Home 2006 September
Opinion

While some in this region still cling to the hope that large corporations will magically appear on the Western Mass. horizon, bringing hundreds of those ‘good-paying jobs’ with them, everyone else seems to have accepted reality.

And that is that those days — if there ever really were any in this specific part of the world — are long gone. Today, by and large, economic development equates to small-business development. This is what everyone has been saying for the past several years, and that’s what all the candidates for governor of this state would say, if you could get them to stop talking about tax rollbacks.

Small-business development is difficult, and it often takes years, if not decades to see some real results. But that is where the future of this economy lies, and that’s why we’re encouraged by the depth of small-business programs in the region, and encourage continued support for them, especially at the state level, where funding is crucial to their survival.

In this issue, BusinessWest spotlights just a few of the programs that are lending real guidance and support to people as they start small business or take them to that proverbial next level. The Entrepreneurial Training Program administered by the Donahue Institute at UMass has succeeded in helping a number of individuals, many of them displaced workers, gain the skills they need to get a business off the ground. None of the businesses spawned over the years would be considered household names by any means, but the people running them are not just working again — they are entrepreneurs, some of them at a point where they can hire other people.

Another program, the Law and Business Center for Advancing Entrepreneurship is doing just as that name might suggest. Administered by Western New England College and located in the Scibelli Enterprise Center at STCC, the center matches entrepreneurs, usually those with fledgling start-ups, with students in the college’s Law and MBA programs, who advise them on issues ranging from marketing to employee handbooks.

This fall, the institute expanded its scope with a new speaker series highlighting business success stories, as well as a two-day program called the How-to Entrepreneurial Institute, with seminars on such subjects as starting a business, securing capital, and protecting intellectual property.

Many times in the past we’ve cited the work being done at the Scibelli Enterprise Center, which boasts two business incubators and a wide variety of programs and support systems to help those ventures get over the hump. The SEC has seen several success stories, including a cross-border phone book company that was recently acquired by Yellow Book.

Not all the stories are that glamorous, certainly, and not all of them will end as well. There are countless stories about area residents trying to take an idea — be it an energy bar, a sports drink, a record label, or a small restaurant — and make it work. Many are struggling to survive as sole proprietorships, but all of them have some degree of promise.

This is the essence of small-business development. It is sometimes painfully slow going, but it’s worth it. And the key is to promote the notion of entrepreneurship, to encourage individuals to think about business ownership as a viable career option, and then to provide the help needed to get them started — and growing.

The Donahue Institute’s Entrepreneur-ial Training Program has been offered four times in each of the past two years. Funding cuts will limit that number to one this year. That’s just one small example of why, overall, this state and region need a greater commitment to small-business development.

There is some momentum in this component of economic development, and it must be seized. Springfield is now ranked near the top nationally among cities its size in the development of new small businesses, and it needs to stay there.

We can always hope that a major corporation will announce it is bringing 1,000 new jobs to East Longmeadow, Westfield, or Hatfield, but as we said, that is not reality. Small-business development is reality.

Sections Supplements
Moriarty & Primack Remains Focused on Addition
Jay Primack, Bob Suprenant, Doug Theobald, and Patrick Leary

From left, Jay Primack, Bob Suprenant, Doug Theobald, and Patrick Leary.

Bob Suprenant likes to borrow and amend that old adage from baseball — the one about how you can never have enough pitching.

“You can never have enough tax knowledge,” Suprenant, a CPA and director of special tax services for Moriarty & Primack, told BusinessWest. He was referring to how the Springfield-based accounting firm uses teamwork to resolve complicated tax matters and other issues for its large and growing roster of clients. “Tax work is all about saving people money.”

Success in the tax arena is just one of many factors that have enabled Moriarty & Primack to achieve growth that would be described as strong and rapid — it was formed only 13 years ago — and thus gain a firm footing in a highly competitive Western Mass. market.

“The primary goal for us, or any firm, is to build credibility, and we’ve done a good job of doing that in a comparatively short time; we’re still the baby on the block in some respects,” said Jay Primack, who founded the company with Richard Moriarty, who passed away two years ago.

The two were long-time employees of Coopers & Lybrand when they decided to put their own names over the door, and they used their own experience and some effective recruiting of talented CPAs and support staff to make their firm one of the standouts in the local accounting community.

The company’s broad operating philosophy, said G.E. Patrick Leary, who became a partner two years ago, is to ensure that none of its services be they tax matters, audit work, or technical assistance, ever become a mere commodity.

“That’s the approach we take — we’re not going to simply hand someone their financials, and say ‘see you next year,’” he explained, referring specifically to audit work. “We want the client to walk out of that meeting with a laundry list of ideas and opportunities to strengthen internal controls, improve cash flow, and help the bottom line.”

This operating philosophy helps explain double-digit growth over the past several years, including a 20% boost over the past year, and regular inclusion on the Affiliated Chamber’s Super 60 list for revenue-growth.

Looking forward, Primack said the firm’s growth strategy essentially calls for the company to practice what it preaches while advising business owners on how to manage their ventures and keep them fiscally sound. These steps include everything from solid customer service to succession planning; smart growth to smart hiring.

Through a mix of organic growth and potential acquisitions — it completed one merger with a local firm just over a year ago — the company intends to expand its already sizable footprint in Western Mass., and perhaps well beyond.

Round Numbers

Primack has his own phraseology for describing the firm’s teamwork-oriented approach and efforts to pool resources and personnel to assist clients. He calls it “circling the wagons.”

The circle, and the number of wagons in it, has grown steadily since Primack and Moriarty opted to quit life with what was then one of the so-called Big Eight accounting firms (Moriarty first and Primack soon thereafter) and start their own venture.

Actually, they had seen the handwriting on the wall — Coopers & Lybrand and other members of the Big Eight had been closing many of their offices in smaller, second- or third-tier markets, and it appeared to the two men that the Springfield location’s days were numbered.

They were right; it eventually closed in 1998.

By then, the two were in the midst of another in a series of office expansions necessitated by continuous growth and absorption of market share.

The two partners took most of their clients from Coopers & Lybrand with them — a common occurance in accounting, law, and other professions — and set about building on that portfolio. The methodology has been simple and straightforward, said Primack, and is grounded in quality products and services and a reputation for dependability and consistency. These are two traits that are critical ingredients in any accounting firm’s success formula, because they lead to the referrals from existing clients that are the lifeblood of all players in this changing and increasingly challenging industry.

Primack and Moriarty started, by themselves, in a 1,000-square-foot office in what is now known as the Sovereign Bank Building. They continually expanded that footprint before moving one block down Main Street to Monarch Place in 2001. Today, the firm has 12 certified public accountants, two partners, and 25 employees, a growth rate achieved through a combination of factors, said Leary.

These include a diversity of services, the ability to attract and retain both clients and employees, several niches, or industry groups that have become specialty areas, including construction, manufacturing, distribution, and others, and continuity of services, he said, adding that the operative word is value, and the ability to deliver it.

Teamwork certainly helps with this assignment, said Douglas Theobald, CPA, the firm’s tax director and one of its most recent additions. He told BusinessWest that, by bringing many minds to the table, the firm has been able to tackle some complex cases and often improve on the results generated by other firms taking on the same problem.

