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‘Profit Recovery’ Firm Is Changing the Methodology and Image of Collections

Alan Surprenant says he can understand why some companies and professionals are somewhat passive when it comes to the matter of collecting past-due bills.

There is a fine line that most must walk, he explained, noting that, while business owners obviously want and need to get paid, they usually don’t want to offend long-time — or potential long-time — customers, who may end a relationship if they sense over-aggressiveness in pursuit of payment.

Meanwhile, many business owners and managers simply don’t want to turn over a percentage of what they are owed (usually 25% to 50%) to a collection agency, he continued. Some try small-claims court (if the amount owed fits that category), but often they just get a ruling in their favor, and not a check. “Courts don’t collect money.”

So many companies try to do things on their own and mostly wait and hope that the payment will come in soon, said Suprenant, Western Mass. and Northern Conn. sales representative for a company called GreenFlag Profit Recovery. This strategy, if one can call it that, often leads to bills getting ‘stale’ — six months overdue or older — when the odds of getting paid are much lower than when a bill is 60 or 90 days out.

GreenFlag takes care of most all of these concerns, said Surprenant and Michael Bernier, the company’s sales manager. It does so by convincing companies to more-aggressively, but not over-aggressively, pursue payment much earlier than they might otherwise, and in a manner that Bernier says “takes some of the stink out of collections.” And the company also has a flat-fee schedule, sometimes as a low as $10 or $12 per bill.

Thus, it relies on volume, which it achieves through both its 123 offices scattered across the country and a willingness to accept everything from a five-figure bill all the way down to a few bounced checks.

Summing things up, Surprenant said GreenFlag acts more like an extension of a company’s accounts-receivable department than a hired gun brought on to go after a few past-due bills.

“I like to call what we do pre-collection work,” he explained, adding that the company takes its name because it’s not recovering money, but instead is recovering profits, and at a time when many business owners are facing noticeably slimmer margins. “What we’re doing is putting a system in place that prevent accounts from going into what most would consider the ‘collections’ state.”

Bernier told BusinessWest that his company, like all collections businesses, is busier at times like these, when the economy is slower and when consumers, be they individuals or businesses, have decisions to make about which bills to pay, and when, because they can’t pay them all on time. Virtually every industrial sector and individual business sees its accounts-receivable file impacted by times like this, but some, including professionals such as health and dental care providers, lawyers and accountants, and service-oriented ventures, feel it more, usually because of the size of the bills they send out.

And then there are the fuel-oil dealers, who deliver a commodity that is essential but increasingly difficult to afford.

“Some have just gone out of business, and a lot of it has to do with getting paid, or not getting paid, as the case may be,” said Bernier, noting that some, when possible, are demanding cash on delivery. “When you talk to talk to those people today, they’re generally not as concerned with how many gallons they’re delivering as they are with just getting their money.”

In this issue, BusinessWest takes an indepth look at GreenFlag and its different approach to collections. In the process of doing so, we’ll shed some light on an all-important but still somewhat overlooked aspect of business management — getting paid.

Due Diligence

As he talked about those ‘decisions’ now facing individuals and business owners, Bernier recalled a recent visit to the convenience store.

“There was a guy in line ahead of me who had $10,” he explained. “He bought a pack of cigarettes and said, ‘put the rest on pump 2.’ He needed those cigarettes, and put what was left on gas, which was what … just over a gallon — maybe?’”

The anecdote is somewhat extreme, but drives home a point, he explained. Specifically, most all people have less buying power than they did a few weeks or a few months ago, and they have decisions to make about how they spend what they have. There are some things they need (or believe they need), like cigarettes, some things they can do without (many are in fact cutting back), and some things they need but don’t necessarily have to pay for right away — and don’t.

Anyone who handles accounts receivable can see this phenomenon at work, said Surprenant, adding that, while collections are an ongoing issue for most businesses, they are a far-more-pressing concern at the moment, because more people are having trouble paying bills, and small businesses, which are also facing rising costs, need proper cash flow. If they don’t have it, then they can easily find themselves on the other end of the bill-collection problem.

Despite all this, Surprenant says he consistently sees a lack of proper attention and/or a lack of understanding regarding the matter of getting paid. Thus, he says he spends a good amount of time educating or re-educating clients about the art and science of collections.

It certainly isn’t rocket science, he explained, but there are some points that business owners should keep in mind, starting with the long-held mindset concerning this business.

“A business owner always thinks that they’re going to figure out a way to collect the money without going to collection,” he explained. “And the reason they do is because their thought is that ‘collections’ is percentages, or giving up a big piece of what they’re owed, and they don’t want to do that.”

At the top of that list when it comes to re-educating clients is emphasizing the need to start getting serious about collecting a debt well before it becomes stale, said Surprenant.

Elaborating, he said that too many business owners will wait several months before thinking about taking a bill to collection, and for all those reasons listed earlier. The basic mentality held by many is to take a bill to collection only when they’ve become convinced they’re not going to get paid, and when they are subsequently less concerned about paying the collector’s percentage.

“This is backward thinking,” said Bernier, who told BusinessWest that there are ways to go after past-due bills earlier, and without being over-aggressive to the point of alienating people.

He calls GreenFlag’s methodology “a diplomatic and professional approach.”

It starts with what he calls a “courtesy letter,” which politely asks if the tardiness is an oversight. The letter then invites and encourages prompt payment to the vendor in question and not the collection agency, which is the standard procedure so that the agency can take its cut first.

This letter generally yields one of four responses, said Bernier: prompt full payment, partial payment, negotiation of a payment schedule, or it’s ignored. And in this last scenario there is a series of follow-up letters (one issued every 10 days) designed to generate a different, better response.

Generally, GreenFlag is able to generate one, he said, adding that the company has been able to recover roughly 56% of the debts it is assigned, a rate four times the national average of 14%, as estimated by the American Collectors Assoc.

This track record has enabled Green-Flag’s regional office to build a client list that includes everything from sole proprietorships to a health care system to a pharmacy chain (which needs ongoing help collecting from people who order prescriptions online and then don’t pay).

It also includes several oil dealers, said Bernier, who expects this coming winter to be as difficult for those businesses (from a collections standpoint) as it will be for those facing soaring fuel-oil prices.

But the current bill-collecting climate is challenging for most all businesses, he continued, noting that some physicians have reported growing problems with self-pay accounts, and many dentists are being challenged to collect the difference between what they are owed and what the insurance company will pay.

“Every business that extends credit or accepts checks is feeling the pinch right now,” said Bernier, who noted that many expect conditions to get worse before they get any better.

