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‘Race and Entrepreneurial Success’

Nov. 25: Dr. Robert W. Fairlie will discuss “Race and Entrepreneurial Success” at noon as Western New England College’s Law & Business Center for Advancing Entrepreneurship as part of its ongoing lecture series. The gathering is planned in the S. Prestley Blake Law Center on Wilbraham Road in Springfield. Fairlie’s main research interests include ethnic and racial patterns of business ownership and performance, entrepreneurship, access to technology and the ‘Digital Divide,’ immigration, and education. He holds a Ph.D. and M.A. in Economics from Northwestern University and a B.A. from Stanford University. The lecture is free and open to the public. For more information, call (413) 796-2030 or visit www.law.wnec.edu/ lawandbusiness.

Moonlight Magic in Shelburne Falls

Nov. 28: A family event titled “Moonlight Magic” takes over Shelburne Falls to start the holiday shopping season from 4:30 to 10 p.m. The event coincides with the annual “Holiday Lighting of the Village.” Highlights include sidewalk carolers, sidewalk sales, arts events, and craft demonstrations. There will also be vendor tables along the sidewalks with local nonprofit groups selling holiday wreaths, baked goods, and crafts, and the Shelburne Falls Trolley Museum will be open. Live music and roving performers will round out the evening’s festivities, as well as a visit from Santa who will set up shop in the Shelburne Senior Center. For more information, visit www.sftm.org.

‘Internet for the Other 5 Billion’

Dec. 2: Andrew McLaughlin, head of Global Public Policy and Government Affairs for Google Inc., and Ethan Zuckerman, researcher at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, will present a lecture titled “Internet for the Other 5 Billion” at 7:30 p.m. in Hooker Auditorium at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley. For more information, call (413) 538-2209. The event is free and open to the public.

‘Nutcracker and Sweets’

Dec. 5: Wistariahurst Museum in Holyoke will host the Mass. Academy of Ballet and members of the Ballet Educational Training Association in its production of “Nutcracker and Sweets” at 6 p.m. Through narration and dance, the story of the Nutcracker will come alive in the historic setting of Wistariahurst on Cabot Street. The production will be staged as it may have taken place in Holyoke in the 1890s. A dessert reception of sweets will follow the performance. Tickets are $10; children 12 and younger will be admitted free. Space is limited, and early registration is advised. For more information, call (413) 322-5660 or visit www.wistariahurst.org.

Holiday Pops

Dec. 6 and 7: The Springfield Symphony Orchestra will take audiences back to a traditional Christmas season in New England at 8 p.m. on Dec. 6 and 3 p.m. on Dec. 7 in Symphony Hall. Guest conductor Matthew Savery will lead the orchestra and chorus, and Morton Shames, cantor emeritus of Temple Beth El, will bring greetings of Chanukah. Concert highlights also include a singalong. For ticket information, call (413) 733-2291 or visit www.springfieldsymphony.org.

The Creative Economy

Dec. 9: The Studio Arts Building at UMass Amherst will be the setting for an informative program on how the ‘creative economy’ plays an increasingly important role in Western Mass., in job creation, revenue growth, and quality of life. Speakers will be artists Josh Simpson and Scott Prior, who will speak about their work and their marketing efforts, beginning at 6 p.m. The cost is $25. For more information, call (413) 737-6712 or visit www.msbdc.org.

RTC Meeting

Dec. 11: The Regional Technology Corp. (RTC) will stage is 1st Annual “All Networks” Convergent Meeting at the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House starting at 7:30 a.m. The event with feature a keynote address and follow-up Q&A called “A Conversation with Scott Kirsner, The Innovative Economy.” Kirsner is the nationally known Boston Globe columnist who will discuss the challenges to be faced by the innovative economy in 2009. The half-day event will also feature a panel discussion with venture investors and entrepreneurs. The program is free to RTC members, and $75 for non-members. For more information, call (413) 755-1301; [email protected].

