Home 2005 December
Cover Story
Jim Mullen Wants The Elms to Branch Out

Cover 12/26/05Since assuming the presidency of tiny Elms College in Chicopee in July, Jim Mullen says he’s spent most of his time listening — to students, faculty, staff, the alumni, and area community and business leaders. This is a key element in his strategy to build new and stronger partnerships in the community and take the school’s mission well beyond its walls.

Jim Mullen calls it “management by walking around.”

That’s how he describes the style he brings to the president’s office at Chicopee’s Elms College, a post he assumed last summer. And there’s more to it than merely patrolling the school’s tiny 21-acre campus.

He makes a point of eating at least one meal a day in the dining commons and sharing a table with students. He’s also been known to join in touch football games in the quad, and he even works out occasionally with members of the school’s baseball team.

“That’s a pretty humbling experience,” he told BusinessWest. “I usually have to peel weights off the bar to handle the repetitions.”

But he says such exercises give him energy — literally and figuratively — and a stronger connection with the campus community.

It’s all part of Mullen’s ongoing efforts to continuously monitor student and faculty thoughts and concerns at the 77-year-old school, which he believes is at a critical juncture in its history. Whether he’s throwing batting practice to those assembled for an impromptu pick-up baseball game or grabbing a quick lunch in the cafeteria, Mullen is also listening.

That’s what I’ve spent a good amount of my time here doing,” he told BusinessWest. “Often, when I’m eating with students, I’ll hardly say a word; I’ll just sit there and listen.”

And by listening to students, faculty, alumni, and the public at large, Mullen is helping to shape a course for the school. It’s not a new course, he stressed repeatedly, but merely an attempt to re-emphasize the school’s mission — educating and inspiring young people committed to serving their community — while also creating some new manifestations of that broad purpose and generating greater awareness of the college.

Which brings him to something called the ‘Elms College Community Spirit Service Day.’

That’s a new program he initiated this fall that addresses all those goals by having students take a day off from the classroom and go out into the community.

Specifically, groups of students ventured to sites ranging from the Chicopee Department of Public Works to the Emergency Food Pantry in Springfield; Girls Inc., to the Open Pantry Teen Living Program.

Duties included everything from helping young people with homework to painting the walls at several area shelters, said Mullen, noting that more than 200 members of the college community participated, a number he expects will grow each year.

Service Day was created to give students a taste of community service and awareness of its importance to quality of life in the region, while also providing the Elms, its students, facility, and staff with greater visibility.

It’s part of Mullen’s enhanced partnership- building initiatives, or work to “connect the dots,” as he put it, within the Western Mass. community.

Such partnerships include a tutoring/mentoring program that involves students of the Holy Name school located across the street from the Elms campus, and an ongoing collaboration in which drama students at the college help students at Holyoke Catholic High School stage productions like the recent Dead Man Walking. There’s also a venture called the Quest Program, which brings area middle school students to the Elms campus each summer.

Doing so introduces them to the school, but, more importantly, it often inspires participants to pursue a college education.

Looking to the future, Mullen said Elms administrators want to build a new science center, a necessary step toward expanding some of the school’s most successful programs, such as Nursing, Chemistry, and Speech and Language Pathology, and also build new athletic facilities to facilitate growth of programs that have helped attract and retain many students.

The more immediate goal, however, is to build more of those partnerships that Mullen believes will take the school to the next level.

“Our mission is not only to provide a great education,” he said, “but also to inspire connections.”

School of Thought

When asked how he arrived at the Elms, one of the smallest schools in New England in terms of both acreage and enrollment, Mullen said it was a case of “as natural a fit as one could ask for.”

Elaborating, he said that, as chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Asheville, a post he assumed in 1999, he would often get calls from a variety of search firms. “The conversations usually started with, ‘would you interested in becoming the president of ….?’ The answer was usually a qualified ‘no,’ he said, adding that he did consider some of the positions. But none as seriously as the Elms, which presented a chance to come home — he was born in Granby and lived in the Greater Springfield area for many years — and raise his family in the environment he enjoyed.

Meanwhile, the Elms presidency presented a chance to work for and within an institution that has played a big role in his life — the Catholic Church — while also giving him the challenge and opportunity of making Elms a stronger, more vital force in Catholic higher education.

“It is a perfect fit for me professionally and personally,” said Mullen, who attended a Catholic college, Holy Cross, and has spent the bulk of his career in higher education, establishing a reputation as a hands-on administrator specializing in building bridges between schools and the communities in which they are located.

At UNC Asheville, for example, Mullen created a program similar to Elms’ service day. Called ‘Bulldog Day,’ it involves freshmen performing thousands of hours of community service.

Meanwhile, at Trinity College in Hartford, where he served in a variety of positions, Mullen was executive director of an initiative called Project 2002, a $300 million public-private revitalization project that has transformed the neighborhood surrounding the college into what is called the “Learning Corridor.”

Mullen wants to continue that pattern at the Elms, a school founded in 1928 by the Sisters of St. Joseph. Located near the Chicopee-Springfield line in a mostly bluecollar neighborhood, the originally allwomen school has historically provided opportunities to those who might not otherwise enjoy a college education.

“Many of our students are the first in their family to attend college, and the vast majority of our students receive some form of financial aid,” Mullen explained. “These are individuals who haven’t had all the opportunities that others have.

“Our goal is to prepare such students for success in their chosen field,” he said, “but also to make them responsible citizens of the world.”

In an effort to diversify and grow its enrollment, the Elms went co-ed in 1999, a move that met with resistance from many students, faculty, and alumnae. Ultimately, the move has proved successful in boosting enrollment, and now roughly one-third of the school’s 1,200 full- and part-time students are male.

The Elms boasts a wide variety of programs — many of them involving service — including Nursing, Education, Social Work, Criminal Justice, and others.

Work in the classroom is complemented with service within the community; students are required to complete a minimum of 30 hours of community service to meet what the school calls its “service-learning requirement.”

Students volunteer time with such groups as the American Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, the Springfield Library & Museums, and others.

Aggressive Course

Moving forward, Mullen said he wants to increase enrollment, and the broad strategy for doing so is building awareness of the school and its many programs, both in this region, home to the vast majority of current students, and well beyond.

The school has embarked a moreaggressive marketing initiative, one that involves print, radio, and television, but the awareness-building efforts go well beyond advertising, said Mullen.

Indeed, it is grounded in the relationship- building efforts he described and creating greater visibility. Some of the initiatives are small in scope — such as an effort this fall to encourage Chicopee-area businesses to reach out to Elms students and welcome them back for the new semester; the campaign resulted in signs in many storefronts that were not seen in years past. Others, such as the Quest Program are broader.

Quest was designed to introduce young people to the idea of college education — it is still a foreign concept for some population groups, Mullen explained — and then encouraging students to get and stay on that path.

“We would naturally like these people to come to the Elms,” said Mullen. “But the important thing is for them to go to college — any college.”

