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Last fall, as the MassMutual Center was getting set to open its doors, there were more than a few skeptics who doubted whether the $70 million facility would succeed in drawing events to Springfield and bringing people downtown.

Today, such doubters remain, but they’re considerably harder to find.

Granted, it’s only been a few months, and the success of such a massive public project is measured over a long period of time, but there are many signs that the facility is doing what it was designed to do — breathe some much needed life into downtown.

Two successful concerts, Martina McBride and Motley Crue, drew large crowds, and downtown parking lots have been jammed most weekends with mini vans and SUVs, the vehicles of necessity for audiences drawn to shows ranging from Dora the Explorer to pro wrestling; monster trucks to Disney on Ice.

This early success and the promise for much more — the March schedule was packed with events including auto and flower shows and college basketball championships — should give city officials and Financial Control Board members pause to consider creation of a broad strategy that will seize on the momentum being created by MassMutual Center.

It is clear that one doesn’t exist, because the facility has been left largely on an island, with very little to support it or to ‘extend the stay’ of visitors, as those in the travel and tourism business like to say. Indeed, while there are a few restaurants and attractions close by, there is little to keep those mini vans and SUVs from getting back on the highway after the shows end.

Extending the stay will take a coordinated effort, one that will require steps ranging from a beefed up police presence to finding some way to bring the long-stalled plans for a boutique hotel in Court Square to reality. And there will be a number of challenges, ranging from economics to the deteriorating condition of the Court Square building.

But right now, the MassMutual Center is a vital component of the overall economic development strategy in Springfield, and thus city and state officials must be aggressive in pursuit of ways to extend the building’s influence beyond its four walls and downtown parking concessions.

Put another way, they need to facilitate what should be — if the MassMutual Center continues on its current path — an intriguing exercise in the laws of supply and demand. How? For starters, they could explore options to incentivise national restaurant chains, especially those that cater to families, to look at and eventually invest in downtown Springfield. Meanwhile, they should engage downtown property owners in discussions on ways to bring in new businesses, ones that will complement the MassMutual Center.

City officials and the Control Board must also continue their work — there has been noted progress — to make the downtown cleaner, brighter, and safer.

And there must be a concerted effort to somehow rescue plans for a hotel at the Court Street property or find some other use for the century-old building. At present, the city is moving to foreclose on the property, burdened with more than $1 million in back taxes and a dispute over them between the city and the Picknelly family, which purchased the historic property several years ago.

Control Board officials say they are restricted in what they do in terms of forgiving back taxes and interest, and remain hopeful that there will be interest within the development community for such a venture. We are not as optimistic, and believe that a way should have been found to allow the Picknelly family to move ahead in its endeavor.

Foreclosure will likely serve to only delay this project further, not move it forward.

The MassMutual Center is not going to turn Springfield into Orlando. The city’s downtown isn’t likely to become a real destination any time soon. But the early success of the new facility provides a measure of optimism, a sense that it can bring greater prosperity to that area — if some encouragement is provided.

The city and state invested more than $70 million in the MassMutual. Now it needs to invest some time and energy to make sure it doesn’t remain an island.

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Joseph Marois has a slick, professional brochure that he gives to potential clients of his company, South Hadley-based Marois Construction.

Inside, bright photographs tell the story of some the company’s recent success stories, from the Amherst College sports complex and the Mount Holyoke College equestrian center to the South Hadley Medical Center and the Westfield District Court. All the buildings feature sharp architectural lines, striking facades, and cutting-edge technology.

Then, on the very last page, is a photo of a small, ramshackle shed with thin walls, wood discolored by weather, and a plank leaning against a door to keep it closed. It is decidedly not a wonder of design.

Yet, it may be the most significant photograph in the brochure, because inside that shed, in 1972, Marois began his construction career by building cabinets and restoring furniture. Today, almost 35 years later, the Marois name is well-known for constructing buildings across Western Mass., particularly its cutting-edge work on college campuses.

