Josh Levin was tired of commuting between his home in New York and his work in Philadelphia. He was engaged to Pam and became president of his family-run business, Lymphedivas. He expected that he would have a family one day and quality of life was important to him. The long commute and life in the big city did not make sense to him.
The family business, Lymphedivas, makes medical grade graduated compression garments which are sold nationwide and primarily marketed mainly to breast cancer survivors who develop lymphedema. Lymphedema is a disease, and is often a side effect of breast cancer diagnosis and treatment, that can cause incurable swelling in the arms. Physicians recommend medical grade compression garments as an effective way of managing and preventing the the swelling.
Like many startups, the company was the result of a need identified by the founders. Josh’s sister Rachel Troxell was not satisfied with the choice of compression sleeves that she needed to wear every day. They were beige, looked like medical products and were made of a coarse, uncomfortable fabric. Lymphedivas innovated with new fabrics and styling, including styles in various skin tones and artistic patterns. Lymphedivas then sold them via the Internet and phone.
“Building the company was her passion. Literally on her death bed, she asked my dad to come out of retirement and take over the startup,” Josh said. After Rachel died at 37, the company became the family’s passion in her memory. A few years later, Rachel’s younger brother, Josh, became president.
His commute was long, and he considered moving to Philadelphia to be close to the business. However, his fiancée and now wife, Pam, did not want to move to Philadelphia because it was too far from her family in Boston. Moving the company to New York was out of the question because of the high cost of doing business there.
“I realized that we could operate the business from almost anywhere,” Josh explains. “We’re a company that doesn’t need a specific location. We don’t have a retail storefront. We sell online, over the phone, through brick-and-mortar stores and other online retailers.”
They explored the New York suburbs, New Jersey and Connecticut for locations. Then, his fiancée suggested the Berkshires.
“It was one of those no-brainer moments,” said Josh.
“It is incredible to be in a place where there are excellent schools, beautiful outdoors with everything from hiking to skiing to lakes with beaches. There is so much to do here. On top of that, we have more high-quality cultural opportunities here than a lot of large cities do. To have access to all of that for the family that I planned to have and to run a business is really what drew me here,” he added.
The question became where in the Berkshires to locate.
“We looked from North County down to South County. We decided on Pittsfield because it was the biggest town. It has the most services and has the most to offer,” said Josh.
Pittsfield also wanted Lymphedivas. He worked with Deanna Ruffer, the director of community development, and with 1Berkshire, the area’s Chamber of Commerce. The first thing the company needed was space. The team helped by introducing them to the appropriate real estate people with the type of space he could use. The City’s economic development team also performed liaison work with city departments to get the approvals that we needed.
“Even though we were not a huge company, there was significant effort from the City to help us come in here,” Josh said.
The City could also offer a unique package of financial assistance through the Pittsfield Economic Revitalization Corporation (PERC). PERC’s purpose is to increase employment opportunities and facilitate growth through small business.
“They worked with us at every step. The team even helped us fill out the forms for financial assistance. It was never a ‘here it is, good luck.’ It was more like ‘we want you to get this, so, let us help you through this process,’” said Josh.
PERC approved matching grants and loans that helped with the cost of the move and other expenses, which enabled them to get up-and-running faster.
“It was real money. It was in the five digits. That is significant for a company of our size,” Josh said. “I was also helping the City. I would bring not just a job for me. I would create jobs for other people as well.”
Because of the PERC funds, he was able to free up money for R&D and new product development. He could go to market faster. That, in turn, led to the creation of more jobs to create and sell those products. They created a second company located in the same space called RBL Mills, which has brought textile manufacturing back to the Berkshires.
When Josh moved to Pittsfield in 2011, the company had four employees. It now employs 14.
“It is incredible to be able to live in a place that has such a high quality of life. In the mornings before I come to work, I take my dogs for a hike in the woods. Then I come to work with my dogs. I couldn’t do that when I was living in New York. I would have to drive for an hour and a half one-way to go for a hike on the weekends,” he said.
Pittsfield, he says, has everything a company like his needs to be successful.
“The services are identical to those in a bigger city. We have a post office. We have FedEx and UPS shipping services. We have high-speed internet here with fiber into our building. We have physical hardware stores where I can go if we quickly need a part. A lot of those daily needs can be filled here as well as they can be filled in a City like Philadelphia,” he said.
He believes one of the differences he does see between Pittsfield and other locations is how much the City wants to help.
“Pittsfield is actively trying to assist small businesses,” he said. “I think there are a lot for companies like mine here. We are not about the face-to-face customer and don’t need a retail location. It is the on-line sales space in which business is growing. You can do that anywhere. Why not do that here where the quality of life is so good?”
You can find Lymphedivas at https://lymphedivas.com/.
– by Roger Matus