Quest, the drama partnership with Holyoke Catholic, the tutoring initiative at Holy Name, and other ventures are all part of the ‘connecting-the-dots’ philosophy that Mullen brings to Elms. He told BusinessWest that colleges cannot be islands in their cities and towns, merely taking in students to attend classes.

“Schools can’t be insular, they can’t put up gates and hide behind them,” he said. “Here, we’re about knocking down gates and reaching out.”

By doing so, the school can meet a number of goals — everything from better preparing students for careers in chosen fields, to familiarizing area young people with the Elms — which will naturally help with enrollment.

“All colleges get interested in people when they turn 17,” he told BusinessWest. “Through many of our partnerships, we show that interest much earler, and that helps us create more opportunities for people.”

As for enrollment, Mullen said he does not have a magic number in mind, but would like to see steady increases without impacting one of the school’s better selling points.

Indeed, the small size of the school is one of its strengths, he said, noting class sizes that generally run between 12 and 15 students, and also a close-knit community that isn’t found on many campuses.

“Here, if you’re having a bad day, someone’s going to take notice,” he explained.

“It could be another student, a faculty member … it could be me; and they’re going to ask what’s wrong and offer to help.”

Another of the school’s strengths is its status as the only Catholic college within the Diocese of Springfield. This gives the school a strong base from which to recruit, said Mullen, referring to the many Catholic high schools in the region, including Holyoke Catholic, Cathedral in Springfield, and St. Mary’s in Westfield.

Overall, however, the policy is one of inclusion, he said, noting the school strives to create diversity within the faculty and student body.

Meanwhile, it is working hard to shed its ‘best-kept secret’ status within the higher education education community.

“People will often say that they’ve heard of The Elms, but that they didn’t know all that it does,” he explained. “That’s something we want to change, and to do that, it all comes back to partnerships.”

Class Act

As he talked with BusinessWest in his spacious office in Berchmans Hall, Mullen said he likes his new digs. “But I’m just not in them a lot.”

Instead, he’s taking in one of the drama projects conducted in partnership with Holyoke Catholic, or watching one of the school’s 16 sports teams, or trying to get a curve ball past a student in a pick-up baseball game.

That’s ‘management by walking around,’ and it’s the M.O. that Mullen will employ in his efforts to help the Elms branch out – becoming an increasingly larger, more visible part of the community.

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

Features Sections Supplements
To Climb the Career Ladder, You Must Have Good Balance
We’ve all heard the saying that all work and no play makes Jack (or Jill) a dull person. Well, that saying is not just a cute statement of life. It actually means that a person who never takes time off from work becomes both boring and bored. So if you opt to work seven days a week, 12 hours a day, you’re doing yourself more harm than good.

No matter what part of the country you work in, no matter what your background, no matter what your family or financial situation, you must have a balance between your personal and professional life. In fact, it’s impossible to produce at high levels without a personal life.

Yes, this philosophy goes against the American work ethic, which says to push yourself to the breaking point to get ahead. So many people these days think it’s normal to work seven days a week, to never take a vacation, and to sacrifice family time for financial gain. Well, that’s not the case in business. That’s right … if you want to reach the top dog status, you MUST take time off and have a work/life balance.

The fact is that you cannot work 90 hours a week and be a millionaire. Sure, you may be able to pull it off for a short period of time, but fairly quickly something will start to fall apart. Maybe it’ll be your marriage or your health. Whatever it is, you can be sure it will happen. What’s funny, though, is that the top producers— the ones who consistently earn at high levels — always have family and personal time built into their schedules.

Set the Expectation

Unfortunately, many businesspeople feel guilty when they spend time with their family or pursuing personal interests. They feel they must be available for their clients at all times — weekends and evenings if need be. Look at many business cards today and you’ll see that many give out their cell phone number, home number, and some even their home address.

Unknowingly, these workers are setting the expectation that they are available 24/7, rain or shine, sickness or health. And that’s no way to run a business.

While you should be accessible for your clients, you must also have some boundaries in your professional relationships. If you’re new to the business, then you more than likely will have to work weekends to get yourself established. That’s fine. But you still must plan some other time off for yourself during the week.

If you’re established in the business and you are still working every weekend, then maybe you really need to look at how efficient you’re being while you’re working.

Are you sticking to your established schedule? Once your business is established, there’s no reason for you to be working seven days a week. For example, one real estate agent in Colorado only works three days a week, sells about 270 homes a year, and earns approximately $4.5 million a year. That’s efficiency.

Ultimately, it’s your responsibility to tell clients what your days off are. They won’t guess, and they can’t read your mind. So if they ask you to meet with them on Thursday, and you take off Thursdays, you must set the expectation.

Don’t meet with them anyway and then be mad that they made you work on your day off. The client did not make you work on your day off; you made yourself work on your day off because you did not set the expectation. Hiding your schedule from clients will only create problems later.

What to Schedule

People often wonder what kind of personal things they should be putting in their schedule. Put in whatever is important to you. Some things you may want to schedule are your kid’s sports events, dinner with your spouse, time to work on your favorite hobby, commitments to personal groups or clubs you belong to, etc. There’s no right or wrong thing to schedule. The important thing is that you do it.

But putting these items in your schedule is only step one. Next you need to have accountability to these personal items.

Perhaps your spouse can keep you accountable for your scheduled ‘date nights.’

Maybe your kids will keep you accountable for going to their events. Whatever it is, be sure to tell your family and friends what you’re scheduling in your planner. When they know you have time set aside for them, they’ll help ensure you keep your word. After all, you don’t want to let down your family and friends, do you?

How Much Balance is Enough? When you’re starting out in the business, you must have at least one full day to recharge your batteries. This is one day when you’re completely unplugged from the office and from clients. You don’t take any phone calls, return any E-mails, or even think about work. This is a day just for you. This may sound scary for some people, especially you Type A control freaks, but relax … the office won’t fall apart without you. And your clients won’t abandon you and work with another agent just because you took a day off. Remember, set the expectation upfront and no one will mind.

As your business grows, or if you’re already established in the business, then you must take at least two days off per week. They don’t have to be two consecutive days (although that is best), and they don’t have to be weekends. You simply need to take two days. Why? Because as you get established, your efficiency should naturally be increasing. You can accomplish more in less time, so there’s no reason to work more than five days per week. Also, when you produce at higher levels, your brain and body will require more relaxation time so you can stay at peak performance.

Finally, when you push yourself and overwork yourself, you begin to develop a sour attitude. You may secretly resent those clients who want to meet with you on weekends or whatever days off you want. You may resent colleagues who seem to work less but make more money than you. Resentment, anger, and frustration are not traits of successful businesspeople. A positive attitude, enthusiasm, and a love of the business are the traits that propel people to the top. And you can’t possess those traits consistently if you’re not allowing yourself time to rest.

A Little R & R Goes a Long Way The bottom line is that you must have a balance between your work and personal life. Without it, your career, your health, and even your family life will suffer.

No career is worth that price. So work diligently to maintain balance. When you do, you’ll be able to hob-knob with all the other top dogs as you sit by the pool on your day off.

