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Hadley Honors Rural Past as Businesses Take Root

CommunityHadleyProfilesMAPWhen Jonathan Carr and his wife Nicole Blum moved to the U.S., they spent time looking for a good place to farm. The couple had been growing gourmet vegetables in Ireland and selling them to restaurants, but wanted to establish themselves in a better climate, because it rained frequently there.

In 2002, they bought 38 acres of land with a large apple orchard in Hadley after relatives and friends in the Boston area steered them to Western Mass.

Last year, they opened Carr’s Ciderhouse and produced about 3,000 bottles of sparkling cider and dessert-style wine on their property. The business is growing, and Carr said they are happy to be situated on River Road.

“There is a network of farms that runs up and down the river for miles, and Hadley is a great place to raise a family and own a business because of the accommodating spirit within the town government,” said Carr, adding that the couple appreciates their central location, the vibrant local economy, and the beauty of the area, along with the fact that they can go hiking or canoeing on the Connecticut River without leaving town.

Town Administrator David Nixon

Town Administrator David Nixon says Hadley has the largest amount of preserved land in the Commonwealth.

David Nixon said the ciderhouse is one of dozens of home-based businesses in Hadley, which include self-employed consultants, architects, web-based firms, and about two dozen landscapers with employees. The town administrator said Hadley is also home to historic family farms that have been operating for generations, as well as a healthy mix of retail establishments, located mostly on the seven-mile section of Route 9 that runs through the town.

The balanced mix of open land, agricultural enterprise, and retail business has been carefully orchestrated by town officials.

“It’s the reason for our success,” Nixon said. “We provide a high quality of life with lots and lots of open space that contains forests, grasslands, and farmlands. But we also have a strong commercial district that allows us to keep taxes low and provide the products and employment people need, coupled with small, family-owned businesses, particularly in agriculture.”

In addition, Nixon said, the town offers a central location, an affordable single tax rate, and space for new and existing businesses to grow. “We’re ideally situated between Northampton and Amherst, so we have the synergy of what these communities offer. We also live in a 30-campus community,” he told BusinessWest, explaining that one-quarter of the UMass Amherst campus is in Hadley and the other campuses are within an hour’s drive of the town, which sits off the Interstate 91 corridor, with the Massachusetts Turnpike a short distance away.

“Northampton Airport is just across the river, and we’re a 45 minute drive from Bradley International Airport,” Nixon continued, adding that, when the rerouting of the Amtrak Vermonter commuter train is complete, it will include a stop in nearby Northampton.

 

Fertile Imagination

Hadley is one of the oldest towns in Hampshire County, and thus it has lots of history, said Nixon, noting that it was incorporated in 1661 and was an agricultural center for hundreds of years.

Today, the town is still home to three operating dairy farms, a number of tobacco farms, and an untold number of farms that grow produce, ranging from corn to asparagus, strawberries to squash. “We have lots of little farm stands, and there are a number of small agricultural businesses developing here,” Nixon said. They include Sister’s Bistro, a restaurant and specialty food store that opened about a year ago, a vineyard under development, and Valley Malt, which opened about three years ago and has been very successful.

Although the farms have stood the test of time, town officials have been proactive in taking steps to insure the bucolic atmosphere is preserved and will remain that way. “We don’t want our population to grow too quickly,” Nixon said. “We lead the Commonwealth in preserved open space. We have about 3,000 acres of it, which doesn’t include the state parks or the land along the Connecticut River.”

He noted that these measures ensure that the high quality of life in Hadley will continue. “It gives us the ability to provide residents with the services they want at an affordable price and helps keep the town recession-proof. We may not see the highs that other places have experienced, but we also don’t see the lows.”

The town’s finances are also sound. “We have a strong financial base with an AA bond rating from Standard and Poor and are always looking to improve things,” Nixon said.

To that end, town officials recently asked the state Department of Revenue to conduct a commissioned study of its financial-management practices.

“We’re not content to sit on our laurels, and are always looking for ways to improve public services and reduce our costs,” he explained.

 

Commercial Growth

Although Hadley has plenty of open space, the town also contains a healthy mix of businesses. They include the Hampton Inn, which is adding a conference center with seating for 300 people that is expected to open this summer.

Building Commissioner Tim Neyhart said the inn was recently granted a liquor license, and the new center will have a kitchen for catering and provide the town with much-needed facilities for meetings, conventions, and events. “We didn’t have a place where people could hold large weddings,” he said, explaining that, although many couples use the Marriott Hotel, its capacity is limited to 125 people.

“There are already weddings booked in the new conference center, and the large space will also allow the U.S. Fish and Wildlife office to hold conventions there,” he told BusinessWest, adding that its District 5 office is in Hadley. “They use the Marriott for meetings all the time, but the space there is limited.”

There are also three solar projects in the works in Hadley. Neyhart said two are being reviewed by the planning board, while the third involves a pilot program with NexAmp Hadley Solar LLC, which has obtained permits to built a 2.9-megawatt facility on Mill Valley Road.

The solar company and the Hampshire Council of Governments have partnered to form an agreement that is still being reviewed. It would provide Hadley with a discount rate on electricity in lieu of taxes from NexAmp over a 20-year period. If it is passed, Nixon said, it could result in a 21% reduction in the cost of municipal electricity in Hadley, or about $600,000 over two decades.

He explained that the energy NexAmp will generate will be fed into a network that will earn the company credits from Western Massachusetts Electric Co. The credits would then be sold to the Hampshire Council of Governments, which would apply them to the town’s electric bill.

The town is also looking to widen Route 9, although that project is still in the feasibility stage. “We’re also taking concrete steps to improve our water and sewer systems. They will be upgraded over the next 10 years,” Nixon said.

And although there is available space for new business to be established along Route 9, many existing businesses have reinvented themselves to keep up with the times. Nixon cites the former Mountain Farms Mall as an example. “It was in pretty bad shape about 20 years ago, with vacant storefronts and a blacktop that was in terrible condition.”

But the former traditional mall has been transformed into a large strip mall, which is home to Whole Foods, Barnes & Noble, and other thriving businesses. “It has become a very, very vibrant shopping area,” he said.

Hadley also caters to many startup companies, which get help from the UMass Amherst Family Business Center on Venture Way. “They are able to thrive because we have an educated workforce, the infrastructure capacity for new businesses, and the zoning to develop it,” Nixon said.

 

Balanced Equation

Although the town welcomes business growth, the provisions its leaders have taken to ensure that the landscape remains unsullied is part of its character.

