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European company makes Springfield its new home

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD During his mayoral campaign Domenic Sarno said he wanted to emphasize "green" initiatives in the city and last week the city was green aplenty.

Socaplast, a Belgian company specializing in recycling a compound used by Solutia in Springfield, announced on Wednesday it would be establishing its U.S. operations in Springfield, while earlier that day the Spanish American Union announced it will be participating in the Groundwork USA program which will restore green spaces in the city.

"We are definitely going green in the city of Springfield," Patricia Moss said at the Groundwork announcement at Springfield.

Groundwork USA is a network of independent non-profit environmental businesses currently in 22 communities across the country. The Environmental Protection Agency Brownfields Program and the National Park Service's Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program support the program.

In Springfield, The Spanish American Union is the sponsoring organization and Moss is the project manager. The program will involve youth and other volunteers in an on-going series of environmental cleanup and restoration projects across the city, Moss said.

The program will receive $15,000 in technical assistance funds from the National Park Service, but must find community sponsors to underwrite the program, Douglas Evans of the National Park and the manager of the Groundwork USA initiative said.

Moss said Citizens Bank has committed $25,000 to the project and other sponsors will be announced.

The initial project will be a cleanup of Jaime Ulloa Park at Osgood and Morgan Streets in the city's North End. Twenty to 30 youth will be involved in this first effort, Moss said.

The program won't just be about the environment, Moss explained. The program will be a vehicle for the young people involved to earn their GED if they don't have a high school degree and to receive training for higher education or preparation for a "green" job.

The first meeting to recruit volunteers will be March 8 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the community room of the Central Library, Moss said. People interested in mentoring the youth in the program are encouraged to attend the event. For more information, call 734-7381.

Later that day, at a press conference conducted in Sarno's office, Dr. Steffan Florquin, the worldwide manager of operational excellence for Solutia Europe, explained the Belgian company recycles polyvinylbutyral (PVB), which is made by Solutia for use in safety glass. Socaplast has had a 20-year relationship with Solutia in Europe, Raf van der Perre, Socaplast's CEO, said.

The company will establish a facility at the Solutia business park in Indian Orchard and will invest $3.4 million in the facilities. The new plant, which will recycle PVB from the United States, Canada and Mexico, will create 15 new permanent jobs. The company is expected to begin operations here later this year.

Socaplast officials did consider other locations, Carolyn van der Perre said. The company made initial contact with the Western Massachusetts Economic Development Council (WMEDC) last September. She said that local officials were very helpful in answering questions and assisting with details.

She added the company felt "welcomed here."

WMEDC President and CEO Allan Blair said he sees Socaplast as a potential model for other European companies considering coming to Western Massachusetts. He said the daily flight from Bradley International Airport to Amsterdam had been very successful not only for tourism, but for international business development.