Home 2005 September
Sections Supplements
Ruling Blurs the Line Between Public Use and Private Economic Development
In June of this year, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling, granted cities and towns the right to take private property to promote private economic development projects even though the Constitution prohibits the government from taking private property except for a ‘public use.’

The ruling, derived from Kelo v. New London, a land-use law case argued before the court on Feb. 22, 2005, ended a bitter, intently watched confrontation between homeowners and the City of New London, Conn. The case arose from New London’s use of eminent domain to condemn privately owned real property so that it could be used for economic development.

A private entity acting as the city’s legally appointed agent, the New London Development Corporation (NLDC), created a development plan that included the construction of a resort hotel and conference center, a new state park, 80-100 new residences, and various research, office, and retail space. In 2000, the city of New London approved the plan and authorized the corporation to acquire the land in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood.

The owners of approximately 100 of the subject lots agreed to sell to the corporation at a negotiated price. However, 15 owners did not agree, and the city ordered the development corporation to condemn the 15 holdout owners’ lots.

The last clause of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, known as the Taking Clause, states “nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” The owners sued the city in Connecticut courts, arguing that the city had misused its eminent domain power, therefore violating the public use requirement of the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment.

However, the Supreme Court disagreed. The court, led by Justice John Paul Stevens who wrote the opinion, concluded that the government can legitimately use eminent domain if it believes it will “provide appreciable benefits to the community, including but by no means limited to new jobs and increased tax revenue.” Furthermore, the court reiterated its policy of deference to local municipalities in determining what public needs left the use of the takings power. As such, the NLDC’s conclusion that the 90-acre redevelopment area was sufficiently distressed to left a program of economic rejuvenation was entitled to deference by the court. Moreover, Justice Stephens cited cases in which the court has interpreted ‘public use’ to include not only such traditional projects as bridges and highways but also slum clearance and land redistribution.

Justice Stevens’s opinion provoked a sharply written dissent from Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who wrote that the decision will “wash out” any distinction between public and private uses of property, leaving homeowners vulnerable to the whims of unelected planning agencies. Furthermore, Justice O’Connor contended that the “specter of condemnation hangs over all property. Nothing is to prevent the State from replacing any Motel 6 with a Ritz-Carlton, any home with a shopping mall, or any farm with a factory.”

The decision also elicited strong opinions from those in academia. For example, Richard Epstein, Professor of Law, University of Chicago, wrote that “[t]he ‘public use’ test is so broad that no major government initiative fails to meet it, for every large-scale project could be justified in the name of ‘economic development’ even if the plan is a dead loser from the moment of conception.”

The backlash against the Supreme Court ruling has bolstered landowners and politicians to fight the seizures. According to a lawyer at the Institute for Justice, “It is finally dawning on homeowners and small businesses that ‘this could happen to me.’” A Quinnipiac University poll shows just how much the eminent-domain issue resonates. By an 11-to-1 margin, those surveyed said they opposed the taking of private property for private uses, even if it is for the public economic good.

Justice Stephens declared in his opinion that states may use their own constitutions and laws to limit eminent domain powers. In the six weeks after the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Kelo v. New London case, bills have been introduced in Congress and in more than half of the state legislatures that would restrict, to varying degrees, the use of eminent domain for private development.

In Massachusetts, a bipartisan group of state lawmakers led by State Rep. Bradley Jones, (R-North Reading), has filed a petition, a bill, and a proposed state constitutional amendment designed to limit the power of cities and towns to take private property by eminent domain. The bill would bar cities and towns from seizing private property solely for economic development except in cases where the property is “a substandard, decadent, or blighted open area” under state law.

Massachusetts has a history of unpopular and economically flawed takings. Two
famous examples are the eradication of four townships nearly a century ago to
construct the Quabbin reservoir in central Massachusetts, and the bulldozing of
Boston’s West End in the 1960s in the name of urban renewal. Both are now routinely lamented.

Local leaders and agencies such as the Boston Redevelopment Authority, who
fear that restricting the power of eminent domain will hamper their efforts to rejuvenate rundown neighborhoods by providing new jobs and increasing tax revenues, will likely provide strong resistance to the proposed bill.

These leaders and agencies will argue that the current legislative standards are sufficient and in recent years Massachusetts courts have held local officials to a relatively high standard of what constitutes the public good. They will cite a 2000 Superior Court decision barring Springfield from taking private land to build a minor league ballpark as an example of the impartiality and effectiveness of the current legislation.

In conclusion, courts have long struggled to determine what is a constitutionally permissible justification for taking property. Some argue that the Kelo decision is a landmark decision greatly expanding the government’s power to take private property
while others view the decision as not much of a change, as it has long been recognized that the government has broad powers to order the sale of property.

However, it can be definitively stated that businesses that hope to benefit from
an eminent domain taking can expect organized resistance and negative publicity
despite the intentions of the proponent.

Todd C. Ratner is a real estate and business attorney with the law firm of Bacon & Wilson, P.C., who specializes in business, transactional, commercial and
residential real estate law; (413) 781-0560;[email protected].

Opinion
You feel it at the gas pump every day – the cost of fuel continues to rise. These increases impact the price of many products, including other fuels — and electricity, which impacts every business, large and small.

Understanding why the price of electricity fluctuates — and is currently rising — doesn’t ease the pain, but it will give business owners some important perspective, and perhaps an appreciation of how the energy business has changed over the past several years.

With the utility industry deregulated and electricity now being purchased in the competitive market as any other commodity, customers are more exposed to market volatility. As with other commodities, various factors can impact the price consumers will pay for electricity supply. Global impacts, such as the war in Iraq, the death of Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd, or threats of terrorism, will impact the market. Weather also plays a large role in pricing – clearly evident in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
Here in New England, fuel is the biggest driver of electricity pricing. Much of New England’s generating plants are powered by oil or natural gas. As these fuel prices rise and the cost to generate electricity increases, the cost for that electricity supply will also increase.

