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November 7, 2016

South Worcester turning point

Sam Bonacci Harry Kokkinis, president of Table Talk Pies, said it was important to have this new Table Talk facility located in Worcester.

In late October, symbolic dirt was turned over by shiny, show-ready shovels handled by politicians, developers and business owners, but the Table Talk Pie groundbreaking ceremony held at the South Worcester Industrial Park – and the comments made by the officials turning the dirt – represented much more than another construction project start.

The shifting soil marked the culmination of more than 22 years of hard work aimed at building up a community with the kind of industrial jobs that used to form the core of Worcester's employment but now seem like tales from a bygone era. The new construction, coupled with a Worcester staple and new opportunities for local residents represents a holistic approach to business and community development, according to city officials.

A hometown staple

“When you think of Worcester, you think of Table Talk. And when you think of Table Talk you think of Worcester.” - District 1 City Councilor Tony Economou.

Those words could have easily summed up scores of companies that have called Worcester home throughout the years, but now that number has dwindled to the point where Table Talk Pies is one of the few that still personifies the city's blue-collar, work-a-day-and-get-a-good-wage history.

The Table Talk Pies factory at South Worcester Industrial Park (SWIP) will be a 50,000-square-foot industrial building. At the height of its 1-million-pies-a-week production, the company will employ 80 people at the site with plans for around 40 of those to be hired from within the local community through a city training program.

Table Talk's President Harry Kokkinis is proud of his firm's ability to continue that tradition in Worcester.

“It's great to get the building we need in the place where we want it to be, which is Worcester,” Kokkinis on the third-generation family-owned business.

But it isn't an entirely altruistic stance for the owner of Table Talk. The company looked outside of Worcester, said Kokkinis, and has a Shrewsbury location.

However, the readily available workforce in Worcester simply couldn't be overlooked, and the opportunity for a new, ground-up build with easy access to those employees sold Kokkinis on the SWIP location.

“Being here in Worcester, there is a great labor supply and great employees. We have just been blessed,” he said. “We have a lot of people who walk to work, ride bikes or take public transportation.”

Can't fit modern manufacturing in old facilities

“I find there is a great need for good industrial sites in Worcester, so that is where we are concentrating our effort.” James Chacharone, founder of Chacharone Properties in Worcester.

Chacharone is developing the Table Talk project and is so bullish on modern manufacturing facilities in the city that his company purchased the last lot in the industrial park for $65,000 in order to build a 7,500-square-foot manufacturing space. There is no buyer lined up – but according to Chacharone, who is also building another 8,000 square-foot space at SWIP – this is a build-it-and-they-will-come situation.

SWIP is an 11-acre brownfield site that used to house uses such as metal casting and auto salvage. The project has involved years of demolition, cleanup and improvements to create made pad-ready for light manufacturing, industrial and commercial uses.

From the beginning of the project, this local impact was part of the equation, said Ron Charette, executive director of the South Worcester Neighborhood Improvement Corp. The organization has been pushing for the revitalization and clean up of the land so that it could benefit the neighborhood not only through new use but the local jobs that would follow.

Table Talk's location is being built-to-suit because Kokkinis could not find an existing building in Worcester that met the company's modern needs. Kokkonis was shocked at the lack of appropriate buildings for modern manufacturing in the city, thinking that there must be something appropriate in the existing stock of industrial buildings before starting that search.

“We spent four months trying to find a building here in Worcester … I thought it was going to be easy to find good manufacturing space,” said Kokkinis.. “For modern manufacturing, it's having that space and openness – wide bays, tall ceilings and one floor. There are a lot of buildings here that don't have that.”

Fitting modern manufacturing into older buildings is often impossible due to manufacturing needs, said Paul Morano, the director of business and community development for the city.

“We have shown over the last year now that if you build new manufacturing sites, you will find tenants,” Morano said making reference to the 150 Blackstone River Road development with 600,000 square feet of manufacturing and warehouse space that is 100 percent leased.

Building employee base locally

“This is another example of how we are paying attention to our neighborhoods. Jobs and economic development are not just downtown. They are across the city.” City Manager Ed Augustus.

Helping to build the bridge between Table Talk's needs and the local workforce will be the Worcester Jobs Fund. In the past, the organization has hosted job fairs that matched Worcester residents with upcoming positions at businesses under construction, but with Table Talk, the fund will build up the employee base through two rounds of job trainings.

The Table Talk factory will require an additional 50 employees once completed, with 30 moving over from the company's Washington Street location. The two-phase training program from the city is aimed at preparing around 40 of those employees, with wages starting around $15 an hour. That these employees will be able to walk to work and come directly from the neighborhood is a pivotal factor, as transportation can be a huge barrier to employment for many in this wage range, said Kelsey Lamoureux, the director of the Worcester Jobs Fund.

Holistic growth

“This is going to be real jobs for our community. It's not just about a company. It's not just about a building. It's about true community. So this is a perfect fit for this neighborhood.” District 4 City Councilor Sarai Rivera said.

While many projects are about jobs or putting properties to better use, this project combines them all in a holistic buildout that will boost the entire neighborhood, Rivera said. The new business increases the city's tax base, while generating jobs that improve the surrounding neighborhood.

“It is not only for the individual but it becomes economic growth for the community. That person is able to pay their rent, purchase in stores, eat in restaurants and become home owners,” Sarai said.

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