A real estate trainer and speaker, Jerry Pujals helps agents nationwide increase their production, efficiency and sales. His forthcoming book, “Secrets to Real Estate Success,” offers strategies to help others achieve their real estate goals;www.jpsalessystems.com.

Sections Supplements
How to Make Your Program Cost-effective and Motivational
Most small business owners will say how their employees comprise their most valuable asset. In fact, very few businesses can succeed and grow without employees. Small businesses employ the largest segment of our country’s workforce, yet many business owners fall short in one aspect of effectively managing this resource: compensation.

Employee payroll and related benefit costs comprise the highest segment of overhead for most small businesses, averaging 40% or more of revenue. The new fiscal year is upon us and overall cost-of-living increases of 2% or more means business owners need to look for increased revenue sources and opportunities for cost containment.

Here are some options to consider to more effectively compensate your employees, and to reward and motivate them while keeping these costs in check.

Compare and Contrast

You first need to compare your employee numbers, compensation, and benefit levels with those of your peers and the market. Your competitors may not be open to sharing their numbers with you but your company’s CPA firm may be a valuable resource. Also, surveys are published every year by various industry groups on both a national and regional level. These surveys can give you an indication of whether your employee costs and personnel levels are generally in line or above the norm, overall.

Next, list each employee by job description, full-time equivalent status (FTE) and compensation expressed in terms of total annual compensation and hourly wage.

Compare this with survey data to find out where each individual is within the compensation range. Highlight those individuals at or above the upper range. This is important because you need to periodically assess whether you are paying your employees fairly relative to the market, whether each employee’s duties are still appropriate, needed and commensurate with compensation, and whether you are over or understaffed.

Pay Raises

Across-the-board pay raises are generally not a good idea. They don’t motivate employees, they send mixed messages, and eventually lead to overpaid individuals and disproportionate compensation levels. Pay raises should be granted on an individual level and only after a performance review.

A pay raise may be given to bring compensation to a level within the market range of that position if performance is as expected and the individual has achieved a noticeable and expected improvement in professional development.

A pay raise is also appropriate if an individual assumes more responsibility than originally assigned and obviously if one is promoted to a new position. Cost-of-living increases are appropriate but may not necessarily have to be made on top of other aforementioned increases. For example, an employee is paid $13.50 per hour and the market range for that position is $13 to $17.

If a 50-cent raise is granted to bring that employee higher within the market range based on performance and development, this represents a 3.7% raise which exceeds the cost-of-living increase of 2.5% and therefore, no further adjustment is necessary.

Once an individual’s compensation reaches the upper market range, you need to weigh carefully any pay raise beyond that upper limit because, if the individual is now above the range in the following year, the cost becomes compounded. You can’t just cut pay and benefits. You need to inform the employee of the condition and plan over time to get this back into the market range.

Bonus or Entitlement?

Bonuses are an important part of an employee-compensation program when utilized appropriately. Unfortunately, they are often misapplied, overused, and lose their effectiveness. Prior to implementing a bonus program you need to make sure your base pay and benefits are relative to the market, as discussed above. If they aren’t, fix them. A bonus program is not a substitute for an inadequate base compensation package.

If a company gives an across-the-board bonus year after year, employees see this as a part of their recurring compensation and in some cases spend more or plan in anticipation of receiving it. The “Clark Griswold” syndrome comes to mind and pity the owner who doesn’t come through with that annual Christmas bonus. He may end up at the bottom of the planned family swimming pool. I’m not suggesting you immediately scrap small goodwill holiday gestures, but consider the following. A bonus program should be communicated as a not necessarily recurring but discretionary reward for past exceptional performance. It should be based on profitability and, ideally, targeted performance goals.

A bonus program should be aligned with company goals, such as increased sales, quicker inventory turnover, decreased sick time and overtime, more-efficient customer flow, decreased order processing and customer waiting time, reduced customer write offs and lower days of revenue in accounts receivable. These should be specific and directed to appropriate departments.

For instance, an accounts receivable clerk can’t impact sales volume or inventory turnover. A bonus pool should be budgeted, based on targeted levels of achievement and communicated to the employees so that they understand how it works and what they have to do.

Actual monthly and year-to-date results should be posted so employees can monitor progress. Manager and supervisor bonuses should be based on the results of their departments. This promotes individual and group effort. Part of the pool is awarded across the board for team effort and part is awarded to selective individuals based on relative work ethic, achievement, and attitude.

An individual that stepped up to the plate above expected levels is rewarded for that particular achievement. Employees must know that each year stands alone and there will be good years and better years — the better years count.

Occasionally missing a bonus period can be as motivating as receiving the bonus because it reminds employees that these are not entitlements and must be earned. Look closely at your bonus program and find out if it needs restructuring. It can save you wasted dollars, promote efficiency and productivity, and motivate employees.

Employee Benefits

Employee-benefit costs have soared in recent years and, in some cases, are more important than the hourly pay rate. Some companies hand out to each employee an annual benefits value sheet that shows the dollar value of every employer provided benefit. In doing so, employees are made aware of their total compensation package, which is important if they are comparing to employees of other companies, which they do.

Offering additional fringe benefits can actually be less costly when adding these in lieu of or in addition to a smaller pay increase. The following are employee benefits that, properly structured, can be less expensive in the long run than employee raises and yet may be worth the same amount dollar wise to employees than a pay raise because they are tax free:

  • Pre-tax flexible spending accounts
  • Short-term disability insurance
  • Group term life insurance
  • Increase in employer portion of health and dental insurance premiums
  • Increase in employer match on 401(k) s
  • Dependent care plan

These are less expensive than comparable pay raises for two reasons. First, they are not subject to payroll taxes and second, if the employer cost is in terms of actual dollars rather than a percent, their cost will not compound annually like a pay raise will. One employee administrator who was already earning at the upper compensation range for her position was given the choice of a lesser raise or long-term disability insurance coverage. She opted for the disability coverage.

Reduce Staff Through Attrition

Companies that find themselves overstaffed may find it difficult to identify certain individuals to terminate, especially if it results in retained employees picking up their less-than-full-time duties. This could create unwanted morale problems.

However, individuals retiring or otherwise voluntarily moving on often provide an opportunity to reorganize and reassign duties and job descriptions to save the costs of a full-time position. It may require a parttime replacement or it may require a small increase in pay for affected individuals but the savings could be substantial. Base your department managers’ bonuses on targeted staffing levels and watch what happens.

Control Overtime

As indicated above, lower overtime targets could be a basis for bonuses. Overtime is sometimes necessary, especially when someone is absent or in peak business periods. However, in most businesses, overtime is excessive.

Have your accountant or bookkeeper tabulate last year’s overtime hours and related cost as a starter. In monitoring overtime, don’t forget to also track the hours and costs of outsourcing to temp agencies.

A decrease in one may result in an increase in the other. Savings could be achieved by allowing employees to take up to a week of overtime earned in additional paid vacation, but check your state labor laws first.

