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Despite Rough Start in Division I, Optimism Abounds for UMass Football

John McCutcheon

John McCutcheon says the move to Division I doesn’t come without risk, but the potential rewards are great.

One win, 11 losses.

That’s not a record many football teams would celebrate, but the UMass Minutemen see the 2012 campaign differently: as a floor from which there’s nowhere to go but up.

After all, this was a squad coming off a down year in 2011, then moving to the Mid-American Conference (MAC) and competing for the first time in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS), also known as Division I.

It was a move, John McCutcheon said, that was a long time coming.

“The level at which we participate in football has been talked about on this campus for probably 25 years,” said McCutcheon, athletic director at UMass Amherst. “Several studies were done, all of them, for the most part, saying the same thing: as the state’s flagship campus, UMass football should be positioned at the highest level, just like we’ve done with basketball, hockey, and other sports.”

To accomplish that goal, he went on, the school had to find the right conference, tackle some significant facility improvements which sent the team to Gillette Stadium in Foxboro for home games (more on that later), and put together a long-term financial model that made sense.

“As with any decision of this magnitude, many agreed with this — obviously, we presented it to the trustees, who supported it unanimously — and some didn’t,” McCutcheon said. “We understand that, and that’s a healthy process. There are folks following this who want to see how we are doing with this transition. We take that seriously. It’s a big move for us and does not come without risk. Our job is to make sure we manage this as efficiently as possible, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

John Sinnett, assistant athletic director, added that UMass is widely known for its educational offerings and research prowess, and the rest of its athletic department is regarded at a similar caliber. “To have football stuck in the I-AA level wasn’t accomplishing much for the mission of the university.”

The move to Division I, he noted, offers income streams that don’t exist at the I-AA level, specifically bowl and television revenue. Meanwhile, “with all the conference realignment that has gone on, this move is also geared toward the next 20 years, not just right now. It could lead to an opportunity to be in a larger conference that has more financial benefits for the university. So this is a multi-layered, multi-decade project.”

McGuirk Stadium on the UMass campus

McGuirk Stadium on the UMass campus will be ready for Division I play in the fall of 2014, when home games will be split between Amherst and Foxboro.

Right now, however, Head Coach Charley Molnar’s team has more immediate goals, such as improving on that one-win season and drawing larger crowds to Gillette while the on-campus McGuirk Stadium continues to undergo extensive renovations. As BusinessWest discovered, hopes are high on both fronts.

 

Playing Catchup

Moving the Minutemen to the FBS made so much sense, McCutcheon said, that many casual sports fans thought they already played at that level.

“The irony is, outside of Massachusetts, most people in the country thought we were Division I already, and they were surprised when they learned we were I-AA, because of the perception of our men’s basketball presence. And being the state university for Massachusetts, it’s probably where we should have been.”

The team slated its non-conference schedule ambitiously, but regional rival UConn shut the Minutemen out 37-0 in week one, followed by 45-6 and 63-13 losses, respectively, to the Big Ten’s Indiana and Michigan, the latter a top-20 power. The games got more competitive during the MAC portion of the schedule, including a 22-14 triumph over winless Akron, but the final tally was still 1-11.

Sinnett noted that, while FBS universities can offer 85 football scholarships, compared to 64 in I-AA, the only players specifically recruited as Division I prospects were freshmen in 2012. Over the next few years, that number will rise, while each class of FBS recruits gains in experience, so, theoretically, the team should show marked improvement each year.

“You’re going to have a culture of athletes who understand what it takes, understand what the competition is like, who are better-suited mentally and physically to play at that level of competition,” he said. “But there’s still a learning curve.”

“Remember,” added McCutcheon, “those scholarships go to incoming freshmen. In football, it takes awhile for a freshman to mature physically and contribute on the field.”

He added that Molnar has made an effort to recruit from both inside and outside the Commonwealth.

“Charley has put great emphasis on recruiting the state of Massachusetts; he’s doing a great job keeping players close to home. But we know that, for any program to compete at the national level, you have to reach beyond the immediate boundaries. That’s true for all schools. Kids from New Jersey don’t necessarily want to stay in New Jersey, and Massachusetts kids don’t always want to stay in Massachusetts. Some recruits are looking for a more urban situation, and some, a more rural situation. We all have strengths and weaknesses, and for each recruit, we’re trying to match up with their needs.”

Sinnett said the program will do a better job meeting its financial projections this year as well, because for the first time, it will share in bowl and television revenue from the MAC, and road games against Wisconsin and Kansas State will reap the program $900,000 and $750,000, respectively. Other high-profile, big-payout road games have been scheduled for the next several seasons as well, including Penn State in 2014 ($850,000), Notre Dame in 2015 ($1 million), and Florida in 2016 ($1.25 million).

“Any time you do long-range forecasting, you have to make adjustments as you go along which reflect real life,” McCutcheon said, noting that TV and bowl revenues and the aforementioned road payouts will be higher than originally anticipated, while corporate support of the program has some room for improvement. “Our projections of increased revenues are significant, and I think that, overall, we have a very solid financial plan for the future.”

 

Travel Plans

Plans to improve home-game attendance, meanwhile, are equally crucial, if not moreso.

UMass struck a five-year deal with Gillette to host games there to accommodate the McGuirk renovations, which include a new press box, visitor boxes, training facilities, and handicapped-access upgrades, all required by the NCAA for Division I programs. McGuirk will be ready for action in 2014, and for that season through 2016, home games will be divided between Amherst and Foxboro.

“The concept was originally misunderstood by many,” McCutcheon said. “Some people thought we were leaving [McGuirk] and never coming back. That was never the intent.”

But playing home games 100 miles from campus posed real issues last season, when attendance at Gillette averaged under 11,000 per game. That’s a concern, because the NCAA requires FBS schools to average 15,000 spectators per home game at least once every two years; if it doesn’t meet that goal, the school is ineligible for a bowl game the following year and is placed on probation for a decade.

But there is reason to believe average attendance will reach 15,000 this season, Sinnett said. For one thing, UMass was stuck last year playing the day after Thanksgiving — a MAC tradition, but a tough draw. The Minutemen played in front of just 6,000 fans that afternoon, but they will not host a Black Friday game this year, which should boost their per-game average.

Also, he noted, “we have more name-brand teams — we’re bringing in Vanderbilt, an SEC team which went to a bowl game last year. People will be excited to see that. Maine will bring in a lot of people. And I think the team will be better this year, which helps.” Group sales, corporate partnerships, and season-ticket sales are all on the upswing, he added.

Looking down the road, “we feel pretty confident in future home games against UConn and BC. Those regional rivalries will help attendance,” Sinnett added. In fact, UMass would like to develop a tradition of playing non-conference games against those regional players, as well as New Hampshire and Rhode Island, to cultivate a culture of New England football that will benefit all the schools.

Meanwhile, McCutcheon praised the atmosphere and amenities at Gillette. “The facility itself is state-of-the-art; you’re not going to find a better venue. Also, it’s very close to a large percentage of our alumni base. More than 100,000 alumni live within a half-hour of Gillette, while 20,000 live within a half-hour of Amherst. We’re basically getting closer to our alumni.

“The challenge is, a lot of these folks haven’t been engaged with our program, being in the eastern part of the state, so we’re trying to make them more aware of what we’re doing, more invested in the program,” he continued. “It takes some time to get into people’s heads. We realize the Boston market is a tough market — it’s traditionally pro-oriented — and we’re going to have to pick away at it and carve out a niche.”

Sinnett agreed, noting that “people who went to games at Gillette really enjoyed the experience. People who sat in the club seats really loved that atmosphere.”

When the games start rotating in 2014, he noted, UMass football will be serving two distinct fan bases — Boston-area alums and fans who enjoy visiting Gillette, and students and fans in and around Amherst who love the pageantry of on-campus games and the tradition of McGuirk.

“Having that flexibility will really help us,” he told BusinessWest. “Say we have a big game against UConn or BC; we can do that at Gillette, and we can shoot for 30,000 to 40,000 fans. If it’s a midweek game on ESPN against a team from the MAC, we can play that at McGuirk. I think families in Eastern Mass. will love the games at Gillette, love the amenities, love the experience, while Western Mass. fans might not want to travel to Gillette, because that’s a long day. It adds a lot of flexibility for fans.”

 

Winning Spirit

McCutcheon repeatedly emphasized that, from a timing perspective, the move to the FBS was a good decision.

“An opportunity with the MAC came forward, Gillette solves our immediate facility needs, and we felt, looking at all those things, the financials made sense for us,” he said. “The road we are on now is more challenging. We never said football would be 100% self-supporting; no sports are. But we felt that it would be more self-supporting [in Division I] than it would be otherwise.

“We think it was the right move to make,” he concluded. “I still believe that 100% today. But it’s going to take some time and effort. Coach Molnar is making progress, but it takes a little time; it doesn’t happen overnight. There are no shortcuts. You have to stay committed, stay focused, but I do think, in the long run, it will be a great opportunity for our university.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

 

Sections Travel and Tourism
Springfield Seeks State Designation for a Cultural District
Kay Simpson

Kay Simpson says creation of a cultural district will help Springfield brand its many attractions, while spurring economic development.