To illustrate the impact all these factors have on pricing: on August 15, electricity supply on the market was priced at 9.8 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh). The following day saw a slight dip in supply price – 9.7 cents per kWh. Two weeks later, the day Hurricane Katrina hit, the market price started out in the morning at 10.8 cents per kWh. By the day’s end, the price had increased to 11.1 cents per kWh.

Unfortunately, these factors not only play a role in pricing, but can impact the financial success, competitiveness, and economic development of our business community. Western Mass. Electric Co. (WMECO) customers who are not on competitive supply will see an impact by this market volatility in the fourth quarter pricing. Beginning Oct. 1, medium/large commercial and industrial customers (rate classes G-2, T-4, T-2, I-1, I-3, PR and Contracts) will see a fixed rate of 9.715 cents per kWh, up from a third quarter price of $7.625.

There are options to battler these rising prices, starting with conservation. WMECO can provide businesses with experience and expertise to reduce their energy usage, lower costs, and improve productivity and overall competitiveness. Through these conservation programs, the utility can also offer a variety of incentives for the installation of cost-effective, energy saving measures – in some cases, with no investment on the business’s part. From lighting upgrades to new construction, WMECO encourages its customers to contact us for more information about these programs (800-835 2707) or on the Web at www.wmeco.com and click on “How to Save Energy.”

Businesses also have option of choosing a supplier. WMECO encourages you to educate yourself on choosing a supplier, then contact the licensed suppliers in Massachusetts and evaluate the rates they are able to offer you.

As prices vary with each customer, it is often difficult to predict whether or a specific business will be able to obtain a lower price. However, suppliers may be able to offer a longer-term contract which can help companies better manage their budget and operating costs. Information to help choose a supplier and negotiate a contract as well as a list of licensed suppliers is available on the WMECO Web site, as well as through through the Department of Telecommunications and Energywww.mass.gov/dte) and the Division of Energy Resources;www.mass.gov/thepower.
While WMECO — or any utility — cannot control nor predict what occurs in the competitive market, it does make every effort to mitigate the price volatility. The utility conducts several competitive bid processes throughout the year to secure the lowest possible price available on the market at the time of bid, and it purchases blocks of supply at various times throughout the year to minimize the price impact.

The utility has also committed to keeping its distribution rates stable through 2006. For more information on WMECO rates, visit the “Basic Service Pricing” section ofwww. wmeco.com.

Rodney O. Powell is president and chief operating officer of Western Mass. Electric Co.; (413) 787-9293.

Cover Story
As Gas Prices Soar, Business Owners Feel the Squeeze…
Cover Sept. 19, 2005

Cover Sept. 19, 2005

In this climate of staggering gas prices, businesses across all industries are struggling with both a new set of financial hardships and the crafting of an appropriate response. Most say they are trying to avoid measures that amount to panic, and are instead focused on creative solutions that will enable them to maintain client relationships — and also stay afloat until the storm passes.

Dennis Scibelli sees trouble brewing. His coffee delivery business, Break Time based in Springfield, is feeling the squeeze of gas prices that soared in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and have generally been much higher than they were a year ago. And the price of gas isn’t his only concern.

Indeed, the rising cost of fuel has contributed to hikes in prices for everything from sugar packets to paper cups. To add insult to injury, the price of coffee has climbed as well, as many warehouses and production facilities in Louisiana were decimated by the recent hurricane.

“It’s killing us,” Scibelli lamented. “We’re in the service industry, so how are we supposed to tell a customer that we just can’t deliver? We have to continue on, and we’re doing the best we can to curb our costs.”


Ed Dersarkis is owner of Deluxe Limousine, located in Agawam, Mass.

Scibelli’s plight is in many ways similar to that of business owners across virtually every sector of the economy. There is the immediate challenge of responding to the sharp spike in gas prices after Katrina and the larger issue of how the price at the pump impacts the cost of doing business. In short, everything costs more, from plywood to pizza.

This puts business owners between a rock and a hard place. They need to stay afloat and, hopefully, in the black. At the same time, however, they need to maintain clients and steady business relationships for he long-term.

This is a delicate balancing act, as Ed Dersarkis will tell you. As owner of Deluxe Limousine Service in Agawam, he’s impacted by gas prices in a number of ways, including the many pre-written corporate contracts he has, most of which were penned when gas prices were roughly half what they are currently.

Dersarkis said he plans to honor those contracts until the end of the year, at which time he said he’ll employ surcharges to help close the gap that the gas price explosion created, but will split the difference of any increases with his clients, absorbing 50%. The tactic, he said, is designed to keep prices down and to maintain a reputation of fair pricing, as well as to approach the gasoline crisis more conservatively.

“To increase prices creates the risk of pricing oneself out of the market,” he said. “And the worst thing I could do would be to increase prices across the board based on the cost of fuel. That’s a panic response and you can’t be constantly adjusting your prices to match your costs. It’s much smarter business to remain consistent.”
It’s that fine line between providing consistent service to clients and curbing costs that is undoubtedly the greatest concern for business owners in all industries, and it’s prompting many, like Dersarkis, to get creative in their business plans for the coming fiscal year.

BusinessWest looks this issue at the soaring prices at the pump impact area businesses, and how they respond.

“It’s killing us. We’re in the service industry, so how are we supposed to tell a customer that we just can’t deliver? We have to continue on, and we’re doing the best we can to curb our costs.”

Cost and Effect

Tom Demers, vice president of Finance and Supply Chain at Kleer Lumber in Westfield, a manufacturing company that produces plastic trimboard – an alternative to wood – said soaring oil prices touch every aspect of the business.

“Everything that goes out of here goes out on a flatbed truck,” he explained. “And as the price of oil goes up, so does the price of resin (used to make the plastic lumber Kleer manufactures).”

Those shifts in costs have prompted management at Kleer to look both externally and internally to reduce costs, reevaluate operations and procedures, and keep an even closer eye on competition, to ensure that any adjustments they do make to the company’s structure do not affect competitiveness in the marketplace.

“Everybody is feeling the burn,” Demers explained, noting that raising the cost of the company’s products will likely be part of the response to the gas quandary. “But it’s important to keep an eye on efficiency. We’re monitoring our costs quarterly … we don’t have a doomsday outlook, but we need to continue to examine ways to lower our cost base. That’s just the name of the game today.”

