PITTSFIELD, Mass. — There are three companies that would expand immediately if there was a building with 20,000-square-feet of warehouse space available, according to Business Development Manager Michael Coakley.
In less than 24 hours, Coakley presented to two different city boards on his work over the last year or so. The business manager is tasked with helping to bring companies to the city -- with his biggest success being Wayfair -- and helping local ones grow. When asked what the biggest challenges are, he said it is the availability of space.
"There are at least three local companies that we have here who, if we had 20,000 square-feet of warehouse type space, they would move into that facility tomorrow," Coakley told the City Council last Tuesday night and the Pittsfield Economic Development Board on Wednesday morning.
Coakley is in talks with building owners, brokers, and developers constantly about available space for companies to move or expand into. What he has found is that space is more limited than what many think.
"There is really not much room, 10,000 or 20,000 or 30,000 square-feet, of building space available," Coakley said.
The issue of a lack of large spaces for companies has been documented in the past. In 2015,Berkshire Regional Planning Commission did a survey of all industrially-zoned land available for redevelopment. In all of Berkshire County, only 41 properties had more than three acres of undeveloped and buildable land.
For available building for redevelopment, 43 of 48 of those have less than three acres of land. It is estimated by BRPC that a company looking for 50,000 square feet, which is what many of the county's established manufacturers would be looking for to expand at this point, would need five acres of land.
In the entire county, there were 10 available industrial sites larger than 10 acres, three with more than 30 acres, and no sites 50 acres or larger. Should the county attract a company seeking 200,000 square feet of building, the options are limited.
The William Stanley Business Park is one location with a lot of space for companies to build on. But Coakley said the environmental issues there are scaring companies away.
"One company, in particular, was talking about building two 50,000 square-foot buildings on Site 9 and I think they were a little bit scared away looking at the website about millions of dollars of costs for stormwater management and environmental issue. Those are things we have to discuss so when we do have a prospect that is ready to build here, looking to come here, how do we get them here without scaring them away?" Coakley told the PEDA Board of Directors.
The former General Electric land in the center of the city has been the focus of redevelopment for years with little luck -- only a few of the parcels were developed. Coakley is hoping to sort out a way to alleviate company concerns.
"We have companies ready to come here and then all of a sudden they see what needs to be done and they are afraid to dig in. It is an issue," Coakley said.
Despite those challenges, Coakley's efforts haven't been for naught. Coakley was the one who had gotten the lead on Wayfair and coordinate with the e-commerce company on multiple occasions about coming to Pittsfield. In the end, the city will see its largest boost in new jobs in a number of years when Wayfair opens a sales and service center.
"Our biggest accomplishment so far is Wayfair. Following months of discussions, tours of location options, two red carpet team meetings, proposals, coordination with the secretary of housing and economic development, and competition with other Western Massachusetts communities, Wayfair will expand their operations in Pittsfield by opening a sales and service center in the Clocktower building with over 300 new jobs," Coakley said.
Wayfair has actually considered space at the park. PEDA Chairman Mick Callahan said it was in the top two of potential locations in the city. PEDA officials met with company representatives, took them around the site, and put together renderings of what the company could build there.
"We were able to work with their site development company and produce two quality renderings in a short period of time," Callahan said.
Coakley said Wayfair was shown potential options of five or six different sites and eventually the two locations at the top were building new at the park or leasing in the Clocktower building. Ultimately, the company chose the Clocktower building.
"The best news is that they will have a Pittsfield address," Callahan said.
Coakley estimates that the company will be putting some $2 million into the building and will have an annual payroll between $13 million and $14.6 million.
And there is still in the works. Coakley said there are still multiple companies still in conversation about expanding or moving to the city.
"The conversations I have with companies investigating the possibility of moving to or expanding their operations in Pittsfield are highly sensitive. It is imperative that these discussions remain confidential until the businesses are prepared to release their plans to the public. Therefore I am unable to discuss details of the prospects currently engaged in discussions with me," Coakley said, but assured both the council and PEDA that he has more irons in the fire.
The effort is something Ward 2 City Councilor Kevin Morandi is particularly happy about, saying for years he felt the city needed somebody to spread the word about Pittsfield's economic development options.
"I felt Pittsfield really needed somebody to sell the city and really get it out there," Morandi said.
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