“The goal has always been about maintaining balance,” Nixon reiterated. “Hadley is blessed with a strong and vibrant commercial center, but also has wonderful residential villages and the bike path, which is 300 yards off of Route 9, that illustrates the balance of life here. One side has a view of open land, while the other is home to restaurants, auto-service stations, and stores.”

That combination is a proven recipe for success, making the town a place that honors its agrarian past while keeping pace with the future.

Opinion
Gateway Cities Don’t Need Silver Bullet

By ALAN MALLACH and LAVEA BRACHMAN

 

They have been called shrinking cities and gateway cities. But by any label — our preferred term is ‘legacy cities’ — medium-sized metropolitan areas struggling with manufacturing decline and population loss are a never-ending project in many parts of the country, including Massachusetts.

Almost every year, some silver bullet — a sports arena, a casino, a conference center — promises salvation and rebirth for Brockton, Lawrence, New Bedford, Springfield, or Pittsfield. Avoiding the fate of Detroit, which just filed for bankruptcy, only adds to the pressure for a big solution.

The truth is, the silver-bullet syndrome can inhibit revitalization. A megaproject can become an important asset, but it is not a strategy for change in itself, unless it is integrated into larger schemes to make a meaningful contribution to the city’s future. A more incremental approach built on collaboration and partnerships holds more promise for rebuilding.

The way forward may look more like silver buckshot — with a focus on these key areas:

• Have faith in downtowns. The physical fabric of the central core, with density, a walkable urban texture, and proximity to major institutions and employers, is a powerful attraction for young single people and couples, and a strong basis for residential redevelopment. Set a friendly regulatory environment for infill redevelopment, reinvent public spaces, and encourage private market reuse of older buildings.

• Sustain viable neighborhoods. In these targeted areas, build partnerships with neighborhood associations and community-development corporations to implement multifaceted neighborhood strategies that draw demand, rebuild housing markets, and address destabilizing elements such as crime, foreclosure, and property abandonment.

• Don’t be afraid to demolish. Repurposing large inventories of vacant land strategically is a major springboard for change in heavily disinvested areas. Cities should explore large-scale reconfiguration of land uses, including the use of vacant land properties for public open space, urban agriculture, or stormwater management.

• Reinvent the economic base. Not every city can become the next biotech capital. But an honest assessment of local assets and regional competitive advantages can help build new export-oriented economies. Partner with local educational institutions and major employers to build an educational and workforce-development plan and a competitive regional labor market.

• Build new partnerships. In almost every city, universities and medical centers — ‘eds and meds’ — are bedrock institutions, part of a foundational network of public, nonprofit, and private collaboration. Similarly, state and federal governments must rethink their roles, becoming more nimble, more effective, and less biased toward suburban areas.

• Make sure all city residents benefit from change. Many cities are fractured, with large and growing economic and racial disparities. Engaging residents, and providing the educational and workforce-development systems they need to become competitive, can build a stronger city for everyone.

While legacy cities and their regions are already inextricably linked by social and economic realities, far more must be done to make these connections positive forces for regenerating both the city and the rest of the region. Public-policy changes at both state and national levels should be pursued to foster greater regional integration. Regionalized infrastructure, particularly transit, sewer, and water systems, should be encouraged to strengthen city and regional ties that foster economic growth.

All this may sound as if so many pieces need to fall in place. They do. Yet, an approach we call ‘strategic incrementalism’ can help keep the momentum going. Rather than devote significant time and resources to large-scale, comprehensive planning, legacy cities should focus on building partnerships, supporting multiple initiatives, and more organically internalizing a shared vision for the future.

America’s legacy cities were once the great economic engines of this country. The right mixture of new forms and directions, fueled by their powerful assets and historic can-do culture of achievement, can provide the springboard for a new era of prosperity.

 

Alan Mallach is a senior fellow at the Center for Community Progress. Lavea Brachman is executive director of the Greater Ohio Policy Center.

Law Sections
Some Practical Tips for Protecting Your Business from Fraud

Dawn McDonald

Dawn McDonald

It’s difficult to read a newspaper or watch a televison news report these days without seeing reports of consumer fraud and warnings about how to prevent it.

But oftentimes, businesses are the victims of fraud. Indeed, the instances of fraud against businesses have increased both in the number of occurrences and in the amount of money being lost.

The types of fraud vary from accounting scams perpetrated internally by employees to fraudulent returns from customers and data theft by outsiders. Businesses have less protection than consumers, and in some cases can be held liable for business fraud schemes or third-party data breaches.

To understand and prevent the many types of fraud to which your business may be vulnerable, you should first understand the different sources of these crimes. Most professionals agree that the sources of business fraud, ranked in the order of cost and frequency, are:

• Officers and employees. Small businesses tend to be more informal in nature, with fewer employees, which can result in a higher level of trust and a relaxed sense of oversight.

• Customers and clients. Customers can be notorious for trying to commit fraud against businesses by writing bad checks, using stolen credit cards, returning items not purchased, or filing fraudulent injury or liability claims.

• Vendors and contractors. Businesses can be the target of overcharging, overbilling, kickbacks, or failure to perform contracted work or services by unscrupulous contractors.

• Third-party attacks. A growing number of fraud attacks are being perpetrated by electronic means, including hacking, phishing (acquiring user names, passwords, or credit-card information), and identity theft.

Because fraud against your business can seriously impact the bottom line, it is important to set up and follow procedures to verify adherence to anti-fraud policies. Effective internal controls that create a system of checks and balances are some of the best fraud deterrents.

One of the most important steps a business can take is to create a system of awareness throughout the organization that makes it clear that the organization is watching for fraud and that, if caught, those involved will be prosecuted.

Methods for detecting and deterring fraud in your business include:

• Surprise internal and external audits. Many organizations have an internal audit department, but small businesses cannot always afford that luxury and need to work with their accountant to provide this level of control.

• Dividing responsibilities of accounting functions. Do not allow the person generating a purchase order to approve payment. Separate the function of check signing from the person who reconciles the bank statement.

• Employee tips and reporting. Develop an anonymous way for employees to report suspected fraud and work practices that could lead to fraud. Businesses that institute anonymous employee reporting detect fraud earlier and significantly limit financial losses.

Implementing a fraud-prevention plan requires time and commitment, but to minimize and manage risk, businesses are better off if they build in deterrents, establish good controls, and provide consistent oversight.