Scibelli concurred. He said small surcharges have been added to all deliveries — a necessary step — but the company’s response is much broader.

“Most people understand that we have to do that,” he said of the surcharges, which have been implemented by businesses ranging from cab fleets to golf courses. “But that doesn’t cover the whole nut. We can’t pass on the total cost, so naturally we have to absorb some, and that means we’re making less of a profit.”

To further address the problem, Scibelli has turned to reducing the number and length of ‘outs,’ or the number of times in a week that delivery trucks will make the rounds to their various customers in Western Mass., and asking clients to place larger orders less frequently in order to achieve that goal. Eventually, he suspects that he’ll also have to reduce his service radius, rather than expanding the business into new markets.

And, like all business owners, he’s being imaginative. “We’re utilizing UPS more than we ever did,” he explained. “That saves more than gas money – it saves the time the trucks are on the road, driver costs … it’s one example of how and why people need to really start to get creative out there.

“We’re doing OK,” he continued, “but it’s a day-to-day battle and a weekly concern. We’re just like the average consumer in that we’re chasing the best gas prices around Western Mass., too – I’m on the phone telling my drivers where to go every morning. You just have to.”

“To increase prices creates the risk of pricing oneself out of the market. And the worst thing I could do would be to increase prices across the board based on the cost of fuel. That’s a panic response and you can’t be constantly adjusting your prices to match your costs. It’s much smarter business to remain consistent.”

Small, delivery-oriented businesses like Break Time aren’t the only ones feeling a direct hit from costs at the pump, however. Those in the transportation industry are probably those feeling the crunch most immediately. Dan Crowley, vice president of Operations for Palmer Dedicated Logistics, which sells dedicated truck services to various businesses to meet their transportation needs, said his entire industry has undoubtedly been affected, although business has remained steady in the face of rising fuel costs.

“Diesel and unleaded fuel have both gone up in price, so that hurts us,” he said. “We’ve had to impose a fuel surcharge of about 45 to 50 cents on every mile run. If we tried to absorb those costs, we’d definitely be in the loss column.

“Consumers are paying those extra charges when they pay for nearly everything,” he continued. “It’s all being passed along. Business can always be better, but we’ve been able to cope … the entire economy is based on moving goods and services, and that’s not going to go away.”

Pumping for Information

Amid the general gloom over the gas-price issue there are some possible silver linings — and even some attempts to seize the moment. Indeed, businesses and organizations are urging local consumers to take advantage of local goods and services, in order to save on fuel costs and support the local economy as it weathers this, its most recent economic storm.

Bob Kaufman, owner of Bob’s Discount Furniture, has taken to the airwaves with his suggestion to local shoppers, in a recent commercial that asks them to avoid high gas prices and instead “Come on down to Bob’s.”

Meanwhile, area tourism leaders say the ugly numbers at the pump may prompt people to take in local attractions rather than hit the road for extended trips. Wayne McCary, president of the Eastern States Exposition, said he is hopeful that attendance will get a boost for this year’s fair, which runs through Oct. 2, as Northeast residents look for entertainment and travel options closer to home.

Dersarkis told BusinessWest that, in some ways, higher fuel costs actually promote more business for limo companies. He said he has seen early indications of continued health due to greater interest in chartered transportation for events both corporate and leisure in nature.

“People are starting to carpool to conventions and seminars or to Red Sox games, and splitting the cost to hire a car service rather than fill up their own gas tank,” he explained.

“It’s a day-to-day battle and a weekly concern. We’re just like the average consumer in that we’re chasing the best gas prices around Western Mass., too – I’m on the phone telling my drivers where to go every morning. You just have to.”

Pride Gasoline Stations, meanwhile, has chosen a unique approach to the issue of gasoline supply and prices in the nation overall. The company has made the proactive move of switching all of its stations over to a 90-10 mixture of traditional gasoline and ethanol, a corn-based bio-fuel. While that has little effect on prices, it does address the more global issues of petroleum supply, demand, and dependence on foreign oil, as well as that of the overall health of the U.S. economy.

“Ethanol is a renewable source of energy,” said Ellen Carra, director of marketing for Pride. “It reduces our dependence on foreign oil because it replaces crude oil, and gives work to U.S. farmers.

“Use of ethanol will cut the U.S. trade deficit by $34 billion by 2012,” Carra continued, noting that Pride is the first chain in the state to convert to a bio-fuel mixture, and 20 states in the nation already require it, including neighboring Connecticut and New York. “Pride has a commitment to fair pricing and responsible energy use and I think the two go hand in hand. As more suppliers begin to focus on changing their own tanks over to a blend, it’s going to create a real win-win for our economy.”

And Carra added that Pride gas stations don’t see themselves as on the other side of the fence of the current gas crisis; all but one of Pride’s stations include a retail component, she explained, and the rising costs of goods delivered to the stores, particularly those supplied by local vendors who cannot absorb costs as easily as larger, national companies, have indeed been felt.

“Those companies are having to tack on anywhere from $1 to $3.50 in surcharges for each delivery, and those costs definitely add up,” she explained. “This is something we’re dealing with on both fronts everyday.”

Crude Estimates

Coping, and waiting for the gas price fever to break, is what most businesses are doing today.

Taking a ‘this, too, shall pass’ attitude helps with the day-to-day struggle, said Scibelli, as does acknowledgement that the current crisis is not going to change how
people live or conduct business.

“People are just not going to stay in their homes and hide until these prices go down,” he said. “I’m a business owner, but I’m a consumer, too. I have an SUV … am I going to cancel my weekend plans? No, because when all is said and done we still need to strive for a quality of life here.”

“So my life really mirrors my business … I can’t increase what I’m doing right now, but I can do the best I can with what I have.”?

Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at[email protected]

Sections Supplements
Tortus Technologies Helps the Engines of Business Run Smoothly
The Right Mechanic

The Right Mechanic

A sharp-looking Web site won’t generate much business if a company’s message is muddled and it doesn’t generate Internet traffic. As e-commerce continues to grow, West Springfield-based Tortus Technologies is helping businesses navigate such whitewater and increase their revenues.

