By Sara Herrmann
Walk down nearly any street in the Village of Westfield on any given weekday and, if you listen closely, you will likely hear the click of computer keys. It’s the sound of freelancers and consultants in their home offices and it represents a burgeoning trend among workers both nationally and locally.
According to US Census data, 8.5 percent of Westfield residents were self-employed in a non-incorporated business in 2000. With technological advances and a growing comfort level with employee work-at-home scenarios from established businesses, those numbers have likely increased.
According to Wendy Gollnitz-Santilli, a freelance graphic designer in Westfield, one of the real advantages of working from home in Westfield is that there is an inherent support system. “We look out for one another,” she says. “Everyone knows what you do and they’re always looking for opportunities for you. It opens all kinds of doors personally and professionally.”
Gollnitz-Santilli, a Westfield native, began her design career with an advertising firm in Pittsburgh in the 1990s. But she found herself driving home on weekends to spend time with friends and family. In 1996, she quit her job and moved back to Westfield. “I loved Pittsburgh, but I got burned out,” she says. She bought a computer and started her freelance career working for two major clients. Over the years, those two clients have led to many others.
Meghan Guinnee, a researcher and grant writer in Westfield also sees the benefit of community support. She moved to Westfield from Buffalo last year with her husband Eli, who is the Director of the Patterson Library, and their three young daughters. “I’ve found that people are curious about what I do and they genuinely want to know how they can help,” says Guinnee.
The helping is a two-way street for both. Guinnee’s grant-writing skills and Gollnitz-Santilli’s graphic design work have been put to good use for local organizations and non-profits. “It’s quickly made me feel like a part of the community,” says Guinnee, “and it makes me feel like I’m having an impact too, which is important.”
Guinnee has a PhD in Biology from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. After working for a company in Buffalo, she and a co-worker started their own firm, Catalyst Research LLC . Her work focuses on data analysis, grant writing and research applications. “We left to do our own thing and it’s worked out really well,” she says.
For the Guinnees, having Meghan work at home allowed them to be receptive to more opportunities. “We weren’t necessarily tied to a specific location anymore and it allowed us to think about where we’d really like to live and raise the girls.” Last year, when the Library Director position at the Patterson Library became available, they drove down to Westfield and realized that Westfield would be an ideal place to live and raise the girls.
According to Guinnee another factor that made the move to Westfield a reality is the affordable housing. “We were able to get a place in a great neighborhood with a nice home office – and if you’re going to spend a lot of time there, that’s important.” She also points to the availability of a free wireless network downtown which allows her to walk to Sapore for coffee or the Patterson Library for a more public space.
Getting away from the home office every now and then is a priority for Gollnitz-Sanitlli as well. The flexibility of her work schedule allows her to run errands or meet with friends and family for breakfast at Jack’s Barcelona Drive In . “Plus, I can walk to just about anywhere in the village,” she says.
While technology allows both Guinnee and Gollnitz-Santilli to work for and with just about anyone, just about anywhere, the proximity of Westfield to Buffalo, Cleveland, Rochester and Pittsburgh is a plus when face-to-face meetings are required.
For both of them, and many others like them, the flexibility of self-employment and the benefits of living in Westfield are inextricably linked. “We’re so glad we’re here in Westfield. People know our family, our girls, and they look out for them,” says Guinnee. “There aren’t a lot of places like that. In Westfield, it’s like there’s one or two degrees of separation instead of six.”