Updated Jan 30, 2019; Posted Aug 27, 2018
EASTHAMPTON — A candle company that focuses on employing women who escaped from war-torn countries earned a visit from U.S. Rep. Richard Neal and state Rep. John Scibak on Monday.
Prosperity Candle, located in the Eastworks Building, is a “mission-driven company” that strives to make a profit while doing the right thing, said co-founder Ted Barber.
“It’s not us only helping them,” said Barber of his employees. “They are helping us build this business. We are building it together.”
“We work with refugees,” said Patsy Kaufman Barber, Barber’s wife and business partner. “We have five candle makers who were resettled through UN and federal programs. We were originally connected with them through Lutheran Social Services of West Springfield.”
The Barbers said two candle makers have already attained U.S. citizenship, and that a third just passed her test.
Sai Aye and Sui Pai, who fled from Burma via refugee camps in Thailand and Malaysia, poured and finished candles as Neal, Scibak, Mayor Nicole LaChapelle and Will Bundy — the developer and longtime owner of Eastworks — talked about entrepreneurship and economic development.
Neal, a Springfield Democrat, said he learned of the company at a Grow with Google event in Springfield and wanted to stop by. He said LaChapelle and Bundy helped make that happen.
“This is a great example of small business development at work, while doing social good,” said Neal.
Scibak, a South Hadley Democrat, said he was inspired by the company and impressed with Bundy’s longstanding commitment to community and craft manufacturing at the once-derelict mill he purchased in 1997.
Prosperity Candle treats its employees well, said Barber. Candle-makers start at $15 an hour and average $18 producing hand-crafted candles poured with all-natural waxes.
“We’re not a factory,” Barber said. “We’re a studio of like-minded people working side-by-side to make a quality product entirely by hand, and in a socially and environmentally responsible way.”
He said there is a market for products that are sustainably produced. For instance, in addition to consumers, many large corporations, small businesses and nonprofits with aligned with social and environmental values order client, employee and donor gifts, or will give custom designed candles to conference speakers and attendees.
“Of course, our margins are much tighter than companies who manufacture candles overseas,” he said. “But people support our mission, and we’re proud of the fact that as a social enterprise that prioritizes positive impact over everything else, we’re succeeding.”
The company has been in business for nine years, six of those at Eastworks, the mixed-use mill at 116 Pleasant St.
Bundy told Neal about the mill district’s history — from completion of the Manhan Rail Trail in 2003, to an ambitious infrastructure project spearheaded by mill owners in cooperation with the city, to the opening of breweries and restaurants and the launch of the outdoor concert series “Millpond Live.”
“Everyone wants to think that they arrived just as Easthampton started its upswing,” Bundy said. “But Easthampton has always been on an upward trajectory.”
Bundy talked about how mill space lets small businesses grow at their own pace in a flexible manner.
Neal said that tax incentives are central to incentivizing the redevelopment of old buildings into affordable housing, business incubator space and more. He said he opposed the Trump tax plan, but worked across the aisle to preserve three programs — the new market, historic preservation and low-income housing tax credits.
“I was vehemently opposed to the bill. But we saw we were going to lose. So I appealed to my colleagues to preserve those incentives,” Neal said. “Look at the redeveloped brownstones on Mattoon Street in Springfield. The numbers would not have worked without the historic preservation tax credits.”
LaChapelle led Neal and Scibak on a mini-tour of the mill district, including its geographical relationship with the Lower Mill Pond and rail trail.
“We’ve accomplished a lot, but there’s still a lot more to do,” LaChapelle said. “Obviously, we’re looking for some action at One Ferry,” a run-down, vacant mill complex not far from Eastworks.
The city recently created a “district improvement financing zone,” or DIF, at One Ferry, and the area has been designated as a federal opportunity zone. “We’re putting together a package of incentives,” LaChapelle said.