Harry Moore has a simple question for computer users: when you’re looking for information on a business, do you still open the yellow pages? Or is it more natural to search on Google?

“People don’t use the phone book anymore; if it’s not on the Web, it’s not worth looking up,” said Moore, president of Tortus Technologies in West Springfield. “That trend has hit critical mass with all generations and all groups. The question, then, is how to take this technology and make it work for businesses. That’s what we do.”

Since launching as a Web-development house with three employees in 1996, Tortus has grown exponentially as a technology and business planning resource for companies of all sizes, with 18 employees serving more than 350 current clients. Further growth is expected, Moore said, because of what makes Tortus unique in the Web services field – its business acumen.

“Our clients have a significant advantage with us because of what we can do for them outside of Web site development,” he said. “We’re business people, as well as big users of technology. Most people in this field are simply technologists trying to work with businesses.”

Art and Science

That dual focus has spawned some success stories as eye-catching as the two-headed tortoise that graces the company’s logo. The name Tortus means “twisted” in what Moore calls “bad Latin,” but the meaning behind the logo is a bit clearer.

“The heads are art and science, and you have to blend both to make it work,” Moore said, referring to the Internet. “That starts with a company’s Web site.

“The Internet isn’t just a business tool; it’s the primary business tool, and people are beginning to understand that,” said Larri Cochran, Tortus’s director of Business Development. “It’s not just about a big Web site that looks pretty. You also have to be found on the search engines. You have to draw traffic to your site.”

To that end, Tortus not only designs, programs and hosts Web sites for companies, it optimizes them to register highly on search engines. Tortus also offers a content-management system that allows clients to update their own sites with an easy-to-use toolbar, without having to learn technical code.

“It allows clients to keep their sites timely, and it keeps costs down,” Cochran said. “Sometimes the information just can’t wait.”

Gerard Gualberto, Tortus’ lead programmer, said some customers are surprised at how easy the system is to use. “They say, ‘you mean I can change my Web site at 2 in the morning?’ Well, yeah, you can.”

Putting such tools in the hands of business people who don’t consider themselves tech-savvy is crucial, Cochran said, because Web sites, with their round-the-clock exposure (unlike TV or radio ads), are becoming the foundation of business marketing. “It’s an education for some companies,” she said. “They think they need a Web master to manage their sites, but they don’t.”

That’s not the only education Tortus offers to its clients, however, Moore said. Bi-weekly seminars help customers learn to use the tools Tortus provides. “We train people in what we do,” he said.

That guidance goes beyond simple Web skills. Tortus also helps companies develop complete business plans that will help them grow at the pace that their finances, human resources and technology level will allow.

“The Internet isn’t just a business tool; it’s the primary business tool, and people are beginning to understand that.”

Rent.com is a good example. When Tortus began working with the online real estate company in 2001, it had no workable model. “We refocused them and turned them around,” Moore said. Recently, eBay, the leading Internet auction site, bought rent.com for $415 million. “That’s a big deal,” he said.

There are plenty of local success stories as well. When Flag Fables, a Springfield company, first partnered with Tortus, it was considering expansion of its its physical retail space. Instead, it bolstered its Internet presence, and now the majority of its sales are conducted online.

“They knew nothing about the Internet, and now they’re managing their own Web site and catalog online,” said Cochran. “Our people understand business; we really work as a team – no one person has all the answers. And our clients like that we really focus on education as part of our relationships.”

Moore said 80% of Tortus’s business lies in fixing other people’s problems. “We feel like a car repair place sometimes. People come in with baggage from bad experiences. But they learn that you can’t just throw a Web site up and see what happens. You need a business model.

“And when your car is serviced right,” he added, “it’s because your mechanic just gets what’s wrong.”

A Faulty Instrument

Say you attend a symphony concert, Moore said, and the third violin sounds noticeably squeaky. Attendees are likely to say that the concert was terrible – even though the problem lay in only one instrument.

That poorly tuned instrument can be anything when it comes to Web marketing, but as often as not, the problem lies in exposure. The most well-designed site on the Web won’t help a business grow if no one looks at it. That’s why Tortus helps clients optimize their sites to show up prominently on search engines such as Yahoo! and Google.

“People who are serious about the Web come to us,” Moore said. “If you really want to be a player, we can get you up and running, get you the look and feel you want, and generate traffic.”

“You can’t build a Web site and not have it found on the search engines,” Cochran stressed. And that will be even more crucial as the Web becomes a more commerce-friendly place and Internet users become more sophisticated, she added.
“It seems to be happening all at once, but people are actively looking to the Web for business solutions,” Moore said. “It’s becoming much more intuitive and easy to use.”

Other economic trends support the growth of Internet commerce. Dana Soucier, Tortus’s director of operations, suggested that soaring gas prices are likely to turn even more people away from traditional retail outlets like malls, and toward Web shopping.

“A Web site doesn’t replace a traditional business model; it’s an enhancement that allows them to operate faster and better,” Cochran said. “Companies want to make it easy to do business with their clients, just as we’re making it easy for them to business with us.”

That claim is reflected in the growth of Tortus’s client list, which is dominated by long-term customers, and in the company’s aggressive growth goals for the coming year – which include adding seven more employees and doubling sales. “Our goal is to increase our revenue while providing great services to our clients,” Moore said. “We don’t just build web sites; we build businesses, and that’s our uniqueness.”
“If a client is successful,” Cochran said, “we’re successful.”

Plugged In

Gualberto said there isn’t time for Tortus to rest on its laurels, not when the ways information is exchanged constantly change.

“Our goal is to be good not just for this area, but when compared with companies nationally and internationally,” he said. “But it’s like being a physician – you have to keep constantly re-educating yourself. If you lay off it for six months, it shows.”
And despite the shifting technology and the growing sophistication of Web design and e-commerce, it still comes down to how businesses connect with their customers, Moore said. After all, a great Web site design won’t obscure a poorly delivered pitch.