 

Dawn McDonald is a partner with Cooley, Shrair P.C., focusing her practice on assisting clients in the areas of commercial litigation, domestic-relations law, and labor and employment law; (413)735-8045; [email protected]

Law Sections
Legislation Seeks to Protect Workers from Abuse, Harassment

By KATHRYN S. CROUSS, Esq.

Kathryn Crouss

Kathryn Crouss

A public hearing was held on June 25 before the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development regarding HB 1766, proposed legislation titled “An Act Addressing Workplace Bullying, Mobbing, and Harassment, Without Regard to Protected Class Status.” Dubbed the ‘Healthy Workplace Bill,’ the bill seeks to provide protections for workers against workplace abuse and harassment.

Under the current state of the law in Massachusetts, workers who are members of a protected class have legal recourse for harassment and abuse suffered in the workplace. Existing statutes in Massachusetts establish remedies for employees who are subjected to a hostile work environment in the context of sexual harassment, or if the hostile behavior is motivated by race, color, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, or age.

However, Massachusetts does not presently offer general legal protection to employees against hostile treatment in the workplace otherwise. In an ‘at-will’ employment state such as Massachusetts, employers and employees are free to enter into or exit from a working relationship at any time, absent an express employment agreement. Under the at-will employment rule, continued employment is at the discretion of the employer, and employers are not prohibited from making arbitrary employment decisions, even decisions that may appear dishonest, distasteful, or rude.

Exceptions to the employment-at-will doctrine are narrow and limited. The law defers to the decisions of employers and intervenes on an employee’s behalf only for exceptionally strong public-policy reasons. Examples of such public policies are when an adverse employment decision is motivated by an employee serving on a jury, filing a workers’ compensation claim, or reporting criminal activity at work, whether the report is made internally or to public authorities.

According to the bill’s co-sponsors, Rep. Ellen Story of Amherst and Sen. Katherine Clark of Melrose, the Healthy Workplace Bill seeks to provide legal remedies for employees who have been harmed psychologically, physically, or economically by deliberate exposure to abusive work environments. The bill indicates that “at least a third of all employees will directly experience health-endangering workplace bullying, abuse, and harassment during their working lives, and this form of mistreatment is approximately four times more prevalent than sexual harassment alone.”

Additionally, the bill’s co-sponsors indicate that it incentivizes employers to prevent and respond to abusive mistreatment of employees by allowing employers to minimize liability. The bill states that “abusive work environments can have serious consequences for employers, including reduced employee productivity and morale, higher turnover and absenteeism rates, and increases in medical and workers’ compensation claims.”

Finally, the co-sponsors say the bill includes provisions that discourage weak or frivolous claims. The bill establishes affirmative defenses for employers when:

• The complaint is based on an adverse employment action reasonably made for poor performance or economic necessity;

• The complaint is based on a reasonable performance evaluation; or

• The complaint is based on an employer’s reasonable investigation about potentially illegal or unethical activity.

Clark recently indicated that “it is important to understand that this bill is not about everyday disagreements in the office, or someone having a bad day, or a boss providing directives, oversight, and feedback. Instead, it seeks to address a regular pattern of health-harming mistreatment at a work environment in the form of verbal abuse, offensive and threatening behavior, or malicious work interference.”

The bill is not without its detractors, however. Many believe workplace bullying is better addressed internally, such as by an employer’s human-resources department, as opposed to within the court system. Regulating workplace bullying, they say, might serve only to create a venue for disgruntled employees, opening the doors to frivolous lawsuits filed by employees in response to legitimate negative performance reviews. Such legislation could inhibit employers from making even constructive criticism of an employee’s performance for fear of a retaliatory lawsuit. Some fear the proposed legislation would allow an employee to avoid accountability.

Although this is the bill’s third submission, having been first introduced during the 2009-10 legislative session without success, there are indications that workplace anti-bullying legislation is gaining momentum. Since 2003, variations of the Healthy Workplace Bill have been introduced in 25 states, and 12 states (in addition to Massachusetts) are currently pushing for such legislation, according to David Yamada, a professor of labor and employment law at Suffolk University Law School, and one of the bill’s proponents.

It is too soon to determine the potential outcome regarding the bill. However, employers are advised to take caution. Language in the proposed bill indicates that an employer will be vicariously liable for violations of the statute committed by its employee. In other words, employers may be legally responsible for the actions of their supervising employees, if such employees are found to have engaged in abusive conduct or to have created an abusive work environment as defined by the statute.

Employers can defend against a lawsuit only if “the employer has exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct promptly any actionable behavior, and the complainant employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of appropriate preventive or corrective opportunities provided by the employer.”

Employers are advised to be vigilant about ensuring that managers treat employees with respect and dignity. Further, employers should ensure that they include anti-bullying language in their code of conduct policies, in order to preserve the availability of the affirmative defense. Employers are advised to contact an employment-law attorney about creating policies that will comply with the proposed legislation.

 

Kathryn S. Crouss, Esq. is a member of Bacon Wilson’s litigation department and handles all aspects of civil litigation, including employee- and management-side employment-law litigation, personal injury, and domestic-relations litigation; (413) 781-0560.

Cover Story
Resilience Drives Belmont Laundry for More Than a Century

Cover-BW0713cWhen Gaetano “Tommy” D’Amato was about 14, his mother became ill, and around that time, she began using Belmont Laundry to do the family’s heavy washing.

The centenarian, who celebrated his 100th birthday on May 8, remembers a horse and buggy — or horse and sled, depending on the weather — that came to pick up the family’s sheets from their home on the corner of Oakland and Orange streets in Springfield. “There weren’t any phones back then, but they told us they would be back every third day,” he said, adding that they couldn’t afford to have the laundry dried, so it was delivered wet, and his sister hung it on the clothesline. Over the years, D’Amato met many people who worked for the company, including one who retired after 47 years.

April McCarthy

April McCarthy, who runs the Belmont Laundry Wilbraham Road store, shows off a 1912 wringer washing machine used when her great-grandfather ran the business.

The laundry was founded in 1907 by Harry Samble, who emigrated to the U.S. with his family from Scotland. It has withstood the test of time, an achievement that has taken Herculean resolve due to deaths, a devastating fire, and dramatic changes in the industry and economy.

The tragedies began when Harry died unexpectedly. At the time, his son Robert was 14, and his wife, Corrine, was forced to run the business. History repeated itself a generation later, when Robert, who had taken over the business, died at age 43 and his wife, Dorothy, had to run the laundry. Ironically, their son, Robert Jr., was also 14.