By All Accounts

Returning to the matter of that fine line he referenced — the one that everyone has to walk when it comes to accounts receivable — Surprenant said business owners must be aware of it and respect it.

But they don’t have to be paralyzed by it, and thus become passive with regard to an important issue for everyone doing business.

“These are your profits we’re talking about,” he said. “Many professionals and business owners are concerned about diplomacy, and they need to be, but the bottom line is, well … the bottom line, and making sure its healthy.”

Sections Supplements
Those Are the Themes Behind an Expanding Northampton Enterprise
Liz Cole

Liz Cole

Ten years ago, Liz Cole had two ideas: one for a health club, and one for a daycare. The two businesses launched independently of one another, but as both continue to prosper along with two more of Cole’s ventures, they’re blending together as they focus on a dominant theme: healthy families.

Liz Cole calls it “organized chaos” — the delicate balance of managing four independent businesses under one roof, three of which call children their primary clients.

At 33 Hawley St. in Northampton, the former home of the Rugg Lumber Company, Cole has created a unique mix of family- and fitness-oriented endeavors, including a health club, a daycare, a kids’ fun and fitness center, and an entertainment venue that provides everything from pizza parties for kids to club dances for the older set.

In fact, the notion of ‘fitness and family’ is one that Cole returns to often; she noted that each service she’s devised was designed to provide a comfortable space for both adults and children, and to teach a little something to all parties along the way. It can be a complicated business model to explain, but as the level of activity on Hawley Street continues to rise, it’s proving to be a successful one.

“Is every day utopia? No,” said Cole with a laugh. “But our bills are paid, there’s a little left over, and we have fun.”

Training Days

Cole has a background in social work and early-childhood education, including an eight-year stint in Seattle, Wash. with Head Start, the longest-running national school-readiness program in the U.S. This professional background, paired with the belief that physical fitness is a cornerstone for any healthy individual, was the driving force behind Cole’s idea to open fitness- and child-related businesses concurrently under one roof. She bought the 25,000-square-foot building that now houses her four individual businesses and a fifth, a pilates studio, in 1997. A year of renovations followed, and in January 1998 Cole’s inaugural venture, Universal Health and Fitness, opened its doors.

“The gym has an emphasis on overall fitness, and has an atmosphere where we hope everyone feels welcome — young, old, the very physically fit, and beginners,” Cole explained, noting that everything from the layout of the gym to the equipment reflects that mission. “The lines of equipment we use are sized for both men and women, and therefore are a little more gender-neutral than some other lines, for example, and the free weights aren’t hidden in the back so someone who wants to use them has to walk past everyone else in the gym to get there. That’s a big deterrent for some people, so ours are the first thing you see when you walk in. We tried to look at the gym from a new perspective, aimed at making the trip not-so-scary for people.”

A month after Universal Health and Fitness opened, Dolphin Daycare was launched on the bottom floor of the building, offering care and early education for infants to pre-kindergarten-aged children. Cole said her mantra about the two anchor businesses is, “my head is in the gym, but my heart is in the daycare,” and this helps explain the two divergent ventures.

“My background is in social work, so even though I’m not spending all day putting out fires for families in crisis, I can still help with parenting issues, behavioral issues, and other things,” she said. “We are a resource for families, and that adds something nice to the work I do every day.

“Plus, the gym doesn’t create as many referrals for the daycare as some people might think,” she added. “They’re definitely two different businesses. But that is good for word-of-mouth, and often, children who are part of the daycare move on to our before- and after-school programs that are used by parents who are also gym members. So gradually, all of the businesses are starting to mesh.”

The hardest evidence of this meshing quality came last spring, when Cole built another service into her existing ‘families and fitness’ objective.

Fitting It All In

With Universal Health and Fitness occupying the top floor and Dolphin Daycare using only half of the ground floor, a variety of tenants occupied the remainder of the building until last year, when Cole launched a third business, Universal Kids. This addition is a blend of activities, education, and entertainment, inviting children and their parents to visit for a dive into the ball pit, a kids’ yoga class, a birthday party, or just some play time in the free-play and snack-bar area.

“It’s all about fitness, families, and kids having fun,” Cole said. “The gym and the daycare have always coexisted, but this felt like the missing link — it made sense to combine the two ideas.”

As it turned out, Cole thought Universal Kids was a good idea on which to build, as well. Just last month, she added a fourth business to her repertoire, Club K, which operates in the same space as Universal Kids during evening and weekend hours.

Club K is an entertainment venue for children, teens, and adults, and events are scheduled on alternating nights to accommodate each age set. Thursdays, for example, are family fun night, at which parents and their children can learn a craft as they socialize over pizza and apple juice. Fridays are either teen nights, providing dancing and karaoke for 13- to 17-year-olds, or 18-plus open mic nights; and Saturdays are adult nights, welcoming anyone 21 or over to attend themed, DJ-led dance parties that begin earlier than most clubs (8 p.m.) and close at midnight. Club K has also secured a limited beer-and-wine liquor license for adult nights, which Cole is hoping to expand on further in the coming months.

“We launched Club K deliberately in the early summer because it’s a slower time for the other businesses, and we could get a feel for what people wanted and tweak the model from there,” she said. “It’s been a little hard to explain that we have events with beer and wine and also a daycare, but while the idea to provide all sorts of activities for families is part of everything we do, Club K has been designed to keep things very separate.”

As Universal Kids and Club K continue to grow in terms of programming — parenting classes and ‘speed dating’ nights complete with child care for parents are among the ideas being mulled — the building itself is also undergoing some changes. Cole said work is now underway to expand the upstairs pilates studio, which is rented to Nadya Kostek for her business, Personal Touch Pilates. Downstairs, the daycare is also getting a facelift, expanding to include six classrooms.

Working It Out

On the longer-range side of things, Cole said she’s also completed plans for a possible water park on the property, and is now in the process of securing a final location and financing. It is, indeed, the latest addition to a diverse model that requires a little bit of explanation, but everything is tied together, Cole repeated, with that pervasive theme of family.

“Every member of a family has needs, and we’re working to meet them,” she said. “When someone leaves after a great workout, they feel good. When a child comes home and can sing a whole song through for the first time, the child feels good, and the parents feel great. And when a parent leaves their six-week-old here with us, and leaves feeling good about it, we feel good.

“This is important work,” Cole concluded. “It’s fun and also exhausting, but above all else, it’s important.”

Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at[email protected]

Sections Supplements
Westmass Unveils Ambitious Plans for a Ludlow Mill Complex
Kenneth Delude

Left, an undated lithograph shows the Ludlow Manufacturing Associates complex nearly a century ago. Below, Kenneth Delude stands near some of the dozens of small stockhouses at the mill complex, which comprise one of many challenges to re-use of the site.

Westmass Area Development Corp. is finalizing acquisition of the sprawling Ludlow Manufacturing Associates complex, which was once the largest jute-making facility in the world. Westmass administrators say the ambitious initiative, which blends elements of greenfield and brownfield development, could, over the next 15 to 20 years, attract perhaps $300 million in private-sector investments and create more than 2,000 jobs.

It’s a powerful image — a lithograph (date unknown) th.at depicts the sprawling Ludlow Manufacturing Associates complex that gave the community its identity — both literally and figuratively.

Indeed, Ludlow has been known throughout most of its 234-year existence as a mill town, and it was known as Jute City — that’s the product (twine) that was made at the complex. Meanwhile, the clock tower on the northwest corner of what was known years ago as Mill No. 8 has become perhaps the town’s most identifiable landmark. It appears on the town seal, the masthead of the local weekly newspaper, the Register, Ludlow High School class rings, and many other places.

The mill complex along the banks of the Chicopee River, including several buildings that are no longer standing, certainly dominates the lithograph, first published in a 1928 book on the making of jute, but that’s not the only thing that catches Kenneth Delude’s eye.

“Look at all the housing, on both sides of the river, that was built by the mill and because of the mill,” said Delude, president of Westmass Area Development Corp., who also referenced streets, parks, and the town library as current fixtures that came about as a direct result of the mill complex and its ownership.

“At one time, there were about 8,000 people living in Ludlow and 4,000 people working at the mill complex,” he said as he moved his hands in a circular motion across the image. “When I look at this picture, I think of the enormous regional impact that this complex had — the jobs it created were part of the economic fabric of the community. And that’s what we hope to do again.”

Indeed, Delude sees history repeating itself, albeit on a certainly smaller scale, if an ambitious Westmass project currently in the formative stage unfolds as he expects that it will. The agency, part of the Economic Development Council of Western Mass., is in the process of acquiring what remains of the mill complex — some 1.6 million square feet of floor space on a 170-acre parcel, nearly half of it undeveloped — and create a mixed-use complex on the site. Preliminary estimates (and they are very preliminary) indicate that such reuse and new development could create perhaps 2,000 or more new jobs, generate millions of dollars in tax revenue, and spur additional economic development — much of it in the form of businesses that would support those 2,000 workers.

The business plan for the project, known for the moment as ‘… at River’s Edge’ (more on that later), is still very much a work in progress, said Delude, who used an enlarged version of the lithograph and some aerial photographs of the site to show what could happen there.

Gesturing toward what is now known as the clock tower building, he said its ground floor could house a bank, a restaurant or two, and other enterprises that would support workers in the redeveloped complex, while its upper floors could house fledgling businesses. Tapping a large, five-story mill building now largely vacant, he said it could be retrofitted into elderly or market-rate housing.

Meanwhile, a currently undeveloped section of the complex could be put toward development of smaller buildings (10,000 square feet to 50,000 square feet) for growing businesses, he continued, while the 79 acres of undeveloped, wooded land could become an industrial park. Several dozen small stockhouses, used to store raw materials for jute making, could be put to imaginative uses, perhaps as incubator spaces, said Delude, adding that many will likely be razed.

All these ‘coulds’ will be more thoroughly explored over the next 18 months or so, said Delude, adding that the hope is to retain as many of the current buildings as possible to preserve a sense of character and history, while also creating a business park that will help retain existing companies and attract new ones.

The Ludlow project, as envisioned, would be the most ambitious project to date for Westmass, which has developed industrial parks in Agawam, Westfield, Hadley, and East Longmeadow (in that order) and its first true brownfield project — meaning development of former industrial space that has environmental issues to be addressed.

Such brownfield development was deemed a priority by the Westmass board of directors, said Stephen Roberts, that’s body’s president, both out of necessity and a sense of civic responsibility.

Elaborating, he said the region has many potential brownfield development sites — most of them former mills that produced everything from paper to tires — and Westmass has committed itself to blending that type of development with the more-traditional ‘greenfield’ variety that has defined the agency’s past and present. Meanwhile, there are simply fewer of those greenfields to be developed, making projects like the one in Ludlow more of a necessity than an option.

In this issue, BusinessWest takes an indepth look at the Ludlow project, as currently conceived, and how this elaborate plan might come together.

Name of the Game “Project India.”

That was the first, and quite unofficial, name given to the Ludlow project, said Delude, noting that, like most large-scale commercial real estate initiatives these days, this one involved a high level of discretion and thus needed a code name.

This one was chosen because the raw materials that went into making jute came from India, he explained, adding quickly that, now that word is out, Project India is more or less obsolete, and those within Westmass have moved on, sort of. The organization wants to use ‘at River’s Edge’ somehow in the name, but hasn’t determined yet what to put before those words — hence the three dots that currently precede them — in large part because the vision of the final product is still being shaped.

That Project India code name was in use for more than a year, or since the start of talks between Westmass and the current owner of the mill complex, Ludlow Industrial Realties Inc. — negotiations that were brokered by Doug Macmillan, second-generation owner and president of Springfield-based Macmillan & Son Inc., which has been handling some leasing and other real estate-related matters at the mill complex since it was purchased by Arthur Fastenberg in the late ’60s.

Fastenberg eventually acquired several other commercial properties in the region, including the former Westinghouse plant on Page Boulevard in Springfield, which is slated for conversion into a retail complex, said Macmillan. In Ludlow, Fastenberg arranged a sale-leaseback of the property with Ludlow Manufacturing Associates, thus ensuring a prominent, long-term anchor, and many other tenants, large and small, were added over the years.

“When I first saw that site back in the ’80s, it was really humming,” said Macmillan, adding that, until perhaps a decade or so ago, the mill complex was 80% occupied, or more. Over the past several years, that percentage has fallen, reflecting a decline in manufacturing across the region, and the continual downsizing of Ludlow Manufacturing, later to be known as Ludlow Textiles, which moved out completely about 18 months ago.

At or around that time, at the behest of several of Fastenberg’s descendents, who now control Ludlow Industrial Industrial Realties Inc., Macmillan approached Westmass about potential interest in the complex.

Initial discussions centered around the undeveloped, wooded portion of the property, said Macmillan, but ownership wanted to sell the entire complex, and quickly convinced Westmass to take that course. More formal discussions took place in New York earlier this year, and, over the course of the past several months, a purchase-and-sale agreement was reached, with the price still undisclosed.

