The Paper City Needs Tech

Holyoke has been recovering from the death of Northern manufacturing since the end of the Second World War. Since then, it has seen tremendous positive growth, from urban revitalization such as the Canal Walk project to the birth of a thriving arts community. But for Holyoke to take the final steps towards economic prosperity and stability, it needs to find and build a new industry to rally behind.

The Paper City needs tech.

Holyoke is uniquely positioned to be the perfect location for a growing tech business or startup company, and the market is young enough for extreme growth potential for any firm hoping to capitalize on the budding industry.

The first and most readily apparent benefit of a Holyoke business is the inexpensive factors of production. Office spaces in Holyoke are remarkably affordable. Williston alum DJ Steve Porter bought a 10,015 square foot building in Holyoke for $350,000, according to publicly available records, putting the price at roughly $35.00 per square foot. Renovation costs aside, that’s exponentially less expensive than major market centers like New York City or Boston.

Rental space, too, is reasonable. At One Open Square in Holyoke, a 1,394 square foot office space is available for $1,219.75 per month, a price of less than a dollar per square foot per month. For a manufacturing unit with an open warehouse and loading docks, space can be rented for less than $0.50 per square foot per month. And these spots? All are zero-net energy spaces powered in part by the office’s own sustainable power generators.

Of course, the rental costs are only the first of many factors of production to pay for. but Holyoke has much more covered. Due to the city’s proximity and historic relationship with the Holyoke Dam, it is able to provide affordable, clean energy at rates roughly 15% lower than the National Grid, 30% lower than Western Mass Electric, and 50% lower than NSTAR. And new companies receive a 10% discount for three years on top of an additional 10% for prompt payment rewards.

Not only is it affordable, but it is environmentally conscious, a factor of particular importance to young tech companies. Approximately two thirds of Holyoke’s municipal energy comes from solar or hydroelectric power sources, with the bulk coming from the Holyoke Dam. An additional 15% is nuclear, and an additional ten percent comes from carbon free grid sources. And businesses interested in promoting personal sustainability can receive 0% loans from Holyoke Gas and Electric to invest in business infrastructure. Not a bad deal.

But firms, particularly new ones, need to consider more than just the costs of establishing a business. They need to see the potential for growth and opportunities that go beyond cost savings. Holyoke has that covered.

The city is placed in an artery of interstate transit. Placed between Hartford, NYC, Boston, and Montreal with easy train and bus access, the city provides a network of opportunities. Closer by, Holyoke is surrounded by the Five College Consortium, which can provide resources and interns to startup companies as they help both their students and the local economy. Sitting right in the center of downtown Holyoke, too, is the Massachusetts Green High Performing Computing Center (MGHPCC), the largest environmentally sustainable computing center in the Northeast, which is led by an association of colleges and businesses in Massachusetts.

The MGHPCC is located on the Holyoke Canal Walk, a scenic and open space along the mill canals with an abundance of open factory space. The hundred-million-dollar building frequently brings researchers from BU, Northwestern, Harvard, and MIT, allowing for a wider outreach than just the nearest towns.

Not to be dismissed is the simple beauty of Holyoke’s cityscape. Not unlike Brooklyn in its red-brick buildings and spacious streets, the city is simply a nice place to work if you know where to eat. Stores like The Cake Lady, which offers fantastic cupcakes, and The White Rose, a socialist café and bookstore, serve to provide some color to a long workday, and the centrally-located YMCA allows for healthy living after the office closes.

Holyoke carries additional potential in its open and innovative government run by Mayor Alex Morse, the city’s youngest mayor in its history. Mayor Morse has come to the stage with the promise of new ideas and creative economic development. The startup technology industry needs an ally with the capacity to understand their needs, and in this case youth is an asset.

Just as young professionals flock to Brooklyn for its different-and-interesting aesthetic, Holyoke should brand itself as a step away from the homogenous office spaces of other towns, from the bland beige plasterboard walls, but rather towards the quirky red brick old mill buildings where anything could happen and where innovation is celebrated.

The elephant in the room is that this would lead to gentrification, but that’s not quite true. The spaces I’m describing are generally empty – boarded up old mills with nothing but potential. Filling them up won’t push other people out of their homes, and tech firms generally have few enough employees that the demographics of Holyoke would change only marginally.

Holyoke has the chance to capitalize on the rapid growth of the technology sector and grow with it. It has the space, the infrastructure, and the human capital to make innovation happen. With sustained investments in its future industries, the Paper City has the chance to fly.

A view of Holyoke’s scenic Canal Walk District where many businesses hold potential to grow and establish.