Restructure Retirement Plans

The laws and regulations governing the design and coverage of employer retirement plans has changed significantly in recent years, yet many companies have the same plan structure in place. More-recent safe harbor rules and discrimination restrictions have enabled some employers to change their plan design so as to enable owners to maximize their annual contributions at a lesser cost overall.

This may be done without reducing the current benefit to non-owners. If your retirement plan has not changed, it may be worthwhile to have a benefit plan consultant review your current plan design and employee census to see if you could benefit from a new plan design.

Conclusion

Business owners should view their employee compensation and benefits as a program to promote the well-being and objectives of both the individual and the organization. Hopefully you will find one or more useful ideas in this article to make your compensation program more cost effective, rewarding and motivational.

James B. Calnan, CPA, is a partner with Meyers Brothers Kalicka, P.C., Holyoke, Certified Public Accountants and Business Consultants; (413) 536-8510.

Features
The Greniers Studio Changes Its Name, Widens Its Focus
Dan, Chris, Larry, and Marc Grenier of Grynn & Barrett Studios

Dan, Chris, Larry, and Marc Grenier of Grynn & Barrett Studios

Second-generation members of the Greniers photography studio say the company is in a growth mode — expanding services, while also widening its geographic reach. To convey the growth of this family business, and facilitate it, the brothers Grenier are actually downplaying the family name somewhat, adopting Grynn & Barrett Studios as a new moniker. It’s a play on words they hope will resonate with a younger audience and show that while this is a company that knows how to have fun, it takes its business seriously.

One of the early entries was ‘S.O.B.’

That stands for Sons of Bob, as in R. Robert (Bob) Grenier, founder of the nearly 60-year-old photography business that still bears the family name — sort of — and his four sons, Larry, Dan, Chris, and Marc, who now run the company.

‘S.O.B.’ was one of several concepts floated as a new name for the Holyokebased business, which specializes in school and family portrait work, and sought a new name for several reasons, including territorial expansion and a need to consolidate many business divisions.

Ultimately, it was decided that, while S.O.B. was clever and well-liked internally, there would no doubt be problems making it work within a youth- and family- dominated customer base.

But the search for a name that conveyed fun and a contemporary focus continued and, ultimately, the company, with the assistance of the local marketing firm Darby O’Brien, came up with Grynn & Barrett Studios.

The words The Grenier Family, Photographers since 1948 accompany the new name in all marketing materials, letterhead, and business cards, said Larry Grenier, the company’s president and CEO, noting that the family name is well-known and respected in the community and the industry, and still holds great value.

But the company is pushing Grynn & Barrett, a play on words that the brothers believe conveys not only what the company does, but how it does it — with an accent on fun and outside-the-box thinking.

Meanwhile, they say the name change and the expansion with which it coincides, send a message to competitors that this family business is strong — and intends to get stronger.

“Within a part of the industry, our family name was getting trashed,” explained Larry Grenier. “People were saying that we’re a dysfunctional family, that we can’t keep the family together (a sister did leave to start her own venture), and that this business was not working well.

“We want to show those people that we’re not dysfunctional,” he continued, “and that we have plans and we’re moving them forward.”

Those plans include a physical expansion into Connecticut, where the company plans to open a second studio, probably in Rocky Hill, early next year. From there, the brothers want to continue their expansion effort into New York and perhaps beyond. With questions about how well the Greniers name would travel, the sons of Bob undertook a search for a new name.

BusinessWest looks this issue at how a family business intends to grow by actually downplaying the family name, and at how its broad expansion might ultimately develop.

Portrait of a Success Story

To announce the name change and new business strategy, the brothers Grenier took the company’s annual holiday pot luck lunch, staged Dec. 13, and turned it on its ear.

A light-hearted program began with announcements that the company had been sold (rumors to that effect have been circulating for years) and continued with the introduction of the new ownership tandem (both blind), and a display of their work. This was a set of poor, out-of-focus, badly aligned photographs that soon led staff members to realize that what they were seeing was all a gag.

But the new name and the company’s expansion efforts are serious business, said Dan Grenier, who heads studio operations for the company as vice president and director. He told BusinessWest that there were several motivations for changing an established name, especially the need to pull several different businesses, or divisions, under one brand.

Those divisions include one that he established, called Daniel’s School Pictures, which concentrates on portraits of students in grades K-11. There is another component that focuses exclusively on high school seniors (The Greniers), and still another, called Greniers ProSports, which concentrates on high school and youth sports.

These specialties have been developed over the course of the past 57 years, or since Bob Grenier, later nicknamed ‘Grin’ set up shop in the family home on Pine Street in Holyoke.

He started out with a partner, Lucien Ducharme, and the two names co-existed on the letterhead until the latter retired in the mid ’60s. The company grew steadily through the ’50s and ’60s, with wedding, family portrait, children, and high school senior photography.

In 1971, Grenier opened a second studio in the then-new downtown Springfield office/retail complex Baystate West. Soon thereafter, Larry Grenier became the first of the second generation to join the business. He was joined by Marc in 1976, Dan in 1979, and Chris in 1980.

The company saw a surge of growth in the ’80s, with the addition of the undergraduate student department, as it was called, and the sports department, which features products and services ranging from team photos to cards (similar to the ones for the pros) to championship plaques and refrigerator magnets.

Today, the company counts more than 60 high schools and colleges and about 300 elementary and middle schools on its customer list, as well as other clients ranging from the Vermont State Police Department to the Holyoke and Hartford, Conn. fire departments.

Bob Grenier eventually sold the business to his five children in 1991, and since, the company has continued to grow, while also consolidating. The Springfield studio (the company moved from Baystate West to a location on Mill Street in the late ’70s) was eventually closed, with all operations moving to Holyoke. This necessitated a larger facility, and, after a lengthy search of sites across the region, a location was found on Jarvis Avenue in Holyoke. A 24,000- square-foot, state-of-the-art studio was opened in July 2002.

Looking forward, the Grenier brothers believe they can build on their considerable success in Connecticut (roughly 50% of their business is generated in the Nutmeg State), which was amassed without an actual studio there.

Plans to construct an operation similar to the one on Jarvis Avenue are being finalized, said Larry Grenier, noting that such a facility should enable the company to secure a larger share of the Connecticut market and ultimately serve it more effectively.

The Big Picture

To take the company to the next level, and a broader territorial market, it was decided to create one name, or brand, said Dan Grenier, noting that this was an exercise approached with equal amounts of caution and determination.

“There is a lot of equity in the family name,” he explained. “But maybe not as much as we thought; it is well known in Western Mass. and Northern Connecticut, but beyond that, it doesn’t mean much to people.”

The search for a new name, he said, focused on finding something that would get people’s attention and make it clear that this was a fun company to work for and do business with.

Bob Grenier was brought in on the project early in the process, said his son Larry, noting that the company’s founder agreed that a new name would be needed to take the company into new and different markets.

