Southwick Is Building Momentum — Literally
By Mark Morris
When Whalley Computer Associates in Southwick recently broke ground for a new 85,000-square-foot warehouse and office addition, Doug Moglin said the company was making a statement about its commitment to the town.
“We’ve been operating in Southwick for 44 years, and the new facility represents our investment in the next 25 to 30 years,” said Moglin, vice president for Whalley’s OEM business.
While many of its customers are based in New England, Whalley sells all over the U.S. and internationally. Warehousing is essential because a big part of the business involves acquiring various types of computer equipment from manufacturers, customizing it to clients’ specific needs, and then shipping out the final product. All of that requires space, which can present a challenge. Moglin gave an example of a national retail chain that needed new servers, a case that explains the need for the expansion.
“One day, 8,000 servers showed up to our near-capacity warehouse,” he explained. “And because only eight servers fit on each pallet, it quickly became a math problem.”
The company currently uses warehouse space in Westfield to handle the overflow, but the need keeps growing. For several years, senior managers had discussed building more warehouse capacity on the parcels that surround Whalley’s main facility in Southwick. Supply-chain issues during the pandemic accelerated those discussions.
“Supply-chain reliability is a concern for our customers, so having components on hand is a huge benefit,” Moglin explained. “Having the capacity to hold more inventory brings additional customers to us because, instead of buying direct from manufacturers or companies like ours out of the area, they have a local resource that provides better service and better support.”
Heather Kies, marketing manager for Whalley, called its evolution “a great story of a company that’s growing but still staying in its hometown.”
The Southwick Select Board and the Massachusetts Office of Business Development worked with Whalley to secure a tax-increment financing (TIF) agreement.
Russell Fox, chair of the Select Board and a selectman for most of the past 40 years, said the TIF was well worth the effort to keep the project in Southwick. Under the agreement, Whalley has agreed to add to the 200 workers it currently employs. “The Whalley project is all positive news for Southwick,” Fox said.
“The reconfiguration addresses the concerns of people who don’t want a huge operation. I think it’s a good way to use this industrially zoned parcel.”
In another part of town, the Planning Board is now considering a reconfiguration of the site where a Carvana facility was once proposed but then shot down by residents over concerns of increased traffic along College Highway. Now the same area has been redrawn as five separate lots, with some facing the road and smaller lots positioned in the back of the parcel. Fox sees the new plan as a great compromise.
“The reconfiguration addresses the concerns of people who don’t want a huge operation. I think it’s a good way to use this industrially zoned parcel,” Fox said, adding that, when new businesses occupy that parcel, it will help the town make its case to add a traffic light at the Tannery Road intersection.
Moving forward, the town’s goal is to continue decades of work to create an attractive balance. Fox noted that, while Southwick is known as a recreational community — it is home to the Congamond Lakes, a successful motocross track, and two golf courses — it is also a town that wants and needs to continually grow its business community.
Overall, it strives to be a community where people can play, work, and live, with new housing developments under construction and others set to come off the drawing board, as we’ll see later.
For this, the latest installment of its Community Spotlight series, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at Southwick and how this community on the Connecticut border is building momentum — in all kinds of ways.
Getting Down to Business
A key agenda item at the upcoming Southwick town meeting in May involves bringing fiber optics into town to handle its cable-TV and internet services.
The process involves forming a municipal light plant, which voters approved at a special town meeting last fall. A second vote for the plant will be taken at the May meeting. Fox pointed out that the municipal light plant is an entity in name only. If the second vote is successful, Southwick will begin interviewing firms to install and maintain the fiber-optic network. Whip City Fiber in Westfield will be among the companies under consideration.
“We’re telling all bidders that they must cover the entire town and not just the densely populated neighborhoods; that’s a non-negotiable point,” he said. “We are a community, so everyone must have access.”
The fiber-optic network is considered an important step forward for the community, one that will bring faster, more reliable service to existing residential and business customers, and provide one more selling point as town leaders continue their work to attract more employers, across a wide range of sectors.
The town already boasts a large and growing business community, one that is served by the Greater Westfield Chamber of Commerce, which has increased its membership among Southwick businesses, a sign of growth both in Southwick and in the chamber.
Indeed, last year, the chamber reported 13 members from Southwick, while this year, that number has grown to 20.
Diane DeMarco, owner of Spotlight Graphics in Southwick, is a long-time chamber member. For 10 years, the company has provided area businesses with logo signage, trade-show materials, and graphic vehicle wrapping, among many other services offered.
When COVID hit, Spotlight lost a few clients when it was forced to shut down. Since then, DeMarco reports she has gained back many more clients than she lost. “Business has been very good for us. We have new clients coming on board, and word of mouth about us is spreading.”
She credits customer loyalty through the years thanks to the relationships she and her staff have built. “Our customers aren’t buying their graphics from a company; they are working with Allie, David, or Diane,” she said, listing long-time employees at the business.
In addition to offering full-service, quality work, Spotlight Graphics is a nationally certified Women’s Business Enterprise (WBE) and certified by the state as a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE). DeMarco explained the state designation has led to work from clients who are required to do business with DBE firms as part of their state contract. She described it as a win-win.
“The client is fulfilling their contractual requirement for the state by working with a woman-owned business, and they are getting a quality product at a fair price,” she said.
While DeMarco competes with online graphic firms that offer cheaper prices, she’s not worried because they often can’t match Spotlight’s quality.
Southwick at a glance
Year Incorporated: 1770
Area: 31.7 square miles
Residential Tax Rate: $16.11
Commercial Tax Rate: $16.11
Median Household Income: $52,296
Family Household Income: $64,456
Type of Government: Open Town Meeting; Select Board
Largest Employers: Big Y; Whalley Computer Associates; Southwick Regional School District
*Latest information available
“Sometimes a client will buy an inexpensive retractable banner stand or go for the cheap price on a poster,” she said. “Then, when the stand breaks or the poster is the wrong color, they come to us to get it done right.”
In fact, Spotlight clients can see and touch the quality of banner stands and other graphic materials at its trade-show display room. DeMarco said online and print catalogs provide only an approximate idea of the size and quality of trade-show materials.
“People who are new to trade shows or have to revamp their current displays like to stop by because they can see the actual items they would use and get answers to their questions from our staff.”
No Place Like Home
While its business community continues to grow, Southwick is experiencing residential growth as well.
Indeed, the Greens of Southwick, a housing development located on both sides of College Highway on the former Southwick Country Club property, is nearing completion. With 25 lots on the west side and 38 on the east side, only a handful of parcels remain for this custom-built home development.
Fox appreciated the quality of the homes that added to the number of new residences in Southwick. “The developers did a tremendous job with the houses there,” he said. “The whole project is a real asset to our town.”
Next up for new housing, a 100-unit condominium complex has been approved at Depot and Powder Mill roads. While construction has not yet started, the town has already secured a grant to install sidewalks around the perimeter of the eventual construction. Fox said the sidewalks make sense because the location of the condos is an active area.
“The sidewalk will connect to Whalley Park, the rail trail, the Southwick Recreation Center, and to the schools at the other end of Powder Ridge,” he explained.
In Southwick, much of today’s activity is as much about the future as it is about the present.
As Moglin noted about Whalley Computer’s building addition, “this is not a 2024 investment; this is a 2044 investment, and beyond.”
The same can be said of the fiber-optic network soon to be built, the plans to divide and then develop the site eyed by Carvana, and the many housing projects in various stages of development.
In short, this is a community with expanding horizons, both literally and figuratively.