Home 2005 October
Opinion
While there remains some disagreement about Springfield, it’s current state of health, and its prospects for the future, there is agreement on at least one thing: that this city would be in much more trouble — truly dire straits — without its leading corporate citizen: MassMutual.

Indeed, area business leaders can often be heard referencing this line of thinking — while discussing everything from local cultural treasurers to the region’s Class A office occupancy rate — and acknowledging that they’re glad they don’t have to imagine life without ‘Mother Mutual,’ as it’s called.

We raise the point because, through a combination of current events and seasonal happenings, the depth of the company’s contributions to Springfield and the surrounding region can — or should — be truly appreciated. And we take the opportunity to say that while people can be pleased and proud that they have the corporate giant in this area code, we would be wise never to take its generosity for granted.

Scan the pages of this edition of BusinessWest, or any edition, for that matter, and one can immediately grasp the importance of this Fortune 100 company to the City of Homes and the region that surrounds it. There are prominent examples of the company’s impact on the area, such as attaching its name to the new convention center that opened last month in downtown Springfield. Without that $5 million investment, the entire project might not have moved forward, and if it had, it would not have been the same facility.

There are also many smaller, but in many ways no lessimportant, examples of the company’s generosity and civic-mindedness, such as its gift of the latest display, ‘Jurassic World,’ for Bright Nights. Meanwhile, another area attraction, the Springfield Museums, received another $95,000 grant from the company for ‘Learning Together,’ a series of educational programs for Springfield public school students.

Beyond the monetary and in-kind gifts to the community, MassMutual has also had a profound impact on the region’s real estate market, repeatedly filling large vacancies in downtown Springfield office towers, while also rescuing properties such as the former Charles River Hospital building in Chicopee, which the company converted into a meeting and training center. The latest example of the company’s influence on the office market was the recent opening of its new offices in Enfield, in the former Phoenix complex.

If there is a downside to MassMutual’s generosity, it is that this region might in some ways be too dependent on it, or, worse, that it is starting to take the company’s largesse for granted.

What we would like is for other companies, and individuals as well, to be inspired by MassMutual and to follow its lead — to the greatest degree possible.

By that, we mean that companies don’t have to fund an entire new exhibit for Bright Nights. But they should recognize the importance of that attraction to both the city and the region’s efforts to expand its tourism sector — and support the project accordingly.

Likewise, they can assist institutions like the Springfield Museums, the city’s orchestra, the community’s higher education system, and unique assets like Forest Park.

MassMutual has taken a lead role in supporting each one, and has set an example worthy of emulating.

As we said, it is a combination of news items — from the first events in the MassMutual Center to the recent open house at the Enfield facilities to the Bright Nights announcement — that remind of us how fortunate Springfield is to have a corporate citizen like this. And if you think all Fortune 500 companies are like this, you need to think again.

MassMutual’s donations are almost always large in size, but they are inspired by a fairly simple mindset: that the company does business in Springfield, it takes from the region and benefits from it — and therefore it gives back.

If every business took that same attitude, maybe we would be so dependent on MassMutual — and maybe we wouldn’t spend so much time wondering, and worrying, about what life would be like without it.

Features
Latino Chamber Builds Membership, Partnerships
 Carlos Gonzalez

Carlos Gonzalez

The Massachusetts Latino Chamber of Commerce, formed in early 2004, is in a growth mode. The agency recently opened a new office in downtown Springfield that features a business center currently incubating four fledgling companies. The LCC is also extending its reach into Worcester County, the Merrimack Valley, and, eventually Boston. The steps are all part of chamber President Carlos Gonzalez’s drive to make the Latino business community a stronger force in the state’s economy.

As deputy chief of staff to Springfield Mayor Michael Albano, Carlos Gonzalez spent a considerable amount of time working in the realm of small-business development.

Indeed, among his many duties in that capacity was providing assistance to existing and aspiring small business owners in matters ranging from obtaining permits to understanding city sign ordinances.

Over the course of eight years of such work, Gonzalez gained a unique understanding of the city’s business community — and also an appreciation for a growing but often overlooked constituency: Latino business owners.

As the number of such entrepreneurs grew, Gonzalez recognized a need to give the group both a ‘voice,’ as he called it, and a proverbial seat at the table — the one reserved for area business and economic development leaders.

So when the Albano administration ended its tour of duty in 2003, Gonzalez set out to meet that need through formation of the Massachusetts Latino Chamber of Commerce (LCC), or La Cámara de Comercio, as many of its 150 or so members might say.

That number has been rising steadily since the chamber opened its doors (or its door, to be more precise) in March 2004. Then, the fledgling group was renting a small office within the facilities of the New England Farm Workers’ Council. As membership and resources grew, the chamber set its sights on larger quarters and a broader mission.

Both clearly come into view at the LCC’s new facility, a 2,400-square-foot suite at offices at 1655 Main St. that opened for business on Oct. 19. In addition to more administrative space, the office features a business center that is now home to four fledgling Latino-owned businesses ranging from a photography studio to an accounting firm.

“The new offices will serve as a one-stop center for small-business development,” said Gonzalez. “We want to provide business owners with the tools they need to grow and succeed.”

While supplying the physical space and technical assistance needed to help those entrepreneurs in the business center get to the next level, the LCC is working on several different assignments, said Gonzales.

They include everything from a membership drive to the creation of satellite offices in the Worcester area and Merrimack Valley, he told BusinessWest, and collectively they fall under the category of relationship- building.

“By creating relationships and partnerships we help make government officials see the many advantages of the emerging Latino small business community as an economic development engine that is fueling the local and state economy.”

BusinessWest looks this issue at how the LCC goes about the process of building those relationships, and how it hopes to build the base of Latino-owned businesses.

The Language of Business When asked if he thought the Latino business community has been under served historically, Gonzalez thought for a minute and decided that overlooked was the more accurate term.

He told BusinessWest that state economic development leaders have put considerable emphasis on luring large corporations to the Commonwealth, at the expense of a broader emphasis on small-business development.

Meanwhile, they have either overlooked or ignored both the surging Latino population, especially in urban areas like Springfield and Holyoke, as well as a recognized entrepreneurial spirit within that constituency.

“Financial institutions have not recognized the Latino community as an economic power base,” he explained, adding that Springfield has been recognized as one of the leading centers of new-business development, and the area’s minority populations have played a significant role in that movement.

“The Latino community has a strong entrepreneurial spirit … many people strive to open their own businesses,” he explained. “Government officials need to realize this and help generate new Latino businesses.”

Gonzalez saw those entrepreneurial tendencies during his tenure in the mayor’s office. And when his work there ended when Albano opted out a fifth term, Gonzalez sought a way to tap into that energy, while also fulfilling his own entrepreneurial aspirations.

Indeed, before joining the Albano administration, Gonzalez served as station manager and producer at WSPR-1270, and played a lead role in the transformation of that facility into a 24-hour Spanish language station. Two years in that role followed by his work with small businesses for Albano gave him a front row seat from which to view the emergence of the Latino business community.