Primack agreed. “It’s very much a team approach in this office,” he explained. “If we have an issue or problem where someone thinks they see an opportunity to save dollars or create a better business approach to something, we’ll sit down spontaneously and bring together in that room a number of people whose combined experience might be several hundred years.”

In one case, that approach turned a local retailer’s tax liability of nearly $300,000 into a refund, said Suprenant, adding that there are several similar examples of postive outcomes to complex, often ominous problems.

Taxing Situation

The teamwork approach is applied to a number of products and services, said Leary, listing tax and audit services, estate and financial planning, business valuations, and litigation support, among others.

The firm also has two affiliated entities: MP Financial Services, directed by Primack, provides fee-based retirement, financial and estate planning, portfolio and asset management services; securities such as stocks, bonds, and mutual funds; and insurance products including annuities, life, disability, and long-term care. Meanwhile, New Technology Consultants, LLP (NETC), directed by Donald Smith, CPA, is focused on helping organizations of all sizes expand their technology capabilities. Assistance comes in many forms, including software selection, training, implementation, and project direction.

This broad portfolio enables the company to provide an umbrella of services that often makes it a one-stop source for individuals and businesses, said Leary, adding that this is one of many ingredients in the company’s success formula.

Another, said Theobald, is its ability to recruit and retain talented CPAs and support personnel. It has achieved this largely by creating an attractive work atmosphere, one that blends a dose of freedom with recognition of the need to balance work and life.

“It’s a good place to work, there’s a great environment,” he explained, noting that this was one of the reasons he returned to Western Mass. after a stint with Price Waterhouse Coopers as a tax partner. “This was the only firm I really looked at, because of the quality of the people and the work atmosphere.”

Primack agreed. He told BusinessWest that it often isn’t easy to attract top talent to Western Mass. and then keep it here — other markets offer higher wages and more cultural attractions and nightlife — but Moriarty & Primack has enjoyed some success in part because of its culture and opportunities to grow professionally.

This effective recruiting, part of a succession-planning initiative undertaken by both original partners, and which has drawn Leary, Suprenant, Theobald, and others, will help secure long-term stability for the company through continuity of service, Primack explained.

“This is a people business, and we looked for talented people who might have the prospect of becoming future leaders of the firm,” he continued. “We looked for people who could succeed us so that our clients would not experience any immediate or rapid change in process, attitude, or philosophy; our clients will enjoy the comfort of consistency.”

Looking forward, Primack said the company’s leadership intends to continue a pattern of mostly organic growth, using referrals and targeted marketing to gain a larger piece of the local accounting and tax planning pie. But it will also consider acquisitions and mergers.

A year ago, Moriarty & Primack merged with the Holyoke-based firm of Joseph S. Casden (formerly Casden & Casden), bringing three new CPAs to the company. There are ample additional acquisition opportunities expected in the years ahead, Primack explained, noting new challenges that make it more difficult for many smaller firms and sole proprietorships to succeed, and the firm will be carefully considering them.

“There’s a lot of small firms out there that haven’t done any real succession planning and don’t have an exit strategy,” Leary explained. “We’ve looked at a number of those, both locally and in other areas, and we’ll continue to do that, because there are some great opportunities for us.

“In many cases, clients have been served by one or two individuals for 20 or 30 years,” he continued. “Those people have done a great job for them, and we can now step into their shoes and bring those clients over to our firm.”

Playing the Numbers

The bottom line when considering any potential acquisition is a requisite match of philosophy, or business culture, said Primack.

“There has to be a meshing of ideas, personalities, and chemistry,” he explained. “You need a similar approach to doing business and treating customers.”

At Moriarty & Primack, that approach is to bring value to each of the services provided — and to always look for ways to find more tax knowledge.

George O’Brien can be reached at[email protected]

Sections Supplements
Historic Office Facility in Belchertown is Attracting New Ventures
Joan Stoia, Shahrzad Moshiri, and Deborah Robes

Joan Stoia, Shahrzad Moshiri, and Deborah Robes stand in the foyer of the Carriage Towne Commons, where their offices are located.

There was a small celebration taking place on Main Street Belchertown early this month, as tenants of the Carriage Towne Commons professional offices gathered to watch the building’s new sign being erected. It was proof that the building and the businesses inside had arrived, and, moreover, that they planned to stay.

The Carriage Towne Commons is the brainchild of Steve and Joan Stoia, who purchased the historic Jonathan Grout House on Belchertown’s town common nine years ago to open a bed and breakfast that was open for seven years. The Stoias later bought a larger B&B in Northfield, the Centennial House, which they still operate. They held on to the Main Street property, though, in part due to its distinct colonial-era architecture and proximity to Belchertown’s increasingly busy town center.

“The town is coming to life, and at the same time, new life is happening here too,” said Joan Stoia. “We feel this town is on the rise. Belchertown is one of the only towns in Western Mass. that has seen an increase in both population and annual income, and we’re also seeing growth in high-end homes. All of the indicators are good.”

In addition to residential growth, Belchertown will also welcome a new district courthouse, slated for completion in April 2007, and plans are being blueprinted to convert the former Belchertown State School complex into a health- and fitness-focused resort complex. Stoia said she and her husband wanted to capitalize on that growth while at the same time moving away from the hospitality sector at the Carriage Towne property.

Designs on Women

With those goals in mind, the couple moved forward with plans to convert the building into office space and to recruit a diverse set of tenants, particularly in the legal and health and wellness fields. The result is a unique setting for business – an historic, home-like environment in a prime location, one that sees roughly 13,000 cars pass by each day, according to a recent traffic study.

“It’s already zoned for commercial use, so why not take advantage of that?” Stoia said. “The legal and health care communities will likely be rising with the construction of the courthouse and the resort spa, so we felt those were the people we should reach out to first.”

But the Stoias also wanted to create a space that would be ideal for newer, smaller businesses, including sole proprietorships.

“People who have an affinity and a respect for this house as soon as they walk in are the perfect candidates,” Stoia said, noting that they began “vigorously marketing” the property in 2005, and secured their first tenant, Shahrzad Moshiri, CPA, owner of SJM Accounting and Financial Services in December of that year.

“This property is unique,” said Moshiri of her decision to relocate. “You see the seasons change from your windows, you work in comfortable light … the house provides an excellent environment in which to work, and that has definitely grown on me.”

Soon after Moshiri set up shop in the Carriage Towne building, a trend began to emerge – the majority of interested tenants not only owned and operated unique, niche businesses, but were also almost entirely women.

Today, all of the property’s professional tenants are women, representing a wide range of fields. Moshiri runs her business from a second-floor office that once served as a bedroom suite, and downstairs, she’s been joined by Caro Lambert, a speech and language therapist, and Debbie Robes, an attorney who specializes in estate planning, real estate, and special education advocacy.

“I’ll be right next to the courthouse, which is great,” said Robes, “but the primary reason I came to look at the property was because I love old houses. The idea grabbed me, and the space sold me.”

