When it comes to the year 2011, the Fall River Industrial and Commerce Park saw its fair share of turbulence, whether it was the ill-fated struggle to secure a casino, the potential death of the South Coast BioPark or the closing of the A.J. Wright facility, to name just a few.
But for many Fall River officials, 2011 is a distant memory and subsequent positive measures are already bearing fruit. The best, as they say, is yet to come for this working-class city and the parks that call it home.
Always looking to grow
While the Fall River Industrial Park is about 85-90 percent occupied, according to Lynn Creamer, Fall River economic development coordinator, the city is hoping to attract companies to take advantage of the existing infrastructure and possibly state tax credits to fill the remaining empty buildings.
“We work to bring a wide range of jobs to the area with companies that become corporate partners with our community,” said Creamer. “We are fortunate to have a positive relationship with the businesses in the Industrial Park and we look to attract additional companies to become part of our corporate community.”
Despite the loss of AJ Wright, the city was able to fill that facility within six months after RI Novelty purchased the property this past August. Creamer said RI Novelty plans to be operational by the second quarter of 2012, helping the facility to once again become a valuable asset for the city and park. It plans to employ up to 300 people when it is fully operational.
And RI Novelty isn’t the only 2012 plans for the Commerce Park.
“Amaral’s Bakery plans to expand in the Commerce Park, and twelve acres which abut the landfill will be utilizes as a solar farm,” said Creamer. “Once these two projects are underway the Commerce Park build out will be 100 percent complete.”
The past few years have not all been bad news for the Park, which has become a hot spot for alternative expansion and alternative energy. John Matouk & Co., creators of fine linens, implemented its own 84 kilo-watt solar powered system, the largest solar installation in Southeastern Massachusetts in 2010, while Blount Fine Foods completed a $58,000-square-foot, $13 million expansion that helped double its facility’s size.
More recently, Lightolier unveiled in late January the state’s largest wind turbine, a 2 megawatt wind project that will generate enough clean, renewable electricity to power approximately 70 percent of Lightolier’s Fall River facility.
In early February, Fall River businessman Robert Karam announced the $1 million purchase of the former Oliver’s Restaurant property at the entrance of the Industrial Park. The anchor of the proposed site include a 13,000-square-foot restaurant, a bank and Dunkin Donuts. Karam hopes to have the restaurant open by the fall.
With the new Route 24 Exit 8B already in use, Creamer said the UMass Dartmouth BioProcessing facility inside the proposed SouthCoast Life Science and Technology Park at Fall River is scheduled to break ground sometime in late March or early April.
“We also have a 37 acre parcel that will be used as a solar farm, and when combined with the 12 acre solar farm in the Commerce Park it will create the largest solar farm in Massachusetts at eight megawatts,” said Creamer.
The city obtained 43D designation from the Commonwealth as a Priority Development Site, and has obtained recognition from the Massachusetts BioCouncil as a “BioReady” development, Creamer noted. They have also organized functions and attended conferences to bring recognition to the South Coast relative to life science opportunities. With a number of Life Science and Bio companies interested in parcels in the park, the city is having active and ongoing discussions with these companies to locate their facilities within the park, Creamer said.
“Together, the Industrial Park, Commerce Park, and the South Coast LifeScience and Technology Park at Fall River provide unmatched capacity, diversity, and opportunity for expansion. We have companies that have outgrown their former locations throughout the city such as Lightolier and Amaral’s Bakery and have been able to expand to locations in the Industrial Park and Commerce Park,” said Creamer.
“The South Coast LifeScience Park will allow us to seize new opportunity for local employment in a fast growing sector. We regularly reach out to park tenants to understand what works well and what needs tweaking, so we can be responsive to industry needs in a proactive manner.”
While Creamer said most of the infrastructure needed in the park is already in place, she said the park will still need to work with the city in the future to have a water tank built in the park to facilitate the distribution of water to the park’s tenants.
Other work in process includes wiring the park with high speed internet service, something that has raised the ire of a number of park owners over the last few years. Creamer said the park, especially with the creation of the long-awaited exit 8B, is looking to continue to bolster its business arsenal throughout this year and in the years to come.