He wanted to give that group a presence and a voice, and his answer was the Latino Chamber, an entity he believed could succeed where a number of other, smaller, Latino-focused chambers with similar goals had not.

“There was a gap,” he said, referring to the emergence — and later the dissolution of several smaller chambers focused on groups like the Latino population. “When you walked around and talked to the small Latino base, few of them were aware of the opportunities available to them, from agencies like the SBA, area chambers, SCORE, and others. We wanted to address that need.”

Gonzalez told BusinessWest that the Latino chamber was created with a number of goals in mind. First and foremost, the agency would act as a resource that would help Latino-owned businesses clear a wide variety of hurdles, from initial business plans to marketing; licenses to financing options.

The LCC is addressing that aspect of its mission through a variety of programs, including workshops and training sessions on a number of subjects.

Beyond that, the chamber was conceived to act as an advocate for the Latino business community, so it is not overlooked in the future as it has been in the past.

As an example, he cited one recently created city program that enables individuals to apply for up to $30,000 for technical assistance to open vacant storefronts in three neighborhoods, the North End, the South End, and Old Hill.

“There is not a vacant storefront in the North End,” said Gonzales, referring to the predominantly Hispanic neighborhood and speaking figuratively. “We want to help create programs that can better serve the Latino community and help Latino businesses stay in business.

“We’re not asking for any handouts,” he continued, “but we do want to be part of the discussion when these programs are being set forth. And a united voice is the only way to get people to listen.”

To strengthen that voice, Gonzalez said he wants to both expand membership locally — 500 is his immediate, and ambitious, goal and he believes he can achieve that by the end of next year — and extending the LCC’s reach beyond the Pioneer Valley.

He said there are growing Latino populations in Lawrence, Lowell, Worcester, and other communities, and the LCC desires to serve them, through outreach and partnerships generated from the Springfield office, and perhaps through creation of satellite facilities.

“There’s a lot of work to be done in these areas,” he explained. “We want to reach out … we think can help build those bases of Latino-owned businesses and create a stronger, more influential group.”

Building Blocks

As he talked about the region and state’s Hispanic business community and its prospects for the future, Gonzalez drew some parallels to Miami and what has happened in that city over the past quarter century. There, a steadily growing Latino population managed to come together, pool its resources, and forge what he called a “Latino business power base” that made major contributions to Miami’s economy.

The same could happen in Massachusetts and, specifically, the Greater Springfield area, said Gonzalez, if effective partnerships are formed between Latino businesses, the LCC, and the community at large … and if the Latino community as a whole is viewed as a financial resource.

An important part of the equation is building a solid base of Latino ventures, he said, adding that the LCC’s business center will play a role on that mission.

Designed to be an incubator that will give start-ups and existing businesses the physical space and support services needed to get off the ground, the center will house businesses until they reach maturity and become ready to move out into the community. “We’re going to start by walking, and when we start running, we’ll move on and another new business will take our place,” said Rene Romero, creative director and coowner of LatinMark, one of the center’s tenants.

The business, recently re-named after three years of operating as AdMark, offers an array of services designed to help businesses, Latino-owned and otherwise, to tap into the growing Hispanic market.

A native of Venezuela, Romero first came to the United States in the late ’70s to get an education, specifically a degree in marketing and advertising at Louisiana State University. He returned home, but eventually came back to the states in early 2000.

After working for a short time in Boston, he and his wife relocated to Miami to work in advertising.

“We didn’t have very good timing,” he said, referring to the decline in the Miami area economy in the months after 9/11. “It was a case of being in the right place at the wrong time.”

He believes his decision to return to the Northeast has put him in the right place at the right time.

Elaborating, he said Western Mass. has an attractive demographic mix — specifically a growing Latino population — as well as the right geography, a location within a few hours of several major metropolitan areas, including Boston, Hartford, and New York.

While Romero hopes to conduct business in and those cities, his primary focus for now is the Western Mass. market, where he is providing services to the LCC, several of its members, and other area businesses, while trying, as all small business owners do, to build a name and reputation.

Those are goals common to other tenants in the business center — Ramos Accounting & Tax Services Inc., a start-up venture created by Springfield native Oscar Ramos; MOYO Photography, a two-year-old business operated by Yolanda and Johnny Torres; and Evis Medical Supply, a Connecticut-based company owned by Carlos Alvarez, who is expanding with a Springfield satellite office.

The center’s first businesses represent a good cross-section of Latino-owned ventures, said Gonzalez, noting his roster of tenants — and the LCC’s membership list — is diverse, with a broad mix of professionals and service providers.

Growing that base is the primary objective for the chamber, he said, noting that the mission will be carried out across the Valley — and across the state.

Sign of the Times

As he gave BusinessWest a tour of the then-unfinished LCC offices, Gonzalez stopped to introduce Blas Rosa, owner of Quick Sign, who was putting the finishing touches on the sign that graces the front lobby.

The chamber tries to support members and other Latino-owned businesses with work like the sign project, Gonzalez explained, adding that its broad mission is to give such ventures much more than small jobs like the new signage.

“The goal is to provide a voice,” he stressed, “and as we become bigger and stronger, the voice grows louder.”?

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

Sections Supplements
Leadership in Times of Crisis
Perhaps you’ve never been called upon to lead in a situation as fraught with
potential peril as the manual capture of a $10 million, 3,000-pound, out of control satellite in outer space, but business leaders face major crises all the time: a scandal involving senior management, fall-out from an economic downturn, product malfunction and recall, or the loss of a key employee.

Leadership under extreme conditions, like those encountered aboard the space shuttle Columbia mission in 1999, which I was a part of, requires key principles that will guide you, your team, and your mission to success. The Columbia mission ultimately succeeded, and using the same principles of leadership that worked on this space mission, business leaders can turn an obstacle into an opportunity, too.

Space Mission Lesson #1: Prepare for the Unknown

A leader needs to anticipate potential problems as part of preparation. The original Columbia mission was to launch a research satellite called Spartan, but it malfunctioned almost immediately. The effort to retrieve it for repair went awry when the shuttle’s robotic arm inadvertently tipped the satellite, setting this object, roughly the size and weight of an automobile, spinning unpredictably in space.

Because NASA and the Columbia crew already prepared for potential problems, they immediately knew what to do next: have two space-walking astronauts – one on his first space flight – perform a dangerous manual capture of the satellite. When an unanticipated problem occurs in business, like the astronauts, you should be so thoroughly prepared that you already know what options and resources might be available to help solve it.

Otherwise, you waste time trying to figure out your options, thus allowing the crisis time to get even worse. So in your business, determine what possible factors could cause your company to suffer, and then devise action plans for
each scenario. Should that problem ever occur, you already know how to react and lead your team to victory.

Space Mission Lesson #2: Conquer Communication Barriers

Get to know the members of your team well and understand what their particular communication strengths and weaknesses are, particularly in times of crisis. Be careful not to assume that they understand you, even those you think you know best. It’s never more important for everyone to be on the same page than when you’re confronting a problem. To ensure that the message you send has been received as you wanted it to be, solicit feedback, asking “Do you understand what I mean?” to encourage clarifying questions and honest responses from your team.