‘S.O.B.’ was one of several contenders, although it was quickly confined to internal use, said Larry Grenier, and it will continue to be used in that capacity, with S.O.B. tshirts, sweat shirts, and other items for staff members.

Meanwhile, other suggestions for a new name included Churchill Studios, to connote the neighborhood in Holyoke in which the business grew up, and ‘The Brothers Grinn,’ another play on words.

‘Grynn & Barrett Studios’ emerged after several rounds of concepts and debate, said Darby O’Brien, because it conveys a sense of fun and contemporary thinking. This matches what goes on in the company’s studios, especially when it comes to high school senior portraits, where the nature of the final product is limited only by the student’s imagination.

Indeed, while decades ago, the photos were fairly static, with limited options, students today can blend their passions, modern technology, and even a little MTV to produce something truly original.

Larry Grenier

recalled one student who, wishing to pay homage to her father’s passion for the Red Sox, donned a uniform and was captured in a image in which a ball and bat seemed to be on fire.

“Our studio is built like a TV set,” he explained. “We can use a number of different backgrounds and elements to make this more than a photo — we want it be an event.”

Thus, the company wanted a name that would play with students and young parents, he continued. “And we think we’ve accomplished that.”

There was a good deal of discussion about the name change before the company moved forward, said Larry Grenier, noting that the proposed new brand was test-driven before some people in the photo industry.

“Most got a chuckle out of it; they thought it was fun, but also somewhat risky,” he told BusinessWest. “There is some risk involved, but at this point, we knew it was necessary to do something a little risky to move our business forward.

“We didn’t want something safe,” he continued. “We wanted to make a statement — to our staff, to our customers, and to our competition.”

Taking Their Best Shot

That statement is that the Grenier family is focused — figuratively and quite literally — on continuing the growth pattern that has defined the company since ‘Grin’ first told a family to say ‘cheese.’

The Grenier name will still be on each portrait taken, said Dan Grenier, adding that this long-standing tradition will not change. But the larger letters on the sign outside the Jarvis Avenue studio are reserved for the names Grynn and Barrett. They are there to make people laugh, but also take this family business seriously.

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

Departments

Bulkley, Richardson and Gelinas, LLP in Springfield announced the following:

Daniel J. Blake

• Daniel J. Blake has been named Counsel. He is a member of the Litigation/ Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Department and
Employment Law Practice Group;

 

 

Gastón de los Reyes

• Gastón de los Reyes has been named an Associate. He is a member of the Litigation/ADR Department;

 

 

 

Jennifer K. Cannon

• Jennifer K. Cannon has been named an Associate. She is a member of the Litigation/ADR Department;

 

 

 

Daniel A. Leonardo

• Daniel A. Leonardo has been named an Associate. He is anew Associate in the Boston office and a member of the Litigation/ADR Department, and

 

 

 

Seth M. Wilson

• Seth M. Wilson has been named an
Associate. He is a member of the Intellectual Property Group.

 

 

 

•••••

Meyers Brothers Kalicka of Holyoke and Greenfield announced the following:

• Brenda D. Olesuk has joined the firm as the Firm Administrator in the Holyoke office, and
• Daniel J. Eger has joined the firm as an Associate in the Holyoke office.

•••••

Western New England College Professor of Management Dr. William P. Ferris has been appointed Associate Editor of the Journal of Management Education. Ferris is an expert in team-building, leadership, and management education. It is his second stint as associate editor, having previously served from 1999-2002. In addition to this appointment, Ferris was recently named the Editorial Board Member of the Year for the Academy of Management and Learning, the educational journal of the National Academy of Management.

Edward J. Terault, President of Reil
Cleaning Services in Greenfield, recently attended the SSA/Interclean Conference and Trade Show in Las Vegas, which showcased new processes and cost-cutting methods in the commercial cleaning industry.

•••••

Tereza Perez-Morale recently joined the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission in West Springfield as a Secretary.

•••••

Junior Achievement of Western Mass., based in Springfield, announced that the following individuals have been elected to the Board of Directors:

• Sara McFadden, Assurance Manager for ricewaterhouseCoopers LLP;

• Lynn Starr, Vice President, Systems & Operations for Easthampton Savings Bank;

• Ravi Kulkarni, Business and
Professional Coach, and

• Russ Davies, Director, Manufacturing Logistics & SAP Operations for Hasbro Games.

•••••

PeoplesBank in Holyoke announced the following:

• Mary J. Meehan has been named Vice President for Commercial Loans;

• Joyce A. O’Connor has been named Assistant Vice President and Manager of the new Westfield office, opening in early 2006;

• Heidi Nowak Leonard has been named Mortgage Consultant for the new Westfield office;

• Halena Ramos has been named a
Mortgage Consultant for the Chicopee, Ludlow, Monson, Palmer, and Springfield areas, and
• Brady D. Chianciola has been named Branch Officer for the Chicopee office.

•••••

Hampden Bank announced the following:

• Donna J. Kennedy has been hired as a Customer Service Representative and Sales Manager in the Agawam office, and • Sheryl Shinn has been named Vice
President of Information Technology.

•••••

Two MassMutual Financial Group executives were recently elected to posts in industry associations:

• Matthew M. Abraham, National
Managing Director of Public Markets for MassMutual’s retirement services division, has been elected President of the 2005- 2006 Industry Committee of the National Assoc. of Government Defined Contribution Administrators. He will also serve on the association’s seven-member executive board, and

• E. Thomas Johnson Jr., Senior Vice President of Enterprise Marketing for Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co., has been elected to the Board of Directors of the Profit Sharing/401(k) Council of America. He will serve a three-year term.

Sections Supplements
As part of the proposed Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives each passed different bills on Nov. 3, 2005 and Nov. 18, 2005, respectively, the results of which could greatly impact long-term care (nursing home) Medicaid planning.

Although both the Senate version of the bill (S. 1932) and the House version of the bill (H.R. 4241) both impact Medicaid planning, the House version, if adopted by the Senate, could effectively eliminate most of the Medicaid-planning strategies currently being utilized to preserve assets in the context of long-term care planning.

The purpose of this alert is to highlight a few of the potential draconian changes in the Medicaid bills (the House version of the measure in particular), discuss the current status of the bills, and outline potential immediate planning strategies to consider.

By no means is this alert intended to be a comprehensive explanation of both bills in their entirety, but rather it is intended to draw attention to the most significant changes affecting most people who are contemplating Medicaid planning.

Look-back Period Changes

Under current law, if you apply for Medicaid, you are required to disclose to Medicaid any gifts made by the institutionalized or healthy spouse within the 36- month period preceding the date that the Medicaid application is filed. This period is referred to as the ‘look-back’ period. The House bill would extend the look-back period from 36 months to 60 months.

According to the current provisions of the House bill, the 60-month look-back period would apply to all gifts made after the enactment of the Act. Therefore, if gifting is an appropriate strategy for you, there is an incentive to attempt to make gifts immediately before a final version of the Act is enacted in order to avoid having your gifts be subject to a 60-month lookback period instead of a 36-month lookback period.

