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Cover Story

Form and Function

Interim Dean Tom Moliterno

Interim Dean Tom Moliterno

The Isenberg Innovation Hub, a $62 million expansion and renovation of the business school’s facilities on the UMass Amherst campus, will open its doors to students later this month. The building’s exterior design is stunning, and it gives a new face to Isenberg and perhaps the university, but the architects have made it functional as well.

Dramatic. Striking. Stunning. Powerful. Distinctive.

Those are some of the words that come to mind as one takes in the Isenberg Business Innovation Hub, a $62 million, 70,000-square-foot addition and renovation to the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst, and its copper cladding, circular design, and falling-dominoes effect.

And those who conceptualized this project and then went about raising the money for it certainly had all those adjectives in mind when they went about hiring architects to create something that would effectively, and loudly, announce the Isenberg school’s ascension to the ranks of the best business schools in the country — and also help recruit the next generation of top students.

“Now that we are a top-20 business school, the students who are considering us are also considering a lot of other exceptional business schools. And one of the things that a student and his or her parents think about is the physical space.”

But that’s certainly not all they wanted — or demanded.

“Now that we are a top-20 business school, the students who are considering us are also considering a lot of other exceptional business schools,” said Tom Moliterno, interim dean at Isenberg. “And one of the things that a student and his or her parents think about is the physical space; there is a requirement, much like a football team needs good facilities, for facilities of a certain caliber in order to ensure that we get the best students.

The learning commons in the Isenberg Business Innovation Hub, like the building itself, has both a striking design and a great deal of functionality; it also doubles as event space.

The learning commons in the Isenberg Business Innovation Hub, like the building itself, has both a striking design and a great deal of functionality; it also doubles as event space.

“But there’s more to it than that,” he went on. “You need more than a pretty building; you need a building that’s designed to train students and to prepare students for careers in the 21st century.”

Elaborating, he said business schools today require space that is geared far more toward student collaboration, team working environments, distance learning, and career services than even a decade or two ago.

And all of this is reflected in what’s behind the flashy exterior of the Business Innovation Hub. Indeed, as he conducted his formal tour of the new facility, Moliterno seemed to be constantly pointing out places where people, and especially students, could come together and collaborate.

The hallways, like all the areas in the Business Innovation Hub, are designed to promote collaboration.

The hallways, like all the areas in the Business Innovation Hub, are designed to promote collaboration.

In the learning commons, which doubles as event space, there are dozens of soft chairs and small round tables at which people can gather; in the classrooms, the chairs have wheels, and for a reason — so they can be moved and maneuvered to face in any direction, toward the instructor in the front of the room or the student across the table; in the hallway outside the classrooms, there are more soft chairs and gathering spaces; in the courtyard, there are stone benches; on the grand stairway, there are wooden planks affixed to one set of the concrete stairs — again, for a reason.

“If you’re heading up the stairs and you see someone coming down that you want to talk to, you can pull over, sit down on the stairs, and talk,” said Moliterno, adding that the architects — Boston-based Goody Clancy, in partnership with the Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) of New York and Denmark — went to extremely great lengths to inspire and facilitate collaboration, and this, perhaps even more than the stunning exterior and interior designs, is what the new addition is all about.

Roger Goldstein, the principal at Goody Clancy who headed the Isenberg project, agreed, and said the firm applied lessons from two decades of work designing college business schools and additions to the Isenberg initiative.

An aerial view of the expansion project

“Their aspiration was for something with real distinction — something that would be forward-looking and quite contemporary,” he explained, referring to Moliterno and Mark Fuller, the former dean of the Isenberg School and now associate chancellor at UMass Amherst. “But also a building that works really well and will stand up in the long run.”

Yu Inamoto, lead architect for the BIG group on this project, concurred. “One of the desires put forth by the dean, the faculty, and all the others we interacted with was to have a space that was not only impressive, but a place for gathering, and this is reflected throughout.”

Faculty and staff are currently moving into the new facilities, said Moliterno, adding that the building will be ready when students return to classes later this month.

One of the state-of-the-art classrooms in the Business Innovation Hub.

One of the state-of-the-art classrooms in the Business Innovation Hub.

What they’ll find is a state-of-the-art, user-friendly facility that does a lot for Isenberg, and UMass Amherst on the whole.

It gives the business school — and perhaps the university itself — a bold new face. It also gives the school a powerful new recruiting tool and perhaps the ability to rise still higher in the rankings, something that’s difficult to do as it moves up the ladder.

For this issue and its focus on education, BusinessWest toured the Business Innovation Hub and learned how it blends form and function and punctuates the Isenberg School’s ongoing ascent among the nation’s top business schools.

Space Exploration

While obviously proud of the expansion’s ground floor, with its learning commons, courtyard, hallways crowded with gathering spaces, and generous amounts of glass, Moliterno was anxious for his tour to reach the second floor.

Because this is where more of that all-important functionality can be found. And it manifests itself in a number of ways, from greatly expanded and enhanced space for the Chase Career Center to separate lounges for students waiting to be interviewed and recruiters waiting to do some interviewing, to the small interviewing rooms that, when not being used for that purpose, can double as additional gathering spaces for students, thus maximizing each available square foot of space.

“Those rooms are sized and furnished to swing one way or the other depending on what the need is,” said Goldstein. “And that improves efficiency because you’re not creating spaces that have only one use and are empty half the time.”

Before elaborating on this mindset and what the Business Innovation Hub means for Isenberg, its students, faculty, the recruiters who will visit it to query job candidates, and other constituencies, Moliterno first went back to roughly the start of this decade, when the seeds for this facility were planted.

And they were planted out of need, he went on, which came in many forms.

The first was simply spacial. Indeed, while the original Isenberg building, built in 1964, was expanded with the so-called Alfond addition in 2002, by the start of this decade, and actually long before that, a growing Isenberg was busting at the seams.

Architect Yu Inamoto says the copper used in the building’s exterior was chosen in an effort to give it a look that is “authentic and real.”

Architect Yu Inamoto says the copper used in the building’s exterior was chosen in an effort to give it a look that is “authentic and real.”

“What we used to say is that we were a family of eight living in a two-bedroom apartment,” said Moliterno, noting that undergraduate enrollment at Isenberg had risen from 2,500 in to 3,400 in just a few years earlier this decade.

Facilities were so cramped that some departments within Isenberg, such as Hospitality & Tourism Management and the Mark H. McCormack Department of Sport Management, were spread out in other buildings, said Goldstein, creating an inconvenience for students and faculty alike. The Business and Innovation Hub brings all of Isenberg’s departments and offices together under one roof.

Beyond the need for more space, though, Isenberg also needed better space, said Moliterno — space that reflected its climb in the rankings in the U.S. News & World Report listings of business schools — both public institutions (it’s now 26th nationwide and first among undergraduate programs in the Northeast) and overall (44th in the nation). And space that would help Isenberg compete for students applying to the other schools just above or below them on those lists.

“Relatively early in his tenure, Mark Fuller realized that the school was on a trajectory, both in terms of growth and in terms of quality, that was going to necessitate new physical space,” said Moliterno, adding that the first discussions and estimates on square footage required date back to 2010 or even 2009.

At this point, the project essentially “went into the queue,” as Moliterno called it, noting that there were a number of building projects being forwarded for consideration and funding. To move up in the queue — something deemed necessary as the school continued its torrid pace of growth as well as its ascent in the rankings — the Isenberg School took the unusual step of committing to provide 60% of the funding for the project, with the rest covered by the university.

This commitment translated into the largest ever made by a specific school for a campus building project, he went on, adding that this bold step did, indeed, move the initiative up in the queue. And in 2014, formal planning — including specific space requirements and preliminary cost estimates — began in earnest.

However, in the two to three years since the initial discussions and rough sketching were undertaken, construction costs had increased 50%, he said, bringing the total cost to $62 million.

While raising that sum was a challenge — met by tapping into a growing base of successful Isenberg alums — it would be only one of many to overcome.

Another would be fitting the building into that crowded area of the campus while also negotiating a veritable rat’s nest of underground utilities in that quadrant.

“There was this bowl of spaghetti of steam lines, electrical conduits, and high-speed data lines,” said Moliterno. “And one of the real design challenges was figuring out how to put a building on this part of campus given everything that was underground.”

Designs on Continued Growth

Creating a road map for navigating this bowl of spaghetti was just one component of the assignment eventually awarded to Goody Clancy and the Bjarke Ingels Group — a partnership that Moliterno called a ‘perfect marriage’ of an emerging force in the design world (BIG) and a company with vast experience in designing not only academic buildings, but business-school facilities.

“There was this bowl of spaghetti of steam lines, electrical conduits, and high-speed data lines. And one of the real design challenges was figuring out how to put a building on this part of campus given everything that was underground.”

Indeed, BIG has been on a meteoric rise, with a portfolio now boasting Two World Trade Center in New York, Google’s Mountain View, Calif. headquarters building, and several dozen other projects either under construction or in the planning stages.

As for Goody Clancy, as noted, it has spent the past 20 years or so developing a strong niche designing new buildings and additions for business schools, and the portfolio includes recent work at Harvard, Boston University, Georgetown University, Texas Tech, and the University of New Hampshire.

Development of this niche wasn’t exactly by design, to use an industry term, said Goldstein, but as often happens in this business, a single project or two can lead to additional opportunities.

And that’s what happened after the firm took on a project for Babson University, known for its programs in entrepreneurship.

“We then did a few more, and before you knew it, we had three business-school buildings, and we thought, ‘OK, this looks like a specialty,’” he told BusinessWest, adding that the company has another four or five business-school projects in various stages of completion, a reflection of the need for such institutions to keep up with the Joneses, if you will, so they can effectively compete for the best students.

“Business schools have wealthy donors and want to build buildings that will advance their brand,” he said. “They want something that will differentiate them.”

Inamoto agreed. “Schools definitely want to make a statement with these buildings,” he said, adding that the Isenberg addition is the first academic project taken on by the firm in this country, and thus it sought to partner with a firm with a deep portfolio in that realm.

As they went about designing the addition, the team of architects focused on both of their priorities — form and function. They conceptualized an exterior that would fit in — sort of — and respect the brutalist style so prominent in other buildings in that part of the campus, such as the Fine Arts Center and the Whitmore Administration Building.

The circular design, meanwhile, would create a dynamic look that would also connect, in dramatic fashion, with the existing Isenberg facility (as the aerial architect’s rendering on page 18 shows) and “close the loop,” as Goldstein put it.

As for the copper exterior, Inamoto said it was chosen — after aluminum was first considered — because the material, like the school itself, isn’t stagnant; it changes over time.

“As a firm, we like the look of copper, and we like to recommend naturally aging materials,” he explained. “The copper panels are already starting to weather; when they’re first installed, they’re a bright, shiny orange, and within weeks, that starts to become darker and brown, and over time, they’ll oxidize to a green copper look.

“Over time, the building weathers,” he went on. “And we didn’t want something that was too flat or too plasticky, if you will. That’s part of our design strategy; we try to select something that’s authentic and real.”

In designing what’s behind the copper façade, they started by gathering extensive feedback, via focus groups, from a number of constituencies, including Isenberg administrators and staff, students, faculty, and others. And they incorporated what they learned into the final design, said Moliterno, citing everything from a café to greatly expanded space for the career center and undergraduate advising.

“They brought in Career Services and said, ‘walk us through everything you do — what are your space needs? You have interviewers here — how many, and what do they need?’” he recalled. “And then, they had that same conversation with Undergraduate Programs and with a committee of faculty who talked about the classroom space.

“And they had the same conversations with students,” he went on. “And this is where we learned that students are often here from 8 in the morning until 10 at night, and thus they want a place to eat in the building, because if they leave the building, they break up their team process.”

As for the career center and undergraduate advising facilities, these are as important to the ultimate success of Isenberg students (and the school itself) as the classrooms, said Moliterno, adding that these facilities provide more services to far more students than they did even a few years ago.

“Students don’t just show up when they’re juniors and look for job postings,” he explained. “They’re working with the career services offices constantly in order to get internships, résumé review, and structure their social-media profile. The hands-on career prep, the number of hours one spends in career services, has grown dramatically over the years, and this is reflected in the design of this building.”

Seeing the Light

As he walked through the expanded career services office during his tour, Moliterno put the Business Innovation Hub and the chosen designs for it in their proper perspective.

“At the initial bid process, when I was speaking to all the architects who were bidding, I said, ‘I want to be clear about something: this might be the most beautiful building in the world, but if it doesn’t work for the students, if it doesn’t enhance and improve the student experience, it will be a failure — full stop,’” he recalled.

‘Most beautiful building in the world’ is a purely subjective matter for discussion, he went on, while the matter of whether a building works for students certainly isn’t.

He’s quite sure that this one does, and while that quality generally doesn’t warrant adjectives like ‘dramatic, ‘striking,’ ‘stunning,’ or ‘powerful,’ it probably should.

And it explains, even more than that façade, why the Isenberg Business Innovation Hub is such an important development for the school and the university.

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

Cover Story Education Sections

Amassing ‘Reputational Capital’

Isenberg School Dean Mark Fuller

Isenberg School Dean Mark Fuller

When Mark Fuller became a candidate for dean of the Isenberg School of Business at UMass Amherst, he saw an institution that was, by his estimation, “solid, but underperforming.” That latter adjective no longer applies. Indeed, Isenberg has made a solid move in the rankings of public schools, reaching No. 1 in BusinessWeek’s compilation of the top public schools in the Northeast. The challenge ahead — and it’s a considerable one, to say the least — is to achieve the additional ‘reputational capital’ to move still higher.

Mark Fuller says he gets asked the question all the time.

It comes in various forms, and is put to him by a host of constituencies, including school administrators, alums, other business-school deans (lots of those), and even the occasional business writer.

They all want to know how Fuller, who arrived as dean of the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst in 2009, has been able to orchestrate a steady and quite impressive climb in the rankings of the region’s — and the nation’s — top business schools, especially the public institutions.

To wit, in Bloomberg BusinessWeek’s current undergraduate business-school rankings, Isenberg ranks first among public schools in the Northeast (New England and New York) and 11th in the nation; among all business schools in the nation, it is 33rd. Just six years ago, those last two rankings were 36 and 78, respectively.

The answer to the question comes mostly in a long form — and you need to set aside more than a few minutes if you want that one — but also a short form, or at least a brief overview that identifies the main elements in the equation.

They are, said Fuller, creating a plan and, more importantly, executing it effectively, while also creating a culture laser-focused on student success (much more on that later).

“I’m a shameless borrower of phrases, like the one from a CEO who came to our school. He used to say that it’s 10% strategy and 90% execution, and I believe that,” said Fuller. “We’re very good at execution, and we have to be, because there’s no magical degree program that suddenly elevates you 30 spots in the rankings; it doesn’t work that way.

“Everyone knows what you should be doing — it’s not rocket science,” he went on. “Where the rubber meets the road is how well you execute on all these things.”

To make a long story somewhat shorter, this is essentially what the Isenberg School has done — and this is, in a nutshell, what Fuller tells all those who ask him the question noted above.


List of Colleges with MBA Programs


Getting more specific, Fuller said there are, quite obviously, many components to the school’s plan. They include everything from the creation of new curricular programs to raising the money needed for the endowed chairs and faculty positions needed to recruit some of the best business professors in the world; from greatly escalating efforts to promote and market Isenberg to the scene going on outside Fuller’s office — construction of a $62 million expansion of the school.

He summed up everything that’s been accomplished to date by saying that Isenberg now has a much better story to tell — in terms of everything from faculty to facilities to the success of its graduates — and is doing an exponentially better job of telling that story.

He lumps all of this together in the phrase ‘reputational capital.’ The school has much more of it than it did a decade ago, and the mission is, well, to simply accumulate much more of this precious commodity in the years to come.

That’s the only way to continue moving up in the rankings, said Fuller, who has the specific goal of propelling Isenberg into the top 10 nationally among public schools.

In many respects, moving up several more rungs will be more difficult than attaining the height currently reached, he said, drawing an analogy to golf — sort of. It is not easy, but easier to move from an 18 handicap into the single digits, he acknowledged, than it is to move from a 6 or an 8 to something approaching scratch.

So it is with business schools and climbing in the rankings, he went on, because doing so will take more work, more money, more of everything else listed above, and, overall, more success in transforming Isenberg into what Fuller called a “national brand” when it comes to business schools.

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It is not quite there yet, he told BusinessWest, noting that the single word Isenberg, while it certainly resonates regionally, is not yet able to stand alone like other brand names such as Haas (University of California at Berkely); Ross (University of Michigan at Ann Arbor); and McIntire (University of Virginia).

“We want to become an iconic brand,” he said. “So when someone says, ‘I went to Isenberg,’ people know where that is. Iconic brands are one-word brands.”

For this issue and its focus on education, BusinessWest asked the question seemingly everyone else is asking, but then went further, asking how Isenberg can soar still higher and what it will take for the school to achieve that ‘national brand’ status.

Numbers Game

Fuller said there are myriad ways to both quantitatively and qualitatively measure a business school’s success and level of improvement.

These include everything from the number of undergraduate applications received (up a whopping 49% at Isenberg since 2010) to the average SAT scores of accepted students (up from just over 1,200 in 2011 to nearly 1,280 in 2015; from something called ‘recruiter satisfaction,’ which, as that term suggests, is a measure of recruiter happiness with those they recruit, to comments (and a growing number of them) from alums noting that their children were accepted into many of the top private business schools nationally, but not Isenberg; from the rising number of endowed chairs to that aforementioned construction of a 72,000-square-foot addition.

But rankings continue to drive the train, if you will, in academia these days, he noted, and attaining lower numbers in all kinds of compilations was Fuller’s primary mission when he arrived on the Amherst campus in 2009 after serving for six years as chair of the department of Information Systems in the College of Business at Washington State University.

Actually, he said the more specific goal has been to increase the stores of reputational capital, and that rankings are merely a metric of reputation, or one of many, with others being placement rates at Big-4 accounting firms and penetration into leading financial-services giants such as Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan, among others.

“I would like to see us become one of the top 10 public schools in the nation and within the top 20 overall,” he explained, adding that the school is certainly on the right trajectory for those results, but needs to maintain that course and gain more thrust to break those barriers.

And while climbing in the ranks equates to opportunities for the school and the university, he said, the far more important matter is that better rankings and reputation translate into greater opportunities for the students enrolled in the programs.

“Those sorts of universities provide great opportunities for their students,” he said of the schools at or near the top of the rankings. “When you come out of a place with that level of reputational capital, there are simply more job opportunities and higher salaries. And that reputational capital not only allows us to place students better, it allows us to recruit very high-quality students, which builds this sort of perpetual-motion machine that also allows us to recruit very high-quality faculty.”

Backing up a bit, Fuller said he was attracted to the opportunity to lead Isenberg because he saw a solid program that was, in his view, but also that of many others, underperforming.

And he saw an opportunity to change that equation.

“It had a great foundation — I couldn’t have done the things we were collectively able to do without the outstanding faculty we had here,” he explained. “I saw an opportunity to go from high quality to great.”

And while designing and building that perpetual-motion machine he mentioned isn’t the specific wording on his job description, that, in a nutshell, is what he and his team have been doing.

Degrees of Progress

Not to oversimplify things, said Fuller, because there is nothing really simple about all this, attaining more reputational capital, and thus climbing in the ranks, boils down to those two elements mentioned earlier: improving the story a business school has to tell (and there are many elements in this equation) and then telling this story in a louder, more effective voice.

And this brings us back to those main assignments for his team — creating a plan and then executing it.

The plan, Fuller told BusinessWest, has many elements, or building blocks, if you will, all incorporated into the design for a reason — or several of them.

Indeed, at its core, the plan is simple — create programs, hire faculty, and generate quality and results (outcomes) that will:

• Attract top students and enable graduates to succeed in the workplace;

• Generate enthusiasm and financial support among a host of constituencies, but especially alums;

• Enable the school to generate more reputational capital;

• Propel the institution higher in the rankings; and

• Create sufficient momentum to allow each of the above to perpetuate itself and grow in size and strength.

Elaborating, Fuller said everything his team does is student-focused and undertaken with the goal of improving outcomes, meaning everything from job opportunities to salaries.

One of the keys, he said, has been an outside-in look at curriculum, whereby industry leaders provide input on what’s being done and what can be done better.

“We’re trying to find those curricular, programmatic elements that will drive great opportunities for students,” he explained. “And we’re very deliberate in that; we don’t chase just any new majors.”

Instead, the school focuses on where the jobs are and, more importantly, where they will be, in realms such as analytics, business intelligence, and operations and information management.

Meanwhile, the school has also made major strides in the area of professional development, with initiatives aimed at creating internships, generating opportunities to study abroad (a nod toward an increasingly global economy), and helping students improve interviewing skills, network more effectively, and refine their LinkedIn presence, among other things.

“Many of our students will actually say that their peers at other schools and colleges across campus go to them to learn how to refine their résumé or their LinkedIn profile,” he explained. “And we hit the ground running on that; our students will have a résumé and LinkedIn profile by the end of their freshman year.”

Another focus, as mentioned earlier, is that statistic known as recruiter satisfaction, he went on, adding that Isenberg hired a director of organizational metrics, who, among things, garners hard data on just how happy recruiters are with the school’s graduates.

“It’s like flying on an airline,” Fuller explained. “You fly, you get a survey; the airline asks, ‘how did we do?’ We do the same thing.”

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And it turns the results, especially those that are not particularly favorable, into action, he went on, noting that one identified problem was with résumés, criticism that eventually led to efforts to improve and standardize those documents, so much so that recruiters can now easily recognize something Fuller called the “Isenberg résumé.”

As for growing support among alums and other groups, Fuller drew an analogy to big-time college sports.

“Attendance for basketball games where a team is losing is less than it is for a school that’s winning,” he explained. “For alumni, there was a real sense that we had to build pride in the brand, because the public business schools across the country are a very competitive set of schools, and we all want to be competitive.”

Story Lines

When it comes to telling the story better, Fuller started by gesturing across the conference room table to Chris Foley Pilsner. Her business card reads ‘Assistant Dean & Chief Marketing Officer,’ and she is the first at Isenberg to have such a title.

More importantly, she leads a growing team of professionals, said Fuller, adding that the school has become much more aggressive in recent years when it comes to promoting its brand.

“We also have a digital strategist and social-media director, among other positions,” he explained. “We’re building up that infrastructure that allows us to tell our story about how good we’ve become.

“Many people know we’ve gotten better, but they’re not cognizant of how much better we’ve gotten,” he went on. “I hear that from alumni, even; they don’t know how good we’ve really become.”

The goal moving forward is to simply have better news to report, said Fuller, meaning continuous improvement. And, as he noted, moving ever-higher becomes more difficult because the competition is more keen, and those ahead of Isenberg in the rankings have every intention of staying where they are or moving higher themselves.

Continued upward movement is made still more challenging by two rankings where Isenberg lies at the very bottom of the chart, at least among the top public schools. These would be ‘operating budgets’ and ‘school endowments.’

Indeed, Isenberg has an operating budget of $38.2 million (less than one-quarter the total registered by the top-ranked public school, Indiana University’s Kelley School), and an endowment of just over $31 million, far less than one-tenth the figure at the University of Virginia’s Darden School, ranked second overall by BusinessWeek.

In many ways, how far UMass has come despite those statistics are serious points of pride, said Fuller, but those factors, and also the lowest total (70) of tenure-stream faculty among the top schools, will represent serious hurdles to moving higher.

“We like to say, affectionately, that we fight above our weight class,” he said while referring specifically to the operating budget and endowment rankings. “But we also know that you can’t continue to do that, so we’re trying to get our alumni to help us figure out how to grow this operating budget.”

Elaborating, he said that financial gifts from alums are not the only way to enlarge the budget. Others include corporate gifts, grants, and foundation support, and alumni can assist with all of the above.

Overall, to move still higher in the rankings, Fuller and his team will have to build what amounts to a bigger, even more effective perpetual-motion machine, and continue their focus on execution.

To elaborate, he moved to the whiteboard in the conference room and drew a rudimentary schematic, in the form of a circle with the word ‘reputation’ in the middle, and references to the three elements that drive it — programs, infrastructure, and image — and the need to focus on all three.

Image, as noted earlier, is a measure of how others perceive your school, and includes everything from the many regional and regional rankings to efforts to tell the story. Programs, meanwhile, as mentioned, include everything from curricular initiatives to professional-development tools. And infrastructure is a broad term used to describe everything from facilities to the faculty, and it is perhaps the biggest area of need going forward.

The construction project going on outside Fuller’s window is a prime example of infrastructure work, he noted, adding that, with rising enrollment, Isenberg had no choice but to expand its footprint in order to provide the highest-quality education.

“We need the facilities that will allow us to hire the faculty to drive the quality of the program,” he explained, “because I can’t grow anymore, either in quality or the number of students we teach, without expanding our infrastructure.”

Another element of infrastructure is the faculty, he said, noting that the school needs to grow its endowment so it can add more endowed chairs and teaching positions and thus enhance recruitment efforts in that realm.

“The big hurdle for us to move into the top rung of the rankings is to continue to build this infrastructure of resources that will enable us to compete,” he said, drawing another analogy to college sports, this time to the elaborate training facilities needed to recruit top players and coaches to athletic programs.

Off-the-charts Improvement

When asked if there was an accepted road map for public business schools to follow to attain growth and reputational capital, Fuller said ‘no,’ but also that this is another question that those other deans put to him.

Specifically, they want to know the route Isenberg followed to become number 1 in the Northeast and reach a status just outside the top 10 nationally.

He tells them it’s a well-marked route, but the key isn’t knowing the directions; it’s in executing them properly.

That’s how a business school gets where it wants to go.

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

People on the Move

Tony Worden

Michael Tucker, president and CEO of Greenfield Cooperative Bank (GCB), announced that Tony Worden was elected by the board to the new position of chief operating officer (COO). This will be in addition to his duties as executive vice president & senior commercial loan officer. As COO, Worden will be taking over some of Tucker’s day-to-day duties and direct reports to ensure GCB maintains continuity in its leadership ranks. And during a stressful period such as now with the COVID-19, the move gives the board the peace of mind of knowing that, should Tucker be unavailable for whatever reason, Worden will be available for major decisions. Worden has more than 21 years of experience in commercial lending and has been with GCB since 2008. He is a 1996 graduate of UMass with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and received his MBA from UMass Amherst in 2005. He is also a 2017 graduate of the Stonier School of Banking at the University of Pennsylvania. He is active in the community as a board member of United Way of Franklin County and a member of the town of Greenfield Cable Advisory Committee and the Turners Falls Downtown Working Group.

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Michael Crawford

Andrea Holden

Andrea Holden

Pablo Madera

Pablo Madera

Elms College announced the appointment of three directors to its staff: Michael Crawford, director of Diversity and Inclusion; Andrea Holden, director of Alumni Relations; and Pablo Madera, director of Public Safety. As director of Diversity and Inclusion, Crawford is committed to the holistic development of students within and beyond the classroom via empowerment, education, support, and advocacy. He has experience in diversity programming and academic support in higher education at Haverford College in Pennsylvania, the University of Connecticut, nonprofit organizations, and as an independent consultant. Most recently, he was a research associate in a culture and mental-health-disparities lab at the University of Connecticut. He also has extensive experience with various social-justice and college-preparation initiatives for vulnerable populations, first-generation and low-income students, and diverse populations. He holds a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Haverford College and a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences from the University of Connecticut. He also earned a certificate in college instruction and a master’s degree in adult learning from the Neag School of Education at the University of Connecticut. As director of Alumni Relations, Holden develops initiatives that increase alumni engagement and also advance the goals of the college. She has more than 20 years of experience in higher education, serving in a variety of roles within student affairs, including campus programs, campus-center management, new-student programs, leadership, and residential life. Most recently, she was a student-engagement specialist for the dean of students at the Community College of Rhode Island in Warwick, R.I., and the director of Student Activities, Involvement and Leadership at Wheaton College in Norton. She holds a bachelor’s degree in urban studies from Worcester State College and a master’s degree in marketing from Webster University. As director of Public Safety, Madera manages the safety measures for the entire campus, as well as the administration of safety policies and protocols. He is a 37-year veteran of the Ludlow Police Department, where he progressed from patrolman to sergeant to lieutenant and, for the past seven years, served as the department’s chief of Police. He served as an adjunct professor of criminal justice at Western New England University (WNEU) for 23 years and also spent time consulting on multicultural-awareness issues and policing. He earned his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Westfield State University and his master’s degree in criminal justice administration from WNEU. In addition, he graduated from the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Va.

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Cheryl Smith

Western New England University (WNEU) General Counsel Cheryl Smith was honored at the 15th annual “Leaders in the Law” event presented by Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly. The event was held on March 5 at the Renaissance Boston Waterfront Hotel. Smith was chosen from a field of nominees across the Commonwealth for the 2020 In-House Leader Award. Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly Leader Awards recognize general counsel and staff attorneys who are nominated by their colleagues, clients, and other legal professionals for being leaders in the community and forward thinkers. For the past two decades, Smith had managed all litigation commenced against WNEU. She also supervised the legal and contractual aspects of a complex new ERP for the university. Additionally, for the past two years, she has served as the Title IX coordinator. Smith began her academic career at Wellesley College and concluded at Western New England School of Law in 1983. At WNEU, she is a senior lecturer for “Human Resource Management,” “Legal Aspects of Human Resources,” “Business Law,” and “Business Communication.”

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Brittany Bird

Brittany Bird

Sarah Rose Stack

Sarah Rose Stack

Meyers Brothers Kalicka, P.C. (MBK) recently promoted Brittany Bird and welcomed Sarah Rose Stack to the firm. Bird was promoted to senior associate. She holds an associate degree in business administration and management from Holyoke Community College, where she was one of the school’s valedictorians, and a bachelor of business administration degree with a major in accounting from the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst. During her time at the firm, she earned the MBK Thought Leader 2019 Award for published articles on behalf of the firm. Prior to working at MBK, she worked in the customer-service industry. Stack is the firm’s new Marketing & Recruiting manager. MBK recently embarked on a rebrand, which included a new logo, interior design, and mission and vision statement. Stack will help bring this new mission to maturity and will implement a variety of new strategies and connections to actualize the firm’s vision. With 15 years of digital marketing, design, and communications experience, she will bring a fresh perspective to the firm’s social-media strategy, revamped digital presence, community involvement, thought leadership, and more. Stack studied music education at UMass Amherst, and has worked in website development and marketing on myriad products and services since 2005. She is a member of the Assoc. for Accountant Marketing.

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Dale Brown

Dale Brown

Holyoke Community College (HCC) recently welcomed Dale Brown as its assistant director of Public Safety. Brown comes to HCC with more than two decades of law-enforcement experience, both as a military officer and as a civilian. He most recently worked for the Hampshire County Sheriff’s Office in Northampton, where he was a deputy sheriff and corrections officer in the Hampshire County corrections system, while also serving in part-time positions at Greenfield Community College as a special state police officer and as a patrol officer in Sunderland. At HCC, Brown serves as second in command to campus Police Chief Laura Lefebvre, the director of Public Safety. He started in his new job in January. Brown is a 15-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force, where he served in military law enforcement as a master sergeant, technical sergeant, staff sergeant, senior airman, and airman. During his service, he experienced multiple overseas deployments, including during operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. Brown earned his associate degree in criminal justice from the Community College of the Air Force and his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from American Military University. He also holds a third-degree black belt in taekwondo.

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Marco Morgado

Marco Morgado

Pilot Precision Products, the parent company of duMONT Minute Man Industrial Broaches and Hassay Savage broaching tools, and the exclusive American distributor of Magafor and GMauvaisUSATM products, announced that Marco Morgado has joined the team in the role of the director of National Business Development. In his position, Morgado is responsible for directing marketing, sales operations, management of the company’s independent sales representatives, and leading the business’ growth strategy. He brings more than two decades of experience to his new role, gleaned from previous positions at Atlantic Fasteners, Kennametal, and other industry players. Educated at Westfield State University in business management, Morgado is the recipient of business leadership awards from the Chicopee Chamber of Commerce and others.

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Debra Mainolfi

Debra Mainolfi

Freedom Credit Union announced that Debra Mainolfi has been hired as branch officer at its West Springfield location. Mainolfi began her finance career as a licensed agent for major national insurance providers, working closely with businesses and families to design retirement and succession plans through both insurance and mutual funds. Following her later roles in banking, she joined Freedom in 2019. As part of her long commitment to community service, she serves on the executive board of directors for Unify Against Bullying, an organization working to end bullying through the celebration of diversity. In addition to serving on other boards, she previously facilitated a financial-literacy program at Sunshine Village and collaborated on a similar program for refugees with Catholic Charities and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

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Nicole Fregeau

Nicole Fregeau

Junior Achievement of Western Massachusetts (JAWM) announced that Nicole Fregeau has joined the organization as program manager. In her new role, Fregeau builds program expansion through strategic planning and presentations designed to recruit and renew commitments of teachers, schools, local businesses, and volunteers. To increase public awareness of JAWM programs, she creates departmental plans and develops and executes volunteer orientation programs. She coordinates the Business and Entrepreneurial Exploration (BEE) summer program as well. Prior to joining JAWM, Fregeau spent a year in Thailand teaching students at various levels to speak, read, and write in English. In addition, she screened candidates for open positions and consulted with potential students during the enrollment process, edited curriculum, and participated in school programs like English Camp and Scout Camp. As an established Junior Achievement volunteer in the U.S., Fregeau also taught JA’s “More than Money” program to sixth-grade students in Thailand. Fregeau is a graduate of Elms College with a bachelor’s degree in business management. She participated in Elms College campus ministry service trips to Nicaragua, where she worked on clean-water and education projects.

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Michael Bovino

Michael Bovino

UniTech Services Group, a subsidiary of UniFirst Corp., recently announced that Michael Bovino was promoted to vice president, bringing 35 years of contamination-control and management experience to the leadership role. Over the past 23 years, Bovino has climbed the UniFirst management ranks from general manager to division general manager, and ultimately now to vice president of UniTech. He most recently served as division general manager for UniClean, a fellow UniFirst subsidiary, where he was responsible for profit and loss, while overseeing all facets of the business. The new vice president’s career began with Public Service Electric & Gas of New Jersey, where he acted as technical manager at various nuclear power stations for several years. He then joined UniTech in 1990, playing a vital role in the company’s success as manager of Health Physics and Engineering for six years before pursuing more senior management roles within UniFirst. Bovino holds a bachelor’s degree in environmental public health from SUNY Cortland, with minors in biology and geology; a master’s degree in environmental and nuclear engineering concentrated in health physics from the University of Florida; a prior certification by the American Board of Health Physics; and an MBA concentrated in business management and financial accounting from the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst. Since 2018, he has also served as a voting member of the SUNY Cortland Alumni Assoc. board of directors, as well as the board’s finance and Park Alumni House committees. Bovino replaces the newly retired George Bakevich, who served as vice president for 36 years. During Bakevich’s tenure, he oversaw major company expansions throughout the U.S., Europe, and Canada, including recent acquisitions in the area of radioactive-waste processing to support power-plant-decommissioning projects.

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Geoff Medeiros

Geoff Medeiros

As part of previously announced organizational changes by OMG Inc. to accelerate growth, the company has named Geoff Medeiros vice president of Sales and Marketing for the Roofing Products Division. In this role, Medeiros is responsible for developing and executing the division’s overall sales and marketing strategy to support its three business units: Fasteners, Adhesives & Solar, and Metal Accessories, which includes Edge Metal. In addition, he is responsible for overseeing the company’s Marketing Communications and Customer Service departments. He reports to Peter Coyne, senior vice president and general manager of OMG Roofing Products. Medeiros joins OMG from Welch’s, where he was general manager, responsible for strategic growth and marketing for the company’s core product lines. Prior to joining Welch’s, he was vice president of Brand Management and Product Development with the Yankee Candle Co. He started his career at Nestle before becoming a brand manager for Hasbro. He holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from Providence College and an MBA in international business from the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University.

Company Notebook

Bacon Wilson to Donate $25,000 for Firm’s 125th Anniversary

SPRINGFIELD — Bacon Wilson announced that, in honor of its 125th anniversary year, the firm will donate $25,000 to various community organizations throughout the Pioneer Valley. Bacon Wilson will make five contributions of $1,250 for each quarter of 2020. After gathering suggestions from members of the firm, first-quarter contributions of $1,250 were awarded to:

• Michael J. Dias Foundation, which provides aid and education for individuals and families on substance abuse, and help for those battling the disease of addiction;

• All Out Adventures, which promotes health, community, and independence for people with disabilities, seniors, veterans, and their families and friends through outdoor recreation;

• Amherst Survival Center, which connects people to food, clothing, healthcare, wellness, and community, primarily through volunteer efforts;

• Our Community Table: Westfield Soup Kitchen, a 100% volunteer organization dependent upon donations to provide a clean and safe environment to serve those in need; and

• Treehouse Foundation, an intergenerational community neighborhood where adoptive families and their children, older youth, and elders invest in one another’s health, dreams, and futures.

Bacon Wilson will announce recipients for the firm’s remaining quarterly giving in June, September, and December.