English was the other spacewalker’s second language, so the lead spacewalker took extra care heading off potential problems by spending time with him to ensure they were speaking the same language, literally, before
they attempted to capture the satellite together. What’s more, in space, all direction is relative to something else, so to facilitate the manual capture of a satellite while cruising at 18,000 miles an hour, everyone on the team needs to know what ‘up’ and ‘down’ mean in that context.

In the world of international space flight, there may be literal language barriers to overcome, and in an organization, even if everyone speaks the same language, the filters of culture sometimes put up obstacles that you must use finely-honed communications skills to conquer. Men and women are known to communicate differently, for example, and business leaders must ensure that communications’ meaning and intent are clearly understood by everyone, especially when trying to solve a problem.

Space Mission Lesson #3: Be alert for Non-verbal Communication

A good leader will pick up on cues to potential problems and misunderstandings before they occur. For example, while both the robot arm operator and one spacewalk-er on the Columbia mission were highly qualified individuals, both were on their first space flights. The lead spacewalker observed the other spacewalker talking very little and keeping to himself away from the group, so he shared his own experiences on his first spacewalk to reassure the other man that he empathized with his nervousness but was confident he would do well.

As a business leader, you must know how key team members act on a normal basis so you can gauge when something is awry and their behavior changes. When a crisis occurs, is your usually social VP of marketing now keeping to her office, with the door closed and the blinds drawn? Is your usually mild-mannered CFO now barking orders like a drill sergeant? These are tell-tale nonverbal cues that you must step in and lead your team more effectively, as the crisis is taking its toll on your much needed key players.

Space Mission Lesson #4: Ask for Help

A leader must demonstrate an immediate understanding of the problem. You can’t be wishy-washy, even if, at the moment, you don’t have a clue what’s going wrong. You need to show that you’re in control, demonstrating self-assurance. Your people will follow confidence.

But confident doesn’t mean omniscient. You must solicit input and feedback from the experts on your team and from people outside of the team as well. NASA rehearsed the satellite’s capture on the ground and sent images up to the shuttle. The spacewalkers constructed a Spartan simulator for practice, and the team leader rehearsed the terminology to use in the capture and to direct the commander where to fly the shuttle to get it close enough to the satellite so they could reach out with gloved hands and manually direct the satellite back into the shuttle.

You don’t need to know every single nut and bolt involved in every single person’s job, but there are people on your staff who are more expert in certain areas than you are. Acknowledge that and benefit from it when planning and problem-solving.

Space Mission Lesson #5: Earn Real Experience

Business leaders, like astronauts, obviously need technical training in their field, but equally important are maturity and experience at making difficult real-time decisions. There’s a reason you never see 22- year-old astronauts! You must have complete confidence in your ability to make critical judgments and to take action in tough situations, and the only way to acquire that is to be seasoned by experience.

While mounted in foot restraints on the edge of the shuttle, the Columbia spacewalkers spent three hours safely manipulating the satellite into the single orientation that would fit it into the payload bay. The leader had never had this particular mission to accomplish before, but he did have a vast array of experience – even some mistakes – that allowed him the focus and determination that were essential to keep the 3,000 pounds of mass from getting out of control, where it might injure the spacewalkers or damage the space shuttle.

As you came up through the business ranks, decisions you made may have cost your department money, set back a safety record, or otherwise affected some critical aspect of the business, but all of that is part of your essential real-world education.

Leaders Reach for the Stars

As NASA knows, one of the main considerations for hiring or promoting senior management must be whether they have had experience, training, and education in problem- solving, especially in a crisis situation. Have they turned critical circumstances around? Do they thrive or shrink in the face of disaster?

Whether walking in space or walking into a boardroom, good leaders must not only be prepared for everything that might go wrong, they must come alive when faced with a predicament, large or small. Great leaders have confidence, can communicate what’s necessary to handle a problem, and know how to best utilize the skills of each member of their team to solve it. The ability to lead in the face of a crisis separates the great leaders, those who have “the right stuff,” from those who don’t.

Winston Scott is a speaker, consultant, and retired astronaut who has logged a total of 24 days in space, including three spacewalks. A retiree of NASA and the U.S. Navy, Winston now shares his knowledge of motivation, teamwork and leadership with various organizations. He is also author of the
new book, Reflections from Earth Orbit, based on his experiences in space:www.winstonescott. com.

Sections Supplements
MassMutual Center

MassMutual Center

The Commerce trade show, the annual fall event staged by the Chicopee and Greater Holyoke Chambers, moves to the MassMutual Center for the 2005 edition. Organizers say the new setting has generated excitement and curiosity for this year’s show, which will feature more than 150 exhibitors.

FALL BUSINESS SHOW
COMMERCE ’05
NOVEMBER 3, 2005

Doris Ransford says trade show organizers are constantly searching for ways to make their event fresh, to give it a look and feel different from the year before, and the year before that, and the year before … you get the idea.

That won’t be a problem for those orchestrating the 2005 edition of the Commerce show, to be staged by the Chicopee and Greater Holyoke Chambers of Commerce on Nov. 3. The event moves this fall from the Big E to the $70 million MassMutual Center in downtown Springfield, which opened its doors a month ago.

“We’ll definitely have a new look, said Ransford, director of the Greater Holyoke chamber, with a touch of understatement in her voice. “This move to the convention center has created a good deal of excitement and curiosity.”

Yes, but it has also created some new challenges, said Gail Sherman, director of the Chicopeechamber.She told BusinessWest that, as the first of the chamber of commerce trade shows in the new convention center (the Affiliated Chambers will move the Market show there in the spring), Commerce 2005 will in many ways be getting the bugs out of an intriguing logistical exercise.

Bug-removal has been the assignment for the past several weeks, said Sherman, noting that organizers have been working on everything from parking to booth set-up to finding ways to alert those working in Springfield’s downtown office buildings that there is a trade show going on down the street.

As the date of the show approaches, organizers feel confident that they have taken all the bugs out. To address concerns about parking, for example, they have arranged for free parking in the lot for the old Basketball Hall of Fame and a shuttle to take exhibitors and visitors to and from the MassMutual Center.

Meanwhile, they have made arrangements with the Springfield Parking Authority to enable exhibitors and visitors to park in any of the SPA lots for amounts that will not exceed $5 — the current fee imposed at the Big E — while also staggering the times for booth set-up to facilitate that process.

“We want to create as much convenience for people as possible,” said Ransford. “We want to make it easy for people to be part of this show.”

Show Time

As she walked around the MassMutual Center prior to a recent meeting to review details for the Commerce show, Sherman gestured toward the office towers in downtown Springfield.

There are thousands of people working just a few blocks away from the new convention center, she told BusinessWest, adding that this constituency presents an enormous opportunity for the planners of this year’s show.

Indeed, while the Big E is only a few minutes by car from the same office towers, she said, many people working in those buildings were reluctant, for one reason or another, to make the trip to West Springfield for a trade show.