Sections Supplements
For Area Printers, the Issues Are Supply and Demands
Steve Lang

Steve Lang says maintaining a diversified range of products and services helps printers compete even when the economy slows.

Print may be a static medium, but the printing business shouldn’t be, says Kevin Kervick.

That’s why, when he spoke with BusinessWest recently about the state of the printing industry in Western Mass., Kervick, president of Bassette Printers in Springfield, spent most of his time talking about what happens to a product after it rolls off the press.

“We’ve greatly expanded our services beyond ink on paper into the latest generation of digital printing and complete inventory-fulfillment programs,” he said, most notably a mailing service that, he said, gives Bassette an edge over other companies.

“It’s a very complicated business to be in — the domestic mail manual is as thick as the IRS regulations — and understanding postage is a daunting process; you’re in it with both feet, or you’re not in it at all, and we’re in it with both feet,” he explained. But the upside is the ability to save clients significant dollars on postage, which can be a large percentage of a project’s cost.

“Often, the postage can far exceed the cost of the printing itself,” Kervick explained, noting that he recently lowered a customer’s cost for a single mailing from $56,000 to $22,000. Some of the requirements for low-cost, pre-sort bulk mail, such as where the address must be placed and how much room to leave for bar coding, can be worked into the graphic design of a marketing piece itself.

“The customer can avoid paying huge penalties in terms of postage, so he can save much more than working with someone who charges 5% less for printing,” he added. “That’s part of providing an integrated base of service to the marketplace, connecting the dots for customers.”

It’s a story being told in different ways by area printers: the need to provide something extra in a market that has gradually tightened over the past decade or so, but has not yet been dramatically affected by the general economic bloodletting of recent months.

“We haven’t seen a slowdown yet, although I’m not overly optimistic that we won’t see one,” said Susan Goldsmith, president of Marcus Printing in Holyoke. “It is a concern going forward. This market is so volatile and so fast-moving that it might be upon us before we can anticipate it’s coming.”

Part of the reason for that has to do with customer demands regarding turnaround time, which has made it more difficult for printers to spread work out and plan for the long term.

“The average turnaround used to be two weeks, and now it’s four days,” said Goldsmith. “Your backlog is completely different, and it makes it harder to know what business will be like over the next several weeks. You don’t know who’s going to want what.”

While the news in the industry hasn’t been bad, exactly, local printers aren’t taking anything for granted. In this issue, BusinessWest rolls off the press with a look at why players are concerned, and why there is also plenty of optimism for those who keep up with the latest trends.

Don’t Stop the Presses

Steve Lang has heard the bad news on TV before.

“I’ve been in business a long time, and I remember a recession back in the ’80s,” said Lang, president of Curry Printing in West Springfield. “I’m not an economist, and I try to ignore the fact that there’s a recession. I tell people, ‘I’m not participating in whatever recession you might be having; I’m too busy getting things done.’”

That’s a relative term, Lang admitted, noting that when it comes to the drop in business that followed 9/11 — a phenomenon that affected many U.S. industries — his volume of business never rebounded fully, although it has gradually improved since then, a report echoed over the years by other area printers who have spoken with BusinessWest. “I haven’t noticed any drastic changes recently with the talk of a recession.”

The recession, most analysts say, has become more than just talk. Andrew Paparozzi, an economist with the National Assoc. of Printing Leadership, noted that U.S. gross domestic product, after adjusting for inflation, fell at an annualized rate of 0.3% in the third quarter, with deep cuts in consumer spending, while the latest consensus from Blue Chip Economic Indicators shows GDP declining another 1.1% in the fourth quarter, all of which will eventually impact printers.

“The first quarter of 2009 is expected to be essentially flat, declining 0.1%,” he said. “According to the consensus, the economy begins to edge higher in subsequent quarters, but growth remains subpar. Given current conditions, this is probably the best we can hope for.”

Still, said Kervick, “in terms of the general economy, we haven’t seen any slowdown. We’re fairly busy, and we have been right through the summer up to now.