Evan Plotkin equated it to a business hanging out a sign that reads “under new management.”

Though he quickly acknowledged that the analogy isn’t perfect — the city hasn’t actually changed leadership at the top, and won’t for at least a few more years — he went ahead with it anyway, because he considers it an effective way to talk about what the creation of a cultural district in Springfield can and likely will do for the community.

“Business owners put out an ‘under new management’ sign on a restaurant, for example, when they want to change the dynamic,” said Plotkin, president of NAI Plotkin and a prime mover in ongoing efforts to revitalize and promote the city’s downtown. “They do it because they want people to know that something has changed, something’s different, something’s better — that people should want to come there again.”

Creating a cultural district can do very much the same thing for Springfield, he went on, noting that it will help the city brand itself and its many cultural attractions and, in many ways, give people a reason to give the community a look — or another look.

Kay Simpson agreed. She’s the vice president of Springfield Museums and one of the primary architects of a proposed cultural district that would cover several blocks downtown and include everything from the Armory Museum to the Paramount; from the Community Music School to the five museums in the Quadrangle; from Symphony Hall to the clubs on Worthington Street.

The formal application for creation of the district was sent to the Mass. Cultural Council (MCC) on Aug. 15, said Simpson, who literally knocked on some wood as she talked about what she considers decent odds that the city will join Pittsfield, Easthampton, Lowell, Gloucester, and other cities gaining state designation for a cultural district.

“This is a great tool for promoting the arts,” she said, adding that, beyond building awareness of the city’s attractions, creation of a cultural district will also better position the city for funding from such organizations as the National Endowment for the Arts, and also spur economic development. “A district can stimulate business, especially creative-economy businesses.”

Her optimism about the proposal’s chances is based on comments made by MCC officials who have walked the planned district already and provided input on the application and how it should be written, and also on the large volume of attractions and institutions packed into the multi-block area identified in the map to the right.

Springfield Cultural District Map loRes 5“It’s remarkable when you consider how many major cultural institutions are located in the downtown area,” she said. “This is not a huge geographic area, but there is a dense concentration of cultural assets.”

David Starr concurred. The president of the Republican and chair of the city’s Cultural Coordination Committee described the planned district as a “true gem,” and said its creation will provide new and potent opportunities to increase awareness of the city’s cultural amenities and build on that foundation.

“The problem has always been that these institutions never got the outside recognition that they deserved,” he explained, referring to the museums in the Quadrangle, the symphony, and other organizations. “A cultural district will help sell them and help brand them to not just the local area, but people outside this region.”

For this issue and its focus on travel and tourism, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at the proposed cultural district and what its architects believe it can do for the city and its ongoing efforts to revitalize the downtown area.

 

Mapping Out a Strategy

The MCC’s Cultural Districts Initiative was authorized by an act of the state Legislature in 2010 and launched in 2011.

It was inspired by mounting evidence that thriving creative sectors stimulate economic development, said Simpson, noting that the prevailing theory has been that such districts attract artists, cultural organizations, and entrepreneurs, while helping specific communities create or strengthen a sense of place.

“By having the cultural-district designation, you’re creating an environment where all kinds of businesses can come into an area,” she explained. “These creative-economy businesses include everything from art galleries to graphic-design enterprises to coffee shops and restaurants.

“You’re creating a brand for a community,” she went on, “so that people from outside that community know that, if they go to the cultural district in Springfield, there’s going to be a lot for them to do. They can go to museums, see historic monuments and sites, and have lots to do in terms of both the visual arts and the performing arts.”

There are currently 17 cultural districts across the state, with more being proposed. They have been established in Barnstable, Boston, Cambridge, Concord, Easthampton, Essex, Gloucester (which has two), Lowell, Lynn, Marlborough, Natick, Orleans, Pittsfield, Rockport, Sandwich, and Shelburne Falls.

Springfield’s proposed cultural district would be bordered by East Columbus Avenue, Bliss Street, Stockbridge Street, High Street, Federal Street, Pearl Street, Dwight Street, Lyman Street, and Frank B. Murray Street, according to a prepared summary.

That section is home to number of cultural attractions and institutions, including the Springfield Armory National Historic Site, the Quadrangle, the historic Mattoon Street area, the MassMutual Center, Symphony Hall, CityStage, the Paramount, and the Community Music School, said Simpson, adding that it also includes several parks, some retail areas, and a number of restaurants, clubs, and hotels.

One of the required traits of a district, as set down by the MCC, is that it be walkable, said Simpson, noting that, while this comparatively large area — which officials originally thought might encompass two districts — constitutes a “good walk,” it meets that stipulation.

Most of the existing cultural districts have names that identify a specific neighborhood, landmark, or street. Easthampton’s, for example, is called the Cottage Street Cultural District, a nod to the many former mills and storefronts on that thoroughfare that have become home to arts-related businesses and agencies. Meanwhile, Lowell’s Canalway District takes its name from an historic section of that former textile-manufacturing center, which has also become a center for the cultural community, and spotlights the city’s most enduring character trait — its canals.

Those leading the drive for Springfield’s district recently ran a contest to name it; submissions are currently being weighed by a panel of judges, and a winner is to be announced soon.

By whatever name the district takes, it is expected to become a point of reference for Springfield, a vehicle for branding the City of Homes, and a source of momentum as the community seeks to build its creative economy and, overall, bring vibrancy to a long-challenged section of the city, said Plotkin.

In a big-picture sense, the broad goal behind the cultural district is to change the conversation about Springfield, he went on, adding that, in recent years, most of the talk has been about financial struggles (the city was run by a control board for several years), crime, poverty, and high dropout rates in the city’s high schools.

“This cultural district will build a sense of community,” he noted. “It will help break down some of those walls that people have about Springfield, including the sense that we’re a broken city with low self-esteem.

“We have to break out of that and build some pride and some community,” he went on. “We have to start doing things that will really change the city, and I believe a cultural district will do that. Doing this can help to start changing the conversation about Springfield and about what we really are culturally and what we have here.”

It can also help make a community more visible — and attractive — to those looking for landing spots for a company or sites for everything from day trips to meetings and conventions, said Simpson, who said creation of a cultural district in Boston’s Fenway area has apparently done all that.

“In the Fenway, they’ve said they have seen an increase in occupancy rates in office buildings and storefronts since the cultural district was created,” she said, noting that the area, home to several museums and other attractions, is in many ways similar to downtown Springfield. “Meanwhile, it has created for them the sense that they’re more recognized in terms of gaining political support.”

 

Sign of the Times

Springfield will probably find out sometime this fall if its proposal for a cultural district has been accepted by the MCC, said Simpson.

If all goes as those behind this initiative believe it will, then the city will soon have a new vehicle for marketing itself and perhaps making some real progress in ongoing efforts to change some of the perceptions about the community.

In other words, the ‘under new management’ sign can go on the door. It will then be up the city to make the most of that development. n

 

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

 

Features
Expo Seminars to Identify Paths and Obstacles to Growth

Duane Cashin says the Internet has — or should have — changed the way people approach selling.

“These days, when people want to buy something, they enter that process with a ton of information,” said Cashin, owner of Hartford-based Cashin & Co. and a noted expert in the areas of prospecting, sales process, and sales management. “With the Internet, people can thoroughly research things — consumers are more informed than ever, and that impacts the way people should sell.”

This development is one of many that Cashin will discuss in a program he calls “The Future of Sales and the Adjustments You Need to Make” — although he acknowledged that, in many ways, the future is now.

His talk is one of a dozen seminars now on the slate for the Western Mass. Business Expo, set for Nov. 6 at the MassMutual Center in downtown Springfield, an event expected to draw more than 150 exhibitors and 3,000 visitors.

Other topics to be explored include everything from immigration law to cold calling; from the emerging workforce in this country to raising a company’s profile through YouTube.

And then, there are the “Emdees.” That’s the name that Amesbury-based McDougall & Duval Advertising Agency has given to a program — in the form of an awards ceremony — involving examples of the best and worst uses of social media.

“There are many issues and challenges involved with operating a business, large or small, today,” said Kate Campiti, associate publisher of BusinessWest, which is once again presenting the Expo. “And as we approached this year’s event and its educational component, which is an important part of the show, we wanted to address some of these challenges and give business owners and managers information they could take to the office or the plant the next day.”

The seminars, which will run from 9:15 a.m. to 4 p.m., are grouped into three tracks — Sales & Marketing, Social Media, and Business Management — and are designed to be as interactive as possible, said Campiti, adding that the roster of programs was compiled after careful consideration of several dozen submitted proposals.