Eversource Energy to Purchase Columbia Gas of Massachusetts

BOSTON — Eversource Energy announced it has reached an agreement to purchase the Massachusetts natural-gas assets of Columbia Gas for $1.1 billion from NiSource. The acquisition will bring Columbia Gas operations in Massachusetts under local ownership by the largest energy company in New England. Columbia Gas currently serves 330,000 natural-gas customers in more than 60 communities in Massachusetts. Eversource has 300,000 natural-gas customers and 1.5 million electric customers in 51 communities across the Commonwealth. Many communities that Columbia Gas serves with natural gas already receive electric service from Eversource. Under the asset-purchase agreement, liabilities related to the September 2018 gas distribution incidents in the Merrimack Valley will remain the responsibility of Columbia Gas’s current parent company, NiSource. Eversource plans to finance the transaction with a balance of new equity and debt that maintains its credit profile. The parties expect to close the transaction by the end of the third quarter 2020.

Isenberg Again Ranks First for MBA Online Education

AMHERST — For the fourth year in a row, the online MBA offered by the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst topped the rankings of U.S. programs — and came out number three in the world — in the Financial Times survey. Isenberg has offered an AACSB-accredited MBA degree program entirely online since 2001, making it one of the most well-established and robust online degrees in the country. Currently, more than 1,100 students are enrolled in the program. In addition to its overall position in the 2020 Financial Times ranking, the Isenberg online MBA also stood out in a number of data areas, based on information collected by the publication from members of the 2016 graduating class. It ranked first in the world for salary increase, with alumni reporting that they earn 46% more now than they did when they graduated from the Isenberg MBA program; second in the U.S. for average current salary ($168,046); and first in the U.S. for value.

American International College Named To Military Friendly Schools List

SPRINGFIELD — American International College (AIC) has again been named a Military Friendly School. VIQTORY, a service-disabled, veteran-owned small business that connects the military community to civilian employment and educational and entrepreneurial opportunities, has released the 2020-21 Military Friendly​​ Schools list, providing a comprehensive guide for veterans and their families using data sources from federal agencies, veteran students, and proprietary survey information from participating organizations in order to help them select the best college, university, or trade school to receive the education and training needed to pursue a civilian career. Institutions earning the Military Friendly​ School designation are evaluated using both public data sources and responses from a proprietary survey completed by the school. This year, fewer than 800 schools nationwide earned this prestigious designation. Methodology and criteria were determined by VIQTORY with input from the Military Friendly​ ​Advisory Council of independent leaders in the higher-education and military-recruitment community. Final ratings were determined by combining the individual institution’s survey scores with the assessment of its ability to meet thresholds for student retention, graduation, job placement, loan repayment, persistence (degree advancement or transfer), and loan default rates for all students and, specifically, for student veterans.

Girls Inc. of the Valley Receives $500,000 Grant

HOLYOKE — Girls Inc. of the Valley announced plans for major expansion and the launch of its new campaign. The organization is in the early stages of an ambitious, comprehensive campaign, “Her Future, Our Future,” with three primary goals: to develop a permanent Girls Inc. home in downtown Holyoke; to expand school-based programming in Holyoke, Chicopee, and Springfield; and to extend the Eureka! STEM education program. To that end, it has received $500,000 in support from the Kendeda Fund, a private grantmaker based in Atlanta. This transformative gift will support the expansion of Girls Inc. of the Valley’s programs and create a stronger network that encourages girls to achieve. Girls Inc. of the Valley is launching this campaign to offer more girls fundamental support and research-based programming. These programs are designed to empower girls and present them with opportunities to navigate barriers they face in school and beyond.

Women’s Fund to Award $45,000 to Groups Addressing Sexual Violence

SPRINGFIELD — The Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts (WFWM) announced a spring grant cycle to fund organizations that are working to fight sexual violence in the Western Mass. region. Funding for this grant cycle is made possible by a grant the WFWM received from the Fund for the Me Too Movement and Allies (the Me Too Fund), housed at the New York Women’s Foundation. Joining the Washington Area Women’s Foundation, the Women’s Foundation of California, and the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota in this work, WFWM will carry out the Me Too Fund’s goal of ensuring ongoing philanthropic investments toward transforming the oppressive systems that produce structural inequalities of power that result in harassment and violence by making grants from this fund in and for the local community. Applications will be accepted from women- and girl-serving organizations in all four counties of Western Mass. through March 31. Projects funded by this grant from WFWM must focus on prevention and/or intervention of sexual violence and harassment. Visit mywomensfund.org for additional information or to apply.

GCAi Launches Videos for Peter Pan’s App Marketing and Perks Rewards Program

SPRINGFIELD — Riders on any Peter Pan bus right now will not only view a new app-marketing video but also a new Perks Rewards program video. In between the two marketing videos is a brief welcome message by company Chairman and CEO Peter Picknelly. Garvey Communication Associates Inc. (GCAi) produced the three videos, which are already being shown on all routes in the Northeast Corridor. Each of them was produced by award-winning video producer Darcy Young, one of the only female video producers in the market. The concepts and scripts were developed by GCAi founder John Garvey. The app and rewards videos will be disseminated through digital marketing campaigns in specific markets on the East Coast in the near future. These videos are the third in a series of passenger videos produced by GCAi that began when Peter Pan Bus Lines separated from Greyhound Bus Lines in 2017. The videos can be viewed at gcaionline.com/video.

Webber & Grinnell Acquires Roger Menard Insurance Agency

NORTHAMPTON — Webber & Grinnell Insurance announced the acquisition of Roger Menard Insurance Agency at 241 King St., Northampton. “Roger and I have been talking about this for a long time, and we are fortunate to be able to continue his legacy of great customer service to his clients,” said Webber and Grinnell President Bill Grinnell. “Our office is only a quarter-mile down the street, so it will be an easy adjustment for his clients. We also represent the same insurance carriers as Roger Menard Insurance, which will make the transition go very smoothly. Menard added that “Webber and Grinnell is the premier insurance agency in Northampton, and I know my clients will be treated very well. I’ve truly enjoyed this business and the relationships I have developed along the way. But after 36 years, it’s time to do something different. I will still be available to answer any questions during the transition.”

DAISA Enterprises to Facilitate Healthy Children and Families Event

SOUTH HADLEY — DAISA Enterprises, a food-systems and community health strategy firm based in South Hadley, was selected by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to design and facilitate a convening of Healthy Children and Families grantees for 2020. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), based in Princeton, N.J., is the largest philanthropic foundation in the U.S. focused solely on health, striving to advance policy, system, and environmental changes that create the conditions to foster families’ opportunities to promote healthy child development. The Healthy Children and Families convening will be a forum for sharing lessons and leveraging insights among grantees, partners, stakeholders, and RWJF staff around strategies to achieve this goal and prioritize health equity. More than 100 health leaders are expected to attend this event this spring or summer.

Health New England a Finalist in Healthiest Employers Program

SPRINGFIELD — Health New England has been recognized as one of the 2019 finalists of the Healthiest Employers of Massachusetts, a nationally recognized awards program powered by the Springbuk Health Intelligence Platform. Applicants to the Healthiest Employers awards program were evaluated across six key categories, representing a holistic view of employee well-being: culture and leadership commitment, foundational components, strategic planning, communication and marketing, programming and interventions, and reporting and analytics. All companies that applied to the awards program were ranked according to the proprietary Healthiest Employers Index, a 1-100 rubric for employee well-being programming. Ranked second in the 100- to 499-employee size category in Massachusetts, Health New England was honored for its commitment to employee health and corporate health programming. As an award finalist, Health New England has demonstrated a strong commitment to the health and well-being of its team members.

Bay Path Earns ‘A’ Grade for Early Reading Courses

LONGMEADOW — The National Council on Teacher Quality released its scores for the 2020 Teacher Prep Review, ranking Bay Path University’s Early Reading course content in undergraduate, traditional, elementary-education programs with an ‘A’ designation. Reading ability is a key predictor of future educational gains and life success, and more than one-third of American children are not able to read by the fourth grade, with black and Hispanic children being disproportionately affected. Successful reading instruction is essential to achieving educational equity, yet only seven programs in Massachusetts received an ‘A’ ranking. After reviewing course syllabi and required textbooks, programs were ranked based on the following criteria: the availability of explicit instruction on each of the five components of reading instruction — phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension strategies; support for instruction with high-quality textbooks that accurately detail established principles of scientifically based reading practices; and evidence that teacher candidates must demonstrate mastery through in-class assignments, tests, and field work.

Scout Curated Wears Supports Dress for Success

SPRINGFIELD — Scout Curated Wears started out as a local business and quickly turned into a nationwide sensation with its signature item, which converts from a wrap bracelet to a necklace. But the company is equally proud of its commitment to give back 10% of its net proceeds to support women’s organizations. Dress for Success Western Massachusetts is one of the nonprofits that benefits from the generosity of Scout Curated Wears and owner Lora Fischer-DeWitt. Women in the Greater Springfield community benefit from both a network of support and programs developed by Dress for Success. These programs, which are designed to be responsive to both women and employers, include the Foot in the Door workforce-readiness program; the Boutique, which provides women with professional attire for interviews and employment; the Margaret Fitzgerald One-on-One mentor program; and the Professional Women’s Group, designed to promote employment retention and career advancement. Fischer-DeWitt changes the lives of women who come through these programs by providing an annual contribution and by sponsoring Common Threads, an annual event celebrating of the accomplishments of women who have come through Dress for Success Western Massachusetts programs. This year’s event is scheduled for Thursday, April 16 from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Springfield Sheraton.

Elms School of Nursing Ranks in Top 10 in State

CHICOPEE — The School of Nursing at Elms College ranks in the top 10 of “Best Nursing Schools in Massachusetts,” according to a recent ranking by registerednursing.org. To determine this year’s rankings, registerednursing.org researched the 40 nursing programs across the state and analyzed their students’ performance on the NCLEX-RN exam over the past five years. In 2019, Elms College nurses achieved a 97% pass rate on the exam, while the national pass rate was 91%. This is the third top-10 ranking for Elms College’s School of Nursing over the past year. It has been ranked in the top 10 of nursing schools in Massachusetts according to both nurse.org and niche.com.

Daily News

LONGMEADOW — UniTech Services Group, a subsidiary of UniFirst Corp., recently announced that Michael Bovino was promoted to vice president, bringing 35 years of contamination-control and management experience to the leadership role.

“I look forward to helping UniTech stay ahead of shifting industry trends by continually innovating to serve the evolving needs of our customers,” said Bovino, noting that his combined perspective on business and engineering will inform his management of the nuclear-industry service provider.

Over the past 23 years, Bovino has climbed the UniFirst management ranks from general manager to division general manager, and ultimately now to vice president of UniTech. He most recently served as division general manager for UniClean, a fellow UniFirst subsidiary, where he was responsible for profit and loss, while overseeing all facets of the business.

The new vice president’s career began with Public Service Electric & Gas of New Jersey, where he acted as technical manager at various nuclear power stations for several years. He then joined UniTech in 1990, playing a vital role in the company’s success as manager of Health Physics and Engineering for six years before pursuing more senior management roles within UniFirst.

Bovino holds a bachelor’s degree in environmental public health from SUNY Cortland, with minors in biology and geology; a master’s degree in environmental and nuclear engineering concentrated in health physics from the University of Florida; a prior certification by the American Board of Health Physics; and an MBA concentrated in business management and financial accounting from the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst. Since 2018, he has also served as a voting member of the SUNY Cortland Alumni Assoc. board of directors, as well as the board’s finance and Park Alumni House committees.

Bovino replaces the newly retired George Bakevich, who served as vice president for 36 years. During Bakevich’s tenure, he oversaw major company expansions throughout the U.S., Europe, and Canada, including recent acquisitions in the area of radioactive-waste processing to support power-plant-decommissioning projects.

“Our team and our customers have benefitted from Bakevich’s consistent leadership for a very long time,” said Gregg Johnstone, UniTech Services Group director of Sales and Marketing. “We’re very confident that Bovino’s experience and insights will help us continue to innovate, solve complex industry issues, and act as a true strategic partner to our customers.”

People on the Move

Narayan Sampath

Holyoke Community College (HCC) recently welcomed Narayan Sampath as its vice president of Administration and Finance. He will serve as the college’s chief fiscal officer, managing the college budget and supervising the Business Office, Human Resources, Campus Police, Facilities, and Dining Services. He started Jan. 2. Among his previous roles, Sampath was administrative director of the Institute for Applied Life Sciences (IALS) at UMass Amherst, where he managed all day-to-day operations, including administrative, human resource, and fiscal affairs. He was also responsible for the execution of the $95 million capital grant from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center that led to the creation of IALS, now home to three centers with more than 250 college faculty members. From 2013 to 2015, he managed the Center for Emergent Behavior of Integrated Cellular Systems at MIT, funded by the National Science Foundation, and before that served as MIT’s financial administrator. From 2009 to 2011, he worked as grants administrator at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Originally from India, Sampath holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Sydenham College of Commerce and Economics in Mumbai. He earned an MBA from the International Business School at Brandeis University in Waltham. He has lived and worked in the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Nigeria, and Kenya.

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Katherine Wilson

Steven Winn

Katherine Wilson, longtime president and CEO of Behavioral Health Network (BHN), announced she will retire on June 30. George Marion, BHN board chair, said the organization has named Steven Winn, BHN’s current chief operating officer, as Wilson’s successor. Wilson was instrumental in the formation of Behavioral Health Network in 1992 when four nonprofit mental-health organizations — the Child Guidance Clinic, the Agawam Counseling Center, Community Care Mental Health Center, and the Hampden District Mental Health Clinic — formed the new entity and appointed Wilson CEO. Since BHN’s founding, Wilson has built the organization from a $1 million annual enterprise into a leading behavioral-health agency in the region. Under her leadership, BHN has grown dramatically and now serves more than 40,000 individuals in the four Western Mass. counties, employs over 2,300 people, and has an annual budget of more than $115 million. Most recently, she was named a Healthcare Hero for Lifetime Achievement by HCN and BusinessWest and was celebrated in the book Power of Women published by the Republican. Under Wilson’s direction, BHN transformed an abandoned factory complex on Liberty Street in Springfield into a sprawling campus that includes BHN’s corporate headquarters, the innovative Living Room drop-in center, Cole’s Place recovery program for men, the 24/7 Crisis Center, an adult outpatient clinic, and its care coordination and outreach services. She also implemented the acquisitions of the Carson Center in Westfield and its affiliate, Valley Human Services in Ware. Winn joined BHN in 1995 as vice president and director of the Child Guidance Clinic. He was later promoted to senior vice president and since 2017 has served BHN as chief operating officer. He has extensive experience in the behavioral-health field and received a master’s degree in developmental psychology and a Ph.D. in clinical and developmental psychology, both from UMass Amherst. He went on to complete his fellowship at Yale University’s Child Study Center. After Yale, he became a staff psychologist at the University of New Mexico Children’s Psychiatric Hospital, where he also taught in the Department of Psychiatry as an assistant professor of Psychiatry. He is a licensed clinical psychologist in Massachusetts.

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John Heaps Jr

Florence Bank announced that President and CEO John Heaps Jr. will retire on May 1, 25 years to the day after he took the top job, making him the bank’s longest-serving CEO. Heaps has grown the bank in terms of staff, the number of branches, the geographic regions it serves, and capital and assets. Florence Bank is a top-performing bank in the industry in the state, with record results over the past five years, according to both the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the Depositors Insurance Fund. Heaps will be succeeded from within as president and CEO by Kevin Day, Florence Bank’s executive vice president. Day joined the bank 11 years ago as its chief financial officer. During Heaps’ tenure, Florence Bank’s capital has grown from $24 million to $161 million, and assets have grown from $283 million to $1.4 billion. The bank grew from four branches in 1995 to 11 now — and soon to be 12. The staff has doubled from 112 full-time employees to 221 now. Heaps grew up in Springfield and began his banking career in 1971 in marketing at Valley Bank, later Bay Bank, in Springfield. In 1987, he was first named a bank president for Bank of Boston, also in Springfield. In addition to serving on many nonprofit boards, he has also sat on many boards in the banking industry, including the Connecticut On-Line Computer Center Inc. (COCC), which provides core data processing to banks, including Florence Bank.

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Christina Royal

Holyoke Community College President Christina Royal has been selected for a national fellowship for first-time college presidents administered by Washington, D.C.-based Aspen Institute. The Aspen New Presidents Fellowship is a new initiative designed to support community-college presidents in the early years of their tenure to accelerate transformational change on behalf of students. Royal and Luis Pedraja, president of Quinsigamond Community College in Worcester, were the only two community-college presidents chosen from Massachusetts. They are part of the inaugural group of 25 Aspen fellows selected from more than 100 applicants nationwide. The leaders, all of whom are in their first five years as a college president, will engage in a seven-month fellowship beginning in June 2020. The fellows were selected for their commitment to student success and equity, willingness to take risks to improve outcomes, understanding of the importance of community partnerships, and ability to lead change. JPMorgan Chase is funding the Aspen New Presidents Fellowship as part of New Skills at Work, a five-year, $350 million investment to support community colleges and other pathways to careers and economic mobility.

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Jamina Scippio-McFadden, a senior program manager at UMass Center at Springfield, has been named director of the center by UMass Amherst. She has served as interim director for the past year. Scippio-McFadden’s wide-ranging community involvement includes serving on the executive committee of the Girl Scouts of Central and Western Massachusetts board of directors and the board of directors for the Hampden County Community Impact Foundation and Community Enrichment Inc. She is a member of the Springfield Museums African Hall Subcommittee and an organizing and charter member of the Western Mass. chapter of Jack and Jill of America Inc. She joined the UMass Center in 2014 as the director of Marketing and Community Relations, Student Services, and Academic Support. She was appointed program manager for business and community development in the center’s Office of Economic Development in August 2018. She was named interim director of the center in January 2019. Previously, Scippio-McFadden taught communications at American International College and served as a college administrator and faculty member at institutions in Florida and Georgia. She has 20 years of experience in the media industry, including television news, radio, newspapers, and public relations. She received her bachelor’s degree in communications from Bethune-Cookman College, where she graduated magna cum laude. She earned a master’s degree in communications from the University of Florida and is currently a doctoral candidate in education at UMass Amherst.

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Bay Path University announced three new members of its faculty across the undergraduate and graduate divisions. Xiaoxia Liu, director, Applied Data Science, is a seasoned data scientist with years of experience across different industries, including healthcare, business solutions, and insurance. She has extensive experience in handling various data problems through teaching, statistical collaboration research, and advanced analytic/predictive modeling. Liu has authored more than 35 peer-reviewed journal articles, which have appeared in JAMA, Pain, Circulation, and other leading medical journals. She holds a master’s degree in mathematics and statistics from Georgia State University and a master’s degree in communication from SUNY Albany. Joshua Hamilton, program director and professor, is a fellow of the American Assoc. of Nurse Practitioners and is in private practice in Las Vegas, Nev. He has held a variety of faculty and administrative positions in the U.S. and abroad, and is an internationally recognized speaker at conferences and professional meetings. He holds a doctor of nursing practice degree from Rush University and is in the process of completing his juris doctor through Northwestern California University. Nisé Guzmán Nekheba, coordinator and associate professor, Legal Studies and Paralegal Studies, comes to Bay Path with more than 30 years of experience in both professional and academic settings. As a published author and a seasoned presenter, Nekheba is highly experienced in the areas of real property, family law, race and the law, immigration, Native Americans and the law, and law and religion. She is an award-winning academic professional and a member of the American Bar Assoc., the Assoc. of American Law Schools, and the Assoc. for the Study of the Worldwide African Diaspora. Nekheba simultaneously completed her juris doctor and master of divinity degrees at Harvard University, where she was the recipient of the Harvard University Baccalaureate Speaker Award.

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Andrea Momnie O’Connor, a principal with the law firm Hendel, Collins & O’Connor, P.C., has been appointed to the panel of Chapter 7 Trustees for the District of Connecticut by the U.S. Trustee Program. O’Connor previously clerked for the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Massachusetts. She graduated magna cum laude from Western New England University Law School, where she served as editor-in-chief of the Western New England Law Review, and cum laude from the University of Connecticut. She is an adjunct professor at Elms College, where she teaches legal research and writing. She was named a 2019 Rising Star in the area of bankruptcy law by Super Lawyers. Her practice focuses on bankruptcy, insolvency, and financial restructuring for business and consumer clients.

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As part of its planned expansion of commercial banking talent and resources across the Northeast, KeyBank announced that Matthew Hummel has joined the bank in the newly created position of Commercial Banking team leader, reporting to market president James Barger. In his new role, Hummel will lead and expand the team of commercial bankers serving middle-market clients in Connecticut and Western Mass. and help drive KeyBank’s commercial business growth throughout the market. Hummel brings more than 30 years of commercial-banking experience to KeyBank, primarily from Bank of America’s Global Commercial Banking group, where he strategically aligned banking resources to the needs of middle-market companies requiring complex debt, capital markets, currency, treasury, and other financial solutions. He holds an MBA from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute at Hartford, and a bachelor’s degree from Colby College. He has strong ties to the local community and has volunteered at a number of nonprofit organizations, including Smilow Cancer Center’s Closer to Free bike tour, Literacy Volunteers of America, and Habitat for Humanity. He has served as a Glastonbury Basketball Assoc. board member and boys travel basketball commissioner since 2005.

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Christopher Smith

Comcast announced the appointment of Christopher Smith as vice president of Human Resources for the company’s Western New England region, which includes more than 300 communities in Connecticut, Western Mass., Western New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York. In this role, Smith and his team will support more than 1,600 employees and oversee all of the region’s human-resources functions, including talent management, recruiting, payroll, benefits, and training through Comcast University, the company’s internal training and leadership-development program. Prior to joining Comcast, Smith served for the past decade as HR vice president of NiSource, an 8,000-employee utility company based in Indiana that provides natural-gas and electric power to 4 million customers in seven states. Before that, he spent four years with the Pepsi Bottling Group, first as HR manager in Las Vegas and later as HR director in Newport News, Va., where he was responsible for 1,500 employees in 13 locations. In addition, he held various human-resources roles over the course of four years for Mead Johnson Nutritionals, a former division of the pharmaceutical manufacturer Bristol-Myers Squibb. He holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Indiana University and an MBA from the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza School of Business, where he recently served as an adjunct professor of Strategic Human Resources.

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Dodie Carpentier

Dodie Carpentier, vice president of Human Resources at Monson Savings Bank, was recently elected president-elect of River East School to Career (RESTC). Carpentier joined RESTC as a board member in 2014, has previously held positions as clerk and treasurer, and is a member of the scholarship committee for this local nonprofit organization. Working under the umbrella of MassHire Hampden County Workforce Board, RESTC promotes K-16 career education and assists in preparing youth for the demands of the 21st-century workplace. In addition to volunteering for RESTC, Carpentier also serves as chairperson for the Monson Substance Abuse Community Partnership, is a member of the steering committee for Rays of Hope, is a read-aloud volunteer for Link to Libraries, and is a guitarist and vocalist for the Folk Group at St. Thomas Church in Palmer. She has worked at Monson Savings Bank since 2006 and has earned certificates in human resources management and supervision from the Center for Financial Training.

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Allison Vorderstrasse, a faculty member and Ph.D. program director at New York University, has been named the dean of the College of Nursing at UMass Amherst. She will begin her appointment on July 1. Vorderstrasse currently serves as a faculty member and director of the Florence S. Downs Ph.D. Program in Nursing Research and Theory Development at New York University (NYU) Rory Meyers College of Nursing. An adult nurse practitioner with clinical experience, Vorderstrasse received her doctorate and master’s degrees in nursing at the Yale University School of Nursing, with specialties in chronic illness self-management research and diabetes. She received her bachelor’s degree in nursing from Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh, N.Y. Prior to joining the faculty at NYU, she was an associate professor of Nursing and faculty lead for Precision Health Research at the Duke University School of Nursing. She taught at Duke University School of Nursing from 2009 to 2014. In 2014, she received the Duke University School of Nursing Distinguished Teaching Award. She was inducted as a fellow of the American Academy of Nursing in 2015, and in 2017 received the International Society of Nurses in Genetics Founders Award for Excellence in Genomic Nursing Research.

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Kiyota Garcia

Springfield Technical Community College (STCC) announced the appointment of Kiyota Garcia as coordinator of the Academic Advising and Transfer Center, effective Jan. 27. In 2010, Garcia started working in the Academic Advising and Transfer Center, which provides continuous support to strengthen, nurture, empower, and educate students in making informed decisions that will guide their educational experience. Garcia holds a doctorate of education in educational psychology from American International College, a master’s degree in clinical psychology from American International College, and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Bay Path University. She will continue to work on advising initiatives that support the success of STCC students with a focus on retention and completion.

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Angel Coriano

Homework House announced the hire of Angel Coriano as its new director of Programs. He will be responsible for the supervision of day-to-day program operations, including the tutoring and learning process, and will also work closely with local schools, student assessment and evaluation, along with curriculum development. Coriano is a lifelong resident of Holyoke and a graduate of Holyoke Public Schools. An alumnus of the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst, he has spent the last 10-plus years in the field of education.

People on the Move

Jonathan Breton

Bacon Wilson announced that Jonathan Breton has been named the firm’s newest shareholder. Breton has extensive experience in business law, with particular emphasis on commercial transactions, including business formation, mergers and acquisitions, matters of corporate governance, and commercial loans. In addition to his experience with business law, Breton also works on all aspects of commercial and residential real-estate matters. He is licensed to practice in both Massachusetts and Connecticut.

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Sue Drumm

Sue Drumm was installed as the 2020 president of the Realtor Assoc. of Pioneer Valley (RAPV), a nonprofit trade association with more than 1,800 members. More than 140 people were in attendance at the 105th annual installation of officers and directors held on Jan. 9 at the Log Cabin in Holyoke. Drumm is a Realtor with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Longmeadow. She has been active in real estate since 2009 and has served on the RAPV board of directors since 2013. She is involved in several committees at the association, including the community service, education fair and expo, finance, government affairs, and member engagement committees. In addition to the president, the 2020 RAPV officers installed include Elias Acuña as president-elect, Shawn Bowman as treasurer, Cheryl Malandrinos as secretary, and Kelly Page as immediate past president. Directors include Arlene Castellano, Luci Giguere, Lori Grant, Sharyn Jones, Peter Davies, Janise Fitzpatrick, Sara Gasparrini, Cheryl Malandrinos, and Clinton Stone.

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Whittlesey announced the promotions of Tom Dowling and Chris Nadeau to director. Dowling joined the firm in 2017 and has more than 10 years of experience in assurance, tax, and advisory services. His primary focus is on assurance and advisory services for closely held businesses and nonprofit organizations. He earned a bachelor’s degree in accountancy and a master’s degree in taxation from Bentley University and is a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and the Massachusetts Society of Certified Public Accountants (MSCPA), as well as the Assoc. of Certified Fraud Examiners. Nadeau joined the firm in 2015 and has more than 13 years of experience in public and private industry accounting. His primary focus is on business valuations for closely held businesses and professional service and medical practices. He is a member of the firm’s strategic leadership group. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, both in accounting, from Westfield State University and is a member of AICPA, MSCPA, and the Institute of Management Accountants. He is a certified valuation analyst, a credential issued by the National Assoc. for Certified Valuators and Analysts, as well as a certified management accountant and a certified information technology professional.

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Pamela Ortiz

Webber & Grinnell Insurance recently welcomed Pamela Ortiz as a business development specialist working in its Holyoke branch, Ross, Webber & Grinnell. She will be responsible for business development of home and auto business in Hampden County. Most recently, Ortiz was a licensed sales producer at Allstate and a customer-service representative at Farm Family Insurance. She is licensed in property and casualty, life, and medical in Massachusetts and Connecticut.

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American Outdoor Brands Corp. announced that its board of directors has named Mark Smith and Brian Murphy co-presidents and co-CEOs of the company, effective immediately. Smith was most recently president of the Manufacturing Services Division of the company, while Murphy was most recently president of the Outdoor Products & Accessories Division. In their co-leadership roles, Smith and Murphy succeed James Debney, who has separated as president and CEO and as a director of the company, following the determination by the board of directors that he engaged in conduct inconsistent with a non-financial company policy. The company is proceeding with its previously announced plan to spin off its outdoor products and accessories business as a tax-free stock dividend to its stockholders in the second half of 2020, a transaction that would create two independent, publicly traded companies: Smith & Wesson Brands Inc. (which would encompass the firearm business) and American Outdoor Brands Inc. (which would encompass the outdoor products and accessories business). Jeffrey Buchanan, chief financial officer, will continue to serve as the lead executive on coordinating and executing the separation of the two businesses. Upon completion of the transaction, and as previously announced, Smith will become president and CEO of Smith & Wesson Brands Inc., and Murphy, will become president and CEO of American Outdoor Brands Inc.

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Ryan Barry

Elizabeth Zuckerman

Bulkley Richardson recently announced two promotions. Ryan Barry has become a partner at the firm, and Elizabeth Zuckerman has become counsel. Barry joined the firm in 2015 as an associate in the business department and focuses on traditional business practices, including healthcare, construction, and schools. More recently, he has been instrumental in the development of emerging practices such as cannabis, craft brew, and cybersecurity. Zuckerman joined the firm in 2014 as an associate in the litigation department, where her practice focuses on general commercial litigation, First Amendment issues, and defamation. She has a history of successfully litigating complex cases in both state and federal courts with both local and national significance.

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The Collins Companies, one of the largest industrial distributors of pipe, valves, fittings, and engineered specialties serving the Northeast, announced a change in executive management roles effective Jan. 1. Brian Tuohey, owner and president of Collins, will be assuming the role of CEO and has promoted Vice President of Sales Paul Andruszkiewicz to president. In addition to these changes, Dave Shepard, branch manager of the Haverhill sales office, will lead the Collins sales team as director of Sales. He has more than 25 years of experience in the industry, first purchasing for Atwood and Morrill and then in sales for Power House Supply before Collins acquired Power House in 2015. Headquartered in East Windsor, Conn., the Collins Companies is comprised of Collins Pipe & Supply Co., Collins Controls, Niagara Controls, Collins Niagara, Power House Supply Co., and International Valve and Instrument, with nine locations throughout New England and Upstate New York.

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Kylie LaPlante

Dina Merwin

Monson Savings Bank (MSB) recently announced three promotions. Kelly Collins has been promoted to assistant vice president, marketing officer. She joined MSB in February 2016 as marketing officer and has worked hard to promote the MSB brand over the last few years. She is passionate about sharing the bank’s story and successes. She earned a bachelor’s degree in communications and marketing, has an extensive background in marketing, and recently graduated from the Leadership Pioneer Valley program. Kylie LaPlante has been promoted to the position of business development officer. She joined the MSB team in December 2011 as a CSA (teller). She went on to earn positions of CSA supervisor, assistant branch manager, branch manager, and in December 2018 began working as a business relationship manager. She has a bachelor’s degree in management and is a graduate of the New England School for Financial Studies. Dina Merwin has been promoted to senior vice president, chief risk and senior compliance officer. She joined MSB in June 2013 as a compliance officer. She worked hard to build a successful compliance program for the bank and was promoted to positions of assistant vice president, vice president, and most recently first vice president, compliance and BSA officer. She attended Springfield Technical Community College, Quinsigamond Community College, and Worcester State College, and is a graduate of the Massachusetts School for Financial Studies and the National School of Banking.

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Jessica Derouin has rejoined the Training Resources of America Inc. (TRA) team as manager of the Springfield office located at 32-34 Hampden St. She had previously been employed by TRA for eight years, serving as Western Mass. regional manager, assistant manager, and instructor/case manager. She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from River College in New Hampshire. TRA, headquartered in Worcester, is a private, nonprofit organization that has been providing education, employment, and training services.

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Dr. Estevan Garcia

Treehouse Foundation, a nonprofit that supports children and youth who have experienced foster care, their foster adoptive families, and older adults who live at the intergenerational Treehouse Community, announced that Dr. Estevan Garcia, who joined the board last year, will serve as board president. He is an adoptive foster parent with experience in the New York and Washington child-welfare systems. Additionally, four of his own siblings were adopted, three from the foster care system. Pete Crisafulli, a Realtor with Taylor Realty, also joins the board. Prior to joining the real-estate firm, he spent many years working to protect children. He was the Western Mass. director of MSPCC KidsNet and later worked in the Frontier Regional School district, becoming the assistant principal of Deerfield Elementary School and later the principal at Whately Elementary School for nine years. Since 2006, Treehouse Easthampton has been home to more than 100 community members, ranging in age from newborns to age 92. This neighborhood, where families adopting children from foster care live next door to seniors, is a hub of foster care, adoption, housing, and aging innovation for the region and the nation.

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Kurt Shouse

Florence Bank promoted Kurt Shouse to the position of vice president, information and cybersecurity officer. Shouse brings extensive knowledge and skills to his new role. Prior to his recent promotion, he was the assistant vice president, information and cybersecurity officer. Shouse studied at UMass Amherst, where he received his bachelor of business administration degree in management studies. Additionally, he studied at Utica College, where he received his master’s degree in cyber operations and computer forensics. He earned certification from SANS Institute Global Security Essentials (GSEC), which demonstrates a high-level skill set of hands-on information technology with respect to security tasks. Shouse serves his community as a board member with Northampton’s Dollars for Scholars.

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John Pember has joined Westfield Bank as vice president and commercial loan officer. He will be based in the West Hartford, Conn. office and will help lead the bank’s commercial-lending efforts in the Greater Hartford area. Pember has been in the financial-services industry since 2006. After holding various positions in retail and credit risk, he transitioned to commercial lending in 2014 at Farmington Bank and then held a similar role at United Bank. He graduated from the University of Connecticut School of Business in 2006 and was a Michael J. Piette Honors recipient from the Connecticut School of Finance & Management. In addition to his professional accomplishments, he is co-chair of the young professionals committee for the Real Estate Finance Assoc. and is a member of Hartford Young Professionals & Entrepreneurs, the West Hartford Chamber of Commerce, and the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce.

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Jon Reske

Craig Boivin

Jon Reske, longtime vice president of Marketing at UMassFive College Federal Credit Union, has retired after leading the credit union’s marketing function for more than 23 years, and Craig Boivin has been promoted to the position of vice president of Marketing. Reske founded the UMassFive marketing department — spearheading a model of constant innovation and expansion — that today boasts leading-edge capabilities including in-house graphic design, social media, digital marketing, and marketing analytics. For the duration of his tenure, he represented UMassFive as lead press contact and a member of the senior management team. Over the last seven years, Boivin has taken on various roles within the Marketing department at UMassFive — most recently as interim vice president — and overseen many successful initiatives, including the credit union’s latest website redesign, implementation of the Buzz Points rewards program, and promotion of UMassFive’s sustainability loan products. In addition to the experience he has gained on the job, he continues to learn and expand his skillset. He will soon be completing the three-year CUNA Marketing & Business Development Certification School and is also enrolled at the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst, pursuing a master’s degree in business administration. With this promotion, Boivin will continue to focus on promoting the UMassFive mission and brand, as well as lead public-relations efforts and oversight of the credit union’s Marketing team.

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Meredith Wise, president of the Employers Assoc. of the NorthEast (EANE), recently announced the addition of four new members to the EANE board of directors for three-year terms. Toni Hendrix is director of Human Resources and Compliance with Loomis Communities, where she is responsible for partnering with leadership to promote HR management practices to ensure fair, equitable, and consistent treatment of employees while minimizing the potential for legal liability. She also provides consultation and developmental support to leaders and team members relative to employee engagement, policy interpretation, change management, and performance management. Mike Hyland, CEO of Venture Community Services in Sturbridge, brings more than 25 years of experience and a sound history of nonprofit leadership. At the helm of Venture, Hyland focuses on ways to improve services and enhance the lives of the people the agency supports, as well as the employees. The EANE board represents a cross section of professionals throughout Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island who provide certified expertise in the areas of business, human resources, and financial management. The other two new EANE board members are based in Providence, R.I.: Michelle Cunniff, director of Human Resource Services at AIPSO, and Gregory Tumolo, senior counsel and head of the employment-law team at Duffy & Sweeney, LTD.

Economic Outlook

Little Change in the Forecast

‘More of the same.’

For the past several years now, that’s essentially what most economists have been saying when asked about what to expect next year.

Bob Nakosteen

And by ‘more of the same,’ they generally meant steady but decidedly unremarkable growth, which is what the nation, this state, and this region have been enjoying — and that’s the right word for it, because it certainly beats the alternative — for the past half-decade or so.

But over the past 18 to 24 months, ‘more of the same’ has come to mean some other things. These include speculation about a recession and even hard predictions that one is right around the proverbial corner; turmoil, especially in the form of a trade war with varying degrees of escalation; and a historically low unemployment rate that is a positive economic sign, obviously, but also a serious challenge to employers in every sector.

And as a new year and a new decade begins, we’re probably looking at … more of the same, as in all of the above, from the slow growth to the recession speculation to the employment challenges.

“Nationally, gross domestic product grows through a combination of an increase in the labor force and increased productivity, and both of those are really in a slump right now,” said Bob Nakosteen, a professor of Economics at Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst, while summing things up. “Productivity is in a long-running slump, and our labor force is growing much less quickly. So although there isn’t any obvious risk of a recession, there is an obvious risk of a real stagnation.”