Thus, the Ludlow project becomes what Delude believes is the largest mill-reuse development initiative in New England, and one that will be somewhat unique in that it will focus more on commercial and industrial development than residential, although there will likely be housing components.

This uniqueness makes it hard to find models to follow, said Delude, but there are some.

One is the former Digital complex in Maynard, Mass., which is similar to the Ludlow site, right down to the clock tower, which gives it its name — Clock Tower Place. Located along the Assabet River, the 1.1 million-square-foot complex was originally home to the Assabet Manufacturing Co., which made carpets and yarn, and later to DEC, which started as one of many smaller tenants to inhabit the mill in the 1950s, and later occupied the entire complex as Ken Olsen’s enterprise became one of the leading makers of minicomputers.

But Olsen’s failure to grasp the concept of the personal computer led to DEC’s demise, and by the late ’90s, the mill complex was almost entirely vacant. It has been rejuvenated with new ownership, and is now home to Monster, the Yacobian Group, and many other tenants.

Another potential model is the Bates Mill Complex in Lewiston, Maine, a 1.2 million-square-foot series of mills that once produced uniforms for the Union army during the Civil War, and is now home to a number of diverse businesses. The list includes the loan-processing operations center for Peoples Heritage Corp., but also dozens of start-up businesses and support services.

Knots Landing

Delude, who plans to visit still another potential model in Rhode Island later this month, said Westmass hopes to take lessons and inspiration from these projects as it goes about writing the next chapter in the history of the Ludlow mills.

“If we don’t have to reinvent the wheel, then we won’t,” he said. “There’s a lot that we can take away from what’s happened before.”

As he gave BusinessWest a tour of the Ludlow complex, Delude stopped the car at several locations to point out both opportunities and challenges, and there are several of both.

In the latter category, he referenced a warehouse, circa 1914, that housed finished product and was, in its day, the largest jute warehouse in the world. It is eight stories high, but shorter than the neighboring five-story mill because each level — outfitted with some of the first concrete floors used in this country due to the excessive weight of the twine — is only eight feet high.

This will limit re-use possibilities, but there are several options, said Delude, who said the building is one of many he would like to preserve if possible.

The stockhouses present another challenge for reuse, he continued, noting that their size (roughly 6,000 square feet each) and shape do not lend themselves to easy re-use. Meanwhile, they stand between the mill complex and the riverfront, and one of Delude’s goals with this project is to make more and better use of the river.

“For more than a century now, access to the river has been blocked,” he said as he pulled the car to a spot along the bank. “People can see it, but they can’t get to it; we want to change that.”

Development opportunities abound at the site, said Delude as he drove down State Street to the large, undeveloped stretch of the mill property, which winds along the river and eventually abuts Ludlow Country Club. The 70-acre site sits across from an attractive residential neighborhood, but Westmass industrial parks have shown they can live in harmony with such areas, he explained.

This is the case in Agawam, where a business park built on what was once Bowles Municipal Airport abuts several residential streets. “We’ve shown that we can successfully co-exist with neighborhoods like this one.”

There are more than 60 buildings on the Ludlow site, said Roberts, who told BusinessWest that Westmass will attempt to reuse all those where preservation makes sense. In those cases where it doesn’t, the agency will pursue what he called “deconstruction” — a word he preferred to ‘demolition’ — and reuse the bricks and other building materials in a broad effort to maintain the look and feel of the historic jute-making complex.

The next steps in the process of making the vision for the site reality are to finalize purchase of the property — which is expected to take place over roughly the next year — and complete what Delude called a “business plan” for the project.

This involves gauging what is feasible with regard to what he considers to be perhaps five distinct phases, and coordinating a plan for how and when to proceed with each one. “We’re going to spend the next 18 months testing theories and principles,” he explained. “We’re going to determine what we can do, and what we should do to create jobs and opportunities for this region.”

Overall, Delude said the site’s location — only a few minutes from Turnpike exit 7 in Ludlow — and various amenities add up to an attractive, and sustainable, economic-development initiative that will make the clock tower building as much a part of the town’s present and future as its past.

“It’s such a significant feature of the town,” he said of the landmark. “But what it meant for the region, not just Ludlow, was vitality and energy, and it can be that again.”

Not a Run-of-the-mill Project

As he talked about the Ludlow initiative and how he envisions it progressing, Delude compared it in many ways to the Agawam Industrial Park.

Although much different in nature, the sites are similar in size, at least with regard to how many square feet of industrial and commercial space each can accommodate. Meanwhile, the Agawam project has taken roughly 20 years to develop and reach near-full occupancy — and roughly the same is expected for the Ludlow site — and both locations necessitate industrial park development in a mostly residential setting.

The Agawam park now boasts more than 2,000 jobs and contributes millions in tax revenue to the community, said Delude, adding that, if this rate of performance can be matched in Ludlow, Westmass will go a long way toward making an impact that will be on a smaller scale than that made by Ludlow Manufacturing Associates, but perhaps just as significant.

An image to rival that lithograph will probably be two decades in the making — and that’s if all goes as planned — but if things develop as Delude believes they will, it might be just as powerful.

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

Sections Supplements
How Professional Service Firms Can Tip the Scales

Many professional service firms find that getting clients through the door is tough these days, and the competition for available business is fierce. So what is the silver bullet that gets prospective clients to hire you regardless of the economy and instead of your competitors?

Add more and more value to your service.

One of the most significant marketing lessons to be learned is that people want value. It may seem oversimplified, but all human beings are motivated the same way. All decisions are made by balancing investment against perceived returned value.

Perceived returned value is the only reason people part with their money. When you create the perception that there is abundant value in your professional service, choosing you becomes obvious to prospective clients.

As soon as your competitor adds more perceived value to their service than your firm has, the scales start tipping in its favor. However, the better you know and understand your particular clients’ wants, needs, motivators, and pain, the more value you can provide — and claim in your marketing.

Take a few minutes right now to look at your own materials and Web site through fresh eyes. Put yourself in the shoes of a prospective client and ask, ‘What do I get?’ Now ask, ‘How can this firm or company solve my problems?’ And finally ask, ‘Why this firm instead of another?’ If there are no obvious and compelling answers to those questions, it is time to create everything afresh from your clients’ perspective. Yes, you will have to spend money, but what is the cost of letting all that business go elsewhere? It goes back to your own pain

Is the cost of not doing this greater than the investment in materials that work? Only you can make that judgment.

So how can you add value to your professional service?