The full schedule of seminars is currently posted on the show’s website, www.wmbexpo.com. The programs to be presented include:

• “How TV and Social Media Have Affected Media Consumption,” presented by representatives of Comcast Spotlight;

• “Beyond an Entrepreneur,” presented by Paul DiGrigoli, president of DiGrigoli Salons and a noted motivational speaker;

• “Make an Impact with Multichannel Marketing,” presented by Tina Stevens, president of Stevens 470;

• “Leading Change,” presented by Lynn Whitney Turner and Ravi Kulkarni, principals with Clear Vision Alliance;

• “Am I Wasting Money and Time Doing Social Media?” presented by Paul Stallman, owner of Alias Solutions; and

• “Branding Bootcamp,” to be led by Meghan Lynch, president of Six-Point Creative Works.

Campiti said additional components of the Expo program, including breakfast and lunch speakers and other presentations, are being finalized, and will be announced in future issues of BusinessWest and posted on the website.

The day-long event will conclude with the Expo Social, which has become a not-to-be-missed networking opportunity since it was first staged at the 2011 Expo.

Comcast Business is once again the presenting sponsor for the Expo. Other sponsors include ABC 40/Fox 6, Health New England, and Johnson & Hill Staffing Services. Additional sponsorship opportunities are still available.

Fast Facts:
What: The Western Mass. Business Expo
When: Nov. 6
Where: The MassMutual Center, Springfield
Highlights: Breakfast and lunch programs; keynote speakers; educational seminars; Expo Social; more than 150 exhibitors
For More Information: Visit
www.wmbexpo.com or call (413) 781-8600.
 

Opinion
‘Tech Tax’ Imperils State’s Growth

The prevailing opinion is that Florida Gov. Rick Scott didn’t do Massachusetts any favors recently when he sent out letters to 100 Bay State companies essentially inviting them to explore the Sunshine State and discover why it makes sense to move operations there.

Actually, however, he did the state a huge favor.

He reminded everyone on Beacon Hill of something they probably knew — although they don’t act like it: that business owners have options when it comes to choosing where to locate or launch, and Massachusetts is increasingly looking like a less-attractive option.

The timing of Scott’s letter coincides with implementation of the Bay State’s so-called ‘tech tax,’ or software tax, a levy on ‘computer software design services,’ a controversial measure that is being fought by business owners, economic-development groups, legislators, and other constituencies that understand that it is arbitrary, confusing, and threatens to stifle one of the strongest pillars of the state economy.

But the tech tax is just part of the story. The larger piece is that this state continues to believe that it can tax and spend without consequence. The truth is that it can’t, and Rick Scott’s aggressive actions simply provide more proof of that.

But let’s back up a minute.

Massachusetts is still an attractive state in which to live, work, and do business. There is an enviable quality of life here, dozens of fine colleges and universities, a host of cities and towns that could — and often do — make those ‘best places to live’ lists, and a strong, educated workforce.

Maintaining all this takes resources, and for the past several decades, elected officials have essentially said that the only way they want to amass these resources is through new and different ways to tax individuals and businesses.

Indeed, in addition to the tech tax, the state recently implemented higher levies on cigarettes and gasoline. You can go to those wells only so often (although, in this state, we do so frequently), so to fund needed infrastructure and transportation programs, the state looked in a different direction — its burgeoning tech sector and the services it provides.

This new levy might truly be a lucrative source of tax revenue (that’s might; no one really seems to know how much it will generate), but its implementation shows — again — that legislative leaders are shortsighted and unable to grasp the big picture.

Forty-six states don’t have tech taxes, and for one big reason: they’re trying to grow that sector, which is one of a few with vast potential for creating new jobs in the years and decades to come. Massachusetts leaders know this well — they’ve seen it first-hand — but they’re acting as if they’re taking this sector for granted and that they don’t take people like Rick Scott seriously.

They should.

And they can show that they mean business — in both a literal and figurative sense — by taking steps to indicate that they know and care about the fact that business owners really do have options. The place to start is with a move to repeal the tech tax, which threatens everything from the growth of existing companies to the prospects for new tech startups.

And from there, the legislature can take additional steps to counter what is perhaps the strongest line in Scott’s letter: “it’s bound to get worse in Massachusetts.”

Like we said, Scott did the state a favor. Let’s see if Massachusetts is smart enough to take advantage of that.

Health Care Sections
The Entering Class at Baystate Has a Decidedly Regional Feel

Dr. Margo Rockwell

Dr. Margo Rockwell is one of many residents at Baystate who have ‘moved back home’ this summer.

Dr. Margo Rockwell says she recently came across a journal she kept while winding her way through the eighth grade.
She said she just happened to open the book to an entry that today seems loaded with prescience — and irony.
“I hurt my ankle playing soccer, and so I came to the hospital,” she said, paraphrasing what she put down on paper 17 years ago. “I talked about going up to the NICU [neonatal intensive-care unit, where her father, Gary, worked as a neonatologist], where my dad showed me around, and I saw all the babies. And I wrote, ‘maybe someday I’ll be able to work at the NICU — I think that would be fun.’”
Well, that day is here. Sort of.
Rockwell is now a pediatric resident at Baystate Medical Center, and will undertake a rotation in the NICU sometime within the next year. She’s also one of an unusually large number of people who grew up in this region who are part of the new class of residents at Baystate and started work just about a month ago.
Indeed, Rockwell said she found her journal after “moving back home,” a phrase that many at Baystate are using this summer. In some cases, it means back to the house they grew up in, while for others it simply means Western Mass.
BusinessWest talked recently with four of these local residents — a phrase that certainly has a double meaning — three of whom are in the same field, pediatrics, or ‘peds,’ as it’s called. Their stories vary in some respects, but the common denominator is that on March 15, ‘Match Day’ for thousands of medical students across the country, they were thrilled to get the news that they would be coming back to this region.
Dr. Adam Kasper

Dr. Adam Kasper, who recently moved back into his childhood bedroom, says Baystate was his first preference when ranking hospitals for his residency.

“I was born here, and my mother was an RN here,” said Dr. Adam Kasper, a 2005 graduate of East Longmeadow High School. He would go on to Lehigh University and then Temple University Medical School, which still distributes old-fashioned letters in envelopes to let students know where they’ll be going for their residency.
As Kasper opened his, he was confident he’d be staying in this time zone — eight of the 12 teaching hospitals he interviewed with are in the Northeast — but was pleasantly surprised to read simply ‘Baystate Medical Center.’
“I’ve got my old bedroom back,” he said, describing his parents’ home as an intermediate-term living plan. “I plan on moving out in the fall, but it’s very nice to be at home; it made the transition from medical school to residency so much less stressful.”
Dr. Elizabeth Langmore-Avila won’t be moving back to her childhood home, but she will be returning to the area where she grew up — she was born in Blandford — and has already worked professionally in the behavioral-health field.
Dr. Elizabeth Langmore-Avila

Dr. Elizabeth Langmore-Avila says she finds work in behavioral health, and especially with those battling substance abuse, to be professionally rewarding.

She’s called many other places home along the way, though. She went to college at Vassar in New York, then lived in Mexico for a number of years, where she went to drama school and did community work with children. She returned to this country to pursue a master’s degree at Antioch College in Keene, N.H., and then returned to this region to work, settling in Amherst for awhile before heading off to medical school at A.T. Still University in Mesa, Ariz., where she would focus on psychology (more on that later).
Revisiting Match Day, she said she had interviewed at hospitals on both coasts, but Western Mass. was her preferred landing spot.
“I realized that it has a lot to offer in terms of what I’m looking for,” she said, listing both professional opportunities and quality of life. “And I decided I wanted to come back.”
That goal became reality when she woke up after a long night’s work in an emergency room to see a message on her phone left by someone with the prefix 413. It was the director of Baystate’s Psychiatry program offering her a welcome.
For this issue, BusinessWest revisits four such message deliveries and what they meant to those who received them, but also looks ahead with those individuals at where their current experiences in the place they call home might take them.

Meeting Their Match
As Dr. Laura Koenigs, director of the Pediatric Residency Program at Baystate, talked about Match Day, she referenced what she called the “computer in the sky.”
Others we spoke with used similar language, calling it simply “a computer” or “the computer,” or “a very complicated logarithm.” What it is, where it is, and what it’s called, no one seemed to know.
What they did know is that the software program in this computer would somehow determine their fate — for the next four years and possibly for the duration of their careers in medicine.
It’s called Match Day, because that’s when thousands of matches are announced, said Koenigs, adding that both medical students and teaching hospitals that interview them send their preferences for various specialties to that aforementioned computer, which ultimately analyzes a host of factors and determines where each medical-school graduate will go next.
“You rank programs, and the programs rank you, and you get matches — that’s what the computer does,” said Langmore-Avila, adding that med school students first learn if they’ve been matched (and more than 80% are), then must wait five agonizing days to find out which hospital they’ve been matched with.
Teaching hospitals like Baystate will weigh everything from academic performance to Springfield’s climate — “the cold and the dark can really impact some people,” said Koenigs, referring to the region’s long winters — when they submit their preferences. Meanwhile, medical-school students, some of whom will apply to a few dozen hospitals, will have their own criteria and priorities.
This year, the pediatric program took on 12 new residents, with half of them calling Massachusetts home, and four from the Pioneer Valley.
Dr. Shannon Rindone is among them.