“Now, they can walk just a block or two,” said Ransford, adding that the presence of such professionals at Commerce can take the show to a new, higher level.

Tapping into this audience, and making it aware of the show will be just one of the challenges awaiting organizers, who this year faced the traditional assignment of making their show fresh and different, and the added assignment of handling the many details of a staging a show in downtown Springfield.

The venue itself will go a long way toward way putting a new face on the show, said Ransford, noting that attendees and exhibitors alike will notice changes the moment they enter the massive exhibition hall.

The room will be laid out differently than the one in the Better Living Center, she said, which will remove a layer of sameness from previous shows. Meanwhile, organizers have booked a breakfast speaker they believe will provide a valuable message for attendees.

Agawam native John DiPietro, managing partner of ABC/D (Advanced Business Concepts/DiPietro), will be the keynote speaker. Author of the book You Don’t Have to be Perfect to be Great, soon to be found on bookshelves, DiPietro has compiled a list of everyday tips and disciplines from his work with leading names in entertainment and sports like Kenny Rogers, Neil Diamond, Frank Sinatra, John Denver, Jay Leno, Garth Brooks, wrestlers from the WWF, and even the clowns from the Greatest Show on Earth.

A 20-year veteran of the media industry, DiPietro ran award-winning campaigns in radio, TV, public relations, and print media. He met with great success in radio sales, having led his station in sales for 15 consecutive years.

The breakfast will begin at 7:45 a.m. and lead into the show, which will begin at 9, said Ransford, adding that this year’s event features a healthy mix of long-time exhibitors and newcomers .

Organizers are hoping that the new location for the event will spark a large turn out, including many of those who work and own businesses in downtown Springfield.

“It’s a captive audience in many respects,” said Sherman, who told BusinessWest that if even a small percentage of those working in the downtown turnout, the show can improve both the quantity and quality of its audience. By that, she meant that the show’s new location will likely draw more of the decision-makers and purchasers that exhibitors want to see at a business-tobusiness show.

To attract that audience, show organizers are relying on some targeted marketing, word-of-mouth, and possibly flyers to be distributed in office towers on the day of the show.

“We need to make people aware that there is an important trade show going on right down the street,” she said, referring, again, to the Springfield office towers, but adding quickly that organizers hope to attract visitors from across Western Mass. and Northern Conn.

To accommodate those who will driving and not walking to Commerce 2005, show organizers have arranged the shuttle between the old Hall parking lot and the MassMutual Center, and also the reduced rates at the SPA parking lots — both necessary steps to help ensure a good turnout for the event.

“This is still a market where people are people are very resistent to paying for parking,” said Ransford, noting that when the Big E started charging several years ago, there was much dissention. “With the shuttle, people can park for free, and in the SPA lots, they won’t pay more than $5. By taking those steps, we think we’re removed parking as a barrier to people coming to this event.”

Fast Facts:

What:Commerce 2005
Where:The MassMutual Center, Main Street, Springfield
When:Thursday, Nov. 3; breakfast begins at 7:30 and the doors to the exhibition hall open at 9.
Keynote Speaker:John DiPietro, managing partner of ABC/D (Advanced Business Concepts/DiPietro), and author of the book You Don’t Have to be Perfect to be Great.
Lead Sponsor:Chicopee Savings Bank

Center of Attention

Organizers also believe they’ve eliminated another barrier — the notion of sameness that challenges all business-to-business trade shows.

A new venue – a much-heralded convention center – is a good start toward erasing such attitudes. Sherman, Ransford, and others involved with the show intend to take the curiosity factor and make the most of it. ?

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

Cover Story
Springfield Museums display determination
Cover 10/31/05

Cover 10/31/05

Museums everywhere are struggling to reinvent themselves and appeal to wider audience, while simultaneously coping with tight budgets and overtaxed staff. The Springfield Museums are not immune to those challenges, and face them everyday. But museums director Joe Carvalho is optimistic that the institutions have what it takes to not only survive, but thrive in the national marketplace.

“Have you ever seen a Samurai sword?” That was the question Joe Carvalho, director of the Springfield Museums, posed to a family he ran into recently while rushing off to a meeting on the museum grounds. The family had come to the museums specifically to tour an exhibit on black soldiers who fought in the Civil War, and, having completed their visit (or so they thought), were about to leave.

But Carvalho had other plans for the family, which included two young children whose eyes widened at the prospect of checking out a massive Japanese sword, like the ones they’d seen in movies and video games. Having successfully steered them away from the parking lot and toward the Asian art exhibit, Carvalho headed off to his meeting.

An hour later, he passed the same family, now with handmade Asian kites in their hands that they’d created at the nearby Art Discovery Center, and with plans to visit the science museum before leaving. “Now that,” Carvalho said, with a slap to his knee that was both emphatic and triumphant, “That’s great. That’s what it’s all about.” It was just a snapshot, he said, of the model the Springfield Museums have been cultivating over the past several years.

“Museums used to be purely visual,” he said. “You came to simply see. But we can’t be that anymore … you have to be able to see, do, touch, interact, learn, and have fun. More and more museums are realizing that’s what you have to do to survive, but I think we’re ahead of the curve. I think that’s our magic.” And one statistic would suggest that Carvalho’s optimism is warranted: Springfield Museums have logged record attendance levels over the past three years, bringing in the highest number of visitors in the facilitie’s history.

That’s in the face of financial challenges and staffing cutbacks, among other concerns, not to mention the museums’ central location in the heart of a struggling city. As part of its focus on the region’s travel and tourism sector, BusinessWest looks this issue at some of the initiatives that are working for the museums, and some of the new frontiers Carvalho and his staff hope to cross in the future, as they work to bring an historic quartet of buildings into the 21st century.

Curating the Ills Carvalho said the Springfield Museums aren’t unique when it comes to many of those ongoing concerns he mentioned. Museums nationwide face a common set of challenges, and it’s how those problems are tackled that determines the ultimate level of success. Museums are charged to continuously shake off the dust, sometimes literally, he said, within their halls and to not only change with the times but also translate those changes to the general public. They must update their collections, while maintaining existing ones.

They must appeal to general audiences, while still upholding high academic standards in the areas of archiving and historical or cultural relevance. They must perpetually seek out new funding sources in the form of grants or corporate support in order to maintain services, and must also make do with sparse staff and resources in the face of budget constraints.

“Keeping good people is an issue that all museums deal with,” Carvalho explained. “There is a major misconception that people who work in museums sit on their hands all day, when in fact, we have a team of professionals here that are increasingly called upon to broaden their skill base. “Staffs are getting smaller all the time in all museums,” he continued, noting that when money is tight, staff cutbacks are common.

But as the demands for new types of technology-based, multi-media exhibits and offerings increase, existing employees are often called upon to add a new line to their list of responsibilities. “The technological and cultural literacy required to work in this environment is staggering, and we’re lucky here to have people who have taken that component of ongoing education very seriously. In some cases, their creativity has translated into innovative, cost-saving ideas for us, and they’re constantly stretching their resources. I couldn’t ask them to do more … although I probably will.”

