Some of New England’s once-vibrant manufacturing hubs are enduring difficult times. The Massachusetts and New Hampshire bi-state region dubbed the Merrimack Valley is dotted with gateway cities that once were major contributors to the U.S. textile industry. For generations, they stood as anchors of a regional economy, serving their local wage earners while producing the clothing and other dry goods America relied upon.
Then the industry went elsewhere, and the once-pulsating plants fell silent.
Cities like Lawrence, Mass., home to 80,000, and Haverhill, Mass., where 64,000 people reside, are undergoing societal change. Yet they possess vast economic potential, in part because of the physical properties the textile industry left behind.
That’s where Sal Lupoli comes in.
President and CEO of Lawrence, Mass.-based Lupoli Companies, Sal Lupoli grew up in East Boston and went on to earn a degree from Northeastern University. He first made his name as the young entrepreneurial go-getter who, with brother Nick, founded Sal’s Pizza in 1990. The beloved pizza company remains a crowd-pleasing go-to chain of 13 locations across the states of Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
A ground-breaking leader, Lupoli’s passion is creating change in communities that need it most. And he’s utterly passionate about Merrimack Valley cities of his native region.
Companies and jobs
For more than two decades, Lupoli’s vision has driven his companies’ quest to spur economic growth and development in communities outside Boston. Many of these cities show the promise of adding jobs and building economies far different from the textile manufacturing-based resource management of yesteryear.
In 2003, he grew interested in a series of down-at-the-heels mill structures hugging the banks of the 117-mile-long Merrimack River. Lupoli spearheaded an effort to restore the buildings and direct them to more contemporary uses. He created Riverwalk, a dynamic live-work play campus for the community. Sixteen years later, Lupoli Companies has turned it into a home to more than 200 companies delivering more than 4,000 jobs. The enclave also offers market-rate rental lofts within commuting distance of Boston.
“I’m passionate about true gateway cities that rely upon development as a catalyst for job creation and economic prosperity,” Lupoli says.
“One of the most important attributes that a real estate developer can bring to the community is time and energy. If you truly want to change a city like Lawrence, Lowell, or Haverhill, be ready to commit to a long-term vision. You need to become part of the fabric of the community, to roll up your sleeves and make an impact at all levels, from education to job creation to social services to the needs of an entrepreneur.
“At Lupoli Companies, we pride ourselves on being social impact entrepreneurs. We know that we are only part of the equation but we are prepared to invest the time it takes to transform gateway cities from blight to light.”
Lupoli also is involved in “The Revolving Test Kitchen,” a yearly incubator initiative designed to support emerging food entrepreneurs. Most recently, he and his team contributed half a million dollars to Northern Essex Community College. The economic infusion is designed to support a new Haverhill hospitality college and give local students another route into regional post-secondary education.
“I will tell you my favorite part of being a social impact entrepreneur in a gateway city is the influence you have to be the change,” Lupoli says. “When you create new jobs, you generate additional revenue sources that translate to better schools and neighborhoods and more self pride. To be able to say you made a difference in a gateway city is the same as saying you made a difference in someone’s life. ”