Of course, 2020 is also a presidential election year, which adds yet another intriguing element to the equation, said Nakosteen, adding that, traditionally, election years, especially those featuring presidents seeking re-election, feature policies designed to provide an additional economic jolt or stimulus.

But this year, there’s really not much that can be done, he went on, adding that another tax cut is unlikely, and interest rates are already at near-historic lows, so they really can’t be lowered any further.

“Generally, those in power during election years try to pass legislation or encourage monetary policy that will trigger more growth,” he explained. “I don’t know how much room there is for that currently, especially with these big tax cuts that have ballooned the deficit, and especially with a split Legislature. They’ve completely hamstrung themselves in terms of fiscal policy — spending and taxes, and what can they do with monetary policy; interest rates are edging slowly back down, but there’s not much room to back down. And it’s completely obvious that interest rates just don’t have the effect that they used to on the economy.”

“There was a real consensus that there was real risk of a recession coming. But that discussion has abated, you’re not hearing those comments anymore. Now, there’s consensus that there’s nothing on the horizon that’s especially risky.”

As for the proverbial big picture, 2019 was supposed to the year the expansion, one of the longest in the country’s history, ended, at least in the minds of many economists, who have since amended their speculation and instead projected a recession for some time this year. And a good deal of this conjecture is focused on the dreaded yield curve, which has been a deadly accurate predictor of recession for decades now.

An inverted yield curve is the interest-rate environment in which long-term debt instruments have a lower yield than short-term debt instruments, and when such inversion happens, recession almost always follows; in fact, the yield curve has inverted before every U.S. recession since 1955.

This strikingly accurate track record has prompted many economists to say it’s not a question of if there will be slowdown and then recession, but when.

But Nakosteen said that, despite an inverted yield curve, talk of an imminent recession has diminished, largely because most of the other indicators are generally less forbidding.

“There was a real consensus that there was real risk of a recession coming,” he told BusinessWest, emphasizing ‘was.’ “But that discussion has abated; you’re not hearing those comments anymore. Now, there’s consensus that there’s nothing on the horizon that’s especially risky. There are negative things going on, especially the trade war, and there are parts of our economy that are not doing well, such as manufacturing and agriculture. But overall, there’s not much to indicate that we’re destined for a recession.”

That said, the risk of stagnation — defined as a prolonged period of slow economic growth, usually accompanied by high unemployment, as was seen in the early ’90s during the so-called ‘jobless recovery’ — is very real. And the ongoing struggle to find and retain talent will be the main reason why.

“Finally, the labor-force constraint, the fact that the labor force is growing very, very slowly, has become binding,” he explained. “We’ve been talking about this for years now — we knew it was coming, we just didn’t know when it would hit. And there’s a good chance that it finally has hit.

“Employers just can’t find workforce to fill jobs, and you can’t make more if you don’t have people to make more,” he went on, adding that this workforce crunch is impacting the Bay State perhaps even more than the country in general.

Indeed, Nakosteen believes that low unemployment — actually, what amounts to full employment — is likely the primary reason why the Commonwealth has been consistently lagging behind a national economy that is growing at a rate of maybe 2%.

“We have an industry mix of healthcare, high-tech, and education that should make us a fast-growing state, but we’re not; we’re growing more slowly,” he noted. “And I really think that’s because employers just can’t find workers.”

He said evidence of this can be found within statistics on commuting trends, with the Bay State drawing steadily larger numbers of workers from neighboring states, especially Rhode Island and New Hampshire.

“The downside of growth is always on the supply side, and I consider supply to be supply of labor, which is now confronting the state and especially Boston,” he said, adding that there are a number of factors, from the high cost of living to horrendous commutes, that are now limiting the workforce that can help companies in and around Boston grow.

High-speed rail linking east and west might provide some relief, he admitted, but that solution is likely years away if it happens at all.

As for the stock market, when asked to explain why the markets soared nearly 30% this year despite turmoil and talk of inverted yield curves and recession, he said simply, “I can’t.”

He did offer this, though. “I think you have to look at behavioral economics and behavioral finance rather than analytical economics and analytical finance to explain this. It’s a behavioral thing. [Yale economist] Robert Shiller noted that a narrative starts to dominate, and people start to believe it — everyone says the stock market’s great, and that’s kind of self-fulfilling.”

As for 2020, again, Nakosteen is predicting something he’s been forecasting for the better part of a decade now, even though the term hasn’t always meant exactly the same thing: more of the same.

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

Cover Story

From the Casino to Cannabis, Powerful Forces Have Changed the Landscape

By George O’Brien and Joseph Bednar

As the year and the decade come to a close, BusinessWest takes a look back at the stories that dominated the past 10 years and the forces that have in many ways changed the landscape — literally and metaphorically. These include everything from the tornado that touched down that June day in 2011 to the arrival of casino gambling in Western Mass.; from the emergence of a new and multi-faceted business sector — cannabis — to the growth and maturity of the entrepreneurship ecosystem. In short, the region looks a lot different than it did in January 2010, and most of it is for the better. Because this is 2020, here are the top 20 stories from the past decade.

The Casino Era

Perhaps the most dominant story of the decade was the introduction of casino gambling to the Common-wealth — and it covered the entire decade, to be sure, with a number of plots and subplots.

And, of course, the story continues.

Through the early part of the 2010s, the dominant story was where the casinos would be located. Legislation dictated that one of the resort casinos be located in what is considered ‘Western Mass.’ — everything west of Worcester — and a number of sites in several different communities emerged.

That list included the Big E grounds, the Wyckoff Country Club site in Holyoke, a location just off the Mass Pike entrance in Palmer, a site in Brimfield, and, of course, several locations in Springfield, including two downtown — one on the Peter Pan bus terminal site and the other in the tornado-ravaged South End — and one in East Springfield that eventually became home to CRRC (see listing below).

Eventually, MGM’s proposal to revitalize the South End with a $950 million resort casino was chosen by Springfield and then the Gaming Commission. Construction began in the spring of 2015, and for more than three years, the region watched the massive facility take shape.

It opened in August 2018, and since then, the focus has primarily been on revenues that are lagging well behind what was projected when the casino was proposed. However, Mike Mathis, president and COO of MGM Springfield, has maintained that casinos go through a “ramping-up” process that is generally three years or more in duration, and that the Springfield facility is still very much still in this ramping phase.

Looking forward, MGM officials are optimistic that sports gambling — still being considered by the Legislature — will provide a needed revenue boost. Meanwhile, they point to a number of positive developments spurred by the casino, including jobs, greater vibrancy in the downtown area, a trickle-down effect to other hospitality-related businesses, and new events, such as concerts and the upcoming Red Sox Winter Weekend.

Springfield’s Revitalization

When the decade began, Springfield was still climbing out of a very deep, very dark fiscal hole that it fell into several years earlier, one that took the city into receivership and made it the butt of jokes in the eastern part of the state.

As the decade ends, there is still considerable work to do, but Springfield is a very different place than it was 10 years ago. Its downtown, now anchored by a $960 million casino, is much more vibrant. CRRC is making subway cars in East Springfield. Union Station has been revitalized, and rail service has been expanded. The I-91 viaduct has been replaced. Many of the areas damaged by the tornado of 2011 have been revitalized. Tower Square has new ownership and some intriguing new tenants, including the YMCA of Greater Springfield.

Meanwhile, several of the parks, including Riverfront Park and Court Square, have been restored, and Pynchon Park, which links Dwight Street with the Quadrangle, is getting a facelift. Way Finders is building a new, $17 million headquarters building on the site of the old Peter Pan Bus Terminal. MassMutual is is spending $50 million to renovate and expand facilities in Springfield. Big Y recently completed a $46 million expansion. A $14 Educare facility just opened its doors. The list goes on.

There are still things to be done, such as revitalizing Court Square, building a replacement for the crumbling Civic Center Parking Garage, and spreading the vibrancy at MGM Springfield to properties across Main Street from that complex. But overall, Springfield is enjoying a resurgence, and has taken the step of announcing this loudly, and locally, in a marketing campaign created in concert with the Economic Development Council of Western Mass.

A city that was still very much in a dark place at the start of the decade has now come into the light.

The Rise of Cannabis

While many states have since followed suit, Massachusetts has long been near the vanguard when it comes to legalizing marijuana — first for medicinal purposes in 2012, then for recreational, or ‘adult,’ use in 2016. Both measures were passed by voters at the ballot box, and together they have created nothing less than another economic driver in Western Mass.

New England Treatment Access (NETA), the state’s first dispensary to begin adult sales, drew massive lines when it first opened in November 2018, but still maintains a healthy flow of customers as other shops, like Insa in Easthampton, Theory Wellness in Great Barrington, and others have begun recreational sales — with dozens more, in myriad communities, in various stages of permitting and development.

The burgeoning cannabis trade has impacted other fields as well, such as law, as firms have launched specialized practices to help entrepreneurs navigate the intricacies of this business. Meanwhile, banks eagerly await a possible move on the federal level to allow them to handle cannabis accounts.

Municipalities no doubt appreciate the additional tax revenue, which differs by town — in Northampton’s case, it’s 6% on top of the 17% tax customers pay the state, resulting in a $737,331 haul during NETA’s first three months of operation. In this light, it’s no surprise so many communities have embraced this new cannabis era in Massachusetts.

Marijuana remains illegal federally, but a surge of state-level legalization has probably gained too much momentum for that to remain the case forever. Massachusetts has played no small part in that trend.

A Decade-long Expansion

When the decade began, the economy, in many ways still recovering from what became known as the Great Recession, was nonetheless expanding.

And 10 years later … it is still expanding.

It’s been an historic run in many ways, and one that has seemingly defied the odds and host of issues — from trade wars to turmoil overseas to chaos on Capital Hill — to continue as it has.

For most of the decade, the expansion has been anything but profound — usually a percentage point or two or three of growth — but it has continued, bringing the stock market to new and sometimes dizzying heights — the Dow was above 28,000 as this issue went to press, and the S&P was nearing 3,200 — and the region and the nation to something approaching full employment.

These historically low unemployment levels have brought opportunities for workers and challenges for employers (see below), but they are the most obvious sign that the economy is still humming.

The question is … just how long can this last?

Many of the experts predicted a recession for sometime in 2019. It didn’t happen. Now, many are saying that one is likely for 2020, especially with the current inversion of the yield curve, whereby interest rates have flipped on U.S. Treasuries, with short-term bonds paying more than long-term bonds.

If history is any indicator, then this expansion seems destined to come an end soon. Then again, all the signs, from the stock market to the job market, seem to indicate otherwise.

Workforce Issues

As noted, the expansion has brought with it historically low unemployment in most regions of the country, including Western Mass.

And, as also noted, this has created a market heavily tipped toward the job seeker, which has meant challenging times for employers across virtually every sector of the economy.

Indeed, one consistent theme in the hundreds of interviews BusinessWest conducted with business owners and managers over the past decade has been the ongoing difficulty with finding and retaining good help.

It doesn’t matter which sector you’re talking about — healthcare, financial services, construction, distribution, retail, or hospitality — the one constant has been the struggle to fill the ranks.

At the start of the decade and maybe until a few years ago, employers would say it was a good problem to have; now, they don’t use that phrase so much. It’s just a problem.

And one that has led to some new terminology entering the lexicon: ‘ghosting,’ a situation that occurs when someone is slated to show up for work (or even an interview) and doesn’t, because something better has come along.

The situation has been exacerbated by forces ranging from the retirement of Baby Boomers to the arrival of MGM Springfield, and addressed by initiatives at the state and local levels — from agencies, community colleges, and organizations like Dress for Success — to give more people the skills they need to succeed in a technology-driven economy.

A Growing Entrepreneurship Ecosystem

One of the very best stories over the past decade has been the growth and maturation of the region’s entrepreneurship ecosystem, to the point where it is now a powerful force in the region when it comes to economic development.

The ecosystem has come to have a number of moving parts, from mentorship groups such as Valley Venture Mentors, EforAll Holyoke (formerly SPARK), and Launch 413 to entrepreneurship programs at area colleges and universities; from angel-investing groups that provide much-needed capital to initiatives like UMass Amherst’s Institute for Applied Life Sciences and Springfield-based TechSpring, which are working to take ideas from the lab to the marketplace.

Together, these moving parts have created large amounts of what could be called entrepreneurial energy, which has led to hundreds of new startups selling everything from cookies to mops to software programs that can enable machines to operate more efficiently.

Many of the entrepreneurs behind these ventures have made their way to the cover of BusinessWest, an indication of just how important the startup economy has become to the overall vitality of this region, and how large and impactful the entrepreneurship ecosystem has become.

While many are waiting and hoping for the next Google, Facebook, or Uber, most understand that the many smaller businesses now employing a handful of workers are already changing the landscape in individual communities, such as Holyoke and Springfield.

The Opioid Crisis

In 2016, when Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law a sweeping series of measures aimed at curbing opioid addiction, that class of drugs had long been recognized as a health crisis in the Commonwealth.

Specifically, it was the first law in the nation to limit an opioid prescription to a seven-day supply for first-time adult prescriptions and every prescription for minors, with certain exceptions. Among other provisions, information on opiate use and misuse must be disseminated at head-injury safety programs for high-school athletes, doctors must check the Prescription Monitoring Program database before writing a prescription for a Schedule 2 or Schedule 3 narcotic, and prescribers have ramped up continuing-education efforts, ranging from effective pain management to the risks of abuse and addiction associated with opioid medications, just to name a few.

Progress has been slow. In 2017, there were 1,913 drug-overdose deaths involving opioids in Massachusetts — a rate of 28.2 deaths per 100,000 persons, roughly double the national rate of 14.6. The greatest increase in opioid deaths was seen in cases involving synthetic opioids, mainly fentanyl: a rise from 67 deaths in 2012 to 1,649 deaths in 2017.

More recent news has been mixed. Opioid-related overdose deaths in Massachusetts fell 6% in the first nine months of 2019 compared to the first nine months of 2018, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. Between January and September of 2019, there were 1,460 confirmed and estimated opioid-related overdose deaths in Massachusetts, compared to 1,559 in the first nine months of 2018.

However, the fentanyl problem grows — it was present in 93% of opioid-related overdose deaths where there was a toxicology screen over that time frame, up from 89% in 2018. Still, the state’s multi-pronged approach to the opioid epidemic may finally be making a difference.

The Tornado of 2011

There aren’t many residents and business owners who don’t have vivid recollections of the tornado that roared across Western Mass. on June 1, 2011.

Indeed, it traveled through a number of communities, leaving in its wake heavy damage and rebuilding challenges like the region had never seen.

It ravaged rural areas like Belchertown, but also traveled right down Main Street in Springfield, crossing over City Hall as it did so.

As it tore across Springfield and the region, the tornado didn’t discriminate; it damaged elementary schools, colleges, and especially what was then Cathedral High School, which was eventually razed and replaced with a much smaller facility known as Pope Francis High School. It laid waste to Monson’s scenic landscape. It changed the landscape at Veterans Golf Course in Springfield and completely uprooted Square One, the early-childhood education provider located in Springfield’s South End. (Joan Kagan, executive director of Square One, became the face of the disaster, literally and figuratively, as her picture — taken on Main Street with the agency’s ravaged home behind her — graced the cover of BusinessWest a few days later.)

After the dust settled, the difficult and inspiring cleanup and recovery began, and in some ways, it is still ongoing. Efforts to rehabilitate the South End of Springfield were greatly accelerated by MGM’s proposal to build a resort casino partly on parcels damaged by the casino. But several other businesses have risen in that era, including a new CVS pharmacy.

The Potential of Rail

State Sen. Eric Lesser has long been touting east-west rail service connecting Western Mass. and Boston, arguing that an 80-minute ride from Springfield’s Union Station to Boston’s South Station would be a game changer — and not only for Springfield.

“In Western Mass., we have great quality of life, great schools, a lot to offer, but we’re not creating jobs fast enough to keep people here,” he told BusinessWest. “As a result, we’ve seen a vacuuming of jobs and opportunities into a handful of zip codes. And in Boston, two crises are playing out simultaneously: out-of-control traffic gridlock and skyrocketing housing prices.”

Connecting the regions with high-speed rail could help solve both problems, he often argues. High-speed rail service between Pittsfield and Boston — with up to 16 round-trip trains running every day along the Interstate 90 corridor — was among the options for linking Western Mass. to Boston presented by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to a state advisory committee in Springfield recently.

It’s not like rail hasn’t already made life easier in Western Mass., what with the launch of the Amtrak Vermonter line in 2016 and the Valley Flyer service between Greenfield and Springfield earlier this year. Ridership originating in Northampton on the Vermonter line increased from 17,197 riders in 2016 to 21,619 in 2018, reflecting a growing demand for rail.

“The new generation — people my age and younger — don’t want to sit in their cars all day,” Lesser said. “They don’t want long commutes on clogged highways. They’re open to using buses and trains in a way that maybe previous generations weren’t. Again, it would solve a lot of overlapping challenges we’re facing all at the same time.”

CRRC’s Rail Cars

A region that used to be home to many major manufacturing companies — at least, more than exist today — got a major boost in 2014 with the announcement that Chinese rail-car manufacturing giant CRRC was coming to Springfield to build hundreds of new cars for the MBTA’s Orange Line and Red Line systems.

The initial contract was for 152 Orange Line cars and 132 Red Line cars to replace aging trains. Two years later, an additional order was placed for 120 more Red Line cars, bringing the state’s total investment in new cars to $566 million.

From CRRC’s $95 million factory on Page Boulevard, which employs about 200 people, about a dozen trains have been delivered, and the company also built a 42,500-square-foot warehouse at the site this year to house large components.

The company’s leaders say they invested in Springfield with an eye on significant growth in the U.S. That has come to fruition, with a deal in 2016 to manufacture new subway cars for the city of Los Angeles and an agreement in 2017 to build new train cars for SEPTA, Philadelphia’s transit system, to name just two developments.

MBTA says the new vehicles incorporate improved safety features, wireless communications for monitoring potential maintenance needs, improved passenger comfort, new technology that provides important customer-facing information, and cutting-edge accessibility features, such as platform gap-mitigation devices.

For Springfield, however, the trains represent something greater — a major manufacturing success story at a time when one was needed.

The Dr. Seuss Museum

For years, people visiting the Dr. Seuss sculpture garden in the Quadrangle would ask where the museum devoted to the beloved children’s author and Springfield native was located. And they would be told there wasn’t one.

That all changed in the summer of 2017, with the opening of the Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum, a facility that has provided a true measure of the awesome power of the Seuss name and brand by attracting visitors from across the region and country and from around the world.

In its first year of operation, the museum enabled the Quadrangle to shatter attendance records, and the numbers have been steady and quite impressive since.

Museum officials are optimistic that the attendance and revenue boost from the Seuss facility will enable it to modernize and expand many of its other facilities. Meanwhile, civic and economic-development leaders say Seuss gives Springfield a powerful addition to its roster of attractions, one that can inspire — and lengthen — visits to the region.

Holyoke’s Renaissance

Another intriguing story from this past decade has been the resurgence in the city of Holyoke, a proud industrial city that has been re-inventing itself as a center for the arts, entrepreneurship, and, yes, cannabis.

In fact, in one interview with a TV crew several months ago, Holyoke’s mayor, Alex Morse, joked that it was goal, if not his mission, to see the community’s nickname change from the Paper City to the Rolling Paper City. That remark speaks to the enthusiastic manner in which the city embraced the legalization of cannabis in the Commonwealth and essentially opened its doors to many different kinds of businesses within that sector. Today, hundreds of thousands of square feet of former mill space is being eyed for cannabis cultivation and other uses, and several facilities are already operating.

But cannabis is only one of many good stories that have unfolded in Holyoke over the past decade. Others include the opening of the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center in 2012; renovation of the property known as the Cubit Building, which is now home to apartments as well as the Holyoke Community College MGM Culinary Arts Institute; creation of SPARK, an agency devoted to encouraging and mentoring entrepreneurs (now named EforAll Holyoke); new rail service; and a burgeoning cultural district in the heart of downtown.

Like Springfield and other gateway cities and former industrial centers, Holyoke has evolved beyond those roots, and with very positive results.

Springfield Thunderbirds

One of the best stories of the decade involved hockey in Springfield, and specifically a new team that has infused the region with energy, imagination, and, yes, entertaining hockey.

We’re talking about the Springfield Thunderbirds, a team, and a story, so good that the franchise’s owners and managers were named BusinessWest’s Top Entrepreneurs for 2017.

To recap quickly, hockey, which has a rich history in Springfield dating back to the 1930s, was struggling in Springfield toward the middle of the decade. And then, it was gone, as the franchise known as the Springfield Falcons relocated to Arizona.

But a large group of entrepreneurs and community activists were determined not to see hockey relegated to the past. Their first move was to purchase a franchise in Portland, Maine, and relocate it to Springfield. Their second, even more important, move was to put Nate Costa, then working for the American Hockey League in its Springfield office, in charge.

His goal was to turn the Thunderbirds into a household name, and he has done just that, making the T-Birds, as they’re called, a big part of the renaissance taking place in Springfield.

The team is averaging more than 5,000 fans a night through a host of imaginative efforts — from promotions such as 3-2-1 Fridays ($3 beers, $2 hot dogs, and $1 sodas) to bringing in celebrities such as Red Sox stars David Ortiz and Pedro Martinez.

The end result? A ticket to a hockey game at the MassMutual Center is much more difficult to come by. That’s a sign of the T-Birds’ success on the ice, and in their ability to become part of the proverbial big picture when it comes to Springfield’s revitalization.

Bay Path University’s Evolution

A quarter-century ago, Bay Path College was a small, two-year school experiencing an identity crisis on a number of levels. Today, the institution is a university and a brand known across the region, and also across the country.

And the continued growth and emergence of Bay Path, led by President Carol Leary, who will be retiring next spring, certainly deserves to be among the biggest stories of the past decade.

The college, recently ranked among the fastest-growing private baccalaureate institutions in the nation, has, over the past several years, created the American Women’s College, an online institution; added several new programs, both at the undergraduate and graduate levels; opened a new science center in East Longmeadow; and become an industry leader in cybersecurity and computer-science programs. Meanwhile, it continues to stage its annual Women’s Leadership Conference each spring, an event that draws roughly 1,000 people to the MassMutual Center.

And in 2014, the institution had to create a new sign at its entrance in the center of Longmeadow, one with enough room for the word ‘university,’ a step that reflects its more global reach and its rising brand.

Over the past few years, Leary has been twice honored by BusinessWest, first with its Difference Makers award, and then its Women of Impact award. Those accolades speak to how much she has done for the school and within this region. But they also reflect just how far this school has come.

Ludlow Mills on Schedule

It’s been more than eight years since Westmass Area Development Corp. announced the 20-year project known as Ludlow Mills — a blend of both brownfield and greenfield development — and, about a third of the way through that time frame, progress at this complex of 60 buildings and adjoining undeveloped land has been steady.

When it started the clock back in 2011, Westmass said this project would generate $300 million in public and private investments, more than 2,000 jobs, and a more than $2 million increase in municipal property taxes. To date, high-profile initiatives on the site include the building of Encompass Health Rehabilitation Hospital of Western Massachusetts, WinnDevelopment’s overhaul of the structure known as Mill 10 into over-55 housing, and several smaller developments.

And there is more on the drawing board, most notably WinnDevelopment’s planned conversion of Mill 8, the so-called Clock Tower Building, into a mixed-used project featuring commercial space on the ground floor and more housing in the floors above.

The next key milestone for the project is the construction of Riverside Drive, which will open up approximately 60 acres of pre-permitted light-industrial property.

“We’re getting a lot of interest,” said Jeff Daley, Westmass’ new CEO, who noted that one of the front parcels was sold to the town of Ludlow for a new senior center, which recently broke ground. “That’s going to be a beautiful building to showcase the property from the eastern side.”

Ludlow’s municipal leaders say Ludlow Mills is already creating a trickle-down effect to the town and the region in terms of jobs and other benefits.

“It’s growing,” Daley added, “and there’s a lot of momentum, a lot of interest. People are coming in and creating stable businesses, and creating jobs. It’s really exciting.”

Ideas Take Shape at IALS

UMass Amherst may be renowned for cutting-edge scientific research, but when it comes from turning published papers into public benefits, the transition hasn’t always been smooth. Enter UMass Amherst’s Institute for Applied Life Sciences (IALS, pronounced ‘aisles’), where a collection of ‘core facilities’ is helping boost the state’s manufacturing economy — and innovation reputation — in myriad ways.

IALS was created in 2013 with $150 million in capital funding from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center (MLSC) and the university itself. Its mission is to accelerate life-science research and advance collaboration with industry to effectively shorten the gap between scientific innovation and technological advancement.

The institute achieves this goal through three translational centers: the Models to Medicine Center, which harnesses campus research strengths in life science; the Center for Bioactive Delivery, which seeks to discover new paradigms for the discovery of optimized delivery vehicles for drugs; and the Center for Personalized Health Monitoring, which aims to accelerate the development and commercialization of low-cost, wearable, wireless sensor systems for health and biometric monitoring.

Located inside the IALS building, these core facilities — now numbering more than 30 — and their high-tech equipment are available not only to UMass researchers, but to companies that want to rent the space and equipment. For those companies, IALS provides a key resource they might not be able to afford on their own — and it could make a difference whether they invest in Western Mass. or go elsewhere.

Together, they form a pathway to commercialization — a vehicle to bring research to fruition and make an impact on society. By creating connections between research and the marketplace, IALS is doing its part to make Western Mass. a hub of innovation.

Baystate’s Expansion

Baystate Medical Center was already the region’s largest hospital — and the flagship of an ever-broadening network of hospitals and specialty practices — when it launched an ambitious, $295 million expansion, called ‘the Hospital of the Future,’ toward the end of the last decade.

‘Future,’ in this context, had multiple meanings. One was a forward-looking mindset when it came to technology, how a modern emergency room should look, and sustainable design and construction elements in the 640,000-square-foot addition. Another was the fact that Baystate left much of the new space undeveloped inside, knowing it would be needed in, well, the future.

When the new space opened in April 2012, its MassMutual Wing housed the Davis Family Heart and Vascular Center, which includes six surgical/endovascular suites designed to accommodate advanced lifesaving cardiovascular procedures, as well as 32 cardiovascular critical-care rooms that support state-of-the-art medicine. Later that year, a much larger Emergency Department opened in the new building, replacing an outdated ER that was designed to handle much less traffic than it was currently receiving.

That’s not the only way Baystate was expanding, of course. It also brought Wing Memorial Hospital and Noble Hospital into its system in 2014 and 2015, respectively, and continued adding to what has become a broad medical campus on the north end of Main Street in Springfield — not to mention its partnership with UMass Medical School in creating a downtown campus, which opened in 2016.

In short, whatever the future brings in healthcare locally, Baystate has placed itself square in the center of it.

Transformation in North Amherst

Cinda Jones, who, with her brother, Evan, represents the ninth generation of Cowls family landowners in North Amherst, has said each generation has transformed the land into what was most beneficial to the community at the time.

These days, she’s putting that philosophy to work at North Square at the Mill District. In fact, Jones’ company, W.D. Cowls Inc., and Boston-based Beacon Communities are developing three mixed-use buildings featuring 130 residential units — including 26 affordable units for people at or below 50% of the area’s median income — and 22,000 square feet of commercial space. The first residents began moving in over this past summer.

The partnership has benefited from local, state and federal support; in fact, it’s the first time that Amherst has taken advantage of legislation allowing the town to grant special tax incentives for projects that include affordable housing for low- and moderate-income tenants.

While impressive on its own, North Square reflects one of the more notable development trends in recent years: mixed-use structures in urban and village centers that generate economic vibrancy simply by putting more feet on the street.

Isenberg Climbs in the Rankings

One of the more intriguing stories from the past decade has been the steady rise of the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst, a facility that has taken on a new profile — on campus and across the country.

The school, which first opened its doors in 1947, is now ranked first (actually, it’s tied with UConn) among the public undergraduate business programs in the Northeast in the 2020 U.S. News & World Report listings, 11th among the best public business schools in the country, and 50th in the rankings of the best business schools overall.

These numbers have been climbing steadily over the past years as the Isenberg School has made every greater investments in its programs and faculty, an expansion initiative punctuated by the opening this year of a $62 million expansion that puts a new face on Isenberg and boldly announces its intentions to continue its rise in the ranks.

EDC on a Mission

The goal of the Economic Development Council (EDC) of Western Mass. is multi-faceted, but has long boiled down to one core mission: encouraging the growth of the region’s economy, which was pounded by the Great Recession but has since been on a decidedly upward trajectory.

Its president, Rick Sullivan, says the EDC has seen a definite uptick in site searches, both from companies in the region that want to expand and those looking at Western Mass. for the first time.

“What we’ve become is what we call an ‘honest broker,’ he said. “We treat private developers and quasi-public developers the same. When a request comes in, it goes out to everyone on the list, all the economic-development professionals in the area, and we do not care whether the development occurs in Greenfield or Agawam or anywhere in between. We just want to have growth happen in the region, and that will continue to be the case.”

Many of the searches don’t result in a business moving here, he added, but those inquiries are a good gauge of the current health of the economy and the potential of the region, and they’re coming from a range of industries, from manufacturers and construction-materials companies to warehousing operations and call centers. When the region is doing well, Sullivan said, its natural pluses, such as its position near major interstates roughly between Boston and New York, become even more attractive.

Meanwhile, the EDC has forged stronger partnerships with colleges and universities, such as a cybersecurity management program at Bay Path and water-innovation and clean-energy work at UMass Amherst. “I think you’ll see the EDC do more with higher ed,” Sullivan said. “That’s where the talent pool is.”

The economy might eventually waver, but the EDC intends to maintain a steady course when it comes to raising the profile and success of its namesake region.

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

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

People on the Move

Hector Toledo

Gov. Charlie Baker recently appointed Hector Toledo, vice president and Branch Distribution Network officer at Greenfield Savings Bank, to Greenfield Community College’s (GCC) board of trustees. One of 11 trustees, he will replace former trustee Linda Melconian. Toledo joins the board with close to 30 years of experience in banking. Before joining Greenfield Savings Bank in 2018, he held executive positions at People’s United Bank, Hampden Bank, and Bank of America. Raised in Springfield, he has spent the past 25 years volunteering for numerous nonprofits. He is a board member and chair of the finance committee for Baystate Health, a board member for the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, a former chairperson of the board of Springfield Technical Community College (STCC), and a board member of both the YMCA of Greater Springfield and the United Way of Pioneer Valley. Though new to the college, Toledo has served on boards alongside former GCC President Bob Pura, and is acutely aware of the life-changing impact community colleges have on the students they serve. An alum of STCC, he is of the first generation in his family to attend college. “One of the greatest qualities of community colleges in this state is the automatic support and hope given to students regardless of where they come from, their ethnicity, their gender, or their age,” Toledo said.

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Viability Inc. announced that Don Kozera will serve as interim president and CEO following the recent death of President and CEO Dick Venne. “With decades of executive leadership experience, Don rejoins Viability to provide support and guidance for the organization,” said Patricia Robinson, vice president. “During this time, Don and the board will be collaborating to identify the future needs of Viability and how we continue to develop our organization better together.”

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Karen Smith Wohlers

Karen Smith Wohlers has joined Smith Brothers Insurance and will be responsible for employee-benefits compliance and legal services. She has a strong background in human resources and compliance, which will complement Smith Brothers’ growing employee-benefits services in support of clients throughout the U.S. Previously, she was vice president of Human Resources and then chief operating officer at Square One. “Karen’s experience and impact with both nonprofit and for-profit organizations, as well as her compliance training and consulting work for the Employer Association of the NorthEast, will be a significant addition to our employee-benefits practice,” said Don Poulin, Employee Benefits practice leader at Smith Brothers Insurance.

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Entrepreneurship for All (EforAll) Berkshire County ran its first All-Ideas Pitch Contest at the Berkshire Museum, awarding first prize of $1,000 to Kaitlyn Pierce of Binka Bear, a product that helps wean children off pacifiers. She also won the Fan Favorite award of $500. Second place prize of $750 went to Michelle Latimer and Leia Miller for their idea 413 Bubbly, a mobile prosecco/champagne business. Third place went to Erin Laundry of Bottomless Bricks, a building-block birthday-party business with a storefront in Adams. More than 100 members of the community came to support the new business ideas, where 11 individuals were invited to showcase and eight pitched their ideas. The contest judges were Evan Valenti of Steven Valenti Clothing, Jodi Rathbun-Briggs of Greylock Federal Credit Union, John Lewis of Sp3ak Easy Studios, Laurie Mick of PERC and the city of Pittsfield, Linda Dulye of Dulye & Co., and Lindsey Schmid of 1Berkshire.

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Sarah Eustis, CEO of Main Street Hospitality Group, announced the appointment of H. Jackson Donoyan as vice president of Operations for the growing hotel-management company. As vice president of Operations, Jackson will work closely with Eustis and Main Street’s leadership team to oversee operations at each hotel property in the portfolio. He will focus on revenue generation, operational oversight, owner relations, talent development, and strategic growth. In addition, he is tasked with stabilization and development of the brand while also enhancing the overall guest experience and reinforcing brand standards. Jackson brings a wealth of industry ingenuity to Main Street Hospitality Group, including a background opening and operating newly constructed and renovated hotels. Most recently, he was the general manager at NYLO Providence Warwick Hotel in Warwick, R.I. Prior to that, he was a hospitality consultant in Boston and held positions as the director of Food and Beverage and director of Operations/interim general manager at both the Liberty Hotel in Boston and Hotel Viking in Newport, R.I.

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Kevin Kervick

OMG Roofing Products hired Kevin Kervick as solar products business manager, reporting to Adam Cincotta, director of the company’s Adhesives/Solar Business Unit. In his new role, Kervick is responsible for developing and implementing a strategic plan for the company’s solar business, as well as for managing solar sales, product development, and profitability. For the past four years, Kervick has been a sales and marketing consultant, most recently working with the Spencer Brewery, a startup venture. Earlier, he was owner and chief Marketing officer for the Bassette Co., a commercial printing and marketing company based in Springfield. He holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Babson College.

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Peter Reinhart, director of the Institute of Applied Life Sciences (IALS) at UMass Amherst, announced that six campus research teams have been named recipients of the first Manning/IALS Seed Grants. The awards will support next steps in their research, such as proof-of-concept studies, business development, and fundamental research into new products, technologies, and services to benefit human health and well-being. Earlier this year, alumnus Paul Manning and his wife, Diane, committed $1 million through their family foundation to establish the Manning Innovation Program, which provides three years of support in advancing a robust and sustainable pipeline of applied and translational research projects from UMass Amherst. The seed grants were awarded after a competitive process that narrowed 35 teams to six winners. Faculty researchers will receive not only seed funding of $100,000 each over three years, but also business training and mentorship from IALS, the College of Natural Sciences, the Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship, and the Isenberg School of Management, among others. The winning team leaders and their projects include Derek Lovley, microbiology, “Fabricating Protein Nanowires for Unique Sensing Capabilities”; Jeanne Hardy, chemistry, “Development of Potent Zika Virus Protease Inhibitors”; S. “Thai” Thayumanavan, chemistry, and Steve Faraci, “Pre-clinical Efficacy Evaluation of Liver-targeted, Thyromimetic-encapsulated IntelliGels for the Treatment of Non-alcoholic Steatohepatitis”; Neil St. John Forbes, chemical engineering, “Bacterial Delivery of Therapeutic Peptides to Treat Advanced Hepatocellular Carcinoma”; Shelly Peyton, chemical engineering, “GelTech to Enable Tissue-specific Drug Discovery and Help Eliminate Potential False-positive Hits from Screening”; and Madalina Fiterau Brostean, computer science, “4Thought: Unlocking Insights into Your Mental Health.” The Manning Foundation’s gift provides an investment in UMass Amherst as a partner of choice in advancing and applying knowledge and innovation for the betterment of society.

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Kingbill Zhao

OMG Roofing Products announced that Kingbill Zhao has been promoted to director of Key Accounts and International Sales. He replaces Web Shaffer, who was promoted to senior vice president and general manager of the company’s FastenMaster Division. In his new role, Zhao will manage all sales and marketing activities of the company’s three key account managers, as well as the company’s international sales and its European and Asia market managers. He reports to Peter Coyne, senior vice president and general manager. Zhao joined OMG Roofing Products in January 2010 as the company’s first employee in Asia, and was instrumental in not only building its presence in China, but also in hiring the team in place now in China. Prior to joining OMG, he worked for the Chinese National Building Waterproof Assoc. as manager of the International Liaison Department. Earlier, he worked for North China Power Engineering Co. in Nigeria as commercial manager on a substation expansion project. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Beijing International Study University and is pursuing his MBA from Washington State University. He is based at the company’s Agawam headquarters.