Today, 89-year-old Dorothy still spends Friday mornings at the business on 333 Belmont Ave., which is run by her son Robert (Rob) Jr. and his children, Matthew, Derek, and April McCarthy. The company has expanded and has two branches: Belmont Laundry and Custom Dry Cleaners, which has four storefronts — two in Springfield, one in Longmeadow, and one in West Springfield — as well as the Belmont Linen and Uniform Rental service, which comprises the majority of the business.

“There is a lot to this, and you have to be good at many things to survive, grow, and remain strong, because there is always something that needs attention and improvement,” Rob said. “But we have not only kept up with things, we’ve been pioneers in the latest advances.

Robert Samble, left, with his son Matthew

Robert Samble, left, with his son Matthew, says the 106-year-old business has persevered through tragedy and calamity by keeping a constant focus on innovation.

“At one point, we were the only ones in the world using radio frequency identification chips with bar codes in our garments and entrance mats. We were also the first in the Northeast to put in spot cooling for our employees,” he told BusinessWest, noting that his sons spent an entire summer installing thousands of electronic chips in the mats used by area businesses.

“Every new idea that comes out gets evaluated, and if it’s feasible, we jump on it,” Rob continued, adding that Belmont is a green company and has recycled 23.5 million gallons of water over the past five years, recovered thousands of BTUs of energy, recycled thousands of hangers and garments each year, and uses environmentally friendly detergents and chemicals.

 

In the Beginning

Harry’s business began as a home-based operation. “The laundry was picked up on bicycles, washed in a tub in a barn behind the house, and brought back to people while it was still wet,” Rob said.

As the customer base grew, Harry graduated to a horse and wagon, then an electric truck, and, later, a gas-powered vehicle.

His wife Corrine ran the business after his early death, until the couple’s oldest son, Harry Jr., took over. He was joined by his younger brother Robert (Bob) when he returned from serving as a fighter pilot with the Army Air Corps during World War II. “By the early ’60s, my father had become president,” Rob recalled, explaining that his dad took the helm when Harry Jr. retired.

Competition had always been stiff, as there were more than 20 laundries in Springfield, but many of the owners were friends, and Bob’s cronies included Russ Dale of Dale Brothers Laundry on Union Street and Bill Hamilton of Royce Superior Laundry.

When Maytag began running coin-operated laundromats in low-income neighborhoods in 1958, they all signed on to the program. “They thought they would get rich,” Rob said. “But the laundromats were left open 24/7 without any supervision, which proved to be a bad idea.”

He remembers accompanying his father in the middle of the night when windows were shattered or money was stolen from coin boxes. It wasn’t long before Maytag’s experiment failed, and when the company switched gears and began selling washing machines to the public, many local laundries went under. The D’Amato family was one of millions who purchased a washer, which meant they could do their own laundry.

“The last nail in the coffin came when polyester was introduced, as it didn’t need ironing,” Rob said. “By the early ’70s, there were only two commercial laundries left in Springfield.”

As a child, he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps. But during his teens, his interests shifted, and after graduating from high school, Rob attended Springfield Technical Community College for six months, worked as an auto mechanic, then moved to Arkansas, where he revived and ran a catfish farm.

In time, he returned to Springfield and was working as a refractory mason when his mother told him she was tired of running the struggling laundry. The year was 1974, the economy was floundering, and she said he either had to take over or the business would be sold. So Rob entered the family enterprise at a time when other laundries were closing their doors.

“I had held things together for eight years,” Dorothy said. “My youngest son was only 8 when my husband died. He was killed on Saturday, and I went to work the following Tuesday. It was a crazy time. I had had nothing to do with the business when my husband was alive, but my dad gave me advice, and everyone there was friendly and worked very hard.”

She also received help from her mother-in-law, who was in a nursing home. She was still very interested in the business and wanted to see an itemized expense sheet every week. “She had been treasurer at one time and signed all the checks,” Dorothy recalled. “I signed them too, once I took over, but the place was much smaller then. It was homey, and a lot of ladies worked there. I knew everyone by name.”

When clothes came into the laundry, they went to a ‘marker,’ who put a number on every garment. Each family was assigned their own number, which ensured they got their laundry back. “We used to wash wool blankets and hang them over a big board suspended from the ceiling, because they couldn’t go into the dryer. It was so different back then. Everything was done by hand. Now we use pulleys, lifts, and belts,” Dorothy said.

Although it was all she could do to keep the laundry operational, her husband had purchased new machines and rebuilt the structure before he died.

Rob said the company’s expansion began when his grandfather sought and received a variance to put an addition onto his building, which was in a residential zone. His father purchased adjacent properties as they became available, but by the time Rob became vice president, some of them had been sold to meet expenses.

 

New Ventures

The business took a new spin when Dorothy sent Rob to the National Institute of Dry Cleaning in Joliet, Ill. He returned with new ideas, but the manager immediately shot them down.

However, a short time later, the man had a stroke, and the trustees at Security National Bank named Rob vice president. “I was only 21 at the time,” he said.

His first coup was landing a contract after union workers walked off the job at the Worcester State School. “One day, the school showed up with a 53-foot trailer filled with sheets,” he said, adding that the Worcester operation also did the laundry for the Belchertown and Northampton state hospitals.

Belmont also served as a backup for Baystate Medical Center’s laundry and “they always had work for us,” Rob said. “The revenue we made from those accounts allowed us to grow into the textile-rental business.”

That venture was in line with the training he had received at the Institute of Dry Cleaning, because it did the laundry for a nearby prison. Rob’s work as an auto mechanic also came into play as he purchased old equipment and rebuilt it to keep up with the expanding business, which soon grew more competitive.

Large, national firms began vying for hospital accounts, and as a result, Belmont lost its contracts. But the company was already branching out into new territory, and in 1980 Rob hired two salesmen for the textile business. One didn’t last, but Ernest Gagnon, who stayed with the company for 20 years, helped make Belmont Laundry a recognized name in the uniform- and linen-rental industry.

The family laundry storefront also remained open, and in 1977, when Dale Brothers Laundry closed, Rob purchased its routes and customer list. “It was a good decision because we had done family laundry for so long, we were on automatic pilot, so although it was a dying industry, we were able to keep up with it,” he said. However, the business was threatened as one-hour cleaners were coming into vogue and Rob’s competitors were going bankrupt.

The next blow came in 1981 when Belmont Laundry was devastated by a fire. “We lost our offices and the store, but were so efficient, we delivered laundry and dry cleaning the next day,” Rob said.

