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Class of 2017 Difference Makers

Steady Course

The Community Colleges of Western Massachusetts

Berkshire Community College, Greenfield Community College,
Holyoke Community College, and Springfield Technical Community College

The region’s community-college presidents

The region’s community-college presidents, from left, Bob Pura, Ellen Kennedy, John Cook, and Christina Royal.

Jeff Hayden had spent more than an hour talking about the critical roles played by community colleges in this region — while also listening to colleagues do the same — and desired to put an exclamation point of sorts on matters with a story about a woman whose case he had come to know first-hand.

She was about to earn a certificate of completion in a specific field from Holyoke Community College (HCC), and had a job interview set for the following week. She still had considerable ground to cover in terms of starting and then forging a new career, but she had a new-found confidence and sense of purpose, and wanted to let HCC officials know that — and know why.

“She said, ‘I’ve been out of work for almost five years; I thought I wasn’t worth anything, I didn’t think I could do anything, and my kids thought I could never do anything,’” Hayden, vice president of Business and Community Services at the school, told BusinessWest. “She went on, ‘the opportunity you’ve given us through this program is something that has not only changed my life, but changed my children’s lives as well.’

“Frankly, those of us at the region’s community colleges hear those stories often, which is great, and it’s a feel-good kind of thing,” Hayden went on. “But it’s one story at a time, and with the power of the four institutions here, it’s thousands of stories a year that happen in our region, where people are changed, and hopefully changed in a way that helps them with their family and with their career.”

Jeff Hayden, seen here with new HCC President Christina Royal

Jeff Hayden, seen here with new HCC President Christina Royal, says community colleges provide a vital pathway to an education, especially for first-generation college students.

With that, Hayden effectively and somewhat concisely explained why the four community colleges serving residents of Western Mass. — HCC, Berkshire Community College (BCC), Greenfield Community College (GCC), and Springfield Technical Community College (STCC) — have been chosen collectively as Difference Makers for 2017.

Through use of those phrases ‘the power of the four institutions’ and ‘thousands of stories,’ he hit upon the real and profound impact of the four schools, which have been making a difference now for almost 60 years in some cases.

Echoing Hayden, Bob Pura, president of GCC, said the community colleges act as both a door of opportunity, especially for those who don’t have many open to them, and a pathway to both careers and four-year degrees at other schools.

And GCC is a perfect example. It is the only institution of higher learning in Franklin County, the poorest and most rural in the state, said Pura, while stressing that point about access to an education, and it has one of the highest rates of transfer to four-year schools among the state’s 15 community colleges.

“I don’t think there is a region in this state better served by community colleges,” said Pura, who stressed the plural and saw the six other people gathered around the table in a classroom at HCC’s Kittredge Center nod their heads in agreement. “We’re the pathway for the infrastructure in our community; the socioeconomic futures of our communities pass through the doors of our collective colleges.”

By ‘better served,’ Pura meant work beyond the schools’ historic mission of providing potentially life-altering opportunities to their students. Indeed, they are also playing important roles in a host of ongoing economic-development initiatives across Western Mass.

HCC’s involvement in the Cubit building project

HCC’s involvement in the Cubit building project in downtown Holyoke is just one example of how community colleges have become forces in economic-development efforts.

In fact, if one were to name a key issue or specific program, one will likely find one of the community colleges involved with it at one level or another.

Start with the region’s workforce. The schools are the proverbial tip of the spear in initiatives ranging from the retraining of manufacturing workers displaced by the decline of that sector to preparing individuals for the myriad jobs in the broad healthcare field that will have to be filled in the years to come; from training area residents for many of the 3,000 or so jobs to be created by the MGM Springfield casino to providing specific help with closing the so-called skills gap now plaguing all sectors of the economy and virtually every business, a problem addressed mostly through a program called TWO, as we’ll see later.

But there are other examples, as well, from STCC’s work to help precision manufacturers build a steady pipeline of talent to BCC’s involvement with efforts to create new opportunities for jobs and vibrancy at the sprawling former General Electric complex in Pittsfield, to HCC’s decision to move its culinary arts program into a mostly vacant former mill building in downtown Holyoke, thus providing the needed anchor for its revitalization.

All of these examples and many more help explain why the region’s community colleges — individually, but especially as a group — are true Difference Makers.

Schools of Thought

Community colleges, formerly known in some states as junior colleges, can trace their history back to 1901 (Joliet Junior College in Illinois is generally considered to be the first).

There are now nearly 1,200 of them enrolling close to 8 million people. They come in all shapes and sizes, some with just a few hundred students and others with enrollment in the tens of thousands.

In the Bay State, community colleges can trace their roots to 1958, when an audit of state needs recommended the establishment of a community-college system to address the need for more diversity and access to higher education in the Commonwealth, which, then as now, has been dominated by a wealth of prestigious (and expensive) private colleges and universities.

The reality is that the mission of a community college — to provide access to excellent education for the local community — is what we do, and we do it in sometimes unique ways. But what we also do is recognize the fact that there are times when shaking the hand and working together is far more effective than trying to go out on our own.”

 

The recommendation was adopted by the Legislature in August of that year, and the accompanying legislation included formation of the Board of Regional Community Colleges, which established nine of the current 15 schools within a five-year period, starting with BCC in 1960.

“We were the first one,” said Ellen Kennedy, president of that Pittsfield-based institution, with a discernable note of pride in her voice, while acknowledging that what is now HCC has a longer history, because that school began as Holyoke Junior College, which opened in 1946.

GCC opened its doors in 1962, and STCC, housed in the historic Springfield Armory complex, which was decommissioned in the mid-’60s, opened amid some controversy — HCC is only eight miles away as the crow flies, and many thought there wasn’t a need for two community colleges that close together — in the fall of 1967.

Today, community colleges in Massachusetts and across the country face a number of common challenges, including smaller high-school graduating classes, which are impacting enrollment; funding levels that are imperiled by dips in the economy and devastated by serious recessions, such as the one that began nearly a decade ago; and graduation rates that are impacted by the many burdens faced by the community-college constituency — everything from finances to life issues (jobs and family) to even transportation.

But overall, community colleges are seeing a surge of sorts. Indeed, amid the soaring costs of a college education and the ever-rising amounts of debt students are being saddled with, the two-year schools are being seen by many as a practical option to at least begin one’s education.

Meanwhile, host cities and regions are becoming more cognizant of their ability to help provide solutions to workforce and other economic-development-related issues and problems.

This is especially true in Western Mass., where many gateway cities, including Springfield, Holyoke, and Pittsfield, are facing stern challenges as they attempt to reinvent themselves and move on from their collective past as industrial centers, and regions (especially Franklin County) face spiraling unemployment, aging populations, and outmigration of young people.

ge-pittsfield-aerial-1946

BCC’s efforts to develop new opportunities for the former GE complex

BCC’s efforts to develop new opportunities for the former GE complex in Pittsfield (in its heyday, above, and today) is another example of community colleges becoming involved in economic-development initiatives.

But at their very core, community colleges are still all about access — that open door that Pura mentioned. They all have what’s known as open admission, meaning anyone who has a high-school diploma or GED must be admitted. But while getting in isn’t a problem, staying in, and hanging in until a diploma or certificate is earned, can be, and often is.

Thus, increasingly, schools have been focusing on that broad, multi-faceted assignment of helping students succeed — with whatever it is they are trying to succeed at.

There are many elements that go into this equation, said those we spoke with, from programs focused on basics, including language skills, to new degree and certificate programs to meet specific industry needs, to a host of partnerships with area four-year schools that include not only articulation agreements but efforts to bring those schools’ programs onto the community-college campuses to help those facing time and transportation issues.

Meeting this role, this mission, makes the community colleges unique in the pantheon of higher education, and even public higher education. It is a niche, if you will, or, for many, including those we spoke with, a career path they’ve chosen for any of several reasons, but often because they can relate to the students in their charge.

Such is the case with Christina Royal, the recently named president of HCC, who is so new to the role she chose to let others, like Hayden, speak about the school’s history and specific current projects while she got fully up to speed.

But in a candid interview with BusinessWest upon her arrival, she said that, when she went to Marist College, a private liberal-arts school in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., she was the first in her family to attend college, and it was a struggle for the family to send her there.

So she understands what community-college students are up against, and chose that constituency, if you will, as the one she wanted to serve.

“The experience of community colleges — dealing with a lot of first-generation college students who don’t always understand the value of what they’re doing and also how to navigate it to be successful — these are things I can relate to from my own background,” she said. “And I think that has created a connection with the community colleges for me and helps me understand the students we serve. I’ve found a home in the community-college system.”

The original faculty and staff at STCC

The original faculty and staff at STCC pose in front of the old officers’ quarters at the Springfield Armory. The school was created in 1967 to focus on preparing students for careers in technology-related fields.

John Cook, who succeeded Ira Rubenzahl as president of STCC last summer, is similarly attracted to the community-college mission and unique role.

Formerly the vice president of Academic Affairs at Manchester (N.H.) Community College, he cast a wide net when seeking opportunities to lead a school, but was specifically focused on community colleges, which, he said, have a direct role in serving their communities (hence that middle name for all these institutions) and their residents, not employers across the country or halfway around the world, as the major private institutions do.

Pura agreed. “The students who come to our colleges are those who stay here,” he explained. “They’re the ones who will run the ice cream shop and the small nonprofit, and they’re going to be part of the leadership for our hospitals.”

The Jobs at Hand

Beyond providing access and pathways to opportunities, however, the region’s community colleges have become increasingly larger role players in area workforce and other economic-development-related initiatives.

Such roles are natural, said Cook, noting that the schools pride themselves on being nimble, responsive, and, overall, good listeners when it comes to the community — including the business community — expressing specific concerns and needs.

And while such programs solve problems for businesses, the communities they’re based in, and the region as a whole, said Bill Fogarty, HCC’s vice president for Administration and Finance, who served as interim president until Royal arrived, they also benefit individuals who may or may not have a job, but instead need a career.

“All of our capital investments, whether it’s the new Center for Health Education or the Cubit Building and the culinary center, or any of the others, have been geared toward getting people in the door,” he explained, “and getting them a basic type of credential they can use, and then providing pathways so they can further their education.”

Examples of economic-development-related initiatives that are also creating opportunities for individuals abound, and we’ll start with BCC, which has been active in efforts to help that region move past the huge shadow left by GE and other elements of a manufacturing-based economy, said Bill Mulholland.

He recently retired after a lengthy career at BCC, most recently as vice president of Community Education and Workforce Development, a title that speaks volumes about the work he was involved with in recent years. And as he started talking about that work, he referenced a Berkshire Eagle headline — “High-paying Jobs Going Unfilled” — from January 1998.