Stoia, who also operates a career development practice, Cold Spring Career Associates, at the location, said Robes’ reasons for coming to Carriage Towne Commons have been voiced several times by interested business owners.

“Initially, we had a suspicion that women were going to be more attracted to this space than men,” Stoia explained. “It’s more home-like and artistic, and we offer amenities that women appreciate. Men tend to look for the high-tech bells and whistles.”

While high-speed DSL is among the amenities Carriage Towne offers, the house also provides for a shared reception area and a community meeting space for the tenants’ clients, cleaning services, and soon, a shared kitchen space as well.

A Living Legacy

But the property also has a history that makes it an appropriate incubator for women-owned businesses. Stoia explained that it has been owned and, in many cases, occupied by women since 1770, including during the Civil War, and has also long supported a variety of businesses, among them a doctor’s practice, an antique shop, a boarding house, and a carriage manufacturer.

“I still get goosebumps when I think about all the serendipity that surrounds this house,” she said. “It has always housed women, and has also frequently housed small businesses. I think now it’s moving forward into a new era with its own inertia.”

When the property is fully leased – there’s one suite still vacant – Stoia said she hopes to further enhance those in-house services, and perhaps involve the tenants in cooperative marketing strategies.

“Once everyone is in and settled, we want to offer as many in-house services as we can provide,” she said, noting that she and Steve have been careful to select tenants who complement one another’s businesses, and have also involved existing tenants in choosing the final company to join the Carriage Towne group.

We’re waiting to hear that ‘click;’ that moment when the final tenant moves in, and everything falls into place.”

Sign of the Times

For now, hearing the sound of a fully-occupied professional suite hitting its stride is dependent on filling that final, blank space on the Carriage Towne Commons’ signage. Stoia said men aren’t barred from applying, by any means, but small, entrepreneurial businesses will continue to receive preference, as well as those that could thrive within the Commons’ historic, colonial-inspired offices.

And Stoia looks forward to the day when she and that business owner quietly stand on Main Street … watching those new signs of life.

Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at[email protected]

Features
Center of Advancing Entrepreneurship Expands Its Horizons

Aimee Griffin Munnings calls it “walk-up traffic.”

These are individuals who arrive, usually unannounced, at the offices of the Law and Business Center for Advancing Entrepreneurship in the Springfield Enterprise Center at STCC with questions — lots of them.

The queries vary, with subject matter ranging from business plans to branding, said Griffin Munnings, director of the center, who told BusinessWest that she expected walk-ins when the facility opened just over a year ago, but not the volume she has seen. She takes this as a good sign, an indication of the growing number of Springfield area residents starting their own businesses or pondering that option, and she is responding proactively.

In short, she wants to help individuals by not only providing answers, but also by offering insight into the questions that should be asked. It’s part of a broad expansion effort for year two of the center, created by Western New England College to provide real-life experiences for graduate law and business students while fostering entrepreneurship in the Greater Springfield area. The center pairs individuals in those academic programs with budding entrepreneurs — some of them located in the SEC’s incubators but many others from surrounding neighborhoods and communities — for semester-long projects on subjects ranging from marketing to legal entities.

While doing so, the center has also become a resource for entrepreneurs, said Griffin Munnings, with monthly programs and both answers and referrals for those walk-ins. To better serve the community, the center is introducing some new programs to put more information out to more people.

Steps include formal office hours at the center by a recently hired member of the faculty at WNEC’s School and Law and School of Business, during which entrepreneurs can have their questions answered. Also, a two-day event called the ‘How-to Entrepreneurial Institute,’ a business seminar with a wide variety of programs designed to provide entrepreneurs with basic information and resources is slated for late October.

Still another new program is something called the “Success Stories Speaker Series,” which, as the name suggests, will feature successful entrepreneurs, starting with Mestek President and CEO John Reed, telling their stories and hopefully inspiring others.

The sum of the new initiatives will serve to create a larger, better resource for area entrepreneurs, said Griffin Munnings. “We asked ourselves how we could better serve the community,” she explained, “and the answer was simply to get more information out.”

Summing up the center’s first year of operation, Griffin Munnings categorized it as a success, especially with regard to the process of linking fledgling business owners with law and business students. Entrepreneurs with ventures ranging from a restaurant to a book store; a sports drink to a transportation service called Youth on the Move were chosen for participation after filling out a lengthy application detailing their businesses and specific requests for assistance. The principals with those companies were provided assistance with such issues as which legal entity to choose, marketing and branding, and even creation of an employee handbook.

“It was a very successful start,” she said of the spring semester, noting that a dozen business owners were matched with students. “Several different kinds of questions and problems were resolved.”

While continuing this matching program, the center has also taken strides toward becoming a total resource for entrepreneurs and would-be business owners, said Griffin Munnings. An entrepreneurship speaker series was launched last year, and it continued this fall with a Sept. 12 program featuring Nadine Thompson, president and CEO of the beauty and wellness products company Warm Spirit, who spoke on the subject “Doing Well by Doing Good.”

That series will be complemented by “Success Stories,” which will start with Reed, who founded Sterling Radiator Company and later went on to acquire 30 operating companies he consolidated into Reed National. Subsequent speakers include Dennis Donovan, executive vice president of Human Resources for Home Depot, Fletcher Wiley, director of the TJX Companies Inc., and John and Steven Davis, former chairman and CEO and president and COO, respectively, of Lenox/American Saw.

“I think people are inspired by the ones who came before them,” she said. “Sometimes it’s hard for business owners to plod along … you start wondering, ‘is this actually going to work?’ Seeing people who have hung in there and done great things should be encouraging.”

The How-to Entrepreneurship Institute is another venture designed to inform and inspire, said Griffin Munnings. Slated for Oct. 27 and 28, the event will feature several seminars hosted by area lawyers, accountants, business owners, and officials with business-assistance groups such as SCORE and the Mass. Small Business Development Center. Specific programs include, ‘How to Start a Business,’ ‘How to get Money,’ ‘How to Protect Your Ideas,’ and ‘How to Get the Help You Need.’

Fast Facts:

What:The How-to Entrepreneurial Institute
When:Oct. 28 and 29, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Where:Western New England College, Rivers Memorial Building;
The Program:A variety of seminars designed for entrepreneurs and would-be business owners
Price:$60
For More Information:call (413) 736-8462; E-mail: [email protected]

The keynote speaker will be Dan Elias, a news anchor and reporter on TV-22 and president of Zunafish.com, an online media trading Web site.

Another new program at the Center for Advancing Entrepreneurship will be office hours with Robert Statchen, recently appointed as an assistant clinical professor of Law and professional educator in the School of Business. As a joint appointee to both schools, he will teach and advise law and M.B.A. students at the center’s small business clinic. He will also answer questions and offer guidance (four hours a month) to entrepreneurs on subjects that can be addressed in a few minutes or hours, not a full semester’s worth of work by a law or business student.

Departments

The following business incorporations were recorded in Hampden and Hampshire counties and are the latest available. They are listed by community.

AGAWAM

Amtheeben Inc., 36 Yarmouth Dr.,
Agawam 01001. Dinesh Patel, same.
Retail/ convenience store.