It’s not just creativity in the exhibit halls that leads to greater foot traffic, however. Increasingly, museums must compete with television, radio, and the Internet when recruiting new audiences, and constantly sell themselves to the public in an effort to explain why it’s better to visit a museum to see a given work of art, scientific marvel, or historical relic, instead of Googling the item from a home office desk. “In 1896, when the museum first opened, they didn’t have to worry about the Internet, the TV, and video games,” Carvalho said.

“Now we’re literally competing for people’s time.” He added that those museums that are not recognizing the need to reinvent themselves are those that are struggling the most. “Museums have to build toward the future as much as they have to preserve the past,” he stressed. “Some haven’t, and they blame their downturns on the attitudes of the public, not on their own internal issues. Museums need to recognize that we have to appeal to everyone, not just people with PhDs, to survive.

We have to be different, we have to be engaging, and we have to show people the value of seeing the actual object. That’s our purpose, and we have to do it well.” But that’s admittedly a tall order, said Carvalho, and one that is complicated by the need to woo local visitors to the museums as much as national visitors. He added that “convincing the community to come back” has been at the top of the Springfield Museums’ to-do list over the past decade, and, gradually, they are returning. A Seuss Boost Undoubtedly, one addition to the museums that gave the organization a needed boost was that of the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden in 2002.

Now the crown jewel of Springfield’s Quadrangle, the bronze statues depicting various characters created by Springfield native Theodore Geisel have brought some national attention to the city, as well as the museums’ four buildings and their collections:

• The George Walter Vincent Smith Museum, which houses the collection of its Victorian namesake, including several pieces of Japanese and Chinese decorative arts;

• The Springfield Science Museum with its African Hall, the Seymour Planetarium, an aquarium and live animal center, and Gee Bee airplane;

• The Connecticut Valley Historical Museum, which exhibits present decorative objects and domestic artifacts highlighting the history of the Connecticut River Valley, and

• The Museum of Fine Arts, featuring 14 galleries of important American and European oil paintings, as well as fine watercolors and other works on paper, sculpture, furniture, and decorative arts.

Carvalho said the sculpture garden has definitely captured the public’s attention, and drew in a new legion of visitors to all of the museums. But he was also quick to note that the museums will not be leaning too heavily on the memorial in the future. It gave the museums a much-needed shot in the arm, he said, but Horton and his friends can’t do it alone.

“It’s a gem,” Carvalho said. “It gave us the national brand we needed and some new recognition as a destination. But what the memorial also gave us was a way to reintroduce the other national collections we have here, something simple to open that door. Now that the momentum has started, we are going to continue to build on it by constantly rethinking how to draw people in.”

That could mean working with area schools to create programs for students, or capitalizing on the new branding of the Pioneer Valley, jump-started by the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau, in order to attract more regional visitors to the museums for one and twoday trips. It could also mean revamping existing collections as well as procuring and promoting new galleries and exhibits, as Heather Haskell, director of Art Museums, explained. She said a number of unique art exhibits will be shown throughout the year, ranging from photography to colonial crafts to the realistic, often life-sized sculptures of world-renowned soft sculpture artist Lisa Lichtenfels.

A massive reinstallation of 10 permanent galleries is also currently underway at the museums, which will require months of painstaking work by museum staff. “We’re putting new or different objects in view, and highlighting some recent gifts to the museums,” said Haskell. “The objective is to make the entire museum more accessible to 21st century visitors.” The museums’ next national marketing push will be to promote its expansive collection of Currier & Ives prints, many of which will be unveiled on Nov. 18 in the Museum of Fine Arts.

The exhibit will include 175 of the museum’s 790 hand-colored, original lithographs, which represents the third largest collection in the country next to the Library of Congress and the New York City Museum, and the only permanent museum gallery in the world. What’s more, museum staff has taken to referring to exhibits like the Currier and Ives collection as ‘brands,’ underscoring the economic impact the art collections have on the business climate of the museums as well as the city.

“It’s possible that 10 years from now, we could have the largest exhibit of Currier & Ives prints in the entire world,” said Haskell. “The magnitude of this collection already elevates us to a new level as a museum.” Carvalho added that it will be a goal to continually grow the collection, in hopes of taking advantage of the notoriety, much like the museums did following the dedication of the sculpture garden in 2002. “It benefits everyone,” he said.

“The national attention will draw in more visitors who will stay longer, will raise awareness of the area and allow for increased cross-promotion here and across the valley and into Connecticut. And it’s all in keeping with the spirit of moving forward.” And with such a diverse set of collections on the premises, the Springfield Museums do indeed have the resources to cater to a wide spectrum of visitors, including several niche populations.

That diversity also makes for a complex marketing model, said Carvalho, explaining that the museums must strike a balance between their individual identities and their strength as a whole. “The question is, ‘Do we try to show the public that there’s something for everyone, and market all of the museums together,” he said, “Or do we try to target those audiences who are likely to visit specific exhibits?’ “The answer is yes,” he offered.

“There’s no one right way to get the sense across of what we have to offer. So, we do it all. We develop marketing for the masses and we target niche markets as well. Our strength is, regardless of how we got them here, that we do our best to show them once they are here how much we have. “The bottom line is we are not yesterday’s museum,” he continued. “There are three groups we are very serious about here: contemporary audiences, future audiences, and past audiences. We have a responsibility to all of them.”

Asian Wisdom He hopes that, in many cases, visitors to the museums will represent all three in the years to come. That’s why he and his staff are hard at work planning the next round of exhibits, researching grants and corporate sponsorship opportunities, and occasionally stopping a visitor in his tracks to ask ‘Hey … have you ever seen a Samurai sword?’ ?

Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at[email protected]

Uncategorized
Company LicensedBrokers in W. Mass.  Offices inW. Mass/Statewide  Branch Manager Services 
Morgan Stanley 1500 Main St., Suite 1720, Springfield, MA 01115(413) 452-0100; Fax: (413) 781-3828www.morganstanley.com 38 1/N.A. Richard Carter Full range of financial products and services for individuals, businesses, and institutions
UBS Financial Services 1 Monarch Place, Suite 1400, Springfield, MA 01144 (413) 785-4900; Fax: (413) 785-1058www.ubs.com 33 2/9 Rick Crews Full-service brokerage firm catering to high-net-worth individuals; cash, portfolio management;$2 billion in assets under management locally

Smith Barney
1500 Main St., 19th Floor, Springfield, MA 01115 (413) 734-7311; Fax: (413) 736-0361www.smithbarney.com
30 2/10 Paul Chiampa Part of CitiGroup, a full-service brokerage firm specializing in high-net-worth individuals
Linsco/Private Ledger 175 Dwight Road, Suite 200, Longmeadow, MA 01106 (413) 565-2950; Fax: (413) 565-2225www.lpl.com/richard.duncan 25 8/153 Richard G. Duncan Full-service brokerage firm specializing in asset 4
management, retirement services, estate planning,trust services and insurance products.

