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Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day! The team here on the Swift "John McGowan" Campus is committed to honoring Dr. Martin Luther King's legacy by creating opportunities for business and employment here in North Hartford.

Updated: Dec 13, 2022

City cuts down Swift Icon without warning!

I was on my daily 6-block commute from the Clay Arsenal neighborhood where I live to work at the Swift Factory as I stopped at the 4-way intersection of Garden and Westland Streets. Just like every other morning, for a microsecond, I attempt to do the math on how the 4-way intersection gets called "5 Corners". The majestic Maple tree is there as if it were standing at military attention, saluting my arrival to work. It is when know I am at Swift, at work.

Last week, the Swift Maple "watched" over 5-Corners!

Still, the looming 4-corner mathematical enigma persisted until muscle memory banked my car into a quick left-to-right turn, swerving me slowly up Love Lane's gentle curves and the rocking action reminded me immediately that Love Lane's corner is the fifth corner of the intersection; enigma solved again. It all happens in silence, in a matter of seconds--daily.

That little math equation is probably my subconscious preparing me for another set of work-day unknowns, to release anxiousness. It's played out in what Journalist and Urban Planning Influencer, Jane Jacobs, called the "emotional landscape", where our subconscious creates emotional connections to our physical environment.

As we travel through our neighborhoods, we emotionally connect with landmarks reminding us that we are safe; that we are home, that we are somewhere familiar. Anything out of place can signal change, danger or an opportunity for growth or relocation.

I arrived in my parking spot next to the concrete island in the Swift lot so no one hits my car. Settling into the reception area at my desk, I busied myself in a caffeine-fueled scramble to get an appraisal of the day's evolving tasks; calendar, texts , emails, and the newspaper. Nothing was out of place. It was a regular workday until it's end.

That was when my colleague Floyd approached the desk like he always does when he is coming onto his shift. "Did you know that they cut down the tree at 5 Corners?" he asked. I heard him, but immediately dismissed any possibility of that, believing Floyd was talking about a tree near the back parking lot neighbors had an issue with in the distant past.

I had just seen the tree at 5-Corners coming into work. "Show me what you're talking about," I said. I thought he had to be wrong as we walked down Love Lane to the intersection, my nerves pulsing and my neck stretching around the corner of Building 4 to see if long outstretched branches would testify to what I hoped was a huge misunderstanding.

But, they were not there, no limbs bared to Winter's coming grip. Nothing to signify their salvation. We were confronted with the reality of their demise. The Swift Maple had been cut down. Its dismembered trunk lay on the ground stone pad in what seemed like a crime scene. The only thing that was missing was yellow police tape.

Floyd immediately called the Swift Property Manager, Salena Robinson, to report what he saw while I called Patrick McKenna, Interim Executive Director at Swift. When I saw Patrick the next day, he was still visibly shaken by the news and I knew he was going to get to the bottom of it. He had applied his architect's eye to meeting every intricate zoning requirement involving the choice, placement and number of trees on campus during our construction phase. I knew his contact list from that process would get us answers.

Apparently, the Hartford Police Department developed a list of trees obscuring the view of city surveillance cameras and submitted it to the City Forester whose crews came around and cut the trees down. McKenna said the Forester acknowledged a call should have been placed to notify us, but somehow it was overlooked. It was unfortunate since we could have provided a solution. The police could have tied into the numerous cameras we have on campus to fill their needs. They could have tied into the cameras at JR's or the 5-Corners Bodegas. But, that opportunity no longer existed. The damage had been done.

The shock of it all was accompanied by a sense of powerlessness. The feeling of loss was palpable. I realized I really cared about that tree without even realizing it. I've never hugged a tree in my life, but if I could have hugged the Swift Maple just one time in that moment, it would have made me feel a lot better.

What is it about trees? Well, let's start with the fact that they are living beings. And, we know that, without the green canopy of Keney Park's 693 acres of Urban Forest, North Hartford's asthma rates--some of the worst in Connecticut--would be higher. We know how trees remove carbon from the atmosphere and replace it with oxygen.

But, just as the branches above ground improve conditions, the branches of a tree's root systems impact a vast subterranean ecosystem. Their chemical connections communicate with other flora through roots as well as insects and animals via scent.

Trees have always had a spiritual symbolic significance, ie: the tree of life is extent in every known spirituality. They have a social purpose. What would Connecticut be without the Charter Oak? And, the tree is a great symbol to express stability for a brand. In fact, the Swift Brand has always been represented by a maple leaf.