Upon reading it, he called Pura and invited him to lunch, at which there was broad discussion that eventually led to creation of something called the Berkshire Applied Technology Council.

“This is an industry-driven organization focused on workforce development,” Mulholland explained. “As we got all the companies together, we said, ‘what are your biggest needs?’ And when we boiled it all down, the commonality was basic math, writing, all of the basic skills.”

That’s where organizers started with a program that would be called (here comes that word again) Pathways, he went on, adding that the initiative effectively checks many of the boxes community colleges are trying to check, including direct involvement with businesses, providing individuals with the basic skills needed to contend for jobs and careers, working in collaboration with other community colleges and other partners, and creating progress with efforts to keep young people from migrating out of the region.

Another very specific example is the college’s involvement in the work to create an advanced manufacturing facility (the Berkshire Innovation Center) that will become the centerpiece of the William Stanley Business Park, created on the former GE site. Specifically, the school is developing training programs for individuals that will be employed by companies based there.

“What’s significant about this, for us and for the Commonwealth, is that we’re reinventing our manufacturing,” he said. “It’s about high-technology capabilities; so many of the original equipment manufacturers are outsourcing up to 70% to small and mid-sized enterprises because we’re quick, we’re nimble, and we innovate. That’s the focus of the innovation center, and it’s more about the human capital now than it is about the equipment, although that’s important as well.”

Human capital, and creating more of it, is at the heart of many BCC initiatives, he went on, adding that the school is also involved with efforts to bolster the creative economy that is becoming a force across Berkshire County and especially a revitalized Pittsfield, as well as the tourism industry that has always been a pillar.

As examples, he cited a filmmaking course designed to help provide trained individuals for the many film companies and special-effects houses that now call that region home, and also a special customer-service course for those seeking to enter the hospitality industry.

Manufacturing Momentum

Meanwhile, at GCC, manufacturing is also a prime focus, said Pura, adding that the region has lost a number of large employers in this sector over the past several decades and is intent on both retaining the companies that remain and attracting new ones.

To this end, a manufacturing collaborative was formed involving the college, employers such as Yankee Candle and Valley Steel Stamp, the Regional Employment Board, career centers, and area high school.

“What became clear was that we needed to invest in our infrastructure; facilities were very antiquated,” said Alyce Stile, dean of Workforce Development and Community Education (same title as Mulholland) at GCC, adding that, with $250,000 in seed money from many of the employers and grant money attained as a result of that investment, Franklin County Technical School has been transformed into a state-of-the-art facility.

With that foundation, GCC was able to start its first adult-education evening program — one firmly focused on the basics — with the help of considerable feedback from STCC, BCC, and other partners.

No, the region’s community college presidents have not been reassigned

No, the region’s community college presidents have not been reassigned. They’re merely using some artistic license to display a pattern of cooperation and collaboration that is only growing.

To date, more than 100 students have gone through the program, said Stiles, with the even better news being an employment rate of more than 80%.

Other recent initiatives have included a nursing ladder program designed to put more individuals in that important pipeline, and also a comprehensive study of just what area employees want and need from the workers of today and tomorrow. The results were not exactly surprising, but they were enlightening.

“Employers made it clear that what’s needed are the communication skills, the ability to critically think through and problem-solve in an innovative way, and the ability to work well with other people,” he explained, adding that a panel comprised of area employers ranging from Herrell’s Ice Cream to Baystate Franklin Medical Center recently emphasized these needs and discussed the next critical step — programming to help ensure workers possess these skills.

In Hampden County, meanwhile, initiatives involving the two community colleges there have generated considerably more press, and, like those in the other regions, have involved high levels of collaboration between the schools and a wide variety of other partners.

At the top of the list, perhaps, is TWO (Training and Workforce Options), a joint effort between STCC and HCC that provides custom contract training for area businesses and industry-sector collaborations.

To date, TWO has created training programs for call centers and customer-service workers, manufacturing production technicians, hospitality and culinary positions, home-health-aide workers, and healthcare-sector employees who need to become versed in the recently introduced medical coding system known as ICD-10, among others.

Another collaborative effort, this one involving all the community colleges, is the Mass. Casino Careers Training Institute, which, as that name suggests, is designed to help area residents become qualified for many of the positions that MGM Springfield — or any of the other casinos to open in the Commonwealth — will need to fill.

Other specific examples range from STCC’s involvement with CRRC, the Chinese company that will soon be building subway cars in Springfield’s East End, to secure a trained workforce, to HCC’s investment in Holyoke’s Innovation District through the Cubit project.

Degrees of Progress

As the presidents of the region’s four community colleges posed for some photographs for this piece, they each gathered up their respective school’s pennant, in a colorful, pride-nurturing exercise in effective identification.

Then, as a bit of fun, Pura had them shuffle the deck, if you will. This drill yielded some laughs and intriguing facial expressions, but also some symbolism if one chooses to look for it and accept it.

Indeed, while the schools remain immensely proud of their histories and track records for excellence, and do compete on a number of levels — for students, in some cases, and on all sorts of playing fields, especially — they also collaborate, and in ways that are often changing the local landscape.

It wasn’t always this way, especially when it came to HCC and STCC, mostly because of their proximity to one another and often-overlapping programs. But this spirit is certainly in evidence now, and the obvious reason is that the schools have realized that they can do more for the region by working together than by trying to do it alone, often with parallel initiatives.

“The reality is that the mission of a community college — to provide access to excellent education for the local community — is what we do, and we do it in sometimes unique ways,” said Hayden. “But what we also do is recognize the fact that there are times when shaking the hand and working together is far more effective than trying to go out on our own.”

Maybe the best example of both sides of this equation is the TWO program. Prior to its formation, the schools went about trying to forge skills-gap solutions themselves, and would often “bump into each other,” as he put it.

“It was not uncommon for a business owner to say, ‘Jeff, you’re here … but the guy from STCC was here last week,’ or vice versa,” he explained. “What we’ve recognized through some of these partnerships is that we need to work together; it’s better for the customer, it’s better for the student, and it’s better for the business.”

The effectiveness of that particular collaboration caught the attention of the Boston Foundation, which awarded the two schools the inaugural Deval Patrick Award for Community Colleges in 2015 (it came with a $50,000 unrestricted grant that they split), and in many ways it serves as an example of what other schools can do together — if they are so inclined.

The Mass. Casino Careers Training Institute, which will train workers for MGM Springfield

The Mass. Casino Careers Training Institute, which will train workers for MGM Springfield (see here in this rendering) and other casinos, is another workforce initiative involving the region’s community colleges.

“In the Boston market, they’re still really trying to figure out how to put such partnerships in place,” Hayden went on. “We talk about how we’re eight miles away from STCC or 21 miles away from Greenfield or 58 miles or whatever it is from Berkshire, but in Boston, you have four community colleges that could almost throw rocks at one another, and they can learn from this.

“The establishment of that kind of collaboration was more common sense than anything else,” he went on. “Why duplicate efforts? Why waste resources? Why not work together?”

There are countless other examples of this mindset, said Mulholland, who cited BCC’s addition of a medical-coding program.

“Our local health system said, ‘we’re going to ICD-10 — we need help here,’” he recalled. “We picked up the phone and called STCC, and we had the curriculum in no time. We were able to put it in and met the system’s needs in ways we never could have without partnering like that.”

Such partnering continues on many levels, and the schools are constantly looking for new ways to forge collaborations, said Cook, adding that he was calling and texting Royal within days of her arrival on Jan. 9 to initiate such discussions and continue a legacy of cooperation that has been handed down to the two of them.
“We have an obligation to do well by that tradition of cooperation,” he said. “It’s good for our schools, and it’s good for this region.”

Course of Action

Hayden said he doesn’t make a habit of it, but once in a while he will allow himself to think about what it would be like if HCC did not exist in that city.

It’s a whimsical exercise, but a nonetheless important one, he said, adding that, while some schools provide jobs, vibrancy, and a boost to service-related businesses in the city or town they call home, community colleges have an impact that runs much deeper. And it goes back to those words he and others would use early and quite often — ‘door’ and ‘pathway.’

Pura agreed, and to further the point, he summoned a comment he attributes to Allen Davis, former director of GCC’s foundation, and one he relates often.

“He said, ‘if Amherst College were to close, those students would find somewhere else to go; if GCC were to close, it would devastate this community,’” noted Pura. “And I think you can say that about all four of our institutions; if you were to close any of them, students would come to dead ends.”

The community colleges have instead made it their mission to provide inroads to better lives. And their success with that mission makes them more than worthy of the title of Difference Maker.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — The Springfield Central Cultural District (SCCD) and Springfield Business Improvement District will jointly present a “Plug Into the Creative Valley” networking event on Tuesday, May 10 from 6 to 8 p.m.

The event will feature music by renowned jazz pianist Jim Argiro in the lobby/gallery of 1350 Main Street. He will be joined by a bassist for the event. Evan Plotkin of City Mosaic will give a few sneak-peek details about the upcoming Jazz and Roots Festival, to be officially announced on May 17.

Artists, creatives, businesspeople, and others are invited to attend this event to connect in a unique and relaxed setting. Food and drink will be provided, and admission is free. The organizers believe providing a welcoming environment for networking is necessary to support the local creative economy.

“This event is important for us to host because it offers an outlet for those often left out of networking events, folks who are working on their own out of their homes or studios, and helps them make connections to other local artists and business people,” said SCCD Director Morgan Drewniany. “If nothing else, the music will be spectacular.”

The Springfield Central Cultural District encompasses an area of the metro center of Springfield, and is membership-based, involving many of the downtown arts institutions. Its mission is to create and sustain a vibrant cultural environment in Springfield.

More details on the May 10 event can be found at facebook.com/springfieldculture. Any questions can be directed to Drewniany at [email protected] or (413) 781-1592.

Chamber Corners Departments

AMHERST AREA CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.amherstarea.com

(413) 253-0700

• May 11: After 5, 5-7 p.m., Amherst Golf Club, 365 South Pleasant St., Amherst. The club will be running some fun-filled activities that evening, including a 50/50 putting contest, and attendees will receive a voucher for a free round of golf. Established in 1900, the semi-private Amherst Golf Club is owned by Amherst College and run independently by an incorporated community group of dedicated golfers. The 9-hole layout, which tests all skill levels, was designed by Walter Hatch, an assistant of the famed Donald Ross, and later renovated by Geoffrey Cornish. Cost: $10 for chamber members, $15 for non-members.

GREATER CHICOPEE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.chicopeechamber.org

(413) 594-2101

• May 18: Salute Breakfast, 7:15-9 a.m., Elms College, 291 Springfield St., Chicopee. Cost: $23 for members, $28 for non-members.