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Jessica DeFlumer-Trapp, vice president of Integration at Behavioral Health Network (BHN), recently received the Excellence in Care Integration Award at the Assoc. for Behavioral Health’s (ABH) annual “Salute to Excellence” event. In the two years DeFlumer-Trapp has served at BHN, she has been guiding the organization’s dramatic growth in medical integration and care management. Strategies to integrate behavioral and physical health are at the forefront of healthcare in BHN’s service area and in the nation. As BHN’s vice president managing behavioral and physical health integration, she is guiding new initiatives related to integration and population health. She was recognized by ABH for her ability to understand trends at the macro level as it relates to the evolving landscape in behavioral health, and bring concept and strategy to the implementation level. Prior to her current position, DeFlumer-Trapp served as BHN’s senior program manager of Population Health, where she charted the overall course of BHN’s population-health initiative, working closely with those in the areas of care management, pharmacy, health, and wellness.

People on the Move

Amy Roberts

Steven Gardner

Jacquelyn Guzie

Nicole Stevenson

Tom Senecal, president and CEO of PeoplesBank, announced four appointments: Amy Roberts to senior vice president and chief Human Resources officer, Steven Gardner to assistant vice president and East Longmeadow Banking Center manager, Jacquelyn Guzie to assistant vice president and regional manager for First Suffield Bank (a division of PeoplesBank), and Nicole Stevenson to West Springfield Banking Center manager. Roberts oversees all human-resources and employee-engagement activities for 325 employees spread over 21 banking centers and three additional locations under development in Massachusetts and Connecticut. She leads a team that is responsible for talent recruitment and development, HR compliance, benefits, employee relations, compensation management, and HR-related associate communication. She has extensive experience in leadership development and coaching, change management, performance improvement, organizational learning and development, and employee engagement, as well as more than 20 years of experience serving in leadership positions in human resources. She holds a master’s degree in human resource development from American International College and a bachelor’s degree in communications from Bridgewater State University. She has also earned certificates in leadership development and succession planning, talent development and retention, and human capital management principles from the Human Capital Institute. Roberts’ volunteer service includes serving as a board member for the Center for Human Development, the United Way of Hampshire County, Leadership Pioneer Valley, and the STCC Foundation, as well as serving as an advisory board member for Big Brothers Big Sisters and a Read Aloud volunteer for Link to Libraries. In his new position, Gardner oversees and manages all aspects of a full-service banking center, including staffing, sales, lending, operations, business development, and community relations. He has 18 years of financial-services and banking experience. He holds a bachelor’s degree in business management from Westfield State University and an associate degree in retail management from Holyoke Community College. He serves as vice president of the East Longmeadow Rotary Club, is a member of the ERC5 and West of the River chambers of commerce, and is a volunteer for Revitalize CDC and Junior Achievement. In her new position, Guzie is responsible for assisting in the growth of relationships for the Connecticut region. She has 20 years of banking experience. She holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration and an associate degree in business administration from the New England College of Business and Finance. She has served as treasurer of Suffield Chamber of Commerce and president of Suffield Rotary Club, is a member of the Asnuntuck Community College Foundation, and has volunteered for Suffield on the Green, the Suffield Business Showcase, and the Suffield Volunteer Ambulance Assoc. In her new position, Stevenson oversees and manages all aspects of the West Springfield banking center, including staffing, sales, operations, business development, and community relations. She will also ensure that the banking center exceeds service and sales goals, provides excellent customer service, operates according to all bank policies and procedures, and serves as a leader within the community. She has 10 years of banking experience. She holds an associate degree in business administration and management from Holyoke Community College. Her volunteer service includes serving as a committee member for the West Springfield St Patrick’s Day, Holyoke St. Patrick’s Parade, and the Agawam St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. She also served as booth chair for Credit for Life Springfield and is a Big Sister for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Hampden County, second vice president of the Safe Deposit Group of Western Mass., financial group volunteer for Rays of Hope, and a volunteer for Rebuilding Together. She is a member of the finance group for JDRF, the Irish Cultural Center of Western New England, and the Young Professional Society of Greater Springfield.

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Kevin Hurley

Kevin DeMarco

Darcy Lyle

Waterford Hotel Group announced three appointments at the Williams Inn. Kevin Hurley has been appointed general manager, Kevin DeMarco was named executive chef, and Darcy Lyle is director of sales. The new Williams Inn, located at the corner of Latham and Spring streets in Williamstown, will open on Aug. 15. Owned by Williams College, the inn will replace the current Williams Inn, which will continue to operate through July 31. With more than 15 years of experience in the hospitality industry, Hurley has dedicated his career to the hospitality industry by taking on various roles at several hotels and resorts in the U.S. in addition to his native Canada. Prior to joining the Williams Inn, he worked as assistant general manager at the Kimpton Taconic Hotel in Manchester, Vt. He has also held posts at Omni Hotels and Resorts, the storied Charles Hotel in Cambridge, and Fairmont Hotels & Resorts. He completed his undergraduate studies at Bishops University in Sherbrook, Quebec and later went on to earn a master certificate in hospitality management from Cornell University. A graduate of Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I., DeMarco has honed his culinary skills up and down the East Coast over the past 13 years. He joins the Williams Inn team from the Newport Restaurant Group in Newport, R.I. His last post was as chef tournant at Castle Hill Inn, a historic Relais & Châteaux property in Newport. He also worked at Grande’s Bella Cucina in Palm Beach, Fla. and Public Kitchen & Bar in Providence. He is a SWE-certified specialist of wine and spirits. Lyle brings a wealth of knowledge to the Williams Inn with 28 years of experience in the hospitality and sales industry. Prior to joining the Williams Inn, she worked in sales at the Clark Art Institute, and has also held positions in operations and sales at numerous hotels throughout the upstate New York region, as well as the New York State Hospitality and Tourism Assoc. She attended Herkimer Community College, where she received a degree in tourist facilities and management promotion. While in school, she interned with Disney, where she found her passion for the hospitality and tourism industry.

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Commissioners representing their respective Hampden and Hampshire county communities selected Kimberly Robinson to take the helm of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission as current Executive Director Tim Brennan prepares to bring his more than four decades of service in that role to a close this summer. Since 2011, Robinson has been executive director of the Truckee Meadows Regional Planning Agency, which serves three counties anchored by Metro Reno, Nevada. Previous posts held by Robinson also include head planner for the city of Detroit and planning manager for the Washoe County Department of Community Development. Pending a successful contract negotiation, Robinson and Brennan will work together to identify a time over the next few months for the transition to occur.

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Aimee Dalenta

Nancy Ward

Springfield Technical Community College (STCC) announced the appointment of Aimee Dalenta as chair of the Early Childhood Education Department and Nancy Ward as Early Education and Care Pathways grant and activity director. Among Dalenta’s roles is to oversee STCC’s new child development associate (CDA) plus certificate of completion program, which is designed for early-childhood educators and school paraprofessionals who want to get their CDA credential and earn college credit at the same time. Dalenta, a professional in the field of education for 14 years, has held roles as a classroom teacher, owned and operated her own preschool, and served as an educational consultant. She has worked at the college level for six years, training future teachers to succeed in the classroom. She will earn a doctorate in education from American International College in August. She received her bachelor’s degree in education from Springfield College and master’s degree in education from Western New England University. In her new role, Ward will help launch STCC’s new child development associate (CDA) plus certificate of completion program. She has worked in the field of early education and care since 1987, when she began working as a resource developer at New England Farm Workers’ Council’s voucher child-care program. She became the director of the program in 1989 and continued in that role for 14 years. Ward also worked in the Early Childhood Department at the Collaborative for Educational Services for 15 years, in a variety of positions supporting the professional development of early educators. She holds a master’s of education degree in curriculum and instruction with a specialization in literacy from Lesley University in Cambridge. She earned her bachelor’s degree in elementary education at UMass Amherst.

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Darlene Mark

David Babine

Monson Savings Bank announced that Darlene Mark has joined the bank as vice president and commercial loan officer, and David Babine has come on board as the bank’s newest mortgage loan originator. Formerly with Country Bank, Mark has been in banking for 20 years. Her entire banking career has been spent in commercial lending as a credit analyst, portfolio manager, and presently as a commercial loan officer. She has a bachelor’s degree and MBA in business administration from Western New England University and is also a graduate of the Stonier Graduate School of Banking at the University of Pennsylvania and the Massachusetts School for Financial Studies at Babson College. Actively involved in the community, she is a finance committee member of Ludlow Boys and Girls Club and volunteers for Junior Achievement. Babine brings close to 20 years of experience in banking, many of those in residential lending. He is a graduate of Westfield State College with a bachelor’s degree in communications. He also obtained a master’s degree in education psychology and an advanced graduate degree in guidance counseling from the American International College. He has spent some time as a school counselor at various local high schools and volunteered as a local athletic coach.

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Thomas Senecal

On June 20, the Horace Smith Fund held its 120th corporators’ meeting at the Carriage House of Storrowton Tavern in West Springfield. Present at the annual meeting were the corporators who unanimously voted to elect Thomas Senecal, president of PeoplesBank, as a new Corporator. Senecal has more than 25 years of experience in the financial-services industry. In 2016, he was elected president and CEO of PeoplesBank, previously serving as the bank’s executive vice president and chief operating officer. He is a graduate of the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst and is a certified public accountant. He also attended the Tuck Executive Program at Dartmouth College. In addition to his new appointment with the Horace Smith Fund, Senecal also serves as a corporator for Loomis Communities. Following the annual meeting, the Horace Smith Fund awarded $411,000 in scholarships and fellowships to students who will be pursuing undergraduate and graduate degrees this fall.

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Lauryn Picknelly

Lauryn Picknelly, a fourth-generation Picknelly, recently joined the family business, Peter Pan Bus Lines, as assistant controller. She graduated magna cum laude from Providence College with a bachelor’s degree in accounting and finance. She then worked for a year in Hartford at Deloitte before joining the family business.

•••••

Jack Vadnais

Michael Johnson

Freedom Credit Union (FCU), a Springfield-based, full-service financial institution with 11 branches throughout Western Mass., announced it now offers an in-house FCU Investment Services division, growing and enhancing a service it previously outsourced. As part of this expansion, Jack Vadnais was named director of FCU Investment Services, and Michael Johnson was hired as associate director. As director, Vadnais will manage all aspects of the division and assist clients in achieving their financial goals. He has been working with members of Freedom for eight years as a financial advisor. A Navy veteran, he is a graduate of Bridgewater State College, a certified financial planner, and a licensed insurance agent. In his role as associate director, Johnson will work mainly with Freedom’s clients in the Franklin County area, advising them about their investment portfolios and providing information about the credit union’s available financial services. Prior to joining Freedom, Johnson served for nearly 15 years as vice president and financial advisor at Greenfield Cooperative Bank. He received his bachelor’s degree in economics from UMass Amherst and is a Paul Harris Fellow. A former long-time member of the Rotary Club of Franklin County, twice serving as its president, he also served as vice president of the Greenfield Community College Foundation.

MGM Springfield

From Their Perspective

Editor’s Note: As the countdown to MGM’s grand opening ticks down to the final hours, we asked a number of area business and civic leaders for their thoughts on what this momentous development means for Springfield and the surrounding region.

Nancy F. Creed

Nancy F. Creed

Nancy F. Creed, president, Springfield Regional Chamber

“MGM is already making a difference in the local economy — from job creation to utilizing local vendors and suppliers to attracting all types of folks to downtown. You see those results every day. Just this past week, I met a couple from Sardinia who were here on leisure travel. The streets are bustling with people; restaurants are filling up; people are lined up to get coffee at cafes. It is an exciting time in Springfield and in the region and I can only imagine what more is to come once they officially open!”

Richard Sullivan, president and CEO, Economic Development Council of Western Mass.

“MGM presents an exciting economic opportunity for Springfield and Western Mass. Certainly the almost $1 billion investment in downtown Springfield, the construction jobs, and now permanent 3,000 new jobs are significant. However, the real opportunity is the yearly $50 million purchase of goods and services from the existing local economy. MGM has worked diligently to fulfill this commitment. All of this investment will stay local and provide our local businesses an opportunity to grow.

MGM also presents an opportunity to grow our travel and tourism economy and our convention business. Western Mass already has a lot to offer with the Hall of Fame, Museums, Yankee Candle, Northampton restaurant scene, the Armory, and Six Flags. Adding the new casino and entertainment options brings the region’s culinary and hospitality offerings to a new level.”

Peter Rosskothen

Peter Rosskothen

Peter Rosskothen, owner, Log Cabin, Delaney House, Delaney’s Market & D. Hotel & Suites:

“I am excited about the excitement. I hope to see some new businesses in downtown soon. I know that MGM will cannibalize some of our businesses, but we should be able to compensate for that with increased tourism and the support of its employees. Increased tax revenue, plus the commitment of funds from MGM to promote tourism should increase visitation to our market. I am hopeful that this rising tide lifts all boats. Welcome MGM!”

Mary Kay Wydra

Mary Kay Wydra

Mary Kay Wydra, president of the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau:

“The primary role of the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau is to attract visitors to Western Mass., and MGM Springfield will certainly help us accomplish that. Tourism is the state’s third-largest industry and continuing to grow in our region. We are confident that MGM Springfield’s incredible new development with a variety of entertainment in the heart of downtown will bring more visitors. It’s our job to encourage these folks to see more, do more, and stay longer, because that translates into additional spending. All of this extra revenue enhances businesses, governments, and residents across our region alike.”

Kevin Kennedy

Kevin Kennedy

Kevin Kennedy, chief development officer for the city of Springfield

“MGM and its $1.1 billion investment in Springfield is a game changer for the region. The job-creation, repeat vendor spending, and world-class entertainment will impact us well beyond anything we could have hoped for in the aftermath of the tornado. Trains through Union Station will provide first-class transportation south to Hartford and New York. In 2019 the service will expand as far north as Greenfield. More than 400 new units of market-rate housing have been created in the downtown. The excitement is real and it will hit home when we welcome Stevie Wonder on Sept. 1.”

Robert A. Nakosteen

Robert A. Nakosteen

Robert A. Nakosteen, professor, Isenberg School of Management, UMass Amherst

“Manufacturing activity in Springfield peaked in the 19th century, and though interrupted by two World Wars, has been in decline ever since. Though anchored by Mass Mutual and Baystate Health, employment growth in the city has been tepid or non-existent for a long time. Now, the MGM casino promises to bring renewed vitality and growth to Springfield. After a construction phase that created 2,000 jobs, once the Casino is fully operational it will employ 3000 people, with some of the hiring from long-neglected pools of available labor. To put these numbers in perspective, from 2010 through 2017, as the state economy was in a strong rebound from the “Great Recession,” Springfield added less than 4,000 jobs overall.”

Nicole Griffin

Nicole Griffin

Nicole Griffin, chief talent officer and owner, Manehire

“ManeHire is thrilled that this day has come when we can celebrate the opening of MGM Springfield. This investment will continue to induce development in the city and support both our tourist and surrounding businesses. The economic development and workforce impact MGM Springfield is providing is just what the city needed. Congratulations MGM Springfield and the residents of Springfield. We did it! #TheCityofWinners.”

Paul Robbins

Paul Robbins

Paul Robbins, president, Paul Robbins Associates Strategic Communications

“The term ‘game-changer’ is probably overused, but this may be one instance where it applies. Springfield, under many administrations, has been seeking to reinvent the core city. There have been many great ideas through the years, but each lacked the economic engine required, which MGM supplies, to create real transformational change downtown. It will be fascinating to see if and how that extends through the city center and regionally on things like job growth and housing values.”

Jack Dill

Jack Dill

Jack Dill, president, Colebrook Realty Corp.

“While I wasn’t a proponent of gaming in Springfield, I have been impressed with how MGM made the case and met its obligations through the approval and development process. Much of the impact on existing businesses in the area will depend on MGM’s ability to expand the market by drawing customers from outside the region and from other venues. If they succeed in long-term market expansion, other businesses in the food, lodging, and entertainment sectors should benefit. If they don’t succeed in growing the market, cannibalization would be an obvious outcome. I imagine MGM will make a concerted effort in the first several months to build market share and demonstrate the new casino’s value proposition; that would impact competitors of all types in the short term following the facility’s opening. We are already seeing the employment impacts in regional and local unemployment data; the Casino, CRRC, and an overall expanding regional economy have been good for job growth in segments that weren’t previously experiencing strong employment demand. We have observed wage rates and time to fill open positions reflecting this demand.”

Nate Costa

Nate Costa

Nate Costa, president, Springfield Thunderbirds

“I believe that MGM is going to be a game-changer for downtown Springfield. Everything they have planned is going to be top-notch, and first class — from their events to their facilities. To have a world-renowned brand steps away from the MassMutual Center and other downtown landmarks, I believe it will spur even more economic development and life in our city. They are also our presenting partner, and an organization that has stepped up and supported our vision from day one. We couldn’t be more excited for MGM to open their doors, and to join us in the true renaissance of a great American downtown. It truly will be a first in this city.”

Eugene Cassidy, president and CEO of the Eastern States Exposition

“The arrival of MGM presents a number of opportunities for this region, especially with regard to tourism, conventions, meetings — bringing a wide array of groups to the Greater Springfield area. The Big E already hosts a wide array of trade shows and events, but the arrival of MGM presents a great opportunity to drive more trade-show business to this region. To say that there is now a world-class resort casino in Springfield will be a great sales tool.”

David Cruise, president and chief executive officer, the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County

“The MGM casino is not about table games and entertainment, it’s about economic development and sustainable job-creation. It’s about the continued economic resurgence of the host community and the continued economic expansion of a critical region of the Commonwealth. We’ve always looked upon this as a job-creation initiative. We’ve always felt that our responsibility is to look at the broader region and make sure that the opening of MGM is a catalyst that helps everyone grow.”

John Doleva

John Doleva

John Doleva, president and CEO, Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame

“The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame formally welcomes our ‘new’ neighbor, MGM, to Springfield with their beautiful new expansive complex just across the highway from the Hall of Fame. MGM has already proven to be an active, energetic and committed community partner and we know that our work together will provide visitors very unique options as they visit the Springfield region. The advent of the MGM property will be a magnet to our community and all attractions and businesses need to be prepared to put our best foot forward to complement the influx of these new and affluent customers.”

Kate Phelon

Kate Phelon

Kate Phelon, executive director of the Greater Westfield Chamber of Commerce

“Back in 2013, I remember being contacted by MGM with regards to building a casino in Springfield. While they didn’t even have the contract at that time, I must admit I was quite intrigued with the call. Fast forward to the present, and in a few days’ time, our area will have a world-renowned casino right in our back yard. We all know and understand the economic impact it will have primarily for Springfield, the vendors who were able to meander the procurement process, and those who are now employed with a prestigious enterprise. It is, no doubt, a very exciting moment for Western Massachusetts, when we are so often overlooked by major corporations. Having met and worked with several of the MGM teams over the past several years, I was impressed with their accessibility, enthusiasm, and genuine concern for fulfilling their contractual obligations. And, might I add, about wanting their guests to have an exceptionally good time. Whether you are for or against gambling, the opening of MGM will be electrifying, and only time will tell if it is sustainable.”

Agenda Departments

‘Protecting Your Assets’ Panel

April 18: Springfield Partners for Community Action Inc. will host “Protecting Your Assets Part III” starting at 6 p.m. at Springfield Central Library, 220 State St. The event is in recognition of National Financial Literacy Month and is free and open to the public. Call (413) 263-6500 to reserve a seat. This year’s panelists include Julius Lewis of the Metrocom Group and the Lewis and Marrow Financial Hour, which airs Wednesdays on STCC radio; and attorney Sara Miller, who specializes in elder law and estate planning. New this year is attorney Martin O’Connor, an authority on tax issues and who helps low-income, non-English-speaking taxpayers understand their rights and responsibilities as taxpayers.

Caritas Gala

April 21: Plans are underway for Mercy Medical Center’s second annual Caritas Gala at the MassMutual Center in Springfield. The gala, with its Motown-inspired theme “Reach Out,” will raise funds to support Mercy Behavioral Health Care and the Mercy Emergency Department’s Opioid Community Outreach for education, intervention, and treatment. The Caritas Gala will begin at 6:30 p.m. with a cocktail reception, live entertainment from the band Motor City Magic, and a silent auction. Dinner will be served at 8 p.m., following by a live auction and dancing until midnight with music from the band Radiance. For more information or to purchase tickets to the Caritas Gala, visit www.mercycares.com/caritas-gala.

Mayors’ Economic Forum

April 26: “Mayors Meet Millennials” is the title of the 2018 New England Knowledge Corridor Mayors’ Economic Forum at Goodwin College in East Hartford, Conn. The program begins with coffee and conversation from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m., followed by the conference program from 8:30 to 11 a.m. Participating mayors include Domenic Sarno (Springfield), Richard Kos (Chicopee), Marcia Leclerc (East Hartford), Erin Stewart (New Britain), and Luke Bronin (Hartford). Registration options and more information will be available soon.

BFAIR Annual Meeting

April 27: Berkshire Family & Individual Resources Inc. (BFAIR) will host its annual meeting at Berkshire Hills Country Club, 500 Benedict Road, Pittsfield. The breakfast, set to begin at 7:30 a.m., will include the presentation of several awards for employee recognition, as well as the recognition of the community partner of the year, Richard Alcombright, former mayor of North Adams, longtime advocate for people with disabilities, and currently serving as vice president, Local Business & Customer Relations manager at MountainOne. Additionally, the chairman of the board will offer remarks on the organization’s continued expansion throughout the Berkshires and into Hampden and Hampshire counties. This year’s keynote address will be delivered by Chris May, an advocate and photographer with Down syndrome. This event is sponsored by Greylock Federal Credit Union. The cost is $10 per person. To attend the annual meeting, RSVP by Friday, April 20 to Carol Fox at (413) 664-9382, ext. 40, or [email protected], or online at www.bfair.org.

Document Shred Day

April 28: Kelley & Malmborg Investment Consulting Group announced it will host a document shred day event on Saturday, April 28 at 9 a.m. at the Northampton Senior Center, 67 Conz St. The event, co-hosted by Valley Green Shredding, is open to the public, with all proceeds going to the Northampton Senior Center. Shredding will be offered on a first-come, first-served basis until the truck is full or 11 a.m., whichever comes first. A maximum of three boxes per car will be accepted, with a $5 minimum donation. No household items, electronics, metal clips, or rubberbands will be accepted.

Financial-industry Forum

May 3: Training and Workforce Options (TWO), a partnership between Holyoke Community College and Springfield Technical Community College (STCC), will host an employer-engagement forum focused on the financial-services industry from 8 to 10 a.m. at STCC’s Scibelli Hall, Rooms 701 and 702. The forum will provide financial professionals with information on workforce-development training opportunities and related services offered by experienced trainers from HCC and STCC. TWO representatives also will discuss how regional businesses can secure Massachusetts Workforce Training Fund Grants to enhance training efforts for their workers. The forum is geared toward financial professionals and their businesses, with the goal of gathering input about workforce-development needs. The event is free, and refreshments will be provided. The deadline to register is April 27. To register, visit www.eventbrite.com and search ‘STCC.’

Community Shredding Day

May 11: The Hampden County Bar Assoc. is partnering with Pro-Shred Security and Century Investment Co. to hold a community shredding day from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Century Shopping Center, 219 Memorial Ave., West Springfield (to the right of Bob’s Discount Furniture). Shredding protects private information, and recycling helps the environment. This event is free and open to the public (four-box limit), with a donation of a non-perishable food item for a local food pantry.

Excel Skill Training

May 14-18: Tech Foundry will offer a four-day Excel skill training the week of May 14-18 (every day but May 16) from 9 a.m. to noon at 1391 Main St., ninth floor, Springfield. Because its first Excel class offered to area companies and their employees was such a success, Tech Foundry is eager to meet the Excel needs of more area employers and their employees. The class will cover advanced formulas; tables and formatting; conditional formatting; advanced charting; pivot tables and pivot reporting; VBA and macros; using Excel productively; data tables, simulations, and Solver; Excel integration; and optimizing Excel. The cost per student is $750. To register, e-mail [email protected]. Employers with fewer than 100 employees are eligible for a 50% tuition reimbursement from Commonwealth Corp.

NAMI Walkathon

May 20: The National Alliance on Mental Illness of Western Massachusetts will be holding its 18th annual walkathon, “A Journey of Hope and Recovery,” at Stanley Park’s Beveridge Pavilion Annex in Westfield from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The walk is suitable for all ages and will directly benefit the continuing efforts of NAMI – Western Mass. to help improve the lives of individuals living with mental illness and their families. Among the festivities will be guest speakers, entertainment, refreshments, and raffles. For further information, call (413) 786-9139 or visit www.namiwm.org/events for entry and sponsorship forms. Volunteers are needed.

‘Thrive After 55’ Wellness Fair

June 15: State Sen. Eric Lesser and Health New England announced that they will host the second annual “Thrive After 55” Wellness Fair from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Springfield College’s Blake Athletic Complex, located at 263 Alden St., Springfield. The fair is free and open to the public. With more than 40 local organizations ranging from health and fitness to nutrition to elder law, the event will connect residents of the First Hampden & Hampshire District with information and resources to help them thrive. The free program includes a boxed lunch, educational seminars, hundreds of raffle prizes, and access to information and experts to talk to. To RSVP, call (413) 526-6501 or visit www.senatorlesser.com/thrive.

40 Under Forty Gala

June 21: BusinessWest’s 12th annual 40 Under Forty Gala is a celebration of 40 young business and civic leaders in Western Mass. The lavish cocktail party, to be held starting at 5:30 p.m. at the Log Cabin in Holyoke, will feature butlered hors d’oeuvres, food stations, and entertainment — and, of course, the presentation of the class of 2018, which will be unveiled in the April 30 issue of BusinessWest. The 40 Under Forty sponsors include PeoplesBank (presenting sponsor), Northwestern Mutual (presenting sponsor), Isenberg School of Management, the MP Group, Mercedes-Benz of Springfield, Health New England, Development Associates, Renew.Calm, and YPS of Greater Springfield (partner). Tickets will go on sale soon at $75 per person (tables of 10 available), and the event always sells out quickly. For more information, call (413) 781-8600, ext. 100, or e-mail [email protected] Also at the gala, the fourth Continued Excellence Award honoree will be announced. Nominations will be received at businesswest.com/40-under-forty-continued-excellence-award until May 14. Candidates must hail from 40 Under Forty classes prior to the year of the award — in this case, classes 2007-17 — and will be judged on qualities including outstanding leadership, dedicated community involvement, professional achievement, and ability to inspire. The award’s presenting sponsor is Northwestern Mutual.

Departments People on the Move
Jacqueline Charron

Jacqueline Charron

The Professional Women’s Chamber (PWC) announced that Jacqueline Charron, chief risk officer and senior vice president of Operations and Information Technology for PeoplesBank in Holyoke, has been named the PWC 2017 Woman of the Year. The Woman of the Year award is presented to a woman in the Western Mass. area who exemplifies outstanding leadership, professional accomplishment, and service to the community. This award has been given annually since 1954. Liz Rappaport, secretary of the PWC board committee, said the selection committee was thoroughly impressed with Charron’s work-life balance, as evidenced by her pursuit of education while managing her career and being the mother of four children. “The PWC recently had a work-life balance panel at a luncheon, and we loved how, through her application, Jackie personified work-life balance,” Rappaport said. Charron earned a bachelor’s degree in economics at Mount Holyoke College while working as a teller at PeoplesBank. She went on to receive an MBA from the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst. She has done post-graduate work at Babson College (Mass. Bankers Assoc. School of Financial Studies), Villanova University (master certificate in Lean Six Sigma), and the Dartmouth College Tuck School of Business Leadership Program. After 32 years, Jackie continues to build a successful career at PeoplesBank, where today she leads a team of 40 associates in deposit operations, information technology, electronic banking, and risk and compliance. She has served at the leadership level of many community and business organizations, including the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, Girls Inc., the South Hadley and Greater Holyoke chambers of commerce, and United Way of Pioneer Valley. She also enjoys volunteering at the Holyoke St. Patrick’s Day Road Race and at activities and fund-raisers that support her children’s academic and athletic interests. She can be found working the concession stand at a high-school girls’ soccer game or attending a gala for the Fine Arts Center or Bright Nights. A celebration in Charron’s honor will be held on Thursday, June 1 at 5:30 p.m. at the Carriage House, Storrowton Tavern, 1305 Memorial Ave., West Springfield. Reservations may be made online at www.springfieldregionalchamber.com or by contacting Jessica Hill at [email protected].

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Jim Ayres

Jim Ayres

United Way of Pioneer Valley (UWPV) announced that its board of directors has appointed Jim Ayres the organization’s next president and CEO, effective June 12. Ayres, who currently serves as the CEO of the United Way Hampshire County, will succeed Dora Robinson, UWPV’s most recent president and CEO and current president emeritus. Ayres comes to UWPV from United Way of Hampshire County (UWHC), where he has served as CEO and executive director since 2011. During his tenure there, he expanded the donor base and increased both funding diversity and overall revenue at a time when many United Ways nationally had experienced shrinkage. Prior to joining UWHC, he served for 12 years as the executive director of the Center for New Americans, an education and resource center for immigrants, refugees, and other limited-English speakers in Western Mass. With roots in the Springfield public schools, where he worked as a parent community and involvement coordinator, he has extensive experience working with school systems, local and state governments, community coalitions, workforce boards, and other nonprofit organizations to develop programming and policy. He is the incoming board president of the Massachusetts Nonprofit Network and an adjunct professor of Nonprofit Administration and Philanthropy at Bay Path University. He holds master’s degrees from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst. UWPV will celebrate Ayres’s arrival at the organization’s 95th-anniversary celebration on Wednesday, May 31 at the Barney Carriage House at Forest Park.

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Mark Foster

Mark Foster

Jay Seyler

Jay Seyler

Shana Hebdrikse

Shana Hebdrikse

Jessica Menard

Jessica Menard

PeoplesBank announced the appointment of Mark Foster to vice president, operational risk manager; Jay Seyler to vice president, business banking officer; Shana Hendrikse to business banking officer; and Jessica Menard to commercial credit officer. Foster brings more than a decade of financial and audit experience, and holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut. He is an RSA Archer-certified administrator and was named a 2015 RSA Archer Innovation Award winner. Seyler possesses more than 30 years of banking and financial experience, and holds a bachelor’s degree from Bryant University and an MBA from Western New England University. Hendrikse brings more than a decade of banking and financial experience, and holds a master’s degree from Colorado State University and a bachelor’s degree from Saint Leo University. She has completed training through the New England School of Financial Studies at Babson and holds a certificate in financial studies. Menard possesses close to a decade of banking and commercial-loan experience, and holds a bachelor’s degree from Bay Path University. She has completed training through the Risk Management Assoc., the Massachusetts Bankers Assoc., and the Center for Financial Training.

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Hyman Darling

Hyman Darling

Bacon Wilson, P.C. announced that attorney Hyman Darling recently took the oath of office as the incoming president of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA). He was sworn in as president at NAELA’s annual conference along with other incoming members of the executive committee, and will officially assume his duties as NAELA president on June 1. In addition to accepting the office of the presidency, Darling was also honored as a NAELA fellow for 2017. The fellow designation is the highest honor bestowed by NAELA, and is granted to members who have careers in elder law and who have made exceptional contributions to the field. Election as a NAELA fellow signifies an attorney recognized by his peers as a model for others, and an exceptional lawyer and leader. The most significant component in the selection process is commitment and contributions to NAELA through committee participation, programs, and leadership. Upon accepting the fellow award and the presidency, Darling proceeded to address his NAELA colleagues, thanking them for record-high conference attendance and laying out his plans for the coming year. Much to the delight of the audience, his remarks were delivered entirely in rhyming verse. Darling is a partner at Bacon Wilson, where he has practiced since 1981. He concentrates in the areas of trusts, estates, taxes, estate planning, probate, guardianships, special needs, and elder law. Prior to joining Bacon Wilson, he served as a trust officer. He has been a frequent presenter for both the Massachusetts Bar Assoc. and Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education. He has also spoken for NAELA at several conferences, both local and national. He is an adjunct faculty member at both Western New England University School of Law and Bay Path University. Darling serves on many local planned-giving committees, and is a frequent lecturer for professional and civic groups in the Pioneer Valley. He is a member of the Special Needs Alliance, and is also a former president of the Hampden County Estate Planning Council.

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Kevin Maltby

Kevin Maltby

Bacon Wilson, P.C. also announced that attorney Kevin Maltby is a recipient of 2017’s Excellence in the Law Pro Bono Award from Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly. He was recognized for his pro bono efforts in connection with the Springfield District Court’s Lawyer for a Day program. With the support of the Hampden County Bar Assoc., Maltby led the 2012 effort to establish the weekly program, and he is currently working on significant expansion of pro bono services offered by the Hampden County Legal Clinic. He was inspired to initiate the Lawyer for a Day program after taking note of numerous people trying to represent themselves in court, often unsuccessfully, due to their unfamiliarity with the law and court procedures. In addition to the District Court Lawyer for a Day program, Maltby contributes his time to numerous other pro bono programs, including the Massachusetts Bar Assoc. Dial-a-Lawyer program, and the Hampden County Bar Assoc. Lawyer on the Line program. He is the current president of the Hampden County Bar Assoc., where he also serves on the pro bono committee. He is a member of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s standing advisory committee on professionalism, and is an adjunct professor at Bay Path University, where he teaches advanced litigation.

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Thomas Walbridge

Thomas Walbridge

Community Health Programs has named Thomas Walbridge its new chief financial officer. He will oversee the health network’s budget, financial operations, and planning. Walbridge has served as chief financial officer and vice president for the Kinsley Group Inc. and as CFO for the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority; he was also director of finance and human resources at Six Flags New England. His early professional career was spent in the banking sector in Pittsfield. He holds a business degree from Babson College and an MBA from Western New England University. CHP finished its 2016 fiscal year with an operating surplus of nearly $700,000, on revenues of $14 million. During that year, CHP increased its patient and client numbers from 16,000 to more than 22,000, with the addition of two new practices in North Adams and other new-patient outreach. During 2016, employment at CHP grew from 140 to 175 and continues to expand. Walbridge is also the founder and operator of LuckBridge Sports LLC, a company that creates affordable, inclusive team-building opportunities for youth and coaches in the developmental and advanced instruction of baseball and basketball. He volunteers in his community with youth sports programs, the American Red Cross, the March of Dimes, the Agawam Chamber of Commerce and the Agawam Rotary.

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Christopher Scott

Christopher Scott

Springfield Technical Community College (STCC) announced the hiring of Christopher Scott as the dean of the School of Health & Patient Simulation. Scott had been the interim dean since the retirement of Michael Foss in 2016. His previous positions at STCC include assistant dean for the School of Health & Patient Simulation and director of Clinical Education and SIMS Medical Center. Scott will lead a school that offers the most competitive programs at STCC and is home to the Northeast’s largest patient-simulation training facility. The SIMS Medical Center at STCC provides a clinical setting to train students as well as healthcare providers. Scott played a key role in expanding the facility when he was hired as director in 2010. At the time, the center included 18 patient simulators and five rooms and provided 3,000 simulation experiences each year. Today, there are 52 simulators and 12 rooms, or simulation areas, and more than 20,000 simulation experiences. As dean, he is responsible for the overall leadership of the school as well as for the daily and long-term operation of all the credit and non-credit health programs. About 800 students are enrolled in credit and non-credit programs. The school includes more than 100 full-time and part-time faculty and staff. Scott sees his mission as helping to meet the community’s health care needs and ensuring access to the degree and certificate programs, which include cosmetology, dental assistant, dental hygiene, diagnostic medical imaging, interdisciplinary health studies, medical assistant, medical laboratory technician, nursing, rehabilitation therapies, respiratory care, and surgical technology. Scott, who holds a master’s degree in health education and curriculum development from Springfield College, is currently is completing his doctorate of education in higher education administration from Northeastern University in Boston. A certified healthcare-simulation educator, Scott earned his bachelor’s degree in emergency medical services management from Springfield College.

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Bruce Marzotto

Bruce Marzotto

Lee Bank announced that Bruce Marzotto, senior vice president of Commercial Lending, has been named a Community Bank Hero by the Warren Group and Banker & Tradesman. Community Bank Heroes is an annual award that honors the achievements, commitment, and dedication of financial professionals who go above and beyond for their institution and community. Award recipients are nominated by their peers and selected by Banker & Tradesman’s editorial board; this year’s 13 winners hail from community banks throughout Massachusetts. Marzotto has been with Lee Bank for 10 years and has worked in banking in Berkshire County for 40 years. After receiving his associate’s degree at Berkshire Community College, he continued his education through banking courses with the American Institute of Banking as well as the New England School of Banking at Williams College. As former treasurer of the Southern Berkshire Chamber of Commerce, Great Barrington Little League, and Boy Scouts of America Troop 23, he is continuing his community involvement as a trustee of the newly organized Great Barrington Municipal Affordable House Trust. The Community Bank Heroes awards will be distributed at a dinner event on Tuesday, May 23 at the Hyatt Regency Boston hotel. Recipients will be featured in the May 22 issue of Banker & Tradesman. To see a full list of the Community Bank Heroes and for more information about the awards dinner, visit www.thewarrengroupevents.com/communitybankheroes.