I don't think this tree was more than 80 years old, but it has witnessed every event in this community during its life. The Maple was there when the neighborhood was a primarily Jewish Neighborhood. It was there when Black residents moved here to escape southern exploitation. It stood across the street from The Hartford Jazz Society and the "West Bar" Market when Black businesses thrived in the neighborhood. It saw generations of Black and Brown youth born, grow into adulthood and for the unfortunate ones, the Swift Maple saw them die all too early as well.

It has witnessed a multitude of arrests, beatings, shootings and tears shed from want of too many things. It witnessed the celebrations, joys, smiles, hugs and daps of residents passing by in the night of their collective struggle to be o.k. Yes, the Swift Maple was a steady presence in all that has happened here.

And, so it has been since we began our work. One of our first actions at Swift was to remove the 12-foot high chain link fence surrounding the maple and the area surrounding it to create what would become Swift's public-facing space at 5-Corners.

Much of the narrative of our pre-development work has passed beneath its branches. From art installations to bicycle clinics for neighborhood youth, to community cook-outs and celebrations to Covid vaccine clinics early in the pandemic, that maple tree was ever-present.

Consideration of green infrastructure began very early in the Swift Development process with Community Solutions commissioning the Conway School Plan for the Westland Street Corridor from Main Street to Keney Park. Next came a Health Impact Assessment highlighting ways to leverage the neighborhood's green assets. This led to the creation of a Neighborhood Sustainability Plan for the Northeast Neighborhood. In all of our efforts, one thing was very clear. One of North Hartford's greatest assets is its trees.

Over the years, our tree--the Swift Maple--has; occupied our subconscious imagery, communicated its messages chemically as a member of the neighborhood's ecology, colorfully messaged the arrival of the seasons, physically fought off erosion and served as shelter, companion and a leaning post for innumerable travelers and has served as a witness to all that has occurred within range of its shadow.

After 2 years of operations here much continues to happen and most of it positive.

In the next couple of years, we will have the 21st Century, "NextGen" Hartford Public Library and Sasa Harriott and Harriott Home Health Services expanding into Building 4. CREC will be moving into Building 6 with a Head Start facility and Affordable Learning Child Care Learning Center is planning to begin operations on the second level of Building 5. And, though many will be there to witness it, one witness will not be there. No, the Swift Maple is fallen. We're gonna miss your presence. But, hope still lives. Maybe its time to plant a new maple witness for new times at Swift!

Swift Tenants are scaling in and out of Swift Spaces meeting the needs of emerging markets.

October 10, 2022 marked two years of operations here on the Swift Factory “John McGowan” Campus. So we’re gonna fill everybody in on the developments here for 2022 as businesses continue to provide examples of that “forward hustle” primed to be the foundation for community transformation here in North Hartford and we expand our presence in the city as tenants scale into off-campus expansion.

Normally, you would want to keep your tenants in their spaces for as long as possible to maximize consistent rent payments to sustain operations, but here at Swift, success is not measured by revenue alone. The growth of our tenants' operations here is a huge hallmark of success for Swift. We support and promote our tenants as they seek to scale their businesses up and, in time, grow out of their initial spaces and hopefully move into a larger space here on campus. But, we know, success offers expanded choices. When tenants scale their businesses to where other locations provide better opportunities, it's as big a win for us as well. Such was the case for three of our original tenants; The Whole Hog, LLC, The Craft Bakery, LLC and Bloom Bake Shop.


Howard Shafer of the Whole Hog had been scaling his business out of ideation mode into the physical realities of a Swift space since Swift spaces themselves were on blueprints. This gave Shafer an edge in the arduous task of getting the FDA Approval he needed to process and ship sausage products. Soon after, he had combined two small Swift kitchens to provide the qualifying uses for approval and got busy processing products on-site. He soon gained enough recognition through his sales to identify a partner at SubEdge Farm in Farmington, CT that allowed him to move off of the Swift Campus and into a better business arrangement for his company.

Then there was the 2021 transition of The Craft Bakery. Craft Bakery Owner, Naima Craft, made her move into her Swift kitchen even before our 2020 Grand Opening. She operated with a double convection oven in a corner of Kitchen #108 and, over time, built her following, marketed her goods through social media and garnered a robust media presence. The operation proved to be so successful, In 2021, Craft took her operation to where her primary following existed–to the suburbs. The Craft is located at 10 East Street, East Granby, CT 06026. If you’re ever out that way, stop on in for superior baked goods!