• May 20: Golf Tournament at Chicopee Country Club, 10 a.m. start. Cost: $125 per golfer, $600 corporate green sponsorship includes a foursome and exclusive green sponsorship.

• May 21: New York City bus trip. A day on your own in the city. Bus leaves at 7 a.m. and returns at 9:30 p.m. Cost: $55 per person.

• May 25: Business After Hours, 5-7 p.m., Loomis House, 298 Jarvis Ave., Holyoke. Cost: $10 for members pre-registered, $15 for non-members. Sign up online at www.chicopeechamber.org.

GREATER EASTHAMPTON CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.easthamptonchamber.org

(413) 527-9414

• May 7: Downtown Cleanup Day, 8 a.m. to noon. General cleanup of downtown, the Rail Trail, Cottage Street municipal parking lot, the banks of the Nashawannuck Pond, and more. Volunteers are needed. No experience is necessary. Register at (413) 527-9414.

• May 12: Networking by Night, 5-7 p.m., Amy’s Place. To register, call the chamber at (413) 527-9414.

• May 19: Medallion Speaker Forum, noon to 1:30 p.m. “The Affordable Care Act: The Legal Twists & Turns.” Attorney Eilin Gaynor of Health New England helps employers, business owners, and entrepreneurs navigate the legalities of this important piece of legislation. Complete Payroll Services shares what it means from an accounting perspective. Space is limited for this member exclusive opportunity. Cost: $20, which includes a boxed lunch. For more information, call the chamber at (413) 527-9414.

GREATER HOLYOKE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.holyokechamber.com

(413) 534-3376

• May 16: Annual Chamber Cup Golf Tournament celebrating the chamber’s 125th anniversary, Wyckoff Country Club, 233 Easthampton Road, Holyoke. Registration and lunch at 10:30 a.m., tee off at noon (scramble format), dinner following game with assorted food stations. Cost: $125 per player includes lunch, 18 holes of golf, cart, and dinner. Dinner only: $25. Awards, raffles, and cash prizes follow dinner. Corporate sponsors: Dowd Insurance, Goss & McLain Insurance Agency, Holyoke Gas & Electric, Loomis Communities, Marcotte Ford, Mountain View Landscapes, Northeast IT Systems Inc., Holyoke Medical Center, and Resnic, Beauregard, Waite & Driscoll. For reservations or sponsorships, call the chamber office at (413) 534-3376 or visit holyokechamber.com.

• May 18: Chamber After Hours, 5-7 p.m., hosted and sponsored by Quality Life Adult Day Services, 18 Elm St., Holyoke (behind the South Street Shopping Center). Join friends and colleagues for this fun and casual evening of networking. Tours of the new facility will be available. Cost: $10 for chamber members, $15 for non-members and walk-ins.

GREATER NORTHAMPTON CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.explorenorthampton.com

(413) (413) 584-1900

• May 11: Arrive @ 5, 5-7 p.m., hosted by Coldwell Banker Upton-Massamont Realtors at Emerson Way. Arrive when you can, stay as long as you can. A casual mix and mingle with colleagues and friends. Sponsored by Greenfield Savings Bank, Lia Honda, Thornes Marketplace & Emerson Way, and Montessori School of Northampton.

GREATER WESTFIELD CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.westfieldbiz.org

(413) 568-1618

• May 2: Mayor’s Coffee Hour with Mayor Brian Sullivan, the Arbors Assisted Living Residential Communities, 40 Court St., Westfield. Event is free and open to the public. To register or for more information, call the chamber office at (413) 568-1618.

• May 9: Workshop: “What to Save and What to Shred?” at Holiday Inn Express, 39 Southampton Road, Westfield. Registration and networking at 8:30 a.m., followed by workshop from 9 to 10 a.m. Attorney Karina Schrengohst of Royal, P.C. will present an informational seminar providing an overview of state and federal record-keeping requirements. The discussion will cover which records must be saved, where records must be kept, and how long records must be retained pursuant to a variety of employment laws. Cost: free for chamber members, $30 for non-members. To register, call the chamber office at (413) 568-1618.

• May 11: After 5 Connection, 5-7 p.m., Bella Medspa, 3 Court St., Westfield. Don’t miss out on this opportunity to network, and bring your business cards. Refreshments will be served. Cost: $10 for members, $15 for non-members. To register, call the chamber office at (413) 568-1618.

• May 23: Greater Westfield Chamber of Commerce 55th annual Golf Tournament, East Mountain Country Club, 1458 East Mountain Road, Westfield. Registration and lunch, 10 a.m.; shotgun start, 11 a.m.; cocktail hour, 4 p.m.; dinner, 5 p.m. Cost: $500 for a foursome with dinner, or register a single player for $125. Title sponsor: Alternative Health Inc. Premium gift sponsor: Westfield Gas and Electric. Ball sponsor: Westfield Gas and Electric. Cart sponsor: Westfield Bank. Goody-bag sponsor: Liptak Emergency Water Removal. Register by calling the chamber office at (413) 568-1618 or e-mailing [email protected] Consider donating a raffle prize or a gift for the wine and spirit table raffle.

SPRINGFIELD REGIONAL CHAMBER

www.myonlinechamber.com

(413) 787-1555

• May 4: Springfield Regional Chamber [email protected], 7:15-9 a.m., Lyman and Merrie Wood Museum of Natural History, Springfield Museums, 21 Edwards St., Springfield. “The Creative Economy” panel discussion with Helena Fruscio, deputy assistant secretary of Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Technology; and Jeffrey Bianchine, Holyoke Creative Economy coordinator. Sponsored by United Personnel and the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County. Cost: $20 for members in advance ($25 at the door), $30 for non-members. Reservations may be made online at www.springfieldregionalchamber.com.

• May 11: Springfield Regional Chamber Economic Breakfast, 7:15-9 a.m., MassMutual Center, 1277 State St., Springfield. “Creating a Western Massachusetts Renaissance” discussion with John Traynor, People’s United Bank; Rick Sullivan, Western Mass. Economic Development Council; and Dr. Mark Keroack, Baystate Health, moderated by David Hobert, People’s United Bank. Panelists will discuss the Massachusetts economy, local economic-development initiatives, how the region can capitalize on its existing assets, the role of the healthcare sector, and more. Sponsored by People’s United Bank. Cost: $35. Reservations may be made online at www.springfieldregionalchamber.com.

• May 18: Springfield Regional Chamber Kick Off to Summer After 5, 5-7 p.m., Colony Club, 1500 Main St., Springfield. Informal, after-hours networking. Sponsored by Wolf & Company, P.C. Cost: $5 for members, $10 for non-members. Reservations may be made online at www.springfieldregionalchamber.com.

• May 24: Springfield Regional Chamber Pastries, Politics & Policy, 9-10 a.m., TD Bank Conference Center, 1441 Main St., Springfield. Featuring state Secretary of Administration and Finance Kristen Lepore. Cost: $15 for members, $25 for non-members. Reservations may be made online at www.springfieldregionalchamber.com.

WEST OF THE RIVER CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.ourwrc.com

(413) 426-3880

• May 4: Wicked Wednesday, 5:30-7:30 p.m., Park Square Realty 470 Westfield St., West Springfield. Wicked Wednesdays are monthly social events, hosted by various businesses and restaurants, that bring members and non-members together to network in a laid-back atmosphere. Cost: free for chamber members, $10 at the door for non-members. For more information, contact the chamber office at (413) 426-3880 or e-mail [email protected]

• May 10: Coffee with Mayor Reichelt, 8-9:30 a.m., West Springfield Senior Center, 128 Park St. Join us for a cup of coffee and a town update from Mayor Will Reichelt. Q&A will immediately follow. For more information, contact the chamber office at (413) 426-3880 or e-mail [email protected]

• May 19: West of the River Chamber of Commerce Networking Lunch, noon to 1:30 p.m., Cal’s Wood Fired Grill, 1068 Riverdale St., West Springfield. Enjoy a sit-down lunch while networking with fellow chamber members. You must be a member or guest of a member to attend. Each attendee will get a chance to offer a brief sales pitch. The only cost to attend is the cost of your lunch. Attendees will order off the menu and pay separately the day of the event. For more information, contact the chamber office at (413) 426-3880 or e-mail [email protected]

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — The Springfield Regional Chamber’s May [email protected] on Wednesday, May 4 will feature a panel discussion on the creative economy and honor local businesses and organizations. The event will take place at the Lyman and Merrie Woof Museum of Natural History, 21 Edwards St., Springfield, from 7:15 to 9 a.m.

Panelists include Helena Fruscio, the state’s deputy assistant secretary of Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Technology; Jeffrey Bianchine; creative economy industries coordinator, city of Holyoke; and Steve Porter, founder of Porterhouse Media. There will be salutes to Glenn Welch, the new CEO and president of Freedom Credit Union; and to Ronald McDonald House of Springfield for its 25th anniversary.

Chamber Corners Departments

AMHERST AREA CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.amherstarea.com

(413) 253-0700

• May 11: After 5, 5-7 p.m., Amherst Golf Club, 365 South Pleasant St., Amherst. The club will be running some fun-filled activities that evening, including a 50/50 putting contest, and attendees will receive a voucher for a free round of golf. Established in 1900, the semi-private Amherst Golf Club is owned by Amherst College and run independently by an incorporated community group of dedicated golfers. The 9-hole layout, which tests all skill levels, was designed by Walter Hatch, an assistant of the famed Donald Ross, and later renovated by Geoffrey Cornish. Cost: $10 for chamber members, $15 for non-members.

EAST OF THE RIVER CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.erc5.com

(413) 575-7230

• April 19: ERC5 Feast in the East, 5:30-7:30 p.m., Twin Hills Country Club, 700 Wolf Swamp Road, Longmeadow. Come sample dishes from area restaurants and have a chance to vote in for the coveted People Choice award. There will be ample time to mingle and network in a fun, relaxed atmosphere. Silver spoon sponsor: the Republican. Restaurant Sponsors: CMD Technology Group Inc., Freedom Credit Union, the Gaudreau Group, Glenmeadow Retirement Community, JGS Lifecare, Life Care Center of Wilbraham, NUVO Bank & Trust Co., and Robert Charles Photography. Cost: $25.

GREATER CHICOPEE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.chicopeechamber.org
(413) 594-2101

• April 20: April Salute Breakfast, 7:15-9 a.m., La Quinta Inn & Suites, 100 Congress St., Springfield. Cost: $23 for members, $28 for non-members.

• April 21: Mornings with the Mayor, 8-9 a.m., Polish National Credit Union, 46 Main St., Chicopee. Free for all chamber members.