Azon Liquors Inc.,
384 Walnut St. Ext., Agawam 01001.
Michael William Beaudry Sr., 87 Country Road,
Agawam 01001. Liquor store operations and sales.

BELCHERTOWN

Ryan & Company Builders Inc.,
163 Munsell St., Belchertown 01007.
Floyd J. Ryan, III, same.
Contracting business.

The Cambodian Assistance and
Cultural Preservation Project Inc.,
228 Stebbins St., Belchertown 01007.
Paul H. Normando, same. (Nonprofit)
To provide food and clothing and the subsidizing
of children’s educational and medical expenses
for poor Cambodian families, following traditional
Cambodian Buddhist cultural practices, etc.

CHICOPEE

Luke Consulting Inc.,
36 Dowds Lane, Chicopee 01020.
John M. Luke, same.
Consulting services in program evaluation,
school evaluation, research support, etc.

Nucedar Mills Inc.,
1000 Sheridan St., Chicopee 01022.
Thomas Loper, same.
(Foreign corp; DE)
Manufacturing lumber products.

EASTHAMPTON

New City Scenic & Display Inc.,
116 Pleasant St., Suite 410,
Easthampton 01027. Amy Davis, same.
Design, engineering and construction of
displays and theatrical scenery.

EAST LONGMEADOW

Destination Delivery Solutions Inc.,
143 Shaker Road, Bldg. E, East Longmeadow.
Amylia Joy Fedor, 17 Barbara Jean St.,
Grafton, president, treasurer and secretary.
Mail consolidation/sorting/
forwarding/brokering.

Jenny’s Nail Salon Inc.,
424 North Main St., East Longmeadow 01028.
Yu Sun Sim, 35 Webber St., Springfield 01108.
To provide nail services.

N.J.C. Enterprises Inc.,
70 John St., East Longmeadow 01028.
Nicholus J. Chiusano, same.
Plumbing, heating and air conditioning.

FEEDING HILLS

Russo Real Estate Associates Inc.,
142 Tobacco Farm Road, Feeding Hills 01030.
Fernando Russo, same. Real estate brokerage.

GOSHEN

Cahoondie Inc.,
31 Main St., Goshen 01032.
Judi Christine Morin, same.
Real estate management and rental.

HADLEY

HelpingHomes.org Inc.,
206 Russell St., Hadley 01035.
Steven Marcil, same.
(Nonprofit) The preservation, restoration
and rehabilitation of existing housing stock for
the benefit of eligible low-income legal residents
of Mass., etc.

HOLYOKE

Liquid Sun Inc.,
22 Myrtle Ave., Holyoke 01040.
Thomas Spencer, same.
Retail and wholesale sales of
gardening products.

 

New England Chapter of Metals
Service Center Institute Inc.,
68 Jackson St., Holyoke 01040. Dave Shaw,
195 Feldspar Ridge, Glastonbury, CT 06033;
William Sullivan Jr.,
14 Eastwood Dr., Southampton 01073,
treasurer and clerk. (Nonprofit) To promote the
distribution of metal products, collect and disseminate
useful statistics and information, etc.

Passport Holyoke Inc.,
444 Dwight St., c/o Children’s Museum at Holyoke,
Holyoke 01040. Carol Constant,
100 Morgan St., South Hadley.
(Nonprofit) To collaborate to provide educational,
historic, cultural and recreational public programming
in Holyoke, etc.

LUDLOW

Quadraflo Inc.,
8 Stoney Brook St., Ludlow.
Fernando Ubidia, same.
To manufacture parts for soft drink fountains.

NORHTHAMPTON

JNK Enterprises Inc.,
73 Barrett St., #5147,
Northampton 01060.
Jin Hee Lee, same. Retail-restaurant.

SOUTHAMPTON

Brewmasters Tavern Ltd.,
2 Geryk Ct., Southampton 01073.
Efthimios Rizos,12 Geryk Ct.,
Southampton 01073. Restaurant.

SPRINGFIELD

BKA Inc.,
110 Treetop Ave.,
Springfield 01118. Kristin A. Wampler, same.
Distributor of protective packaging.

Greater Springfield Business Foundation Inc.,
1441 Main St., Suite 136,
Springfield 01103. Russell F. Denver,
2 Lester St., East Longmeadow 01028.
(Nonprofit) To enhance the overall business,
cultural, environmental, and civic environment in
Western Massachusetts.

KSK Machine & Gear Inc.,
785 Page Blvd., Springfield 01104.
Susan Kasa, 11 Nicole Circle,
Southampton 01073. Machine shop.

Our Sister’s Corp.,
6 Wesson St., Springfield 01108.
Michael Borecki, same.
(Nonprofit) To have a golf tournament to raise
money for the Jimmy Fund and Dana Farber Institute.

WESTFIELD

New Westfield Financial Inc.,
141 Elm St., Westfield 01085.
Donald A. Williams, same.
To deal in securities and operate as a holding company.

WILBRAHAM

GML Construction Inc.,
20 Cottage Road, Wilbraham 01095.
Victor R. O’Brien Jr., same.
General contracting, excavation, trucking, paving.

WEST SPRINGFIELD

Gagne Brothers Inc.,
638 Rogers Ave., West Springfield 01089.
Brett R. Gagne, same. Home improvement.

Glenwood Thoroughbreds Inc.,
318 Woodmont St., West Springfield 01089.
Edward D. Croken, same. Horse breeding and racing.

M. Jags Inc.,
120 Interstate Dr., West Springfield 01089.
Martin T. Jagodowski, Pine Hill Road,
South Hadley 01075. Sales and repairs of commercial
and residential septic pumps and lawn equipment.

Cover Story
Online Courses Increase Enrollment and Visibility for Local Colleges
September 18, 2006 Cover

September 18, 2006 Cover

Online courses began as static Web sites and E-mail between students and faculty, but now they’re dynamic, comprehensive, and increasingly popular. As a result, they’re changing the way students learn and the way colleges teach.

At Holyoke Community College, students have the option of taking a number of courses online, from management to meteorological science.

Dr. Colin Cavell teaches U.S. National Government online for HCC, a popular class that has only one hitch: sometimes, his students have to keep the time difference in mind when E-mailing him with a question, at his home office in the Kingdom of Bahrain.

Cavell’s class is a textbook example of the flexibility afforded by online learning.

Online courses, now more commonly referred to as ‘distance learning’ or distance education, are an increasingly prevalent aspect of the American system of higher education. Most students enrolled at traditional four-year and community colleges will take an online course during their college career, or at least take a course that includes online components, such as presentations, study guides, or quizzes.

Distance learning presents many opportunities for students — they take courses at colleges across the country or around the world — and challenges for educators, who are adopting to a new way to teach traditional and non-traditional subjects.

Those closely involved with the evolution of distance learning at colleges and universities say that it’s not likely online courses will ever fully replace traditional classroom settings completely. But they don’t take the numbers of students using online classes to manage, augment, or complete their educations lightly, either.

Brick and Click

Gloria Defillipo, Dean of Distance Education at Holyoke Community College, said about 50% of the college’s total enrollment take advantage of some online component each semester, and that’s not including students in traditional classes who take advantage of so-called ‘Web enhancements.’

