What’s next for Deerfield Industrial Park? Companies interested in park are few and far between
Recorder/Paul Franz Disston in South Deerfield Industrial Park Purchase photo reprints »
DEERFIELD — A white blank nameplate welcomes people to an empty building at the top of the west side of Industrial Drive, where Disston Tools used to turn out tools and saw blades.
A pile of garbage sits in the concrete swath of a parking lot, where tractor-trailers in the past picked up and shipped off tools from the 165-year-old company.
And by the entrance of the 73-acre Deerfield Industrial Park, a large “for sale or lease” sign advertising an available nine-acre lot greets people as they enter.
The vacant building and for sale signs have become a normal sight in the park as the manufacturing industry steadily declined in the area — and in the United States — and was shipped abroad, to China and other countries with low average wages and no unions.
For 15 years, Disston operated from the Deerfield Industrial Park, making saw blades and tools. The company was a remnant of the booming machine tool and hand tool business in Franklin County.
But over the years, Disston cut jobs, many of which were held by Franklin County residents. In 2009, the company employed 250 people. By 2013, the number of employees had dropped to 50.
This April, after laying off 15 employees, the company moved operations to Chicopee, to a facility half the size of Deerfield’s 270,000-square-foot site.
Like many manufacturers, the company downsized to lower costs and shipped many functions to China, a process that began in earnest five years ago.
The industrial park, off Route 116, is split into two sides, the west and east. It abuts the Whately town line and that town’s industrial park.
Within Deerfield Industrial Park East, there are seven businesses. Millivision Technologies designs and builds concealed threat detection systems for the security market. Polar Focus creates speaker and audio equipment. And Cannistraro works in the plumbing and HVAC industry.
On the west side, Samuel D. Plotkin & Associates locates its real estate offices, Goulet Trucking Inc. houses its fleet of trucks for hauling jobs and Fleet Pride supplies heavy-duty truck and trailer parts.
There are five lots on the west side and three lots on the east side. Of the eight lots, one lot and a portion, occupied by Goulet Trucking, isn’t used.
Although much of the park is being used, the town is finding it more difficult to bring new business to the park to replace outgoing manufacturers.
The park’s situation is a stark contrast to its past, when businesses were clamoring to get a spot.
In 1977, when the 73 acres transformed from a tobacco farm into a new industrial park, Deerfield drew many large manufacturers to Franklin County.
Instrumental in the development of the park — and the jobs it brought to Deerfield — was the Deerfield Economic Development Industrial Corp., or DEDIC.
In 1977, townspeople approved the formation of the development group at town meeting. With an increasing tax rate and lagging economy, the farming and bedroom community turned to commerce and industry to broaden the tax base and create jobs, according to Recorder archives.
And it rezoned the agricultural land to industrial.
The quasi-municipal corporation started off with seven members led by John Ciesla.
The all-volunteer group, appointed by the selectmen, was charged with developing land in the town to create jobs. The development corporation was given the power by the state to borrow or loan money, accept grants, and prepare economic development plans.
It was also given the power of eminent domain, which allowed the corporation to take over private property while compensating landowners. This power often ignited animosity between the park developers and local residents, who believed the corporation proposed offers that were too low.
Part of the park’s success at the time was that Deerfield was one of only two small towns in the state to have certification for its development corporation under Chapter 121C, making it eligible for federal and state grants.
It received a $150,000 federal grant to acquire 73 acres to create the Deerfield Industrial Park, beating out Greenfield for the money. And a year later, it received $805,048 in federal and state grants to build roads, drainage and water infrastructure.
Ingersoll-Rand, the parent of the former Millers Falls Co., became the park’s first tenant in 1977, relocating from Greenfield to a $4 million plant in Deerfield and bringing 700 employees.
The park built on that success.
In recent years, however, the nonprofit, public corporation has lost much of its strength. Its seven members have dwindled to two — Ciesla and John Paciorek.
Town leaders are now discussing whether to reinvigorate the development corporation to bring new business to the town.
“The corporation has been dormant,” said interim Town Administrator Wendy Foxmyn. “It needs to be reactivated. It’s always good to have businesses and employment.”
The selectmen invited Ciesla and Paciorek to tonight’s board meeting to discuss the future of the group.
The development corporation has about $94,000 in its account, which is separate from the town.
According to town property records, the development corporation continues to own two lots in the industrial park. The two lots are for sale.
One 18,295-square-foot lot in the west side of the park is valued at $13,300. A second 167,936-square-foot lot in the east side is valued at $179,400.
Ciesla, the longest serving member, said the corporation has been inactive for a year because “there wasn’t much industrial development going on.”
Paciorek, a former selectmen, has served on the corporation for two years.
He sees the park as still fully functioning.
“The biggest goal I have is the status quo,” Paciorek said. “Over 90 percent of the park is full and still working.”
Paciorek said the development corporation has to discuss plans with the selectmen, but he would like the corporation to have an increased responsibility in the development of the former Cain’s factory property on Jewett Avenue.
David “Bud” Driver, a member of the corporation until 2004, also believes the town should re-activate the development corporation rather than dissolve it.
“If we get rid of the DEDIC, we could never form it again,” Driver, said. “We could get new numbers, help develop senior housing and the (former Cain’s) pickle factory.”
The development corporation has become less robust because members have grown older or moved on and were not replaced, Driver said.
“Board members have to be reappointed,” Driver said. “All towns struggle in the sense of volunteerism. Hopefully we can get new members to replace old members.”
Driver said part of the park’s problem is “industrial manufacturing in Deerfield has left and slowed to a snail’s pace.”
Driver suggested the park could be rezoned from industrial to commercial.
“There are more jobs in commercial than manufacturing.”