In an industry where quality work survives for decades and even centuries, 35 years may not seem like a long time. But Marois Construction has ridden enough ups and downs in its field to make next year’s anniversary a notable accomplishment – especially in a region that has become so competitive for building contractors.

“There have been some significant market changes, and also an influx of contractors from the Worcester and Boston areas,” Marois said, “so we have more competition today.”

For someone who built a successful company from a backyard shed, however, that’s just another challenge to overcome.

Back to School

By 1978, Marois Construction had long left the shed, boasting seven employees and five trucks. Today, 75 employees work out of a large building on Old Lyman Road, into which the company moved about five years ago.

Growth has been steady over the years, but not always easy. “The late ’70s were the worst time, with 18% interest rates,” Marois said. “And the ’80s were pretty bad, too. But even in slow times, we have had a good customer base that thinks of us as a quality organization, and that loyalty had led us through the bad times.”

Much of that customer base has come from college campuses, where Marois has carved out its most recognizable niche. The company has constructed new academic and recreational facilities and renovated historic dormitories at UMass, Smith College, Amherst College, Mount Holyoke College, and others.

However, in the past few years, Marois has diversified its portfolio – partly because opportunities at colleges have slowed down somewhat, but partly to open other doors in a highly competitive marketplace. Notable current projects include a PeoplesBank branch in Westfield and a health facility in Stockbridge, reflecting two other longtime niches for Marois, banking and health care-related construction.

“We’ve long specialized in college work, but we’ve branched out a little,” said Carl Mercieri, the company’s vice president. “At the same time, I’ve noticed that our territory has expanded, and we’re going to where the work is as opposed to the work coming to us. That brings a certain amount of rewards, too.”

It’s also a necessary move at a time when longtime Boston- and Worcester-based firms are aggressively making inroads in Western Mass., due to a slowing market in the eastern portion of the state, Marois said.

“I think Boston has gotten a little slower. The state has cut back on a lot of public projects since they’ve been having some financial difficulties, so the contractors that rely on public work are seeking jobs in other areas, primarily the private sector where we’ve concentrated for many years.”

Mercieri agreed. “Times change and trends change,” he said, “but you do have to be well-diversified in today’s market. It’s a self-preservation thing. It has always been a competitive market, but with a lot of public school work coming to an end, contractors who specialize in that kind of work are moving into the private sector.”

Still, he continued, trends in public money shift over time, and that type of work will eventually pick up, easing competition across the board. And even in a slower period than in past years, Marois sees no end college and university jobs.

“College campuses seem to be competing right now for students,” he said. “We’re finding that a lot of them are putting up new dorms, doing high-tech science and technology buildings, and aggressively competing for students.”

One example is Smith College in Northampton, which has embarked on a multi-million-dollar project to build an engineering and technology building with state-of-the-art labs, increasing the campus size by 25%. Marois also recently finished new, high-tech labs at UMass for research and development of alternative energy sources – a project funded by a federal grant.

“That seems to be a wave of the future,” Marois said. “There’s no guarantee that we’ll get every project like this, but certainly we know campus work. We know what to do and how to do it.”

Building for the Future

Marois has seen plenty of other trends emerge in construction. For example, the company has employed more people in the past than it does now, but that’s because of an increasing specialization in the industry.

“We used to have more disciplines working for us than we do today,” he said. “We used to have painters, masons, all trades on our own payroll – everything except the licensed trades, like electric, plumbing, and HVAC. But that’s a very large furnace to keep fueled, and the trend now is to outsource a lot of those things.”

Other changes in the nuts and bolts of the construction industry have been driven by computer technology. However, a new, computer-driven emphasis on speed and efficiency has proven to be a double-edged sword.

“All businesses have been forced into the digital age, and we’re doing a lot more with computers than we were five or 10 years ago,” Mercieri said, referring to trends ranging from E-mailed communications to computer-assisted design (CAD).