“We can’t possibly measure how many classroom courses also use online aspects to enhance the course – that’s too widespread,” she said. “But students can earn their degrees entirely online, or take part in ‘brick and click,’ hybrid courses that have online and classroom components. The numbers of those students is definitely increasing, and there is a big future for distance learning.”

HCC, which introduced its first distance education-based courses in 1999 (“they were basically notes posted online and links to Web sites,” said Defillipo), now offers five degrees and five certificates that can be obtained solely online, as well as 19 degrees that can be earned through a track that is 80% virtual.

Defillipo added that the majority of students enrolled in those courses of study live close to the college, and use distance education to study in a way that meets their learning style better than a classroom environment, or to help juggle an already busy work or family schedule. Some, however, utilize HCC’s online education system from beyond the Pioneer Valley. Students living in different parts of the state, including the Berkshires, Cape Cod, and Boston’s South Shore are currently enrolled, while others continued their education at HCC after a move – one HCC student is earning college credit while on military duty in Iraq.

“It definitely gets our name out there in a way we never could before,” said Defillipo. “But one of the biggest positives about distance learning is that education can continue even after life has moved you.”

Quiet as a Mouse

That could be one reason, she added, for the continued growth of distance learning, as well as the acceptance thereof in the world of higher education. Once relegated to correspondence courses and online schools such as the University of Phoenix, distance learning is now a very real, and very large, part of the American college system. Harvard University, for instance, created its extension school nearly a century ago, to offer continuing education courses for both credit and enrichment; its distance education division is now one of the school’s largest offerings. That shift has some real backing, nationally, too – the United States Distance Learning Association in Boston currently includes 27 state chapters and a number of for-profit sponsors who contribute up to $30,000 each annually to the cause.

Locally, every college has some type of online presence in terms of course offerings. In addition to HCC’s expansive set of programs, American International College, for instance, introduced a blended master’s degree program for its nursing students that takes place largely online.

And UMass is leading the country as well as the area in the field of distance learning. UMassOnline, its distance learning division, saw a 32% increase in program revenue during the 2005-2006 academic year, bringing in $22.9 million, and enrollment increased by 23%.

David Gray, UMassOnline CEO, said he attributes some of that growth to program expansion – 28 new programs were launched this past academic year alone.
“We continue to see impressive growth in online enrollment,” said Gray, “largely due to the quality and diversity of our academic programming. Our faculty and staff are committed to fostering an innovative and rich learning environment.”

Gray explained that the new programs created were a response to consumer demand and a need to fill niche markets. Two graduate-level counseling programs were added, for instance, as well as a masters program in Gerontology, a bachelor of arts completion program, a behavioral intervention in autism certificate program, a forensic criminology certificate program, and a plastics engineering certificate program.

“We are particularly pleased that plastics engineering is now available entirely online,” he said. “The program is one of a kind in the United States; offering it online enables us to serve a niche market, but with a global reach.”

On the Homepage

But distance learning is not just a tool to reach markets far from the bricks and mortar of a college campus. Debbie Bellucci, Dean of the School of Continuing Education and Distance Learning at Springfield Technical Community College, said while the majority of students who take advantage of online offerings at STCC are local, she too sees firsthand the vast growth in the field of distance learning, and the challenges that creates for colleges of all sizes.

“In 1999, we started with three courses, that were mainly lecture notes on a static site,” said Bellucci. “Interaction occurred outside of the course via E-mail.”

But now, STCC offers several courses with a Web component, including a liberal arts degree that can be achieved entirely online. That has created a major focus at STCC to constantly improve the online courses, but also the delivery and accessibility thereof. And that, Bellucci said, must be done within the same framework and set of standards applied to traditional courses.

The prime differences between online offerings at traditional institutions and most universities and schools that function entirely in a virtual environment, said Bellucci, are that colleges like STCC are accredited, often employ existing faculty to administer distance learning courses, and usually offer the course both online and in a classroom, to meet the needs of various students.

“Here, online courses also run a full, regular semester,” she added. “That means the program cannot be as self-paced as some online courses that can be taken outside of traditional academe. Students can complete their work anywhere, anytime within a given week, but after that there are certain parameters. When Saturday comes, that homework, or discussion board post, or quiz has to be posted.”

In addition, Bellucci said many colleges are now being called upon to draft specific policies for their distance learning programs, in order to address issues that may arise as well as further improve the online learning experience.

Discussion boards, for instance, provide an important tool for effective distance learning – they mimic classroom discussions, and consequently student comprehension levels, better than e-mails between student and instructor. But while they provide for multi-faceted conversations, Bellucci said, those conversations are taking place among a faceless audience and a class of students that often haven’t met each other, or their professor.

“The aim with discussion boards is to get students to comment with the instructor serving as a moderator,” she explained. “Instructors can allow students to exchange ideas, while also stopping tracks of discussion that are off-topic and correct misconceptions.

“But sometimes, that can lead to discussion boards becoming complaint boards, or debates get too heated or off-course,” she noted, adding that the problem prompted STCC to instate a ‘civility policy’ for distance education students.

Quizzes and final exams also pose a challenge for online faculty, who must essentially assume that any test administered online is an open-book test.

“Typically, that means instructors have to be more creative about how they set up the exams,” said Bellucci, explaining that true or false questions are given less frequently, while essays and short-answer questions better test a student’s overall comprehension.

Live and Learn

And communication between faculty and students is always encouraged, added Defillipo, who said distance learning allows for equal treatment for all students, whether they are studying in Holyoke or Iraq, or learning from a professor also in the Middle East.

“Learning doesn’t have to stop anymore when things change,” she repeated. “It can just keep going, wherever life takes you.”

Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at[email protected]

Sections Supplements
Entrepreneurial Training Program Kick-starts Small Businesses Across the Valley
Tani Duggar

Tani Dugger, an Entrepreneurial Training Program graduate, hard at work as the primary photographer and owner of her business, Insight Photography.

Tani Dugger, owner of Insight Photography in Belchertown, had this to say about her experience as a student in the Entrepreneurial Training Program administered by the Donahue Institute at UMass:

“They showed me all of the things I didn’t know I needed to know … so now, I know.”

Laughing at her own words, Dugger clarified by saying the program gave her the skills she needed to start her own business and to watch it grow.

“It gave me the time I needed to start my business, and a business plan that I could walk into any bank with, confidently,” she said. “And it gave me the skills I need to move forward knowing that I never have to be on unemployment ever again.”

Dugger is just one of several area business owners who have completed the Donahue Institute’s Entrepreneurial Training Program, or ETP, in hopes of gleaning the necessary know-how to move forward with a comprehensive plan for the future of their careers.

The program operates with assistance from the Massachusetts Division of Career Services (DCS), which currently contracts with six separate vendors across the state to deliver the program. Students who enroll are usually displaced workers with hopes to re-enter the workforce as business owners, and over the course of 20 weeks, they study everything from cash flow to marketing, and draft a complete business plan that is in turn used to guide the students through their first few weeks of self-employment.