He set up a temporary office and “scrimped and saved” until he had enough cash to build again, which was possible because he served as general contractor. “I only had enough money for a down payment and went back into debt. But I was able to rebuild with help from friends in the trades, who guided me,” he told BusinessWest.

In 1988, Rob purchased the Shea/Flair Dry Cleaning chain. “It made us the market leader in dry cleaning. We took over three plants with stores, which brought up us to seven locations. Then, in 1989, the economy tanked, and although we continued to invest in the stores and plants, it was a futile effort,” he said.

Today, four of those stores are still open, including one on Wilbraham Road in Springfield, which is run by Rob’s daughter, April McCarthy. The Main Street store is being used as a storage facility, and the former Flair location at the ‘X’ in Springfield, as well as another store, were sold.

“But our rental business continued to grow — we specialize in uniforms, sheets, and patient gowns,” Rob said, adding that the company’s accounts include restaurants and auto dealerships.

Rob’s sons began working at Belmont when they were about 10, and Matthew, now vice president, recalls straightening out hangers, then manning the counter when he was in high school. Derek, who is the dry-cleaning division manager, said he and Matt painted the roof of the building when he was 12.

They have followed the family tradition of implementing change. “I pushed for green cleaning, and by 2009, we were totally green; it was the right thing to do,” Derek said, adding that the company needed new machines, and he felt it was ready to handle more business.

“We put in a new shirt department and revamped it twice within five years,” he said. “Technology is changing so quickly, and I wanted to have the highest level of quality for our customers. The market has slowed, but we’ve held our own. We have tried different styles of marketing and spent time learning how to implement new ideas. I spend about 55 hours a week here and look forward to coming to work every day.”

April began working in the Longmeadow store when she was 14. “I had a lot of responsibility,” she said, adding that she closed the store at the end of the day.

When she went to Westfield State University, she worked in the West Springfield store, and although she earned degrees in elementary education and psychology, “I could never leave. I’ve been here almost 22 years, and it’s a great business. We depend on each other and have customers who have been coming to us since I started working as a teen. This is such a part of my life.”

 

Forging Forward

Matt and Rob plan to visit a laundry in Davenport, Iowa in August to evaluate the operation and see what they can learn from it. “We have to work to stay ahead of things. There are a lot of different angles to the business,” Matt said.

Rob agrees. “I’ve made mistakes, but it was diversity that put us on the map in the rental business, and it’s diversity that allowed us to stay in the retail business. We have a good product and take care of our employees. They are very good to us, and if it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be here today. They take care of our customers, who can rely on a consistent product.”

Which is exactly what D’Amato experienced when the centenarian called them a month ago for the first time in about 25 years. “They still do a good job,” he said.

Features Law Sections
But That’s Certainly Not the End of the Story

L. Alexandra Hogan

L. Alexandra Hogan

When your business finally receives payment of that long-overdue receivable, is that the end of the story? Not always, as recently learned by nearly 40 entities previously doing business with Northern Berkshire Healthcare Inc. or its affiliates.

Two years ago, Northern Berkshire Healthcare, a nonprofit healthcare corporation in Berkshire County, and its four affiliated entities (collectively Northern Berkshire) filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. On June 10, the trustee in Northern Berkshire’s bankruptcy instituted almost 40 lawsuits in the bankruptcy court against entities that did business with the company because, simply put, those entities got paid prior to the bankruptcy filing.

Section 547(b) of the Bankruptcy Code authorizes a Chapter 11 debtor or trustee to recover ‘preferential transfers.’ These are certain payments made to creditors of the bankrupt company 90 days prior to the bankruptcy filing or made one year prior thereto if to an insider (e.g. an officer, director or affiliated entity.) In order to make a successful claim, the debtor or trustee must prove that the payment was made to the creditor on old debt while the debtor was insolvent, during the specified time period, and that the creditor received more than it would have if the case been filed under Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code, as opposed to Chapter 11.

The prospect of a creditor losing its long-awaited payment appears fundamentally unfair. The social policy behind this law is actually to treat the bankrupt company’s creditors equally. In other words, the law should not permit the company to preferentially choose to pay one creditor over another. Money recovered under this law will be fairly distributed to all creditors under the scheme provided by the Bankruptcy Code. And, as with any cause of action, there are defenses — the contemporaneous-exchange defense, the ordinary-course-of-business defense, and new-value defense, to name a few.

A transfer is not preferential if the creditor and soon-to-be bankrupt company intended and, in fact, made a substantially contemporaneous exchange of new goods or services for the payment in question. Cash on delivery and prepayment does not constitute a preferential transfer. In addition, if payment was made on a debt incurred in the ordinary course of business or the financial affairs of the parties, or according to ordinary business terms, the transaction is not preferential.

Some factors the court may consider in its analysis of this defense include the prior course of dealings between the parties and the amount, timing, and circumstances surrounding the payment. Under the new-value defense, the practical result is that the preference amount is reduced by the amount of new value provided by the creditor following the payment in question. For example, the soon-to-be bankrupt company makes a payment to the creditor of $5,000 on June 1 for goods delivered 30 days prior. Subsequently, on June 15, the creditor delivers another $2,000 worth of goods before the company files Chapter 11 on June 30. The preference amount would rightfully be reduced to $3,000.

This summary of the law is intended to provide a rudimentary understanding of the concepts at play. It goes without saying that any creditor faced with a preference lawsuit should immediately seek the advice of experienced counsel who understands the ins and outs of complex bankruptcy law.

 

L. Alexandra (Alex) Hogan is an associate with the Springfield-based form Shatz, Schwartz and Fentin, P.C., and concentrates her practice primarily in business, litigation, and bankruptcy law; (413) 737-1131.

Law Sections
Recent Cases Show Emerging Trends in Non-compete Agreements

John S. Gannon

John S. Gannon

It’s no secret that courts are skeptical of non-compete agreements. This is especially true when enforcement will restrain employees from earning a living.

In Massachusetts, the ‘material changes doctrine’ can provide a court with just the right ammunition to shoot down the enforceability of a non-compete agreement. Under that doctrine, a non-compete is unenforceable if the employer-employee relationship has changed significantly since the employee signed the agreement. Several recent cases illustrate how the doctrine works in practice.

 

Case #1: Rent-A-PC Inc. v. March (D. Mass. May 28, 2013)

Robert March began working for SmartSource as a senior account executive in June 2006. SmartSource provides short-term rentals of audio-visual, computer, and other equipment. March signed a non-compete agreement at the outset of his employment that restricted him from working for competitors of SmartSource for one year after his separation from employment.