However, “printing tends to be a lagging indicator in the marketplace,” he added. “Corporations tend to set their budgets a year in advance. We’re coming to the end of the year, and from what we can see from our large corporate client base, they haven’t gone into any kind of emergency budget reserve. We haven’t seen any kind of change in the marketplace. Now, what comes down in 2009 in terms of corporate budgets remains to be seen. I’ve had a few conversations with customers who aren’t looking to make major cuts, but I haven’t had that conversation very deeply into our account base.”

Even if economic recovery is around the corner, said Paparozzi, the ongoing economic turmoil in the U.S. can’t help but affect the printing business, even if the hit arrives later than for other industries due to that “lagging indicator” factor. And, indeed, national figures are already highlighting a slowdown.

“This year, sales of the commercial printing industry will record their first decline since 2003, with a drop somewhere in the vicinity of 2% to approximately $88 billion,” Paparozzi said, adding that “prospects for next year are not shaping up to be any better.”

Meanwhile, Joe Webb, co-founder of PrintForecast.com, noted recently that, even in good economic times, the 10-year trend has been a downward one in printing, with those companies that continue to invest in the newest technology having a decided advantage in a tightening market.

“The biggest pressure in the industry is on small shops; many new technologies have high price tags that are beyond their reach,” Webb noted. “Office superstores are strong competitors because of their superior retail locations and brand recognition, even though service is less personal and interactive than dealing with small commercial printers. Digital-printing companies will do well if they fully exploit the new way of doing business that sector requires.”

Forward Inking

That’s a lesson that Lang, like other area companies, has taken to heart. In order to stay competitive, he said, Curry has diversified its offerings over the years.

“Our meat and potatoes, printing of invoices and things like that, if we had stuck with only those things, we’d be in serious trouble,” he told BusinessWest. “But we diversified into different aspects of digital printing. We added on a sign business. So in that way, we’ve been growing.”

Goldsmith, too, understands the importance of offering more than just traditional printing services to an ever-more-demanding customer base.

“The new thing is digital printing, variable printing, one-to-one communications,” she said. “Instead of doing a mass mailing to 10,000 customers, we can personalize it so that each one coming off the press can be completely different and targeted directly at each customer.”

It’s one example, she said, of the fact that print marketing still offers solid business opportunities — advertising hasn’t all gone the way of the Internet and broadcast media — but that printers who want to take advantage need to offer something extra, such as individualized direct mail. “That’s a new technology we’ve really embraced in the last year and a half,” Goldsmith said, “and I think it’s helping to drive business in the door, and is one of the reasons we haven’t seen as much of the slowdown as we might expect.”

One thing printers also haven’t seen is relief from high materials costs, which soared along record oil prices earlier this year but have stubbornly refused to come back down — a story being repeated in other industries, such as grocery stores.

“Because of the price of gas, we’ve seen steady increases in the cost of paper,” Lang said. “The funny thing is, now gas prices are coming down, but the paper prices are staying the same. I’m sure that’s a trend that plenty of other businesses are seeing, with whatever supplies they’re purchasing.”

But at the end of the day, he said, it’s just another hassle in an industry that continues to see plenty of opportunities along with the challenges.

“When things get really slow here, when the pipeline starts to dry up, we might start to worry,” Lang said. “But things always seem to pick up.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at[email protected]

Opinion

Here are some signs of the times as a dreary 2008 comes to a close and a 2009 cloaked in anxiety and uncertainty sets to begin:

  • Safe sales are up. Many retail outlets reported a run on the metal vaults this fall as people sought ways to feel secure about what to do with their money; people must be putting such acquisitions to use, because by the end of June, domestic bank deposits had slipped by nearly $40 billion;
  • The Boston Globe prints an “Economic Survival Guide.” Headlines on the various pieces range from “Deal with getting laid off” to “Get by working part-time” to “Share bad news with your kids.”
  • Increasing use of the word depression — not the medical term, but the economic term. (Well, both, actually.) Usually put to use in clauses such as ‘worst since the Great Depression,’ the term has been employed more often lately to describe what may come to pass in 2009. FYI: Webster’s Collegiate defines depression as “a period of low general economic activity marked especially by rising levels of unemployment.”
  • All this points to what could be some very difficult times ahead even in a market (here comes that line again, sorry) that doesn’t see the serious swings, up or down, that other markets experience. We suggest that elected leaders in Congress, already under a great deal of stress with regard to the economy, piece together some kind of strategy for minimizing the damage from this severe downturn.

