Like many American cities during the last half-century, Springfield, Massachusetts saw its manufacturing base that once supported the economy sharply erode. But a new industry arrived this year that officials hope marks the start of a turnaround.
A Chinese company that is the largest manufacturer of passenger railroad cars in the world is going to build a $55 million, 125,000-square foot factory in Springfield that could employ up to 300 people building new MBTA subway cars at the rate of four per month.
The prospect of a new manufacturing facility of this scale – something not seen in western Massachusetts in a generation – became a reality in October when Governor Deval Patrick announced the recommendation to award a state contract to build new subway cars to the CNR Changchun Railway Vehicles Co.
" They are the premier manufacturer of transit and rail cars in the world and they are looking to expand their business around the world and will do that right out of east Springfield, which is pretty exciting," said Patrick.
A spokesperson for the Chinese company, Lydia Rivera, had disclosed plans in March to purchase a 40-acre lot that was the site of a former Westinghouse manufacturing plant on Springfield’s east side that would become the company’s North American base if it landed the MBTA work.
" The goal is to bring a North American manufacturing facility here to Springfield, and provide work and develop a workforce here."
CNR submitted the lowest of six bids at $566.6 million to build 284 new subway cars to replace decades-old vehicles on the MBTA’s Red and Orange lines. A losing bidder, Hyundai Rotem of South Korea, had proposed to build a factory at another location in Springfield, if it won the MBTA business.
The MBTA stipulated as a condition of the contract that final assembly of the subway cars would have to take place in Massachusetts.
Business experts said Springfield proved to be an attractive location for a factory because there are vocational schools and colleges in the region to train prospective employees and small machine shops to supply precision parts.
Changchung executives toured Springfield’s Putnam Vocational Technical High School earlier this year. Springfield School Superintendent Dan Warwick said the public schools are part of a partnership with the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County to create programs to train workers for the new factory.
"These kids are really well academically prepared, and a lot of our vocational shops will tie right into the workforce they are going to need."
Western New England University President Anthony Caprio met with rail car company executives during a campus visit and told them there were many opportunities for collaboration and mutual support.
"We have such a contribution to make, and the collaboration is not to be doubted at all. It has great opportunity and great potential."
David Cruise, president of the Hampden County REB, said the rail car factory will cause a ripple effect for jobs at local precision manufacturers.
"Any time you bring in a manufacturing operation of this scale you are going to have a multiplier effect that is going to be significant. We have a supply chain here that I think will clearly be able to respond to their needs, no doubt about it," said Cruise.
No timetable has been announced for the construction of the Springfield rail car factory.
Springfield city officials cite the Changchun plant as one of 34 major construction and redevelopment projects on the books with a total price tag of $2.7 billion.