March moved up in the company quickly. He advanced to branch sales manager in 2007. He was then promoted to regional sales manager in 2008. March was promoted again in 2010 to regional general manager and one more time in 2012 to regional sales manager. With each promotion, March’s job responsibilities and compensation changed. His final position at SmartSource was significantly different from his first in terms of scope, duties, and pay.

March was fired in October 2012 and joined a direct competitor a month later. SmartSource filed an action against March seeking to enforce the non-compete agreement. The court refused to enforce it, relying on the material changes doctrine. March had signed the non-compete when he started working for SmartSource as an account executive. He was then promoted all the way up to regional sales manager. Conceivably, he might not have been willing to sign a new agreement in connection with any one of his promotions. The court refused to enforce the agreement in this case because March’s duties and compensation had materially changed while he worked at SmartSource.

 

Case #2: Intepros Inc. v. Athy (Mass. Super. May 5, 2013)

In a similar case, Paul Athy was hired as a branch manager for Intepros, an IT staffing and services company, and signed a non-compete agreement at the outset of his employment. Athy climbed the company ladder all the way up to the chief operating officer position. Intepros did not ask Athy to sign a new agreement in connection with any of his promotions.

Athy left the company in 2012, saying he wanted to coach his son’s football team and possibly create his own company to assist recent college graduates in finding jobs. Athy was not true to his word, and instead he started an IT staffing business similar to Intepros, and brought on a major client whom he had solicited while working for his former employer. Intepros sued, claiming Athy had breached his non-compete agreement. Again, the court refused to enforce the agreement under the material changes doctrine. According to the court, Athy’s employment relationship had changed “dramatically” after he signed the original non-compete agreement because his pay and authority had increased substantially with each promotion.

Case # 3: A.R.S. Services Inc. v. Morse (Mass. Super. Apr. 5, 2013)

This case has similar facts to the two discussed above. Daniel Morse went to work for a competitor after leaving A.R.S. Services. When A.R.S. tried to enforce a non-compete agreement, Morse argued it was unenforceable because he had experienced a significant demotion while working for A.R.S. However, this case had an added wrinkle.

The noncompete stated that it was “valid notwithstanding any change in [Morse’s] duties, responsibilities, position or title with [ARS].” In other words, the agreement clearly said that it was enforceable even if Morse’s job duties changed. The court relied on this language in ruling that the non-compete was enforceable. This case demonstrates that suitable language in the non-compete may avoid the material-changes dilemma.

 

Bottom Line

The lesson from these cases is clear. Employers need to make sure employees sign new and updated non-compete agreements when there are major changes in their duties and responsibilities. If you need assistance revising or enforcing a non-compete agreement, contact experienced labor and employment counsel for assistance.

 

John Gannon is an attorney at the management-side labor and employment firm Skoler, Abbott & Presser, P.C.; (413) 737-4753; [email protected]; www.linkedin.com/in/johngannonesq.

Opinion
Lessons from Detroit — and Springfield

The numbers are exponentially greater — well, more than exponentially: $19 billion as opposed to several hundred million — but there are a great many similarities between what happened in Detroit earlier this month and what occurred in Springfield nearly a decade ago.

Putting it simply, both cities just bottomed out. Like the elderly woman in that famous TV commercial, they had fallen, and they couldn’t get up, at least not without extraordinary measures — a union-crunching control board in Springfield and a record-setting bankruptcy in the Motor City. And neither development came about overnight; they were both a long time in coming.

Indeed, there are many reasons why these great cities wound up in those somewhat similar situations. Start with mismanagement — Detroit built what amounted to a monorail to nowhere and made promises to unions it knew it couldn’t keep, and Springfield simply spent far more money than it had for way too long. But there was also white flight and the demise of the middle class in both communities, rampant crime, and serious declines in tax revenue as both residents and businesses moved elsewhere.

But maybe the biggest reason why both communities hit bottom with such loud thuds was that what had been entrepreneurial cities — perhaps two of the most entrepreneurial cities in the nation’s history — more or less stopped being entrepreneurial. And this is a lesson that must be learned by communities across the country.

Detroit started with carriages and engines for boats, and eventually, people like Henry Ford started putting engines in carriages, and the fortunes of that city dramatically changed. By the 1950s, nearly 2 million people were calling Detroit home (the population is now down to 700,000) and the city was among the most prosperous in the country.

Springfield started with the Armory, and the spirit of innovation soon spread throughout the city. Entrepreneurs started businesses that made everything from revolvers to toys; ice skates to trolley cars; monkey wrenches to parking meters.

Only a few of those items are still made here, because much of the manufacturing in the Northeast went to southern states or overseas. And the jobs that went with those companies simply haven’t been replaced.

Why? There are many reasons, but a big one is that this region, and Springfield in particular, has put too much emphasis on trying to bring businesses here rather than build businesses here.

It all comes back to being entrepreneurial, a character trait that Springfield, Detroit, and many other struggling cities have lost. And that’s the lesson other former manufacturing centers, including some of the Gateway cities in this region, must learn.

One source of inspiration could be Holyoke, a city that suffered from many of the same problems as Springfield and Detroit, although it has avoided full economic collapse.

There, the city is using the new Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center and an emerging cultural community to begin the process of filling millions of square feet of old mill space with small, often technology-related businesses, related service businesses, apartments, and condos. It will be a slow process, but the outlook is quite promising.

Springfield will have to do something similar, even if an $800 million casino emerges in the tornado-ravaged South End, as MGM hopes it will. That’s because a casino won’t change the city’s fortunes — it will only help change its fortunes.

As for Detroit … well, bankruptcy will offer the opportunity to start over. What the city does with that opportunity remains to be seen, but whatever happens will certainly take decades to emerge.

That’s OK, because it took decades for Detroit, Springfield, and other old industrial cities to complete their fall and hit bottom.

That’s what happens when entrepreneurial cities stop being entrepreneurial.

Features

SpringfieldExtremeWebMakeover-logoThere was a time when companies could reach their full potential without an effective website, but those days are long gone.

Unfortunately, website design — done correctly, anyway — costs money, and it takes time and talent to build a marketing or sales strategy around a web presence. For many small but growing businesses in Greater Springfield, extra money and time aren’t easy to come by.

However, one fortunate business or nonprofit will get a major helping hand from the Greater Springfield Extreme Website Makeover, a promotion sponsored by BusinessWest and DIF Design.