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Sharon Dufour, chief financial officer for Luso Federal Credit Union, and Kimberly Anderson, Community Relations representative for Luso, were recognized on National Financial Educators Day for their hard work and dedication to promoting financial-literacy education in Ludlow, Hampden, and Wilbraham. Nominated by Junior Achievement of Western Massachusetts, Dufour and Anderson, supported by Luso Federal Credit Union and a grant from the Joseph and Anna C. Dias Family Foundation, help bring financial-literacy education to thousands of youth in the three communities. Every child in Ludlow schools and St. John the Baptist School, kindergarten through grade 8, participates in a JA program each year, as well as all the students at Thornton Burgess Middle School in Hampden and Wilbraham Middle School. Dufour and Anderson not only secure the funding for the programs, but recruit and train nearly 100 volunteers to deliver the programs. Dufour and Anderson also teach multiple JA programs each year.

Construction Sections

Building Expectations

constructiondpartThe construction sector has always been a good barometer when it comes to the economy and what may happen with it in the foreseeable future. And this historical trend is one of many reasons why cautious optimism abounds in the region. Indeed, many firms report that they have a number of projects on the books for the year ahead and beyond, and that these projects involve a number of economic sectors.

 

Gagliarducci Construction in Springfield has been in business since 1916, and the fourth-generation, family-owned company has had to switch its focus many times over the years to keep pace with change. It specializes in excavation, earth moving, site work, and mobile crushing of stone, concrete, and asphalt, and the majority of its current projects are centered in educational and healthcare settings.

And it is extremely busy, reflective of a trend involving many players within the broad construction sector — one that is generating a good deal of optimism within the industry, and probably outside as well, because the sector has historically been a good barometer regarding the economy and what will happen with it.

“We have jobs on the books that extend well into 2018,” said Jerome Gagliarducci as he and his son Jay talked about their business history and projections for the future. “Most of the jobs are in the private sector and involve hospitals and schools. Between 2000 and 2006, we did a lot of work for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, but education and healthcare are a big part of the Western Mass. economy, and this is where the money is being spent now. There are a lot of colleges in the Pioneer Valley, and we’re glad to be involved in their ongoing projects.”

Still, having jobs booked this far in advance of a new year is not something they take for granted. “There have been times when all of our projects were completed by the end of the fall or winter and we had nothing scheduled for the upcoming year,” said Jay Gagliarducci. “We have been lucky: it’s unusual to have so many new jobs lined up this early that will continue into the future.”

Eric Forish, president of Forish Construction Inc. in Westfield, said his firm has also fared well.

“We’re celebrating our 70th year in business, and the last few years have been good ones; I credit that to our staff and expect that work in the commercial construction industry will continue to move in a positive direction,” he told BusinessWest, noting that the company typically has six or seven major projects taking place simultaneously.

Holyoke-based Daniel O’Connell’s Sons Inc. also reports that 2016 has been a good year. The company also has offices in Franklin, New Haven, Conn., and Kingston, N.Y., and President Jeff Bardell is often on the road. He told BusinessWest that entirely different dynamics exist in Eastern and Western Mass.

“Things are booming in the Boston area inside of Route 128. It’s obvious to drivers because there are so many cranes up,” Bardell said. Construction is also taking place in Western Mass., but not at the same level, and work in the public sector has declined.

“Work has been pretty steady here for the past few years, but the amount of roadwork, wastewater-treatment work, and public infrastructure spending has decreased over the past 12 months,” Bardell went on, noting that work in that sector was much more prevalent four or five years ago.

However, institutional jobs have filled the gap. “Colleges are still spending money, and we have done some nice projects,” he said.

Bardell believes some people are waiting for the work on Interstate 91 and the MGM casino in Springfield to be complete before launching new projects.

“A lot of people are looking at Springfield and hoping redevelopment will occur when the casino is finished,” he said, adding that one of O’Connell’s largest jobs in Springfield is the $60 million Union Station intermodal transportation center.

Eric Forish

Eric Forish says the $4 million, LEED-certified Westfield Transit Pavilion at Elm and Arnold streets is one of many projects his firm is working on at present.

It includes a 120,000-square-foot historical renovation to the old station in the downtown Railroad Historic District. The project has been complex and includes construction of a new, 24-bay bus terminal; a 480-car parking facility; and upgrades to the landscaping and hardscapes around the area.

Before the work began, Union Station consisted of two vacant buildings: a three-story terminal and a two-story baggage building that were both constructed in 1926.

“We’ve been working vigorously to wrap up the project and are very close to being done,” Bardell said, adding that he expects that to happen in the first quarter of 2017.

For this edition and its focus on construction, BusinessWest looks at a host of projects keeping commercial builders busy, as well as what they have lined up for the future.

Going Up

Bardell said O’Connell recently completed new residence halls at Amherst College. Four new dorms were erected as part of a greenway campus project, which will include demolishing the old dorms and building a 250,000-square-foot science center and expansive greenway along the full length of the landscape that can be used for recreation and relaxation.

Jerome and Jay Gagliarducci

Jerome and Jay Gagliarducci say they have work booked into 2018 and expect to be very busy in the coming year.

Another project at UMass Amherst will be completed in January, but right now work is still underway on its historic South College building. It includes a renovation of 30,000 square feet in the structure, built in 1886, and a four-story, 67,500-square-foot addition that will provide new common areas, faculty offices, classrooms, and an auditorium.

“The new building will be LEED-certified,” Bardell said. “It will be used next semester, and furniture is being moved into it now.”

The company has other ongoing projects in the educational sector. It just finished a $110 million job at Vassar College centered around an 80,000-square-foot Bridge Building that spans two sections of campus terrain and connects to the school’s Olmsted Hall via a two-level skywalk.

In addition, a $2 million renovation and addition to Philips Exeter Academy Center’s theater in Exeter, N.H. is underway. The job started two months ago and will expand the space to 63,000 square feet.

Four months ago, O’Connell began working on the $9 million Dartmouth College Hood Museum expansion and renovation project, which involves a restoration and addition to the existing gallery space. When it is finished by the end of next year, there will be five new galleries and advanced technology classrooms.

The company also has a few smaller jobs, including a renovation project at the Culinary Institute of America in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

Another project in that state is at the Trinity-Pawling School, where O’Connell began working on a 27,000-square-foot addition to the Smith Field House about a month ago that will be complete sometime next year. “It will be used for basketball, lacrosse, and other sports,” Bardell said.

In addition to jobs in the educational sector, O’Connell has projects in other realms. Six months ago, it began a $29 million dollar upgrade to an existing wastewater-treatment plant that serves Mansfield, Foxborough, and Norton in the eastern part of the state.

Work on the MFN Regional Treatment Plant entails installing new aeration facilities, chemical facilities, and electrical upgrades as well as concrete work, and is expected to take another two years.

O’Connell is also doing a $17 million project in Providence, R.I. on the Providence River Pedestrian Bridge that connects two sides of the city and includes sections of a riverfront park.

“We’re optimistic as we look ahead at the coming year,” said Bardell. “We have some backlog, which we like, and are always looking for new work.”

Varied Portfolios

The majority of Gagliarducci’s projects take two to three years to complete.

“We’re usually the first on a site and the last to leave it. But it is a challenge to predict a year ahead of time exactly when we will be needed,” Jay said, explaining that schedules change from one month to the next, and although the end date is usually firm, weather and production by other trades affect the timetable.

Right now, all of the company’s work is institutional, and there has been plenty of it.

It just finished an addition at Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield and started one at Baystate Wing Hospital in Palmer that will open in 2018.

“We dig the foundations and put in sewer, water, and drainage systems, which is work that people don’t see,” Jerome explained, adding that such work takes place at the start of a project, while work at the end of a project involves paving, curbing, sidewalks, and more.

Galiarducci has also broken ground at the site of the new Pope Francis High School in Springfield, which is slated to open in the fall of 2018. This school is being built on 40 acres of open space, which is unusual in this area; most of the company’s projects involve working in or around existing structures.


List of General Contractors in Western Mass.


The company was just hired to undertake work in a massive renovation of what’s known as Building 19 at Springfield Technical Community College, and that job will carry over into 2018.

Gagliarducci worked with O’Connell on the Amherst College greenway residence project, and will complete phase 1 of another large project at the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst this month, which involves relocating water, sewer, and drainage lines in the footprint and moving them to allow for new construction.

Although the work may not sound complex, renovations and additions in tight spots can be quite challenging. “UMass presented real challenges because we had to work around the student traffic,” Jay told BusinessWest.

Deerfield Academy has also hired the firm to do site work for a new hockey arena. The project began in March and will be completed in 2018.

“It involves a lot of digging inside the foundation to support the renovation,” Jerome said, explaining that the firm will put in new sewer lines, curbing, and a parking lot.

Later this winter, it will begin a drainage project at Springfield Armory Museum.

This is a federal project, as the museum is owned by the government, and will include new sewer lines and curbing, sidewalks, and pavement. The work should be finished by the end of next year. “We’re also starting phase 2 of an over-55 community in Hadley,” he noted.

The first phase consisted of building seven or eight units, most of which have been spoken for, and the second phase will commence next spring when Gagliarducci will do site work to allow additional housing units to be built.

The company is also involved with the new South End Community Center in Springfield. Jay noted that Fontaine Brothers is building the new center on Marble Street and his firm is doing the sitework, which began in September.

Westfield’s Gaslight District Improvement Project is also on Gagliarducci’s roster. “It was our job to put in the water, sewer and drainage lines, as well as the sidewalks, curbs, and two parking lots, in addition to reconstructing several streets,” Jerome said, explaining that the project began two and a half years ago and involves major reconstruction in the area.

Future Endeavors

Forish Construction has a mix of ongoing projects that include the new $4 million Westfield Transit Pavilion at Elm and Arnold streets. The glass and steel building will have five bus berths, a shelter for passengers, a coffee shop, and administrative offices, and will be surrounded by brick walkways. Parking will be available in an adjacent facility, and there will be repair stations and racks for bicycles.

“It is the first major piece of the city’s long-term downtown redevelopment plan that will be completed,” Forish said, noting that the pavilion will be LEED-certified.

Several buildings were knocked down to make way for the new pavilion, which will make it more convenient for Westfield State students to travel to and from the university via a shuttle that runs between them.

The company has also several projects underway or that have been recently completed at UMass Amherst, including a roughly $4 million renovation to the W.E.B. Du Bois Library. “It is our third major project in this library, which they are redoing floor by floor,” Forish said.

Auto dealerships rank high on the company’s list of projects, and include work for Sarat Ford, Curry Nissan, and Sarat-Lincoln.

“We’re just wrapping up a renovation and addition to Lia Chrysler on King Street in Northampton,” Forish said, noting it is adjacent to Lia’s Honda store.

No one can predict the future, but work has been steady for Forish and other commercial contractors.

“We have a number of projects already under contract for 2017,” Forish said, noting that they include auto dealerships as well as private industrial buildings and the company is always active in the public sector and plans to bid on some local projects.

He told BusinessWest his optimism stems in part from the fact that Donald Trump is the new president-elect.

“It appears he is business-friendly and wants to see growth in U.S. and an increase in jobs here as opposed to abroad. We are already seeing a rise in the stock market, and people are optimistic about the direction the country is headed in, so we are hopeful that good things will come to fruition,” Forish said.

In the meantime, commercial contractors will continue to work hard to complete current projects, bid on new jobs, and rely on the stellar reputations that have kept them busy for generations as they plan for the New Year and beyond.

Cover Story Economic Outlook Sections

Balance Statement

Forecast Is Strong for 2017, but Questions Loom on the Horizon

outlookdpartAfter six years of largely uninterrupted economic growth in both Massachusetts and the U.S. as a whole, questions have arisen as to how long the expansion can last, especially coming on the heels of an unusual election season and amid sluggish economic trends internationally. The consensus seems to be that the present course should hold in 2017, but also that recessions are a regular occurrence in the American economy, and it wouldn’t take much to spark a slowdown. For now, though, cautious optimism reigns.

Rarely, economists note, does the U.S. economy grow for a full decade without hitting a recession. So the continuing strength of the economy — reflected most notably in falling unemployment — is a mixed bag of news. In short, while the growth is welcome, some caution is warranted.

“At the state and national level, the recovery has been going on for six years, and while there are no hard-and-fast rules about this, we could expect some moderation after six years of growth,” said Karl Petrick, assistant professor of Economics at Western New England University. “Every year of growth makes it more likely that the downward part of the business cycle is closer.”

Karl Petrick

Karl Petrick

Because of both economic and political reasons, I think the state economy is entering into a period of more uncertainty. Luckily, we are doing so after a period of robust economic growth, so, as a state, we have a good foundation to weather this uncertainty.”

 

 

A year ago, Bob Nakosteen, professor of Economics at the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst, called the economic outlook “fuzzy,” but said last week that 2016 solidified into a positive year on many fronts.

“Growth statewide has been somewhat modest, but continuous; we haven’t seen the unemployment rate this low since 16 years ago, the turn of the century,” said Nakosteen, who is also co-editor of MassBenchmarks, the quarterly publication devoted to analysis of the Bay State’s economy. “I don’t think the economy is going gangbusters, but it’s been steady, moderate growth over a long period of time, with higher employment numbers and the total number of workers higher.”

Slowly and steadily, if not spectacularly, he went on, the economic outlook since the low point of the Great Recession has morphed into a remarkable period of expansion. In Massachusetts, the main drivers include the usual suspects, such as information and communications technology, healthcare, and education. “These are industry sectors that are in high demand both nationally and globally, and we have the good luck, at least in the recent past, to have a heavy dose of those sectors. Any time there’s a big demand in the national economy for the services and industries we specialize in, it’s going to help us, and that’s what’s happening.”

PeoplesBank’s Tom Senecal (left) and Mike Oleksak

PeoplesBank’s Tom Senecal (left) and Mike Oleksak say indicators like rising employment and fewer foreclosures point to a strengthening economy.

Massachusetts, Petrick noted, has outpaced the national rate of growth since 2008.  For example, the state’s economy expanded at an annual rate of 3.7% in the third quarter of this year, while the national annualized rate of growth was 2.9% during that same period.

A similar trend holds in the category of unemployment rate. In October 2016, the last month for which state data is available, the Bay State’s unemployment rate was 2.7%, compared to the U.S. unemployment rate of 4.9%.

But is unemployment falling because more people are finding jobs, he asked, or because people are leaving the labor force and aren’t being counted? Comparing October 2016 to Oct 2015, the labor force grew while the unemployment rate fell (from 4.5% in Oct 2015 to 2.7% in Oct. 2016). While that’s a sign of success, one result is a tightening job market.

“The unemployment rate is falling for the right reasons, but it does also signal that it will be harder to keep up the pace of economic growth that we have been experiencing as the labor market gets tighter,” he told BusinessWest. “Effectively, it will be harder for those who are unemployed to find work.”

Meanwhile, the 2.7% number doesn’t tell the whole story. The official (U3) unemployment rate, the one that gets reported, counts anyone who is either working or willing to work, defined as someone who has looked for a job in the past four weeks, he explained. A broader measure of unemployment is the U6 rate, which includes workers who have given up looking for work but would return to the labor force if jobs were available, as well as people who are employed part-time because they can’t find a full-time job. The average U6 number in Massachusetts is 8.8%.

“The difference between that and the state U-3 rate does indicate that there is potentially more room to grow in Massachuetts,” Petrick said. “That’s a lot of potential workers that are on the sidelines who could return to the labor market if things continue to improve.”

Whether the economy will, indeed, continue to improve is the big question.

East and West

Petrick and Nakosteen both noted that breaking the state down by region results in a much more mixed picture for Western Mass.

Specifically, while Hampden County’s U3 rate fell from 6.0% to 3.6% from October 2015 to October 2016 — and similarly decreased from 8.3% to 5.1% in Springfield and 7.4% to 4.3% in Holyoke — those figures trail other metro areas in Massachusetts, including Boston (2.6% in October 2016) and Worcester (3.3%). In fact, Springfield’s 5.1% rate ranks among the highest city unemployment rates in the state.

“The recovery started sooner in Eastern Mass., and it took a while for the effects to be really felt in the western part of the state,” Petrick said. “Over the past year, we have seen a degree of catching up … after lagging in Western Mass. for a few years, the rate of job growth is now pretty consistent across the state.”

One interesting result over the past year, he noted, has been a rebound in the construction industry in Massachusetts, which saw employment grow by almost 38%. But much of that growth — particularly new construction — has been concentrated in the Greater Boston area.  Still, he went on, as construction was hard-hit by the recession, a rebound in this sector is a positive sign.

Bob Nakosteen

Bob Nakosteen

I don’t think the economy is going gangbusters, but it’s been steady, moderate growth over a long period of time, with higher employment numbers and the total number of workers higher.”

 

“It’s always been the case that the growth in Boston spreads very unevenly, and it dissipates as it gets farther from Boston,” Nakosteen added. “In Western Massachusetts, our employment numbers have increased, but not dramatically.”

One oft-discussed reason has been the decline of the manufacturing base over the past few decades, with no one industry stepping up to replace it. “We have a smattering of everything, and a number of manufacturing companies, but nothing very big.”

Area economic-development leaders hope the emergence of CRRC USA Rail Corp., a subsidiary of the China-based world leader in rail-car manufacturing — which promises to create more than 150 manufacturing jobs in Springfield when its plant on Page Boulevard opens in 2018 — is a harbinger of more good news for the region’s manufacturing sector. At the same time, downtown projects like Union Station and MGM Springfield, coupled with a surge in entrepreneurial activity in the region, bode well for the future.

So do the continued health of the ‘eds and meds’ sectors in the region. Nakosteen noted that people think of Massachusetts’ world-class hospitals when they think of the state’s healthcare prowess, but in addition to that anchor, companies that perform pharmaceutical research and build medical devices are thriving — although, again, mainly in the eastern part of the state.

Still, he went on, “there has been some convergence of the economic prospects of the eastern and western parts of the state, and that’s a good thing.”

Nancy Creed, president of the Springfield Regional Chamber, said her organization’s members are mainly bullish on the year ahead.

“There’s a lot of optimism. I hear it on the streets and in chamber meetings,” she said. “We’re seeing new business come into the city — small businesses, especially, that want to be part of what’s happening here. And the chamber is growing — chamber members are increasing job growth, increasing spending. I think, overall, people are feeling good about the city of Springfield.”

Nancy Creed says businesses expect to grow in 2017

Nancy Creed says businesses expect to grow in 2017, despite caution over what national events and trends represent.

However, “I would say it’s also tempered with what could potentially happen with the new federal administration,” she added. “Who knows what’s going to happen with healthcare and the ACA? So there’s also some caution overall.”

Indeed, Petrick noted, markets don’t like uncertainty, and they tend to be volatile during an election year in the U.S. — particularly one as unpredictable and unusual as the one that gave rise to President-elect Donald Trump and his aggressive rhetoric regarding trade.

“Certainly two of our biggest trade partners at the national level, China and Mexico, have both responded by letting us know that a trade war is a very bad idea for the U.S. as well as for them,” he said. “They have also both let the incoming administration know that there’s not a whole lot of good will there after a series of inflammatory statements regarding both countries during the campaign.

Those relationships need mending, he said, and it’s in the interest of both the U.S. and Massachusetts economies for that to happen. At the national level, he noted, much uncertainty lingers — more than what is typical after an election — and both companies and consumers want to see what the incoming administration will do, particularly after so many statements, many of them contradictory, regarding potential policy.

“So, because of both economic and political reasons, I think the state economy is entering into a period of more uncertainty,” Petrick said. “Luckily, we are doing so after a period of robust economic growth, so, as a state, we have a good foundation to weather this uncertainty.”

In the financial world, indicators reflect general economic health, said Thomas Senecal, president and CEO of PeoplesBank.


List of Business and Economic Development Resources


“Interest rates, obviously, drive most of what we do,” he said, adding that the Fed is expected to raise rates another 25 basis points this week, and he anticipates further jumps in the spring and perhaps the fourth quarter of 2017. “We see it as a moderate increase in rates that won’t have a huge, detrimental effect.”

In fact, he added, the Fed moves should instead translate into positive consumer confidence, which usually brings positive economic impact.

Meanwhile, Senecal added, “unemployment is significantly down in Western Mass., and we see in the banking industry that foreclosures are down, delinquencies are down — these are all positive signs for the economy.”

Broader Trends

Other fundamentals at the national level remain positive, Petrick said. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that the U.S. economy will grow by 2.2% over the next year. That’s a strong rate of growth, although one part of the IMF forecast — higher energy prices — is better for some states (like Texas and North Dakota) than for Massachusetts. The IMF also estimate that the U.S. dollar will weaken over the coming year, which is good news for exports from Massachusetts, as a strong dollar over the past two years has seen state exports to many top trade partners suffer.

While the national economy is still growing, Nakosteen noted, it’s growing at a slightly slower rate than in previous years, and that’s bound to affect Massachusetts. “We can only be healthy to the extent of a strong national economy.”

Meanwhile, globally, China continues its transformation from an export-led economy to one more consumer-driven, and that could be a painful process. “It’s not clear that transition will be successful or happen any time soon,” he said, “and it’s not clear the politics in that country will be able to sustain it.”

As for Europe, “what they consider good news, we’d call stagnant. We’d be lamenting it here, but they’re happy there. There’s not much in the tea leaves to say that will change any time soon,” Nakosteen said, adding that slowdowns in commodities exports — a problem from Asia to Africa to Canada — are proving to impact economies negatively as well.

“The world isn’t on the brink of anything, but it’s certainly challenged in a number of ways, and certainly just slogging along,” he said. “We’re not disconnected from any of that. Even though we have a really dynamic economy, these trends are bound to suppress growth at some point. We’ve managed to keep modest growth continually for a long time, but there are troubling outside signs.”

Petrick agreed. “A generally sluggish world economy doesn’t help the U.S. or the Massachusetts state economy. The weakened Chinese economy, a sluggish European Union, and the continued fallout from the Brexit vote in the UK all bear watching.”

Michael Oleksak, executive vice president, senior lender, and chief credit officer at PeoplesBank, noted, as many analysts have, that Western Mass. is to some degree more shielded from national trends than, say Boston — never reaching the same heights or plumbing the same depths.

“The last few years, we’ve seen positive trends for both our customers and prospective customers,” he said, adding that he sees some staying power in regional trends like rising household incomes, strong commercial occupancy levels, and an uptick in home purchases in the mortgage realm after several years of refinances dominating that sector. Meanwhile, he sees the casino and other large projects causing a trickle-down effect of renewed investment interest in the region.

“I think the casino and CRRC will have an impact on the Western Mass. market; there will be some economic spilloff from that,” Senecal added. “Any time you see cranes in the sky, it makes you feel good about what’s going on in the immediate area.”

Meanwhile, some sectors are dealing with trends that are more cultural than economic, notably retail, which continue to grapple with Internet sales cutting deeply into their bottom line. Nakosteen said he has talked to store owners who say they hear that things are getting better, but they’re not seeing it themselves. “Retailers across the state and nation are struggling to deal with the Internet world.”

Bottom Line

In summary, Petrick expects Massachusetts’ economic growth to remain positive in 2017 but at a slower rate, closer to the U.S. national rate of growth.

“It’s really hard to continually outpace the national rate of growth after so many years of doing so,” he said. “I suspect, for at least part of the year, we will grow faster than the national average, but the gap will get narrower.”

One advantage the Bay State has is a high percentage of educational attainment, as 41.5% of residents in age 25 or older have a bachelor’s degree or higher; the national rate is 30.6%. “That is one of the reasons that Massachusetts is an attractive place for companies to locate.”

On the other hand, they still grapple with skills gaps, trying to match their needs with the available talent. But one of the more positive stories over the past decade in Western Mass. has been the region’s efforts to attack that problem.

“The skills gap is always going to be a concern, as businesses evolve and have different needs,” Creed said, adding, however, that the city has been fortunate to see robust partnerships emerge between its colleges, technical schools, and workforce-development agencies to prime the pump of talent and keep it in the region. “That’s the nature of the beast — businesses evolve, the skills they need evolve, and we’ve got to keep pace with that.”

Those partnerships don’t happen everywhere and shouldn’t be taken for granted, she added — but they are being noticed by both local companies and those looking for a place to plant new roots.

“I hear it from people at my events — they want to be downtown, they want to be part of the excitement. They want to be part of what’s happening here.”

It’s an optimism being felt across Western Mass. — admittedly, more strongly in some communities than others — as the calendar turns to 2017, and all the economic questions a new year brings.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Banking and Financial Services Sections

The Feeling’s Mutual

Tom Senecal

Tom Senecal

Tom Senecal takes the helm at PeoplesBank at an intriguing time for the institution — and the industry. Competition is keen, and efforts to achieve growth are challenged by thin margins and stagnant, historically low interest rates. The bank has made a commitment to continue this fight as a mutual institution, a strategy Senecal believes will continue to bring a host of inherent advantages.

Tom Senecal called it “going from the back room to the front lines.”

That’s how he chose to describe his decision in 2001 to leave his position as controller at Holyoke-based PeoplesBank and join the commercial-lending team led at that time by future President and CEO Doug Bowen.

Looking back on that not-so-subtle and fairly unusual career move, Senecal said that, at that juncture, he understood it was a necessary move if he was to achieve what was an already-emerging goal — to move higher up the ladder in banking administration, and perhaps to the top rung.

“I knew, career-wise, that if I wanted to be … well, where I am today, I needed more exposure and experience than just an accounting background,” he explained, noting that Bowen’s career trajectory has become common in the industry today. “So I made a conscious decision to change careers and move to the front line of servicing customers.

“This was outside my comfort zone — I was 41 years old, moving from an accounting environment to a sales environment,” he went on. “But I knew I needed that experience.”

What Senecal — who was named president last August after prevailing in a search for Bowen’s successor a few months after he made his retirement plans known — didn’t know in 2001 but does know now, is that, while leaving the back room improved his chances to advance in this industry, working in both settings will better enable him to handle that position’s varied job description.

“My experiences, both on the financial side and in lending, brought something different to the table, and that’s important given the current banking environment,” he explained. “Both jobs enabled me to see how the bank operates, but from different perspectives.”

Senecal takes the helm at PeoplesBank at an intriguing time for both that institution and the banking industry as a whole. Indeed, he officially takes both the president and CEO titles (Bowen maintained the latter until late June) just as the bank, probably not coincidentally, announced it was taking its commitment to being a mutual bank to a higher level.

Specifically, the institution changed its bylaws in a way that will make any future conversion to a stockholder-owned company exceedingly more difficult. Before, a vote to take such a step would require a simple majority of votes among corporators to move in that direction; now, it will take a super-majority, or 75% (much more on all this later).

As for the industry in general, a trend toward consolidation and gaining all-important size and economies of scale continues unabated, with the recently announced merger of Westfield Bank and Chicopee Savings Bank being the latest in a lengthy string of such moves.

Senecal acknowledged the benefits of size in this era of rising regulatory costs and razor-thin margins, but said PeoplesBank will continue to address those challenges as a mutual institution, and with an operating strategy forged by his immediate predecessors and honed by Bowen during his 10-year tenure.

Tenets include everything from calculated territorial expansion, including a strong push into Springfield, to permanent residency on the cutting edge of new banking technology and an emerging niche in lending to ‘green’ business ventures.

Describing what might come next, Senecal started by implying strongly that there won’t be any attempts to fix anything that isn’t broken (and that’s most things). Getting slightly more specific, he said the bank will continue its efforts to grow the only way a bank can grow in this region and this banking environment — by gaining additional market share.

And this brings him back to mutuality and a commitment to retain that operating structure. As a mutual institution, the bank is not beholden to stockholders, he explained, and in this case, the word ‘local’ doesn’t refer to where commercial lenders live and play golf, but rather to where decisions are made.

“We believe that local decisions really do mean something,” he noted. “There aren’t many mutuals left, and that means people don’t feel comfortable that the decisions are being made in Western Massachusetts. I think that’s a big advantage for us.”

For this issue and its focus on banking and financial services, BusinessWest talked at length with Senecal about his career in banking, his attainment of that goal he set long ago, and what to expect — or not expect, as the case may be — from PeoplesBank moving forward.

Matters of Note

Summing up the progressive Doug Bowen administration at the 131-year-old institution, Senecal said his predecessor “set the bar very high.”

As he spoke those words, he was referring to awards and honors, specifically to the bank’s regular appearance on a host of regional and statewide ‘best-of’ lists. They include everything from the Boston Globe’s compilation of the best places to work in the Bay State to Boston Business Journal’s list of the top corporate charitable contributors, to MassLive’s Readers Raves.

Meanwhile, Bowen himself was honored in 2009 as one of BusinessWest’s first Difference Makers, and in 2011 as a Globe 100 Innovator for, essentially, creating an environment that fostered and facilitated all of the above.

But that reference to setting the bar high actually referred to much more than placement on lists and plaques for the front lobby. It was also a reference to overall growth (the bank crashed through the $2 billion barrier in total assets during Bowen’s tenure), territorial expansion in the form of six new branches, a ‘green’ philosophy (three of those branches are LEED-certified), innovation (the institution has created a Customer Innovation Lab and hired a so-called ‘data scientist’), and the bank’s strong commitment to mutuality and the many competitive advantages it brings.

Senecal will work to keep the bar where it is and hopefully raise it even higher, and he’ll bring to this task that aforementioned blend of experience in the back room and on the front lines.

A Coast Guard veteran, Senecal eventually decided the military would not become a career, and went back to school, earning a degree in business at the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst.

Tom Senecal, seen with other members of the PeoplesBank

Tom Senecal, seen with other members of the PeoplesBank team, says the bank’s commitment to remain a mutual institution makes a strong statement.

He started his career in the financial-services sector with the Big 4 firm KPMG, as a senior manager and CPA. In that capacity, he provided organizational leadership and technical consulting expertise in the areas of auditing, accounting, tax compliance, and financial reporting for small to mid-sized banks in Massachusetts and Connecticut. One of the clients in his portfolio was PeoplesBank, which eventually recruited him to the role of controller.

As mentioned earlier, he drifted far out of his comfort zone a few years later and joined the commercial-lending team, where he remained until 2004, when he accepted an offer to join Florence Savings Bank as CFO and treasurer.

He returned to Holyoke in 2008 when Bowen, who took the helm at PeoplesBank a year earlier, encouraged him to take that same role with his bank.

“I looked upon coming back here as an opportunity,” he explained. “PeoplesBank is a larger, broader-reaching bank geographically that had a lot of opportunities for growth because of its name recognition and the marketability of PeoplesBank. Having had some conversations about the future with people here, I decided to come back.”

The search for Bowen’s successor, which began in the summer of 2015, eventually focused on two internal candidates, and Senecal prevailed.

Making a Statement

Since taking over as president of the bank, Senecal has put himself even closer to the front line — actually, right on it.

Indeed, he’s spent some time behind teller windows at several of the branches, getting an up-close look at what happens there, while also taking the opportunity to speak with some customers directly.

“I don’t think one of those branches is going to invite me back to scan checks, because I wasn’t very good at it — I think I kept the staff an extra hour,” he joked, adding quickly that those experiences were nonetheless fruitful and somewhat eye-opening. “As much as I can laugh about it now, that’s an example of understanding what the front line is really like.”

Beyond this time in the field, Senecal said he’s spent his first several months as president working toward that vote on mutuality and also developing a new four-year strategic plan. Dubbed Vision 2020, it will be presented to the board of directors in September.

When asked what’s in it, Senecal offered only generalities, and said it focuses on every aspect of the banking operation, including retail and commercial products and services, cash management, retail delivery channels, digital delivery channels, and more.

“We’re strategizing and looking at best-in-class products and services to compete with the larger institutions,” he explained. “Remaining as a mutual enables us to do that; we don’t have to worry about the next quarter’s earnings — we can make investments in these technologies and people and not worry about it. We’re in it for the long term.”

Elaborating, he said the bank changed two bylaws that will make converting to a public company far less likely. The first is the new requirement of a super-majority. The second is a so-called ‘protective self-enrichment clause,’ which prevents any director or senior manager from financially benefiting if that 75% vote from the corporators is actually obtained.

“Management and directors cannot participate in any initial public offering,” he explained. “This takes away all the financial incentive to convert; it requires senior management to focus on the long term and growing responsibly.”

Commenting on the decision to change the bylaws regarding mutuality, Senecal said he’s not sure such a step was necessary given that the bank hasn’t shown any interest in moving toward converting to stock ownership. But the vote does make a statement, and an important one, he went on, in terms of its commitment to the community.

“It was an opportunity to commit the institution and send a message to the community about who we are,” he explained. “I think it’s hard to deliver that message because most people don’t understand what mutuality is and how it affects them.

“Having been the CFO of two banks and having talked to other banks, I’ve gotten a real sense for what community banks do for our communities,” he explained. “You can talk to the big banks and the public banks, and they’ll tell you they’re committed and they’re creating foundations, but take a look at what they contribute to the community compared to what the mutual banks contribute, and you’ll see a huge difference.

“The public doesn’t see that,” he went on. “But on the inside, we see that.”

On-the-money Analysis

Still, despite the apparent advantages of mutuality, it does bring some competitive challenges, especially when it comes to size and its benefits, and capital (which ultimately determines how much a bank can lend) and how to attain it.

“Size is not overrated,” Senecal said, adding that it is the best method for coping with costs that continue to rise (compliance costs have nearly tripled for PeoplesBank over the past three years, from $1 million to $2.5 million, for example), while banks cannot recover them by adjusting rates for loans and deposits.

As for raising capital, public banks do so through stock offerings, he noted, while for mutual banks, the only source of capital is earnings, which are elusive in this era of those rising operating costs and in a region generally defined by the compound modifier ‘no-growth.’

But Senecal said there is room for growth in market share, and, as an example, he pointed to the residential mortgage market.

“We were a top-four mortgage lender in Hampden and Hampshire counties last year,” he explained. “There were probably 190 originators in our market, and we had 4% of that market. To me, there’s a lot of market share that can be acquired — and in many ways beyond bricks and mortar.”

This was a reference to emerging technology in the financial world and digital ways of doing business, a realm the bank has been on the leading edge of for years, Senecal noted — a trend he expects to continue.

Meanwhile, there is also room for growth in commercial lending, he said, adding quickly that the market remains highly competitive, despite the fact that the spate of mergers and acquisitions has actually created fewer players.

“There may be fewer banks, but there aren’t fewer lenders — this remains a very competitive environment fueled by historically low rates,” he explained, adding that area institutions are raising the already-high stakes by recruiting not simply individual lenders, but entire teams of lenders.

“I think the public institutions are feeling that they can steal market share by acquiring a group of commercial lenders,” he explained, adding that PeoplesBank has a different strategy, one focused on creating and maintaining relationships through stability.

“We’ve had very little turnover in our commercial lending area,” he explained, “and that has definitely helped us grow that part of our business.”

As for the overall growth strategy, Senecal said PeoplesBank has historically done it organically (it has never acquired another institution), and this trend will continue.

“When I arrived in 1995, this bank had $450 million in assets; today, we’re just about $2.1 billion,” he explained. “We did that through organic growth — putting branches in, increasing our loans, increasing our deposit base. We will continue to focus on that same strategy, although it’s definitely challenging.”

A Strong Bottom Line

When asked to compare and contrast work in the back room and on the front lines, Senecal said there are basic and very important differences.

“Having worked in the finance area, I’d say it’s very easy to make decisions looking at numbers and not understanding the customer impact,” he explained. “When you get to the front lines, you realize those decisions impact your customers, and they become more difficult.”

As he noted earlier, working in both environments will benefit him immensely as he goes about trying to move an already-lofty bar still higher.

He said he’s ready for the many challenges facing the banking industry today, and so is the institution he now leads.

In other words, the feeling is mutual — in all kinds of ways.

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

Cover Story Economic Outlook Sections

Questions About Sustainability Cloud the Picture for 2016

Outlook 2016

By most accounts, the state’s economy — and area businesses — had a solid 2015. Performance didn’t match pre-recession levels, but it was an improvement over the previous three or four years. The question looming over 2016 is whether that performance can be sustained, and there are enough doubts, or reservations — created by everything from a stronger dollar to still-falling oil prices to uncertainty about who will win the White House next November — to keep confidence in check.

Dan Flynn calls it “soft confidence.”

That simple, two-word phrase goes a long way toward explaining the current state of the local and national economy and the general attitude concerning it among business owners.

Elaborating, Flynn, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Wholesale Banking for West Springfield-based United Bank, said many of the institution’s commercial clients are doing well — not as well as before the so-called Great Recession that started in 2008, but performance has been solid. Some even recorded their proverbial ‘best year ever’ in 2015, he noted, adding that most saw at least improvement over 2014.

Dan Flynn says many area businesses had a solid 2015

Dan Flynn says many area businesses had a solid 2015, but the question moving forward is whether that performance can be sustained.

But — and this is an important ‘but’ — these business owners are not at all sure that such performance is sustainable given a host of factors that are almost all well beyond their control. These range from global and domestic violence to still-spiraling healthcare insurance costs to extreme uncertainty about who will prevail in the 2016 presidential election — and what he or she might do after getting elected.

Thus, existing confidence is, well, soft.

“For most business owners, their inventory backlog or their job backlog is building, but they don’t have the confidence that this will sustain itself in 2016 or 2017,” Flynn explained. “They think it will, but it’s not like that flat-out ‘we’re confident, we’re going to hire a couple of extra people, we’re going to add a second shift.’ They’re not that confident.”