    As we’ve said many times before, this means a focus not on gimmicks or quick fixes or knee-jerk responses, but on well-thought-out strategic initiatives that will put resources, bailout funds, or whatever we might call them to the best use.

    And one of the best places to start is not with the auto industry — although we concede that a well-orchestrated plan of support designed to change the way the Big 3 does business and not promote business as usual is needed — but rather with direct infusions to states and communities.

    Unlike businesses, these entities cannot run deficits, and when revenues decline, as they have across the board, then painful cuts have to made, reductions that could potentially make the recession, or depression, of 2009 that much worse.

    As a point of reference, recall the budget cuts announced recently by Gov. Deval Patrick. They totaled $1 billion or so, and included cuts across the board — to colleges and universities, public-safety agencies, health care providers, parks, libraries, museums, day centers, nonprofit agencies that serve the poor, the blind, and those with HIV … you name it.

    These cuts add up. Community colleges will have to lay off staff, cut programs, raise fees, or all of the above, possibly, if not probably, reducing access to education. Meanwhile, health care providers will be forced to reduce staffs (several already have in fact), and some programs, such as those provided at Providence Behavioral Hospital in Holyoke, are imperiled. (In recent years, due to falling reimbursements, Providence has become almost dependent on emergency allocations from the Commonwealth.)

    And the Bay State is not unique in these actions, not by a long shot. New York’s Gov. David Paterson recently announced more than $5 billion in cuts, and California faces a $17 billion shortfall.

    There are movements being considered to send aid directly to cities, towns, states, and households that are all in a state of crisis on par with the Big 3, and we hope these calls are heeded. While a bailout of the automakers is needed to prevent a collapse of one or more of those companies, thus facilitating full-scale depression, support to cities, towns, and states is also needed.

    If it’s not forthcoming, we’ll all probably get more practice saying ‘depression,’ and we’ll certainly need that economic survival guide.

    Departments

    NUVOFest

    On Nov. 13, NUVO Bank, the region’s newest financial institution, staged a day-long party — NUVOFest — to celebrate its arrival in Western Mass. A host of events were held in and around the bank’s headquarters in Tower Square, including a ‘money drop,’ below, featuring ‘NUVO dollars’ exchanged for prizes up to $1,000 for one lucky winner. There was a traditional ribbon-cutting featuring the bank’s principals, at right, Jeff Sadler (left) and Jim Gardner. Below right, Gardner addresses those gathered for a reception and champagne toast in the evening, while two of the ‘Silver Women’ strike a pose — in this case the NUVO logo.


    Entrepreneurship Summit

    On Nov. 12, Bay Path College held its annual Innovative Thinking & Entrepreneurship Summit. The event featured a number of speakers and breakout sessions. At left, Paul DiGrigoli, founder and president of DiGrigoli Salons, leads the breakout session called “Conquer Today’s Challenges.” At right, Susan Soloman, assistant professor of Business at Pay Path, addresses the audience.

    Departments

    Hampden Bank Opens Second Longmeadow Branch

    SPRINGFIELD — Hampden Bank will soon open its ninth full-service branch office at 916 Shaker Road, and officials are planning a grand-opening celebration in early 2009. The branch office is the bank’s second office in Longmeadow. The 2,400-square-foot facility will have a modern look and will offer customers several state-of-the-art conveniences, including drive-thru banking services, a drive-up ATM, and two teller stations with cash recyclers for speed, accuracy, and security. In addition, the facility will have an after-hours conference room available for local community organizations to use for meetings and events. For information, visit www.hampdenbank.com. Hampden Bank has office locations in Springfield, Agawam, Longmeadow, West Springfield, Wilbraham, Indian Orchard, and Tower Square in downtown Springfield.

