Home Posts tagged Deerfield Mass.
Community Spotlight

Community Spotlight

Chris Dunne

Chris Dunne says one of the town’s priorities is to create more housing.



That’s the one word Jessye Deane kept coming back to as she talked about Deerfield and its business community.

And with good reason.

Indeed, while this community of just over 5,000 is home to Yankee Candle Village, Historic Deerfield, the Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory, and other tourist attractions, its economy is quite broad, covering sectors ranging from agriculture to craft brewing (which doubles as a tourist attraction, as we’ll see); manufacturing to retail; restaurants to the arts.

They all come together in a picturesque community that is a true destination, said Deane, executive director of the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce, which also calls Deerfield home. And this diversity is certainly an asset, she added, especially as manufacturing declines in many other communities.

“This diversity is the real strength of the economy of Deerfield,” she told BusinessWest, noting that, while large employers like Yankee Candle are always important, the backbone of the community’s economy is small businesses.

And, as noted, they cover all sectors, from restaurants like Leo’s Table in the community’s small but vibrant downtown to Ames Electrical Consulting, a growing business, soon to move to Greenfield, that specializes in helping manufacturers and even municipalities with efforts to automate facilities and processes.

That list also includes manufacturers like Worthington Assembly, which has become noteworthy not only for the circuit boards it produces for a wide range of clients but for a decidedly different culture, one it describes as ‘humanizing manufacturing’.

The obvious goal moving forward is to continue adding more pieces to this diverse business puzzle, said Chris Dunne, Deerfield’s Planning & Economic Development coordinator, while also making the town even more livable and, well, simply providing more places to live.

Indeed, like most other communities in this region — although not all those in Franklin County, where population loss is a pressing issue  — Deerfield needs more housing, said Dunne, adding that creating more is part of a larger effort to repurpose land and property in what he called the town campus.

“Approximately 45% of Deerfield residents are over age 55, so there is a definite need for senior housing.”

This is a collection of buildings, many of them currently or soon to be town-owned, including the current Town Hall, two churches, and a former elementary school, some of which could likely be converted to senior housing, said Denise Mason, chair of the town’s Planning Board, adding that there is real need in this category, and if it is met, other homes could become available to younger families.

“Approximately 45% of Deerfield residents are over age 55, so there is a definite need for senior housing,” Mason said. “And there is a housing issue across our region, and especially in Deerfield. We’re hoping that by building senior housing — and we’re looking to add approximately 32 units — that would free up some of the other homes, because we do have some older seniors who would like to downsize, but they have no place to move to.”

For this, the latest installment of its Community Spotlight series, BusinessWest turns the lens on Deerfield, where an increasingly vibrant community and ever-changing destination comes into focus.


Developing Stories

They are referred to as the ‘1821 Building’ and the ‘1888 Building,’ respectively, because that’s when they opened their doors.

The former is a long-closed church, and the latter is the aforementioned former elementary school that, with the help of a $4 million federal earmark, is being eyed as a replacement for the current town offices, built in the ’50s and now outdated and energy-inefficient.

Wade Bassett

Wade Bassett says Yankee Candle is one of many intriguing draws that have helped transform Deerfield into a true destination.

Transformation of those two historic properties tops the list of municipal initiatives in Deerfield, Dunne and Mason said.

And if town offices can be moved to the renovated school, new uses, perhaps senior housing, could be found for the current Town Hall, which, as noted, is an aging, inefficient structure.

These properties and others sit on what is called the campus, a slice of land, most of it town-owned, between North Main Street and Conway Street that includes several structures, including Town Hall, the 1821 and 1888 buildings, the town’s senior center, a ballfield, and a second church, St. James Roman Catholic Church, and its rectory, which the town may acquire with an eye toward preservation and reuse, perhaps for more senior housing, said Mason, adding that a request for proposals will soon be issued for that property.

As noted, there is real need for this type of housing, said Mason, noting that, if it is created, homes will come on the market, opening the door for more families to move to the community.

Meanwhile, new senior housing on the campus and more young families would provide a boost for the nearby downtown, said Dunne, adding that, while that area is vibrant, there are some ‘infill projects,’ as he called them, to contend with, including a long-vacant Cumberland Farms (a new, much larger one was opened on Route 5).

Other initiatives include ongoing development of a municipal parking lot with EV chargers, one complete with a large amount of green space to counter all the paved surfaces downtown — and a Complete Streets project that include improvements to sidewalks and adding a tree belt to downtown streets.

