Firm Makes It a Red Letter Day at Village Hill

October 25, 2008 : Daily Hampshire Gazette, by Chad Cain

NORTHAMPTON – When they snipped the ribbon in front of their company’s new headquarters off Earle Street Friday, Bruce Volz and Tony Clarke ushered in much more than a new beginning for the high-end furniture maker.

The owners of VCA Inc. also signaled the start of commercial activity at Village Hill Northampton, the much-anticipated mixed-use development on the former state hospital campus grounds.

“VCA will set the tone for the rest of the development,” said Robert L. Culver, president and CEO of MassDevelopment.

VCA, which specializes in custom furniture and architectural millwork, officially opened its 20,000-square-foot manufacturing plant at 209 Earle St. Friday, moving here from cramped quarters at a former mill building at One Cottage Street in Easthampton.

The $2 million facility’s signature feature is its large windows around the perimeter, which are designed to allow in plenty of natural light and mimic the old mill building the company has called home in Easthampton for the last 15 years.

“I wouldn’t want to work in a dark building with no windows and I wouldn’t want anyone else to, either,” said Clarke.

Perseverance became the buzz word at Friday’s opening ceremony, especially considering the company first set its sights on the Earle Street parcel more than a decade ago. The two owners said they had no idea how complicated relocating to Village Hill would be when they started.

At the time, the site housed a former laundry and power plant for Northampton State Hospital, and VCA’s owners were intrigued with the architecture of the old structure.

Their efforts to secure the parcel failed at the time, so VCA began looking at other sites throughout the region large enough to house their rapidly growing business and meet their architectural tastes. When environmental issues exhausted several other options, the company swung its attention back to Village Hill.

“We thought the whole concept (of Village Hill) had a lot of appeal,” said Volz.

Volz and Clarke ultimately bought one of two Earle Street parcels slated for industrial development from Hospital Hill Development LLC, of which MassDevelopment and The Community Builders are partners.

“It has been a long haul,” said Volz. “We are happy to be here as a part of Village Hill.”

City and MassDevelopment officials are also pleased, calling VCA’s opening a milestone for the 126-acre development.

“This is a great day for the city … you’re great pioneers for this site and I’m so glad you’re here,” said Mayor Clare Higgins.

VCA employs 15 people, including the owners, and primarily serves designers and architects in the Northeast. Clarke said the company is looking to hire one full-time employee immediately and plans to add four more in the next year or two.

VCA has yet to feel a pinch to its business because of recent economic woes. Clarke believes this is primarily because the company works for architects who serve wealthy clients. The furniture the company makes is also booked a year or two in advance, so it’s likely too early to tell how the current economy will affect VCA moving forward, Clarke said.

VCA is one of two companies who have signed on to the Village Hill development. Kollmorgen Corp., the city’s largest manufacturer, is in the process of drawing up plans for a new 150,000-square-foot facility and 450-space parking lot that would be the anchor of Village Hill’s south campus.

The south campus, where most of the commercial activity will take place, will eventually include four buildings and 202,000 square feet of space.

© Copyright 2008 Daily Hampshire Gazette.