• Quality

What quality do clients expect from your work? Explain this by defining exactly what quality means to your clients. Is it precision? Sustainability? Excellence? Superiority? Reputation? Worth? Simply listing the word ‘quality’ in an ad won’t do it. You must define the quality you provide in as many qualitative terms as you can, even if they seem obvious to you. Oftentimes, when you state something that your competition doesn’t, it appears that they don’t provide it.

• Time

Is the timeliness and responsiveness of your service to your clients comparable to or better than what they would receive elsewhere? This refers to the various aspects of delivering your work and how long it takes to initiate a project and submit work or changes back to your clients for review. What exactly does ‘time’ mean to your clients? How quickly do they expect to see preliminary drafts and final results? How does your work delivery compare with the competition? How can you one-up them? Can you promise delivery of your work by offering a bonus of some sort if you don’t deliver on time? Remember the power of Domino’s old offer, “30 minutes or it’s free.”

• Expertise Provided

How does your level of expertise compare to what your competition offers? How does that benefit your clients? For example, if you’re a lawyer who earned an LL.M in Taxation, and you simply list that as part of your signature, it just boosts your ego. But if you explain to your clients how that extra schooling and knowledge will save them save money and protect their interests, you effectively turn that distinction into a client benefit. Determine what special talents, personalities, employees, or technology your firm possesses that add value to your professional service. Is that being communicated as value-added to your potential clients?

• Services Offered

Does your firm offer an impressive range of services that can help your clients in some way? How so? Explain this in terms that benefit them. Do you have unique processes or equipment? Do you possess any copyrighted materials or contracts that streamline your work and benefit your clients by saving time and effort? How else can you embellish your offering to create more perceived value that is meaningful to your clients? If they don’t know they’re getting something special, they can’t possibly perceive it as a benefit that tips the scales in your favor. Spell it out. Remember, though, that you must explain these in terms of how they benefit your clients, because prospects will not necessarily make that leap if you simply list your services.

• Guarantee

Do you offer your clients a guarantee or assurance of your work? Do your competitors offer anything? Guarantees are all about reducing your prospects’ perceived risk and making them more inclined to engage you. Can you formulate a promise that eliminates or reduces the risk a client has to take when they hire you? If you are confident in the quality of your work product, and how much would it actually cost your firm to reverse the risk from your clients onto yourself? Even if the guarantee is challenged from time to time, the goodwill earned in making the client happy will more than pay off in referrals and repeat business.

• Price

How does your price compare to the competition’s in terms of the same levels of service, quality, response time, expertise, etc? To define exactly what price means to your clients, you must understand if there is a specific cost for your service that they expect to pay. Why is that? Can you offer packages of services under a larger fee that offer the perception that clients are getting a lot of value for their money? Can you add or subtract services to adjust the package price? Can your services be quoted on a pre-determined fee basis that eliminates the perceived risk factor of the client paying too much in add-ons and extra work?

• Perceived Level of Service

You should strive to control how potential clients perceive your firm. This is about how your clients compare you to other professionals in the market who do similar work. Although it is subjective, how can you tip the scales of this perception? To add value to your perceived level of service, you must thoroughly understand your market and your competition. How can you change or reframe the emphasis of your clients’ screening process or their encounter with your professional service to create a special experience that is uniquely yours?

A word of caution, though, when using any of the above value-added techniques: do not fall into the trap of using just single-word descriptions. Firms typically use single words to describe themselves when they don’t understand their own innate value. Relative terms like ‘quality,’ ‘price,’ and ‘service’ are meaningless because people expect these things in all interactions with professionals. These terms don’t state anything uniquely yours.

So, the only way to compete head-to-head with a firm that offers the same professional services at a similar price is to offer more perceived value. These can be subtle or explicit value differences. It can be as simple as an info-packed, regularly updated blog or a Web site that is really easy to navigate. It can be the extraordinary way clients feel they are treated, or it can be more-attractive payment terms or a guarantee that your competition doesn’t offer.

Think of this in terms of a scale. The more you add to one side, the more the scale is weighted in your favor and the less resistance there will be to purchase. There comes a point when you’ve added so much value to your own service that it simply doesn’t make sense for a client to look elsewhere. That’s the position you want to be in.

It is important to keep in mind, however, that sometimes people do business with a particular firm because they just plain like it. But once you define all the reasons your clients secure their professional services from you, keep giving them more of the same. Truly, the more you give, the more you get. Adding more value is about going that extra step to be perceived as a cut above your competitors.

If you want more prospects to say yes, make your firm or practice outstanding by tipping the scales in your favor with exceptional value.

Christine Pilch and Dennis Kunkler are partners with Your Brand Partnership. They collaborate with clients and agencies to get results through innovative positioning strategies: (413) 537-2474;yourbrandpartnership.com, “Expect Results.”

Sections Supplements
A Gift to Northampton 80 Years Ago Continues to Hone Its Presence
The Pines Theater, one of Look Park’s many attractions, has become a popular site for outdoor concerts.

The Pines Theater, one of Look Park’s many attractions, has become a popular site for outdoor concerts.

There’s a portrait of Fannie Burr Look hanging in the Look Park Garden House that seems to cast a watchful eye on the sprawling property.

Are the flower gardens pruned? Are there people enjoying the pedal boats in the pond? Did the steam train go by already, sounding its whistle? If portraits could talk, it’s likely that Fannie Burr Look’s would have plenty to say.

In 1928, she became the impetus behind creating what is now one of the region’s largest and most diverse parks in the name of her late husband, Frank Newhall Look, a prominent businessman in the late 1800s and early 1900s, by gifting a 157-acre parcel of land to the city of Northampton (the park is in Florence).

Even today, signs of her influence remain, and help to move plans at Look Park forward.

Though city-owned, taxes are not used to finance any aspect of Look Park’s operation; it functions as a self-sustaining attraction governed by a six-person volunteer board of trustees. Ray Ellerbrook, Look Park’s executive director, said this was a stipulation that Fannie Burr Look set out for the park before its inception.

“Mrs. Look wanted no connection with the city,” he explained. “Making the mayor of Northampton a member ex-officio on the board of trustees was as far as she would go, and that’s the way it still is today.”

While that separation may have stemmed from a distrust of government on Look’s part, Ellerbrook said it has made for a self-contained business model at the park that has long allowed its staff to tap varied funding sources and make incremental improvements. Look provided the land, development funds, and a trust fund for ongoing maintenance, and today these funds are augmented by visitor fees, grants, and gifts.

“Mrs. Look was a woman ahead of her time,” he said. “Before her involvement, this was only farmland that the city thought was too far away to be of any use publicly.”