Bloom Bake Shop started in an even smaller kitchen, #103, with an existing following, starting their business in 2020 and selling their baked goods at farmers markets and catering to weddings, bridal showers and corporate functions. That brought them to Swift in 2021 as one of our first tenants. From their tiny Swift Kitchen, Bloom Bake Shop utilized their ever expanding network of customer and fellow food business operators and built quite a following in Greater Hartford before the Hartford Chamber of Commerce provided support in the form of a HartLift Grant, paying up to $50 per square foot to cover the cost of their build out.

Today, Bloom Bake Shop has expanded into their new location at 80 Pratt Street in the former Tunaki Restaurant space with full seating as well as an expanded menu available!

Though food entrepreneurs operate nimbly and move operations to maximize their exposure, one Swift operator believes the Swift location is a keeper. Chef Walt’s maximum exposure to his customer base is right here in the neighborhood. And, Chef Walt meets a high Swift criteria for our tenants.

Chef Walt hires primarily from the neighborhood. Since his arrival in 2020, Chef Walt has hired over 15 people who are either from North Hartford or have deep connections to the neighborhood. For him, it’s simple. “I am giving people a chance where they might not get one,” Walt said, explaining that many of the people he hires face deep obstacles in gaining employment. And, he offers his employees the chance to upskill. “They can start off washing dishes and move on to prepping dishes and on to the line. They have the same opportunity as me working here,” he said. Chef Walt’s operation fits nicely on campus with his heavy use of our numbered curbside pickup slots in the Swift parking lot.

At peak times, his robust business creates a parking lot gridlock that clears as quickly as the orders can be delivered, only to reform immediately. According to Chef Walt, through his use of the GrubHub, DoorDash, Uber and Square Apps, his curbside business has grown 3 times over as well as his following that began in the neighborhood and has expanded into the suburbs. Since coming to Swift, Chef Walt says his catering business has grown due to Swift’s growing schedule of events in Building 2’s Flex Space. The space has hosted meetings attended by state and city leaders and employees, as well as the Hartford Community Loan Fund, Wellville’s “Thriving Together” effort, Trinity Healthcare and the United Way and the Urban League. “Most of my increased catering came from my connections made right here on the Swift Campus. With the Hartford Public Library coming and Urban League connections I made here, I’m doing five times the catering I did before coming here. That’s all because of Swift,” Chef Walt said.

Shared Kitchen

Over the past year, our Shared Kitchen has hosted virtual Urban League Teaching Kitchen Segments as well as provided access for chefs seeking a certified kitchen to meet the demands of providing food at citywide events. But, a major development came in leasing the kitchen to Chef Gi Gi to support her “Rastarant” operations. And, all it took was one summer of operating for Chef Gi Gi to go from a start-up vegetarian style West Indian kitchen selling product at Farmers Markets all over the state to scaling her operations into a permanent space at Swift’s Hartford Culinary Collaborative partner Parkville Market. Now, that’s the type of forward hustle you just gotta respect. Cheers Chef Gi Gi!

Private Offices

NE Video was another early arrival to the Swift Campus in 2020. Since then, Owner Alonzo Beckett has produced a full-length documentary entitled, “You Can’t Rock the Pub” about the ‘93-’94 Hartford Public High School Owls Basketball team that won back-to-back CT State Championships with a combined record of 50-1. The team was led by former NBA Star Marcus Camby and Kendrick “Silk” Moore. Beckett also produces video blogs for local community leaders, as well fielding multiple social media advertising campaigns and enjoying a special relationship with the Hartford Yard Goats.

Amos Home Services is a recent arrival, coming to campus in late Spring of this year, but has already been retained by the North Hartford Housing Trust to be its primary building inspector as we acquire 6-Unit apartment buildings to further the stabilization of safe, healthy housing opportunities in North Hartford. Jessie Hardy, CEO, has inspected 3 buildings so far and is on-call to go out and inspect any buildings we consider acquiring. A life-long organist for the Church of the Most High God a block away from Swift on Garden Street, Hardy is considering diversifying his entrepreneurial efforts by providing piano lessons for neighborhood youth in a proposed 2023 expansion.

Another recent arrival and a driver of Swift entrepreneurial activity came in the form of Leah Jones’ Consignment Mixer. Jones’ Instagram and Tik Tok presence, many times, uses Swift spaces as a backdrop for marketing productions. A little over a year-and-a-half after starting her digital consignment shop in the isolation of peak Covid-19 Pandemic conditions, Jones did so much digital commerce that she retired from her State job and focused on full-time entrepreneurship. She maintains a fashionable presence here on campus through her internet production schedule and with the clientele it draws through Swift’s doors.