    MassMutual Pledges Fuel-assistance Grants to Salvation Army

    SPRINGFIELD — Local families will be getting some much-needed help in paying their heating bills this winter since the Salvation Army of Greater Springfield and Enfield, Conn. will each be receiving a $15,000 fuel-assistance grant from MassMutual Financial Group of Springfield. MassMutual’s contribution will enable the Salvation Army to help nearly 400 area residents keep the heat on in their homes. The Good Neighbor Energy Fund provides energy assistance to residents in temporary crisis who are struggling to pay their energy bills and do not qualify for federal or state energy funds. Trish Robinson, senior vice president of strategic communications and community responsibility, and deputy head of government relations for MassMutual, noted during a press conference that MassMutual was pleased to assist the Salvation Army to help families who are in need. She added that, since some area residents have never had to ask for assistance before, MassMutual was honored that it could help with this cause.

    Silvana.Net Designs Web Site for Holyoke

    HOLYOKE — The City of Holyoke recently unveiled a comprehensive municipal Web site that makes it easy for residents, visitors, and businesses to access information about the city and its services. The new site was designed by Silvana.Net, a Northampton Web-design firm. Located at www.holyoke.org, the site has been completely revamped to keep pace with Holyoke’s expected growth, according to Mayor Michael Sullivan. The new site is part of a three-year commitment by Sullivan and the City Council to significantly upgrade the city’s information-technology infrastructure. Additionally, a customized content-management system allows city departments to easily update pages. Silvana.Net trained approximately 60 city employees on how to update information about their departments on the Web site. The site also features sections on every municipal department, along with information about tourism attractions for visitors. Among other useful features is one that allows snow days, changes in trash collection, and parking bans to be easily and quickly posted on the home page.

    Bank Gives Hospital $40,000

    WARE — A $40,000 gift from Country Bank for Savings has enabled Baystate Mary Lane Hospital to purchase a sterilizer for the Surgical Services Department, allowing staff to use the sterile processing area more efficiently. The Steris washer/disinfector has made the cleaning and processing of surgical instruments more cost-efficient by allowing staff to process larger amounts of instruments at one time, which in turn decreases one’s exposure to contaminants, according to Norma Berthiaume, manager of Surgical Services. Donations from Country Bank for Savings over the years have assisted the hospital in purchasing state-of-the-art mammography and X-ray technology and orthopedic equipment, as well as renovating the hospital’s Surgical Services Suite.

    Sovereign Consulting Opens Office in Open Square

    HOLYOKE — Sovereign Consulting Inc., a growing environmental consulting and remediation company, announced recently that it has relocated its Amherst office to space in Holyoke’s Open Square. Sovereign will lease 3,500 square feet of space at suite 307 in the redeveloped former mill complex. Sovereign, which was recently ranked by ZweigWhite as No. 35 among the top 200 fastest-growing environmental businesses, provides environmental assessment, investigation, design, and construction services throughout the Northeast.

    Cover Story
    A Passion for Wellness Has HNE Moving Up the Charts
    Cover 11/24/08

    Cover 11/24/08

    Health New England has been moving up in the national rankings of health plans — all the way to No. 1 in one agency’s ratings for customer service. While such scores are generating headlines, it’s what’s behind the attractive ratings that constitutes the real story — specifically, the company’s strong focus on wellness, healthy communities, and strong growth, and not simply the bottom line.

    Peter Straley says there are a host of quantitative methods for measuring the relative success of a health care plan such as Health New England — and by that he doesn’t mean the bottom line, but rather efforts to effectively serve clients.