John Patrick agreed. The CEO of Farmington Bank, which recently made a foray into the Western Mass. market with locations in West Springfield and then East Longmeadow, said there is some optimism about the year ahead, but there are also serious doubts, enough to keep confidence from becoming deep or profound.

“The economy, especially the local economy, is all about confidence,” he noted. “And I wouldn’t say there is strong confidence in the marketplace relative to everything that’s happening around them.”

And by ‘everything,’ he meant factors ranging from terrorism in Paris and California to the ever-rising cost of health insurance.

Bob Nakosteen concurred, summoning another word to describe the current picture and outlook for 2016: ‘fuzzy.’

He would go into much greater detail, obviously, but Nakosteen, professor of Economics at the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst and co-editor of MassBenchmarks, the quarterly publication devoted to analysis of the Bay State economy, said that one word pretty much does the job.

Indeed, the outlook is fuzzy, as in not sharp, not clear, and, for the most part, not predictable.

“The picture is fuzzy, and through the fuzziness, we see a lot of positives, but we also see some risk,” he explained. “There’s a lot of internal strength in the U.S. economy, and it is going to overcome various weaknesses, and that means this state is going to do well. It’s a mixed picture, but the overall trend is positive. But do I have 100% confidence in what I just said? Absolutely not.”

That’s soft confidence personified.

“We’re in the middle of a slowdown … it’s not anywhere near a recession, but we’re definitely seeing some slowing,” Nakosteen went on. “The economy has been growing at 2% or a little less, and that’s not vibrant.”

John Patrick

John Patrick says a number of area manufacturers have seen exports impacted by the weakening of many foreign currencies.

Moving beyond ‘fuzzy,’ Nakosteen, like Flynn and others we spoke with, said there are a number of factors impacting the state and national economy — everything from a weak Canadian dollar, which is hurting exports to that country, to the fact that most Americans are not putting the money they’re saving at the gas pump back into the economy, to impressive job growth in the Commonwealth (if not Greater Springfield). Together, they make predicting what will come next an even more difficult assignment than it generally is.

Most observers are expecting growth to remain right around that 2% level, but it could go higher or lower depending on how matters evolve, especially that critical confidence level among business owners.

Money Matters

As he talked with BusinessWest about 2015 and what will likely happen in the year ahead, Nakosteen said there are certainly plenty of reasons to look at the glass and declare it at least half-full.

“Within the lack of clarity that we’re seeing, there lies a solid core of economic strength,” he explained, adding that the Bay State continues to match or outperform the nation overall, but it is very much dependent on the relative health of this country, as well as international markets, for its success.

As evidence, he cited some recent data showing that Massachusetts is experiencing an economic expansion in many ways reminiscent of the late ’90s, though without the impetus of the tech bubble that drove that cycle, meaning that this one is more well-rounded.

Gross state product is growing robustly, he went on — 7.1% for the second quarter compared to national GDP growth of 3.7% — and employment growth is steady, although limited geographically. The unemployment rate remains low by historical standards, and has been below the national rate since — and even before — the Great Recession.

“The current expansion appears to be on firm footing — the economy in the state has slowed down recently, but it’s still been a really good year,” he said while offering the global view.

“We’re expecting strong growth over the year or so,” he went on, using ‘we’ to mean the editors at MassBenchmarks. “It might be as strong as what we had up to the second quarter of this year, but pretty solid growth. How much of it makes its way out to the western part of the state remains to be seen.”

Flynn agreed.

“Overall, clients performed better over the past 12 months than the previous three to four years,” he said while generalizing the comments of business owners within the bank’s portfolio. “As a whole, they’re not seeing the same rate of return as before the recession, but they’re doing better than they were a year ago.

“And it’s across the board,” he went on. “You can take retail, manufacturing, wholesalers … generally, companies are performing better than they had.”

Given all that, though, the question looming over 2016 is whether that performance — by individual companies and the economy as a whole — can be sustained. And strong doubts about whether it can have led to heavy use of phrases such as ‘soft confidence,’ ‘fuzzy picture,’ ‘mixed signals,’ and the always-popular ‘cautiously optimistic,’ which Flynn said he’s heard repeatedly.

That’s because most all of the factors that will decide the fate of 2016 come complete with ‘ifs,’ ‘buts,’ question marks, and both points and counterpoints.

Take the jobs picture, for example. The nation’s economy added another 211,000 jobs in November after a gain of nearly 300,000 in October, a solid boost by most accounts that exceeded almost all expectations and propelled the stock market to a more than 2% gain the day the figures were released.


Click HERE to download a PDF chart listing the region’s largest employers


But do those numbers and the stated 5% national unemployment rate reflect real progress in what’s happening locally? The short answer is ‘no’ or ‘probably not.’

“I was in New York recently, and I heard a nationally respected economist who said that, if you really take a look at the numbers, unemployment on a normalized basis is closer to 9% when you take into consideration all the people who are unemployed and those working part-time who would prefer to be working full time,” said Patrick.

Like others, he noted that, overall, many employers have not yet reached — and likely won’t reach for some time — that threshold of confidence needed to add back some of those employees trimmed during extensive efforts during and after the recession to become more efficient and rightsize.

“Businesses are a little apprehensive about continuing to make significant investments in people, technology, and franchise, because they’re just unsure about what’s going to happen,” Patrick told BusinessWest. “And there many businesses that, because of the cost of healthcare, don’t want to go over that 50-employee number, and they’re trying to manage their business accordingly.”

Meanwhile, Nakosteen said, despite the start of work on the Springfield casino and a host of other construction projects across Western Mass., the employment needle has “barely budged” in the city of Springfield, meaning the jobless rate is still hovering around 9%, in sharp contrast to what’s happening elsewhere in the Commonwealth.

Bob Nakosteen says the Bay State added jobs at an impressive clip in 2015

Bob Nakosteen says the Bay State added jobs at an impressive clip in 2015, but by and large, those gains did not extend to Western Mass.

“Employment in the state has really grown at an amazingly fast clip over the past year to 18 months, but it’s not the same in Western Mass., as is usually the case,” he explained, adding that the Bay State has added 50,000 to 60,000 jobs over the past year, most of them in technology-related sectors, although healthcare and education remain solid contributors to such growth.

“A different picture emerges out here,” he went on, talking from his office on the UMass Amherst campus. “Springfield has added a few jobs but not many — at least it hasn’t gone down. The picture is better in the larger metropolitan area, but all the construction is in Springfield, so that’s where it should be recorded, but so far we’re not seeing it.”

Dollars and Sense

Another factor that is contributing to uncertainty is the stronger U.S. dollar. It certainly benefits those traveling overseas and has provided a huge boost for airlines and cruise lines, but overall, a strong dollar hurts exporters, including the many precision manufacturers that call the Knowledge Corridor home.

“I think many of the manufacturers in this region got off to a good start in 2015 and had good backlogs,” said Patrick, referring to companies on both sides of the border. “But companies within that corridor are usually producing a product that has export potential, and because of the strong dollar internationally, they’ve seen a lot of the orders slow down and some of them put on hold, with the buyer saying, ‘what we’ll do is wait for the dollar to drive down in value a bit.’”

There was some movement in that direction in early December, he noted, but overall, the dollar remains quite strong against all other currencies, and until a pattern of weakness occurs, exports will continue to suffer.

Nakosteen agreed, and said one country often overlooked when it comes to currency rates is Canada. It is a big trading partner, and at the moment that country’s dollar, also known as the ‘loonie,’ is in a hard spiral fueled by a host of factors, including falling energy prices and questionable monetary policy.

“Canada is our most important trade partner; a year ago, it was about one U.S. dollar to one Canadian dollar; now, a Canadian dollar is worth about 70 cents,” he explained. “What that means is for Candians, U.S. products are much more expensive, and you can see it in the export numbers — they’ve really dropped over the past year.”

As for falling oil prices, which analysts say will remain low for the foreseeable future, they are not producing a surge in consumer spending, as some had predicted, and in the meantime, they are taking a hard toll on the energy industry, which is having a ripple effect, in this country and elsewhere.

“We have not seen the surplus from lower gas prices turn into consumer spending — it’s going into savings or to reduce debt,” Nakosteen said. “It has not created the bump that was expected by everyone, including me.

“From everything I’m reading in the energy industry, low gas prices are here for a while,” he went on. “So it will be interesting to see if, over time, consumers start behaving a little differently and take this surplus and spend it.”

Still another factor is interest rates, which, after that strong November jobs report, are almost certain to rise after roughly seven years of stagnancy. The projected 0.25% increase, though minor, will finally bring some measure of relief to investors who have focused on low-risk options, such as bonds, which have yielded marginal returns. But the hike will also make borrowing more expensive, and this may slow the economy somewhat.

Cliff Noreen, president of Springfield-based Babson Capital, told Bloomberg News Radio recently that he welcomed the U.S. interest rate hike — “I think it’s about time; it’s been seven years, and we’ve been living with manipulated rates for that long, and we should go back to a more normal rate environment.”

“I think the biggest victims today are retirees — they retired with the assumption five or 10 years ago that they would earn a risk-free rate of 4%, 5%, or 6%; now, the risk-free rate is zero,” he told Bloomberg. “So they have to take more risk to make their return to live on, and they’ve been forced to invest in higher-risk assets like high-yield bonds and stocks, and they’ve had to adjust their asset allocation to make up for the zero-percent rate environment we’re in globally.”

CurrenciesChartCommoditiesChartOverall, Noreen said there were several surprises in 2015 — from falling commodities prices to spiraling foreign currencies (see charts) to gasoline prices that could have fallen further than they did — and all signs point to these conditions (and the negative impact and uncertainty they bring) continuing into 2016.

“We expect lower-than-normal investment returns for all asset classes,” he noted, “and slow economic growth globally, although things have been stabilizing, and continued very, very low interest rates that are in the process of rising.”

And there are still other factors to consider looking ahead, said Noreen, listing everything from a slowing of the growth rate in China to slowing corporate-profit growth in this country, and historically low yields on bonds, with many European countries, including Germany, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands, gaining status in what Noreen called the “negative-rate club.”

As for the upcoming presidential election, Nakosteen noted that, while elections themselves typically don’t have an impact on the economy and individual presidents don’t often dictate fiscal policy, elections do generate anxiety, which has its own trickle-down effect.

Bottom Line

Speaking from experience, Patrick agreed, noting that the one commodity business owners dislike the most is uncertainty.

And because there is no lack of it at the moment — not just because of the election but all those other issues mentioned above — there is a corresponding shortage of perhaps the most important element for at least the short-term health of the regional and national economy: confidence.

There is confidence that the progress measured in 2015 can be sustained, but, as Flynn noted, it is soft confidence.

And as long as that condition remains, the picture for 2016 will remain fuzzy.

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

Cover Story Education Sections

Building an Education Hub

Downtown Colleges

It all started three years ago, when Cambridge College, after surveying a number of potential sites for its regional campus, settled on some former retail space on the ground floor of Tower Square. Now there are four colleges and universities with what could be called a presence in the central business district. That constitutes a “hub,” according to many we talked to about this development, one that has the ability to bring additional energy and vibrancy to the downtown area.

When Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor spoke at the MassMutual Center on Sept. 9 as part of the 2015 Springfield Public Forum series, there were more than 2,500 people in the hall.

A good number of them represented the area’s many colleges and universities, including students, faculty members, administrators, distinguished alums, and supporters. Springfield College, for example, had roughly 40 people in attendance, and prior to Sotomayor’s talk, most of them were gathered at a reception in unique community space set aside for tenants and their guests on the third floor of 1350 Main St., just across the street from the convention center.

The college wasn’t officially in the building yet, said its president, Mary-Beth Cooper, but lease papers had been signed for space on the second floor just a few days before Sotomayor came to Springfield, so the school took full advantage of a huge opportunity.

Mary-Beth Cooper

Mary-Beth Cooper says Springfield College leaders wanted to be part of the downtown revitalization in the city, so an address in the central business district made sense.

“I called and asked if we could we use that space,” said Cooper. “There’s a deck, it’s right across the street … we had a nice reception.”

Gaining the ability to host such a party wasn’t the reason why Springfield College became the fourth area institution of higher learning to add a downtown Springfield mailing address over the past few years.

But it may well have been one of the reasons.

There are myriad others, said Cooper, who told BusinessWest that, to make a somewhat long story short, the college wanted to support the city it is named after, and, perhaps more importantly, it wanted to be part of what’s happening downtown — be that a revitalization, comeback, renaissance, or whatever term may be deemed appropriate.

Thus, Springfield College is now part of what would have to be called a movement involving higher education and Springfield’s central business district.

It all started in 2012, when Cambridge College, looking for a replacement for tired and insufficient facilities for its Springfield Regional Center in an industrial building on Cottage Street, settled on long-vacant retail space on the ground floor of Tower Square. Two years later, Bay Path College, bursting at the seams on its Longmeadow campus and in search of a home for its American Women’s College, chose the spacious seventh floor of 1350 Main St. from several appealing options.

And in September of 2014, The University of Massachusetts opened the UMass Center at Springfield, a 26,000-square-foot facility on the mezzanine level of Tower Square that is now hosting classes involving roughly 700 students this fall.

By comparison to those other facilities, Springfield College’s investment is small by any measure — its offices total less than 2,000 square feet, and only a few people are actually in those offices at any given time.

But there is room for growth, and in the meantime, this latest addition only adds to what Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno called an infusion of “positive energy and brainpower.”

“Eds and meds are an important part of economic development,” he said, using the term to connote the education and healthcare sectors. “And when you couple what’s happening with the colleges downtown with efforts to promote entrepreneurship, the innovation district we’re building, and the efforts of groups like Valley Venture Mentors, it generates additional momentum.

“Years ago, people laughed at us when we said we were going to bring colleges and universities into the downtown,” he went on, adding that no one is laughing anymore.

Instead, they’re undertaking some speculation and analysis — on the impact of all this proliferation of colleges along Main Street, and about how and in what ways this momentum can be built upon.

Lynn Griesemer, assistant vice president of Economic Development at UMass and executive director of the UMass Donohue Institute, has been doing some analysis herself. She told BusinessWest that what’s developing downtown could certainly be termed an “education hub,” one that has the potential to attract additional businesses, non-profits, people, and vibrancy to the area.

“It’s starting to create a magnet,” she said, emphasizing those words ‘starting to.’ “With patience and ongoing support from the community, the city, and the state, I think that you could see this magnet growing into something that brings a lot more vitality into the downtown.”

For this issue and its focus on education, BusinessWest looks at how this hub, or magnet, came to be, and also at what its potential forces of attraction might become.

Course of Events

Hot Table restaurant on the ground floor at Tower Square is now open until 8 p.m. on weekdays, several hours later than its old closing time.

Teresa Forte, director of Cambridge College’s Springfield Regional Center, located just a few dozen feet away, knows that prodding from her and many of the students who attend classes into the early evening played a big part in that decision.

Overall, she believes that’s only one relatively small example of the impact that Cambridge and the other colleges are having downtown, an influence she described with the same phrase Greisemer summoned.

“Whether we call it that or not, the downtown is becoming an educational hub for Springfield,” she told BusinessWest. “I’m proud that Cambridge College started the trend; the true benefactors are the students who can now use downtown as a one-stop shopping zone when they are considering educational opportunities.”

Looking back over how this hub came together, it becomes clear that, while the schools involved had somewhat different motivations and goals behind their respective decisions, the common denominator is that they reached a decision that they wanted — and in many respects needed — to be downtown.

Retracing the steps that led to Cambridge becoming urban pioneers, if you will, or at least next-generation pioneers, Forte said the school looked at a number of options as it went about the task of replacing the Cottage Street facilities, which it called home for more than 20 years.

At the time, the school wasn’t really focused on being part of a revitalization effort — although that was certainly part of the equation — as much as it was centered on making a move that simply made sense from the perspectives of visibility and convenience for all constituencies involved, and would enable the school to ultimately grow enrollment, she explained.

“I described us as the best-kept secret in higher education in Springfield — even our sign didn’t light up,” she said of the Cottage Street facility. “Our lease was up, and the decision was made to search for a new, upgraded location. After many months and many visits to locations all over Springfield, it became clear that the best options for us were in downtown.

“It would not only provide us with better transportation options for our students — on a bus line and close to 91 — but also give us an opportunity to become a stronger contributor to the Springfield community,” she went on. “The search was narrowed to three locations in downtown, and Tower Square was chosen for a few very important reasons. First, it had the street-level site available, which was important for signage. Second, it was one of the most secure locations in all of downtown.”

Elaborating, she said Tower Square has a very responsive security staff which conducts patrols on the hour both inside the mall and outside the perimeter of the building, and there are also cameras everywhere, including the garage.  Meanwhile, in terms of parking, students are given the option to park in the Tower Square garage, meaning they can take the elevator to class.

With that package of amenities, Cambridge thought it could grow its Springfield Regional Center, she continued, and in reality, that’s exactly what has happened.

Teresa Forte

Teresa Forte says Cambridge College’s location in Tower Square — which offers students solid security, parking, and transportation amenities — has spurred an increase in enrollment.

“Cambridge College has a very unique mission — we cater to a diverse population of students for whom educational opportunities may have been limited or denied; we were one of the first colleges to specialize in assisting non-traditional students,” she explained. “And the interesting trend that has happened since we moved downtown is that we seem to be attracting a larger number of traditional students who have never been to college before. We’ve been in downtown for almost three years, and our enrollment in Springfield has been steadily rising for the past five years.”

For UMass, meanwhile, its arrival downtown, while certainly part of ongoing efforts to become more of a factor in Greater Springfield economic-development efforts, was actually sparked by a statewide study of potential growth opportunities for the university apart from its five campuses, said Griesemer.

That analysis identified several such locations, she went on, including Brockton, Southeastern Mass., Springfield, and the Marlboro area in the eastern part of the Commonwealth.

“There is a whole wedge in that area that has no higher-ed institutions — it’s between Routes 128, 495, 2, and 90,” she said of what amounts to Greater Marlboro, adding that most of the sites identified were in so-called Gateway cities (many of its existing campuses are in different ones) such as Springfield, and the university decided, after an in-depth market research study, to first pursue a project in the City of Homes.

What eventually emerged was the UMass Center at Springfield, which was announced in the fall if 2013 and opened less than a year later. It now hosts classes for several UMass Amherst programs, including the College of Nursing, the Isenberg School of Management’s part-time MBA program, the University Without Walls, and others. It also hosts programs offered by or in conjunction with UMass Boston, Springfield Technical Community College, Holyoke Community College, and Westfield State University.

Griesemer didn’t have a specific number when asked how many people are at the Springfield facility on a given day, but pegged student enrollment alone at between 600 and 700, a number that has gone up each semester.

Schools of Thought

As for Bay Path, its move downtown in the fall if 2013 was generated by a basic need for additional space for the online American Women’s College, said President Carol Leary.

“We spent a good amount of time looking at various locations, but Springfield was at the top of our list because we have our roots there going back to 1897,” she said, adding that school administrators fell in love with the culture at 1350 Main St.

And by culture, she meant everything from its focus on the arts — there are several galleries there — to its eatery to its eclectic mix of tenants.

“You have a feel, when you enter this place, that it’s more than an office building,” she explained, adding that the 11,805 square feet now in use hosts roughly 40 full-time employees.

And they are certainly contributing to the health of the local economy, said Leary, who attended college in Boston, understands and appreciates how higher education adds vibrancy to a city, and enjoys being part of that equation locally.

“I love the energy of a city, so I’ve enjoyed it, and our staff enjoys it,” she noted. “And we’re definitely pumping some money into the economy.”

Cooper said Springfield College’s ties to the City of Homes obviously run even deeper, and they certainly played a part in the school’s decision to lease some space at 1350 Main St.

She said she was having lunch downtown with trustee vice chair Jim Ross, when the discussion turned to the city, it’s central business district, and the many things happening there. “We talked about MGM, the rebirth of the city, transportation … everything,” she recalled, adding that the conversation eventually evolved into a discussion about if and how to become part of it — or a bigger part.

Actually, Cooper says she’s been asked several times since she arrived in the fall of 2013 about the school establishing a presence downtown. She was intrigued by the questions, in part because, in many ways, she thought the school was already downtown.

It is only a few miles as the crow flies from Main Street, she acknowledged, adding quickly that, through her lunch talk with Ross, she came to the conclusion that a direct presence in the CBD was an appropriate step.

Bay Path University President Carol Leary

Bay Path University President Carol Leary says the school’s space at 1350 Main St. has plenty of room for expansion.

Fast-forwarding a little, Ross and the college are now essentially sharing space on 1350’s second floor. The former conference room for a bank has been converted into a conference room and two offices, one for Cooper and one for Ross.

It’s not a big presence, certainly, and its specific uses have yet to be determined, but the college is now a part of what is becoming an increasingly larger and more impactful whole, said Cooper, who, when asked what she has in mind for the space besides receptions, told BusinessWest the same thing she told her board.

“I want people to think about the possibilities,” she said, listing everything from candidate interviews to leadership team sessions to subcommittee meetings involving the many boards she’s on.

But she wants that’s phrase ‘think about the possibilities’ to extend well beyond how the school’s physical space may be used.

Indeed, she said the expanding higher-ed presence downtown may well inspire and facilitate additional collaborative efforts involving a host of area schools, and eventually generate more opportunities to pair area students with downtown businesses through internships and other programs.

“Part of my agenda is to facilitate a move toward collaboration between the colleges and universities,” she said. “I think that would be good for individual schools, better for all our students, and better for the community.”

Class Acts

As she gave BusinessWest  a quick tour of the Bay Path suite of offices, Leary, who spends two full days a week downtown, stopped at the spacious kitchen. It is very well-stocked and outfitted with every necessary appliance.

There are also several round tables and chairs arranged café-style. They get a decent amount of use, said Leary, but many of those working at the downtown location prefer to eat out, and do so quite regularly.

Many are also members of the gym upstairs, she went on, adding that membership was paid by the landlord the first year (another perk of tenantship), but several employees are staying on even though the cost has shifted to them.

Meanwhile, Hot Table’s hours have expanded; the store that UMass operates on the ground floor at Tower Square, the UMass Marketplace, has expanded its food offerings; and Griesemer said there have been more than a few conversations lately about the lines at most downtown eateries getting longer — and how that’s a good thing.

But the more serious talk is about how the proliferation of colleges downtown will have a much deeper impact than a bottom-line bounce for downtown dining establishments.

Indeed, those we spoke with talked about the potential for more and deeper collaborations and of that aforementioned ‘magnet effect.’

Griesemer relayed some recent discussions that more than suggested that the schools are helping to foster an environment that may draw more draw more employers — and employees — to the central business district.

“We’ve had a few nonprofits say to us, ‘we’re interested in moving into downtown Springfield because you have,’” she said. “There are already several in the tower and room for many more.”

Sarno agreed, and noted that the critical mass of students, employees, and administrators created by the movement of higher education into the downtown area will only facilitate efforts to create more market-rate housing there, which is considered one of the keys to generating more vibrancy and additional retail.

“I think this will help in our push for market-rate housing,” he explained. “And the more pedestrian traffic you can have matriculating from the North End to the South End, the more beneficial it will be to bringing in spin-off businesses.”

When asked if there was a model for a larger, more sophisticated education hub that Springfield could aspire to, she said there are several, including Phoenix.

“There are examples of places where you had a single higher-education institution put down a footprint and others followed, like Arizona State,” Griesemer explained. “There is still room for considerable growth in Springfield when it comes to this hub.”

While the current picture is one defined by enthusiasm, and there is considerable optimism about what might come next, the immediate forecast is at least somewhat clouded by two concurrent, and massive, construction projects that will certainly impact access to the downtown — MGM’s South End casino and reconstruction of the I-91 viaduct.

“We absolutely are concerned about that,” said Forte, noting that accessibility is a key factor in the success of the downtown location. “But we’re also hopeful that the city and highway department will be considerate of our population and create traffic alternatives that will not cause great impact for us.”

Sarno said the city — not to mention the contractor handling the I-91 work — is certainly incentivized to do just that, and also get the project done on time.

“So far, so good — communication has been great, and they’re ahead of schedule … and there are 9 million reasons why this contractor wants to get phase one done ahead of time,” said the mayor, citing the bonus put in place by the state for accomplishing that feat. “This had to be done, and we’re hoping to keep the disruption to a minimum.”

Study in Possibilities

As she wrapped up her tour of Bay Path’s facilities, Leary spent a few moments in the cluttered, currently unused space on the seventh floor into which the school could, and likely will, expand.

“I can see us filling all of this someday,” she said, sweeping her arm across the area. “We’re not done yet down here.”

With those sentiments, she spoke for seemingly everyone that is now part of this education hub in the central business district.

In fact, by almost all accounts, those within this key sector are just getting started.

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

Education Sections

Root Geometry

Daniel Montagna says the UMass Center

Daniel Montagna says the UMass Center at Springfield is looking to build on the momentum gained during a solid first year.

Dan Montagna says he can easily quantify the success enjoyed by the UMass Center at Springfield during its initial year, as well as the momentum it gained for the second, which started earlier this month.

Indeed, the number of classes offered at the 26,000-square-foot facility in Tower Square increased from 20 in its first semester of operation a year ago to more than 25 this fall. And while he didn’t have an exact count when interviewed by BusinessWest — the so-called ‘add/drop period’ for many classes was still ongoing — he was quite certain that the number of students enrolled in classes in the state-of-the-art facility had increased markedly as well.

“Going from fall to spring, we saw a sharp increase in both the number of classes and programs, as well as enrollment,” said Montagna, who assumed the role of director of Operations at the center last spring. “And for the fall, it looks like a little bit of an uptick in the number of classes, but a potentially greater number of students who will be attending classes here.”

There were other measures of success, he went on, including the 275 or so community events of varying sizes staged at the center’s diverse facilities.

As for the other assignment put to him by BusinessWest  — qualifying how the center has fared with its mission of helping to bring vibrancy to downtown Springfield and provide new levels of convenience for area students — he said that was slightly more difficult, especially the first part of that equation.

And it will certainly take more than 12 months to effectively answer that question.

But he felt very confident saying that the center has established a firm foothold downtown, forged several strong working relationships with other area colleges, and already become a huge asset for the region.

“From our measures, it’s been a very successful start for the center,” he said, adding that the obvious goal is to build on that momentum. “It’s about growth, expansion of the academics, and seeing what other courses we can bring in and focus on concentration areas.

“As for the other side of the equation, the community-engagement side,” he continued, “the fact that we’ve been able to plant roots in the heart of downtown Springfield and host perhaps 300 community events has been outstanding, and something we continue to build on.”

For this issue and its focus on education, BusinessWest takes a quick look back at the UMass Center’s first year in operation, and then puts the focus on how this facility can continue to gain momentum.

Course of Action

Montagna was on hand when the center opened its doors a year ago — and actually well before that — in the capacity of assistant director of operations.

He had taken that role after stints as a project manager for a private consulting firm that specialized in work with nonprofits, and, before that, as a program manager for the so-called Bay State Roads program, a state- and federally funded transportation initiative that provided technical assistance to officials in area communities. He said he joined the team at the UMass Center because he was intrigued by the center’s role with the university — and with the city of Springfield — and wanted to be a part of it.

“What attracted me to it was the concept of UMass bringing a campus to the downtown Springfield area,” he explained. “That immediately grabbed my attention, and as a local native, growing up in Agawam and living in the Pioneer Valley my whole life, I have a personal investment in the surrounding community.

“I’ve always been a cheerleader for Springfield doing better things,” he went on. “And the timing around the developments in the downtown, the revitalization efforts, along with the university making this investment and wanting to bring some of what they’re known for to the downtown area, was really exciting to me.”

He would take on a much bigger part last spring, when William Davila, the center’s first director of Operations, left to take a position with the Center for Human Development.

Montagna said his job description has a number of moving parts — from keeping the proverbial lights on to being a liaison to Tower Square management to being the face of the center within the community — but at its heart it’s fairly simple: to continually broaden the center’s impact in downtown Springfield and within the region’s higher-education sector. And, he said, a successful first year has provided a solid foundation on which to build.

“We want to focus on all aspects of our mission, building not only the scope of academic programs here, working with the campus communities,” he explained, “but also the community-engagement component; we want to be much more than a satellite campus.”

Elaborating, he told BusinessWest that the center can be classified using a number of nouns, starting with ‘facility.’

Indeed, it serves as a central location from which UMass Amherst and other colleges and universities can offer classes and other programs.

That location, as well as the large inventory of facilities — from large classrooms to varying-sized conference rooms to large study areas — also makes the center a resource, another of those nouns, said Montagna, adding that a wide array of nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and economic-development groups have staged meetings and other types of events there.

That list includes Springfield Public Schools, the United Way, the Department of Homeland Security (which staged a training program for local law-enforcement officers there), and the Young Professional Society of Greater Springfield.

As it carries out those roles, the center also serves as a “partnership,” he went on, adding that UMass Amherst collaborates with Westfield State University, UMass Boston, Springfield Technical Community College, and Holyoke Community College to provide convenient access to courses in a number of fields.

The center now hosts classes for several UMass Amherst programs, including the College of Nursing, which has a large presence there, as well as TEACH 180 Days in Springfield, the Isenberg School of Management’s part-time MBA program, and University Without Walls. Meanwhile, it also hosts UMass Boston’s Addictions Counselor Education Program; Adult Career Pathways, Adult Basic Education, community health training, and workforce-training programs from STCC and HCC; and a Community Planning course, which is a collaboration between the STCC, Westfield State, and UMass Amherst planning departments.

All of the above assures a steady flow of students and instructors into the center, which offers both day and night classes, said Montagna, adding that this critical mass inspires use of another term to describe the facility — catalyst.

And while there may be some objective gauges of the overall impact of the center — such as in the number of additional lattes sold at Dunkin Donuts or paninis at Hot Table on the ground floor at Tower Square — this is more of a subjective analysis at this point, he told BusinessWest, although those at the center continue to look for more ways to measure its impact.

“One of the things I’m really working on with my staff is the quantifying component,” he explained. “We’re trying to measure as much as we can; we’re trying to work toward more cohesive, more comprehensive tracking of our usage and our impact downtown.”

Overall, he believes the center is certainly contributing on the micro level — with receipts at area downtown restaurants, for example — and will eventually be impactful on the macro level as well, being one of a host of new facilities, businesses, and initiatives that make downtown a true destination.

Branching Out

Summing up the UMass Center’s first year of operation, Montanga said the initiative (there’s still another noun used to describe it) returned to that notion of putting down roots, noting that they have certainly taken a firm hold.

What develops from those roots remains to be seen, obviously, but he believes the center will grow into a vital contributor to the region’s economy, its ongoing efforts to create a large, capable workforce for the future, and the vibrancy of a downtown in the midst of a comeback.

In many respects, he said in conclusion, it is already all of the above.

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

Agenda Departments

Workshop on Retirement Planning, Social Security
June 16: Monson Savings Bank is holding a complimentary workshop titled “Social Security: The Choice of a Lifetime.” It will be presented by Kevin Flynn, regional vice president of Nationwide Financial, and an expert on retirement planning and helping people to understand Social Security and how to optimize their benefits. The event is designed to give people a comprehensive understanding of the rules and details regarding when and how to file for Social Security. It will be held from 5 to 6:30 p.m. at the Hampden Senior Center at 104 Allen St. in Hampden. The free event is open to the public. “This workshop is back by popular demand,” said Steven Lowell, president of Monson Savings Bank. “Knowing when and how to file for Social Security can have a big impact on retirement income. We have offered this workshop before, and those who attended were very appreciative of the information.” Those interested in attending should call Anna Driscoll at (413) 267-1221 or e-mail [email protected] Seating is limited. Refreshments will be served.

EANE Workshop
June 17: The Employers Assoc. of the NorthEast in Agawam will host a workshop, “Six Secrets for Promoting Products and Services with Confidence,” from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. This program, presented by Lyn Murphy, will provide participants with proven strategies and practical tools to feel more comfortable and ultimately become more effective at suggestive selling. It is targeted toward business owners, consultants, lawyers, accountants, architects, and customer-service representatives whose positions include sales goals. Attendees will learn how to enhance their personal presence and build rapport with current and potential clients, discover tools to avoid feeling pushy or rejected when promoting products and services, use tools to identify and adapt to prospects with different communication and behavioral styles, and learn strategies to positively influence sales outcomes. The $285 fee includes the electronic DiSC Sales Assessment. To register, visit www.eane.org/six-secrets-for-promoting-products-and-services-with-confidence.

ERC5 Annual Meeting
June 17: The East of the River Five Town Chamber of Commerce will hold its annual meeting from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Blake Commons Dining Hall, Bay Path University, Longmeadow. The keynote speaker will be talk-show host and bestselling author Howie Carr, discussing politics, crime, and entertainment. A member of the Radio Hall of Fame, Carr’s evening drive show can heard on more than 20 stations throughout New England. He is also a columnist for the Boston Herald and a contributor to Breitbart.com. Carr’s bestselling books include The Brothers Bulger and Hitman. Crime boss Whitey Bulger was so infuriated by Carr’s groundbreaking reporting that he once put out a murder contract on Carr, a story detailed on 60 Minutes. At his 2013 trial on murder and racketeering charges, Bulger tried to have Carr banned from the courtroom by calling him as a defense witness. Now imprisoned for life in Arizona, the crime czar still says his greatest regret was not murdering Carr when he had the chance. Bulger’s story will be featured in the upcoming film Black Mass, starring Johnny Depp. To register, visit www.erc5.com or contact Amanda Brodkin at the chamber. The cost is $45 for chamber members, $55 for non-members.

Clinical Notes Concert

June 18: Baystate Franklin Medical Center’s Clinical Notes, a hospital-based women’s a cappella chorus, will perform a free summer concert, “Good Ole — and New — a Cappella,” from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. in the hospital’s Conference Rooms B and C. Under the direction of Kathryn Aubrey-McAvoy, the group will perform a variety of selections, including classical, jazz, traditional, and rock. Individual members of the group will be featured as soloists. Hospital staff, patients, visitors, and the public are invited to attend. Guests should feel free to come and stay for the whole concert or for a short time, as time allows. Clinical Notes was formed in 2003 by Phyllis Stone and Annginette Anderson, who shared a love of a cappella singing. Though members have come and gone over the 12 years, most of the singers have been in the group since its inception. The group performs two formal concerts yearly (during the holidays and at the beginning of summer), and sings at various hospital-related functions, such as the annual Valentine’s Day Chocolate Festival, Nurses’ Week, and other celebrations. They have also performed during the Relay for Life Sacred Gathering, the Hospice of Franklin County Tree Lighting, and the United Way A Cappella Festival. For more information, contact Stone at (413) 773-2573 or [email protected]

40 Under Forty
June 18: The ninth annual 40 Under Forty award program, staged by BusinessWest, will be held at the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House the evening of June 18. The event honors the region’s most accomplished and civic-minded professionals under age 40, and this year’s class was profiled in the April 20 issue. This year’s winners represent virtually every sector of the economy — from financial services to manufacturing; retail to healthcare; technology to nonprofit management; education to law. They also show the seemingly innumerable ways people can give back to the community. This year’s event will feature a new award — the Continued Excellence Award, presented to the previous honoree who has most impressively built upon their track record of excellence (see nominees HERE). Always one of the most anticipated events and best networking opportunities on the calendar, the gala, which is sold out, will feature lavish food stations, entertainment, and the introduction of this year’s class. The 40 Under Forty program and gala are sponsored this year by Northwestern Mutual (presenting sponsor), Paragus Strategic IT (presenting sponsor), Fathers & Sons, the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst, Moriarty & Primack, and United Bank.