A New Destination

Over the years, as both Northampton and Florence have grown, however, the public has found several uses for Look Park, including as a concert venue (the open-air Pines Theater is on the grounds), a banquet facility, and a place for celebrations, in addition to serving as a family-oriented park offering children’s programs, a small zoo, paddleboats, day-camp sites, walking trails, a splash park, and a well-known train that chugs its way through the park on a regular basis.

Jillian Larkin, facilities manager at Look Park, said improvements are currently planned throughout the facility, in terms of both infrastructure and programming.

“We’re in a nice spot right now because we already offer so much, but we have room to grow as well,” she said, listing a few of the park’s popular features: the Sanctuary at Willow Lake, which can accommodate 150 people for weddings or other functions; a Victorian gazebo, suitable for smaller weddings; and the Dow Pavilion, the largest gathering space at the park, able to hold 200 people. In addition to these facilities, Look Park also has a ballfield, multiple playgrounds, and a ‘Picnic Store’ that offers light lunches and novelties.

Adding to this landscape of late is one of the most important developments already completed at the park, Larkin noted — the renovated Look Park Garden House, where Fannie Burr Look peers out over the grounds.

Completed in 2002, the renovation project converted the park’s former pool house into banquet and event space. The building can accommodate functions for up to 170 people, including weddings, receptions, and business meetings, with that last category being one that Larkin is looking to expand in the coming months.

“We have wi-fi, a built-in P.A. system, and I think this is a great place for corporate retreats,” she said. “Instead of having a coffee break, people can come here for a little bit of a nature break.”

Pooling Resources

Ellerbrook agreed that the Garden House has become a particular focus at the park of late.

It’s not the first time that corner of the park has been the center of the action; the former pool house once sat adjacent to a large pool that earned some local fame during its heyday; in fact, many Northampton and Florence residents were sad to see it go.

“The pool was a tremendous feature,” said Ellerbrook. “It was huge, and had multiple waterslides before safety concerns changed. When the trustees decided to close it, it was actually a controversial decision — people did not want to see that happen.

“But it was old,” he added. “It was cracked and in need of repairs that would have cost $500,000. It was time for it to go.”

The area the pool once occupied is now a small bumper-boat park and a playground, and the Garden House is gaining more recognition as a unique event space each year. Larkin said every weekend is generally booked, and she hopes to increase that pace to include mid-week functions.

“We’re getting there,” she said. “As we host more events, we’re able to show our different strengths as both a park and a venue. That helps us call attention to the role we can play in events for the whole family.”

Ellerbrook said that same goal is prompting renovations throughout the park, which are largely aimed at beautifying the space and making it more accessible to various groups of visitors.

The large fountain at the entrance of the park, for one, is being refurbished as part of a focus on ‘curb appeal,’ and the Look Park train station, a popular fixture for several years, is also being renovated and updated.

Outside of the park’s parameters, state and local projects now underway are also having an impact. A bike path is being extended to run through the park, and on Bridge Road where Look Park sits, a roundabout is being constructed that Ellerbrook hopes will ease traffic concerns.

The Eyes Have It

All the while, he said that family-oriented flavor Look Park has cultivated over the last 80 years is always in the forefront of his mind as improvements continue.

If for no other reason, he pays close attention to that mission to honor the wishes of Fannie Burr Look, whose picture keeps a discerning watch over the parcel of land that has become a fixture in Hampshire County.

Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at[email protected]

Sections Supplements
The Effect of E-mail Communication on Attorney-client Privilege

There is no doubt that we are all more technologically advanced than ever. What used to be just a cell phone is now our phone, a camera, and it plays music. We are able to communicate with each other electronically 24 hours a day, and some of us have created relationships with others whom we have never met, having only communicated through E-mail, chat rooms, or social-networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook, or LinkedIn.

What we don’t consider is how these advanced means of communication may be creating a trail that we do not want to be followed.

Attorneys are always mindful of the attorney-client privilege. A prudent practitioner will take tremendous steps to see that communications between their client and themselves do not fall outside of that privilege. We instruct our clients as to the importance of the privilege and to take steps to insure that no one is privy to the communications so that the privilege may be lost.

What some may not realize, though, is that they may be losing this privilege via the use of E-mail or other forms of electronic communication. A question arises: when a client communicates with his attorney via E-mail, is this communication still protected by attorney-client privilege?

This issue that has yet to be addressed by the Appeals Court or the Supreme Judicial Court in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, but it has begun to be addressed by courts in other jurisdictions. Notably, courts in the state of Tennessee in the case of Hazard v. Hazard stated that when one of the parties sent a letter to their attorney through the family computer, this communication was not protected by the attorney-client privilege. The court in the Hazard case reasoned that, because others had access to the computer, it was as if the husband was talking to his attorney with his wife in the room.

In addition to the ruling in the Hazard case, other jurisdictions have held that there is no expectation of privacy on the family computer even if you are able to ‘password protect’ your communications. The consensus of other jurisdictions on this issue is that if others have access to the computer, anything that you do on this computer is fair game.

This is not the first time that courts have determined that communications one might think are privileged are actually not safe from disclosure in the future. The issue arose previously when dealing with E-mail communications between a husband and wife.

In Massachusetts, there is a doctrine known as spousal disqualification. This represents the proposition that communications between a husband and wife are private and cannot be disclosed to others by either spouse. (Note: There are exceptions to this rule that are not detailed here because they are not relevant to this discussion.)

Courts in Massachusetts have held that this disqualification does not pertain to E-mails that are exchanged between the parties. The courts have reasoned that once the communication is put into writing, it is no longer to be considered subject to the disqualification. This may be somewhat disheartening to those who consistently use E-mail as a substitute for verbal communication and may now be faced with the prospect of being confronted with statements that would not otherwise be admissible, but now are because they have been reduced to writing.

How can you prevent losing the privilege as it relates to either attorney-client or spousal communications? Here are some simple tips:

  • If you must send something electronically, use a computer that cannot be accessed by anyone else. Don’t use the family computer, and don’t use your work computer. If the computer used is yours alone, you can expect whatever is sent from it to be private.
  • Think before you write. Resist the temptation to send your spouse a scathing E-mail message or to engage in any other inappropriate language. A simple rule to follow is to assume that whatever you send may be read by someone else, such as a judge.
  • Don’t communicate electronically when you can do it verbally. We all fall victim to the ease of E-mail, but as noted above, this can create a trail that you might otherwise wish did not exist.
  • Technology has made all of our lives more convenient in many ways, and it has allowed us to communicate in ways some may never have thought possible. But as we have seen, it can create pitfalls that we all may want to avoid.

