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Joseph E. La Valla, president of Integrity Graphics, shakes hands with Mayor Richard Alcombright after cutting the ribbon. Kimberly Mulcahy, director of business development, applauds.
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Attendees at the open house listen to the speakers.
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Company Vice President Michael Hunt, left, and La Valla listen as the mayor reads off some historical points.
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The material on the glass outside the conference room was printed by Integrity.
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Josh Mendel of MCLA and Paula Labonte.

Excelsior Owner Sees Future In Printing, North Adams

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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Joseph E. La Valla sees growth in the printing business.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Integrity Graphics is fulfilling a promise made a year ago: That the name "Excelsior" will remain in the city.

"Since Excelsior [Printing] was a big part of the past in North Adams, I'm hoping it becomes a big part of the future of North Adams," said Joseph E. La Valla, president and CEO of Integrity Graphics, which took over the printing company in a deal almost exactly a year ago.

The comments came during Excelsior's open house on Thursday evening that also saw a ribbon cutting to celebrate the company's new offices in Building One on the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Arts campus.

The sales and service division comprised of Kimberly Mulcahy, Paula Labonte, Martha Hojnowski and Stephanie Melito moved into the renovated space last November. The second floor space was previously occupied by the Donovan & O'Connor law offices that have moved to Building 13.

"We're very happy today to have our good friends from Integrity who not only have preserved something here with respect to Excelsior, but have kept the grand name here in the city of North Adams," said Mayor Richard Alcombright. "I think that's very, very important. Excelsior is as much our past as Sprague's was, as any other manufacturer in our region."

The 130-year-old printing company became part of Integrity when La Valla and former owner David Crane realized they could work better together than apart. They'd gotten to know each other while serving on the board of Printing Industries of New England, a nonprofit trade association.

"We weren't strong in fulfillment, he's strong in fulfillment, we were very strong in offset printing and digital printing [because] we had much more capacity," he said. "I said, 'doesn't this make sense for us to get together and do something?' and that's how it all started."

Excelsior Printing and SeedPrint, the company's seed packet printing, became divisions of Integrity while Excelsior Integrated — Fulfillment and the Oatmeal Studios Greeting Cards — continued at the Valley Mill in Lee. Crane is chairman and CEO of Excelsior Integrated, which offers product packaging, distribution and management, and is an adviser to Integrity. The two companies "cross sell" each other's services and Excelsior Integrated is a customer of Integrity.

Integrity also includes PDQ Graphics in Newport, R.I., and Colonial Printing in Warwick, R.I.; the main plant is in Windsor, Conn. Printing operations were moved out of the city, along with the jobs, but the four sales and service employees remain in North Adams, with technology keeping them linked to the other operations.

La Valla is bully on the prospects of print, and on the hope of growing in North Adams.

"I have to find away to be part of the community," he said. "I know I have to prove I'm staying — a year ago people were saying I was leaving, I'm sure they'll say something about today. But I'm here to stay."

He sees an uptick in the use of direct mail and other short-run printing options. While bigger runs may never return, there's a younger generation that "believes in print" because they can be sure it's real in a way that easily changeable online content isn't, he said. The 25-year-old company has been adept at adapting and innovating over the years, as well.

"I think you can survive and grow in the print business. I don't think it will ever go away," La Valla said. "I see it in our sales and our customer base. [Printers are] starting to produce things that they had stopped producing."

Excelsior, founded by the Roberts family in the 1880s, became part of Crane & Co. in 1969, heralded at the time as the joining of two formidable family businesses. It had operated in the former Norad Mill since the late 1950s. David Crane purchased the business and the building in 2005.

"For many of us who grew up in the West End, many of our fathers and our mothers worked there, I had a quite a few friends who worked there during the summer," said Alcombright, thanking Crane for his investment and diversification that allowed the company to survive, and joking to La Valla, "you're still in an old mill. You can't get out of an old mill in the city of North Adams."

Printing may not return, and the mayor noted manufacturing now seems to be more in the city's past than its future, but La Valla does see some room for growth for another salesperson in the office.  

"I'd love to get someone in here ... someone who believes in print," he said.

Tags: Excelsior,   printing,   ribbon cutting,   

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