Dr. Shannon Rindone

Dr. Shannon Rindone says she gravitated toward pediatrics because she finds the work challenging and rewarding.

She received her diploma from East Longmeadow High School four years before Kasper (“he graduated with my little brother”), and by then had a pretty good idea that she wanted to follow her parents into the healthcare field — her mother is a nurse at Mercy Medical Center, and her stepfather does the same at Cooley Dickinson Hospital.
“I’ve always been surrounded by it,” she said, referring to the world of medicine. “My mother always said I could be whatever I wanted, and when she would bring me to work, I just loved it — I enjoyed talking to the doctors, the nurses, and the patients, and then I wound up working at Mercy myself as a patient-care technician.”
She said she was first drawn to pediatrics, or what she called “the little people,” while working at Cambridge University Hospital in England as a midwife care assistant. (She went overseas to be with her then-fiance as he worked toward his MBA at Cambridge.) She would go on to attend medical school at Nova Southeastern in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and is now a DO, or doctor of osteopathic medicine.
On Match Day, she remembers being nervous and also somewhat jealous when a friend attending another medical school received her news a full half-hour before she did. When the e-mail finally arrived, she saw several words, including her name, but the only one she read, or cared about at that moment, was ‘Baystate.’
“The real preference was to come back home, and this is home,” she said, noting that she interviewed at many institutions, including a few in Florida.
She doesn’t, and couldn’t, know what tackling the rigors of a residency 1,000 miles from home, family, and friends would be like, but she acknowleged that having a support system close by (her mother and Mercy Medical Center are a half-mile away) is comforting.
“But at the same time, after a 16-hour day, sometimes you just want to put your head on a pillow, and your sister may want you to come over for dinner,” she noted. “And that can sometimes be difficult, because it’s hard for everyone to understand that you’re exhausted; you’re home, and they want to see you.”
She told BusinessWest that her career could take one of a number of paths, but she has developed a passion for pediatrics, and has shifted her focus there from her original pursuit, the ob/gyn field.
“I realized that the reason I liked obstetrics and gynecology was because of the family interaction and the baby, the product, at the end,” she explained. “And I really fell in love with just dealing with kids of all ages.”
Currently on the rotation known simply as ‘the wards,’ or the ‘floors,’ Rindone said this involves seeing and treating patients in the Children’s Hospital, and represents a steep learning curve.
On the wards, she encounters children suffering from everything from meningitis to seizure disorders to fever. “It’s hard to see them when they’re like that, but it’s wonderful to know you’re helping them and easing the parents’ anxiety.
“Working with kids makes me smile every day,” she went on, “and you can’t complain about a job that makes you smile.”

Close Calls
Kasper can relate.
He said he was drawn to pediatrics while moving through the core clerkships during his third year of medical school at Temple. These also included internal medicine, surgery, family medicine, ob/gyn, and others, with pediatrics somewhere in the middle.
“I just found that I was more interested in the material,” he said of his chosen specialty. “I actually didn’t mind going home and reading about the topics as much as I did some of the other rotations. I just found that I enjoyed going to the hospital a little more each day — I knew this was where I was supposed to be.”
Elaborating, he said he liked the “patient population,” found his personality is better suited for that field than others, and, overall, considered it both more challenging and more rewarding than other areas of practice.
“The potential impact that you have,” he explained, “is much greater than when you’re treating a 70-year-old who’s been smoking for the past 50 years and has no intention of changing anything he does no matter what you say.”
Currently on the genetics rotation, Kasper said behavioral development is next, and as he looks ahead, he’s eyeing each of the segments with equal amounts of anxious anticipation and “dread about how well I’ll perform in them, because I’m still getting my feet under me and getting used to working at this hospital.
“They’re equally exciting to me right now because I’m entering residency the same way I while I was in medical school,” he continued. “I don’t know exactly where I want to go in pediatrics, so each thing is a possibility.”
Rockwell said she’s in a similar state, one where the options are many and most have yet to be explored in depth.
She segued into medicine while majoring in geology and comparative literature at Hamilton College in New York. “You could write about rocks, I guess,” she said with a laugh when asked what one could do with those degrees, adding quickly that she always had medicine in the back of her mind, did pre-med work at Hamilton, and was an EMT on campus.
She enrolled at the University of New England Medical School in Maine, where, like Kasper, she zeroed in on pediatrics rather late in the game — it was her last rotation, and she found she enjoyed working with children and families.
On Match Day, she was in surgery at a hospital in New York City when the clock struck noon and the results are posted. “The surgeon let me scrub out,” she recalled. “I opened my phone, and it was there in an e-mail: ‘Margo Rockwell; Baystate Medical Center; Pediatrics.’
“You were waiting all year for that e-mail, so it was pretty exciting,” Rockwell went on, adding that pediatric endocrinology was her first rotation, and that two months in the NICU, November and May, lie ahead.
She said she might get to work with her father, although they will likely be on different teams. And in the meantime, he’s been a great resource. “I certainly ask him a lot of questions.”
Meanwhile, Langmore-Avila is working with much older patients in Baystate’s Adult Psychiatric Treatment Unit, the adult inpatient facility at the hospital, one of many rotations she’ll experience this year.
Many of those she sees each day as part of a team of professionals have substance-abuse issues, she said, adding that it was work in this realm several years ago at the Riverbend Medical Group that inspired her to go to medical school and pursue work in that field.
“We admit patients, evaluate them, treat them as necessary, and monitor their progress,” she explained, adding that such individuals are then released either into the community or to a treatment facility.
This is work she finds rewarding on a number of levels, especially when she and other members of a team can change the course of someone’s life.
“I did a lot of substance-abuse treatment before medical school, and found it’s a field that I really like,” she said of her chosen path in healthcare. “It’s very much on the front lines, and it’s an opportunity to help someone who may have hit rock bottom. That’s a tragic state of being for a person, and if I can be there in the moment and try to help someone come out of that, get through that … that’s very important to me; it’s very meaningful.”

Local Flavor
As she walked with BusinessWest to the NICU for a few photos, Rockwell pointed to a small courtyard area where staffers can enjoy a meal or a quiet moment.
“That’s where I used to bring pizza for my dad,” she said, adding that she would often deliver him snacks when he was on call for stints that could last 24 hours or more.
Soon, the two might be sharing lunch or dinner there again, only this time they’ll both be wearing white coats and badges identifying them as doctors.
That journal entry logged all those years ago hasn’t officially come to fruition yet, but the younger Rockwell is a giant step closer to making it all reality.
For now, though, she’s another of Baystate’s local residents, and one of many happy to be back home.

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

Education Sections
MacDuffie’s New Campus in Granby Offers Room for Growth

Steve Griffin, left, and Tom Addicks

Steve Griffin, left, and Tom Addicks say the Granby campus can help create a stronger balance between boarding and day students.

Steve Griffin wasn’t at the MacDuffie School campus on Ames Hill in Springfield when the June 1, 2011 tornado tore through the middle of it, uprooting huge trees and damaging century-old buildings as it moved east.

He started as head of the then-121-year-old school two weeks later, when the institution was still sorting out the damage, adding up the cost, and counting blessings — the tornado hit on the last day of classes, and students and staff took shelter in a basement, with no recorded injuries.

Originally, Griffin’s first assignment when he arrived was to oversee relocation of the school to new quarters on the grounds of the former St. Hyacinth seminary in Granby — a process that started roughly two years earlier — but the tornado changed that plan somewhat. The new first order business would be a healing process.

“We have many tornado stories from the campus,” said Griffin. “And from my standpoint, since I wasn’t here during the storm, I was unaware of the extent of it, but you had people, even a year later, opening file folders and seeing shards of glass fall out.”

But if the memories of the tornado and some of the physical evidence of that day still remain, MacDuffie has certainly moved on from that calamity and some years of economic struggle that preceded it, and the new campus in Granby has greatly facilitated that process.

Indeed, the move represented what Griffin called a “new day” for the institution, and in many respects.

He explained to BusinessWest that the new campus enables the school to market itself more effectively to a much wider audiences — from residents of Hampshire County communities such as Amherst and Northampton, who were previously intimidated by a commute to Springfield, to international students.

The sprawling campus, coupled with recent renovation and expansion efforts, are enabling MacDuffie to continue and expand its respected academic programs, while also making huge strides in efforts to take its athletic programs to a much higher level.

The former St. Hyacinth seminary in Granby

The former St. Hyacinth seminary in Granby offers an environment in which the MacDuffie School can grow, with more classroom space, boarding quarters, and several acres of playing fields.

At the Springfield site, there were no playing fields to speak of, said Tom Addicks, assistant head of school and a math teacher, adding that the school had to make use of various municipal parks and sports facilities. “And here, we have so many playing fields and a very in-depth sports program, and that was very appealing to us.”