Merrill Lynch1 Monarch Place, Suite 2300, Springfield, MA 01144 (413) 747-6900; Fax: (413) 747-6931www.ml.com 23 2/10 David Lusteg Services include brokerage, personal credit,5
insurance, home financing, trust and business financing services; retirement and group employee benefits
A. G. Edwards 1350 Main St., Springfield, MA 01103413) 788-6111; Fax: (413) 739-1526www.agedwards.com 13 1/14 Jack Sullivan Full-service brokerage firm; stocks, bonds,annuities, mutual funds, insurance products
Advest Inc.1441 Main St., Springfield, MA 01103 (413) 735-2000; Fax: (413) 735-2001www.advest.com 9 1/8 Jim Poliner Full-service brokerage firm; stocks, bonds, retirement plans; insurance products; access to IPOs

Wachovia Securities Inc.1350 Main St., Springfield, MA 01103(413) 750-5600; Fax: (413) 733-5164www.wachoviasecurities.com 6 2/11 Mark Brown Full-service investment brokerage firm; stocks,bonds, financial planning, and professional portfolio management
St. Germain Investment Management 1500 Main St., Springfield, MA 01115 (413) 733-5111 or (800) 443-7624; Fax: (413) 747-0848www.djstgermain.com 5 1/1 Paul Valickus Full-service investment management
Berriman & Associates, Inc.270 Benton Drive, East Longmeadow, MA 01028(413) 759-000 or 800-779-1262 Fax: (413) 525-2494www.Berrimanco.com 2 1 Robert Berriman Investment programs, retirement plan services,full plan administration services, business planning, employee benefits
Raymond James Financial Services20 Hampton Ave., Northampton, MA 01060 (413) 584-9988; Fax: (413) 584-9955 2 1/1 Kelly Fradet Financial planning firm specializing in stocks,bonds, and mutual funds
Corridan & Co.1365 Main St., Springfield, MA 01103 (413) 746-2701; Fax: (413) 746-2819 1 1/1 Brian Q. Corridan Full-service brokerage firm specializing in stocks,bonds, mutual funds, and other investment products;
Epstein Financial Services 1500 Main St., Suite 1204, Springfield, MA 01115 (413) 734-6418; Fax: (413) 737-9212www.epsteinfinancial.com 1 1/1 Charles Epstein Specializing in fee-for-service financial planning,business and estate preservation programs,executive compensation planning, and retirement plan design and administration
Edward Jones 351 Newton St., South Hadley, MA 01075 (413) 536-2494; Fax: (888) 759-8096www.edwardjones.com 1 7/40 Norman Stafford Full-service brokerage firm specializing in one-to-one service
Sections Supplements
A Primer on Effective Trade Show Marketing
Impressions can be seen everywhere at a trade show — from booth design and layout, logos, promotional literature, giveaways, and staff etiquette, among others. All of these elements working together can create an overall impression of your company and/or product – good, bad, or indifferent.

It takes planning well in advance of the show to ensure that these elements are in place, and when used effectively, will increase the potential for sales.

Many exhibitors do well in planning for some of the elements, but not others. For example, they may have a great product, but exhibit staff not properly trained. Or the graphics do not tell the company or product story at a glance, causing confusion for the attendees. Over the past 28 years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with many exhibiting organizations on their trade show marketing to effectively tie-in all of the elements.

It’s usually just a bit of adjustment, not major change that makes the difference. Done right, the results always add up in sales.

Here are a few guidelines that are critical for successful trade show marketing:

•Establish Show Objectives:Your objectives need to be clearly stated for each trade show. Not every exhibitor has the same objectives. Do you expect to be generating leads, maximizing exposure, creating awareness, selling? Maybe your type of product or service allows for multiple objectives. Will the decision makers or key influencers of your target audience be at the show? How will success be measured after the show? What is the budget?

•Pre-Show Communication:Plan how to announce your company’s presence. The announcement gives your audience a reason to stop by. Use your Web site – post your trade show schedule. Develop a creative Email campaign to send to prospects and existing customers or simply make some phone calls.

•Design Booth Layout:Select your location, if given the choice. Look at traffic flow, aisles, entrances, show activities, etc. Design your booth graphics so passersby know what your company is selling at a glance. Create a finished appearance. Order or bring carpet and/or fixtures. Don’t create barriers. Decide what products and information will be displayed. When using talent or games, plan where to put them in advance. Your booth is the lobby or gateway to your company. It must be immediately welcoming and representative of your organization.

•In the Booth:Train your staff ahead of time on both product knowledge and etiquette. Make sure everyone knows the schedule to avoid overcrowding. How your staff behaves can make a lasting impression on your audience. Decide what to wear, whether it will be business, casual attire, or booth uniform. There should be no eating, drinking, chewing gum, smoking, excessive chatting with other booth workers, cell phones, etc. Your staff should remain standing, ready to receive people at all times.

•Attract Traffic:Be cheerful, smile, make eye contact and be sincere. Ask openended, pertinent questions to pre-qualify prospects. Don’t wait for them to stop. Engage them as they pass by or pause to glance at what you are offering.

•Document Inquiries and Leads:Choose a mechanism that collects the prospect’s name, company, address, phone no., and the type of follow-up required. Make sure the inquiries are handled within a reasonable time period after the show.

•Promotional Literature:Literature should be available, professional, easy-to- read and understand. Train your staff on how to use the literature in advance. Remember at a trade show literature doesn’t make a sale it’s all about personal contact.

•Use ‘Smart’ Giveaways:Who are the recipients? Will they keep it? Print your logo, phone noumber, Web site on the items. Tie the giveaways to your advertising preshow message.

•Raffle Drawings:Raffles are used to collect names and information to add to your company database. Drawings also draw traffic to your booth, and can be part of your pre-show mailing.

•Post Show:How you handle the post show is important to the planning process from the beginning. How will you measure your return on investment of the show? Will it be the number of qualified leads, the number of sales generated, etc.? Communicate to your audience after the show. Use this as another reason to touch your prospects again. Follow up with a letter, postcard, phone call, or e-mail. Give attendees a reason to visit your Web site; for example, post raffle winners on the site, etc.

Remember, there is no other marketing tool as personal as an exhibit. It is the only sales opportunity where hundreds of your prospects will visit you in a given day. No cold calling, no trying to get past voice mail, reception, or protective secretaries.

Attendees have business needs to be filled and they are shopping in your store. Be prepared, be specific and be ready to make a lasting impression.

Jack Desroches is executive producer of Chicopee-based Milestone Events, LLC: (413) 592-4184.

Opinion
Last issue, BusinessWest offered a strong endorsement to Springfield Mayor Charles Ryan’s bid for a second term. Given the many stern challenges the city faces, Ryan’s strong leadership skills will be needed if the city is to make a full rebound from its current fiscal and public relations woes.

But Springfield is merely part of a region that continues to see strong growth in many areas, including health care, higher education, retail, distribution, and other sectors. Indeed, while Springfield has in many ways been stagnant, other cities, such as Holyoke, Northampton, Easthampton, Westfield, and Chicopee, and smaller communities like Belchertown, East Longmeadow, South Hadley, and others, have enjoyed strong commercial and residential growth.