“The good part is, we’re much more efficient. But some people in the industry rely too much on short cuts, and some people we deal with out there are not computer-literate. You still have to check everything by hand.”

Furthermore, Marois said, the speed of communications has increased consumer demands on construction firms, tightening time frames on all projects.

“It started with the fax machine, and now it’s computers and E-mail,” he said. “We have architects who are wiring us complete sets of drawings on e-mail, and our CAD department is busier now than it has ever been. As a result, you’re required to do things much more quickly, and everyone expects it to be done right away.”

Marois said the company has benefited from embracing each new technology as it emerged instead of fighting it, enabling it to meet the growing demands of its clients.
“A lot of our work comes to us through referrals by our other customers, so it seems like we’re doing something right,” Mercieri said.

Still, Marois said he doesn’t want to coast on reputation.

“I always keep in mind that you’re only as good as your last job,” he said. “We never allow ourselves to get too cocky. Mistakes happen, but we’ve never had a failed project, and we’ve always completed everything to the degree of quality expected by the customer.”

It’s a philosophy that applies to furniture restoration and the construction of multi-million-dollar facilities in equal measure – and it’s why Marois has built a respected name in the Pioneer Valley, literally from the ground up.

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You can’t get by on chotchkes. That’s a mantra that Roland Desrochers, president of Monson Savings Bank, subscribes to in this competitive banking market – the days of wooing new customers with toasters are quite over.

Monson Savings, a three-branch institution in operation in Western Mass. since 1872, has taken steps to offer what Desrochers says people really want and need – low fees or no fees, a wide range of services, and sometimes, cold hard cash.

The cash comes into play as part of some of the bank’s ongoing programs to attract and retain customers, such as a referral program that awards $50 to current customers that bring new business to MSB.

But the real emphasis is on convenience and the ability to cater to the bank’s core audience, Desrochers added, and that has lead to continued growth within the community bank and set the stage for more progress in 2006.

By All Accounts
In addition to its flagship branch in Monson and a facility in Hampden, the bank opened its third branch in Wilbraham on Boston Road two years ago, in part to serve a growing number of customers from that town, and a free-standing loan center on Main Street in Monson, as well, opened in 2004.

“Soon, we’re going to have to expand here,” said Desrochers, waving a hand around his Monson office. “We’re busting at the seams.”

The need for physical growth is a reflection of the strong patterns set in recent years at MSB. Those include an 11% increase in assets in 2005, up from the 9% growth the bank has averaged over the past five years.

Desrochers said the bank’s successes, small and large, are the products of quick, aggressive implementation of new services geared toward the needs of its customer base.

In recent years, the bank has focused on customer convenience as the driver for several new initiatives, in addition to developing programs geared toward diverse audiences, from kids to business owners, and keeping fees to a minimum. And once an idea has been accepted in the boardroom, the bank is quick to introduce it to the public.

“Obviously, in this state, there are plenty of banks and we’re all beating each other up to get one new customer through the door,” he said. “We’re focused on that. But we’re also focused on what we, as a community bank, can bring to the table. Convenience is the number one concern, and pricing is a close second.”

Some of those new services Monson Savings has put in place include extended drive-through hours from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday, and the installation of an ATM in a strategic spot in downtown Wilbraham, making banking easier for customers living on the outskirts of all three towns directly served by MSB, which abut near Wilbraham center.

It also has a suite of services that fall under the title of ‘family banking.’

Those products include Monson Savings for Kids and Teens, which offers special incentives for children, such as ice cream cone gift certificates – the occasional give-away doesn’t hurt, Desrochers said – after saving accounts reach certain benchmarks. Teenagers can take advantage of free checking accounts and personalized checks, debit cards, and online banking access, as well as tiered interest rates based on balance, instructions on balancing a checkbook, and dos and don’ts for financial independence.