The sprawling grounds that roll out like green carpet to the stately stone former seminary offers the classic New England preparatory-school experience that appeals to parents of American and international students, and allows MacDuffie to compete with nearby Wilbraham Monson, Deerfield Academy, and Suffield Academy, said Griffin.

“The site is a real gem; it’s got the ‘look’ when you drive up the drive — ‘majestic’ is a great word for it considering the open space, the pastoral setting,” he noted. “I think parents feel this will be a safe environment for their children to learn, both day students as well as international students.”

And there are now hopes — and high expectations — for growing enrollment in both the day and boarding categories, he went on, adding that enrollment is currently at 246, with a capacity of 270 and a firm resolve to get to that number.

For this issue and its focus on education and going back to school, BusinessWest toured the ‘new’ MacDuffie, and talked at length with administrators about why the new location and facilities will help students grow physically, culturally, and academically.

 

History Lesson

MacDuffie can trace its history back to one of the first graduates of Radcliffe College, Abigail MacDuffie.

In 1890, she and her husband, John, recognized a need in the Greater Springfield area for a strong college-preparatory school that would open doors for women and provide them access to to the same quality education they received at Radcliffe and Harvard, respectively.

They opened the MacDuffie School with 70 girls and quickly earned a reputation for excellence, one that would eventually draw students from across the area and around the world. By 1990, the school had taken on a far more international feel — in many ways out of necessity —  with students from many foreign countries.

By the dawn of the new millennium, however, MacDuffie’s enrollment was falling, and the urban campus in Springfield, one that had charm but was still lacking in facilities, was viewed as one of the main reasons why.

The school’s board quietly began a search for a new, more suburban home, and eventually narrowed that search to the former St. Hyacinth’s, which had become a temporary home to Holyoke Catholic High School.

MacDuffie officials eventually commenced negotiations with Wayne Brewer, who was eyeing the site as home for the planned Granby Preparatory Academy, a facility he blueprinted based on a model very similar to MacDuffie’s. The school would go on to purchase the assets and intellectual property of Brewer’s business.

The school now owns 26 of the 500 acres at the St. Hyacinth’s location, with an additional 29 acres in negotiation. It has invested millions in building infrastructure, sports fields, and classroom improvements — including expanded dance, music, and art facilities — since the summer of 2011. Currently, a new computer lab is under construction within the main academic building, while a new, 400-seat auditorium, more classroom and boarding space, and sports facilities are in the planning stages.

The new location had an immediate and profound impact on enrollment, said Griffin, noting that there were 175 students at MacDuffie in the spring of 2011, and 206 enrolled by the start of classes that fall. The numbers have been steadily rising, due in large part to larger boarding facilities on the St. Hyacinth’s campus, which have enabled more students from overseas to enroll.

“There’s a real international appeal,” said Griffin. “The old campus was limited in its footprint, and we’ve been able to double the boarding population, and that’s just in two years.”

Moving forward, the school wants to grow enrollment in both the day and boarding categories, and create more balance within the student body; currently, 60% of those enrolled are boarding students, while the stated goal is a 50-50 split.

Historically, the school has been known for its performing-arts programs, specifically drama and dance, but is also noted for its math program, Addicks told BusinessWest. But while the academic offerings have never been an issue for the school, broadening its sporting opportunities had historically been a challenge.

The move to Granby has enabled the school to aggressively address such issues, said Addicks, noting that the MacDuffie Mustangs, members of the New England Preparatory School Athletic Council (NEPSAC), have moved to the AA division from the D division, a move made possible by improved facilities and a larger pool of student athletes.

The sports program includes boys and girls soccer, girls volleyball and lacrosse, badminton, cross country, golf, a swim club (which operates out of the Holyoke YMCA), tennis, ultimate Frisbee, and an advanced boys and girls basketball program that is bringing townspeople of Granby to the gymnasium.

“The town is realizing that this is some really high-quality basketball,” said Griffin. “The enhanced facilities have allowed us to broaden our appeal, so to speak.”

And broadening their appeal couldn’t have come at a better time.

“We survived the recession when other independent schools did not,” Griffin said. “However, while some private schools are recession-proof, most parents have to rely on more financial assistance these days.”

With day-school tuition at $20,250 (grades 6-8) and $25,250 (grades 9-12), and boarding tuition at $48,650 for all grades, Griffin and Addicks say MacDuffie’s prices are certainly competitive, and now offer additional value with the facilities at the new campus.

“I think our biggest selling point is the relationship we have between our teachers and our students, and our success at integrating our international students with our day students is a very important part of MacDuffie,” said Addicks.

Added Griffin, “we want our claim to fame to be known as the local full-service educational institution that can offer the individualized attention in a caring community.”

 

Common Ground

The tornado that touched down on June 1, 2011 represented a sad final chapter to MacDuffie’s long history in Springfield.

But as that book was closing, another was getting set to open 15 miles to the north.

The move to Granby was undertaken to give the school that new day that Griffin described, and the opportunity to grow and evolve in ways that were simply not possible on the Ames Hill campus.

Two years after the relocation, the picture is considerably brighter than it had been, and the potential for the future is as vast as the open spaces at MacDuffie’s new mailing address.

 

Elizabeth Taras can be reached at [email protected]

Sections Travel and Tourism
Area Vintners Are Seeing the Fruits of Their Labor

Larry Godard

Larry Godard says a close-knit network of vintners has sprung up organically across the region.

Larry Godard acknowledged that he considers them somewhat backhanded compliments. But he loves hearing them anyway.

“They’ll taste one and look at me and pause and say, ‘this is really good,’ and they emphasize the ‘really good’ part as if they are surprised at the high quality,” said Godard, referring to comments about the labels, including Red Hen Red, he’s now producing at Mineral Hills Winery at the Red Hen Farm in Florence.

Elaborating, he said that many of the growing number of visitors to Mineral Hills are from Connecticut and New York. They are wine connoisseurs, and they’ve been to many small wineries across the Northeast. But Western Mass. is a relatively new destination for many of them, and this is one of the reasons behind many of those ‘really good’ comments.

And Godard’s not the only one hearing them.

Gary and Bobbie Kamen

Millennials are a promising new customer base for Gary and Bobbie Kamen at Mount Warner Winery.

Indeed, he is the sole proprietor of one of a growing number of what could be called start-up vineyards and wineries across the Valley, including Black Birch Winery down the road in Southampton, Amherst Winery in Amherst, Mount Warner Winery in Hadley (which overlooks the UMass Amherst campus), Pioneer Valley Vineyard in Hatfield, Les Trois Emme Vineyard & Winery in New Marlboro in the Berkshires, and several others.

They are all part of something called the Massachusetts Wine & Cheese Trail, overseen by the Mass. Farm Wineries and Growers Assoc. (MFWGA), to which Godard belongs, but could eventually comprise a separate wine trail in the four western counties.

In the meantime, Godard and others like him — individuals with a passion for wine and the means and the inclination to go into business making and selling it — are creating what could be described as a community of vintners, and a close-knit one at that.

“A wine trail is already happening by default,” Godard said, explaining that he’ll send his guests to Black Birch and Amherst Winery, and they will in turn send their visitors along to the other wineries in the area. “We have a nice little cluster right here. In fact, Ian Modestow [partner with Black Birch Winery] came over one day to borrow a cup of yeast, like a neighbor borrowing a cup of sugar.”

Mary Hamel, a partner with Black Birch Winery, also noted the fellowship among the region’s wine makers. “That’s one thing about the wine industry that I think is very cool,” she noted. “You don’t feel like you’re in competition with anyone because we support each other, and the more wineries there are, the better it is for all of us.”

More wineries would seem to be a likelihood in every state because demand is growing, and there are many aging Baby Boomers eyeing wine making as a bridge to full-time retirement. According to the 2012-13 “State of the Wine Industry” report by Silicon Valley Bank, a California financial institution specializing the U.S. wine industry, Millennials and Baby Boomers are the two largest sectors of wine consumers, and consumption rates are growing most rapidly among Millennials and men.

And while a burgeoning wine trail will help the region’s vintners, an official trail will certainly be a boon to the Greater Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau (GSCVB).

Michele Goldberg, director of marketing for the GSCVB, told BusinessWest that, while the Connecticut Vineyard and Wine Assoc., with its established wine trail, is a longtime member, Western Mass. wineries fall perfectly into the emerging ‘farm-to-table’ movement in the tourism industry.

Ed and Mary Hamel

Ed and Mary Hamel of Black Birch Winery have doubled their visitation for wine tastings through great word-of-mouth referrals.

“From a tourism perspective, wine tasting is incredibly popular with groups and for ‘girlfriend getaways,’ and a future wine trail would be a welcome addition to our diverse list of things to do in the Pioneer Valley,” said Goldberg, adding that the tourism bureau is constantly fielding inquiries from meeting planners looking for unique after-hours activities for convention attendees.

For this issue and its focus on tourism, BusinessWest visited with several area vintners to talk about their businesses and their outlook on how wine can become a prominent part of the region’s economy and tourism sector.