While there’s a concerted effort to create more housing inventory for those who want to live in Deerfield, there’s already a deep portfolio of attractions for those who want to visit.

“Tree House is driving a lot of traffic to this area, with their beer and with their concerts.”

Yankee Candle has long been the mainstay, and it continues to evolve in this anchor role, said Wade Bassett, director of Sales and Operations at Yankee Candle Village.

But the tourist sector, like the overall economy, is diverse, boasting everything from butterflies to history lessons at Historic Deerfield to the latest draw — craft beer and accompanying events, especially at Tree House Brewery, now occupying the large campus that was once home to publisher Channing Bete.

That campus incudes a concert venue that brings thousands of people to Deerfield for shows, said Dunne, adding that the brewery is working with town officials to increase the limit for attendance so it can bring larger acts to that campus and thus increase the ripple effect.

19th-century building

This 19th-century building is among the properties in the town ‘campus’ being eyed for renovation.

And that effect is already considerable, said Jen Howard, owner of Leo’s Table, a breakfast and lunch restaurant on North Main Street, named after her grandfather, who owned and operated a similar establishment in Fitchburg after returning from military service.

Howard said she explains the name on a regular basis, adding that many guests will ask her male kitchen employee if he is Leo.

Those guests run the gamut, she said, noting that there is a solid core of locals, many of them senior citizens, but many diners are coming on their way to attractions like Yankee Candle, the butterfly conservatory, and, increasingly, Tree House.

“We even see some from the parking lot — people charging their vehicles will come in,” she told BusinessWest, adding that a much larger boost comes from the tourist attractions, which fuel many other hospitality-related businesses.


Staying Power

At Yankee Candle, they call it the “golden key.”

That’s the name of a long-standing program, a tradition, really, at the company, whereby one family, or an individual guest, is chosen to receive an actual, and quite large, golden key, which they are required to wear, and which entitles them to enjoy all the many experiences at the Village for free.

Deerfield at a Glance

Year Incorporated: 1677
Population: 5,090
Area: 33.4 square miles
County: Franklin
Residential Tax Rate: $13.85
Commercial Tax Rate: $13.85
Median Household Income: $74,853
Median Family Income: $83,859
Type of Government: Open Town Meeting
Largest Employers: Yankee Candle Co., Pelican Products Inc.
* Latest information available

“They can enjoy Wax Works, they can fill a candy jar, they can get some ice cream at Ben & Jerry’s — it gives a next-level experience to the guest,” said Bassett, adding quickly that the program was designed to engage not only guests, but employees at the Village as well. Indeed, each day a different team member is assigned the task of deciding who, if anyone, is worthy of the golden key, which is awarded for many good reasons, from a 100th birthday to a wedding anniversary to marking one’s final round of chemotherapy.

“Recently, we had two people get engaged in our Black Forest, and one of our employees came back and said, ‘we just had an engagement in our store — why don’t we give them the golden key?” Bassett went on, adding that the program is just one way the Village strives to heighten what is still in most respects a retail experience and take it to the next level.

That level has been raised continuously over the more than 30 years that the Village has been operating, he said, adding that the facility, which is in seemingly constant motion and changing with the holidays and seasons — Easter and April school vacation are next on the schedule, and programs are already being developed — is now part of a broad effort to make Deerfield and all of Franklin County a true destination.

Indeed, like others we spoke with, Bassett said Deerfield has become a regional tourism hub, with a variety of attractions that can broaden a visit from a few hours to an entire day — or even longer.

Tree House has been an important addition to the mix, he told BusinessWest, adding that it is part of a craft-beer trail, if you will, along with Berkshire Brewing nearby in the center of Deerfield. But Tree House has become a much bigger draw with its concerts and other types of events.

“Tree House is driving a lot of traffic to this area, with their beer and with their concerts,” Bassett said, adding that this traffic is finding its way to different stops in the area, including Yankee Candle.

Deane agreed, and said that the goal in Deerfield, and across Franklin County, is to simply “extend the stay.” Elaborating, she said the community has Yankee Candle to bring visitors in, but it also has Tree House, Berkshire Brewing, Historic Deerfield, and other attractions to keep them there for an extended stay — and bring them back again.


