story, page 22). There are some environmental concerns, but down the road, this will become space that we can utilize."

BusinessWest:Plans to build a women’s prison at the site of the former canine control center are now on hold due to the state’s budget problems. Most people don’t think of a prison as economic development, but you and your predecessor both believe this is an opportunity for Chicopee. Why?

Goyette:"It does represent economic development — it’s going to bring jobs, probably 100 or more, into the city. And that project brings a number of infrastructure improvements with it. There are plans for a major reconstruction of Center Street from the Springfield line to downtown. That project is on a separate track from the jail, but, realistically, it won’t happen until the jail does."

BusinessWest:Is there a new timetable for the jail?

Goyette:"Not that I’m aware of. The state is currently conducting a needs assessment of its correctional facilities, and doesn’t want to spend money on projects like this if it doesn’t have to. Obviously, we’re hoping this project gets back on track."

BusinessWest:Unlike many cities and town in this region, and especially Springfield, Chicopee is in good fiscal health. How did it get that way, and how will you keep the city on that course?

Goyette:"Four or five years ago, the mayor and the Board of Aldermen worked on a lot of things, and while many communities were just handing out things and creating new jobs — like Springfield adding 100 new police officers — we were tightening our belts and looking at the situation and saying, ’the good times aren’t going to last forever — we need to save for a rainy day and put some money away.’

"When I took office as an alderman, the stabilization fund had $5,000 in it. Now, it’s got $10.5 million. Obviously, we worked very hard to do that, and now that times are tougher, we may not be able to save a lot of money. We may have to continue to scale back, but at least we have that cushion."

BusinessWest:What else do you have on your to-do list?

Goyette:"One of the projects in front of us is redevelopment of the old (current) Chicopee High School. When we move into the new one this fall, we’re going to have a very large, vacant building on our hands. We’re looking at combining some city departments in there, or perhaps a senior center, or even moving the school administration offices in there. There’s a lot of consolidation that can take place, and a lot of options for us to look at.

"Ultimately, I think we’re looking at mixed uses for that building, and there are a lot of things we have to take a look at. That’s why the city is paying to have a facilities study done of all city buildings, including the schools, City Hall, any municipal building. Once we get that back, then we can determine what our options and priorities are, and decide where and how to spend money on these buildings. To this point, we’ve never had something like this; we’ve traditionally waited until something is broken and then found the money to fix it."

BusinessWest:You’re wrapping up those proverbial ’first 100 days in office.’ What has the experience been like? Is being mayor about what you expected when you decided to run for the seat?

Goyette:"It was a real advantage to me to be on the Board of Aldermen for six years, two years as president. I had a chance to work with a lot of the department heads and cope with the issues the city was confronted with; I was part of the process, and as a result I had a pretty good handle on things.

"That said, there’s a lot to do, and much of it is things that people don’t see or fully appreciate. People don’t see the nights, the weekends, and the events you’re expected to attend — the Boy Scouts, the banquets, the church services … there’s so much, and people expect to see the mayor there; it’s part of the job, and an important part.

BusinessWest:How long do you think you want to do this?

Goyette:"I just got here, so it’s really hard to say how long I might want to keep this job. I hope it’s a while. I very much enjoy the job, but it puts some constraints on how much time I can spend with my wife and family — I have two children and five stepchildren. We’ve tried to make this experience fun for the kids. During the campaign, they would come out and hold signs … it was a learning experience for them in how government works; it’s one thing to go in the classroom and talk about how people get elected, but it’s another thing to be part of the process."

BusinessWest:One more question: You’re one of the very few Republican mayors in this state. Is that going to help you or the city in any way?

Goyette:"The governor and I are on a first-name basis, but I’m not sure being a Republican is going to be a big help. But at the moment, it doesn’t hurt, either."