 

Heard It Through the Grapevine

The stories beyond the wineries taking root in the Valley all vary, but there are many common denominators.

They were started, in most cases, by professionals who decided to turn a hobby into a business venture. These entrepreneurs had some struggles getting things both in the ground and off the ground, but they’re now seeing the fruits of their labors — in more ways than one. And they all will inevitably use the phrase ‘an art and a science’ to describe the process of making a fine wine.

Godard, former vice president at MassMutual, with his wife, Susan, a schoolteacher, is a great example of today’s vintner whose passion for making wine became his ‘second-life’ business.

They established their 60-acre Mineral Hills farm in 1984, and for years they had a well-established honor-system farm stand offering apples, blueberries, cider, and honey products from Susan’s bees. Soon their hobby grew to include a variety of flavors of wine made from apples, blueberries, and grapes. It was only after Godard retired from MassMutual in 2009 that he decided to “go pro,” as he called it, and turn the winemaking hobby into a full-time venture, launching Mineral Hills Winery in the fall of 2010. Godard now produces wines from French-American hybrid grapes, but also imports European vinifera grapes from California for his reds.

At Black Birch Winery, two couples share various duties to run one of the newest wineries in the area. Florence dentist Ian Modestow is the vintner, while construction and home-inspection-company owner Ed Hamel manages the two acres of new vineyards, with five more acres soon to be cultivated.

Modestow’s wife, Michelle Kersbergen, and Hamel’s wife, Mary Hamel, both dental hygienists, manage the marketing and outreach, but all four partners pitch in wherever needed.

Because the vineyards at Black Birch were planted in 2010 and are young (they still have about two years of maturity until they can be harvested), the proprietors currently source their grapes from Southeastern Mass. or the Finger Lakes region of New York.

Since June 2012, they’ve doubled their visitation, from 650 tastings to 1,480 this August, with wines priced between $16 and $20.

Hamel was one of the many who put ‘art’ and ‘science’ in the same sentence as she talked about wine making. “That’s why Ian is so good at it, because that’s what dentistry is, too,” she explained. “A dentist has to know the science, but has to be an artist to get your tooth to look exactly as it did before.”

The owners of Mount Warner Winery in Hadley — Gary Kamen, a UMass professor of Kinesiology who is in ‘phased retirement,’ and his wife, Bobbie, a strategic planner with AARP — agreed.

“I think the reason I enjoy grape growing and making wine is because they are both part art and part science, probably because of my science background,” said Gary Kamen. “Each person who gets into this business enters it with a different perspective.”

Like Godard and the partners at Black Birch, the Kamens started growing grapes with six cuttings, or vines, in their field in 2000. Soon they were making wine, and, like Godard, they decided to ‘go pro’ in 2010, opening their winery in June 2012. Now, with 725 vines per acre, they have six wines, including two dessert wines priced between $14 and $20.

Les Trois Emme Winery in New Marlborough, owned and operated by Wayne and Mary Jane Eline, is located just south of Ski Butternut in Great Barrington and minutes from the Norman Rockwell Museum and Tanglewood. While the rural town has a residential population of 1,400, it swells to more than 3,000 with tourists and second-home residents from New York.

Wayne Eline is a former chemistry teacher and high-school principal who, like Godard, took his hobby to a whole new level after retirement in 1999. The Elines set their first vines in the dirt in 2000, and by 2003, they were open for business.

“If you’re going to get into it, you’ve got to make it into a real business, rather than just playing games. It didn’t take long to go from where it was to where it is now,” he said, adding that he has tripled his yield over the past decade due to “getting really earnest” about the business in 2009.

The venture now produces 11 to 13 wines, with Stingy Jack Pumpkin, a white wine with a fusion of pumpkin spices, emerging as the most popular.

 

Age-old Tradition

Godard described wine tasting as a very personal experience — for both the taster and the winemaker — and something he’s getting used to as visitation numbers continue to climb.

But he admits that some comments, including those spiced with ‘really good,’ leave him amused and often surprised.

He recalled one visitor from California who commented, “your wines aren’t like our wines,” to which Godard jokingly replied, “that’s like saying your chicken isn’t like our duck.”

The difference, he said, is between French hybrid grapes that grow best in the Northeast, and European vinifera grapes that area vintners source from California, and the two very different climates in which they grow.

“Our wines are different, and they [people from California] should have learned their lesson, because they were treated the same way by the French until the French had their eyes opened when the California wines started taking gold medals at international wine competitions. And that’s happening here now.”

All four wineries have won awards regionally for their wines, and this is perhaps one reason why they’re seeing and meeting a number of avid wine lovers from Connecticut, venturing past that state’s wine trail.

To help bolster visitation, the MFWGA has been promoting the annual Massachusetts Wine Passport Program, which offers a $2 passport to 15 participating wineries in the state. Once the visitor has all 15 unique passport codes from each winery, they are eligible to enter a drawing to win a cellar full of Massachusetts wine.

For Goldberg and the GSCVB, anything that promotes regional ‘buy-local’ efforts is beneficial, and a Western Mass. wine trail would certainly help bring more people to the western counties.

“Eventually, having a number of successful wineries could lead to a Pioneer Valley Wine Trail, wine festivals, and harvest festivals,” she noted.

Western Mass WineriesA number of wineries already feature their labels at area farmers’ markets, thanks to the Massachusetts Farm Winery Bill, backed by the MFWGA, which allows vintners in the Commonwealth to sell their wine at such venues.

Keeping with the theme, the Kamens’ philosophy is to make wine only from grapes and fruit that they grow.

“We intend to make a Massachusetts product out of a Pioneer Valley product.” he said, adding that his winery regularly attends the Amherst and the South Hadley farmers’ markets, while Hamel said Black Birch Winery has seen definite growth and awareness of their wines through their appearances at the Northampton Farmers’ Market.

 

Juicy Futures

Just this summer, the Wine Marketing Council, working with the Nielsen Co., released its annual statistics regarding the global wine market, and found that Baby Boomers spend the most on wine, but with more than 15,000 Millennials coming of age per day, a new target market is emerging. Bobbie Kamen is definitely seeing more young people at Mount Warner Winery.

“Millennials are very eager to try a lot of different things; it’s an exploration for them,” she said.  “And if they like it, they’ll buy it.”

Hamel said Black Birch also sees a number of Millennials, which she considers somewhat surprising, but very promising for the future. “On our Facebook likes, the Millennials age group is the biggest,” she said, adding that, while they may not yet have the disposable incomes that Baby Boomers do, they appreciate fine wine and are establishing themselves as solid customers for decades to come.

While advertising will be important, trust in the valued word-of-mouth endorsement will become even more important to this younger generation in learning about the next new thing in wine.

“Word of mouth is really important for us no matter what age, because, yes, we’re in the business of wine,” Hamel stated, “but we’re also in the business of giving people a great experience.”

And at the moment, this is a business laden with potential — not only to spur economic development and jobs, but also to provide a big boost to a host of efforts to put Western Mass. on the map for many different types of visitors.

In other words, when it comes to wine and wineries, the region’s producers have grape expectations.

 

Elizabeth Taras can be reached at [email protected]

Opinion
At Westfield State, a Large Case of Excess

There is little doubt that, since he arrived at the then Westfield State College campus in 2007, Evan Dobelle has done a number of things to raise the school’s profile and create a much stronger town-gown relationship.

For starters, he’s changed the school’s name to Westfield State University, something many institutions have done in recent years to make them themselves more marketable in foreign countries where the word ‘college’ simply doesn’t convey size or quality. He’s also undertaken a program to convert an old school building downtown into a dormitory, a move designed to make the school more visible and also a greater force in the local economy, while also building an elaborate new dorm on campus, one that comes with a $55 million price tag, part of an overall $170 million building program.

Such steps have earned him praise from many city and state officials, and Dobelle, never shy to tout his own accomplishments, recently told the Boston Globe that he’s made Westfield State the “hottest college in New England.”

Unfortunately for him, and the school, that quote appeared in a lengthy front-page Sunday Globe story that bore the headline “Where spending limits are purely academic.”

The piece chronicles years of lavish spending by Dobelle, including $8,000 for a four-night stay at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Bangkok (the bill amassed by a group that traveled there to promote the school and recruit Asian students), $10,000 for tickets to shows at Tanglewood, $4,000 for limousine rides, and much more, with many of these bills charged to the Westfield State Foundation.

That group essentially gave him a blank check to carry out his quest to remake the former teachers college into an educational powerhouse — and now it certainly has large amounts of regret; the foundation closed Dobelle’s credit card several years ago.

And it should have.

While Dobelle can seemingly defend any and all of his lavish spending — he said he put up a commencement speaker (and old friend) in a luxurious Lenox hotel because he wanted to build the school’s reputation — those at the foundation and many others at the school and on Beacon Hill now recognize that Dobelle has a real problem when it comes to spending other people’s money.