    There are numbers, and lots of them, said Straley, the company’s president and CEO, such as those awarded in national rankings of health insurance providers, and for HNE, they’re getting lower, which is the direction of choice in such matters. On Nov. 17, U.S. News & World Report, collaborating with the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA), placed the company at number six out of 239 commercial health care plans; it ranked 11th three years ago and 9th in 2007. And in NCQA’s own annual report — the Quality Compass 2008 — Health New England was ranked No. 1 in terms of customer service among 160 health plans evaluated.

    Meanwhile, there are some numbers that are rising — again, the desired trend — such as the totals for members (more than 100,000) and companies (more than 5,000) being served by the 22-year-old venture, and even in the number of physicians’ offices stocking a series of educational pamphlets, or comic books, created by the health plan.

    They teach young people about everything from asthma to diabetes to the importance of weight control, said Straley, and they speak to the general operating philosophy that has enabled Health New England to score so well in those national rankings.

    Summing it up, Straley said HNE has always focused on creating healthy communities — in every way that word can be defined — and not on the perceived role of an HMO, simply deciding what gets covered and what doesn’t.

    “The true HMO was designed to take a holistic view of the person,” he explained. “It wasn’t about denying care or paying bills; it was about trying to engage you in what will make your life fuller and richer — which you can’t do unless you’re healthy, or as healthy as you can be.”

    Overall, Straley attributed HNE’s success in the national rankings to its ability to listen and learn. In the case of the former, this means hearing from a host of constituencies, from individual members to business owners; from doctors to hospital administrators. And with the latter, it means observing what has worked and what hasn’t when it comes to health-plan administration and employing best practices.

    In this issue, BusinessWest talks at length with Straley and others at HNE about why the company is turning heads on a national level, and how it certainly isn’t satisfied with the glowing approval ratings it has earned to date.

    A Cover Story

    Indeed, Pat Scheer, HNE’s Quality Operations manager, says the company wants to continue the current trend and do better than sixth in the next U.S. News/NCQA ranking. He and Straley believe that number will continue to fall due to the common denominator known as passion that they say permeates the company of some 240 employees.

    These individuals, including Straley himself, know and live among the people they insure; this lack of corporate distance means feeling a personal responsibility for how well providers, employers, and consumers are treated.

    “What differentiates HNE,” Straley said, “is that we really want to help people get the benefit of their health plan. Because, what’s your biggest fear? That something has just happened to you or a family member, and they’ll say, ‘oh, we don’t take that insurance here.’ We want to make sure that people are confident that, if they need their benefit, they’re going to get it. Because we’re going to see these folks on the soccer field or in the grocery store, we take it really seriously.”

    It’s been this way since HNE was created in the mid-’80s amid concern from area doctors that Blue Cross’ new HMO would drain patients away from their practices—and potentially deliver lower-quality care.

    A group of physicians collaborated with Michael Daly, then-CEO of the system now known as Baystate Health, and other administrators to integrate their own financing and delivery of health care through creation of a new HMO.

    The result of that collaboration, said Staley, is that HNE remains sensitive to both the doctors providing the care and the employers who choose HNE for their employee insurance. “The ultimate goal is to provide high-quality health care,” he explained, “and we don’t think you can do that with a sledgehammer from either vantage point, because that’s been tried, and that’s failed.”

    How these efforts to strike a needed balance and promote healthy communities become visible to the national organizations that rank health plans is another story — and Scheer’s bailiwick.

    “Managed-care organizations have a choice whether or not to seek the NCQA accreditation or not,” he explained. “Back in 1991, HNE was actually the first health plan in the country to seek that accreditation level, and we’ve been accredited ever since.”

    There are dozens of standards by which a health plan is judged, he said, including whether a company has a quality care committee; whether it collects data and how that data is used; how medical necessity is determined; how quickly a company responds to a patient appeal; and how the appropriateness of a provider is determined. The NCQA also asks for an additional 74 measures called HEDIS — the Health Care Effective Data and Information Set — as well as customer service surveys.

    “It’s not something where we can say, ‘hey, everybody, NCQA is coming in three months, so get ready,’” Scheer explained. “They look back for a two-year period to be sure that you have quality-committee meetings. They say, ‘show me the minutes for the last 24 months. Show me that you’re taking action.’ There’s no possible way you can bluff anyone.”