Leadership Conference
June 19: Springfield Technical Community College (STCC) School of Business & Information Technologies will host a free Leadership Conference from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Scibelli Hall (Building 2) Theater at STCC. This one-day event will feature a variety of guest speakers, including Rebecca Corbin, president and CEO of the National Assoc. of Community Colleges for Entrepreneurship; Alden Davis; Robert Hensley, president of Robert Hensley & Associates, LLC; Nicole Murdoch, small-business owner; Gail Ward Olmsted, STCC professor and department chair in the School of Business and Information Technology; Rob Parslow, Accounting director at American Express; Ira Rubenzahl, STCC President; Diane Sabato, STCC professor of Business Administration; Kirk Smith, president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Springfield; and Paul Thornton, STCC professor of Business Administration. The event will include interactive group discussions and opportunities for networking. Lunch will be provided. For more information or to register, call (413) 755-4008 or e-mail [email protected]

ACCGS Panel on Health-plan Changes
June 23: The Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield (ACCGS), in collaboration with the Greater Chicopee, Easthampton, Holyoke, and Westfield chambers of commerce, will present a panel discussion on health-plan changes associated with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) from 3 to 4 p.m. at the UMass Center at Springfield, 1500 Main St., Springfield. Sponsored by the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County, Massachusetts Assoc. of Health Plans (MAHP) President and CEO Lora Pellegrino and Senior Vice President Eric Linzer will present “The State of the Massachusetts Marketplace.” Despite the Commonwealth’s 2006 Health Care Reform Law serving as the model for the ACA, according to MAHP, Massachusetts faces significant challenges five years after its passage. Massachusetts employers, particularly small and mid-size companies, will need to confront significant changes to the marketplace, which, MAHP says, will have a substantial impact on health-care costs, including the expansion of the small-group market to include companies with up to 100 employers and the elimination of the state’s rating factors. Pellegrino and Linzer will discuss the current state of the health-plan market, what the ACA changes mean for employers, how employees can address the impact of the ACA changes, how mandated benefits and other changes at the state level may exacerbate the challenges employers face, and what employers can do to get involved. The cost is $10 for members of the participating chambers and $15 for general admission. To register, visit one of the chambers online or e-mail Kara Cavanaugh at [email protected]

Berkshire Region MITS Summer Institute
July 6-10: Berkshire Museum will host the Berkshire Region Museum Institute for Teaching Science (MITS) summer session for middle- and high-school teachers. This year’s theme is “Going with the Flow: Using Inquiry Methods to Teach Watershed Science.” The Berkshire Museum is the lead educational partner for MITS in the Berkshires. The program is presented with instructing partners Housatonic Valley Assoc., Flying Cloud Institute, and American Rivers. This exciting professional-development program will focus on the ecology and history of local rivers and watersheds. Participants will learn from experts about what is affecting water quality in the rivers that flow through area communities and how scientists effectively measure watershed health using principles of ecology, engineering, and robotics. The week-long institute includes outside exploration of local rivers and time indoors at the museum for hands-on, inquiry-based projects. Institute participants will build and use a SeaPerch underwater remotely operated vehicle (ROV) and then take it back to their classrooms. The SeaPerch ROV is used to take videos of underwater ecosystems and collect water samples. SeaPerch curriculum serves as an introduction to basics in engineering, ship and submarine design, and an exploration of ways that engineers have been able to explore places that are too dangerous or unreachable for humans to visit. The educators will explore a variety of methods to test water quality. They also will build miniature urban landscapes to prototype methods for remediating runoff in an exploration of low-impact-development solutions to non-point source pollution. Participants will learn from experts about the science and politics of dam removal that have been affecting New England rivers, and they will hear the story of PCB pollution and removal in the Housatonic River watershed and examine issues surrounding urban and agricultural runoff into rivers and aquifers. Throughout the course, participating educators will try out, develop, and implement inquiry-based approaches and project ideas for use in the classroom that amplify the concepts covered in the course and that will encourage students to become critical, inquisitive thinkers. Throughout the institute, the educators will be working with proven methods of assessing student learning. Educators who complete the institute earn professional development points and/or graduate credits from either Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts or Cambridge College, based on a teacher’s chosen level of participation. All activities will be linked to Massachusetts Common Core state standards and STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) initiatives. All teachers from grades 5 to 12 are welcome to attend. Online registration for the institute is available at www.mits.org. There will be an orientation on June 20 before the July 6-10 session. The deadline to guarantee a spot is June 1; late sign-ups will be accepted based on space availability. The registration fee, which includes the cost of the SeaPerch kit, is $400 for individual participants and $375 for two or more participants from same school district. Meghan Bone, Berkshire Museum’s School and Teacher Program specialist, can answer questions about the program; she can be reached at (413) 443-7171, ext. 332, or [email protected]

Valley Fest
Aug. 29: White Lion Brewing Co. announced that it will host its inaugural beer festival, called Valley Fest, at Court Square in downtown Springfield. MGM Springfield will be the presenting sponsor. The festival is poised to be White Lion’s signature annual event, introducing the young brand to craft-beer enthusiasts throughout New England and beyond. White Lion Brewing Co., the city of Springfield’s only brewery, launched in October 2014. Founder Ray Berry and brewmaster Mike Yates have released three selections under the White Lion brand and have been busy promoting their efforts in venues all over Massachusetts and other New England states. “Valley Fest will have the best of the best local, regional, and national beer and hard cider brands,” Berry said. “Even in our inaugural year, Valley Fest will be the largest one-day beer festival in Western Massachusetts. We expect to draw up to 2,000 enthusiasts from throughout New England. We are very excited to showcase the fourth-largest city in New England and all of its amenities.” Berry anticipates that more than 50 breweries and many local food vendors will converge on Court Square for two sessions. Enthusiasts will have an opportunity to sample more than 100 varieties of beer and hard cider alongside pairing selections by local chefs. A number of sponsors have already committed to the event, including MassMutual Financial Group, the Young Professional Society of Greater Springfield, the Dennis Group, Springfield Sheraton Monarch Place, Paragus Strategic IT, Williams Distributing, and the Springfield Business Improvement District (BID). “We are honored to sponsor Valley Fest and look forward to it being an annual event that shares in the facilitation of growth within the downtown community,” said Chris Russell, executive director of the Springfield BID. Visit www.valleybrewfest.com for event details, ongoing updates, and sponsorship opportunities. A portion of Valley Fest proceeds will support several local charities.

Western Mass. Business Expo
Nov. 4: Comcast Business will present the fifth annual Western Mass. Business Expo at the MassMutual Center in downtown Springfield, produced by BusinessWest and the Healthcare News in partnership with Go Graphix and Rider Productions. The business-to-business show will feature more than 100 booths, seminars and Show Floor Theater presentations, breakfast and lunch programs, and a day-capping Expo Social. Details about tevents, programs, and featured speakers will be printed in future issues of BusinessWest. Sponsors include MGM Springfield, presidential and Expo Social sponsor; the Isenberg School of Business at UMass Amherst, education sponsor; Johnson & Hill and Health New England, director level sponsors; and 94.7 WMAS, media sponsor. Additional sponsorship opportunities are available. Exhibitor spaces are also available; booth prices start at $750. For more information on sponsorships or booth purchase, call (413) 781-8600, ext. 100.

Cover Story Economic Outlook Sections
Region’s Economy Gets a Jolt of Vibrancy

EcoOutlookDPartSince the end of the Great Recession in 2009, economic expansion in Western Mass. — and many other parts of the country as well — has been, in a word, limited.

And these limits have resulted from a host of factors that have stood in the way of more profound recovery. They include everything from lackluster hiring trends to high energy prices and their impact on businesses and consumers alike; from economic turmoil abroad, especially in Europe, to political chaos in Washington, as with the so-called fiscal cliff of early 2013; from a floundering housing market to a persistent lack of confidence among business owners.

But as the new year approaches, say experts we spoke with, much of this whitewater seems to be giving way to smoother conditions that are much more conducive to progress. The coast isn’t clear, they imply, but it is much clearer.

Indeed, Bob Nakosteen, a professor of Economics at the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst, told BusinessWest that he sees positive signs almost everywhere he looks, something he hasn’t been able to say for at least the past seven years.

That includes the latest employment statistics for the Bay State, which show unemployment in Springfield at 8.4% (down from 10.6% a year ago), which he considers a bellwether.

“What’s happening now is that the economic recovery is actually permeating Western Massachusetts, something you couldn’t say over the past several years,” he noted, adding that Boston, Cambridge, and other communities have enjoyed a far-more-robust recovery. “If you look at the employment numbers, we’re adding jobs in this part of the state, and that’s a really good development.”

That also includes the gas pump, where the prices for regular are now below $3 a gallon in all but a few of the 50 states and below $2 in a few (Oklahoma, for example). By all indications, they should stay at those levels, or drop even further, in the weeks ahead.

“And this simply puts money in people’s pockets,” Nakosteen explained. “When you pay for gas at the gas station, most if that money leaves the state — some of it stays, but most of it just goes away. Now, that money is staying in people’s pockets, but hopefully not for long; there are some estimates that people will spend at least half of what they save at the pump, and that goes to local businesses.”

The positive trends also include the housing market, the balance sheets of both businesses and families (both are carrying less debt), and consistently rising numbers when it comes to business confidence.

And then, there’s that $800 million casino project in Springfield’s South End. It isn’t officially underway yet — at least in terms of demolition or construction — but it is already generating excitement, movement within the long-stagnant commercial real-estate market, and talk of opportunities in many forms.

“We’ve had two vendor fairs, and they were very well-attended by small and medium-sized businesses who are looking at the possibility of doing business with the casino, and that’s a real positive sign,” said Jeff Ciuffreda, president of the Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield, noting that there is anticipation with regard to jobs — both construction and permanent — and the casino’s vast potential for bringing more meetings and conventions to the city and region as a whole.

Meanwhile, the announcement that Changchun Railway Co. will be building subway cars in the former Westinghouse site has spurred anticipation of more than 150 well-paying manufacturing jobs as well as hopes for further growth within the region’s once-prominent manufacturing sector.

Despite all this welcome news, there are some points of global economic concern, said Cliff Noreen, president of Springfield-based Babson Capital Management LLC. He cited everything from a slowing growth rate in China to falling bond rates in many European countries to the fact that, while corporate profits are soaring, that wealth is, by and large, not being shared with employees.

The $800 million MGM Springfield

The $800 million MGM Springfield, due to start taking shape in Springfield’s South End, is one of many sources of optimism across the region.

“In the third quarter, U.S. corporate profits were up 9% on revenue growth of 4%,” he explained. “And this results from a very intense focus on managing expenses, which is to the detriment of employees; wages as a percentage of GDP have dropped to 43%, the lowest level in years.”

But, overall, Noreen and others are generally optimistic about the year ahead, so much so that the adverbs ‘guardedly’ and ‘cautiously,’ which have preceded that term since the recession officially ended nearly six years ago, have been generally dropped from most commentary.

“I do think that the mood of small-business owners is positive — I sense a better buzz, a better feel now than I have in the past several years,” said Ciuffreda. “Some of this is downtown-centric, with UMass here, the progress at 1550 Main Street, NPR’s new facilities, new tenants in 1350 Main St. … the feeling is a lot better; the city is more positive than I’ve ever seen it.”

Fueling Speculation

Like Nakosteen, Noreen called falling gas prices a form of economic stimulus, and he offered some eye-opening numbers to get his point across.

“Every penny that gas drops results in $1.3 billion of additional money or funds for consumers and business in the United States — discretionary spending,” he explained. “Gas has dropped approximately 55 cents from the beginning of the year, which should result in a savings of $73 billion, which is effectively stimulus, which comes out to about four-tenths of 1% of GDP.”

Nakosteen cited estimates that the average family will save perhaps $60 a month due to the falling gas prices. “And if you do the arithmetic, take half that and add that up over a whole lot of households, that’s really money being spent in the region,” he said. “And from all I’m reading, this decline in fuel prices is not going to be short-lived; it’s going to last for a while.”

This windfall — unexpected but in some ways not surprising, given the explosion in the production of shale oil in this country — is just one of many reasons, large and small, for rising optimism regarding the economy, even as those numbers are tempered by the damage done to the energy sector when oil falls to below $70 a barrel.

Nakosteen said the improving employment numbers are equally important, if not moreso.

Cliff Noreen

Cliff Noreen says that, despite general optimism about the economy, there are many factors, here and abroad, that could impact the pace of growth.

Elaborating, he noted that, for the most part, whatever recovery this region has enjoyed over the past several years has been generally of the jobless variety. But recent employment reports show that perhaps that scenario is changing.

“It’s been really a slow slog,” Nakosteen said of employment in the four western counties and especially Springfield. “Maybe the recovery is really gaining traction in this part of the state, and recent developments are only going to help.”

With jobs come disposable income and a resulting trickle-down, said Noreen, noting quickly that optimism does need to be kept in check by the fact that many jobs being created, not only in Massachusetts but nationwide, are part-time in nature, and with wages that are not keeping pace with inflation.

“More than 321,000 new jobs were created on a net basis in November,” he said, citing the most recent jobs report. “Our concern, and we’ve been saying this to clients all year, is that the quality of jobs is not what it used to be, and many of these jobs are part-time jobs, they’re in service-type industries that are very low-wage, and many of the jobs are being taken by workers over 55 years old, either because they want to work or they need to work.”

But, overall, the job growth is being seen as a positive sign for the region’s economy, as is the growing confidence among business owners, said PeoplesBank President Doug Bowen, who cited not only the Associated Industries of Massachusetts’ monthly business confidence index and its recent steady improvement, but also trends and activity he’s noticed locally.

“The Massachusetts economy is on track to strengthen, with solid economic growth, and add more jobs in 2015,” he said. “We have a positive outlook for Western Mass. Companies in our portfolio, in general, are doing well and showing moderate growth. Some of these business owners are selectively investing in capital equipment and, to a lesser degree, new facilities.

“But we are seeing growth,” he went on. “We’re seeing some that are adding additional shifts, which always precedes the actual physical construction of new space.”

One of the sectors where he’s seeing such movement is aerospace, or machine shops, which he considers a positive sign because those jobs are generally well-paying. But he’s also witnessing growth in other manufacturing, healthcare, hospitality, and IT.

He said that most of these expansions are resulting not from speculation, but rather from current backlog and existing orders, which leads some to speculate on how long this might continue. However, Bowen noted that he’s seeing generally forward movement and, overall, less hesitation when it comes to additional hiring.

If there are speed bumps down the road for the region’s and nation’s economy, they will likely result from action — or inaction, as the case may be — in other corners of the globe, said those we spoke with.

“Japan is struggling, the Russian ruble has declined substantially, and China is growing at less than people thought,” Noreen explained, adding that these factors and others add up to less demand for U.S. products and commodities such as oil, iron ore, and concrete, which may eventually slow the pace of growth in this country.

“Over the past three years, China used more concrete than the U.S. used in the last 100 years,” said Jay Leonard, a director with Babson Capital Management. “That’s a stunning number, and it helps explain why, with China’s slower rate of growth, oil prices are down, copper prices are down, and steel is getting crushed.”

Meanwhile, Europe continues to be the biggest disappointment on the global economic stage, said Noreen, pointing to bond rates on 10-year government yields (2% in Spain, 1% in France, and 0.77% in Germany) that he called shockingly low.

Industry Terms

As 2015 approaches, those representing several economic sectors anticipate that this will be a year of change, but also challenge and, in many cases, opportunity.

For the long-suffering construction industry, one of the sectors hardest-hit by the recession and the lackluster recovery that followed, change is almost certainly good, said Dave Fontaine, president of Springfield-based Fontaine Brothers.

Doug Bowen

Doug Bowen says confidence among business owners is growing, and many are making investments in their ventures.

He told BusinessWest that, while 2014 has not been a banner year for his company — “we had work, but it was all booked in 2013” — there has been some improvement in several areas within construction, from home building to infrastructure work (roads and bridges). And the consensus is that 2015 will be better because of what he called “pent-up frustration.”

But easily the greatest source of optimism within the industry is the approaching start of work on the casino.

While the general contractor for this massive project will certainly be a firm from well outside the 413 area code, undoubtedly one with several casino projects in its portfolio, Fontaine said, there will be a trickle-down effect, with many area subcontractors and individual tradesmen (all unionized) in line to win much-needed work.

Just how much work remains to be seen, obviously, but Fontaine expects the project to have a deep impact on the sector and its workforce.

“The casino project is going to be good for the general trades, because I know that, for bricklayers, carpenters, and laborers, their hours were down significantly this past year,” he said. “These types of projects certainly employ a lot of people, and they employ them quickly and for a lot of hours, but then they’re done.”

What the sector will have to guard against, to whatever extent possible, is a shortage of manpower for other projects because of the attractiveness of the casino work in terms of hours, wages, and the opportunity for overtime.

“There’s the potential for some manpower shortages, because everyone would want to be down at the casino because they’re getting overtime and six days a week and whatnot,” Fontaine explained. “But our group of tradespeople that work for us, I don’t see them packing up and abandoning us to give their life to the casino for two years.”

Change is also expected in the banking sector, where Bowen believes the recent spate of mergers and acquisitions will give way to a more stable environment.

Indeed, 2014 saw the completion of the merger of equals between United Bank and Connecticut-based Rockville National, and the announced acquisition of Hampden Bank, the last institution based in Springfield, by Pittsfield-based Berkshire Bank.

“To a large extent, it’s pretty much over,” he told BusinessWest. “There may be one or two more organizations that come into play, but the organizations that positioned themselves for merger or acquisition have pretty much achieved their objective.”

These mergers present opportunities in several forms, especially for community banks like PeoplesBank, said Bowen, noting that, whenever such acquisitions take place and management of the acquired bank shifts away from Greater Springfield, commercial and consumer accounts will be moved to small institutions. Meanwhile, such unions generally result in downsizing, which enables banks to recruit talented individuals that already know the local market.

“As an independent, mutually owned bank with no shareholders, we often become the bank of choice for customers who have experienced some disruption in their banking experience,” he said. “This year alone, we’ve increased deposits by more than $100 million; a typical year might by three-quarters that amount.”

Another sector that bears watching in 2015 is healthcare, which is still struggling to cope with the changes brought on the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and the ongoing shift from a fee-for-service system to one focused much more on population health.

Such a shift requires providers to make significant investments in equipment, systems, and personnel, said Dennis Chalke, Baystate Health’s chief financial officer, treasurer, and senior vice president of Community Hospitals, adding that these investments come at a time when reimbursements for care are flat or declining and inpatient stays, a major source of revenue, are falling.

Thus, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to make them, especially for stand-alone hospitals, he said, which explains why North Adams Regional Hospital closed in 2014 and why Stewart Health Care System announced that it was shuttering Quincy Medical Center, the largest hospital closing in the state in more than a decade.

“Right now, Medicare is penalizing people if their readmission rates are too high,” he explained. “That means you have to now invest in tools and other things to decrease readmissions, so when patients leave the hospital you have to make sure they follow up with physician office visits and they that they are adhering to their medications and so forth — and that takes investments in things you wouldn’t traditionally invest in.

“That’s a good thing,” he went on. “But we’re not getting paid to do that. We avoid losing dollars when we do that; it’s almost like a negative incentive. And that’s the biggest challenge facing the industry moving forward.”

As for the casino, Ciuffreda said that, overall, apprehension about the gaming facility is diminishing, at least within the business community, and it is generally being replaced with optimism, although some concern remains about its long-term sustainability.

“The mood is very positive — the only slightly gray cloud hanging over the casino is its sustainability 10 years out or so,” he said. “About 95% of the people feel very comfortable about the next five years, and 75% are comfortable about the next 10 years, but some questions start to creep in about what happens after that.”

Money Talks

Challenge and opportunity. Those two words sum up the outlook for each sector and the regional economy as a whole.

But, overall, the emphasis this year seems to be more on opportunity, as it pertains to jobs, growth through additional discretionary spending, expansion, and the many forms of trickledown anticipated from the casino.

As Nakosteen said, it appears that the economic recovery is actually permeating Western Mass.

And it’s about time.

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

Features
Is This as Good as the Recovery Is Going to Get?

Mike Oleksak

Mike Oleksak says positive things are happening with the economy, but many business owners don’t believe what they’re seeing and hearing.

Andre Mayer says business owners who are still waiting for what would be considered a real economic recovery should probably stop waiting.

That’s because, in his view, this is about as real as it’s going to get.

“At this point, we’re really past the recovery phase; the recession ended five years ago,” said Mayer, senior vice president for communications and research at Associated Industries of Massachusetts. “We never had the recovery we were hoping for and expecting — that big burst of growth where GDP goes up quickly and rejoins the prior trend line. It never happened.”

And it’s very likely that it just won’t happen, at least not any time soon, he said, adding that business owners would be wise to accept this state of the economy and get on with hiring people, expanding their ventures, and moving forward rather than waiting for that aforementioned burst.

And he believes many are doing just that.

“We have been adding quite a few jobs in the first quarter of this year, when the national economy was contracting,” he said, adding that ‘we,’ in this case, refers to the state as a whole, but includes Western Mass. “And that, to me, seems to reflect a change of attitude. In other words, employers, instead of hunkering down and going all out to preserve productivity and not dilute it, because that’s what got them through the recession, are now taking a more sustainable path and sort of coming to the realization that this is the economy we have to live with.”

Bob Nakosteen, professor of Economics at the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst, agreed, and pointed to the latest unemployment figures as evidence of what he considered progress, at least in some respects.

Indeed, while the state’s jobless rate fell to 5.5% in June, the lowest since August 2008, and 3,700 jobs were added, the manufacturing sector lost more than 1,000 jobs, and the construction industry lost more than 900, what Nakosteen called “hidden disappointments.”

And he said they may provide more evidence of something that many are now calling ‘secular stagnation,’ or ‘economic immobilism,’ terms that aren’t new — they go back at least as far as the Great Depression — but are being summoned with greater frequency by many economists to help describe and explain the phenomenon that Mayer touched on: a recovery that certainly doesn’t look or feel like one.

“There are a number of factors in our economy, some of them demographic, some of them technological, some of them stemming from globalization, that imply that we’re simply not going to experience the growth in this economy that we have in the past, especially job growth,” said Nakosteen while explaining secular stagnation, which he said is now being hotly debated in the “economics blogosphere.” “The workforce is getting older and large numbers are retiring, technology is developing quickly — but it’s doing so in a way that seems to be removing jobs rather than adding jobs — and globalization continues to put great pressure on our domestic workforce, especially the blue-collar occupations and manufacturing.

“And the prospects for any of this changing are simply not good,” he went on, adding that some economists believe it may be decades before the current scene improves markedly.

Meanwhile, the tepid state of the recovery is being reflected by ongoing caution on the part of area business owners, said commercial lenders we spoke with, who noted that many, perhaps still waiting for that burst they have seen following other downturns, such as the ones in the mid-’90s and just after 9/11, are hesitant about pulling the trigger on expansions or new hiring.

“I don’t see anybody really jumping in full force to bring people back or undertake plant expansion,” said Michael Oleksak, executive vice president and chief lending officer at Holyoke-based PeoplesBank. “Everyone is still pretty hesitant.”

Luke Kettles, senior vice president and chief lending officer at Hampden Bank, agreed, summoning a phrase that has been given a thorough workout over the past several years.

“People are guardedly optimistic,” he said, adding that, in this case, that means they often lack the confidence to move ahead with expansion plans or new hiring.

“Employers are not adding people unless they really need to,” he explained, adding that most are still looking to improve efficiency and trim fat rather than add to their workforces.

For this issue, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at the state of the recovery, such as it is, and whether any change in the forecast can be expected any time soon.

Dollar Signs

While secular stagnation, if that’s what the region is experiencing, is a mostly negative term, there are some positives to be gleaned from recent economic statistics and trends, said both Nakosteen and Mayer.

Perhaps the most important of these is that the recovery — and job growth — has finally extended beyond the Greater Boston area, said Nakosteen, adding that both Central and Western Mass. are enjoying better unemployment numbers of late.

The June jobs report provides more evidence of this, he noted, but real signs of improvement started appearing earlier in the spring.

“Over the past few months, unemployment rates have come down dramatically in metropolitan areas in the Berkshires and Springfield, where they were the highest,” he noted. “This is a really good thing. It doesn’t mean they’re low enough to make you feel you’re in a true recovery, but for the first time since the recovery began, it now seems to be extending past Route 495.”

Mayer agreed. “Growth has evened out a good deal,” he told BusinessWest, adding that the Greater Boston area recovered quickly and profoundly after the recession while most of the rest of the state lagged well behind.

“Over the past year, the jobs have been added in the Worcester and Springfield metro areas at the same rate as in the Boston and MetroWest areas,” he noted. “At this point, we’re seeing growth, albeit modest growth, on the labor-market side almost everywhere.”

Luke Kettles

Luke Kettles says some sectors, such as senior housing, are experiencing growth, but by and large, many business owners are hesitant about expanding or new hiring.

Still, the recovery being witnessed in this region — and many other parts of the country, for that matter — is atypical of what is generally seen after prolonged downturns, said Mayer, citing a lack of growth in GDP and describing what much of the country, and this region, have experienced as a “watered-down version of a boom.”

“One reason, maybe the main reason, why this recession was such a bad one is that it seems to have knocked our GDP down a few percentage points long-term — we haven’t just bounced right back to that point where we left off,” he said. “And by now, waiting for that to happen doesn’t seem realistic, although we are on an upward track.”

Nakosteen concurred. “Sometimes after a recession, we’d have 9% or 10% gross-domestic-product growth for a year or two — it was just stunning,” he said. “We haven’t done better than two or three percentage points the past several years, and I just don’t think you’re going to see that big figure ever again.

“That’s a dangerous thing for me to say,” he added quickly, reflecting on the gravity of his own words. “But I’m buying into this secular-stagnation argument, and I don’t know what to tell people except that, however they have to adjust to the idea that there may not be a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, they’d probably better at least think that through.”

Referencing the declines in both manufacturing and construction jobs, he said those numbers, if they don’t change, are ample evidence that the recovery lacks “oomph,” and that this is as good as it is likely to get.

“I thought manufacturing, and construction as well, were on very positive trajectories, and that this might continue more or less unabated,” he noted. “Now, there’s been an abatement.”

That said, both Mayer and Nakosteen anticipate further improvement in the economy, especially if business owners and managers can somehow gain the confidence needed to expand operations and add to their workforces — and consumers can buy again — possibly by recognizing the new economic reality for what it is, and making it better than it’s been.

“It’s time for us to not wait for magic, but to think hard about what we can do to continually make our economic climate better,” Nakosteen said.

Lending Credence

But Oleksak and Kettles said there are still a number of factors holding area business owners back when it comes to hiring and borrowing to expand.

And many are still continuing to do what essentially got them through the recession, said Oleksak, referring to everything from better inventory control to improving production efficiencies to controlling or, in many cases, reducing salary.

Uncertainty about health-insurance costs is one of the factors leading to hesitancy, he noted, adding that these expenses have been a drain on hiring for some time because they keep going up and there is little, if anything, to indicate that this trend will not continue.

Meanwhile, interest rates, which are still historically low but moving back up and projected to continue rising, are another impediment to progress.

“We’ve had such low interest rates for so long that’s there’s also concern about over-leveraging yourself in light of the fact that we’re going to see some higher interest rates down the road,” he explained. “And when interest rates start increasing, there’s more concern about the economy, with people asking if we’re going to fall backward again.”

Kettles said that some sectors, such as senior living, medical office facilities, social services, and even self-storage, are doing well, and Hampden Bank is having a solid year in commercial lending, due in part to the many bank mergers in recent years.

Still, he also sees hesitancy among many business owners, especially when it comes to hiring.

“Benefit costs are increasing, and healthcare costs are pretty significant, so people do not hire unless it’s really necessary,” he said. “Profit margins may be improving, nationally as well as locally, but I think it’s through improving efficiencies and doing more with less. People aren’t going out and adding a position unless they really need to, and a lot of times they’ll try to use part-time labor until they really need a full-time position.”

Kettles noted that many of the manufacturers the bank does business with have been willing to make investments in new equipment and technology, but these purchases often translate to fewer jobs, not more of them.

Overall, confidence, or the lack thereof, remains a factor as well, said both Kettles and Oleksak, noting that, while the June jobs report is generally positive, business owners aren’t necessarily buying into such reports.

“There is some improvement going on,” said Oleksak, “and people are being cautiously optimistic, but I’m not sure they’re really believing what they’re seeing.”

As evidence of this, he cited the residential real-estate market. While those at PeoplesBank and other institutions were expecting the refinancing market to slow this year, mainly because most everyone who could refinance already has, they were expecting sales to pick up, but they haven’t.

“If you look at the numbers, we’re about 5% to 10% behind last year,” he said, adding that an overall lack of confidence is the primary reason.

Whether confidence improves in the near future is likely a function of whether the news continues to improve, and whether it can actually convince people to believe what they see, said those we spoke with.

Nakosteen, for one, believes conditions will continue to improve.

“I think the next 12 months are going to be pretty good,” he told BusinessWest. “A lot of things, especially at the national level, but also at the state level, are getting better. Households are just in a much better position than they’ve been in for years to make healthy consumption decisions, and therefore employers will be making more job offers, buying more equipment, and so on. Over the next year, we’re going to see reasonable economic growth.”

Bottom Line

But what does ‘reasonable’ mean?

It probably doesn’t mean the kind of burst that traditionally accompanies the end of a recession, or the kind of oomph that economists expected and business owners are in many respects still waiting and hoping for.

As Mayer explained, that kind of jolt simply isn’t realistic a full five years after the recession was declared over.

This is the economy this region may have to deal with — like it or not.


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

Features
The Region Is Still Struggling to Recover from the Great Recession

Mass East West Economy

MassEastWestEconomyDPart

Recent statistics show that the Bay State is outpacing the nation when it comes to job creation and economic expansion since the recession officially ended roughly a year ago. But Western Mass. is not enjoying the same kind of recovery as the Boston area, primarily because its mix of businesses doesn’t lend itself to profound growth, say economists, and job growth has been negligible. This is not surprising, they say, but rather indicative of an east-west divide that this region has historically struggled to close.

Alan Clayton Matthews says Western Massachusetts is probably not officially still in a recession — although it’s very close to the line, by his estimates — but he wouldn’t blame anyone for thinking that it was.
“It certainly feels that way — there’s still negative job growth on the order of 3% year over year, and it may well be that gross output in Springfield is still declining,” said Matthews, contributing editor to the quarterly Mass Benchmarks, which charts the state of the economy in the Commonwealth. He noted that, while the Bay State as a whole has been growing at about a 6% clip for the past few quarters (far ahead of the national pace), Western Mass. hasn’t enjoyed anything approaching that rate of expansion.
“There’s been no recovery from this recession in Springfield to speak of,” said Matthews. “Year-over-year change in payroll employment has gone up 1.2% statewide, while there’s been no growth nationally. In the Springfield area, it’s declined 3.2%, so it’s been quite a different story there.”
Bob Nakosteen, a professor of Economics at the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst, agreed. He said the discrepancy between what’s happening in the Boston area and in Greater Springfield, “shows more dramatically than ever the east-west divide.”
He chose that terminology to convey the sentiment that this region, known for not having the profound highs and subsequent lows that other regions experience, is simply not recovering from the Great Recession with any degree of vibrancy, and probably won’t for some time to come.
“Employment is going up in Boston, and it’s going down here,” he said, adding that jobs are perhaps the strongest indicator of the divide, but not the only one. “The regions are heading in different directions, and the difference in the numbers shows just how wide that divide has become.”
In the shorter term, Western Mass. will eventually see a bounce, said Matthews, noting that, historically, economic expansions in this state move east to west, and this one will almost certainly follow that pattern. Longer-term, though, the region must further diversify its economic base with technology-related manufacturers and larger employers, he continued, adding that, at present, this area simply doesn’t have the proper mix to generate a job growth and a pronounced recovery.
“In the Boston area, 9.8% of employment [in 2008] was in professional and technical services, and those tend to be high-paying jobs,” he explained. “In Hampden County, that number is only 2.8%; that’s a quite a difference.”
For this issue, BusinessWest looks at the short-term economic forecast for the region, and that east-west divide, the reasons for it, and the prospects for closing the gap any time soon.

Experiencing Some Turbulence
“Headwinds.”
That’s the term Nakosteen chose to describe what this region — and the nation as a whole — will be facing as the fourth quarter approaches, a time when hiring historically picks up.
These headwinds include the dissipating impact of federal stimulus programs, which have provided some sparks and kept things from getting worse than they are, said Nakosteen, as well as an ongoing lack of confidence among consumers, as evidenced by sluggish back-to-school sales, a still-struggling housing market, and a financial-services sector that remains what he called a “mess.”
Nakosteen told BusinessWest that he doubts that the nation as a whole will fall back into recession — the dreaded double dip; “we’re still a long way from that, but it could happen” — but be believes expansion will be modest for at least the next few quarters and slow in coming, especially for the Western Mass. region.
“There are a lot of doubts about whether the economy can sustain itself absent the stimulus,” he said. “In any case, things are going to be very sluggish, and it’s going to feel like we’re in a recession in terms of employment and the housing market, even if, ultimately, we’re not in one.”
The potent mix of headwinds will test the Bay State as a whole to continue its strong, steady pace of expansion, said Matthews, noting that the rate of growth is already slowing and will likely be closer to 4% than 6% for the third quarter, which will end Sept. 30. And for Western Mass., they will make it more difficult to really dig out of the recession and improve on unemployment figures that are north of 10% for the region and above 14% in Springfield, he continued.
Elaborating, he said that expansions do indeed move from Boston westward, “but it takes a while.” And the current conditions may make for a longer while with this cycle than what might be considered typical. “This expansion will have to continue on for quite a while before Springfield sees any real improvement.”
Dissecting the east-west divide, both Matthews and Nakosteen said it is really nothing new, but perhaps more pronounced than ever, due to several factors.
One is the emergence of technology-related sectors, or clusters, in Eastern Mass. that are enabling that region to bounce back more quickly and profoundly, and much smaller numbers of such jobs in this area.
“The largest growth in the first quarter of the year when it comes to national GDP [gross domestic product] was in business investment,” he explained, “and many of those investments came in high-tech areas, and that’s what the eastern part of the state specializes in. We don’t have that kind of mix here; the manufacturing in this region is mostly what would be called ‘low-tech’ in nature.

Work in Progress
Another factor, said Matthews, is that, unlike in the Boston area, major employers in Western Mass. are simply not adding large numbers of workers. In fact, many are still cutting workforces.
This is the case in health care, historically one of the region’s strongest sectors for employment, said Nakosteen, as several hospitals have pared workers or limited hiring in the face of economic pressures resulting from the stagnant economy (see related story, page 43).
“I’ve heard stories about nursing graduates who, two years ago, would have had several job offers, but now can’t get an offer,” he said. “That represents a real change, and it doesn’t bode well for an area so dependent on the health care sector.”
Kathleen McCormack-Batterson, director of Strategic Recruiting at MassMutual, said the financial-services giant did have some layoffs in 2008 and 2009 as a result of the recession, but said there was a pronounced spike in hiring that accompanied a reorganization in 2007, and, overall, hiring at the company has been steady and consistent in recent years.
“I have 125 open requisitions in the system right now,” she said, noting that these slots represent both new hirings and the filling of vacancies created by departures and retirements, and she would consider that number typical.
McCormack-Batterson did note, however, that overall hiring at the company might have slowed somewhat over the past year simply because there was less attrition, because there are, overall, fewer opportunities for existing employees to move on to, and some have put off retirement due to severe hits to retirement accounts.
“Our attrition rate is much lower this year,” she explained, estimating that the number of vacancies created is perhaps half what it was in 2009. “People aren’t leaving here and going elsewhere to pursue opportunities, largely because of the uncertainty of the market, so people are staying with the company, and that means we don’t have as many open positions. Meanwhile, anyone who’s close to retirement age is looking at things and thinking that if they stay a few more years, their 401(k) will rebound.”
Looking at the longer term and this region’s prospects for closing the east-west divide, Nakosteen and Matthews said the Pioneer Valley needs to further diversify its economy with more technology-related businesses, while also spurring new investment in the area.
“There has to be investment, both public and private, in the Springfield area,” said Matthews. “And for that to happen, people have to want to live there, and that takes an attractive quality of life, and that means public investments in infrastructure and public schools that will attract new employers.”
Nakosteen agreed. “The major employers in this region will eventually stabilize and even grow again,” he said, referring to the health care facilities, colleges and universities (many struggling due to state budget cuts), and financial-services companies. “But they’re never really going to be engines of growth. The only way this region has growth prospects is if there’s something new out there that catches on.”
Matthews told BusinessWest that the location of a planned high-performance computing center in Holyoke could be that something new that provides a needed spark in terms of both visibility (the facility may well put the region on the map) and computing horsepower that would draw major corporations, government agencies, or both.
“This is just the kind of investment that could positively effect future growth there,” he said, while acknowledging that there won’t be large numbers of jobs to start. “It could become a magnet to draw other investment in the region.”
Both Matthews and Nakosteen said that a high-speed rail line between Springfield and Boston would provide the connectivity that might spur growth. Such a line would make the region a more attractive place to live (because people could now commute to jobs in the eastern part of the state) and locate businesses, again, because talented workers could more easily access jobs here. But the prospects for such infrastructure improvement is dim.
“It’s just not going to happen,” said Nakosteen, adding that the region will have to find other ways to stimulate investment and create jobs.

The State We’re In
Once again summoning that phrase “a while,” Matthews used it to delineate how long it will take for the current expansion being enjoyed by the Boston area to work its way west and have a real impact on Greater Springfield.
“And a while could be a few years,” he said, noting, as Nakosteen did, that, for the short term, the region will be looking at sluggish growth, at best, that will feel like a recession.
For the longer haul, this area has to find ways to close the gap between east and west, and, as with this recession, creating progress will likely be a long, slow grind.

