Online retailer Wayfair plans Pittsfield center, creating 300 jobs

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PITTSFIELD — He started out in Pittsfield, the son of a GE engineer, and later built an online giant that made him a billionaire. And now, Niraj Shah is investing some of those riches back in his hometown.

Wayfair, the rapidly growing Boston-based online seller of home furnishings, announced Thursday that it plans to establish a sales and service center in Pittsfield. The facility, which will open in mid- to late 2019, will bring 300 jobs to Berkshire County.

The company was co-founded by Shah, who grew up in Pittsfield and is now CEO of the online giant. His father was a mechanical engineer for General Electric, which during its heyday provided thousands of blue-collar jobs for Western Massachusetts workers. Those jobs are long gone, but now Shah is providing an economic boost to the city the likes of which hasn't been seen in years.

"We could not be more excited to expand our operations to the western part of the state with the opening of a sales and service center in Pittsfield — my hometown," Shah said in a statement.

The center is expected to house 265 customer service representatives and 35 managers, according to the Boston Business Journal. Hiring is expected to begin next year.

Those positions are expected to include sales and customer service jobs, human resource and sales managers, parcel support managers and data analysts, according to Heather Boulger, executive director of the MassHire Berkshire Workforce Board in Pittsfield.

Full-time jobs at Wayfair start at $14 an hour. The positions represent good entry level opportunities with some career advancement for motivated people, Boulger said. "It's a great opportunity. Fifty jobs would be exciting, but 300, it's awesome. We have the workers here to be able to do those jobs."

Jonathan Greene, Wayfair's director of real estate, told the Massachusetts Economic Assistance Council on Thursday that the company is negotiating with a Pittsfield developer to construct a building that would house the new facility, the Boston Business Journal reported.

But city officials declined to identify the developer or any of the potential city sites. "There are a number of locations that are under consideration," said Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer. With the negotiations ongoing, she declined to elaborate.

"Within the next month or so that aspect of this will be settled," Tyer said.

Establishing the sales and service center in Pittsfield is part of a larger initiative that Wayfair has undertaken that is also expected to bring 3,000 additional jobs to Boston. The company is adding 300,000 square feet of office space to an existing company location at 10 St. James Ave. in the city's Back Bay neighborhood.

Wayfair, which generated $5.7 billion in net revenue for the 12-month period ending June 30, received a $31.4 million tax break from the Massachusetts Economic Coordinating Council to execute the entire initiative.

It is one of the largest tax breaks ever awarded by the council, which is the state's primary corporate tax program, according to the Boston Business Journal. The company's sales are expected to hit $6.6 billion this year. One of the state's largest publicly traded companies, Wayfair's stock rose 48 percent during the first six months of 2018.

'A great opportunity'

Tyer said she was "ecstatic" that the city was included in Wayfair's overall expansion plans.

"What it means is that the city of Pittsfield is a place where global companies that have been successful in the economic sector believe that they can succeed," she said. "It also means there will be 300 jobs created as well as a great opportunity for this company to be a real estate partner by leasing space or building a new building. It will bring all of the benefits that come along with having a successful company locating in our community."

Shah, 44, graduated from Pittsfield High School in 1991 and now lives in the Boston area. He founded Wayfair with college buddy Steve Conine in 2002. The two men met while attending Cornell University.

"We are proud to continue to build our business in the commonwealth of Massachusetts," Shah said in his statement. "Steve Conine and I founded the company here in 2002 and with incredible talent located in Massachusetts built a team that has transformed our small start-up business into a $6 billion global e-commerce leader with tremendous growth opportunities ahead."

The Pittsfield sales and service facility will be Wayfair's ninth in the United States. Regionally, Wayfair operates similar facilities in Elmira, N.Y., and the Portland, Maine, area.

'Strong relationship' pays off

According to city and local economic development officials, the negotiations to bring Wayfair to Pittsfield began in March. Wayfair approached the city about the possibility of opening a facility here on the recommendation of state Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Jay Ash, Tyer said.

Locally, Ash played a key role in the coalition of state, local and private sector officials who provided the additional funding that allowed the construction of the long-delayed Berkshire Innovation Center project to finally proceed.

"It really was because we had built such a strong relationship with Jay Ash," Tyer said. "When Wayfair started conversations with the state about expansion, he said we need to see economic prosperity around the state."

Tyer was among several local and state officials who lauded Thursday's announcement. "Massachusetts is home to a dynamic and entrepreneurial economy," Gov. Charlie Baker said in a release, "and we are pleased to welcome Wayfair's expansion in its home state, with new jobs in Pittsfield and Boston."

Sen. Adams Hinds, D-Pittsfield, called the news a "coup for Mayor Linda Tyer."

"(It) is directly linked to our comprehensive strategic and coordinated effort to create an environment that attracts new businesses here," Hinds said in a statement. "The collaborative efforts of this partnership, between her administration, the city's legislative delegation, 1Berkshire and the Baker Administration, have been greatly rewarded today."

Pittsfield's Economic Development Council, consisting of Business Development Manager Michael Coakley, Tyer and representatives of two city-based economic development commissions, was involved in the negotiations, along with 1Berkshire, the county's leading economic development agency.

"It's a huge victory for the city of Pittsfield and for the Berkshire economy to bring 300 quality new jobs to the region," said 1Berkshire President and CEO Jonathan Butler.

1Berkshire also became involved in the negotiations last spring through a referral from the Massachusetts Economic Development Council, Butler said. "We were one of many communities that were given an opportunity to meet with Wayfair officials. Throughout the last two months, we've met as a group with the city, us and other stakeholders. It was just in the last couple of weeks that we thought this was something that would really happen.

"We're thrilled."

Business Editor Tony Dobrowolski can be reached at tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6224.


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