• May 18: Salute Breakfast, 7:15-9 a.m., Elms College, 291 Springfield St., Chicopee. Cost: $23 for members, $28 for non-members.

• May 20: Golf Tournament at Chicopee Country Club, 10 a.m. start. Cost: $125 per golfer, $600 corporate green sponsorship includes a foursome and exclusive green sponsorship.

• May 21: New York City bus trip. A day on your own in the city. Bus leaves at 7 a.m. and returns at 9:30 p.m. Cost: $55 per person.

• May 25: Business After Hours, 5-7 p.m., Loomis House, 298 Jarvis Ave., Holyoke. Cost: $10 for members pre-registered, $15 for non-members. Sign up online at www.chicopeechamber.org.

GREATER EASTHAMPTON CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.easthamptonchamber.org

(413) 527-9414

• April 29: Legislative Luncheon on Tourism, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., the Log Cabin, 500 Easthampton St., Holyoke. The Greater Holyoke and the Greater Easthampton chambers are teaming up to present an opportunity to discuss local tourism with keynote speakers Mary Kay Wydra, president, Greater Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau; MGM Springfield President Michael Mathis; and Seth Stratton, vide president and general council, MGM Springfield. State Sen. Eric Lesser, chair of the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts & Culture Development, will speak to what’s happening at the state level. Sponsored by Resnic, Beauregard, Waite and Driscoll. Cost: $30 for members, $35 for non-members, which includes lunch. To register, call (413) 527-9414 or visit www.easthamptonchamber.com.

• May 7: Downtown Cleanup Day, 8 a.m. to noon. General cleanup of downtown, the Rail Trail, Cottage Street municipal parking lot, the banks of the Nashawannuck Pond, and more. Volunteers are needed. No experience is necessary. Volunteers will meet at the Easthampton Chamber of Commerce to receive their assignments. Register at (413) 527-9414.

• May 12: Networking by Night, 5-7 p.m., Amy’s Place. To register, call the chamber at (413) 527-9414.

• May 19: Medallion Speaker Forum, noon to 1:30 p.m. “The Affordable Care Act: The Legal Twists & Turns.” Attorney Eilin Gaynor of Health New England helps employers, business owners, and entrepreneurs navigate the legalities of this important piece of legislation. Complete Payroll Services shares what it means from an accounting perspective. Space is limited for this member exclusive opportunity. Cost: $20, which includes a boxed lunch. For more information, call the chamber at (413) 527-9414.

GREATER HOLYOKE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.holyokechamber.com

(413) 534-3376

• April 29: Legislative Luncheon on Tourism, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., the Log Cabin, 500 Easthampton St., Holyoke. The Greater Holyoke and the Greater Easthampton chambers are teaming up to present an opportunity to discuss local tourism with keynote speakers Mary Kay Wydra, president, Greater Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau; MGM Springfield President Michael Mathis; and Seth Stratton, vide president and general council, MGM Springfield. State Sen. Eric Lesser, chair of the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts & Culture Development, will speak to what’s happening at the state level. Sponsored by Resnic, Beauregard, Waite and Driscoll. Cost: $30 for members, $35 for non-members, which includes lunch. To register, call the chamber office at (413) 534-3376 or visit holyokechamber.com.

• May 16: Annual Chamber Cup Golf Tournament celebrating the chamber’s 125th anniversary, Wyckoff Country Club, 233 Easthampton Road, Holyoke. Registration and lunch at 10:30 a.m., tee off at noon (scramble format), dinner following game with assorted food stations. Cost: $125 per player includes lunch, 18 holes of golf, cart, and dinner. Dinner only: $25. Awards, raffles, and cash prizes follow dinner. Corporate sponsors: Dowd Insurance, Goss & McLain Insurance Agency, Holyoke Gas & Electric, Loomis Communities, Marcotte Ford, Mountain View Landscapes, Northeast IT Systems Inc., Holyoke Medical Center, and Resnic, Beauregard, Waite & Driscoll. For reservations or sponsorships, call the chamber office at (413) 534-3376 or visit holyokechamber.com.

• May 18: Chamber After Hours, 5-7 p.m., hosted and sponsored by Quality Life Adult Day Services, 18 Elm St., Holyoke (behind the South Street Shopping Center). Join friends and colleagues for this fun and casual evening of networking. Tours of the new facility will be available. Cost: $10 for chamber members, $15 for non-members and walk-ins.

GREATER NORTHAMPTON CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.explorenorthampton.com

(413) 584-1900

• April 22: Workshop: “Waste Reduction & Energy Efficiency,” 9:30-11 a.m., Center for EcoTechnology, 320 Riverside Dr., Northampton. Waste reduction and energy-efficiency upgrades can save your business money. This workshop will cover incentives, benefits, and options to green your business. Learn from case studies of other local businesses that have started waste-diversion programs or installed energy-efficiency improvements. RSVP required, and space is limited. To register, contact Cate Foley at [email protected] or (413) 586-7350, ext. 240.

GREATER WESTFIELD CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.westfieldbiz.org

(413) 568-1618

• April 18: “The Painkiller Epidemic: Legal Implications of Prescription Drug Use in the Workplace,” 8:30-10 a.m., Holiday Inn Express, 39 Southampton Road, Westfield. Prescription drug use in the workplace is on the rise. From an employer’s perspective, employees who are abusing prescription medication tend to be less productive, less reliable, prone to absenteeism, a greater safety risk, and create unnecessary costs, burdens, and liabilities to the company. Royal, P.C. will present an informational seminar that will address some of the most common areas employers express uncertainty and concern about, including maintaining a safe workplace, enforcing drug-free workplace policies and conducting drug testing, and the risk of disability-discrimination claims. Light refreshments will be served. Cost: free for chamber members, $30 for non-members.

• April 26: Sixth annual Southwick Home & Business Show, 4:30-7 p.m., Southwick Town Hall, 454 College Highway. The Greater Westfield Chamber of Commerce is once again partnering with the Southwick Economic Development Commission on this tabletop event to promote Southwick businesses. Cost to display: $25 per business (Southwick businesses only). Registration form and payment due by April 11. The event is free and open to the public. Questions can be e-mailed to [email protected], or leave a message at (413) 304-6100.

• May 2: Mayor’s Coffee Hour with Mayor Brian Sullivan, the Arbors Assisted Living Residential Communities, 40 Court St., Westfield. Event is free and open to the public. To register or for more information, call the chamber office at (413) 568-1618.

• May 9: Workshop: “What to Save and What to Shred?” at Holiday Inn Express, 39 Southampton Road, Westfield. Registration and networking at 8:30 a.m., followed by workshop from 9 to 10 a.m. Attorney Karina Schrengohst of Royal, P.C. will present an informational seminar providing an overview of state and federal record-keeping requirements. The discussion will cover which records must be saved, where records must be kept, and how long records must be retained pursuant to a variety of employment laws. Cost: free for chamber members, $30 for non-members. To register, call the chamber office at (413) 568-1618.

• May 11: After 5 Connection, 5-7 p.m., Bella Medspa, 3 Court St., Westfield. Don’t miss out on this opportunity to network, and bring your business cards. Refreshments will be served. Cost: $10 for members, $15 for non-members. To register, call the chamber office at (413) 568-1618.

• May 23: Greater Westfield Chamber of Commerce 55th annual Golf Tournament, East Mountain Country Club, 1458 East Mountain Road, Westfield. Registration and lunch, 10 a.m.; shotgun start, 11 a.m.; cocktail hour, 4 p.m.; dinner, 5 p.m. Cost: $500 for a foursome with dinner, or register a single player for $125. Title sponsor: Alternative Health Inc. Premium gift sponsor: Westfield Gas and Electric. Ball sponsor: Westfield Gas and Electric. Cart sponsor: Westfield Bank. Goody-bag sponsor: Liptak Emergency Water Removal. Register by calling the chamber office at (413) 568-1618 or e-mailing [email protected] Consider donating a raffle prize or a gift for the wine and spirit table raffle.

SPRINGFIELD REGIONAL CHAMBER

www.myonlinechamber.com

(413) 787-1555

• April 27: Beacon Hill Summit, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Massachusetts State House. Co-hosted by state Sen. James Welch and state Rep. Angelo Puppolo Jr. Day-long opportunity to meet with members of the Baker-Polito administration and the Massachusetts delegation. Sponsored by Comcast and WWLP-TV 22, presented in partnership with the East of the River Five Town Chamber of Commerce, and supported by the Greater Holyoke Chamber of Commerce. Cost: $180 per person, which includes continental breakfast, transportation, lunch, reception, and all materials. Reservations may be made online at www.springfieldregionalchamber.com.

• May 4: Springfield Regional Chamber [email protected], 7:15-9 a.m., Lyman and Merrie Wood Museum of Natural History, Springfield Museums, 21 Edwards St., Springfield. “The Creative Economy” panel discussion with Helena Fruscio, deputy assistant secretary of Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Technology; and Jeffrey Bianchine, Holyoke Creative Economy coordinator. Sponsored by United Personnel and the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County. Cost: $20 for members in advance ($25 at the door), $30 for non-members. Reservations may be made online at www.springfieldregionalchamber.com.

• May 11: Springfield Regional Chamber Economic Breakfast, 7:15-9 a.m., MassMutual Center, 1277 State St., Springfield. “Creating a Western Massachusetts Renaissance” discussion with John Traynor, People’s United Bank; Rick Sullivan, Western Mass. Economic Development Council; and Dr. Mark Keroack, Baystate Health, moderated by David Hobert, People’s United Bank. Panelists will discuss the Massachusetts economy, how communities across the Commonwealth can work together to create a broader and more robust economy, local economic-development initiatives at work in Western Mass., how the region can capitalize on its existing assets and develop its growth engines, and the important role the healthcare sector plays in developing centers of excellence for future growth. Sponsored by People’s United Bank. Cost: $35. Reservations may be made online at www.springfieldregionalchamber.com.

May 18: Springfield Regional Chamber Kick Off to Summer After 5, 5-7 p.m., Colony Club, 1500 Main St., Springfield. Informal, after-hours networking. Sponsored by Wolf & Company, P.C. Cost: $5 for members, $10 for non-members. Reservations may be made online at www.springfieldregionalchamber.com.

• May 24: Springfield Regional Chamber Pastries, Politics & Policy, 9-10 a.m., TD Bank Conference Center, 1441 Main St., Springfield. Featuring state Secretary of Administration and Finance Kristen Lepore. Cost: $15 for members, $25 for non-members. Reservations may be made online at www.springfieldregionalchamber.com.

