GREENFIELD, Mass. - Meet John Waite. He’s a tall, amiable fellow who’s relaxed, accommodating, and very easy to chat with.
But don’t be misled. As executive director of the Franklin County Community Development Corporation at 324 Wells St., Waite is passionately committed to job creation, his community, and entrepreneurship. He has refined attention to detail and a laser-like ability to concentrate.
"We were formed back in 1979," said Waite, "to maximize community control over our future economic destiny. At that time, a number of manufacturing companies in this area were closing and moving elsewhere. The FCCDC has changed over the years as the needs of the community have changed.
"Yet our programs and activities are still geared toward stimulating a robust economy that closely fits our sense of place -- our hills and valleys, and our towns and villages."
The Franklin County CDC bolsters businesses and the public by providing leadership and guidance in the following: business training, business incubator, commercial real estate, business lending, the Western Mass. Food Processing Center, and technical assistance.
"We’re definitely pro-small business," said John. "We think this type of commerce is good for individual communities all the way up to the national economy. If small businesses do well, communities and the country do well. Because our staff has worked with so many businesses, we can help new enterprises move forward more rapidly and make fewer mistakes."
Waite, who’s in his 13th year at FCCDC, is extremely proud of his staff. Amy Shapiro, business assistance program manager, is in her 12th year of service; Lending Program Manager Alan Singer is in his 11th; Office Manager Judy Scherer her sixth. Jackie Spooner is the business programs assistant, while Vinny Natale serves as accountant.
The executive director clearly loves his job. "Every day I’m working with different businesses," said John. "My position never gets boring. This morning I was chopping up fresh strawberries at our Food Processing Center. The strawberries were picked at 6 a.m. at the Long Plain Farm in Whately and by 9 a.m. we were preparing them for Snow’s, the local ice cream manufacturer."
The Food Processing Center’s mission is "to promote economic development through entrepreneurship, provide opportunities for sustaining local agriculture, and promote best practices for food producers." The center helps find answers for both food producers and entrepreneurs with value-added farm products, co-pack solutions, specialty, organic, and natural products, professional and business development, along with wholesale and retail operations and other solutions.
The FPC operation meets federal, state, and local standards with its completely equipped modern production facility. The operation has 100- and 60-gallon steam kettles; dry, cold and frozen storage; convection and conventional ovens and range; hot-bottling/filling automation; shipping and receiving area with loading dock; shared office space and equipment, along with other features.
According to Waite, entrepreneurs come from near and far to use CDC’s food processing center. "We have people nearby from southern Vermont, southern New Hampshire, or as far as Boston using our center in starting their businesses. We’re always looking for new food businesses to come here and develop their products."
Among other features, the Franklin County CDC offers informational and training sessions. "Exploring Going into Business and Business Resources Info Sessions," free workshops for owners of start-up and existing businesses, will be held Wednesday, July 10 and Wednesday, Aug. 6 from 3:30 to 5 p.m. at the 324 Wells St. site of FCCDC. The sessions are free of charge. Registration is encouraged. Please call 413-774-7204.
"When you attend one of our groups," said the executive director, "you will meet and network with other entrepreneurs. This type of sharing and exchange of information will greatly benefit your business."
In addition, FCCDC provides a business planning class, usually offered during the fall and spring. Specialized workshops are also conducted that include technology, marketing, and cash management. And there are valuable discussion groups -- on a roundtable basis -- focused on sharing best practices and common entrepreneurial issues.
"Many people," said Waite, "know you should prepare a business plan. We can make a difficult, critical part of small business creation easier. We can walk entrepreneurs through the business planning process, so that it’s not that difficult. We know from experience and statistics that businesses which do better planning have a higher rate of success."
Another integral part of business development is obtaining loans. Franklin County CDC’s Business Lending Program has a vital mission: "to stimulate a more vital, rural economy, to maximize community control over our future economic destiny, and to expand opportunities for low and moderate-income residents."
FCCDC provides loans to new and existing businesses for expansion capital, working capital, manufacturing, equipment purchases, green/energy efficient improvements, and gap financing. Since its founding, FCCDC has provided more than $8 million to local businesses in the form of more than 300 direct loans. The local organization has also partnered with commercial lenders. Priority is given to businesses that retain or create jobs.
"We have a loan committee," said Waite, "made up of 11 people from the community in Franklin and Hampshire Counties. The committee helps us make our loan decisions. We look at more than just the application. We look at the motivation of the entrepreneur, their experience, and the fit between the business and community.
"We make loans to businesses that just miss getting bank loans and yet have a good business idea. We can take a little more of a risk than a bank because we’re a community lender."
For more information on any aspect of the Franklin County Community Development Corporation, please visit www.fccdc.org or call 413-774-7204.