“There are two doors you have to open,” he said. “One is to get on the first page of
Google search results. Then, what’s your message?” It had better be solid, Moore explained, because the average computer user searching for a product or service will look at a site for four seconds, on average, before deciding whether to keep reading or head back to Google.

“If you’re on that first page, great, but what are you going to tell people?” he asked.
Once the message is clear, Tortus Technologies can help find the audience
– and that’s a marketing concept that has never changed with the times.

Departments

Richard B. Collins, (center) President and Chief Executive Officer of United Financial Bancorp, Inc. presides over the closing bell ceremony at the NASDAQ market. Collins and other executives from United Financial Bancorp participated in the NASDAQ closing ceremony in New York City to celebrate the company’s initial public offering in July. Photo courtesy of NASDAQ Stock Market.

State Sen. Brian Lees (R-East Longmeadow) speaks to attendees at the annual Senior Citizens Forum held at Western New England College in August. Lees stages the event each year to bring resources and information to the senior citizens of Western Mass.; hundreds of elder care, human services, health care, and community organizations were on hand at the forum.

The Orlando Magic’s Grant Hill, next to a commemorative locker that will be placed in the Basketball Hall of Fame, answers questions about his career and the game of basketball at the Hall earlier this summer. Hill visited the Hall to donate pieces from his personal art collection, in an ongoing effort to bring fine art to a greater audience.

Hill speaks to an audience at the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame as Hall of Fame President John Doleva looks on.

Sections Supplements
WSC Shapes Plans for a Westfield River Environmental Center
It’s called the Hemlock Wooley Adelgid.
That’s the name of a small, non-native species of insect that is currently attacking hemlock forests in the Northeast. It apparently arrived in this country via some wood delivered to New Jersey from China two decades ago, and has been slowly making its way north.

Tim Parshall, a professor of Biology at Westfield State College, isn’t sure if the intruder can survive in the climate and elevation of the Westfield River Watershed — and thus pose a threat to the old growth Hemlock forests there — but he wants to find out.

And his efforts to determine the extent of the insect’s presence in the watershed, and the prospects for the future, will be one of the first initiatives launched by a new venture taking shape at the college called the Westfield River Environmental Center.
Blueprinted by Environmental Science, Biology, Physical Science, and Regional Planning professors at the college, the center, in its first phase, would bring together existing faculty and programmatic strengths on the campus to create an integrated, field-based science and education program focused within the Watershed.

“The school is in a very unique setting, at the foot of several mountains and near the Westfield River,” said Michael Vorwerk, an Environmental Science professor at WSC. “It provides us with some very unique opportunities.”

To take advantage of them, the group applied for — and received — funds from a new program at the college created by President Vicky Carwein called I3: That’s short for Initiate, Innovate, and Inspire, a $200,000 fund designed specifically for programs that will enhance community involvement and raise the college’s profile in the region — while also involving students at all levels in real-world issues and concerns.

Like the Hemlock Wooley Adelgid.
“That’s just one example of how we want to involve our students, our faculty, and the community in maintaining the health and beauty of the watershed,” said Vorwerk, who told BusinessWest that the initiative includes a number of educational components involving college and K-12 students.

Down to a Science

Parshall told BusinessWest that, in the world of academia, the word center often connotes not a building or a wing, but a coordinated research effort.

Such is the case with the Westfield River Environmental Center, which may someday have a mailing address, but for now is a collection of initiatives focused on the area in and around the watershed, a largely undeveloped ecosystem whose namesake river is nationally designated as “Wild and Scenic.”

WSC’s location only a few hundred yards from the river (the school actually owns land on the river’s bank) and across the street from Stanley Park puts it in a unique position to promote research on the watershed and inspire (that’s one of those I’s) advancements in the teaching — and learning — of science.

This was the thesis of the grant proposal written by a group of science and regional planning professors, whose proposal won the respect of a review committee — and a $50,000 grant from the I3 program.

“The project will both create and fill a niche that other Massachusetts college cannot offer: the opportunity for hands-on learning in a unique natural setting,” the group wrote in its application. “The program would provide a learning laboratory for students studying in all areas of science, extending to K-12 programs in the region.

urthermore, WSC’s location at the juncture of urban and rural communities provides a unique opportunity for the college to serve as a forum for dialogue among the watershed’s diverse stakeholders.”

In the project’s second phase, said Vorwerk, organizers would move forward with development of a permanent environmental center at the college that would include many other academic disciplines such as History, English, Economics, and Communications.

For now, the center is focused on a series of broad initiatives that fall under the categories of science, education, and outreach. These include strengthening the current science curriculum at WSC by encouraging both field and laboratory environmental studies; facilitating collaboration on region-wide environmental studies; and offering opportunities for K-12 teachers, students, and the community.

Specific goals include:

  • Developing goals for student and faculty research in the watershed;
  • Developing and encouraging the use of field locations for education and research, beginning with WSC holdings and Stanley Park;
  • Strengthening existing courses in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and developing new courses with specific environmental science applications;
  • Coordinating a community working group, comprised of faculty, students, and members of non-profit, governmental, and community organizations;
  • Initiating and strengthening ties with community partners to develop collaborative regional ecosystem studies, focusing initially on the Westfield River Watershed;
  • Coordinating an education working group, comprised of faculty, students, K-12 teachers and administrators;
  • Developing internship and other learning opportunities for WSC education students to work with regional community and governmental organizations.

Meanwhile, there are a few research projects planned or already underway. One involves the Hemlock Wooley Adelgid, said Parshall, noting that an Environmental Science student at the college has expressed interest in researching the insect’s penetration into the watershed.

“It’s just starting to get a foothold there,” he said. “We think the watershed, which reaches into the Berkshires, represents the edge of insect’s ability to live and survive through the winter; we have a student interested in identifying where the adelgid lives, how common it is, and how fast it’s spreading.”