    Michael J. Grilli is an associate with the Springfield-based law firm of Bacon Wilson, P.C. His areas of expertise include divorce/family law, personal bankruptcy, and residential real estate; (413) 781-0560;[email protected]

    Features
    Whom Do You Pay First When Cash Gets Tight ?

    This region and its business community are facing some frightening times. Energy prices are at record highs, which not only affect what we pay at the pump, but push up prices on most goods, as transportation and other costs increase. Furthermore, consumers are unwilling or unable to spend as they have in the past due to these perceived price increases.

    As a result, many businesses are experiencing cash-flow problems that they have not experienced for many years and are struggling with how to keep current. Here is some practical advice on how to maneuver through these challenging times.

    When the inevitable cash crunch hits, are you prepared for it, and what will you do?

    The first thing that needs to be dealt with in order to prevent a crisis is a complete review of your company’s budget to determine any areas where there may be some fat or other reasons to curtail expenses. This is a difficult decision because certain expenses that appear discretionary, such as promotional and advertising costs, may be quite essential to keeping a business going in order to get to a turnaround.

    A more difficult decision involves personnel costs. These are usually the highest expenses in a business, exclusive of inventory. Cutting back on personnel sends a message to the community — and, more importantly, to your employees — that things are not going well. This could have a deleterious effect on your organization. Therefore, it is important at some point to communicate, with at least the key employees, as to what the situation is with your business and to elicit their help and support during difficult times.

    Once you are satisfied that the budget is in proper form and reasonable, how do you ride out the storm?

    In almost every business, a substantial amount of the expenses are compensation-related items such as health care and payroll taxes. Certainly the payroll and related costs must be paid in a timely manner in order to maintain the normal business operation. Taxes, including payroll taxes, sales taxes, and others, are not necessarily due on a weekly basis, and if these payments slip, the usual business operations can appear unaffected for a relatively indefinite period of time. For this reason, there is a great temptation on the part of many business owners to use these funds for temporary working capital.

    This is probably one of the worst mistakes you can make. Not only do these overdue taxes result in exorbitant interest charges and penalties, but in the event of a disastrous result, such as liquidation of your business, they do not enjoy a priority over that of secured creditors, and if they remain unpaid, they become the personal obligation of the principals of the business.

    In most cases they can never be discharged, even in individual bankruptcies. Therefore, it is not in your best interest to use these funds as working capital. You should assiduously make these payments so they do not come back to bite you. Do not give in to the temptation to delay on these items.

    Other substantial costs are likely to be loan payments to secured creditors. Typically, secured creditors are banks, and they are secured by liens on substantially all the assets of your business. In virtually every case, they are also guaranteed by the principals, and it is entirely likely that they will have liens on your other assets that are outside of the company’s operations, such as homes and bank accounts. These secured creditors have a priority lien on the assets that secure their loans, and as a result have the right to seize and foreclose upon your assets if defaults occur. Obviously no business can survive without its major assets, so these debts need to be handled with great care if not paid.

    Many times, secured loan terms can be re-negotiated and modified by agreements with the secured creditors in advance. Such renegotiated terms can be beneficial to both parties. Hopefully, terms can be arrived at that will allow you to reduce your monthly payments, while at the same time providing the secured party greater confidence that the newly negotiated payments can be made.

    These negotiations can also be beneficial to lenders in that they can provide information about your business and its future, as well as instill greater confidence that the reduced payments can not only be met, but will give your business the relief that it needs in order to avoid further defaults.

    Any further defaults are likely to lead to perhaps a liquidation, foreclosure on assets at fire-sale prices, and not only the loss of your business but substantial losses to the lender, as a result of a forced liquidation sale remedy. The secured creditors, if given the appropriate information, may be willing to work with you to help you through difficult times in the hopes that your business can prosper. This will potentially increase its recovery either by refinancing with other lenders or by maximizing results by an orderly liquidation if things do not pan out as planned.

    This is certainly a much better approach and less stressful for all parties as opposed to allowing these loans to go into delinquency due to non-payment. Most secured creditors are willing to work with their borrowers through troubled times as long as they are fully aware of the circumstances and do not feel that they are being further endangered. Therefore, it is best to talk early and often with these lenders in order to receive their help, support, and patience.

    Obviously these discussions should be held only after substantial preparation with your financial advisor and attorney, and all parties should be present at any meetings with lenders.

    Potential Short-term Cash Relief

    Generally this leaves a third group: unsecured trade creditors. These creditors, some of whom are likely your friends and associates, are really at the bottom of the food chain in the event of a foreclosure or other liquidation. They are usually suppliers of goods or services on open accounts, and their rights are generally subject to the secured creditor’s claims and the priority tax and wage claims. They have little or no leverage except to cease to deliver goods and/or take legal action.

    This is the group that can most likely be worked with in order to obtain some limited relief. Since these creditors stand to lose the most by both their inability to collect the outstanding debt and the potential loss of what may be a good customer, it is likely that they will agree to a limited moratorium on payments as long as they are not prejudiced any further.

    They should insist upon and be offered at least payment for any new goods or services delivered from this time on so that they do not lose any further ground. Most likely, a liquidation by secured creditors will leave them high and dry, so there are real incentives for them to provide some relief as long as they are being fairly treated. Hopefully, a relatively short time period for a moratorium on payments will provide the time to scale down costs, increase sales, and take whatever other steps are necessary in order to bring the cash flow back in line.

    The best time to deal with these issues is early, before any crisis appears. In this way, companies are most likely to be able to negotiate terms that are helpful without creating a history of broken promises and a breakdown of relationships. The goal is to ultimately reach a commitment that leads to a turnaround of the business.

    It is highly likely that a company that would otherwise be a candidate for a reorganization proceeding such as a Chapter 11 bankruptcy can avoid that if these issues are recognized early. The alternatives, although possible, are costly and stressful.

    In summary, it is key to recognize the problem early, create a plausible solution, and discuss it openly with the various creditor groups. This planning will enhance the likely survival and future prosperity of any business that is properly planned and operated.

    Paul R. Salvage, Esq. is senior partner and co-chair of Bacon Wilson’s Business Reorganization and Insolvency department. His law practice deals with sophisticated workout and bankruptcy matters, representing both creditors and individuals or companies facing financial difficulties. His additional specialties include creditor’s rights, business law, and real estate; (413) 781-0560;[email protected]

    Opinion

    Springfield, which had been doing somewhat better in the public-relations department of late, suffered a potentially significant setback recently, when it landed on one of those lists that no city wants to be on.