WEST OF THE RIVER CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

www.ourwrc.com

(413) 426-3880

• May 4: Wicked Wednesday, 5:30-7:30 p.m., Park Square Realty 470 Westfield St., West Springfield. Wicked Wednesdays are monthly social events, hosted by various businesses and restaurants, that bring members and non-members together to network in a laid-back atmosphere. Cost: free for chamber members, $10 at the door for non-members. For more information, contact the chamber office at (413) 426-3880 or e-mail [email protected].

• May 10: Coffee with Mayor Reichelt, 8-9:30 a.m., West Springfield Senior Center, 128 Park St. Join us for a cup of coffee and a town update from Mayor Will Reichelt. Q&A will immediately follow. For more information, contact the chamber office at (413) 426-3880 or e-mail [email protected].

• May 19: West of the River Chamber of Commerce Networking Lunch, noon to 1:30 p.m., Cal’s Wood Fired Grill, 1068 Riverdale St., West Springfield. Enjoy a sit-down lunch while networking with fellow chamber members. You must be a member or guest of a member to attend. Each attendee will get a chance to offer a brief sales pitch. The only cost to attend is the cost of your lunch. Attendees will order off the menu and pay separately the day of the event. We cannot invoice you for these events.
 For more information, contact the chamber office at (413) 426-3880 or e-mail [email protected].

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight

Marcos Marrero

Marcos Marrero stands across the lower canal from a planned condo project that he says will offer “beachfront property.”

As he talked about Holyoke and the broad economic-development plan he put in place for it when he became mayor just over four years ago, Alex Morse listed a number of key strategic planks in that platform.

They include everything from improving and broadening the housing stock, especially with market-rate options that would attract young professionals, to programs that would encourage entrepreneurship; from public investments aimed at spurring private development to a focus on expanding the creative economy; from public-private partnerships to bolstering the hospitality industry.

And for evidence of progress in all those realms, he pointed (figuratively, although he could also have done so literally from a window in his office in City Hall) to the many developments taking place on — or that can been seen from — Race Street.

Indeed, that north-south artery that runs along what’s known as the lower canal in this gateway city, famous for its legacy of paper making, represents a microcosm of the progress Holyoke has seen in recent years, said Morse, and the promise it holds for the future.

Along a three-block stretch, one can see perhaps the best example of the creative economy in motion in the Gateway City Arts venture, a mixed-use property that will soon feature a new restaurant. Moving south, one encounters the aptly named Cubit building (that’s the shape it takes), which will soon house Holyoke Community College’s Culinary Arts program on the first and second floors and residential space on the third and fourth floors, in an ambitious public-private partnership.

In between those properties is a vacant lot that will become home to the latest expansion effort involving Bueno Y Sano, the Mexican-food chain launched in Amherst two decades ago that now has six locations in Massachusetts and Vermont. The Holyoke facility will be a site for manufacturing some of the food items, but it will also have an eatery.

Across the street, and then across the canal, one can see the sprawling Canal Gallery complex. Once a home to artists and vacant for several years, it is the site of a planned 50-unit condominium complex, one with dozens of windows facing the canal, thus becoming what Marcos Marrero, Holyoke’s economic-development director, affectionately calls “beachfront property.”

From Race Street, one can see the city’s new railway platform, built on the site of Holyoke’s original train station, which is being hailed as one instrument in the city’s efforts to attract new businesses and residents. And one can also see the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center, touted as a spark for more technology-related ventures.

Mayor Alex Morse

Mayor Alex Morse says the developments on — and that can be seen from — Race Street are a microcosm of the progress Holyoke is experiencing.

Also visible, but much further south, is the property at 216 Appleton St., a former mill being repurposed into housing, and still farther south is the former Parsons Paper building, which will soon be razed for a much-needed expansion of Aegis Energy Services, a provider of modular combined heat and power (CHP) systems for a variety of applications.

There are dozens of other developments in various stages of progress across the city, but the view of and from Race Street explains why there is a good deal of optimism and momentum in Holyoke, said Marrero, as well as some challenges that probably couldn’t have been envisioned a half-decade ago, but definitely fall in the ‘good-problem-to-have’ category.

“The progress over the past several years is quite dramatic, and we’re running into problems of success,” he explained. “Four years ago, very few people were saying, ‘our problem is we have too many people who want to be downtown, and we don’t have enough parking for everyone.’

“Four years ago, most people, not just in Holyoke, but across the region, would not have given this city a second glance or perceived it as a place they wanted to be,” he went on. “Now, that’s not the case; there’s a lot of momentum happening.”

For this, the latest installment of its Community Spotlight series, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at the many forms of progress in the Paper City, and at what the future holds for this historic city on the comeback trail.

It Looks Good on Paper

As he gave BusinessWest a walking tour of the area east of City Hall down to Race Street, Marrero stopped at one point to admire the view as the limited amount of sun light on that warm March afternoon danced on the water in the upper canal near the city’s acclaimed children’s museum in Heritage Park.

Soon — and ‘soon’ is admittedly a relative term — there will be many more people enjoying similar views as residents of the city.

By Marrero’s count, there are approximately 450 units of housing — condos and apartments across a wide mix of price ranges — that are already planned or in the proverbial pipeline.

“There’s more housing in the downtown to be constructed or rehabbed than at any time since the city was first built,” he explained, while listing several projects within a few blocks of one another.

And housing represents a key component of the city’s broad development strategy, said the mayor, adding that Holyoke’s population, which was once at or near 60,000, sank below 40,000 in the ’90s, but is now back above 40,000, with hopes that it will continue to rise.

There are many reasons why the population decreased, said Morse, and, coincidentally, they mirror those economic-development platforms listed earlier, and range from a shortage or jobs to a dearth of attractive housing, to a distinct lack of incentive on the part of the development community to build such housing.

Indeed, until recently, the prevailing sentiment in Holyoke was, ‘you can built it, but will anyone come?’ with enough accent on the question mark to dissuade developers.

Recent interest in those properties on or near Race Street would seem to indicate a more positive attitude, which was effectively expressed by Denis Luzuriaga, who, with his brother, Marco, acquired the Cubit building and blueprinted its mixed-use plans (more on those in a bit).

“I see Holyoke as being not only a great place to live,” said Luzuriaga, who has called the city home for nearly 11 years, “but a place for potentially good returns on real estate as well.”

The basic development strategy for Holyoke is similar to the ones being blueprinted for other Gateway cities, said Morse, noting that, in simple terms, it involves making the community a more attractive place to live, work, and start a business — which Holyoke was until fairly recently.

There are many moving parts within this strategy, he went on, listing everything from job creation to new housing options; from incubator space in which new businesses can take root to rail service that can connect residents to jobs and clients, and connect others with Holyoke.

It will take years, perhaps even decades, for the canvas to fill in completely, but pieces to the puzzle are falling into place. And to see this — although in many cases the assignment requires imagination because projects haven’t started yet — we return to Race Street.

This artery certainly speaks to Holyoke’s past — it is dotted with old mills that manufactured everything from paper to wire, with emphasis on the past tense — but also its present and future.

Regarding the former, many of those properties have been vacant or underutilized for years, if not decades. As for the latter, the projects on the drawing board reflect broad optimism for a more vibrant city.

The Shape of Things to Come

The Luzuriaga brothers are in many ways typical of what could be considered a new generation of investors in Holyoke, lured by attractively priced but structurally sound real estate, but moreso by the city’s potential to reverse its fortunes.

Denis Luzuriaga told BusinessWest that he was a dabbler in commercial real estate, focusing on multi-family homes, when he decided to takes things up a notch — or two. And when deciding where to scale up his activities, he focused on the Paper City because of its attractive opportunities and recognizable momentum.

The Luzuriagas hadn’t officially closed on the 50,000-square-foot Cubit building (purchase price $350,000) when Holyoke Community College put out a request for proposals for a location in the city’s downtown in which to relocate its Culinary Arts program, but they submitted a proposal anyway.

It wasn’t chosen by the school (none of the bids in that round were), but it did garner some attention. And when the winner of the next round of submissions couldn’t make that plan materialize, the school went back to the Cubit building.

Denis Luzuriaga

Denis Luzuriaga, who, with his brother, Marco, is rehabbing the Cubit building, is among a new generation of investors in Holyoke.

Work on that project is slated to begin in a few months, said Luzuriaga, adding that roughly the same timetable applies to the residential component of the property — 18 units of market-rate apartments. At present, work is ongoing to replace the large windows that pour natural light into the property, which has housed operations manufacturing everything from shoelaces to corsets to wire.

Looking back to when he arrived in Holyoke, Luzuriaga said he liked what he saw — an old mill city with history, character, and potential. And now, he likes the picture that much more.

“There was something about this city, beyond the people and the way it looked, especially in the downtown area, that was very attractive to me,” he said. “I could see the potential for all kinds of positive change.”

So could Lori Divine, when she and fellow artist Vitek Kruta created Gateway City Arts in 2012. The venture has grown over the years, and now puts under one roof everything from learning areas to co-working space; from an event facility to incubator facilities for food-service businesses.

Actually, it’s two roofs (there are adjoining buildings along Race Street), and the expansion process is ongoing.

Indeed, the venture now includes Gateway City Live, which, as that name suggests, hosts a wide variety of live entertainment and events ranging from ‘tango nights’ to weddings. Coming next is the Gateway City Bistro, set to open in June, which will bring another much-needed eatery to the downtown area.

Divine and Kruta were so intrigued by the possibilities downtown that they acquired the Steam Building further down Race Street, so called because it once housed a steam-equipment manufacturer, and renamed it the STEAM (Sustainability Technology Entrepreneurship Art Media) building, with intentions for more mixed-use activity. It currently hosts a few businesses, including a web-design company and an alternative education program called Lighthouse, and will soon be home to a karate studio.

Assessing the scene along Race Street, and Holyoke in general, Divine sees momentum accumulating at a solid pace.

“It’s really exciting,” she said. “The Canal Walk is beautiful, the area is safe — and I know safety is a big issue for people — and it’s fun. It’s just a great place to be.”

Looking forward, the obvious goal is to prompt more residents and business owners to say just that, said Morse, adding that there is progress on both fronts.

The Parsons Paper demolition and cleanup, a long-awaited development after fire extensively damaged the site two years ago, will enable Aegis Energy Services, one of Holyoke’s fastest-growing companies, to expand in the city, he said.

Meanwhile, programs such as the SPARK (Stimulating Potential, Assessing Resource Knowledge) initiative, launched by the Greater Holyoke Chamber of Commerce, helps residents develop ideas into businesses.

“We want to encourage entrepreneurship, and we’re been recognized as one of the leading cities in that regard,” he explained, citing the city’s presence on a listing in Popular Mechanics. “This is a city with a history of entrepreneurship and innovation, and it continues today.”