That project will be funded through the grant received from the I3 program, said Parshall, as will several other initiatives now in the planning stages. These include research on a another invasive species, something called Canary Reed Grass, which has gotten a foothold in marshy, wet areas within the watershed, including Stanley Park, and changing the habitats there. It is a real threat, for example, to Cat Tails. A professor at the college has already received a grant to study the intruder, and is currently enlisting student support for that work.

Another project due to be undertaken soon is a trail-mapping initiative, said Vorwerk, who told BusinessWest that this venture, as well as those involving the reed grass and the adelgid, researchers will be encouraged to employ GIS, which can be used to map trails or the territorial expansion of insects.

“This is a technology that’s important to understand, especially if you’re interested in environmental science, but in many other disciplines as well.”

Progress — Naturally

Developing new and effective uses of GIS is one of many goals of the emerging environmental center, said Vorwerk, noting that he and others involved with the venture expect it to evolve continually to meet the changing needs of students, educators, and area non-profit groups that are invested in the watershed.

And it will adjust as new issues — and new invasive species — arise in the ecosystem. That setting provides myriad opportunities for those who wish to study science and preserve the fragile environment, and the center will help the college — and the community — maximize those opportunities.

Sections Supplements
Provider Contact Charges Services
Ashton Services
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Uncategorized
DEMOGRAPHIC INFORMATION

Year Founded: 1669
Type of Government: Mayor/City Council
County: Hampden
Area: 47.33 square miles
Population: 38,372
Population Density: 824 per sq. mile
Median Household Income: $40,144
Labor Force: 19,413
Households: 14,797
Owner-occupied Housing Units: 67.8%
Registered Voters: 9,596
Commercial Tax Rate: $30.79
Residential Tax Rate: $15.66
Avg. Residential Tax Bill: $2,728
Residential Tax Bill State Rank: 221
Median Sales Price of a Single-family Home: $173,000

KEY ELECTED/APPOINTED OFFICIALS

Mayor: Richard Sullivan
City Council President: Brent Bean
State Representative: Donald Humason Jr.
State Senator: Michael Knapik
School Superintendent: Thomas McDowell
Community Development Director: James Boardman
City Planner: Larry Smith
City Solicitor: Peter Martin
City Clerk: Karen Fanion
Bulding Commissioner: Donald York
Collector: Gregory Kallfa
Chamber of Commerce President: Ali Salehi

TELEPHONE DIRECTORY (area code 413)

City Hall (information): 572-6200
Mayor’s Office: 572-6200
Westfield G&E 572-0100
Assessor’s Office: 572-6223
Department of Community Development: 572-6246
Barnes Municipal Airport: 572-6275
Building Department: 572-6250
Greater Westfield Chamber of Commerce: 787-1555

MAJOR EMPLOYERS*

Westfield Public Schools 1,200
Noble Hospital 562
City of Westfield 500
Westfield State College 475
Old Colony Envelope Co. 400
Mestek Inc. 380
Hospice/Palliative Care Unit 250
U.S. Army National Guard 248
Walmart 245
Savage Arms Inc. 222

*Data from the 2003 Major Employers Inventory, prepared by the Pioneer Valley Planning Commmision


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Sections Supplements
Rick Sullivan Takes the Long View as Westfield’s CEO
Westfield Mayor Richard Sullivan, with a dozen years at the helm and a seventh two-year term set to start in January, is among the longest-serving municipal CEOs in the Commonwealth. He told BusinessWest that he owes his longevity — and his track record for success — to a deep commitment to the job and the community in which he grew up.

When Rick Sullivan first ran for mayor of Westfield in 1993, he never dreamed he would be at the job for six terms — with a seventh set to start in January (he’s running unopposed this November).

“I remember the discussions we had back then,” he said, referring to talks with his wife, Lisa, and other family members. “The plan was to run, and if we were lucky enough to win that race, to look at a second term and then that would be it, because you can’t really change much in two years.”

No, but you can in a dozen, and Sullivan has a lengthy list of accomplished goals to mark his tenure at City Hall, starting with his desire to improve the school system that he and Lisa believed had declined from the days when they shared classes at Westfield High School.

In a wide-ranging Q&A session, Sullivan, now the dean of mayors in the Pioneer Valley and one of the longest-serving chief executives in the state, talks about his passion for the city he grew up in, his accomplishments, and the work still left to do.
In the course of doing so, he weighs in on everything from the qualities that make an effective mayor — “you have to know how to really listen, and not just take up a chair in the room” — to Gov. Mitt Romney’s policies and practices — “he has no respect for the operation of municipal government and what local officials and public servants do in order to provide services that impact people’s lives on a daily basis.

BusinessWest: You said you had no intention of serving for mayor as long as you have. What keeps you in what many people would consider a difficult, often thankless job?

Sullivan: “I could have embarked on some things that were certainly more lucrative financially, but it’s really very satisfying to be in service to a community and look back and say, ‘we made a difference.’ And we is everyone who works here (City Hall) and also my family, who made a lot of sacrifices over the years.

“Let’s just say that I have a passion for the this community, and also for the practice of government.”

BusinessWest: How long do you want to keep doing this?

Sullivan: “We take it two years at a time; that’s how we’ve always approached it. Two years from now we’ll assess where we are professionally and personally.”

BusinessWest: What makes someone an effective chief executive in a city like Westfield, or any community?

Sullivan: “You have to be visible, and you need to be able to listen well. And you must have a lot of patience.

“Being visible is a crucial element. I don’t have things going on every night, but most nights — and many weekends — there’s some event I need to be at, and I try to be at as many as possible. Why? Because it’s important when a church has its annual festival, and it’s important when a classroom of students wants to learn about civics first-hand. Local government is the most personal form of government there is.”

“I could have embarked on some things that were certainly more lucrative financially, but it’s really very satisfying to be in service to a community and look back and say, ‘we made a difference.’ And we is everyone who works here and also my family, who made a lot of sacrifices over the years.

BusinessWest: How do you approach the job of being the city’s chief executive? In other words, describe your management style?

Sullivan: “The most important thing is to be honest people; don’t tell them that you can get something done tomorrow when you know you can’t; I’d rather give someone all the information they need, even if it’s something they don’t want to hear.