“The idea came to me last year,” said Peter Ellis, president of DIF Design, a web-development company based in the City of Homes. “We do a good amount of pro-bono work and in-kind work, especially for nonprofits. I know, through networking connections in the area, that many companies do a good share of that. So I’m always thinking of new ideas — how can we pull together our creativity and make a bigger splash?”

The result is a contest that will grant one winner — both for-profit businesses and nonprofits are eligible — $25,000 worth of web-design and marketing services from DIF Design and four co-sponsors: the Creative Strategy Agency, Christine Parizo Communications, Hadley Printing, and viz-bang! The goal is to help a deserving enterprise raise its online presence and help usher it to the next level.

“The idea is similar to Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, in that we’re pulling together resources,” Ellis said, noting that the companies involved in the project will provide services ranging from copywriting and printing to videography and social-media strategy.

“It’s a collaboration of creative minds in the area,” he added. “So if you can’t afford a website or the services involved, all these people will get a whole project finalized for you; it’s not just designing a website.”

Any business or nonprofit may be nominated, as long as it’s located in the Greater Springfield region and has fewer than 15 employees. In addition, nominees must either have no website, or a site that has not been updated for at least two years.

The nomination form may be found at the contest website, springfieldmakeover.com. The deadine for submissions is Sept. 23.

All nominations will be judged by a panel of independent judges working in different creative and business fields, Ellis explained. “One might have a marketing background, or a website background, or a technological background, and so forth, and some will have business backgrounds. The goal is to announce the winner at the Western Mass. Business Expo in November.”

That event, scheduled for Nov. 6 at the MassMutual Center in downtown Springfield, is BusinessWest’s premier business-to-business event. The third annual event will feature more than 100 exhibitors, seminars on timely issues, breakfast and lunch programs, and a event-capping networking social.

Ellis noted that he’s pleased to help organize a contest that brings together talent from different fields to benefit a deserving business or nonprofit.

“Collectively, I know we can make a bigger impact,” he said. “The hope is to do this annually — not only to promote collaboration between local creative businesses, but to give back to the community by giving someone an opportunity they might not otherwise have.”

 

— Joseph Bednar

Law Sections
New WNE Law Dean Says Schools Must Adjust to a Changed Climate

Eric Gouvin

Eric Gouvin says the consensus among those in legal academia is that the nation’s law schools have been “making too many lawyers for too long.”

Eric Gouvin was asked to comment on the challenges moving forward for all law schools, but especially the one at Western New England University (WNE), which he now serves as dean.

But to do so properly, he said he first needed to discuss the recent past and touch on some trends and statistics that define a changed landscape, one that came about due to many factors that he summed up by saying, “we’ve been making too many lawyers for too long.”

The ‘we’ in this case is the nation’s 201 American Bar Assoc.-accredited law schools, said Gouvin, who took the helm at WNE Law on July 1 following a short search in which he was the only real candidate (more on that later). He said these institutions readily accepted large numbers of students until quite recently, and considered such an action a responsible reply to then-long-standing laws of supply and demand when it came to the legal profession.

But those laws were changing through the first decade of this century, he went on, with a profound adjustment coming after the economy turned south in dramatic fashion just over five years ago. Over the past 10 years, and especially the past five, increasing numbers of law-school graduates have encountered difficulty finding work in their chosen profession, and this development has led to swift and profound changes in the numbers of people applying to law schools — and the numbers accepted — as would-be candidates increasingly question the return on investment in a juris doctor degree.

At WNE, for example, the school was accepting roughly 150 individuals into its day (full-time) program each year until recently, said Gouvin, noting that the number for this fall will be around 90, 40% fewer than that previous benchmark. This decline (reflective of what’s happening nationally) brings fiscal challenges for the school, prompts a host of questions about what could — or will — happen next, and even invites speculation about for how long there will still be 201 ABA-accredited law schools.

How all this came about is the subject of a compelling, if somewhat controversial, book called Failing Law Schools, authored by Brian Tamanaha, a law professor, former law-school dean, and legal theorist who admits he did some of the things he now criticizes. In a nutshell, Tamanaha contends that, in the wake of the Great Recession and its significant impact on graduates and, subsequently, law school applications, there is now solid evidence to support what many had believed for some time — that law schools, many of them desperate for high rankings in U.S. News & World Report, were luring applicants to their campuses with false promises of employment and high salaries, leaving them in considerable debt and, overall, creating “a systemic mismatch between graduates and jobs.”

Gouvin has read the book, as most in legal academia have, and doesn’t necessarily disagree with some of its main arguments — or its broad assessment of what law schools must do now.

In the current climate, he said, law schools in general, and his in particular, must do something about that mismatch by focusing on making fewer lawyers (until the market dictates otherwise), and lawyers better prepared to succeed in the marketplace.

“Law schools, in general, have not done a great job of preparing their graduates to enter the profession,” he explained. “They learn a lot of law, and that’s handy, because lawyers should know the law. But there’s so much more to being a lawyer than knowing the law.

“We want to have a graduating class that’s matched more closely to the realistic prospects for employment,” he went on, “but also a class that is graduating with the tools necessary to practice law.”

Meanwhile, in response to the fiscal challenges presented by declining enrollment, the school will implement strategies to hone or create what Gouvin called “degrees that people who won’t practice law might find useful.”

Elaborating, he said that WNE already has in place some master of law degrees (LLMs), including a popular offering in estate planning and elder law, and another in closely held businesses. These are designed for practicing lawyers looking to gain expertise in those areas, he said, adding that the school is looking to build on these offerings with new master of jurisprudence degrees. Now in the planning stages, they would be designed for professionals in non-law areas who could benefit from knowing some law.

For this issue and its focus on law, BusinessWest talked at length with the new dean at WNE Law about his strategic plan for the future and how to position the school for success in what are clearly changing times.

 

Making His Case

In 2001, the last time Western New England went about conducting a search for a law-school dean, Gouvin, who joined the institution’s faculty in 1991, chaired the committee that eventually chose Arthur Gaudio, then with the University of Wyoming School of Law.

This time, Gouvin made a committee unnecessary.

Retracing the events of the past several months, he said that, by late this past winter, he was being recruited by several law schools searching for deans. He eventually became a semi-finalist for the post at the University of New Mexico and one of three candidates invited for a final interview at Northern Kentucky University. He came away from that session thinking he had cinched a new professional mailing address.