Building Momentum

Luzuriaga believes Holyoke can and will attract more investors, turn its fortunes around, and become a true destination. And that optimism stems from the fact that he’s seen such a reversal of fortune up close and personal.

That was in Jersey City, N.J., a community across the Hudson River from Manhattan that had fallen on hard times and was making progress with the hard work of getting back on its feet while Luzuriaga lived and worked there.

“When I moved there 20 years ago, you could see that it had seen better days,” he explained. “It took a lot of effort by developers and city officials to get a steady pace of growth going, and I see the same type of thing happening in Holyoke; all the indicators are there.”

Luzuriaga says Jersey City was just starting to hit its stride by the time he relocated to Holyoke nearly 11 years ago. But he visits friends there often and marvels at the turnaround.

In Holyoke, he expects to not only witness the turnaround, but be a real part it. And he’ll have a front-row seat — right there on Race Street, at his beachfront property.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

 

 

Holyoke at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1850
Population: 40.135 (2012)
Area: 22.8 square miles
County: Hampden
Residential Tax Rate: 19.12
Commercial Tax Rate: 39.86
Median Household Income: $33,242
Family Household Income: $39,130
Type of government: Mayor, City Council
Largest employers: Holyoke Medical Center, Holyoke Community College, ISO New England, Universal Plastics, Marox Corp.
* Latest information available

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight

From left, Linda Leduc, John Rahkonen, and Charlie Blanchard

From left, Linda Leduc, John Rahkonen, and Charlie Blanchard say Northern Construction’s new, $1 million office building contains cutting-edge technology that will help the company stay competitive.

The scope of economic development in Palmer is so diverse that Charlie Blanchard had to make a list to ensure he didn’t forget any major projects when he spoke about them with BusinessWest.

“We have a lot of commercial activity taking place. There has also been an increase in high-tech manufacturing; new medical office space is being developed, and we have a new recreational motorsports raceway,” said the town manager. “Progress continues in Three Rivers, and we are working to revitalize the Thorndike Mills.”

Linda Leduc, the town’s planner and economic development director, added that projects that were permitted years ago are coming to fruition, and commercial properties that sat on the market for years are finally being purchased.

“I’ve seen a 180-degree turnaround this year, and it has brought a multitude of new jobs to Palmer,” said Leduc, who attributes recent growth to a resurgence in the economy.

And, as she noted, change and progress is taking place in all parts of the community, including the Palmer Industrial Park in Bondsville.

Blanchard said Detector Technology Inc. needed room to expand and purchased a building from Wayne Buxton, who was using it to house his ShedWorks Inc. business.

“Wayne needed to downsize but wanted to stay in Palmer, so he kept half the lot and built a new, smaller structure on it,” Blanchard noted.

The decision reflects a trend he and Leduc are seeing: businesses are choosing to stay in Palmer, whether they are downsizing or expanding, if they can find appropriate space — a pattern town officials believe is based on the town’s location, competitive tax rate, good school system, and excellent municipal services.

“We’re right on the Mass Pike, which is ideal for businesses and for their customers coming from the east and west,” Blanchard said, adding that interviews with owners and executives of 16 companies showcased in a 2014 promotional video titled “Industry Alive in Palmer: An Inside Look at Local Businesses” showed they are happy with the educated workforce in the area and have dedicated, exemplary employees.

Growth is also occurring in the downtown area known as Depot Village, which is the first commercial district travelers encounter after they exit the Turnpike. It’s a prime commercial area and the place where O’Reilly Auto Parts chose to expand their New England presence.

“They purchased a vacant building on 1569 North Main St. that had been an eyesore for years,” Blanchard said. The old structure was demolished, and a new, state-of-the art distribution center has been built on the lot.

In addition, the American Legion building on 1010 Thorndike St. was purchased by Fire Service Group two days after it went on the market last May; the company was located in a smaller building in town but wanted to expand.

Meanwhile, Michael’s Party Rentals is moving from Ludlow into the former home of Baldyga’s Auto and RV Sales Inc. on 1221 South Main St. Company President Michael Linton said he purchased the 20,000-square-foot building in early January, and it is undergoing a substantial renovation.

“We’re building a showroom and design center so that we have a dedicated space where wedding planners, brides and grooms, and corporate clients can see our inventory and design capabilities,” he noted. “We’re also adding office space, as there wasn’t any in the building, and plan to install a $60,000, state-of-the-art tent-washing machine which will allow us to clean the tents we rent with less labor.”

The cost of the building, renovation, and new machine are expected to total about $712,000, and Linton anticipates moving in May or June when it is complete.

“My entire staff is excited. We are extremely cramped in our current location and looked for a building for two years,” he continued. “A combination of factors led to the decision to relocate in Palmer: the price of the building, its access to the Mass Pike, Palmer’s commercial tax rate, and the proximity to my home in Sturbridge.”

For this, the latest installment of its Community Spotlight series, BusinessWest looks at the many reasons why development is occurring in Palmer, and the various forms it is taking.

Progress Report

While Baldyga’s sold its property for the Michael’s relocation, the business didn’t leave Palmer; Blanchard said the owner purchased an empty lot on Park Street and has plans to construct a new, smaller building on the site, which is in the permitting stage.

In addition, a former Knights of Columbus hall was purchased last fall by Joe Kelley of Angelica Properties. It sits on the corner of Route 32 and River Road and had been for sale for more than a year; it is currently in the permitting stage, and the plan is to renovate it and turn it into state-of-the art medical office space.

Meanwhile, Northern Construction Service Inc. is another company that has chosen to expand in Palmer. About three years ago, owner John Rahkonen purchased a lot adjacent to the business that contained a mini-golf course and batting cages. They were demolished, and a new, state-of-the-art, 7,400-square-foot building, which cost about $1 million, opened in early February.

The company has grown from a $2.5 million operation in 1994 to a $45 million to $50 million business today, and although Rahkonen has two other locations, the new office space, which features skylights and advanced technology, was critical to continued success.

Today, the business occupies about 12 acres, but Rahkonen wishes there were more space available in Palmer so he could continue to expand there.

“I could use another 10 acres,” he told BusinessWest, adding that he agrees with town officials that Palmer’s location is ideal due to its access to key roadways. “We’re in the middle of the state, an hour from Boston and the New York border, and 40 minutes from Hartford. Interstate 91 is around the corner, the Mass Pike is here, and I-84 is 20 minutes down the road.” The company’s work requires moving heavy machinery all over New England, up to the Canadian border, and as far away as White Plains, N.Y., as well as to Block Island and Martha’s Vineyard, so access to a multitude of roadways is helpful.

The town also boasts a new recreational facility called Palmer Motorsports Park. It opened last May on a 500-acre tract of land, and since that time, Road & Track magazine has named it as one of the top 10 racetracks to drive on in North America.

However, it was one of the aforementioned projects that didn’t get off the ground for years due to the flagging economy.

“The Sports Car Club of America permitted the site for a sports motorpark in 2007 because they wanted a track in the Northeast,” Blanchard explained. But the land was not developed until 2012 when club member and private investor Fred Ferguson built the multi-million-dollar recreational facility with its 2.3-mile track, which has since brought new people to Palmer and had a beneficial impact on businesses in the north end of town.

As noted earlier, it is just another of a slew of projects that is expanding and diversifying the economy of a community that just three years ago was pinning its hopes on a resort casino.

New Initiatives

Efforts to revitalize the Thorndike Mills, situated north of Depot Village, are another example of continued progress.

The property consists of seven linked mill buildings that contain 90,000 square feet and sit on 15 acres. They were once home to the thriving Diamond Cascade Manufacturing Co. but have been vacant since 2000, although a hydropower turbine operation has been installed at the site.

“The hydro units are under the floors because the canal runs beneath the buildings,” Leduc said, noting that some units are also located near the dams. But, despite the fact that she has worked with the mill owners for more than a decade to find new uses for the property, they couldn’t seem to make any progress.

However, new hope was generated last fall, thanks to state Sen. Anne Gobi, who was instrumental in introducing them to the Central Mass. Regional Planning Commission (CMRPC), whose work includes revitalizing the Warren Mill in West Warren, the Hardwick Knitters Mill in Hardwick, the Holland Road Mill in Sturbridge, and now, Palmer’s Thorndike Mill.

Leduc said a tour of the properties was conducted last fall as part of a larger project that includes the Jefferson Mill in Holden.

“We’re working with the CMRPC, MassDevelopment, and the Mass. Department of Housing and Community Development,” she noted. “It’s an interesting and important collaboration because these mills are significant historic structures. Our mill was once the center of Thorndike Village.”

The Center for Economic Development at UMass Amherst is also involved, and will hold a conference titled “The Future of the Massachusetts Mill Community” on April 12 in the campus center. In addition, UMass Professor of Planning John Mullin and a group of his students are working to identify common themes shared by these mills.

“We were on our own for years, so it’s wonderful to have this support,” Leduc said.

Growth is also occurring in Three Rivers, and collaborative efforts to revitalize Main Street are coming to fruition, thanks to work by the consortium On the Right TRACK (the acronym stands for Three Rivers Arts Community Knowledge).

Partners include North Brookfield Savings Bank, Palmer officials, the Palmer Historical and Cultural Center, the Three Rivers Chamber of Commerce, the Palmer Redevelopment Authority, and the Quaboag Valley Community Development Corp., all of which have been working to build a cultural and creative economy that will attract visitors.

Alice Davey, the town’s community development director, noted that the Quaboag Valley Community Development Corp. was successful in its bid to win a $13,500 Adams Art Grant for fiscal years 2016 and 2017, and the town completed a market-assessment and business-recruitment tool as well as a feasibility study showing that a building on 2032 Main St. obtained through the tax-title process has potential for redevelopment.

In addition, Davey said, “Palmer also signed a Community Compact agreement with the Commonwealth which will provide us with assistance. We’re taking positive steps forward, and many things are in the planning stages.”

The town also boasts five solar farms, and permits for four new ones have been issued. The newest operations include a five-megawatt farm on the grounds of the former Palmer Metropolitan Airfield that went online last February. It was built by Borrego Solar and is financed, owned, and operated by Syncarpha Capital.

In addition, a 4.8-megawatt operation on Baptist Hill Road, which was developed by Blue Wave Capital and is owned by Sun Edison, went online earlier this month. Blanchard said the town will purchase 2.8 megawatts of the generated electricity, which will meet 100% of its municipal needs and should result in a 20% to 30% savings on its electric bill.

Positive Outlook

Overall, officials expect growth in Palmer to continue. “There is so much going on here, and we are touching so many areas of the economy that are growing,” Blanchard said.