Transfer Penalty Starting Date Changes

If you or your spouse make a gift to charity or any person other than your spouse, and you subsequently apply for Medicaid within the look-back period, a transfer penalty may be imposed by Medicaid. In essence, Medicaid takes the position that if you give away cash or property that you could have otherwise utilized to pay for your long-term care, Medicaid will determine how many months worth of nursing home care you gave away and penalize you for that period of time.

In order to calculate the transfer penalty, Medicaid divides the value of a gift by the amount that Medicaid determines to be the average monthly cost of nursing home care in Massachusetts to arrive at the number of months penalty created by the gift.

Medicaid currently uses $232 per day (approximately $7,000 per month) as the average cost of nursing homes in Massachusetts. This amount is naturally below the actual cost of most nursing homes in the area, but by using a small dollar amount for the average cost, a larger transfer penalty results. Under current law, the penalty period begins to run on the date that you make the gift.

For example, if you gave $70,000 to a child on Jan. 1, 2005, a 10- month transfer penalty would result ($70,000 divided by $7,000 per month = 10 months) and the penalty period would begin to run on the date of the gift (Jan. 1, 2005) and would end 10 months later on Oct. 31, 2005.

Therefore, assuming your remaining assets were below the maximum amount of assets allowed for Medicaid eligibility (i.e. $2,000 for a single individual), you could qualify for Medicaid as soon as Nov. 1, 2005.

The House bill would change the date on which the penalty begins to run. The House bill provides that the penalty will begin to run on the later of (1) the date of the gift, or (2) the date that you are in a nursing home and you would otherwise qualify for Medicaid based upon the amount of assets that you own. In effect, for a single person this means that the penalty period will not start to run until your assets are spent down to $2,000, at which time you would not have sufficient funds to pay for your own nursing home care for the penalty period.

For example, assume that the House version of the bill is enacted into law on Dec. 31, 2005, you are single, you give $70,000 to a child on Jan. 1, 2006, and you enter into a nursing home on Sept. 1, 2006 with a total net worth of $2,000. The penalty period would not start to run on Jan. 1, 2006 (the date of the gift) but rather would start to run on Sept. 1, 2006, the date on which you entered the nursing home and had assets less than or equal to the asset limit.

Under this House bill regime, you would not be eligible for Medicaid until July 1, 2007. The problem that is presented with the House bill provision is that on Sept. 1, 2006 you only have $2,000 in the bank.

Apparently, the House expects that the person to whom the gift was made will pay for your care in a nursing home for the next 10 months.

As you can see, the House bill not only has a devastating impact on an institutionalized person who has made gifts within the look-back period, but it also could have a terrible financial impact on nursing homes as well. Nursing homes will be forced to make the difficult decision of evicting a resident who is unable to pay his or her monthly costs or the home would have to attempt to absorb the monthly cost of keeping the patient until he or she qualifies for Medicaid. In light of the fiscal crunch facing nursing homes in the United States, the latter option is not realistic.

The effective date of the potential change in the manner of calculating the transfer penalty is the date on which the Act is enacted. Therefore, transfers made prior to the enactment of the Act are ‘grandfathered’ under the current transfer of asset penalty rules.

Accordingly, if you are contemplating making gifts to loved ones or charities as part of a Medicaid planning strategy, such as making a gift of your home to your children and retaining for yourself a life estate, you should consult with a qualified Medicaid planning attorney as soon as possible to help you determine if making a gift is appropriate for you at this time. It would behoove you to make any such gift prior to the enactment of the Act in order to avoid a potential 60-month look-back period and the threat of the change in the manner in which the penalty is calculated.

While there are no guarantees that Congress will not make further sweeping changes to the bills prior to passing the Act, in most cases the negative taint associated with any gift can be eliminated as long as your loved ones are willing to give the gifts back to you if necessary to enable you to qualify for Medicaid or eliminate all or a portion of the transfer penalty.

Other Changes

A few other changes in the House bill that would adversely impact Medicaid planning include the following:

  • The use of annuities to convert Medicaid countable assets into allowable income would appear to be effectively eliminated (both for married couples as well as single individuals).
  • The value of the refund portion of entrance fees paid to continuing care retirement communities and life care communities may count toward the Medicaid asset limitations.
  • The current benefit of protecting your home from Medicaid liens by purchasing a long-term care policy meeting certain minimum standards law may be greatly restricted or potentially eliminated.

There are other potential rule changes contained in both versions of the Medicaid reform bills not discussed herein, as they are fairly technical and are beyond the scope of this review. The Senate bill does not contain the harsh revisions to the lookback period and transfer penalty changes contained in the House bill. However, among other changes, the Senate bill would eliminate the annuity planning strategy for single individuals and could restrict the benefits associated with Massachusetts residents purchasing long-term care policies.

The next step in the process toward the passage of the Act is the reconciliation of the House and Senate bills by conference committee. Once the conference committee reconciles the bill, the Act will become effective on the date the President Bush signs the bill out of conference.

Bruce E. Devlin, Esq. is an associated attorney at the law firm of Robinson Donovan, P.C.; (413) 732-2301.

Opinion
There are growing concerns that Massachusetts is losing its competitive edge to other states and countries.

More of our students, and future workforce, are looking to Massachusetts public colleges and universities to build their futures. In 2002, 67% of Massachusetts natives who entered college in state went to a public college or university — up from 59% in 1996.

Our private higher education institutions are also a tremendous asset, in that they recruit many students from out of state. We must work with those institutions in developing strategies for keeping talented out-of-state students here.

But our public colleges and universities are already playing a vital role in retaining educated workers, and in a state with anemic population growth, more than 85% of the 800,000 UMass alumni and our state and community colleges are living, working, raising families, and paying taxes in the Commonwealth.

Our public colleges and universities also are highly responsive to local and statewide needs, interests, and industries:

  • The 15 community colleges have provided direct training this year for more than 500 Bay State companies, from Analog Devices to Yankee Candle Co.;
  • The nine state colleges have adopted innovative programs for meeting the growing need for K-12 math and science teachers; and
  • UMass has become a national leader in technology transfer, helping to fuel the life sciences, nanotechnology, marine sciences, and information technology industries statewide.

After several years of cuts to operating budgets and foregone capital investment, the state has taken some initial steps toward addressing funding gaps in public higher education. But a bolder leap is necessary to ensure that we retain our competitive edge.

We need to seriously address the critical capital needs of our public colleges and universities, which have been conservatively estimated at $2.9 billion for the 29 public campuses. We must make sure that our buildings are safe, that our students are learning in the most modern laboratories and classrooms, and that our researchers have state-of-the art equipment and technology.

By any standard, Massachusetts’ capital investment has been woefully inadequate. In 2004, Massachusetts invested only $43 million, far less than any of the states against which we compete for investment and jobs, including Connecticut, at $175 million; New York, $269 million; and North Carolina, $617 million.