    All health plans are required to have the collection of their data audited, to make sure they’re adhering to the technical requirements. So while accreditation happens every three years, Scheer says documenting their efforts is a rigorous process that begins again the minute the current accreditation process is complete.

    Well Done

    Behind those attractive rankings are programs and operating philosophies grounded in imagination, innovation, and a commitment to the broad subject of wellness.

    “I love wellness … it’s all about behavioral change, and doing what your mother said you ought to do all along,” Straley joked, adding that one of HNE’s successful wellness initiatives is that series of comic books that educate young people on health-related issues.

    During their creation, the books were reviewed by medical personnel — and kids. The comic books have been distributed to pediatricians’ offices and offered to schools, and several have won National Health Information Awards.

    “What we’ve found,” Straley said, “is that the pediatricians are doing a great job of explaining to mom and dad what the condition is and what the kids should do. And the kid is standing beside them getting some of it, but then they’re out on the playground and have an attack and wonder what to do.”

    It’s an instance, he noted, where improving health care does not involve new science or treatment methodologies — just providing practical information in an accessible format.

    It also means providing members with options, and plans specifically tailored for their changing needs.

    Thus, in January of 2009, HNE will begin offering Medicare Advantage coverage for the first time. For people who are 65 and older, the Advantage plan allows them to remain within the system of their current HMO with Medicare coverage and the option to purchase additional benefits. On a day-to-day basis, the switch to some Medicare-paying benefits will be invisible to the consumer; they will experience the same health care package they had before turning 65.

    “The individual who’s 64 years old and has our insurance through her employer is still the same person at 65,” said Straley. “She’s still seeing the same doctor. She still has the same issues. Nothing has changed.”

    Enrollment levels in Massachusetts in Medicare Advantage plans are currently below the national average, but with HNE’s entry into the arena, that’s likely to change.

    Meanwhile, HNE’s focus on overall wellness extends well beyond what would be considered traditional health care. Indeed, the company participates in the larger health of the community by supporting cultural institutions like the Springfield Symphony and museums, and helping fund and organize kids’ programs with the Urban League.

    “Quality of life,” said Straley, “is not just are you coughing, but are you healthy physically, mentally, and spiritually?” It’s not just the right thing to do, he added — it also makes financial sense to support other businesses and the quality of life in Springfield and surrounding areas.

    The company has become involved in the issue of homelessness for both reasons, helping raise money for a new resource center that will break ground next spring, eventually providing around-the-clock counseling, medical care, and other support services to homeless individuals.

    “I think that it’s a failing of society when we don’t take care of people who are most in need,” Straley told BusinessWest. “This is not something you should blame people for — you need to provide help. But I’m also interested in economic development, and if we have people panhandling on the streets, it does not reflect well on Springfield.”

    Turning again to the challenges being faced on a national level in caring for people’s health and well-being, Straley said HNE is already confronting the central issue that health plans will face as more people are insured: how to change the delivery of services to accommodate demand. “As you get more experienced, you literally can do more with less,” he said, offering an example: “If you do group information sessions rather than individual sessions, you’re dealing with 80% of the solution for 10 people all at once, and that creates capacity. There are pieces that you want to keep individual, but there are behavioral pieces that could be done differently.”

    As a self-described “walking billboard for the company” (he often wears HNE logos), Straley expects people to approach him with questions. He listens, gives them his card, and says he’ll get somebody on it. It’s part of his belief that communication is at the core of the company’s success. “We try really hard to communicate clearly. We’ll try anything. We’ll write comic books! We’ll send you a memo! It doesn’t mean we’re always successful, but it’s the way you’d want a friend sitting across the table to tell you, ‘well, here’s how it works.’