As a result, optimism is running high as new ideas to revitalize the Thorndike Mills are brought forward, and the creative economy in Three Rivers, the new racetrack, and a host of other growing enterprises attract people to “the town of seven railroads” from many different roadways.

 

Palmer at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1775
Population: 11,049 (2015)
Area: 32.14 square miles
County: Hampden
Tax Rate (Residential and Commercial): Palmer, $21.27; Three Rivers, $22.19; Bondsville, $22.13; Thorndike, $22.30
Median Household Income: $50,050
Family Household Income: $58,110
Type of government: Town Manager; Town Council
Largest Employers: Baystate Wing Hospital; Camp Ramah of New England; Big Y World Class Markets

* Latest information available

 

 

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight

By JACLYN C. STEVENSON

Corydon Thurston

Corydon Thurston says GE served Pittsfield well, but long gone are the days when the city should strive to be a one-industry town.

The pervasive feeling in the city of Pittsfield — the Berkshires’ largest city and county seat — is that it’s done trying to return to its heyday.

Rather, elected officials, business-development professionals, and entrepreneurs alike are calling for a new day in Pittsfield, one that celebrates the creative economy, makes great use of existing resources, and stands ready for entrepreneurial endeavors of all types and sizes.

Mayor Linda Tyer, who took office in January and will serve Pittsfield’s first-ever four-year mayoral term, made these tenets some of her key platform points during her campaign, and the message appears to have resonated. The former Pittsfield City Clerk defeated two-term incumbent Mayor Daniel Bianchi with 59% of the vote, winning all 14 precincts.

Tyer said the city has long suffered from what she calls “group depression” following the departure of General Electric, which became part of the Pittsfield landscape in 1903 and at its peak provided 13,000 jobs in a city of 50,000 residents. Its influence on the city’s economy dwindled steadily through the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s, but many people long held hope that another outfit similar in size and scope may someday return.


Mayor Linda Tyer Embarks on First Term in Pittsfield

BusinessWest spoke with Pittsfield’s Mayor Linda Tyer on day 11 of her administration.

Read more …


“Pittsfield has a tendency to say, ‘someone is out there,’” Tyer noted. “But we’ve already seen that one business will only be able to sustain us for so long. I’m interested in who is already here, on the cusp of expansion or ready for something new. In the end, the best investment is local, big or small.”

Corydon Thurston, executive director of the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority (PEDA), has a similar, if not more concentrated, view of the city and its opportunities for business development.

“The chances of landing a major corporation are akin to winning Powerball,” he explained. “Today, competition isn’t just statewide, it’s worldwide, and finally the realization here is that we need to support who we already have, help them grow, and find ancillary opportunities for additional growth and added diversity — not create another a one-industry town.”

If You Build It…

The largest development currently underway is the creation of the Berkshire Innovation Center (BIC), which will be located at the William Stanley Business Park (created at the massive former GE complex) and cater to small and medium-sized businesses positioned to add to the supply chain of various life-science and biotechnology projects.

“The BIC is designed to provide access to high-tech equipment that will allow businesses to innovate, grow, and respond to customer demands in an efficient and timely fashion — rapidly prototyping products and bringing them to market,” Thurston said. “Temporary space will be available for lease within the center to allow companies to mature, and hopefully they will stick around. Pittsfield has plenty of existing manufacturing space at low cost, and once we get them here, we can grow them here.”

He added that support of the BIC, which was made possible by a $9.75 million state grant, has been citywide and dovetails with a number of other initiatives in the areas of workforce training, real-estate development, and education. In the coming year, PEDA is expected to blend its efforts with 1Berkshire, a regional economic-development organization, and Pittsfield’s Office of Community Development.

“One of the reasons why we’re so bullish on the innovation center is it has a broad base of community support at every level,” Thurston went on. We also believe that a young startup company, whether it’s in Worcester, Boston, Albany, or Rensselaer, that is looking for a place to commercialize or test their ideas and inventions, will be attracted here because of our existing manufacturing structure and lower costs of doing business.”

A built-in mentor network will be part of the BIC’s offerings, with 19 mentoring partners from across Pittsfield already signed on, along with several academic partners from across the Northeast, including UMass and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

“The support from the education side is rewarding to me because it’s a foundational element that will create a number of new opportunities for our industrial base,” Thurston said, noting that Berkshire Community College has been a particularly active participant.

In the absence of a physical building, for instance, BCC has taken the lead on the programmatic components of the center, identified a variety of courses to complement the BIC’s eventual hands-on work, and set up a temporary center at Pittsfield’s Taconic High School that includes a pipeline for students to pursue advanced-manufacturing careers.

Hire Education

Ellen Kennedy, president of Berkshire Community College, echoed Thurston’s excitement for the BIC.

“This could be the most promising economic-development engine to enter Pittsfield in a long time,” she said. “As the facility itself comes into play, training opportunities are already in place that allow existing businesses to share research and identify workforce-development needs.”

Kennedy said BCC has been instrumental in identifying academic opportunities for Pittsfield students from grade school to college, as well as career-development and refresher courses for the workforce. It received $500,000 in funding from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center last year in order to create educational components to support the BIC, such as the purchase of state-of-the-art equipment and new courses in advanced manufacturing and engineering technology, and another $10,000 just last month to fund career-path programming for middle- and high-school students.

The BIC has also become the new lead organization of the Berkshire Robotics Initiative, with an eye toward underscoring the use of robotics in today’s manufacturing world and the career opportunities that may arise.

“We’re looking to build on students’ interests, allow them to see the different employment opportunities open to them, and start them on a career path,” Kennedy noted, adding that this and other projects have the dual benefit of increasing the college’s profile among prospective students, and therefore that of the city, which has an aging population.

“Berkshire County’s demographics are challenging, and it has become the job of both Pittsfield and BCC to keep the younger population engaged,” she told BusinessWest. “In a sense, we’re making a commitment to the Millennial.”

For Kennedy, that means offering more opportunities for the community to visit the campus, be it to play sports, attend a career fair, or utilize campus amenities. By extension, she hopes the city’s cultural destinations, retail shops, eateries, and nightlife will also get a boost.

“In order to attract people here to experience what we have to offer, we all need to market the quality of life and the world-class culture. In that respect, we are tied at the hip with the city of Pittsfield.”

North Star of Our Nights

That’s a construct the team involved with Hotel on North, a boutique hotel on Pittsfield’s main thoroughfare that just opened its doors in June, subscribes to as well.

Owned by Berkshire residents David and Laurie Tierney and managed by Main Street Hospitality Group, a hotel-management company based in Stockbridge that manages three other properties in the county, Hotel on North includes a restaurant, bar, event space, and gift shop housed in a pair of adjoining 19th-century buildings that are on the National Register of Historic Places.

Sarah Eustis

Sarah Eustis says Hotel on North was designed to reflect the character of its region, with plenty of local contributions.

Sarah Eustis, CEO and part-owner of Main Street Hospitality Group, said work between the partners began in earnest in 2012, and moved swiftly into “two solid years of highly collaborative project work.”

“We represent two deeply rooted Berkshire businesses with different skills that we wanted to apply to Pittsfield, to contribute to the renaissance that is happening here,” she said, noting that a hospitality venue in Pittsfield has been a goal of Main Street Hospitality Group for several years. “We looked originally to Pittsfield to build on a base, and now we have an undying passion that this is right for the city. That belief comes from both gut and numbers.”

The hotel features brick walls, tin ceilings, and hardwood floors that hearken back to the buildings’ original décor, as well as Victorian themes paired with nods to the Berkshires in the form of vintage maps and organic elements. The scheme is bound together with the ‘on North’ tagline, i.e. ‘Eat, Drink, Stay on North.’

In more ways than one, the entire business was “made on North,” said Eustis, by partnering with local vendors and craftsmen whenever possible, from architects to designers to furniture and décor makers.

“We like to create hotels that give you a sense of where you are, and we realized early on that it had to be ‘by Pittsfield for Pittsfield,’ with influences from around the world. That’s one reason we didn’t partner with a large brand or make a slick New York hotel and plop it in the Berkshires,” she went on. “The ‘on North’ concept arose from that idea of using local businesses.”

One of the hotel’s owners, Laurie Tierney, added that she hopes its luxurious feel paired with local accents will instill a feeling of pride in Pittsfield’s residents, and attract them downtown along with other visitors to the region.

“My goal is to change perceptions so people realize what’s downtown and feel safe,” she said. “The locals need to be brought into the change, and I do believe that there is a movement afoot.”

Sometimes, Tierney added, getting big things to happen in a city is like starting a lawnmower.

“You pull the cord, but it often takes a few times to start. That’s how it’s been in Pittsfield … almost, not quite, almost, not quite. I’m hoping this is what turns the engine.”

Indeed, it’s been nearly 90 years since GE made Pittsfield a boom town, and many people are now seeing the city’s heyday as something ahead of them, not behind. The key, says Tierney, is to maintain momentum.

“We can’t stop; we have to keep going,” she said. “I hope to be in a place someday where I can sit back and watch the ball roll a little, and maybe be a background person who whispers in someone’s ear, ‘hey. You know what we should do?’”

One person Tierney may be able to whisper to is Mayor Tyer.

“I’m interested in anyone who wants to make an investment in the city,” Tyer said in conclusion. “The idea of a hip, walkable urban center is coming back, and we have the infrastructure for it. Now, we just need to be plugged into the modern economy.”

 

Pittsfield at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1761
Population: 43,697
Area: 42.5 square miles
County: Berkshire
Residential Tax Rate: $18.76
Commercial Tax Rate: $38.06
Median Household Income: $35,655
Family Household Income: $46,228
Type of Government: Mayor, City Council
Largest Employers: Berkshire Health Systems, General Dynamics, Berkshire Community College, SABIC Innovative Plastics

 Latest information available

 

 

Community Spotlight Features
Mayor Linda Tyer

Mayor Linda Tyer says her administration is focused more on helping and growing existing busineses, not luring someone “out there.”

BusinessWest spoke with Pittsfield’s Mayor Linda Tyer on day 11 of her administration.

Only 1,450 days to go.

That’s notable because Tyer is serving Pittsfield’s first-ever four-year term, and, as such, she’s in the beginning stages of laying out a map for the long haul that pinpoints high roads, trouble spots, destinations for the future, and plenty of pit stops in between.

The journey began for Tyer last year, while she was still serving as city clerk. She’d served as a member of the City Council for five years prior to taking the clerk’s position, and watching the inner workings of Pittsfield’s government had her mulling a run for its top office.