“One of the first people I talked with after I got elected was Carol Mazza (publisher of the city’s daily newspaper). She said that the hardest thing I was going to face — and I think her exact words were that she was worried about whether I could do it or not — was the fact that I was going to have to say ‘no’ a lot more than I could ‘yes.’
“I think about that a lot, because she was right; even though this is a $100-plus million corporation known as the city of Westfield, and that’s a lot of money, it’s not enough to do everything you want to do or that everyone wants to see done; you have to live with having to say ‘no,’ and understand that it’s part of the job.”

BusinessWest: Let’s shift gears and talk about the challenges facing Westfield and all communities. The state’s budget situation is improving, but cities still seem to be struggling fiscally. What are the primary challenges?

“I think our basic mission has been to achieve economic diversity, and this goes back to what I was saying earlier about funding basic services. No community should be dependent on one big employer or even one industry group.

Sullivan: “The biggest one, plain and simple, is providing basic services when you’re limited to the regressive property tax. So I think there has to be recognition at the state level that there must be another way to fund these programs, because you can’t keep going back and having the cost of property taxes and other services at the local level become so expensive that people can’t afford to live here

“Take schools for example; the cost of education is always a concern. Everyone wants better MCAS scores, better achievement, and more accountability through the school system in terms of how they are spending each dollar and getting the absolute best product that we can. But you also need to have the ability to pay for those things. That is going to be an ongoing problem for communities now.”

BusinessWest: Do you see the state — and specifically the Romney administration — responding to this situation in the way that you and other mayors would like?

Sullivan: “No.
“I don’t think there’s an appreciation for what cities are towns are facing. He (Romney) keeps talking about how he hasn’t raised taxes. In fact, what he’s done is shift all the burden back to the local communities. And in those communities, the biggest share of that has to be picked up by property taxes, and it often falls on the backs of people on fixed income, those who work two jobs, and others who are struggling to make ends meet.

“There’s a real disconnect between his policies and how they’re impacting people in our cities and towns.”

BusinessWest: How is Westfield, and the region as a whole, impacted by the many challenges facing Springfield, the capital, if you will, of Western Mass.?

Sullivan: “We see and feel it a number of ways. For example, we see it with teachers, police officers, firefighters, and other municipal servants who are leaving Springfield and trying to come over here. They see this as a much more stable environment. In some ways, that’s good, because it allows communities like Westfield to hire the best and the brightest. But this will be a real hardship on Springfield, and it will be a long time before that city recovers, because it will also be a long time before people there believe that’s a stable community.

“As for the importance of a healthy Springfield, of course that’s important to the entire region. But I’ve always been a firm believer that, while we need a healthy Springfield, we also need a healthy Holyoke, a healthy Easthampton, and a healthy Westfield; we’re in a regional economy; there are no walls around any of those communities.

BusinessWest: Let’s talk about that regional economy for a minute. Regionalism is the main goal of the Economic Development Corporation. Is this approach working?

Sullivan: “It is. Even before the formation of the EDC, area mayors were getting together on a fairly regular basis; there was Chris Johnson in Agawam, Rich Kos in Chicopee, Mike Albano in Springfield … we were working toward taking a more regional approach then, looking at the bigger picture and not thinking parochially.”

BusinessWest: There were some turf wars in the ’90s, like the competition between Westfield and Northampton for a Coca Cola bottling facility. That was a fight, if you can call it that, which Westfield lost; were there lessons learned from it?

Sullivan: “That episode went a long way toward changing some attitudes; we learned that pitting one community against another like that is not healthy for the region. I can’t tell you that we weren’t disappointed that Coke didn’t come here, because we were. But that whole thing showed us that we shouldn’t be doing things at the expense of Northampton, and vice versa.

“We will always try to be competitive when someone is looking to move into the area, but we can’t let companies leverage one community against another. What I learned from the Coke saga was that I don’t want my competitor to be Holyoke, Chicopee, Northampton, or Springfield; when Mike Sullivan in Holyoke has a chance to bring in a new business, that’s good for us and for the whole region — we need a healthy Holyoke.”

BusinessWest: Can you describe your administration’s main economic development strategy for Westfield?

Sullivan: “I think our basic mission has been to achieve economic diversity, and this goes back to what I was saying earlier about funding basic services. No community should be dependent on one big employer or even one industry group. Who would have thought that GE would leave Pittsfield or that Digital would be gone from Westfield? And recently, we’ve seen many large businesses leave the Palmer area and move south. If you’re relying on one employer or one sector, your local economy is put in jeopardy.

“So we’ve spent a lot of time and energy here working on achieving that diversity. We still have a backbone of strong manufacturers — our tool and die base is the unnoticed foundation of that sector, but we have other kinds of manufacturers as well — and we have a commercial base and a retail sector we’re trying to expand. You need to watch that mix all the time.

“If you look at Westfield’s 10 biggest taxpayers and employers, they’re all either new in the past 10 years or have done some significant expansion in that time. And when you have discussions with rating agencies on Wall Street in terms of what your bond rating is, these are the things they look at; they look to see if you’re economy is diversified and they ask how your 10 or 20 largest employers are doing. And there is a direct correlation between those things and the rating you receive.

BusinessWest: Downtown remains perhaps the one area that has escaped the progress seen across the rest of the city. What does the future hold for that area?

Sullivan: “I’ve said for years that the only thing that doesn’t reflect our economic healthiness is downtown, but I firmly believe that will change in the years ahead. We’ve already seeen some significant improvement with several new restaurants and clubs, and there will be more.

“We have a $50 million public works project set to start (a second bridge over the Westfield River in the downtown area) and a $20 million hotel project that’s moving forward; these developments will produce some dramatic changes in our downtown.”

BusinessWest: Beyond the many aspects of downtown revitalization, are there are any other major goals for the future?

Sullivan: “Only to simply continue what we’ve been doing — listening to people
and trying to make this a better community.

“I remember what my dad said after we won that first election for mayor and came to
see the office for the first time; he said, ‘don’t forget where you came from.’ I wasn’t born here, but in my mind, I came from Westfield, and I have never forgotten that.” ?