The Donahue Institute, itself is a virtual entity that operates on all UMass campuses across the state, is responsible for staging the course in both the Pioneer Valley and Worcester County, just one of a wide variety of tasks the institute takes on each year. It operates a number of research and development, organizational development, training, and technical assistance programs, including MassBenchmarks, a quarterly report that provides high-level economic and policy research and analysis and the Academy for New Legislators, a three-day orientation seminar for new Massachusetts legislators, among several others.

Kathryn Hayes, director of the local program, explained that the entrepreneurial course is just one example of a much more extensive suite of services focused on workforce development. It has also been part of the Donahue Institute’s repertoire since 1997, however at that time it did not operate under the guidance of the DCS and was known as the Pioneer Valley Enterprise Program; that name, due in part to the institute’s work in Worcester County, is being phased out.

“The program was essentially the same as it is now, but we functioned more as a specialized career center with our own site in Easthampton,” Hayes explained, noting however that dwindling funding forced the institute to put the entrepreneurial training program on “hiatus” for about three years, from 2001 to 2004. “Then, we became involved with DCS and made the major change of connecting with area career centers, gaining most of our students through referrals from those centers.”

Hayes explained further that while the course is primarily geared toward dislocated workers, the application process is stringent, and only the most serious of candidates are accepted for a very limited number of slots each session.

“This is an opportunity for people who have lost jobs to create their own career,” she said. “They need to have a very clear idea of what they’re planning, strong skills in their field of choice, and a lot of dedication and passion.

“Applicants also need to do a good amount of market research to ensure that there is indeed a market for their service,” Hayes continued. “The idea of ‘build it and they will come’ doesn’t always work.”

Still, Hayes said there hasn’t been a problem filling the course to capacity, about 15 students, in the last two years.

“Preference goes to dislocated workers,” she said, “though we can tuition people in if need be, and we haven’t had that need. All of the slots are generally filled before we get to that point.”

That, Hayes added, underscores the fact that there is a definite need for programs such as the ETP among those who have lost their jobs, but also speaks to the success of the program in terms of addressing workforce development.

“The fact that we routinely fill the course without looking further than the career centers is proof that there is never any certainty about anybody’s job,” she said, “But I think this program is also economic development in and of itself. We’re not only creating jobs for the person in the class, but eventually for others as well, as their businesses grow. Studies are backing up that small businesses account for the greatest growth in the workforce, especially in Western Mass., so there’s no doubt that the program has value.”

Hayes said she’s noticed a trend in recent years of niche businesses and art-related companies emerging from the ETP, such as Dugger’s photography business that specializes in wedding photography and portraiture. But the companies formed with the assistance of the program are also diverse; recent classes have spawned design firms, cafés, video production companies, grocery stores, and a motorcycle shop, among others.

“Filling a niche is how small businesses survive,” she said, “and many of our graduates have been very successful with that.”

Hayes also noted that, statistically, business owners who have completed an ETP have a better chance of surviving the ups and downs of ownership that those who have not. In addition, some entrepreneurs complete the program only to discover that they have less of an affinity for self-employment than they once thought, and Hayes said those, too, are success stories in their own right.

“Some people realize how much is involved with starting your own business through the program, and in the end, opt to return to working for someone else,” she said. “And what we’ve found is those people are re-entering the workforce as better employees, so they too have gained some valuable skills.”

Still, because of financial constraints similar to those facing career centers such as Holyoke-based CareerPoint and Springfield-based FutureWorks, which both collaborate with the Donahue Institute to offer the entrepreneurial program, it’s becoming harder to offer the service to a wide gamut of people.

“In the last two years, we’ve held the program four times – twice in the Pioneer Valley,” said Hayes. “This year, though, we’ll only be able to hold it once, and it’s not just us being affected, it’s the entire career service sector.”

Hayes said career development programs such as her own are forced to do what they can with what they have, and in the case of the Donahue Institute’s ETP, that means relying heavily on the skills of various instructors, as well as past and present students.

Many students stay in touch after the program has wrapped, she said, and in turn develop a strong network of new business owners helping each other through both support and services. That’s a network she’s seen the positive effects of firsthand, and Hayes said in the future, developing and maintaining strong ties between students entering the business world together will be a primary focus.

“It’s important to belong to a professional group of some sort, because it creates a great network and produces great leads,” she said. “I’ve found that to be true even among groups of disparate businesses, and we’re going to be working on developing a stronger network in the future.”

In the Know

Dugger agreed that the network she became a part of through the class led to some great developments for her business. Fellow graduate Jason Turcotte, owner of Turcotte Design in Belchertown, created Insight Photography’s Web site, and now uses it as one of his ‘signature projects.’ She was also able to procure business cards and other marketing materials from fellow students.

But more important than business cards, Dugger said, were some of the intangible things she took away with her, among them a renewed sense of confidence, enthusiasm, and drive.

“I feel armed with everything I need,” she said. “I can look at my business now and say, yes, this is real. And yes, everything is going to be OK. I know it.”v

Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at[email protected]

Features
ACCGS’s Boronski Earns Rare Chamber Designation
Deb Boronski

Deb Boronski, CCE, says chambers of commerce are now about much more than maps, and must provide large doses of value to their members.

Deb Boronski says it gets in your blood.

She was referring to the work undertaken by chamber of commerce administrators — duties that range from making coffee for a quick breakfast meeting to lobbying legislative leaders on minimum wage proposals and other matters that impact members and their bottom lines.

“The work is different every day,” Boronski, senior vice president for the Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield, told BusinessWest. “You never know what business person will call you with what problem. It’s fun work and it’s challenging, and that’s why once it’s in your blood it doesn’t go away.” This explains why many chamber leaders stay in the profession, or sometimes one specific job, for many years, she said. “You become part of the community.”

Boronski speaks from experience; she’s been involved with chambers for more than two decades and has held leadership posts for the past 17 years, including a stint as president of the Chicopee Chamber and the past nine years in her post with the ACCGS. She wants to continue in this profession and build upon the skill set she has acquired, and for those reasons and others she sought and attained designation as a certified chamber executive.

Thus, she is now Debra A. Boronski, CCE.

Few of the officials working for the 4,500 or so chambers in the U.S. that have paid staff (perhaps 10%) achieve such status, she said, adding that doing so should help her advance her career in chamber work. But the designation also sends a message to the 1,500-odd ACCGS members that its leadership is serious about effectively serving its members and providing value for their investment in the chamber.

This is important, she said, because chamber members and would-be members are becoming ever-more-discerning customers, and ongoing education, including CCE designation, is necessary to effectively serve them.

BusinessWest talked with Boronski recently about that challenge, and also about a profession that few people really understand — or would even consider a profession.

Initial Reaction

Maps.
That what local chambers of commerce were perhaps most noted for years ago, said Boronski, adding that their lobbies were, and to some extent still are, dominated by maps of the community in question and brochures for area events, organizations, and hotels.

But the roadmaps that chambers are most concerned with now are more figurative in nature, she explained, adding that they detail how business owners and managers can run their ventures more effectively and more profitably.