Harriott Home Health Services (HHHS) is a Swift success story that embodies our hopes to be the location from which entrepreneurs can go from Start-Up to Scale-Up. Harriott began her Swift experience 2 years ago, leasing one small private office, one medium office and a large, 8-person office at a total of 741 sq. ft. She’s since relocated to the first floor of Building 3 in a 1,500 sq. ft. space that was slated to be the Swift co-

working center and centralized her operations there. This year, HHHS obtained a contract with the State of Connecticut to be the sole provider of in-home vaccinations statewide. Founder and CEO, Sasa Harriott held a press conference and an actual Covid-19 vaccination clinic at our neighborhood-facing 5 Corners Community Space with Governor Lamont making the announcement in front of Building 4’s imposing facade. 2022 saw her receive EDA funding to fit out another expansion to a 3,000 sq. ft. space alongside the Hartford Public Library in Building 4.

Building 4

While we’re on the subject of building 4, 2022 saw the Hartford Public Library (HPL) officially announce the launch of the project to bring the Barbour Street HPL Branch to the Swift Factory. The Margaret Sullivan Design team is working with Silver Petrucelli Architects to spearheaded the effort to engage North Hartford in designing what is being called a 21st Century, NextGen library here at Swift. The 21st Century library movement is sweeping the country. The approach brings the latest in tech and amenities for end-users, positioning the library as the repository of more than books. Charging stations, meeting rooms, even ergonomic furniture and labs for the youth are all part of the approach.

Building 6

CREC spent most of the year seeking federal approval for funding to bring their Early Childhood Learning Center to Swift’s Building 6. We are happy to report that approval has recently been secured and CREC is slated to begin construction early in 2023!

Grey House

Build A Better You, LLC (B.A.B.Y.) came into 2022 with a solid partnership with Community First School, providing students with after-school activities and providing support services for their families. The partnership also held its second annual Summer Camp, bringing the sounds of laughter, activity and celebration to the Swift Campus all summer long. Terraine Jamison, MSW and Founder and CEO of B.A.B.Y., LLC, said the agency recently received state certification increasing her level of care from group practice to a state recognized mental health clinic. “I will be able to help more people. This provides me with an umbrella license to bring in people to work with my clients who have some of the same lived experiences as them,” Jamison said. B.A.B.Y. will soon be employing workers from the community.

The White House–Community First School

In its third school year of operation, Community First School (CFS) is growing strong! The school has grown from space for 11 K-thru 3rd Grade students to be enrolled in its 2020 opening year to 24 seats available for students in 2022! But, this is not just about filling seats. It is about linking the learning experience to family and the community. The welcoming, respectful interactions with students’ families has resulted in over 87% of parents attending 3 or more Family Dinners. And, CFS provides a broad range of community-based experiences to enhance students’ learning processes through partnerships with Build A Better You, L.L.C., Ebony Horsewomen, and the Keney Park Sustainability Project.

It seems prioritizing hands on engagement over ”seat time” is a winning strategy.

Community First Students are performing well above expectations for North Hartford. Out of the 19 students enrolled, there were no instances of chronic absenteeism and no suspensions/expulsions. Fifty-eight percent (58%) of the students meet or exceed English Standards and Thirty-two percent (32%) meet or exceed Math Standards (SBAC Equivalent MAP Test).

And, there’s more growth on the horizon. A focused fundraising effort is underway and CFS plans to add a 3rd class with up to 25 students in the coming year! And, there are plans to share CFS student data to advance the CFS model as a winning strategy that can get results in underserved urban neighborhoods. Looks like CFS is charting new educational pathways in effectively educating children!

2022 has offered great success for our tenants here at Swift as they lean into the hard task of sustaining a successful small business, while keeping opportunities to collaborate with fellow Swift Tenants committed to creating a collaborative business environment that can evolve into a business community in the center of North Hartford. And, while we have profiled our tenants' successes here, they did not come without struggle or sacrifice. Let's honor them for their commitment to their entrepreneurial pursuits, as well as for leveraging their positive examples of success and the sacrifices necessary to be successful for the benefit of those here who are watching. We promise you, they are watching!

Well, 2023 is right around the corner. We've got CREC and The Hartford Public Library coming and with that comes increased traffic on campus. There will be a lot more activity to tap into. We have more tenants coming on board here as well. It seems that this third year of operations has a lot of promise to be that year all of it comes together here on campus. We'll keep you updated!

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