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

Sections Supplements
Four Tips for Strategic Project Management
Many businesses today are losing money by having projects in crisis. In fact, many organizations set up Project Management Offices (PMOs) as a tool to improve project management. However, the evidence shows these fail more often than succeed. In fact, recent findings show that over 75% of organizations that set up a Project Management Office shut it down within three years because it didn’t demonstrate any added value.

To get to the root cause of the problem we’ve got to take a broader perspective and look at how organizations approach project management from a strategic level.
Here are four key strategies that will immediately make a difference for organizations.

1. Ensure All Projects Are Strategically Aligned
A major reason for project failure is that organizations do not ensure that all projects they implement align with their core strategies. In fact, according to recent findings, 80% of organizations have no formal business case for the development of their project management office and 73% of organizations identified “lack of executive sponsorship” as being the primary reason for failure of their project management office.

If organizations were to implement only those projects that were in alignment with their strategic goals, their success rate would increase dramatically because executive sponsorship would not be an issue. However, the recent findings show that the majority of projects on the go are not associated with corporate and/or departmental strategic plans.

What You Can Do To Align Projects With Corporate Strategy
First, review lessons learned from projects currently underway or completed over the past year to uncover possible success criteria and to determine project prioritization issues. For example, if many projects were unsuccessful because of a lack of resources then resources required to complete future projects should be considered a criterion for determining project viability.

Next, develop criteria against which all projects can be prioritized. Include impact on corporate strategy and customers. To do this, work with a sub-committee of senior management. List all projects along with their goal and strategic alignment. Then try to identify criteria necessary for determining the expected impact each project will have on the organization, its departments and its customers. Rank each project quantitatively and determine its level of priority.

Finally, align projects to corporate and departmental strategic plans, thereby demonstrating how each project’s successful execution will support the corporate and/or departmental strategic plan. Terminate projects that are of low priority or not somehow linked to corporate and/or departmental strategy. This will ensure they stop costing the organization money, resources, time and lost customers.

If organizations were to implement only those projects that were in alignment with their strategic goals, their success rate would increase dramatically because executive sponsorship would not be an issue.

2. Create a Culture That Supports a Project-Management Environment
The research identified a number of reasons why organizations set-up a project management office. These included; more successful implementation of projects (82%); predictable, reusable project management tools (74%) and organizational improvement (66%). It is interesting to note some of the more important reasons why organizations should set-up a project management office such as organizational improvement and building the project-management culture, were not the top reasons cited in the research.

If a project is strategically aligned and if project management is built into the corporate culture then everyone who works on a project will immediately know what their part is in making the project successful. Staff will not have to locate a project management office to tell them how to manage a project, what tools to use, what templates to use, and so on. Project management will be a competency embedded into everyone’s role. Much as quality management has evolved over the past 20 years to becoming a competency requirement for all jobs, project management is following the same route.

What You Can Do To Create A Project Management Culture
Undertake a change strategy specific to creating it. Business improvement architects calls this a Project Culture Initiative™ (PCI™). This requires the forming of a cross-functional steering committee to develop the approach and process for creating the corporate change. Values and principles need to be created to identify the unique project approach for the organization. Staff education is required to ensure they understand the benefits of the change to them, the organization and its customers.

3. Implement Strategic Project Management Best Practices
The research identified the strategic priorities of most Project Management Offices and determined that: 77% developed project management methodologies, 76% developed structures for their project management offices, 69% identified project roles and responsibilities, 60% developed tools and templates, and 54% implemented project management training programs. From these results, it became evident that project management olffices were task oriented, not strategic. They didn’t consider lessons learned to be of great importance in their overall mandate.

What You Can Do to Implement Strategic Project Management Best Practices
Knowledge retention is a major benefit to organizations because it contributes to continuous learning and avoidance of repeated mistakes. In order to retain project knowledge that can be passed on as “lessons learned” for future project teams, the project management office must hold a formal ‘project close-out meeting’ as soon as possible after a project is completed because, at this point, the knowledge about the management of the entire project is still fresh in everyone’s mind.

The purpose of the closing meeting is to review what happened in the project and what the team and the organization can learn from what happened. The project sponsor, project manager and project team should be in attendance as well as any outside resources and/or stakeholders who would like to contribute their ideas. The outcome of the project closeout meeting will be the creation of a formal document of “lessons learned” for archiving, to be carried to future projects, their managers and their teams.

4. Create a Strategic Project-measurement System
The research identified how project management offices measured their success. Their measurements included projects on time (76%), projects on budget (67%), achieved scope requirements (66%), customer requirements met (65%) and achieved all milestone deliverables (52%). The project-management offices chose traditional metrics to demonstrate success, not strategic ones.

How to Create a Strategic Project Measurement System
The establishment of project success measures will help to provide the senior management team with relevant information needed to make decisions affecting project completion. For example, the presentation of project success measures may convince management to re-prioritize projects or to re-allocate resources.
Project success measures will also provide the Project Management Office with the necessary information to continuously sell the impact they are having on organizational effectiveness. The strategic types of project success measurement criteria should include:

  • Ability of the project to be managed within specified quality criteria;
  • Ability to meet regulatory requirements;
  • Number of resources used versus the number of resources they thought they would use;
  • Ability of the project to meet its defined targets and deliverables;
  • Customer post-surveys indicate satisfaction with the product or service delivery from the project;
  • A successful and problem-free launch;
  • Business case is proven through the rate of return.

Concluding With a Cultural Change
The research shows that successful project-management systems require that organizations undertake a significant cultural change because project management systems have a profound effect on: reporting structures, performance systems, communication systems and resources. Employees need to be prepared for the changes and understand the benefits.

A quality-based approach to the management of projects gives corporations the ability to successfully execute projects time after time.

Michael Stanleigh is President of Business Improvement Architects, a consulting firm that guides organizations to align their business strategy with their culture, performance systems and projects to reduce waste and increase profitability. Hew is also author of the recent global report: From Crisis to Control: A New Era in Strategic
Project Management;[email protected]. (www.bia.ca)