SPRINGFIELD – Blazing temperatures didn’t keep several hundred people away from the groundbreaking ceremony of the CRRC rail facility on the site of the former Westinghouse factory on Page Boulevard on Sept. 1.
News crews from around the region as well as from China jockeyed for position when the speaking portion of the program began featuring Gov. Charlie Baker and Weiping Yu, the vice president of the Chinese company.
The company looked at more than 50 sites in which to locate its new facility, according to remarks made during the ceremony.
Baker acknowledged the work the Patrick Administration had done in awarding the contract for new Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) rail cars to CRRC, making the new manufacturing facility a reality.
Weiping said, “We have an exciting road ahead partnering with Massachusetts.”
The CRRC US Rail Corp. will manufacture 284 rail cars for the MBTA as its first order. The $95 million factory is expected to be completed by the end of 2017 and should employ initially 150 people in what was described as middle class jobs with salaries averaging $66,000.
Kathy Brown, president of the East Springfield Neighborhood Council, she said the neighborhood is excited to have an industrial neighbor once again.
“The company has already been a good neighbor, keeping us in the loop,” she said.
Westinghouse has used the site until the early 1970s for manufacturing. Following its departure, the buildings were used by various businesses. Around 2007 and 2008 there had been interest in establishing a “big box” store shopping mall there. The O’Connell Development Group purchased the site in 2010 and the casino development company Ameristar then bought it in hopes of building a casino there.
Daniel D’Alma, the president of the Pioneer Valley Building Trades Council, told Reminder Publications the unions are currently completing negotiations for a project labor agreement for the construction of the facility.
“This is a major shot in the arm,” he said.
He added CRRC has expressed interest in having a unionized workforce.
Rick Sullivan, CEO and president Western Massachusetts Economic Development Council, said while the invest in the factory was good news for the region, the additional potential for economic development will come from CRRC using local businesses in as part of their supply chain.
He said he conducted a two-day tour of Western Massachusetts businesses with CRRC officials to show them what is here and the businesses’ capacity.
The new factory could also be a boon for the sale and development of other manufacturing properties in the area, Evan Plotkin, president of NAI Plotkin said. He added everything he has heard indicated the city extended a business friendly environment to CRRC.
State Sen. Eric Lesser said the factory will “help to re-establish Springfield as a transportation/rail center in the Northeast.”
He added, “It’s a really important opportunity for the city on a variety of levels.”
Mayor Domenic Sarno noting the history of the site said, “Sometimes you could go back to the future.”