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Meeting of the Minds

Holyoke Community College Gets Down to Business with New Facility
Community college is a two-word phrase. Geoff Little doesn’t want to forget that.
“We’re a community college, which says we have expectations and responsibilities beyond the campus walls to support growth and quality of life in the communities around us,” said Little, acting vice president for business and community affairs at Holyoke Community College.

Little will apply that philosophy as executive director of the college’s $18 million, five-story Kittredge Business Center, set to open to students and area companies in January.

“The intent was not to create a building that’s isolated from the campus,” Little said. “This building and its resources are intended to be accessible to both students on campus and the business community in general. So it serves a number of purposes.”

Indeed, HCC’s vision has been to create a one-stop business center that regional employers could use for workforce development and training, conferences, internships, and support for domestic and international trade – a vital resource, in other words, for current businesses and new ventures alike.

The center’s namesake, Michael Kittredge, who launched the project with a $1 million donation, knows a few things about business ventures. Over a few decades, the HCC alum turned a homemade candle enterprise into Yankee Candle, one of the Pioneer Valley’s most celebrated entrepreneurial success stories.

Little wants to see other stories like that emerge at this new facility near the intersection of Routes 90 and 91 – and at the crossroads of academia and business.

Science and Aesthetics

That physical location, near the juncture of two major highways, is a crucial part of marketing the Kittredge Business Center, said Michael Giampietro, HCC’s vice president for administration and finance. Like Little, he recognizes that the college plays a role in the economic vitality of the entire Knowledge Corridor region, from Hampshire County to Hartford.

“Part of the college’s mission, in addition to educating the region’s youth and people who want to come back for additional degrees, is to educate the incumbent workforce and to provide retraining opportunities for people who are changing careers or simply want to upgrade their skills,” Giampietro said. “The college has been short on space to provide that kind of training, and there is certainly a need for it.”

The Kittredge Business Center answers that space need, providing 55,000 square feet of academic and business resources, including 4,000 square feet of conference and meeting spaces for use by area businesses, all equipped with high-speed Internet connections, videoconferencing, and cutting-edge light and projection.

The building will also house the college’s Center for Business and Professional Development, dedicated to workforce training, as well as a career center that will provide a central location for employers to find interns and recruit new employees.
Two organizations dedicated to helping companies develop wider client bases will also make the business center their home: the World Institute for Strategic Economic Research (WISER), home to the nation’s leading online database for international trade statistics; and the Western Mass. office of the Mass. Export Center, which offers market research, export training, and international business development services.

Resources such as these will benefit not only area companies, Little said, but the school’s business students, who will attend many of their classes in the new facility. Non-business students will still find themselves in the building from time to time, as it was designed with the flow and connectivity of the entire physical campus in mind.

“It’s integrated into the campus nicely,” Little said. “It will draw people through the building who might not otherwise have a reason to be there. So we want this to be a resource for the business community, but also accessible for students.”
Giampietro said two main goals of the project have been to incorporate computer and wireless technology into every facet of the building, and to provide study and meeting areas for students.

“Over the years, as the college has grown, we’ve really consumed much of the informal gathering space for study and social gatherings,” he said. “One goal of this building is to bring that back.”

Another student-oriented feature is the building’s third-floor “green roof,” a 2,500-square-foot space that will be populated with native ground cover, grasses, and plants – a modern design concept that students in the environmental science program may incorporate into their program of study.

Giampietro added that the roof should attract some of the birds and insects native to the area, as well as reducing water runoff from the building and lessening the environmental impact on a neighboring brook.

“We wanted to introduce as many environmentally friendly components to the building as we could, and this is obviously one of them,” he said. “Our campus is very rural and surrounded by woodlands, so the green roof helps to preserve some of that.”

Investing in the Future

At its heart, however, the Kittredge Business Center is meant to grow area businesses and be a bridge between students and those companies.

That’s a relevant goal, considering that more than 80% of HCC’s students stay in Massachusetts after they graduate, and 65% stay within the Pioneer Valley region, said Erica Broman, vice president for institutional development. And those statistics help explain community support for the college; a $4 million capital campaign ($3 million of which is earmarked for the business center) has raised more than $3.6 million to date, including more than $500,000 from alumni.

“When businesses give a gift to a community college, they see a return on it. It’s not like they’re giving a gift to a larger, private institution where graduates might go off to all regions of the country,” Broman said. “Our alumni, by and large, stay nearby and become employees and customers of these corporations. That’s the strategy we’ve used when approaching businesses, and they’ve responded to it.”

Even though the center’s opening is a few months away, Little and other administrators are moving forward with efforts to market its services to area businesses.

“We’re shaping the message and information now, and we’ll be holding some focus groups to start drawing some feedback from the community,” he said. “Out of that, we’ll deliver the message in a way that will best explain to people the reason for the center and the resources within it.”

The goal of making area businesses stronger and more competitive, while giving HCC’s own students an edge as they enter the work world, is a message that resonates, Little said.

“There will be many opportunities for internships and co-ops, and that experiential learning is critical for students,” he explained. “But it can be just as beneficial to businesses. We’re interested in outcomes.”

Bringing together faculty, students, and business people under one roof – and supplying them with state-of-the-art resources – is the first step to bringing about those positive outcomes, he added.

“There’s no definitive map to this – we’re developing it as we go – but we are centering on the idea of collaboration and cooperation. We are looking to be the resource for area businesses that want to expand their customer base.”

That would mean a brighter future for companies throughout the Pioneer Valley. And if the Kittredge name is known for anything, it’s making the world a little brighter.