This is part of an ongoing nationwide trend that sees chambers providing increasing value to their members, she said, adding that value is both needed and demanded.

“Businesses no longer join out of loyalty or feel-good reasons,” she explained. “Now, it’s all about WIFM — ‘what’s in it for me?’”

The need to effectively and continuously answer that question is one of many changes Boronski has witnessed during a long span of chamber involvement that began when she was the director of marketing and development for a Chicopee-based nonprofit organization known then as FOR Inc. and now as Sunshine Village, a group that provides employment opportunities for developmentally disabled individuals.

She became involved with the chamber’s women’s volunteer division known as the Super Cs. “The men had their own division called the Fireballs,” she said, rolling her eyes slightly. “That’s how long ago that was.”

Boronski became increasingly involved with the Chicopee chamber, and when its then-director, John Frickenberg, left his post and the profession, she applied for the job.

“I liked working for the business community,” she said of her decision to change careers, “and I felt like a natural in committee meetings and facilitating things; I really liked the work.”

It was the variety of that work and involvement in the community that most appealed to her, and these ingredients took on exponentially greater meaning when she became senior vice president of the ACCGS in 1997. That group, which has grown substantially over the past decade, now includes seven chambers — Springfield, Westfield, West Springfield, East Longmeadow/Longmeadow, Agawam, Ludlow, and Hampden/Wilbraham, and Boronski is very involved with each one.

“And that’s what makes each day different,” she explained. “One day you’re at a meeting on East Street Corridor work in Ludlow, the next it might be the Lowe’s project in East Longmeadow, or working with the redevelopment authority in West Springfield on the Merrick section initiative, or talking about Bowles Road in Agawam.”

Much of the work with and for those chambers would never be described as glamorous, she said, noting that there are countless breakfasts, golf tournaments, and after-hours gatherings for which her presence is required. But planning such events, and then being at them, networking with members, and listening to their concerns is part of the process of providing value to that membership.

Elaborating, she said that, while the chamber still provides maps and stages fundraising events like Chicopee’s famed Kielbasa Festival, which she orchestrated for many years, its primary function is economic development. “We’re here to help make businesses more profitable and to bring more businesses to cities and towns.”

This is achieved, she said, through a variety of chamber-led cost-cutting initiatives involving everything from health insurance to credit card transactions to a recently announced collaboration with W.B. Mason that will save members money on office supplies. Meanwhile, advocacy is another important element, she continued, adding that it is part of any chamber’s responsibility to see that the voice of the business community is heard.

Still another part of that equation is ongoing education, or “staying sharp,” as she called it.

“That’s how you effectively serve your members,” she said, “through education and learning from other chambers about what has worked in their communities and what could work in yours. We’re all happy to share ideas.”

As part of that ongoing education and process of getting better at what she does, Boronski first graduated from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Organizational Management — a recognized standard for professional development and fundamental training in the chamber industry — and then sought CCE designation, which isn’t easy to earn.

“It’s quite a process,” she said, noting that first, applicants must qualify for the honor through several years of work in the industry, a demonstrably active role in the community, and service to the Association of Chambers of Commerce. Actual CCE designation is awarded through the accumulation of points — earned in several ways, including graduation from the institute, serving on and presiding over chamber association committees, and getting work published — and then several other steps designed to prove worthiness.

These include writing an essay on some aspect of one’s work — Boronski chose her involvement with the creation of the chamber’s new Division of Business Excellence — and also a lengthy interview with five CCEs, who grill applicants on subjects ranging from economic development to management style and grade their responses, and then a four-hour exam featuring essay and multiple-choice questions.

When the process is over, CCE designees are tired, but proud, said Boronski, noting that this is the only national certification for chamber professionals, and only a few people in the Commonwealth have such a plaque on their wall.

Chamber Music

Boronski told BusinessWest that while most people in the local business community understand and respect what she does, some confusion and/or ignorance remains.

“Some people will ask, ‘what’s your real job?’” she explained, “or they think I work in city hall.”

Having a few initials after her name is not likely to change that scenario any time soon, but it will give her a greater sense of pride and accomplishment that goes with venturing where few in her profession dare to tread.

And it will help her stay sharp.

George O’Brien can be reached at[email protected]

Sections Supplements
Businesses are Using A New Medium to Reach Audiences Any Time, Anywhere
Karen McMahon and Denise Szczebak

Karen McMahon and Denise Szczebak in MassMutual’s producing room, creating one of the company’s weekly podcasts.

“The white ear-bud generation.”

That’s what Jorge Luis Gonzalez, Webmaster for WFCR in Amherst, calls the young, college-age people who sometimes visit his public radio station, located on the UMass campus, often with their mp3 player headphones still around their necks.

“We had a group in recently, and we asked them what their thoughts were on radio,” he said. “One young man piped up immediately and said, ‘radio sucks.’”

It was not exactly a resounding endorsement for the medium, but Gonzalez said the response wasn’t a shock, either.

“All young people use their mp3 players to create audio programs of their own now, and fewer listen to the radio than ever before,” he said.

It’s a reality that all radio stations across the country are facing, and many, including WFCR, have incorporated the creation of podcasts into their daily routines, in an effort to regain some of those ear-bud-wearing deserters.

“It’s something that every public radio station on the progressive edge is doing,” said Gonzalez, who explained that some of the station’s regular features have been made available online for download for about a year now. “It doesn’t make us any money, though as we move forward we might look at fundraising ideas using podcasting. Right now, it’s doing more to get our name out there, and make our programming accessible to more people.”

This accessibility factor is making the podcast an increasingly popular method of communication for a host of businesses and organizations. Locally, MassMutual is using them to educate and disseminate information to employees.

“As a training organization, we’re constantly looking at the best ways to educate our employees and our agents,” said Denise Szczebak, director for the national center for professional development, which develops training programs at MassMutual. “We offer self-study options online and classroom environments, but as we look closely at various learning styles, we are seeing an increased use of podcasts and other virtual tools among the people we’re recruiting. Offering podcasts was the next logical step, then, in terms of delivering information.”

What’s in a Name?

Creating these new delivery methods is actually relatively simple, too. ‘Podcast’ is the buzzword that has been given to what are essentially downloadable audio or video files that can be listened to on virtually any personal media player. The term was coined in the early years of this decade, following the success of Apple’s iPod line of mp3 players, but has since taken on a life of its own. Podcasts can now be listened to or viewed from the majority of desktop and laptop computers, mp3 players, and an increasing number of PDAs and cell phones, and in 2005, the editors of the New Oxford American Dictionary declared ‘podcast’ the word of the year.

Audio files are usually recorded and saved in .wav format, another type of audio file, and then converted using one of many software programs into mp3 files. Then, the files can be posted on any Web site, usually identified by an icon such as a microphone, where listeners can download them in a matter of minutes.

Radio stations aren’t the only entity adopting podcasting to help bolster business, however – companies of all sizes in a variety of sectors are using the technology to market services, educate employees, and disseminate corporate information, among other uses, and the practice is quickly becoming essential to today’s technology-driven business climate.