“Access to transportation routes is one of the most important factors to industry – especially to manufacture and distribution. The new exit makes the parks more accessible, which benefits all those who work in and visit the parks,” said Creamer. “This not only benefits existing businesses, but is a great selling point as we recruit new businesses and tout our proximity to Boston and other trade destinations.”
Ready for growth
Todd Blount, President of Blount Fine Foods, said he felt the park is better than ever after holding its own through the economic downturn, and has an active base of companies.
Blount noted that while a few building are empty more local-based and smaller companies have arrived and should have a stronger foundation going forward. In a search of the park’s success stories, Blount has to look no further than his own company, who completed a 58,000-square-foot, $13 million expansion at the end of 2010. Blount has been in the park since 2004.
“Blount’s success is based on its strategy to build custom soup programs for retailers and restaurant chains alike. The park has allowed the strategy to work; as we needed to be able to grow capacity quickly,” said Blount. “The park and the city have allowed us to do that.”
While Blount said the biopark will brings attention to the area, it’s also a long term investment, that will lift the value of the new park and the old park. Blount said the purchase of the old Oliver’s Restaurant has businesses in the park excited.
“We think they are just the right people to make something work there,” said Blount. “It won’t be easy, as the park community is fickle about what services they need and when they need them; however I think it will be huge change to the park.”
As for the future, Blount said all the businesses in the park still have the opportunity to invest in its infrastructure.
“We are on our way to future high-speed wired internet and road upgrades thanks to the help of the city and state. But we aren’t there yet and we need to carry the torch to the finish line,” said Blount.
“We love Fall River and the people of Fall river. We look forward to growing there and continuing a long partnership.”
A good mix
Karl Hetzler, co-owner of H&S Tool and Engineering and 2012 Chairman of the Fall River Industrial Park Foundation, located his business to the park in 2009 and said, without hesitation, that it was the best thing they did.
“This Industrial Park is very accommodating to both small businesses like mine and, all the way up to companies like Phillips and Blount Sea Foods,” said Hetzler.
“There is a nice mix of businesses, and quite frankly a lot of “modern technology” being incorporated throughout the different businesses. The businesses that are here are investing and creating employment for a variety of skill sets.”
Hetzler said despite the positives about the park, more needs to be done to market the vacant properties, attract new businesses and keep the Park up to date. He said while the buildings are privately owned, the roads and infrastructure are not.
“Somehow the City of Fall River needs to find some money and commit to enhancing the Park with new roads, sidewalks, landscaping and logistical upgrades like high speed internet,” said Hetzler.
The off ramps for Route 24, Hetzler said offer unbelievable access, and the road that goes through the Bio Park is wide, has sidewalks and street lights.
“I believe that businesses in the Bio fields will find our new park to be a great place to plant roots. I also believe the Bio Park will have a positive impact on the existing Industrial Park,” said Hetzler.
“The fact that both Parks are connected by Riggenback Road leads me to believe that in time you will see a joining and sharing of resources and ideas which will make both parks, as well as the businesses in them, stronger. As a member of the Fall River Industrial Park Association, I look forward to welcoming in our neighbors.”
With three Industrial Park busineses utilizing solar panels and the unveiling of the new wind turbine at Philips Lightolier, Hetzler said the Fall River Industrial Park will soon be a leader in the production of renewable energy.
“The benefit of this could mean more than just cheaper electricity,” said Hetzler. “Any publicity would mean added exposure for our Park and that could lead to added interest in our area. I can already imagine people describing this Industrial Park as “the place with the giant windmill”.
Dave Monti, President of Fall River Manufacturing, said while the park has been a great home to his company since moving there in 1984 due to its convenient and safe location, there is still much that needs to be done to get the park up to par.
Monti said that to be competitive with other parks as we compete to attract new businesses, continuing road maintenance, curbing and sidewalks, high speed Internet – which is currently being worked on, and the ongoing beautification plan need to continue.
“The park has been very beneficial place to do business in. In general – the South Coast has been a good place to find workers,” said Monti. “However in the current marketplace, there is difficulty in finding people who want factory jobs. Yet, we increased our workforce more than 10 percent in the last 18 months.”
Monti said the Biopark will bring new business and support services to this area, and may offer new opportunities to existing businesses in the park.
“Some amenities at the front of the park (food, banking, childcare, etc.), will help make us more competitive with other modern business parks,” said Monti.
“These services are beneficial when trying to attract new businesses.”