The $286 million public higher education capital bond bill that is currently being considered barely makes a dent in the need, although many of the proposed projects would make a direct contribution to the economic competitiveness of our state, including an allied health building at North Shore Community College to train muchneeded nurses, a life sciences R&D facility at UMass Medical to bolster the biotechnology sector, or a design center at MassArt to help keep Massachusetts among the nation’s leading centers of design.

Further, the Legislature should adopt a series of reforms championed by the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, which will provide public colleges and university with greater management flexibility to employ these funds more effectively and efficiently.

To remain competitive economically, our Commonwealth must get many things right: the cost of doing business, public school quality, health care policy and energy supply, among others. Strategic state investments in our public higher education system are a key part of ensuring our future prosperity.

Richard Lord is the president and CEO of the Associated Industries of Massachusetts;www.aimnet.org. William H. Guenther is the president of the Mass. Insight Corporation;www.massinsight.com.

Sections Supplements
Camera Manufacturers Say It’s Time to Throw the Kodachrome Away
Charles De Luca

Charles De Luca, product manager for Nikon USA, demonstrates the ‘Face Focus’ feature on a new digital model

When Paul Simon immortalized Kodak’s Kodachrome slide film in his 1973 hit of the same name, it’s unlikely that he realized the tune would eventually serve as a swan song for an entire medium.

Indeed, the days of film photography are nearly over, and Paul Simon fans of tomorrow will soon be Googling ‘Kodachrome’ to find out what the heck that song is about.

Like all personal electronics, new camera offerings for 2006 are trending toward smaller, sleeker styles with more capability and finer picture quality, at increasingly affordable prices, but film doesn’t even enter the picture, as this review of new camera techology reveals.

Compact, or point-and-shoot, digital cameras have eclipsed film camera sales, and sales of digital single lens reflex (SLR) cameras, those with interchangeable lenses, are expected to reach their highest rates yet this year.

Kodak itself might serve as the best illustration of the shift. Once synonymous with film, the company’s future was grim, until it caught the digital wave and secured the top sales spot in the U.S. earlier this year, topping 2004 numbers by 41%. Other companies, including digital giants like Sony and photographic staples such as Canon, Fuji, and Nikon are seeing similar success.

That’s because in terms of both cost and ease of use, digital cameras have reached the point at which they’re accessible to just about everyone. Unlike the first few digital cameras to hit the market more than a decade ago, they’re simple to operate and designed to take a beating. They come equipped with autoflash, autofocus, and red-eye reduction, use memory cards that include up to 1 GB of storage space, and nearly all include both optical and digital zoom.

They also start as low as $99, rising in price depending largely on zoom capability and the number of effective megapixels – most newly released digital cameras are capable of shooting at 5.0 megapixels or more.

Extra features also play a role in price, although many are becoming the norm as photo technology progresses. Many new digital cameras, for instance, come equipped with more than a dozen different shooting modes (portrait, landscape, and close-up or macro modes are some of the more recognizable settings; newer offerings include backlighting, panoramic assist, and dawn/dusk modes).

‘Capture modes’ are also advancing – in addition to simply snapping one photo at a time, most new digital cameras include options such as multi-shot – taking several photos with one press of a button – movie modes, which allow for digital video, and color options, which allow the photographer to take a picture in full-color, black and white, or even with sepia tones.

And photo-editing options are being seen more frequently on new camera models, and allowing for immediate red-eye correction, cropping, image sharpening, or voice memos, among other tools, before a photo is downloaded to a computer or printer. “Give Us Those Nice, Bright Colors”

A Glossary of Digital Terminology

Combined Zoom
Refers to the total zoom capability of a camera, when the optical and digital zoom are combined. Optical zoom means that mechanisms within the camera are actually moving to zoom in on the subject; digital zoom is a digital enhancement of the optical zoom.

LCD
Liquid crystal display; refers to the screen on the back of most digital cameras. The larger the screen, the easier it is to see the image and navigate through menu options.

Matrix Metering
The camera measures optimum exposure automatically, by comparing 256 areas of the frame.

Megapixel
One megapixel equals one million pixels, the tiny dots that create a digital photo. The more megapixels a camera is capable of using to shoot and save a photo, the better an image’s quality will be when printed, and the larger a print can be made. On a camera or in its literature, megapixels are typically denoted in numerical form, such as ‘3.1’ or ‘5.0.’ A camera with 4.0 megapixels will yield prints up to about 8×10. Most new cameras on the market have at least 5.0 megapixels.

MB/GB
Megabytes and Gigabytes – refer to the amount of memory available on a digital camera’s internal memory or on a memory card. A memory card with 1GB of storage space will hold hundreds of photos at a time.

Noise-reduction Mode
Reduces the ‘busy factor’ in photos taken with a long exposure – makes for a clearer photo, especially at night.

Panorama Assist
Allows you to take several side-by-side photos, then combine them later using photo editing software.

Nikon, for example, recently unveiled five new models in its Coolpix collection that offer many of the new features that are quickly becoming standard among digital cameras.

One feature common to all five models is Face Priority AF, which automatically focuses on a subject’s face to ensure clear, crisp portraits.

But the new models also add to three different series of cameras – the ‘L’, ‘S,’ and ‘P’ series, which are geared toward different types of photographers and tailor new features toward those audiences.

The P series appeals to consumers looking for the latest in advanced technology, and as such, includes one of the newest offerings among digital cameras – Wi-Fi, which allows for the wireless transfer of photos and digital video from the camera to a nearby computer or printer, and is available on the new P1 and P2 models ($549 and $399*).

“These are the first cameras to offer wireless technology,” said Charles De Luca, product manager for Nikon. “It’s a great feature if you’re, say, shooting photos at a party – the photos can be printed and ready for you without ever having to leave the fun.”

The technology also allows for the creation of slide shows, complete with music, and wireless printing with the use of the PD –10 wireless printer adapter (which De Luca said is about the size of a lemon), and a printer enabled with PictBridge, the industry standard for printing photos without the use of a computer.

Several camera, camcorder, printer, and mobile phone manufacturers are now creating PictBridge-compatible products, including Nikon, Canon, Pentax, Fuji, Kodak, Olympus, Hewlett-Packard, Panasonic, and Sony.

“The wireless capabilities open up a whole new set of options for people,” De Luca said. “With the ability to automatically create a live slide show or transfer photos to the computer, people can get their prints faster as well as send them right away to others – imagine getting a slide show of an event you can’t attend, while the event is still going on.”

Increasingly, digital cameras are being tailored to enhance those moments when they are most commonly used – during family functions, vacations, and at special events in general, and that includes the incorporation of new technology such as wireless transfer, digital video, and other features. But manufacturers have not lost sight of the style factor – many shoppers rate the look of a piece of equipment right up there with capability and durability.

Nikon’s Coolpix L series, for example, caters to the novice photographer, and the new L1, ($329) with 6.2 megapixels, features a large, 2.5-inch LCD screen set in a small, pocket-sized body.

The S series tends to appeal specifically to those in the market for stylish, designoriented electronics, and the new S3 ($379), dubbed ‘beautiful in black’ by Nikon, adds to that line, previously made up of only silver cameras.