    “As you can tell, I’m so proud of what the people in this company do,” he continued, “and how connected they are to the communities that we serve, and just how passionate they are about not wanting to be the big, bad HMO the way the industry gets painted. We’re really different, and they care about that. We’re committed to what we do, and we know how important people’s health is. At the end of the day, if your health isn’t good, the rest doesn’t matter a whole lot.”

    The Bottom Line

    Returning to the subject of numbers, Straley said HNE passed the 100,000-member plateau two years ago, and has been enjoying steady, controlled growth since — a pattern he desires.

    “I don’t want explosive growth,” he explained. “I want steady growth where we can manage the quality of the product we deliver.”

    If one does that, he said, the numbers, including those in the customer service rankings, should take care of themselves.

    Departments

    The following building permits were issued during the month of November 2008.

    AGAWAM

    V & F Realty
    443 Springfield St.
    $75,000 – Construct an addition to rear of building

    AMHERST

    Bank of America
    390 College St.
    $27,000 – Alterations to bank facility

    CHICOPEE

    Con-way Transportation Services
    106 New Lombard Road
    $3,500,000 – Construct new building that will function as service center for tractors and trailers

    GREENFIELD

    PDV Inc.
    278 Main St.
    $33,000 – Installation of fire protective signaling system

    Peter C. Mackin
    405 Deerfield St.
    $4,000 – Erection of a carport garage/display

    Summit Distributing, LLC
    109 Mohwak TL
    $30,000 – Remove and replace existing roof system

    HOLYOKE

    Bayview Financial
    345-363 Dwight St.
    $200,000 – Emergency exterior repairs

    Pasel Bimal
    54 Canal St.
    $80,000 – New 1200-square-foot addition

    LUDLOW

    Millerwood Properties Inc.
    40 Miller St.
    $6,200 – Alterations

    NORTHAMPTON

    Bennet & Lilly Gaev
    19 Center St.
    $289,000 – Repair fire damage first and second floor

    Cooley Dickinson Hospital
    30 Locust St.
    $65,000 – Renovations to business office

    Coolidge Center LLC
    225 King St.
    $1,839,500 – Construct 11,640-square-foot retail pharmacy building

    Donald & Lisa Muccino
    220 King St.
    $10,450 – Install new roof

    McDonald’s Corporation
    221 King St.
    $30,000 – Remodel interior to install beverage machine

    Nonotuck Mill LLC
    29 Nonotuck St.
    $18,000 – Construct interior partitions and handicap ramp

     

    Raymond Rice
    45 Maple St.
    $4,400 – Install second-floor door and egress

    SOUTHWICK

    T.A.D.Z. Realty LLC
    65 Hudson Dr.
    $259,000 – Erect wood framed pre-engineered structure

    Westfield Gas & Electric
    Route 57
    $101,500 – Construct new concrete and pre-fab building for meter and regulations equipment

    SPRINGFIELD

    A.I.C.
    963 State St.
    $10,000 – Replace dining services ramp

    Bank of America
    1724 Boston Road
    $38,000 – Improvements at entry, safe deposit, and teller area

    City of Springfield
    367 Hancock St.
    $4,000 – Renovate old nurse’s offices to art gallery

    Fan Cheng Li
    906 Boston Road
    $41,000 – Modify into a Chinese take-out restaurant

    Filler Bridge, LLC
    1551 Main St.
    $20,000 – New tenant fit up on second floor

    Infusion Plus Inc.
    1 Stafford St.
    $10,000 – Renovations

    WESTFIELD

    Easthampton Savings Bank
    85 Broad St.
    $19,000 – Install a handicap ramp

    Transcom Tech
    53 Mainline Dr.
    $22,750 – New windows

    WEST SPRINGFIELD

    Bank of America
    225 Memorial Ave.
    $22,000 – Install handicap ramp

    Fred L. Aaron
    1680 Riverdale St.
    $15,000 – Install two new bathrooms on second floor

    Slavic Pentacostal Church Inc.
    2611 Westfield St.
    $27,500 – Interior remodel

    Town of West Springfield
    76 Central St.
    $30,000 – Erect a drop-ceiling