The practice is beginning to take off for a number of reasons. In addition to the relatively simple process involved in creating a podcast, companies can also track how many times a podcast is downloaded, allowing for a better measure of who they’re reaching.

The format is also very pliable, allowing for a wide variety of programs. While some companies are using podcasts to make specific industry information available to clients or shareholders, others provide general information that is of interest to a large audience.

For instance, Gordon Snyder, professor of Electronic Systems Engineering Technology at Springfield Technical Community College (STCC), began to record podcasts weekly with his colleague, Michael Qaissaunee, an engineering and technology professor at Brookdale Community College in New Jersey. Thousands of international listeners have downloaded the programs to date, which cover trends in information and communications technology.

“Our goal is to present technical topics at an introductory level, and grow our listener base,” said Snyder.

The podcasts, which have titles such as ‘Cash Mice: how E-commerce is Going Micro’ and ‘Desktop Search Engines: Indispensable or Intrusive?’ address national concerns in the telecommunications field, but also put Snyder, Qaissaunee, and the colleges for which they work in front of several people daily.

Companies may also choose to start slowly, with just a handful of podcasts made available, and grow incrementally; others have instituted weekly or daily broadcasts right from the start, with the help of multi-media or production firms. Gonzalez said WFCR began offering two popular programs online, Field Notes and Arts Interview, but will eventually offer all of the station’s locally produced news and features.

Getting the Word Out

David Caputo, president of Positronic Design in Holyoke, has assisted clients with podcasting, and said he sees it as an exceedingly effective, and economical, marketing tool.

“Businesses can make effective use of podcasts by essentially making them into radio commercials that describe the goods and services they offer, or related subjects, and build up goodwill among customers and leads who enjoy the presentation,” he said. “Because of the lower price of making good audio recordings nowadays, this tool is within reach of even the smallest business, if they have the wherewithal to compose and effectively narrate the podcasts.”

MassMutual’s Szczebak explained that the method also allows a company to deliver information to people in easily digestible pieces – podcast audiences can not only listen to a broadcast anytime, anywhere, but can also listen to a program multiple times or one short segment at a time.

MassMutual began routinely offering podcasts just this year, and Szczebak said it’s not only convenient, but caters to a wide variety of people and learning styles. New podcasts are created each week, providing about 15 minutes of information that can be downloaded to a personal mp3 player such as an iPod, or listened to on a desktop or laptop computer.

“Generally, that information is what is important for our customers and clients to know,” she explained. “It could be company developments, updates, or field testimonials regarding specific topics. The segments are about three minutes long each, so they’re very easy, digestible pieces of news that people can listen to pretty much anywhere.”

The podcast program was piloted in January and officially launched about two months later, said Szczebak. Since then, the company has made keynote speeches made by MassMutual’s CEO, Stu Reeves, available in their entirety online for the first time, and are now looking toward offering video podcasts.

“We’ve gotten some really good feedback,” she said, noting that from March to July, MassMutual recorded 4,000 downloads of the podcasts, which are not mandatory, and 800 people subscribed to a service that allows them to receive the broadcasts automatically each week.

Tuning In

Caputo added that the subscription aspect of podcasts makes the information they contain even more accessible to large audiences. Instead of directing listeners to a link on a Web site, software programs such as iTunes allow for automatic delivery of various programs – everything from New Yorker Magazine in its entirety to a report of the latest quarterly figures of a local bank.

“Podcasting takes mp3 files one step further by allowing people to subscribe to the periodic file uploads and get them delivered to their computer, or iPod, or whatever,” he said, “without them having to go search for them. It becomes like a regularly scheduled radio program.”

And that’s a similarity Gonzalez is glad to acknowledge. When he passes a UMass student wearing those ubiquitous ear buds, he’s gradually less inclined to cringe, and instead is hopeful.

“Everyone has the luxury now of listening to just about whatever we want,” he said. “Hopefully, sometimes that’s us.”

Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at[email protected]

Opinion
The End of Binge-spending Days

In 1981, I learned about cycles the hard way. I invested in Texas real estate when it was at an all-time high only to see values, and my investment, take a nosedive. This experience alerted me once again to the law of cycles: What is up will eventually come down, and what is down will go up.

When I took office, the Massachusetts economy was down. My team and I went to work to find ways to economize and to eliminate duplication and waste. We cut back on “nice to have” spending that we just couldn’t afford. We had our share of disagreements with the Legislature: the budgets I proposed did not cut school funding, for instance. But we were steadfast in avoiding new taxes. And, of course, our success in managing during the down years benefited from the state’s rainy day fund. Thanks to the courage and foresight of prior Republican governors and Democratic legislators like former speaker Tom Finneran, money saved during the good times helped to smooth out the bad.

Over the last three years, Massachusetts has come back. Businesses are hiring again, and we even read stories of employers creating incentives to retain older employees in the face of worker shortages. Our state and local tax revenues have gone through the roof. In fact, state tax receipts have exceeded forecasts by over a billion dollars for each of the last two years. A year ago, we refilled the rainy day fund.

Which brings us to today. When things are up, it’s easy to forget the law of cycles, and to spend like “up” is the only direction the economy will ever go. That’s just what happened in this year’s budget debate. On June 30, the Legislature passed a budget that spent not only all of the record tax revenues and all of the billion-dollar surplus, but also $500 million from the rainy day fund. The Legislature’s bet must be that if the Massachusetts economy keeps booming next year, no one will be the wiser. But there may already be signs that this is a bad bet: Tax revenues are below forecast for each of the last two months. And the law of cycles will not go away. Sooner or later, a downturn is inevitable. The spending spree will lead to deep cuts, big borrowing, a call for higher taxes, or all of the above. The fingers of blame will be pointed in many directions, but spending— runaway spending— will be the real culprit.

While we did address some of our critical infrastructure needs relating to state roads, bridges, and our system of public higher education, the budget included line item after line item of less-than-essential projects, such as merry-go-rounds and gazebos.

Every legislator and politician knows this spending can’t be justified, so why do they do it? Because it gets politicians praised — and re-elected. There’s no courage involved in spending more money. Drawing a line on spending is hard and fraught with criticism. When I vetoed $458 million of excessive spending in the budget this spring, I knew that community newspapers across the Commonwealth would decry my elimination of local pet projects. And, I knew that the Legislature would over ride most of my vetoes. In fact, they overrode all of them, to a chorus of community acclaim. But someone has to say “no.”

This year’s budget battle is history, but my concern is that the spending binge will continue unabated. Social service advocates always want more. Last month, I vetoed a bill mandating free pre-school for everyone, which would have cost over $1 billion a year. Government unions will want more. We have attempted to limit increases in state employee contracts to roughly 2 percent annually, unless there are significant concessions. But the unions will be expecting a more generous deal from the politicians they endorse in the fall elections — and if history is a guide, they’ll get it.

Yogi Berra famously said: “It’s déjà vu all over again.” He’d learned the lesson of cycles. We’ve seen cycles here in Massachusetts often enough to have learned as well. But we’ll need a hefty dose of courage from politicians and vigilance from citizens if we are going to be as well-prepared for the next inevitable downdraft as we were for the last one.

Mitt Romney is the governor of Massachusetts.