Actually, he’s had it throughout his career, as excessive spending was one of the reasons why he was fired by the University of Hawaii, although that school eventually rescinded the dismissal when Dobelle threatened to sue.

Westfield State probably doesn’t have to fire Dobelle, but it does have to take real steps to make sure this reckless pattern of spending is halted and that there is full disclosure about Dobelle’s travel records and his claims to have repaid the university for any and all personal expenses that were billed to the school.

Dobelle says he can justify all the expensive hotel rooms, travel, limo rides, and Tanglewood tickets as simply part of the enormous cost of taking this school to a much higher level. But no one can fully justify such excess when the school in question is a public university in a state with budget woes and many students who rely on aid and scholarships.

As we said at the top, Dobelle has done many good things at Westfield State, and has, indeed, raised the school’s profile. But the end doesn’t justify the means, and through his irresponsible spending, Dobelle has people talking about WSU again, but for all the wrong reasons.

He can change that conversation, but he needs to move quickly and decisively to restore trust.

Back to School Sections
Five Colleges Inc. Forges Partnerships Between Schools

Neil Abraham

Neil Abraham says the five colleges have been collaborating as long as they’ve existed, but they’re finding new ways to work together.

The knot of Hampshire County schools known as the Five Colleges — Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke, Smith, and UMass Amherst — boast tens of thousands of students who share much more than a region.

They’re also able to attend courses on each other’s campuses, access free buses between schools, share library and dining services, attend open theater auditions, and much more, thanks to Five Colleges Inc., the Amherst-based consortium that has been dedicated, since its inception almost 50 years ago, to fostering partnerships and shared resources among the five institutions.

But even at the consortium’s inception, the concept of cooperation was nothing new at the colleges.

“The campuses have been collaborating almost as long as they have existed, sharing one thing or another,” said Neil Abraham, executive director of Five Colleges Inc. “The consortium is a separate corporation, founded in 1965, but that’s not when collaboration started. There were major collaborative efforts prior to that, ranging from intercampus buses to students being able to take courses at each other’s campus to library purchasing collaboratives.”

The organization began life as Four Colleges Inc. — Hampshire College would be chartered a year later, spurring a name change — focusing initially on library collaboration and course cross-registration among the campuses. At first, Abraham said, the college presidents assigned faculty members to the consortium, taking time away from the classroom to think about opportunities for collaboration, but the effort eventually evolved into a quasi-independent organization with 38 full-time employees and a $10 million endowment — but still requires heavy involvement from the individual colleges.

“These employees help grease the collaborative endeavors,” Abraham said, “but there’s far more energy put in by people employed by the campuses than even those 38 who work for the consortium enterprise.”

Kevin Kennedy

Kevin Kennedy says the economic impact of the Five College Schools Partnership is significant, and far-reaching.

Kevin Kennedy, communications director for Five Colleges Inc., said that “it’s important to keep in mind the tremendous value our member campuses themselves receive by collaborating.” He cited several examples, including:

• Nearly 40 joint faculty appointments, individuals who teach on multiple campuses and allow campuses to cover curricular areas that they might not otherwise be able to afford if they had to pay the full expenses of a tenure-track faculty member;

• A course interchange that allows students to take most courses offered on any member campus at no additional cost. “Thus our campuses are able to offer a richer, more varied curriculum to prospective and current students,” Kennedy said, noting that almost 6,000 courses are taken through the interchange each year;

• Open borrowing through the libraries, making 9 million volumes available to students, many more than they could access in one library alone; and

• A combined compliance and risk-management office that saves the four liberal-arts colleges hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

The consortium serves 35,000 students and 2,500 faculty members, also supporting two joint departments and a joint major, 15 interdisciplinary certificate programs, and those aforementioned cross-registrations.

That’s remarkable, considering the fact that these schools are also in competition with each other, Abraham said.

“Over the years, in the heat of the moment, there have probably been jealousies and competitive juices flowing in equal measure,” he said, but there’s also a shared recognition that some things can be accomplished — or, at least, achieved at a reasonable cost — only by working together.

 

It’s Academic

Take, for example, the Center for the Study of World Languages. Launched by Five Colleges Inc. in 1991, the program coordinates campus offerings in languages beyond the 15 or so commonly taught at the schools — 41 additional languages and dialects, in fact, not available at any of the colleges, from Afrikaans, Tagalog, and Zulu to Creole, Mongolian, and Xhosa.

“The interest level is too small for any college to hire a faculty member, but our center has developed curricula for students to have opportunities to study these languages,” Abraham said.

“Often, there’s a minimum cost to do something, such as a full-time salary,” he went on, but not enough interest on one campus to justify that salary. By creating and funding a program to meet that need, the consortium creates economies of scale. “Sometimes the best way to do things is to build larger communities where otherwise they would be painfully small, and that’s good for both faculty members and students.”

A similar program is the Five College Center for East Asian Studies, founded in 1976 and based at Smith. “This program is intended to improve how East Asian cultures are taught in our region’s middle and secondary schools,” Kennedy said, and does so by maintaining a resource library, publishing a monthly e-newsletter, and, most notably, conducting seminars, institutes, conferences, and workshops for college and pre-college educators.

The consortium also provides benefits to the community beyond the five colleges, he said. Take, for example, the Five College Schools Partnership, which has for several decades provided professional-development opportunities to K-12 teachers across the Pioneer Valley by pairing them with college faculty for real-world learning experiences.

“The Schools Partnership has led field trips to South Africa and Asia, to Civil War battlefields and Civil Rights battlegrounds,” Kennedy noted. “The program just completed a three-week institute on the Native Americans of New England that brought classroom teachers from as far afield as American Samoa — which I think is about as far afield as one can be and still be in America.”

The economic impact of the Schools Partnership is significant, Kennedy noted; in fact, the program has attracted some $6 million in funding over the years, which is mainly used to pay local teachers to participate in these activities.

Speaking of financials, each college contributes $1 million annually, and together, they provide another $1.4 million to fund the 40 joint faculty appointments. Five Colleges Inc. also takes in an additional $2 million in external grants each year, and typically spends close to $600,000 from its endowment, bringing its annual cash outlay to around $9 million.

In its annual report, the consortium’s board of directors praised the value proposition of the organization. “Through collaboration and cooperation, there are greater academic and intellectual opportunities for students and faculty members than could be offered at any single campus, greater efficiency in operations and administration, and greater opportunities for innovation. We should take advantage of these opportunities while remaining mindful and respectful of the differences that create the separate identity of each campus.”

As higher-education budgets come under increasing pressure, the board noted, the advantages of collaboration are more apparent than ever. “Five Colleges Inc. has a leadership role to play in demonstrating a model for higher education that is both pedagogically and financially sustainable.”

 

Moving Along

Because taking courses across campuses has become so popular at the colleges, the consortium had to come up with a strategy to transport students who don’t own cars. To that end, it has forged a relationship with the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority to facilitate that, Abraham said.

“For awhile, we had a private express bus service in the ’90s,” he explained. “A few years after the PVTA formed, we negotiated with them, and now we provide the additional funding needed for them to run buses frequently enough so there would be better regional transport that met the needs of students to get reasonably quickly from one campus to another.”

That partnership — and its promotion of public transit — is one example of how Five Colleges Inc. supports sustainability efforts on the campuses. In fact, that was the theme of the consortium’s efforts last year, with the colleges encouraged to contribute in various ways. To wit:

• Amherst College hosted the Thoreau Foundation-funded Workshop in Environmental Leadership, a course open to all Five College students;

• Hampshire College formalized its Sustainability Initiative, exploring opportunities for change in all aspects of campus life, and initiated the Food, Farm, and Sustainability Institute as a summer program for students;

• Mount Holyoke College established five environmental indicators to measure energy use, greenhouse-gas emissions, recycling rate, campus land use, and stormwater management, which will be presented to the trustees annually;

• Smith College unveiled the Building Dashboard, an interactive technology that enables students, faculty members, and alumni to view, from any computer, the level of energy and water use in campus houses and buildings; and

• UMass Amherst expanded its permaculture gardens project, winner of the White House Campus Champions of Change Challenge, to serve all four dining commons. Meanwhile, the UMass Student Farming Enterprise opened a farmers’ market in the Campus Center.

Other consortium initiatives are technology-related, such as the Five College Fiber Optic Network, financed by all five campuses and coordinated through Five Colleges Inc. Fifty-four miles long, reaching from Springfield up around the campuses and back down, the project was completed in 2007 at a cost of just under $4 million.

There are economic benefits to the initiative, Abraham said. In addition to providing several towns in the Pioneer Valley with high-speed access, Five Colleges Inc. recently signed contracts with Cooley Dickinson Hospital to provide Internet access to two of its facilities, and with Crocker Communications to provide access to some of its clients, including HitPoint Studios, the game company that recently moved to Amherst. “We have a little subsidiary company that leases the fiber we don’t need to others,” he explained.

Meanwhile, even in today’s increasingly wired — and wireless — world, the colleges’ library collaboration remains just as important as ever, emphasizing the continuing value of books on paper.