New cameras in the Canon Digital Elph series, one of the most well-known product lines among all digital cameras, also lean heavily on design as a major selling-point.

All of the Elph models in the PowerShot line measure just a few inches, are slim in width, and come in a variety of finishes. The new PowerShot SD30 ($399) includes 5.0 megapixels and a 10x zoom, but also comes in four different colors with names like ‘Rockstar Red,’ ‘Tuxedo Black,’ and ‘Glamour Gold.’

Similarly, Fuji’s new additions to its digital line include the FinePix Z1, a product designed specifically with aesthetics in mind. Retailing for about $400, the Z1 includes a U-shaped cover that conforms to a palm, a sliding body that protects the camera’s lens while enhancing its look, and comes in both silver and black.

It also measures about 3.5 inches x 2.2 inches, following the trend toward smaller, more lightweight design that all digital camera companies are following.

Camera Ready?

B.J. Adams, a product and market analyst for Pentax, explained that it’s not typically the technical explanations of digital cameras that most shoppers find attractive, but rather the features that augment those capabilities, including compact, easy-to-use design.

That has been one goal for Pentax’s Optio line, which includes a number of cameras designed to appeal to various lifestyles. Most new digital cameras only weigh between five and seven ounces – the Optio WPi ($349) weighs in at only 4.2 ounces, and that has become one of the camera’s main selling points.

“It’s all about taking a lot and putting it in a very small package,” Adams said, noting however that while bells and whistles and snazzy design are important to many consumers at the point of sale, most will come to appreciate the capability a camera has that allow them to simply take better photos, and more of them.

The WPi is waterproof – able to take photos in five feet of water for up to 30 minutes. Perhaps more important, though, is the 6.0 megapixel camera’s versatility in many situations – during a romp with a slobbery dog, a child’s bathtime, or hike through misty mountains.

Adams dubbed it “life-proof.” “It tracks people very well,” he said, noting that not only is the camera durable, but it can also take a clear action photo and a well-framed portrait shot using a nine-point autofocus system that includes ‘sport’ and ‘pet’ modes.

The WPi was also designed to include an optical and digital zoom, like most digital cameras, but with a unique twist – while most optical zooms require a lens that extends from the camera body and can pose an added risk for damage if given a good whack, the optical zoom on the Optio WPi is actually encased within the camera. “All of the optics are inside the camera,” Adams explained, “and actually turn a corner within the camera in order to allow that design.”

Pentax is also currently featuring two other cameras as part of an overall marketing push for their ‘lifestyle’ cameras – the Optio S60, an inexpensive beginner’s model, and the istDL, a digital SLR.

“The S60 retails for $199, and is a great starter camera for anyone who is not familiar with digital photography or even with photography in general,” Adams said. “It has a help-mode incorporated into the camera that gives step-by-step directions, and the menu has a zoom, which is especially helpful for people with poor eyesight.

“There’s also room to grow and learn with this camera,” he continued. “As people learn, they can try new things, and included software allows them to share their photos online with friends and family.”

Additionally, the istDL ($799, which includes a standard lens) is marketed toward more sophisticated photographers, but includes some of the same features that many consumers are looking for – lightweight design, diverse capabilities, and durable manufacturing.

“The istDL is a great traveler’s companion,” Adams said. “It takes great photos and is compatible with a whole pool of Pentax lenses, so photographers can get creative. But it’s also one of the smallest, most lightweight SLRs out there, and that’s what people are looking for.”

…Forget About Rewind

And for those people still frightened by the prospect of a camera that doesn’t require loading those small, cylindrical canisters into the back, Adams said today’s camera manufacturers are more sensitive than some might expect.

“This is our business,” he said. “We understand completely how many changes have occurred in the photography arena, and our products are very consumer-centric. There is a bridge from film to digital, and all are welcome to cross.”

* – Manufacturer’s suggested retail price. Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at[email protected]

Opinion
The headline in the local newspaper read, ‘Springfield Mulls Garage Sale,’ or something to that effect. Given the current sad state of fiscal affairs here, one might have given that a quick look and proceeded to conjure up images of a giant tag sale staged to help raise some revenue to pay teachers or keep the lights on.

Reading further, however, we come to learn that Springfield officials, including members of the Finance Control Board, are in preliminary talks with the state about a possible sale of one of the parking garages run by the Springfield Parking Authority to the Mass. Convention Center Authority, which runs the recently opened MassMutual Center.

The theory goes that the convention authority can benefit from owning and operating the 1,300-space Civic Center Parking Garage, located across East Court Street from the MassMutual Center, thus gaining a steady source of parking for events. Meanwhile, the cash-strapped city could pocket some much-needed revenue.

While all this might sound good, such a transaction would ultimately make as much sense as that other kind of garage sale.

Yes, Springfield needs the revenue. But what it doesn’t need to do is start messing with one of the few real assets it has left in its efforts to draw businesses and consumers to its downtown: accessible, affordable parking.

Selling the Civic Center garage to the state will, we believe, create fewer parking opportunities downtown, which will inevitably drive up the cost of the spaces still in the inventory, which will eventually impact a wide array of businesses in the downtown area.

Which is why we hope these ‘preliminary’ talks don’t go any further.

Before we elaborate, let’s return to the subject of parking in Springfield. For some, it’s a sore subject, but in reality, car owners and business owners have it better here than they have it in any other large city in the Northeast.

Most don’t see it that way, but this stems from the notion that people tend to regard Springfield, and the region as a whole, as a place where people shouldn’t have to pay to park. When the Big E started charging people to park, for example, area residents got angry. When the price at the Big E went from $3 to $5, people went ballistic.

That’s because they have no perspective — unless they’ve attended a Red Sox game recently. Only then can they fully understand the true meaning of paying to park.

These individuals also understand that a parking lot or garage is a business, and it can be a very good business.

In Springfield, we’re fortunate. There is an ample supply of parking, some of it convenient to downtown businesses and some of it less so, and at rates — generally $40 to $90 a month — that would make people in Boston, Hartford, or Providence laugh. In general, these lots are secure, clean, and well-managed by the city’s parking authority. They should be considered assets, not buildings to be sold off to raise cash.

As we said, these are challenging times for downtown Springfield and companies doing business there. Incidents of violent crime have increased; one shop owner on Main Street was recently shot in broad daylight, and there was a mugging outside the TD Banknorth building. Business owners and those working downtown don’t need another reason to start thinking seriously about taking their act to the suburbs — the land of free parking.

They would have one if the Civic Center garage were to be sold to the convention authority. Such a transaction would adversely impact inventory and the price of remaining spaces.

If the city wants to raise revenue, it does have some properties that can be sold. Union Station comes to mind. Nothing is happening with the long-vacant train station and it appears that nothing is likely to happen anytime soon. The old jail is also available — although no one seems to want it — and there are other surplus buildings to be had.

What this struggling city doesn’t need is a garage sale — of any kind.