“I thought it went so well that they were going to offer me the job on the way to the airport,” he recalled with a laugh.

That didn’t happen, and while NKU was still mulling its options, faculty members at WNE, wary of losing Gouvin, were talking to Gaudio about accelerating his announced intentions to join them in the classroom.

This set in motion a chain of events — including interviews and a formal presentation to administrators at WNE — that had Gouvin canceling further out-of-town interviews and eventually moving his many books, including Failing Law Schools and several biographies of Henry Ford, and an impressive collection of 1975 Boston Red Sox memorabilia, down the hall instead of halfway across the country.

As he talked with BusinessWest while still in the process of moving into his new office, he said there are a number of items on his to-do list. The first is introducing, or re-introducing, himself to the law school’s many constituencies — students, faculty, alums, and community partners — in his new capacity, which he likened to being the CEO of a company.

“Anything that someone who runs an organization is responsible for — from personnel to finance to keeping the lights on and the doors open — that’s all on my desk,” he explained. “I’m responsible for making all the pieces come together — alumni functions, career services, admissions, compliance, the academic piece, and all the other moving parts.

“When you’re sitting in the dean’s seat, you have a different perspective on how everything is or should be, as opposed to when you’re looking at it from a faculty member’s point of view,” he continued. “You begin to see the bigger picture and how it all has to fit together.”

There are several other matters at hand, he said, including annual discussions about classes and potential additions, and the honing of programs, such as the university’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which he led prior to becoming dean.

But the most pressing matter, obviously, is crafting a comprehensive response to the dramatically altered landscape he described, an assignment facing the leaders of virtually every law school in the country, he said, stressing, again, that this is a nationwide phenomenon.

The severity of the situation is driven home by statistics showing that, in 2004, there were 100,000 applications to those 201 law schools, and during this most recent admissions cycle, the number was roughly half that — 54,000, with only speculation about when and even if that figure will start trending upward.

The reasons for this precipitous decline are many, and they come back to ROI, say industry analysts, noting that, in recent years, college students and those in many professions have become increasingly skeptical about whether a law degree is a ticket to success (a dramatic change in outlook from 40 or even 20 years ago), especially when many graduates are towing huge amounts of debt as they leave the commencement stage.

The situation resulted mostly from what observers have called ‘overproduction,’ or too much supply, of lawyers. And this became a vicious cycle at many schools. Desperate for high rankings in U.S. News & World Report, which were determined in large part by per-pupil spending, Tamanaha charges, many law schools greatly increased tuition and continued to accept large numbers of students, putting graduates heavier into debt and injecting them into a job market they couldn’t crack.

Thus, changing current perceptions about a JD is among the many challenges facing law schools, said Gouvin, adding that this can come about only with direct evidence that the employment landscape is changing, and for WNE, this means enabling more graduates to thrive in the job market.

 

Giving Testimony

In this altered environment, law schools must change and adapt, and for many this will be a tall order, said Gouvin, who believes WNE is better positioned to handle that assignment than many others, primarily because it has already started the process, and has historically been at or ahead of the curve when it comes to preparing graduates for the workplace.

Part of the equation is simply limiting enrollment, he noted.

“Finding jobs for 90 people is a lot easier than finding jobs for 150,” he explained, adding that, if he’s right in this thinking, both the graduating students and the law school will benefit. “Law schools are going to be judged by how well they’re placing their students, and that’s why we have to make sure we’re doing as much as we can to support our students.”

Eventually, the job market will improve and demand for a law degree will increase, he went on, citing factors that include everything from the rising U.S. population, which will likely create the need for more legal services and professionals who can provide them, to the simple fact that many of those who joined the profession when it was exploding in the early and mid-’70s, will soon be retiring.

In the meantime, though, law schools must contend with the present challenge of making graduates better able to put their law degree to effective use.

“I want to make us even more focused on what we’ve always done,” Gouvin told BusinessWest, “and that’s prepare students to enter the practice of law, mostly at small to medium-sized firms in small to medium-sized cities in the Northeast.

“I think we can do better at making students practice-ready — a lot of law schools don’t even try,” he continued. “And they’re only now starting to come around to it.”

One key to making graduates more prepared for the workplace is experiential learning opportunities, which WNE provides in a number of ways, said Gouvin, adding that more than 75% of graduates take advantage of these opportunities, and he wants to push that number higher.

Programs include internships, externships, and clinics, he said, adding that the school has the strategic advantage of being the only law school in Western Mass. that gives its students solid opportunities to work with area judges at all levels of the judicial system, from district to federal.

Meanwhile, there are several clinics, or programs that give students the opportunity to work with area residents and businesses under the guidance of legal professionals and professors. The current roster includes clinics in small business, housing, real estate, international human rights, and other areas.

“We do take seriously the idea that students ought to know what lawyers do and why they do it,” he said, “and we’re going to make even more changes to enforce that message.”

While working to improve the job prospects of students, WNE Law and its new dean must also devise strategies for coping with the sharp reduction in tuition revenue that comes when incoming classes are 40% smaller than they were only five years ago.

“That’s a real challenge — tuition is a huge driver,” said Gouvin, noting that, after scholarships and other forms of direct aid are subtracted, most students are paying roughly $25,000 to attend the school.

Cutbacks to faculty have been minimal because of a few recent retirements, he said, but long-term, the school needs to replace at least some of the lost revenue, and one strategy is to create more and better programs that will attract those who don’t intend to practice law but can benefit from some of the skills imparted on those who do.

Those aforementioned master of jurisprudence degrees are another emerging trend, he noted, adding that several law schools, such as the one at Drake University in Iowa, have added such programs, and more are exploring similar options.

WNE is in the early developmental stages of such programs, said Gouvin, who was reluctant to offer details but did say they represent opportunities for the law school to broaden its student base.

“There are a number of professionals in non-law areas, such as insurance, financial planning, and accounting, who need to know quite a bit of law, but they’re not going to practice law,” he noted. “We’re exploring options to provide something of value to these individuals.”

 

Final Arguments

Looking ahead, Gouvin said the questions hanging over every law school in the country concerns when the situation regarding supply and demand will improve, and to what degree.

“Demand was artificially depressed during the downturn — this was a period of unprecedented economic disaster. As the economy improves, I think we’re going to find what we always find when the economy improves — that we’re going to need more attorneys.”

Until that time comes, though, law schools must be diligent, creative, and ever more focused on helping graduates succeed.

And the new dean at WNE believes the school is certainly up for that challenge.

 

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