“Libraries coordinate on buying, so they think twice before buying an extra copy of something if they can borrow it from another library,” Abraham said. “They’ll also think twice before they get rid of something.”

That applies not only to books, but to academic journals. “Professional journals are now available electronically, so people can find the latest and earlier research on their computers, but it’s nice to keep a print copy in case the electronic copy has a bad photograph or you need a higher-resolution version of something.”

 

New Opportunities

Five Colleges Inc. has its hands in many other initiatives, from Museums10 — a marketing and programming partnership among the art museums at the colleges and five other regional museums — to multi-cultural initiatives and mentoring programs.

Abraham cited the instinctive nature of how such programs come to life. They often begin, he noted, with one or more people saying, “boy, if we had a little help we could do better.”

As he told BusinessWest, “many of these things happen from that level of interest, rather than from some visionary saying, ‘there ought to be a program; let’s do this.’ Instead, it comes from people who want it and will put some sweat equity into making it happen. ‘Organic’ is the right word for how it all comes about.”

 

Joseph Bednar can be reached at  [email protected]

Community Profile Features
Great Barrington Has Become a True Destination

GreatBarringtonIt’s been difficult for Doria Polinger to keep enough handmade chocolates on the shelves of the store she opened about a month ago on Railroad Street in Great Barrington.

“Almost everything I make has sold every day — business has been amazing, even though we are tucked away and many people find us by surprise,” she said about H.R. Zeppelin Fine Handmade Chocolates.

Polinger began looking for the right location for her specialty shop several years ago. The Stockbridge resident and New York City transplant chose Great Barrington because of its “urban feel” and the mix of people who pass through the town. “There are tourists, people who live here year-round, and people who have second homes,” she explained. “Everyone comingles well, which is nice.”

Doria Polinger

Doria Polinger says her business thrives in Great Barrington, even though many visitors find her by accident.

The town is the center of what’s known as the Southern Berkshire District, and is the cultural and commercial hub of the area. Sean Stanton, chairman of the select board, said 90% of the surrounding communities don’t have grocery stores, gas stations, and other basic services.

“Our infrastructure serves residents and people who come here in the summer as well as the surrounding communities,” he told BusinessWest, adding that Great Barrington gets a steady stream of traffic due to its central location.

Route 7 is the town’s Main Street, and Route 23 passes west to east. It combines with Routes 7 and 41 in the western part of town and Route 183 in the eastern part, which also follows a section of Route 7 northward from Route 23, before splitting toward the village of Housatonic. As a result, people from Boston, Upstate New York, and the New York metropolitan area are among the many tourists who visit Great Barringtons’s bustling downtown, where streets are home to small storefronts that sell products ranging from clothing made from hand-woven fabric to homemade food products that include cheese, bread, barbecue sauce, and meat and produce from local farms.

Richard Stanley, who built the four-screen Triplex Cinema downtown and owns other real estate, said the extent of Great Barrington’s vitality can be understood by the fact that, although the town only has 7,700 full-time residents, it is home to 65 restaurants, a number of art galleries, and the well-known Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, as well as many specialty stores and small businesses.

Richard Stanley

Richard Stanley says the Triplex Cinema he developed has helped to revitalize the town and turn it into a thriving resort destination.

“We’re ground zero for the Berkshires, and the diversity of the population is incredible,” he noted. “There are artisans, business people, and people in financial services here.”

Town Manager Jennifer Tabakin agrees.  “We’re not only a residential community, we are an employment hub — 10,000 people come here to work,” she said, adding that many second homeowners enjoy Great Barrington year-round.

Stanley concurs. “We’re a second-home community for the New York metropolitan area.”

The agricultural community is also thriving. “Many young people are coming back to the area purchasing land to develop as farms, and people are also coming here to learn how to do organic farming,” Stanton said. “We have an internship program for sustainable agriculture, two garden centers, and a lot of landscapers.”

Stanton operates Blue Hill Farms, which is a mixed livestock operation, and says much of the town’s land is under conservation easement and/or agricultural-preservation restrictions.

“Although most of it is being used, there is other land which could be designated as agricultural,” he said, “which would reduce the property taxes on it by 75%.”

 

Logging Growth

Great Barrington has been honored with many accolades that attest to its character, which include being named the “number-one small town in the U.S.” last year by Smithsonian magazine.

Since its early beginnings, the town has been divided into two sections: the downtown area and Housatonic Village, located on its north side. In its heyday, Housatonic was a booming mill village that provided employment for generations of townsfolk, getting its name from the Housatonic Manufacturing Co. located there.

The village is important in Great Barrington’s history due to its mills, and today, the space within some of them has been transformed into offices, businesses, and apartments with ample room for growth. “There is a fair amount of vacant space available in two of the mill buildings,” Stanley said.

He purchased his first building in town in 1989. “It was just another sleepy place on the map then, and people thought I was nuts,” he told BusinessWest. “It was so quiet, you could shoot a cannon down most of the streets at 5 o’clock.”

But over time, New York residents discovered its beauty and began buying second homes there. In addition, a parking lot was constructed, Stanley built his Triplex Cinema, and the town that had served as a retreat for the wealthy during the Gilded Age was rediscovered. “Today, people come here for the town’s unique combination of beauty, for movies and entertainment, for its restaurants and stores, and for the local art galleries,” Stanley said.

Sean Stanton

Sean Stanton, a farmer and chair of the town’s select board, shows off one of the Great White Tomatoes he grows at Blue Hill Farms.

But although town officials have created partnerships to bring in more tourists, they have also taken steps to ensure that Great Barrington retains its pastoral setting and recreational opportunities. The town contains 3,000 acres of state-owned forest property and has an unlimited number of hiking trails. It is also home to Ski Butternut, and its close proximity to Catamount Ski Area in Egremont helps make it a busy place even during the winter.

And while the community has staged a stunning turnaround, there are projects in various stages of development that could make it even more of a destination.

Topping that list is the $30 million redevelopment of the former New England Log Homes factory site at 100 Bridge St.

“The Community Development Corp. of Southern Berkshire County owned the property for about 20 years,” said Stanley. “It was a brownfields site, but nothing was migrating, so they felt no sense of immediacy to do anything with it.”

But in past few years that changed, and several weeks ago preliminary plans were approved for the eight-acre property that will offer public access to the Housatonic River and provide mixed-use opportunities for businesses, nonprofits, and new restaurants. The plan calls for 50 to 70 new housing units and 40,000 to 50,000 square feet of commercial space.

Stanley sits on the board of directors of the development corporation, and said the state Department of Environmental Protection worked with the panel to determine the best use for the property. “The plan is threefold: to foster commerce on the retail level and create higher-paying jobs and a residential environment,” he said.

The anchor tenant will be Berkshire Co-op Market, which generated $8.3 million in sales last year and has outgrown its current location on Bridge Street. The market is owned by 3,500 members and offers locally grown meat, produce, and other products. It is expected to open next fall in a 10,000-square-foot space, which will include a café.

“The co-op supports local farms and is very active in the community,” said Betsy Andrus, executive director of the Southern Berkshire Chamber of Commerce. “It helps entrepreneurs develop local products and was instrumental in creating a program in the schools after students reached out to them requesting better food. Plus, almost every restaurant in town is farm-to-table. They vary their menus according to the season.”

The redevelopment theme for the site, which is in line with the foodstuffs that will be sold there, includes a wellness center, and Stanley said doctors who practice alternative medicine have already expressed interest in office space.

He added that the site is within walking distance of the downtown, and the board of directors has agreed to think of it as an extension of Main Street because there are buildings available for business use in between.

One of them is the former Searles Middle School, which offers views of the Housatonic River and mountains and sits adjacent to the old Bryant School, which is being redeveloped. It will be the first project of its size to receive the LEED Gold designation in Southern Berkshire County and provides for a ‘destination’ mixed use of the property that respects the character of the historic buildings while enhancing public access of the Housatonic River and creating jobs.

Other development opportunities exist on the former Great Barrington Fairgrounds property. The 50-acre site was recently purchased by the Fair Ground Community Redevelopment Project Inc., a nonprofit group that plans to use it as a sustainable community resource for education, recreation, and agriculture, which would include community gardens and a greenhouse.

More opportunity lies at the Searles Castle, built in 1888, which has been on the market since 2007. The castle contains 40 rooms with more than 60,000 square feet of floor space and 36 fireplaces. After being converted from a private home, it was used as a private girl’s school, conference center, a golf course, and most recently was owned by the John Dewey Academy, which served troubled teens.

“The property has 80 acres of grounds with fountains and ponds,” Andrus explained. “The carriage house alone is beautiful and could be used for businesses.”

 

Destination Location

Overall, Great Barrington is flourishing. “The future continues to look bright as we get more diversity in terms of people and types of businesses and continue to support our farming community,” Stanley said.

Added Tabakin, “the quality of life here is wonderful. It’s a wonderful place to work, raise a family, and enjoy recreational activities.”

Stanton concurred, noting, “there is a lot going on here.”