The common denominators in each of those communities are vision and strong leadership. And with municipal elections only a few days away, we encourage area residents and business leaders to exercise sound judgment in the voting booth and support those individuals who will move their communities — and this region as a whole — forward.

People like Westfield’s Rick Sullivan. The city’s five-term mayor is running unopposed this November, but he deserves some recognition for his decade-long dedication to his community. Sullivan has guided the city through a period of change and challenge, and enabled it to take more and better advantage of its many resources, from ample developable land to its airport. Sullivan should be mayor for as long as he wants the job.

Likewise for another leader named Sullivan — Mike. Since becoming mayor of Holyoke in 1999, he has helped orchestrate a notable turnaround in that historic city. This is still a work in progress, but Holyoke has seen an exciting mix of new development and rehabilitation of many of its old mills. A proposal for a minor league baseball team has the potential to bring even greater diversity to an economic base already supported by manufacturing, health care, and retail.

Sullivan, a former business owner, has sought to make city government operate more like a business — meaning a higher level of accountability and, for lack of a better term, customer service. His efforts have brought positive results, and we look for more of them.

Broader diversity is a common goal across the Valley, and Easthampton is another community to make great strides in that area. Mike Tautznik, the city’s first and only mayor, has brought vision and determination to the community’s ongoing efforts to create new business opportunities, particularly in arts-related areas, and deserves the full support of residents.

Perhaps the most intriguing race this fall is in Chicopee, where incumbent Richard Goyette is seeking a second term. Goyette has been challenged by many factors in his first two years in office — from an uncooperative Board of Aldermen to a protracted (and controversial) school superintendent search, to a political campaign this fall that has focused more on personalities and mud slinging than on the issues.

Chicopee is facing a number of business and development concerns — from the redevelopment of the former American Bosch property to downtown revitalization efforts; ongoing growth along Memorial Drive to a reshaping of the Cabotville Industrial park, now under new ownership.

Tackling these issues, as well as others involving education, public safety, and fiscal management, requires real leadership.

The city won’t find any in Mike Bissonnnette, who has a made a career out of running for public office but not winning it. We admire his persistence, but not his resume.

Goyette has some work to do building the kinds of partnerships needed to move any agenda forward, but we believe that he is the best the answer for Chicopee. He is not the lesser of two evils, as some have suggested, but the community’s best hope for real leadership.

Like the mayors of Holyoke, Westfield, Easthampton, and other area cities, Goyette has the requisite vision to take his city forward. Voters should give him at least two more years to carry on that assignment.

John Gormally, BusinessWest Publisher

Departments

The following business incorporations were recorded in Hampden and Hampshire counties, and are the latest available. They are listed by community.

AGAWAM

Heather A. Pellerin Inc., 26E
Castle Hill Road, Agawam
01001. Heather A. Pellerin,
same. Providing court room and stenographer services.

AMHERST

AK Technologies Inc., 36
Hitching Post, Amherst 01002.
Andrey Kvasyuk, same.
Computer technology services.

Legal Problem Solving P.C.,
67 No. Pleasant St., Amherst
01002. Michael J. Mascic,
same. The practice of law.

Sunwood Builders Inc., 84
Potwine Lane, Amherst 01002.
Shaul Perry, same.
Construction, repairing and renovating
commercial and residential structures.

BELCHERTOWN

Sun Struck Tanning Salon
Inc., 39 Federal St.,
Belchertown 01007. Lisa C.
Murphy, 80 North Main St.,
#1, Belchertown 01007.
Tanning salon.

CHICOPEE

Eurobex USA Inc., 285
McKinstry Ave., Chicopee
01013. Maurizio Ciocca, 4175
St. Catherine St., West, Apt.
505, Montreal, Quebec,
Canada H3Z 3C9.

Robert G. Agnoli,
1391 Main
St., Springfield 01103,
registered agent. (Foreign
corp; DE) Warehousing and
distribution of electrical boxes.

J P Fitness Inc.,
29 White
Birch Plaza, Chicopee 01020.
Aaron Patterson, 187
Venntura St., Ludlow 01056.
Ladies fitness center with
circuit training, etc.

JSLC Corp.,
232 Fletcher Cir.,
Chicopee 01020. Joseph
Martin, same. To operate UPS
stores.

S. G. Contractors Corp.,
419 Mont Calm St., #404,
Chicopee 01020. Gurdayal
Singh, same. Construction.

HOLYOKE

Dhaliwal 2 Inc.
, 1532 – 1534
Dwight St., Holyoke 01040.
Rattan Singh, same. Sale of
pizza, sandwiches, pasta, and
soft drinks.

Kay/Bravo Pest Management
Services Inc., 225 High St.,
#501, Holyoke 01040. Larry
Villalobos, same. Inspection,
control and extermination of
wood destroying insects, pests,
etc.

Mendoza Inc.,
One Main St.,
Holyoke 01040. Robert
Mendoza, 36 Pleasant St.,
Westfield 01085.
Transportation of individuals
and families by chauffered
vehicles.

HOLLAND

Northeast Concepts Inc., 16
Lakeridge Dr., Holland 02521.
Chad E. Brigham, same. Real estate development and
construction.

EAST LONGMEADOW

Court Street Management, L.L.C.,
200 North Main St.,
Suite 204, East Longmeadow
01028. Ernest A. Gralia, III, 24
Ridgewood Road, East
Longmeadow 01028. To deal in
real estate.

LONGMEADOW

IQ Design Group Inc.,
56 Severn St., Longmeadow 01106.
Eve K. Kinne, same. To own
and operate an interior design
business and deal in related
products and services.

Meridian Street Management
Co. Inc., 200 North Main St.,
Suite 204, East Longmeadow
01028. Ernest A. Gralia, III, 24
Ridgewood Road, East
Longmeadow 01028. Real estate
development.

LUDLOW

Advance Way
Inc., 146
Laconia St.,
Ludlow 01056. Masanori
Kofune, same. International business consulting.

NORTHAMPTON

Collective Initiatives Inc.,
43 Center St.,
Northampton
01060. Wilton
Earle Hall, III, 3
Edwards Square, Northampton 01060.
(Nonprofit) To promote collective based social education and action initiatives outside the cultural and political mainstream, etc.

SPRINGFIELD

Exile Entertainment
Corp., 935 Main
St., Springfield
01103. Paul V.
Ramesh, same.
To own, lease and operate restaurants, taverns, clubs, etc.

Family Group
Inc., 52
Thornton St.,
Springfield
01104. Michael
L. Burton, same.
To own and operate an automobile repair business.

GL Rising Inc.,
155 Chestnut St., Suite 315,
Springfield 01103.
Gerald F. Rising, 77 Garfield
St., Springfield 01108. To operate a cleaning business.

K. C. Temp Service Inc.,
Wilbraham Road, Springfield
01109. Kim Lam, same.
Temporary employment agency.

New World Real Estate Inc.,
2460 Main St., Springfield
01107. Pedro M. Gonzalez, 216
Springfield St., Springfield
01107. To deal in real estate.