Franklin County

Blueprinting a Unique Culture

Rafal Dybacki (left) and Neil Scanlon

Rafal Dybacki (left) and Neil Scanlon are focused on continued growth and something they call ‘humanizing manufacturing.’

It’s called “The Pick, Place, Podcast.”

It’s co-produced by Worthington Assembly Inc. (WAi) and a collaborator — and tenant within its space in Deerfield’s industrial park — called CircuitHub, and it’s billed as an electronics show where representatives from the companies, which specialize in circuit-board design and assembly (contract manufacturing), discuss the printed circuit board (PCB) assembly process, offer design tips, and talk to industry guests.

“It’s a unique show — no one else is doing anything quite like this,” WAi principal Neil Scanlon said. “And we have a lot of fun doing it.”

But while proud of their own podcast, Scanlon and Worthington co-owner Rafal Dybacki preferred to talk about a different podcast, called “Uncover the Human,” featuring consultants who talk with guests about … well, how to make the workplace more human.

This has been one of the overriding goals for the two partners since they acquired the company, originally based in Worthington (hence the name) and moved it to Deerfield, and, long story short, they were featured on an episode of “Uncover the Human” just over a year ago.

“It’s a couple of consultants out of Colorado, and they’re trying to find … one way to say it is to peel back the layers and find the good in work and try to make workplaces more human and be not what they are today,” Scanlon said.

“One of our employees is good friends with one of the employees at this consulting company, and they were on a trip together, and our employee was telling her about our culture and how we make decisions. And she kept asking her questions and saying, ‘this doesn’t make any sense,’ and ‘let me try to understand this more.’ She became so fascinated, she said she had to get us on their podcast.”

They told the host what they told BusinessWest — that they take a different approach to hiring and developing employees. It’s an approach hinted at broadly in the headline over the company’s posting on jobsinthevalley.com, which features the two words ‘humanizing manufacturing.’

The two explained what that means.

“We have a flat, decentralized organization,” Scanlon said. “We don’t have supervisors, and everyone works in teams, and the teams work together to deliver quality product to our customers.

“We’re focused on people who are interested in problem solving, learning, and growing,” he went on, adding that part of the team’s culture, as we’ll see, is involving all employees in the work to find people who will make good fits.

Elaborating, Dybacki explained that, after inititial interviews, job candidates will then take what he called a “self-guided tour” of the factory and its various departments, seeing what’s done and asking any questions they might have. By doing this — something that very few, if any, other manufacturers would allow — the applicant gets a sense of not only of the work, but the people he or she will be working alongside.

“We have a flat, decentralized organization. We don’t have supervisors, and everyone works in teams, and the teams work together to deliver quality product to our customers.”

If that candidate is still interested, they begin what Scanlon described as a “three-day working interview,” during which the individual is assigned to work with specific teams. And if they’re still interested, things get taken to the next level — a 30-day working interview.

Overall, this process was blueprinted — there’s that word again — to get the right people on the company’s teams, and a workforce where members are both focused and happy.

For this issue and its focus on Franklin County, BusinessWest talked at length with Scanlon and Dybacki about Worthington Assembly and what’s in their business plan moving forward, but also about humanizing manufacturing and the unique culture they’ve created.


Making It Here

The consultants behind the “Uncover the Human” podcast aren’t the only ones interested in talking with these two entrepreneurs lately.

Indeed, Yvonne Hao, secretary of the state’s Executive Office of Economic Development, got them on the phone late last month as part of a larger effort to assess the climate for small businesses in the Commonwealth, especially those in advanced manufacturing, and better understand their issues and concerns.

Scanlon and Dybacki said they talked about a number of things with her, from the millionaire’s tax and how they feel it penalizes S corporations, like Worthington Assembly, to the gross-receipts tax and how it also it also hamstrings small-business owners. They also talked about the company’s culture, said Dybacki, speculating that Hao may have heard the “Uncover the Human” episode.

Whether she did or not, the call is an indication of how the company and how it operates have gained traction and visibility as it continues to grow and evolve — and mark a half-century of working on the cutting edge of circuit-board contract manufacturing.

Indeed, it was back in 1974 when Tom Quinn, the company’s founder, set up shop in his bedroom and soon developed processes for assembling circuit boards, first for a Boston-based client called Cyborg Inc.

The company moved from Quinn’s bedroom to a small barn in Worthington, where it continued a pattern of steady growth. Quinn and his wife, Barbara, sold the operation to Scanlon and Dybacki in 2008 and, seeking larger quarters, more reliable power, and faster internet, moved it to the industrial park in Deerfield a year later.