“I saw the city’s potential being lost to old ways of thinking, governing, and leading,” she said. “It was time for a new generation of leadership, and I wanted the residents of Pittsfield to really think about what they imagined for themselves. I offered an alternative in every way: from gender to voice to style.”

Tyer announced her candidacy for mayor on the City Hall steps in March, and defeated two-term incumbent Mayor Daniel Bianchi in November. Since then, she’s pledged more communication and relationship building between the mayor’s office and all its stakeholders, from elected officials to Pittsfield’s residents and business owners.

“The plan is to have constant, regular communication, both incoming and outgoing,” she said, noting that this will include regularly scheduled public updates on some key issues — among them public safety, workforce development and retention, and ongoing work to create a hip, walkable urban center in the heart of Berkshire County. “We need to invest in public safety and, as part of that, address the underlying issues that are the source of crime, including poverty and feeling disenfranchised.”

Tyer added that there are strategies at play in these arenas, starting with youth initiatives such as a city-wide mentoring program for high-risk young adults. That program has recently been expanded through grant funding to include job training and workforce-development opportunities for men ages 17 to 24, which is one way Pittsfield is also addressing the dual issue of workforce training to fill the area’s job vacancies.

“The business community cares that its investments are being protected, but it also cares about filling the gap that exists between marketing their jobs and finding candidates with the right skills,” she said.

Abandoned sites scattered across the city and outdated technologies are other barriers to recruiting and retaining great talent in Pittsfield, Tyer noted.

“Neighborhood blight and business blight make it very difficult to market our city; it affects community pride, and potential investors aren’t going to announce their arrival so we can show them our best sites … they’re going to be stealth,” she said. “And we need access to broadband in our commercial centers. We have the infrastructure, but we’re not yet plugged in. A modern-day creative economy has to be global.”

Ultimately, that creative economy is what Tyer hopes to nurture through all of these initiatives: a diverse business landscape powered by human capital.

“Our transportation system is not conducive to big manufacturing — that’s not our strength,” she said. “What we can do is ensure that we’re providing young professionals with the tools they need to succeed so we can continue to cultivate the vibrant community we have here.”

To that end, Tyer’s plans for the first leg of her four-year tour of duty include targeting resources to Berkshire-based small businesses; ‘Blight to Bright’ initiatives, such as requiring that vacant buildings are maintained for aesthetics and safety; street-improvement plans; and strategies for expansion of early-childhood education.

It’s a packed itinerary, but Tyer said she has the drive.

“I am motivated by a belief that the city has great potential,” she said.

— Jaclyn C. Stevenson

Community Spotlight Features

Community Spotlight: Easthampton

Mayor Karen Cadieux

Mayor Karen Cadieux says Easthampton has witnessed an exciting year marked by constant buildouts and growth.

The view from Mayor Karen Cadieux’s Easthampton office is stunning.

Sunshine glints off of the serene waters of the newly opened Nashawannuk Pond Promenade Park, and the boardwalk that spans it is busy.

“The park was planned to become a destination; it’s located right in the heart of our cultural district, and it’s booming,” Cadieux told BusinessWest. “Every day, people stroll along the boardwalk, sit and relax on the benches, do yoga, fish from one of the three handicapped-accesible boat ramps, or launch their boats. Families have been bringing their children to the park … it has something for everyone and offers enjoyment for all walks of life.”

The $945,000 park project is just one of many developments completed over the past year. They range from new housing for people at all income levels to infrastructure and interior improvements in the city’s old mill buildings — which have made those spaces more attractive to businesses — to the continued growth of the creative economy, which is thriving.

In fact, the ribbon-cutting ceremony for Nashawannuck Pond Promenade Park was staged June 13 in conjunction with the start of the second annual Cottage Street Cultural Chaos festival. “Thousands of people attended, and it was wonderful; there were vendor booths as well as music and performers,” said Moe Belliveau, executive director of the Greater Easthampton Chamber of Commerce.

She added that the new boardwalk is beneficial to nearby shops and businesses, which include the downtown area and the thriving Cottage Street Cultural District, which is populated by artists, galleries, gift shops, and restaurants.

“The Promenade project has increased foot traffic downtown, which is wildly important. The businesses there have done well, but now people are on the boardwalk all the time. They walk along eating ice cream from Mount Tom’s on Cottage Street and holding bags with items purchased from nearby stores,” Bellieveau noted, adding that a new restaurant known as Bliss Café, whose menu includes vegetarian and vegan options, opened at 42 Cottage St. last month.

An $18 million development has also been completed across the street from the park. The historic, 125,000-square-foot Dye Works factory, which closed in 2005, has been turned into Cottage Street Apartments. Cadieux said the project involved a complete renovation of the brick structure into 50 affordable-housing units, which were immediately occupied after it opened in May.

“More than 250 people applied, so there is a long waiting list,” she said. In addition, construction on a brand-new, six-building, affordable apartment complex called Parsons Village, which came about thanks to Valley Community Development Corp., had just been finished, and people began moving into the units at the beginning of the month.

“Another very exciting development has taken place across the street from Parsons Village,” Cadieux continued. “The former Parsons Street School that was surplused by the school department in 2013, has been turned into a luxury apartment complex called Parsons Place.”

The building was purchased by developer Kevin Perrier, president of Five Star Building Corp., which served as general contractor for the project, and the city was paid all the back taxes owed on it. “It contains 16 high-end units, and the entire top floor is a penthouse that rents for $3,500 a month,” Cadieux said, adding that every apartment contains stainless-steel appliances, mahogany flooring, tiled bathrooms, 12-foot ceilings, and central air conditioning.

New developments are also brewing in Easthampton’s old mills. This year the city was feted with an award for the Best Tasting Drinking Water in the U.S. by the National Rural Water Assoc. in Washington, D.C., and beer makers are taking advantage of it.

“We have two breweries in the Pleasant Street mills,” said Cadieux. “Abandoned Building Brewery opened last year, and New City Brewery is in the process of opening. In addition, Fort Hill Brewery opened in a new, state-of-the-art building last year.”

For this, the latest installment in its Community Spotlight series, BusinessWest looks at the many types of development taking place in Easthampton, and how this former mill town has evolved into a cultural destination.

New Developments

The mayor noted repeatedly that Easthampton has been extremely fortunate in many respects. “It’s been an exciting year because there have been constant buildouts and growth. Businesses want to come here because we’re a thriving community,” she told BusinessWest.

But the economic growth is far more than a simple matter of luck; Cadieux and other town officials have worked hard to promote partnerships that encourage and promote growth.

An example of the communiuty’s success is a collaboration between the city and the owners of all five mills on Pleasant Street. It resulted in the Pleasant Street Mills project, which was funded by three major MassWorks grants.

“It started with work by the city that was done for safety reasons, so our fire department could access the back of the building,” Cadieux said, adding that it quickly morphed into a larger project that is now in its final phase.

The goal is to connect three of the revitalized, 19th-century brick mill buildings and create a main public entryway behind them. “The design includes a landscaped parking lot with new lighting and ties the back of the mills to the Manhan Rail Trail and Lower Mill Pond,” the mayor explained.

She added that the city purposely zoned its old mills for mixed use and worked closely with the Pleasant Street owners, who spent a significant amount of money upgrading their interior space. As a result of the magnitude of the project, Eversource (formerly WMECO) upgraded the electric lines going into the buildings.

“It’s something they had not planned to do for 10 years, but they were inspired by the project and the fact that the mill owners invested money to do renovation at the same time,” Cadieux explained.

Belliveau said the three-stage MassWorks project will bring even more vitality to the town. “It’s a storybook partnership and has spurred a lot of private reinvestment by the mill owners, which is key to renting available space,” she noted. “There’s a tremendous amount of energy and synergy in Easthampton, and a lot of growth and renaissance going on.”

Cadieux said the Pleasant Street mills are doing well, housing art galleries, hair salons, restaurants, and beautiful apartments. “And the Conway School of Landscaping opened a new facility in Mill 180 this month,” she added.

The creative-arts community is also growing, and the lobby of the historic Old Town Hall on 43 Main St., which has become a center for Easthampton’s arts organizations, underwent a major renovation that was completed last month.

CitySpace Inc., a nonprofit that maintains the building as a center for the arts, received a $133,000 tourism grant to do the work, and the City Council approved an additional $256,000 of Community Preservation Act funds for the project. “There are new doors, refurbished floors, new lighting that goes up the stairs, and more,” Cadieux said.

An August ribbon cutting for the entranceway was staged during Easthampton’s monthly Artwalk, which has been highly successful and draws people from many communities, said the mayor, adding that the city is also actively seeking grants to renovate the second floor of the building, which would be used to host theater groups and other functions. At present, it is not handicapped-accessible.

She added that the soaring popularity of the town extends to the housing market. “Easthampton has become the place to live, and in some neighborhoods, where the houses are priced in the $200,000 range, they have been selling in two days,” the mayor said, noting that three homes in her neighborhood took deposits for full-price offers recently on the same day. She attributes it to the city’s low tax rate, vibrant downtown, and Easthampton’s new, $40 million high school, which just received a Level I rating.

“The students moved in two years ago, but we just closed out the project this year,” she explained.

Belliveau said the Chamber of Commerce also established new programs and partnerships during the past year, along with new events, such as the day-long 2015 Checkpoint Legislative Summit, which will be held for the first time in Easthampton on Nov. 4 in collaboration with other chambers.

In addition, a partnership was formed with Williston Northampton School, and a chamber breakfast was held there in June featuring a speaker. “It was such a success that it will become an annual event with different speakers,” she told BusinessWest.

The chamber’s first Beach Ball was also held recently at the Oxbow Marina. The summer event was created to mirror the successful winter Snowball, with its silent and live auction, dinner, and dancing, said Belliveau, adding that the city also partnered with the Greater Holyoke Chamber and staged a legislative luncheon with that body in April.

Moving Forward

Belliveau told BusinessWest that Easthampton is thriving. “This is a community that really loves who and what it’s become, and it’s an exciting time.”

Cadieux agreed. “We’ve had a lot going on in the past year. We’re vibrant, but we are still growing and want to remain attractive to new businesses.

“There is still space available in the mills, available land zoned for highway business along Route 10, or Northampton Street, and a blighted building on 1 Ferry St. for sale,” the mayor continued. “We’re striving to keep our diversity so there is something for everyone here. It’s the key to our success.”

Easthampton at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1809
Population: 16,036
Area: 13.6 square miles
County: Hampshire
Residential Tax Rate: $15.15
Commercial Tax Rate: $15.15
Median Household Income: $57,134
Family Household Income: $78,281
Type of government: Mayor, City Council
Largest employers: Berry Plastics; Williston Northampton School; Argotec
* Latest information available

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