WKB Carpentry Inc.,
44 SavoyAve., Springfield 01104.
William K. Butler Jr., same.
Carpentry service.

WILBRAHAM
Dejavous Hair and Nail Salon
Inc., 1038 Boston Road,
Wilbraham 01095. Lisa A.
Wilson, 85 Glenwood St.,
Ludlow 01056. To carry on the
business of cosmetology.

WEST SPRINGFIELD

Cap & Hitch of New England
Inc., 2001 Riverdale Road,
West Springfield 01089. Shane
M. Duffy, 158 Fountain St.,
Springfield 01108. To install
and sell truck caps, hitches, and accessories.

Ethnic Foods Inc.,
233 Christopher Terrace, West
Springfield 01089. Maria A. Pitaridis, same. Restaurant specializing in Greek food.

US Telecom Group Inc.

354 Lancaster Ave., West
Springfield 01089. Joey Sutton,
same. Telecommunications.

Sections Supplements
Checking a Personal Credit Report Is Easy – and Important
Doug Bowen

Doug Bowen says credit scores indicate how much of a risk a potential borrower will be, so it’s important that the information is accurate.

When it comes to borrowing and lending, a little information goes a long way.

And few pieces of information are more crucial than a consumer’s personal credit score and report, which can be used by lenders to approve or deny a loan, as well as greatly affect what interest rates will be charged.

“The credit score is becoming very important,” said Becky Kozaczka, vice president of Westfield Bank. “When you take a mortgage, for instance, your loan is sent through automated underwritings, and your credit score is a very mportant part of that process. Many lenders also underwrite auto loans and consumer loans based on your credit score.”

A person’s credit score is calculated from his credit report, which is, at its heart, a record of how much debt a consumer has amassed and how responsibly he or she has made payments on those debts. It also tracks bankruptcies, actions brought by collection agencies, and other factors that paint a picture of how someone handles debt.

“Overall, it summarizes their credit worthiness,”said Doug Bowen, executive vice
president and chief lending officer for PeoplesBank. “The items in the report
include payment history, previous and present obligations, total outstanding debt, and the number and severity of late payments.”

There are two ways of looking at a credit report, depending on who’s doing the looking, Bowen said. For consumers, knowing one’s credit score gives some insight into how easy it will be to obtain future credit, and how favorable the rates and terms might be.

For a potential lender, meanwhile, the credit score simply indicates what kind of
gamble it might be taking on a potential borrower.That’s why Bowen called the credit score a ‘risk score.’

“It’s calculated according to a statistical model, evaluating many types of information in an individual’s credit file, and it uses variables from past credit history that are most likely to predict future behavior,”Bowen said. “It’s really a risk score, because it can predict the risk that the borrower will be unable to repay the loan.”

This issue, BusinessWest looks into credit reports, and why lenders say it’s important to know what’s in them.

Easy Access

The good news for consumers is that their credit report doesn’t have to be a mystery to wonder about. It’s free to access, and –thanks to the Internet – as easy as a few mouse clicks.

As part of the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions (FACT) Act signed into law in 2003, consumers are now able to receive free credit reports yearly from each of three major companies that track the information:Equifax (www.equifax.com), Experian (www.experian.com), and TransUnion (www.transunion.com).

These three sites are accessible throughwww.freecreditreport.com, where consumers may request reports from all three companies at once or spread them out over the year.In addition, anyone turned down for a loan is entitled to a free report even if they have used up their annual allotment.

“Each credit agency has its own way of calculating the credit score, so there’s no one set model,” Bowen said. “but there’s enough consistency today that the numbers come out more or less the same.”

Obtaining one’s actual credit score generally costs a small fee, but the entire contents of the credit report – open and closed accounts, payment history, who has recently made inquiries into the report, etc. – are free,and provide a thorough snapshot of what factors are considered in compiling a credit score.

“When it comes to your credit report, it’s what you don’t know that can hurt you,”said David Rubinger, media relations director for Equifax. “Credit card companies,mortgage loan companies, auto loan and “When it comes to your credit report, it’s what you don’t know that can hurt you.”insurance companies, even landlords and employers check credit reports to find out about your credit past. They figure that if you were responsible in the past, you will most likely be responsible in the future.”

Bowen said there are plenty of reasons why consumers should take advantage of this right on a regular basis, considering all the negatives of a poor credit score.

“People should check their report to make sure there are no discrepancies, no inaccurate loan information, and no erroneous reporting of late payments. You want to make sure it’s current and up to date, and that it represents you best.”

Battling the Thieves

Although it certainly helps consumers understand their own credit history – and requires lenders to be more open about thereasons for their credit decisions – the FACT Act of 2003 was aimed largely at stemming the problem of identity theft, which has gone high-tech in the past decade. Once a conartist uncovers someone’s personal account information – often over the Internet – he can wreak havoc with the victim’s accounts.

Repairing the financial damage can take years, at significant cost.Not only does the FACT Act streamline national fraud detection services, it allows consumers to place fraud alerts on their credit files that make it more difficult for identity thieves to access them. The act’s other requirements affect several groups:merchants, who must now leave most digits of Social Security numbers off sales receipts;financial regulators, who must make sure lending institutions track red-flag indicators of identity theft; and lenders and credit agencies, which are mandated to take action against suspected identity theft even before the victim is aware of it. That doesn’t lessen the importance of checking one’s own report regularly, as that is often the quickest way to be tipped off to fraudulent account activity, Kozaczka said. “Identity theft has become a hot issue, so you want to be sure there aren’t any discrepancies in your accounts.”

If a consumer disputes information on the credit report – or sees an unpaid bill he
simply forgot about – he should act right away to resolve the debt, then ask the creditor to notify the credit reporting agencies that the matter has been resolved, Rubinger said.

If a credit report uncovers accounts the consumer didn’t open or other evidence of fraud, he added, the credit agencies should be contacted directly – as well as the police.

“It’s important that people obtain their credit report at least once a year to see
what’s in there and whether they’re keeping old accounts open, Kozaczka said.

“There are many things that can adversely affect their credit score, and they need to be aware of them.”

Making Judgments

Most people are aware that potential lenders check their credit reports, but fewer know that it can impact other areas of their lives – such as landing a job.

“Employers in some cases are starting to run credit reports on applicants, and if their credit history is less than favorable, that may play a part in a hiring decision,” Kozaczka said – another example of the report being used as a sort of “risk score.”Some may dispute whether this report is a fair judge of character for that particular use, but there’s no debate on the report’s financial impact on borrowers – even if a loan is approved.

“The better the score is, the faster credit approval is, the better the rates are,” Bowen said. “A higher score indicates probable reduced costs and losses for the lender. Even with a few slips along the way, you may still have access to credit, but you might not get the best rates available – and getting the best terms on, say, a mortgage can be worth many thousands over the life of the loan.”For lenders, he reiterated, it all comes down to risk. “That’s the reason we use these credit scores – they help us decide how likely it is that we’ll be paid back on time.”That’s why, for consumers, a positive credit report is money in the bank – in more ways than one..