There, they’ve continued and enhanced the company’s reputation as a contract manufacturer, amassing a deep portfolio of clients, most of them in New England, in sectors ranging from medical-device manufacturing to industrial controls; from HVAC to segments of the automobile industry.

“We essentially build to a blueprint, much like a machine shop builds to a blueprint,” Scanlon explained. “A customer will come to us with a blueprint, and we will build that product for them precisely as that blueprint states.”

WAi does a considerable amount of work with CircuitHub, a designer of circuit boards for customers around the globe, and ships directly to its clients, Dybacki said.

It is one of the few circuit board assemblers in Western Mass., and a relatively small player in a large and extremely competitive sector, where, in this case, the smaller size is a competitive advantage because it comes with flexibility and the ability to handle the smaller orders that the larger players would not even consider, Scanlon explained.

“We handle things at lower volumes, where it’s too much work to send it off the China because the volume isn’t there, and other competitors simply don’t want to get involved with a $4,000 or $5,000 order,” he said, adding that the company can handle orders of a few dozen of an item to several thousand.


True Grit

WAi has enjoyed steady growth over the past several years, growing its workforce to 35, said Dybacki, adding that the focus has always been on “finding the right person and getting them in the right seat, and making sure they stay here.”

And this is where we return to the company’s culture and that notion of humanizing manufacturing.

Finding the right people is crucial, Scanlon said, because of the custom nature of the work being done.

“We do so many unique assemblies,” he explained. “On a given day, with this team of 35 people, we might be shipping 10 different assemblies that have in some cases never been built by anyone else. In order to do that, you need really good people that have a thorough understanding of how this works.

“You can’t have memorizers, you can’t have button pushers … our people that work here do the same thing over and over again for an hour, and then they move on to something totally different,” he went on. “They need a unique skill set.”

To find the right people — and then keep them — the company has created a comprehensive hiring, training, and onboarding process, one that secures input not only from those doing the interviewing and hiring, but those who will be working alongside the candidate in question.

It begins with that headline over the job placement and accompanying job description — ‘humanizing manufacturing.’

“This catches their eye, and they read about it, and then a lot of times they’ll reach out to us,” Scanlon said. “The type of person you get doesn’t necessarily have the exact skills you’re looking for, but they have the right attitude and a willingness to learn.

Dybacki concurred, adding, “in a lot of cases, that’s more important than having the needed skills.”

That aforementioned process, including the three-day and 30-day working interviews, includes something called a ‘360 form,’ whereby team members are evaluated by colleagues using core values and successful habits. These are listed with accompanying phraseology, so employees know just what they’re looking for, and ‘scores,’ if you will, ranging from ‘excellent’ to ‘average’ to ‘poor.’

These core values and descriptions provide some real insight into the degree to which the company wants people who are good fits, and how everyone at WAi is involved in finding those fits.

Under the core value ‘humility,’ we find “puts the team first; works well with others; open to change; open to learning; check any arrogance at the door; listens to others. No, really listens.”

Under the core value ‘honesty’ (described as “to be candid, straightforward, and fair”) is written, “our ability to be candid with our teammates is essential for our success; we cannot continuously improve if we aren’t talking about opportunities for improvement.”

Other core values and successful habits include ‘have fun,’ ‘contribute,’ ‘work well with everyone,’ and even ‘grit’ — “we need to always stay focused and push through the hard tasks all day, every day without becoming bored or complacent, and take pride in the simple yet at times difficult tasks.”

“Our teammates here will let you know if you have grit, if you’re able to do this work or not,” Scanlon said. “They’ll know just by the sound of the screwdriver.”

Using tools like the 360 form and a rigorous interviewing and onboarding process — which includes listening to that episode of “Uncover the Human” — the company has managed to successfully hire and maintain a workforce when many in manufacturing, and other sectors as well, are struggling to do so.

And much of it comes down to getting everyone at the company involved in this process.

“People here can’t complain about who they’re working with because they helped choose them and they have the ability to put feedback into a person’s 360,” said Scanlon, adding that, overall, these processes have created an environment where everyone is happy with who they’re working with, and they work together to take the company to the next level.

This is a true blueprint for success and a reason why this company is getting some attention — not just for the circuit boards it produces, but for the culture it has created.