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

Departments

Car Sales Tumble in January

NEW YORK — Rental car companies pulling back on purchases was the latest problem plaguing the auto industry in January, with sales plunging 38%. The auto-sales drop last month was the worst since 1982. Auto executives attribute the decline in fleet sales to a decline in demand for travel and rental cars. Ford inventories were 420,000 vehicles at the end of January, which is 156,000 vehicles lower than a year ago.  During the past 12 months, Ford’s inventories were reduced by 27% — consistent with the company’s sales decline (22%) during this same period. Ford, Lincoln, and Mercury sales totaled 90,596 in January, down 39% versus a year ago. Retail sales to individual customers were down 27%. Fleet sales were down 65% including a 90% decline in sales to daily rental customers. Ford and industry sales in January were consistent with Ford planning assumptions. Ford expects new, recent, and future fiscal and monetary actions to help improve conditions in the second half of the year. Driven by an 80% reduction in fleet sales, General Motors dealers in the U.S. delivered 129,227 vehicles in January, down 49% compared with a year ago. Retail sales were off 38%, but retail market share held steady compared with December. GM’s retail share performance was assisted by reduced-rate APR financing capacity through GMAC and a GM loyalty cash offer. GM January total car sales of 43,943 were off 58%, and total truck sales of 85,284 were down 42% compared with a year ago. GM has announced reductions in first quarter production to adjust inventories for marketplace demand. For Toyota, January sales of 117,287 vehicles represented a decrease of 34.4% from last January, on a daily-selling-rate basis. The Toyota Division posted January sales of 102,565 units, a decrease of 34.9% from last January. The Lexus Division reported January sales of 14,722 units, a decrease of 30.3% from a year ago. The sales results were all worse than Edmunds.com, a sales tracker, had predicted. For the year, Edmunds.com expects a 30% decline in year-over-year sales for the auto industry.

Easthampton Plant Sheds Jobs

EASTHAMPTON — Berry Plastics officials have been mum about the exact number of workers it recently laid off, but estimates range from 100 to 150, according to Thomas W. Brown, chairman of the city’s Economic Development Commis-sion. Berry Plastics is the largest employer in the city, and Brown estimates the layoff represented nearly 30% of its workforce. The factory on O’Neil Street makes tubes for the cosmetic and food industries. Current production figures were unavailable at press time. Brown noted that the company had been shedding jobs for years, both as Berry Plastics and under previous owners. Berry Plastics is owned by an investment firm based in New York City, and has announced an $80 million expansion plan for its Evansville, Ill., plant that could translate into 150 new jobs. The expansion project will allow the company to make plastic cups and similar products. On a related note, since Berry officials did not lay off more than 33% of its active work force, they were not required to give 60 days notice to employees and to local, state, and federal governments under the Worker Readjustment and Training Act. U.S. Sen. John F. Kerry, D-Mass., is among the federal lawmakers who are working to change the law which would call for 90 days notice and require notification for any layoff of more than 100 and any layoff of 50 to 99 if it equals a third of the work force. Town officials and regional business leaders are currently working together in the hopes of securing a tax-incentive program or workforce-training grant that will assist Berry in keeping the remainder of the jobs in Easthampton.

Friendly Axes 13

WILBRAHAM — Thirteen office workers from Friendly Ice Cream Corp. headquarters were recently laid off. Company officials noted that field staff and restaurant workers were not affected by the layoffs. Since 1935, when the first Friendly’s Ice Cream shop in Springfield was opened, the company has grown to 505 corporate owned and franchised restaurants.

UMass Forms Task Force on Reorganization

AMHERST — A task force of department chairs and faculty has been formed by UMass Chancellor Robert C. Holub to advise the administration on a proposed academic reorganization that calls for eliminating four colleges and creating two new ones. In an all-campus E-mail sent Feb. 3, Holub said the Task Force on Reorganization (TFR) will include representatives from the colleges of Humanities and Fine Arts, Natural Resources and the Environment, Natural Sciences and Mathematics, and Social and Behavioral Sciences. The panel is being led by Jane Fountain, professor of Political Science and Public Policy. Holub is asking the task force to examine the idea of creating a new College of Arts and Sciences, a model that was suggested at the general faculty meeting on Jan. 29. The panel will deliberate on the proposed actions and respond to the chancellor by March 6. Under the chancellor’s proposal, the colleges of Humanities and Fine Arts, Natural Resources and the Environment, Natural Sciences and Mathematics, and Social and Behavioral Sciences would be reconstituted into two new units, which Holub is referring to as the College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences and the College of Natural Sciences. Holub is also proposing that Resource Economics shift to the Isenberg School of Management and that the School of Nursing retain its autonomy and have an associate dean or an executive director from among its current faculty, but that it be administered through a renamed College of Public Health and Health Sciences. On the financial side, Holub said various models project potential savings of $1.3 million to $1.5 million per year. The chancellor added he does not want to cause undue panic among individuals working in the current colleges about their jobs. “As you may know, I have promised the unions on campus that I will not announce any layoffs until the campus has more information on fees and federal money, both of which will be essential in determining how we move forward this year and next year,” he said.

January Job Losses Worst in 34 Years

NEW YORK — Both the number of unemployed people (11.6 million) and the unemployment rate (7.6%) rose in January, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor. Over the past 12 months, the number of unemployed people has increased by 4.1 million, and the unemployment rate has risen by 2.7 percentage points. The unemployment rate continued to trend upward in January for adult men (7.6%), adult women (6.2%), whites (6.9%), blacks (12.6%), and Hispanics (9.7%). The jobless rate for teenagers was unchanged at 20.8%. The unemployment rate for Asians was 6.2% in January, not seasonally adjusted. Among the unemployed, the number of job losers and people who completed temporary jobs increased to 7 million in January. This measure has grown by 3.2 million during the last 12 months. The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) was little-changed at 2.6 million in January. Over the past 12 months, the number of long-term unemployed was up by 1.3 million. The number of people unemployed less than five weeks rose to 3.7 million in January. The number of people who worked part-time for economic reasons was essentially unchanged in January at 7.8 million; however, this measure was up by 3.1 million over the past 12 months.

Judd Wire Cuts Staff

MONTAGUE — Less than a year after its celebration of 20- and 55-year anniversaries with employees, Judd Wire Inc. laid off 15 of its 275 workers in early February. In a company statement, Judd Wire noted that the layoffs were due to declining demand for cars and trucks. The company manufactures wire for Ford F-150 trucks, Hondas, Hyundais, and products including iPods. In addition, Judd Wire makes wire for B-2 bombers and other aircraft. In 2008, Judd Wire celebrated its 55th anniversary of Thomas Judd founding the firm in Turners Falls, as well as the 20th anniversary of Judd becoming a member of its parent company, Sumitomo Electric Industries. In addition to the 15 workers, Judd Wire had previously terminated its temporary employees.

Cover Story
How Robert Holub Plans to Take UMass Amherst to the ‘Top Tier’
Cover 10/27/08

Cover 10/27/08

Robert Holub says it was the first pragraph of the ad placed in a higher-education trade journal that caught and held his attention.

He doesn’t recall the exact wording, but it was something to this effect: that the president and trustees at UMass Amherst were looking to recruit someone who could bring the campus into the top tier of public research universities in the country.

Only a few months before that ad was placed, Holub, then provost and vice chancellor for Academic Affairs at the University of Tennessee, wasn’t looking for another job opportunity. But by the time it appeared, following some leadership changes in Knoxville and greater uncertainty about his future there, he was paying much closer attention to such postings.

He was aware of UMass and its national reputation — like many others, he says the school is better-regarded outside the Bay State than within it — and was intrigued. But it was the ‘next-level’ nature of the assignment that also appealed to him. Many schools are looking to make such a jump, he told BusinessWest, and UMass has been for several decades now, it seems.

Indeed, such ‘top-tier’ language is commonplace in ads posted by schools seeking a president or chancellor, he said, adding that this opportunity — with its blend of timing, institution, and lingering historical challenge — stood out in some ways and got him thinking about what might be the next line on his resume.

By midsummer, Holub, a German scholar, wasn’t thinking about the UMass assignment any longer — he was already hard at work on it, or at least laying the groundwork for it. And by September, when he arrived at the Amherst campus, he was talking to media outlets and other constituencies, including alumni, faculty, students, elected officials, and others, about just what’s involved with taking such a school up a notch.

There is no manual and ‘how-to’ guide for such work, he explained, adding that it comes down to making an across-the-board effort to improve everything from research to the volume of faculty awards; from endowment to the rankings in U.S. News & World Report and other publications.

And Holub has already taken some steps in these directions.

For example, he recently reinstituted the position of ‘vice chancellor for Research,’ and expanded the title to include ‘Engagement,’ in one of several organizational moves.

“In examining the top public research institutions in the country, I have found very few that did not have a research office at the level of vice chancellor or vice president,” he wrote to the campus community. “If we are going to be among these top institutions, I believe it is wise to emulate their emphasis on research and research productivity.”

Following, or attempting to follow, best practices established by the schools well ahead of UMass in the rankings will be part of the strategic plan for the university, said Holub. But such efforts don’t take place in vacuums, and are inherently complicated by a number of factors, he said, putting everything from campus politics to simple economics on that list. And at the moment, state financing is a rather sore subject, with Question 1 (a proposed end to the Commonwealth’s income tax) hanging over every public institution, and $1 billion in cuts already made by the Patrick administration ($12 million at the Amherst campus).

But there are other factors, not the least of which is the fact that schools currently ranked higher than UMass in several of those categories have no intention of moving down the list.

“They don’t sit around and say, ‘we’ve had our time in the top 25; let’s give our spot to someone else,’ and the 20 schools in our position don’t say, ‘we’re happy where we are,’” Holub explained with a laugh, adding that reaching the next level certainly won’t happen overnight.

In this issue, BusinessWest introduces Holub to the Western Mass. region and details (to the extent possible) his intentions and plans to take UMass Amherst where no one has.

School of Thought

As he talked with BusinessWest in his offices in the Whitmore administration building, Holub referenced a wall of framed photographs and architects’ renderings. Together, they convey more than a decade’s worth of expansion and new construction — totaling hundreds of millions of dollars — that crosses several schools and departments at the university.

The collection is impressive, and includes the integrated science building, the new Skinner Hall (home to the School of Nursing), the Isenberg School of Management, the recently opened integrated arts building, a recreational center currently under construction, the new, state-of-the-art central power plant, and many others.

But they will all be coming down soon.

“These are things that are already done, for the most part, and achieved by the previous administration,” said Holub. “There are a host of new projects coming via the capital bond bill; we don’t need to keep up the old ones.”

Re-covering that wall with new building and expansion projects is just one of the official or unofficial goals that Holub has set since learning last summer that he had been the one chosen to take UMass to a higher tier — and a new set of pictures will provide some evidence of progress in that regard.

But the real proof will come in the rankings, specifically those set by the National Research Council, or NRC, said Holub, who told BusinessWest that he wants UMass Amherst to join such schools as Michigan, Penn State, Berkeley, UCLA, and others among the top echelon of public universities.

Gauging the scope of the work ahead, Holub said that several UMass departments have already achieved top rankings from the NRC — in terms of faculty awards, the school is in the top 20, for example — but in others, the school is well down the lists.

“It’s a mixed bag,” he explained. “We do well in faculty awards, but in research, we’re down around 50 or so, and in endowment, we’re down below 100. We have some departments ranked in the top 20, and others that are unranked.”

Questions about how to achieve across-the-board improvement no doubt dominated the interview process for the chancellor’s position, which Holub entered after nearly 30 years in higher education, 27 of them at Berkeley, which he placed in that top tier.

Holub started there as an undergraduate adviser in the German Department, and eventually became chair of that department and served in that post from 1991 to 1997. He would move up the ranks, and eventually be named dean of the undergraduate division of the College of Letters and Science, continuing a career-wide focus on undergraduate education. He left Berkeley for Tennessee and its chief academic post in 2006.

A change in leadership in Knoxville late in 2007 prompted him to start mulling career options, and he set his sights on a chancellor’s or president’s position.

What appealed to him about UMass was the solid foundation on which to build — several academic programs are highly ranked — and the professional challenge that awaited him at the school.

When asked where he starts, he said there will be several initiatives undertaken simultaneously, but research is obviously a top priority — hence the launching of a national search for a vice chancellor of Research.

“We have to improve in research productivity, in terms of federal research expenditures,” he explained. “That’s the way in which the top institutions are measured; we do well there, but don’t do as well as the top tier.”

The administrative change, with an emphasis on that word ‘engagement’ that will now be in the title, is a key first step in this initiative, he continued. “The research office should be able to act more effectively to assist faculty in doing their research, getting out research grants, and working with industry inside the state and outside it to attract research dollars.”

Another priority is communication, he said, meaning both the internal and external varieties.

“We have to make it known what is going on here, and what is so positive about what’s going on here,” he explained, noting that the accomplishments of the faculty are not as known and understood as they should be, for example. “Many of the surveys that you have, whether it’s the National Research Council or US News and World Report, are reputational in nature, and in the past, I don’t think we’ve done a good-enough job of communicating the excellent work that goes on here and the great research and teaching that are accomplished on this campus.”

To achieve improvement, Holub has appointed Tom Milligan to the position of executive vice chancellor for University Relations, and has moved several units and individuals under this unit to “ensure a more consistent and coordinated approach in reaching and engaging our key constituents,” as the chancellor wrote in his E-mail to the campus community.

Milligan is putting together a more-cohesive communications strategy for the campus, Holub continued, adding that several departments at the school have been handling what amounts to public relations, but these have lacked coordination.

Textbook Examples

While discussing what it will take to move UMass up in the rankings, Holub addressed some of the theories offered as to why the school isn’t on a higher tier, and why some question whether it can get there.

The proliferation of quality private schools in the Bay State is often mentioned in this discussion, because of how those schools — Harvard, MIT, Wellesley, Amherst, Smith, and Mount Holyoke, among seemingly countless others — compete with the state university for students, faculty, and the attention of the press, especially the Boston newspapers that cover Harvard like a blanket.

Meanwhile, distance from Boston is sometimes listed as a factor by those who believe Amherst is perhaps too remote to gain consistent attention from the Boston media, or to attract faculty and graduate students.

Holub acknowledged these contentions, but quickly discounted most all of them simply by showing what other schools facing similar issues and challenges have done.

Champagne, home to the Univerity of Illinois, is hundreds of miles of Chicago, he explained, and the Windy City has a number of top-tier private schools. But neither of those factors has kept the state university from reaching the place where UMass wants to be.

Meanwhile, he said, students don’t usually choose between Harvard and UMass, or MIT and UMass — the university traditionally faces different forms of competition for students. And as for the press, Holub took the attitude that, while the university can and will work harder to draw attention to itself — as he outlined above — he believes that if UMass can generate the kind of news he’s looking for (not students getting arrested after Red Sox playoff games), then the media will cover it.

So the task at hand is to create such news or more of it.

Doing so amounts to a process, said Holub, adding that, for the past few months, he’s been engaged in what might be considered the first step: listening.

He’s done a lot of it, while sitting across the desk from or standing at podiums in front of individuals and groups ranging from Allan Blair, president of the Economic Development Council of Western Mass., to distinguished alumni; from elected leaders in Boston and Washington to the school’s foundation board; from every dean on the campus to some current students.

What is he hearing from them? Many things, he said, but one common thread is the need to move quickly and decisively to restore a sense of stability, something that is lost, or perceived to be lost, when a school like UMass loses as many top administrators as it has over the past several months.

What is Holub telling those groups and individuals? Essentially, that he wants to take those departments not ranked among the country’s elite and elevate them there, while taking those with high rankings and pushing them higher still.

“We’re the best public research university in New England,” he said, stating with no lack of confidence in his voice that the school tops UConn in that category. “But we can’t be satisfied with that; we want to be one of the best in the country.”

Overall dissatisfaction with the status quo is what Holub says brought him to UMass.

“If they had said that they were satisfied with the way things were going and that they wanted someone to keep operating in that way, I wouldn’t have been interested in the position,” he said, referring back to that job posting. “This university has achieved some great things, but it can do more and be more.”

By the Book

When asked if there were any often-cited examples of schools reaching that ‘next tier’ that he would attempt to emulate in some way, Holub said there are several, but that each story is different is some ways.

The common thread is achieving a campus-wide commitment to excellence, and not allowing standards — or performance — to slip.

That’s why schools that are that top-echelon usually stay there, he continued, adding that UMass won’t easily take another university’s slot among the elite.

“Every public university that’s in the top 25 wants to stay in the top 25, and everyone who’s 25 to 50 wants to get in the top 25,” he explained. “So, it’s a very hard competition.”

Thus, UMass will have to earn its way to the top echelon, and the processing of doing so is already underway.

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

Sections Supplements
Seeking to Break Out of Ongoing Stagnation

The Pioneer Valley in Western Mass. has gone through the kinds of cycles that are typical of evolving economies in both the state and nation. But what has been occurring over the past 20 years presents a curious mismatch between appearance and hard data.

By appearance, the region would seem to be in a difficult position; companies, especially ones that once offered high-wage manufacturing jobs, have been closing their doors, victims of the forces of globalization and creative destruction. Poverty rates are high and increasing. And the region continues to see a net out-migration of residents. But at the same time, data nonetheless shows that jobs and income are still growing, albeit slowly. The region has not experienced the rapid economic growth seen elsewhere during the mid- to late-1990s, but neither has it suffered the sharp drop-off seen in other regions in recent years.

In short, the region continues to economically hold its own, especially in the past few years and especially in its level of employment. But progress is slow — indeed, some have described the Pioneer Valley’s economic condition as one of ongoing stagnation. More than anything else, this study of the last 20 years of economic and demographic development in the Pioneer Valley reveals an economic landscape that is missing a dynamic growth sector that can provide a growing number of high-paying jobs — and a sense of economic identity for the region.

During the 19th century, the Pioneer Valley was America’s first Silicon Valley, where innovation led to a thriving manufacturing sector. The use of interchangeable parts in manufacturing, which saw its origins in the production of armaments for the military at the Springfield Armory, revolutionized production processes. As a consequence of this advance, a thriving machine tooling and precision metal working sector developed in the region.

But throughout the 20th century, both major and small employers have gone out of business, a process that continues as manufacturing plants close. The manufacturing economy void has been partly filled by the ‘Ed-Med’ sector — ‘Ed’ stands for education or more generally ‘knowledge creation’ and ‘Med’ stands for the medical, or, more broadly health care. Ed-Med is by far the most important current employer in the Pioneer Valley. But this positive development cannot mask a significant area of alarm: the incidence of poverty in the region, which exceeds that of the state (and, in the case of Hampden County, that of the nation).

While the region has not experienced the same dire fate as other American cities that have lost their economic base, the Pioneer Valley has suffered from comparison with the eastern part of Massachusetts, especially the metropolitan Boston area. This has been especially true when looking at the secular pattern of real (price adjusted) per capita income. While per capita income has been growing in the region, its rate of growth has fallen significantly behind that of the state as a whole, and especially that of metropolitan Boston.

Employment – the “Ed-Med” Influence

From the business cycle peak in the late 1980s and early 1990s to the peak in the most recent business cycle, employment in the Pioneer Valley grew by 2.5%, from 319,739 in 1989 to 328,000 in 2004. National employment growth was a considerably more robust 14.8% during the same period, and statewide growth was 3.8%. The Boston metropolitan/northeastern part of the state experienced employment growth of 4.7% over the same period. The Pioneer Valley has, however, seen somewhat stronger employment growth recently. From the trough in employment in 1995 until 2004, employment grew by a bit more than 7%, from about 306,000 to about 328,000.

In the Boston/Northeastern part of the state, employment peaked in 2002 and then began to decline. The Pioneer Valley, however, did not see a drop in employment through 2004. Nor did it experience a drop in employment during the recent recession, unlike Eastern Massachusetts, where the sharp loss of jobs followed a period of relatively robust job growth. The knowledge creation segment of the economy is broad, and the Pioneer Valley encompasses many of its activities, including information (media production and distribution, telecommunications), professional and technical services provision, management services, and educational services. Combined, such knowledge creation sectors accounted for nearly 60,000 employees, or 21% of all Pioneer Valley employment in 2004.

One of the more prominent employers in this sector is the flagship Amherst campus of the University of Massachusetts system, which is the largest piece of a regional higher education cluster. Surrounding UMass are four well-known small liberal arts colleges: Amherst College, Hampshire College, Mount Holyoke College, and Smith College. These five institutions form the Five College System, which allows students in any of the colleges to enroll in classes in all of them. The five colleges employ a total of nearly 9,000 people, not counting a large number of student employees on all the campuses, especially that of the University of Massachusetts. But while this concentration of employment is important to the Pioneer Valley economy and identity, it has not been a growth area, or even a particularly dependable sector. In particular, UMass has suffered from severe budget cuts in recent years, and only now is beginning to replace some of the jobs that were lost.

After education, the next most important employment sector is health care, which accounts for 16% of regional employment, nearly 44,000 people. This sector consists not only of health care, as traditionally defined, but also “social and community services,” such as homeless shelters and community kitchens. Despite its steep decline, traditional manufacturing remains an important employer, accounting for 11% of the region’s total employment in 2004, or more than 32,000 people.

Considerable economic development efforts, as well as investment dollars from the state, have resulted in the Pioneer Valley Life Sciences Institute, a collaboration between Baystate Medical Center and UMass. While its primary stated goals are clinical, the collaboration is designed to create the environment from which to launch commercially successful development and manufacture of biomedical and other health-related products. This type of activity is broadly defined as ‘advanced technology manufacturing.’ While this activity now accounts for only 1% of Pioneer Valley employment, its potential is important.

Population Trends Reflect the Economy

Recent population patterns in the Pioneer Valley closely mirror the path of the economy. Population growth in the region over the past 20 years has been very slow, growing from 646,000 in 1980 to 680,000 in 2000, for an increase of just 5.2%. Over the same period, population grew in Massachusetts by more than twice as much (10.7%) and in the United States by nearly 23%.

Perhaps the most troubling pattern in population change in the region is its continuing net out-migration. Since 1990, the region has lost a net of nearly 35,000 people to out- migration. This number is the result of considerable ‘churning’ – in other words, it is the outcome of the interaction between flows of in-migration and out-migration. During this period, more than 130,000 people moved into the region while more than 165,000 people moved out. There was been a sharp increase in the volume of net out-migration in the last year for which data is available, 2004.

Much of the migration into and out of the Pioneer Valley involves short-distance moves. Many of these gross flows cancel out, leaving small net (though slightly negative) changes due to migration. By far the largest in- and out-flows have been to and from the border state of Connecticut.

There are also significant flows probably associated with retirement from the labor force. The largest net out-flow of migrants from the Pioneer Valley — nearly 13,000 net out-migrants over the period — was to Florida. This represents one-third of all net out-migrants from the Pioneer Valley since 1990.

Most other destinations/origins of Pioneer Valley migrants are close by, either in New England or New York state (with which the Pioneer Valley had a positive net migration flow). California and Arizona also received relatively large net flows of migrants.

Within the state, the Pioneer Valley has a net negative migration balance with most other regions. The Berkshire and Central regions are the only of the state’s regions with which the Pioneer Valley has a positive net migration. Two regions in the state, metropolitan Boston and the Cape and Islands, have the largest magnitude of negative net migration balance with the Pioneer Valley. Much of the migration to the Cape and Islands may, again, be associated with labor force retirement.

It is encouraging that for all this net out-migration, a good deal of in-migration to the region is also occurring. Typically, when a region is truly stagnating, migration is uniformly in the ‘out’ direction, with very little in-migration. The Pioneer Valley has certainly not experienced that pattern. And a significant portion of the negative net migration may well be due less to economic forces than to retirement.

Nonetheless, the reality remains that net migration has been consistently negative for over a decade. Migration tends to be highly selective of the very members of a population upon which the future is based: Younger, better-educated, and with better income/occupational prospects.

There has been considerable migration within the Pioneer Valley, the net result of which has been a drain on the population of Hampden County, where the cities of Springfield and Holyoke are located. Since 1990, Hampden County has gained more than 29,000 migrants from within the Pioneer Valley, nearly 30,000 of them from Hampshire County. Over the same period, Hampden County lost over 34,000 residents to Hampshire and Franklin Counties. The net effect of this in- and out-migration has been a drain on the population of Hampden County. Nearly 5,000 net migrants have left Hampden County for Hampshire and Franklin Counties, most of them to Hampshire County.

Income and Poverty

The pattern of per-capita income in the region, especially relative to the state, is instructive of the pattern of the regional economy over time. The region’s per capita income has been consistently lower than that of the state as a whole, though that fact is at least partly compensated by a lower cost of living, especially in housing. Still troubling, however, is the pattern of change over time. In 1970, per capita income in the Pioneer Valley was nearly 90% that of the state and more than 80% that of metropolitan Boston. Since then, the region’s per capita income has deteriorated. In 2003, Pioneer Valley per capita income was 75% of the state’s and 66% t of metropolitan Boston’s.

The relative deterioration of regional incomes is a secular, rather than a cyclical, phenomenon. Over the course of the business cycle, whether increasing or decreasing, the changes the region experiences in per-capita income are always more muted than the change experienced in the state. The Pioneer Valley does not rise as high or fall as far as the state. The economic dynamism of the eastern part of the state has never translated well to the Pioneer Valley.

This region did not fully share in either of the two most recent sustained state economic expansions of the 1980s and the 1990s. The other side of the picture is that the Pioneer Valley also did not suffer as badly as Eastern Mass. when recession replaced expansion. Because it is a hotbed of technology, Massachusetts experiences economic cycles that are at times excessive. The bad news is that the Pioneer Valley has long since lost its high technology sectors; the offsetting news is that its economic cycles have been less extreme.

The incidence of poverty provides another measure of the region’s income circumstances. In 2004, the U.S. Bureau of the Census defined the poverty threshold for a family of four as a total household income of $19,157. The poverty rate in the Pioneer Valley has consistently been higher than that for the state. This is especially so in Hampden County, where the poverty rate also exceeds that of the nation. Of the three counties in the region, only Hampshire County has a poverty rate that is less than that of the state.

Perhaps an even more telling measure of regional poverty is the share of students eligible for the free and reduced school lunch program. A study recently completed by the UMass contained the following analysis of this data:

“The federal poverty level is too low to properly assess the number or proportion of children from low-income families. Federal school lunch subsidies cover children from families with incomes up to 165% of the poverty level…

“The percentage of public school students eligible to receive reduced-price or free school lunches in the Pioneer Valley is alarming,” the report continues. “In the 2003-04 and 2004-05 school years, 40% of public school students in the region resided in households with incomes no higher than 165% of the poverty level. No region in the state has a higher percentage of low-income students. Public school systems in cities such as Boston or Worcester have comparable percentages of low-income students, but the regional concentration of low-income students in the Pioneer Valley is approximately one-third higher than any other region in the state. The Pioneer Valley’s low-income students are concentrated in the region’s cities, Springfield, Holyoke, and Chicopee; however, many of the region’s rural school districts are also home to high concentrations of low income students.”

The Cost of Housing

The Pioneer Valley has less expensive housing than the eastern part of the state, a cost advantage that many in the region hope will help promote increased economic growth. A Boston Globe report late last year explained:

“Housing prices in Western Mass. have risen much faster this year than in the Boston area, fueled by Bostonians moving farther from the city in search of lower prices, according to a report released yesterday…

“Between January and November, the median price of a single-family home rose 13.3% from a year earlier in Hampden County, where Springfield is located; 10.9% in Hampshire; and 10.3% in Franklin. Depending on traffic and the time of day, these counties are around a 90-minute commute each way from Boston, though they’re much closer to employers along Interstate 495 or in the Worcester and Framingham metropolitan areas.

“The condo market in Western Mass., while smaller than Boston’s, is sizzling. The number of condo sales surged nearly 28% this year in Hampden, Hampshire, and Franklin. The median condo price rose 28.9% in Franklin County in 2005; 18.9% in Hampden; and 18.2% in Hampshire, according to Warren Group. Condo prices were up 1.8% in Suffolk, and 8.5% statewide. Despite the price increases, the gaps between east and west remain huge. For example, the median price of a Hampden County condo was $124,900 this year, up from $105,000 last year. The median condo price in Suffolk County was $340,000, up from $333,850 last year.”

This may mark the beginning of a significant development for the region. Though it is too early to determine if this trend of housing price-driven movement to the region will continue and grow, especially with home prices flat or falling across the state. But this is at least an indication that the Pioneer Valley has some natural advantages — and these may again be grounds for hope.

Conclusion

In 1999 Benchmarks published a profile of the Pioneer Valley economy. In the conclusion of that study was the following assessment:

“There is a considerable effort under way to revive and remake the economy of the Pioneer Valley … at the moment, those forces have resulted in a flat or slightly growing regional economy. The difficult task of spawning genuine economic development lies ahead.”

< >Seven years later there seems little reason to modify this statement. The Pioneer Valley, despite its illustrious economic history and reputation for offering a high quality of life, remains stagnant and without direction.

Robert Nakosteen is on the faculty of the Isenberg School of Management at the UMass Amherst and is executive editor of Benchmarks, the university’s quarterly report on the state economy. This story originally appeared in Benchmarks.

Cover Story
What’s Next for the Pioneer Valley Economy
Cover

Cover

As the calendar turns to 2007, economists see some growth for the Commonwealth, but mostly a continuation of the pattern of unspectacular progress that has defined the past few years. In other words, look for a continuation of the jobless, or nearly jobless, recovery. As for the Pioneer Valley, “it just keeps plugging away,” said one observer, noting that its relative stagnancy is better than some regions have experienced.

It’s been 16 years since a Democrat has been governor of the Bay State, and anyone in business who can clearly remember 1990 and the years that followed … would rather not.

Which is why some apprehension on the part of the business community at the dawn of the Deval Patrick era would be understandable. But there has been little of that to date, according to most observers, who say that, for now at least, Patrick is being given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to business, keeping the costs of conducting it in this state under control, and a host of issues that impact the Commonwealth’s ability to attract and retain jobs.

There are several reasons for this, said Andre Mayer, senior vice president of Communications and Research for the Associated Industries of Mass. (AIM), starting with the fact that the outgoing governor, Republican Mitt Romney, would receive only a mixed report card from many in the business community about containing business costs. There is also the rhetoric Patrick issued during the campaign, especially about education and creating a better-trained workforce — and the promise that it will translate into positive action in the months and years ahead.

“Thus far, I haven’t seen any real alarm about Patrick or a one-party government,” he said, referring to the Democrats’ stranglehold on Beacon Hill. “In fact, the business confidence index rose while Patrick was pulling away in October.

“I think part of the reason he was elected is the feeling that the emphasis will shift from taxes to other issues,” he continued, “and so far, Patrick has been saying all the right things; he doesn’t act like a tax-and-spend Democrat.”

But while Patrick is apparently not a cause of real concern as the calendar turns to 2007 (things may change later), there are some other matters that do warrant apprehension. At the top of the list is the condition of the housing market, especially in the Eastern part of the state. Prices have declined between 10% and 15% over the past year or so, and some analysts say they could fall another 10% before bottom is officially hit.

The falling prices are making the state marginally more affordable for workers, which is good news, said Bob Nakosteen, faculty member of the Isenberg School of Management at UMass and executive editor of Benchmarks, the university’s quarterly report on the state’s economy. But that downturn has certainly impacted consumer spending, while also hurting both the construction sector and the legion of Realtors operating across the Commonwealth.

The broad result is an overall decline in confidence, which is another of the matters to watch closely as the new year unfolds, said Nakosteen, adding that the slow start to the holiday shopping season, a few rough days for the stock market after that first shopping weekend, and talk nationally of inflation and possible interest rate increases to ward it off won’t help boost confidence.

There are other factors to consider, including energy prices — lower for the time being, but always volatile — that have most analysts projecting modest (2.5% to 3%) growth for the year ahead, said Nakosteen.

That would represent a modest decline from recent events, he said, noting that the Massachusetts economy performed better over the past six months (3.6% growth in gross state product) than at any time since the current expansion began in 2003. This growth was prompted by a resurgence in technology markets, especially demand for microchips, he explained, noting quickly that there are signs that things are already slowing down again.

For the longer term, analysts are wondering, as they have for the past several years, where the next surge in jobs for the Bay State and the Pioneer Valley will come from. In a recent article written for Benchmarks (see page 37), Nakosteen chronicled 20 years of relative stagnancy for Western Mass., with questions about if, when, and how it might end.

“The region just keeps plugging along,” he said, noting that, while ‘stagnant’ is generally not a positive economic term, in this case it’s better than some areas of the state, which have witnessed dramatic surges, but equally dramatic declines.

Through the Looking Glass

When asked about what to expect from the Deval Patrick administration, Jeff Ciuffreda, vice president of Government Affairs for the Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield, said he’s not hearing a lot of negative talk.

Like Mayer, he said Patrick’s campaign and its theme, Together We Can, created generally positive vibes, and the business community is, by and large, withholding judgment until the picture is colored in.

“He seems to at least speak the language of business,” said Ciuffreda, noting that Patrick has served on several corporate boards and would seem to appreciate the needs and concerns of business owners. “How that will translate … we don’t know yet.”

To date, Patrick has been short on specifics with many issues ranging from the the fate of the Finance Control Board — the ACCGS would like it to remain in business — to his first budget. He has been outspoken on public higher education, and recently told an audience at UMass that he would push to increase spending on state schools by $400 million over five to seven years.

As for Western Mass., Patrick, like previous candidates and governors, has pledged support for the region. However, some are already alarmed by how few members of his transition team (7%) are from the Pioneer Valley.

“We may need to keep his feet to the fire on Western Mass.,” said Ciuffreda. “We’ll know a lot more in a year or so.”

That statement applies to many issues and concerns, he said, noting that while waiting to see what Patrick and his team members do in their first year, economy watchers will also be monitoring the housing market, energy prices, the war in Iraq, and the strength of the dollar — or lack thereof.

The softening of the housing market is still largely an Eastern Mass. phenomenon, although sales volume has fallen in the Pioneer Valley and prices has remained steady, said Nakosteen. But the impact is felt statewide because of the broad ripple effect. Consumer spending will continue to decline if the trend does not reverse itself, due to a phenomenon known as the ‘wealth factor.’

As Nakosteen explained, many individuals now view their homes as their principle vehicle for investing (savings rates remain low), and when homeowners see the value of their property diminish, they feel less wealthy and are thus less apt to spend.

“That’s why the housing market is the biggest concern for the year ahead,” he said, adding that economic projections for the next several quarters are muddled because of general uncertainty about housing prices and sales. Debate continues on whether bottom has been hit and, if it hasn’t, when that might occur — the consensus is the second or third quarter of next year.

The Big Picture

The sum of the many factors influencing the economy will determine how much of a surge will be seen — in the overall economy and in jobs.

While current conditions wouldn’t be described as a truly ‘jobless economy,’ the phrase that became popular in ’03 and ’04, there haven’t been significant gains in employment statewide or regionally.

“We set a record for merchandise exports this year,” said Mayer. “We’re making the stuff the world wants, but we’re just not employing a lot of people to make it.

“Hiring is still regarded almost as a last resort for some employers,” he continued, “and the availability of good people is one big reason why. Some companies just can’t find people.”

Overall, the state has seen roughly 1% growth in the number of payroll jobs over the past year, said Nakosteen, noting that the state was registering 2% to 2.5% increases during the early years of the decade. Most recent gains have come in professional and business services (7,100 jobs), education and health services (6,800), and financial services (4,200). In addition, 3,900 jobs were added in construction.

This relative stagnancy on the jobs market has contributed to an ongoing out-migration of state residents, the extent of which is still being debated, said Mayer, noting that the exodus, however large it may be, has some economists worried.

And the trend will continue, he said, until the state creates large numbers of new jobs. When and how that will happen are both $64,000 questions.

There are many theories about where the next large wave of jobs will emerge — from renewable energy to biotechnology to medical instruments manufacturing — but no clear indicators, said Mayer, who doubts that any of those sectors will blossom into large-scale jobs centers.

“I’ve heard that renewable energy could be the next big growth area, but I don’t see it,” he told BusinessWest. “How many people does it take to run a windmill?”

Nakosteen agreed, saying that the next big source of jobs probably hasn’t identified itself yet.

“Massachusetts has a long history of reinventing its economy, and it will do so again,” he explained. “But if there’s a new engine out there that’s going to drive us, it’s not at this point identifiable. And one of the reasons we’re going to see very, very minimal, almost stagnant employment growth over the next few years is because we don’t have this new engine out there.”

That same statement can be applied to Western Mass., which has seen some job growth in biotechnology and medical instruments, but, overall, hasn’t found anything to replace the manufacturing jobs that have given the region its identity. This fact, coupled with the region’s minimal but consistent growth, adds up to remarkable resiliency, he said.

“Over the past century, the Pioneer Valley has lost most of its important employers, especially in manufacturing,” he explained. “If you look at other areas of the country, when they lose their major employers and enter a recession, they go into a death spiral; we just keep plugging away.”

Nakosteen attributes this phenomenon to the region’s employment anchors — UMass, MassMutual, Baystate Health, and others, who have maintained their core strength over the years — and also to new small-business development. “This region is much better off than other areas that have lost their manufacturing bases,” he said, “and I think it’s because of those core businesses.”

Identity Crisis

Can the region break free of the stagnancy that has defined it for the past few decades? Possibly, said Nokosteen, but it probably won’t come from companies leaving Boston for the Valley and its lower cost of doing business.

“The prevailing theory is that if business owners are going to leave the Boston area, they’ll go all the way to the Research Triangle,” he explained. “They won’t stop along the way in Springfield.”

Thus, growth will likely be organic, and Nakosteen isn’t sure where it will come from.

“We don’t have an economic identity, and we don’t have an engine of growth; I don’t see anything coming to the fore,” he told BusinessWest. “But it’s not obvious that anything has to come to the fore; we could be like this forever more.”

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