    In this case, it was a compilation from Forbes.com of the nation’s “fastest-dying cities.” Springfield is right there, along with Buffalo, N.Y., Charleston, W.V., Scranton, Pa., Detroit and Flint, Mich., and no less than four cities from Ohio — Canton, Cleveland, Dayton, and Youngstown. More than 150 cities were supposedly considered for this ‘honor,’ and these are the ones that have “struggled the worst of any areas in the nation in the 21st century, and they face even bleaker futures,” including to the author.

    In its quick summation of why Springfield is on the list, Forbes.com writes, “the Western Mass. home to Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance and Smith & Wesson has suffered for a long time as the Northeast becomes less and less a destination for manufacturing.” It goes on to note that the city has partnered with Hartford in an effort to stave off further decline.

    There were a number of factors that went into gaining designation as one of the fastest-dying cities, including high unemployment, population loss, comparatively modest GDP, and others. List such as this one are subjective, arbitrary, completely unscientific, and somewhat sensational, but that doesn’t stop publications from Forbes from doing them.

    And now that Springfield’s on the list, it will be interesting to see and hear how it handles this and what the fallout might be.

    Indeed, while the knee-jerk reaction is to discount this list and Springfield’s placement on it, or argue with its basic premise — and that’s what area leaders and some media outlets have done since it came out — those closely involved with crafting Springfield’s future shouldn’t dismiss the main point.

    And that is that most all the cities on this list are once-thriving manufacturing centers — most located in what is still known as the Rust Belt — that have struggled, in some cases mightily, to build post-industrial economies. Springfield is still hard at work with this assignment, with limited progress to date.

    The city’s defenders say there are some positive things happening here — and there are. But a new federal courthouse, Liberty Mutual’s arrival (300 or so jobs), a few new hotels, some progress on the riverfront, and even Baystate Health’s $250 million expansion in the form of the ‘hospital of the future’ do not constitute ‘re-invention,’ and that’s what has to happen if Springfield is to truly get off the deathbed Forbes.com says it’s on.

    Reinvention will come through the development of new sources of good, high-paying jobs (tourism and distribution positions don’t qualify) to replace those lost due to the decline in manufacturing. There is some progress on this front — in areas such as biotechnology, renewable energy, and ‘green’ business development — but still a very long way to go.

    Meanwhile, true reinvention won’t come until Springfield can do something substantial to lower an appalling 50% dropout rate in its high schools, a statistic that speaks volumes about why, with an unemployment rate at or slightly above the national average, many area companies in this region simply can’t find qualified individuals to fill vacancies.

    Does Springfield belong on the fastest-dying cities list? One could debate this question forever, and since this was a subjective exercise and we don’t really know enough about the other 149 cities evaluated, there seems little point in doing so — and that exercise only adds validity to the list.

    A series of mayors from Flint have argued long and loudly that their community does not belong on ‘worst places to live’ or ‘fastest-dying cities’ lists, and it hasn’t done much, if anything, to benefit that community. One year, people there burned copies of the magazine that compiled the ‘worst places to live’ list, as if that would make the problem go away.

    Springfield is on the ‘fastest-dying’ list, and thus the assignment is to get off it. No one likes to hear that their city is dying, but perhaps, in this case, inclusion might just spark an even more vigorous effort to complete that reinvention process.

    It was Mark Twain who said, “the rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” Springfield can’t just say the same; it has to prove it.-

    Opinion
    Clearing the Path to a Greener Future

    The relentless surge in energy prices and growing concerns about global warming are motivating many of us to change the way we use energy. Compared with the same period a year earlier, Americans drove 22 billion fewer miles from last November through April. Demand for smaller, more fuel-efficient cars exceeds supply, as do seats on the MBTA at rush hour. Home-improvement stores struggle to meet demand for insulation and compact fluorescent lighting.

    Consumers are not the only ones changing their behavior. Recently, Gov. Deval Patrick, Senate President Therese Murray, and House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi led the effort to enact a comprehensive energy reform bill. The Green Communities Act is a critical step for Massachusetts. It has the potential to increase our energy efficiency, expand our use of renewable fuels, and stimulate the development of new energy technologies.

    This is especially important in Massa-chusetts, where we mainly use carbon-intensive fossil fuels, imported from far away and bought at premium prices. For this state, and many others like it, increasing efficiency and developing clean, indigenous, and sustainable fuels are the essential elements of a sound, long-term energy policy. The Green Communities Act is built on those essentials and gives Massachusetts the opportunity to lead the nation to a greener, and more affordable, energy era.

    The law uses both carrots and sticks to dramatically transform our energy infrastructure. It calls for the state to meet at least 25% of electricity demand through improved efficiency and another 20% through the use of renewable energy by the year 2020. It also seeks to reduce the use of fossil fuels in buildings by at least 10% and reduce total energy consumption by at least 10% in that same time frame. Among its many provisions, utilities are required to invest in efficiency before purchasing new supplies of electricity and are encouraged to own and operate solar generators. Power suppliers are encouraged to use combined heat and power systems, coal gasification, and even flywheel energy storage devices.

    While the new law is a major achievement, daunting challenges remain. Patrick and state regulatory agencies will have to decide just how much additional energy efficiency and renewable energy the state can afford. Investments in these programs are likely to reduce supply costs in future years, but increase total spending in the near term, at the very moment consumers are paying some of the highest prices in decades. The agencies will have to solve that age-old dilemma: how much to spend now to save later.

    Whatever balance is struck by the agencies, Patrick can be expected to feel the heat from both disappointed reformers and overburdened consumers as he works to implement progressive, but responsible, reforms. Likewise, the Legislature must confront a serious practical constraint on fulfillment of the law’s promise: the limited availability of skilled workers needed to rapidly expand our clean-energy output.

    Recognizing this, DiMasi, with support from Patrick and Murray, has filed a Green Jobs Act that proposes to reallocate more than $50 million of existing funds over five years to provide specialized clean-energy workforce-training programs.

    The consequences of the energy-reform measure will not be known for some time. And the debates over emerging new regulatory requirements and the funding of workforce-development programs will undoubtedly be intense. But with continued leadership from Patrick and the Legislature, these near-term challenges can be solved and unleash tremendous long-term opportunities. There is little doubt that our current direction is the right one. We should not let squabbles over exactly how we get there deflect us from our vital goal: a greener — and more affordable — energy future.-

    David L. O’Connor is senior vice president for energy and clean technology at ML Strategies and previously served as state commissioner of energy resources. Thomas R. Burton III is an attorney and chairman of the Energy and Clean Tech Practice Group at Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo, P.C.