In part to increase awareness of Monson Savings’ online bill pay program, the bank also instituted a promotion that pays $100 toward a new customer’s Internet service after three bills are paid online. The bank has made strides in online banking and services tailored to small businesses in recent years, Desrochers said, offering no-fee online bill pay and e-statements, and no-fee small business checking accounts.
“The no-fee small business accounts began to attract more people, and we continued the trend with the no-fee online banking,” said Desrochers. “I think it’s proof that in these competitive times, banks just can’t afford to charge people. We saw a 500% increase in the number of small business checking accounts and a 32% increase in online banking sign-ups in 2005.

“The drive-through hours and the ATM in Wilbraham have really been home-runs for us,” he continued, noting that even small additions like those can have a profound impact on a community bank’s bottom line.

“You have to be very aware of your market as a community bank,” said Desrochers. “When I think of some of the smaller banks that have set up branches in certain towns, thinking they can directly compete against those large banks … I shudder. For us, it’s about building strong relationships within the market we know and serve.”

Community Interest

And that includes, as it does for most banks, a strong philanthropic component. Monson Savings Bank contributes to a number of organizations and causes throughout the year, but with a special emphasis on those that operate in Monson, Hampden, and Wilbraham.

“We’ve increased our community investment as a percentage of income before taxes in each of the past three years,” said Desrochers, noting that much of that funding goes to smaller, local outfits. “You’re not necessarily going to see Bank of America giving to organizations like the Monson Arts Council, and that’s where the importance of community banks really comes into play. That’s why we need to survive.”

Desrochers said that Monson Savings is jumping into 2006 after a great year, and that has allowed the bank to give back in some substantial ways to the communities in which the bank operates.

“We’re thrilled with the way things are going,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong, the financial environment is just as challenging as everyone says it is. But we are pleased to report some pretty exciting numbers.”

In addition to that 11% growth in assets, Desrochers said deposits have also grown by 11%, and the number of checking accounts at the bank has seen a 10% boost.
“That’s something we’re pretty proud of in this competitive market,” he said.

In terms of the bank’s three branches, Desrochers said the Monson branch continues to hold steady, while the bank’s newest location in Wilbraham, eight months away from its third year in operation, is progressing on target. The branch recorded $16 million in deposits at the close of 2005, growth that is on par with the bank’s projections.

Growth in Wilbraham is slowed somewhat by the competition in the Boston Road corridor, Desrochers said, which is currently home to branches of Hampden Bank, Country Bank, First Pioneer Credit Union in Wilbraham, TD Banknorth just over the town line in Springfield, and soon, a Webster Bank branch will also open in Springfield, close to the Boston Road and Parker Street intersection.

But in neighboring Hampden, Monson Savings is proving, as he put it, that “you don’t have to go to Route 20 to make a buck.”

“The Hampden branch is doing extremely well,” he said, “and advancing faster than its counterparts from a growth perspective. The community is very supportive and appreciative that we were the bank that stepped forward to serve their needs.”

The bank has also reported continued growth in the loan department – a steady trend at Monson Savings that led to the creation of the loan center.

“There are 190 residential lenders in Hampden County alone,” said Desrochers, noting that as one might expect, MSB ranks number one in residential lending in Monson and Hampden, but more notably, comes in at number 17 in the entire county. Desrochers said one goal for 2006 is to improve upon that ranking by four slots – lucky 13.

“Interest rates increased steadily throughout the year, so we’re particularly pleased with our current success in this area,” he said. “And growth was spread out across all categories, with 11% growth in commercial real estate loans, 23% in commercial loans, and 14% in residential real estate loans.”

The bank is also up by 46% over 2004 in terms of construction loans, a particular niche for the bank that brings customers from Western Mass. and more eastern parts of the state as well, Desrochers said.

“I think we have a strength here, particularly with builders, in part because of our size,” he said. “We’re more responsive. When someone is finished with a certain phase of a project and needs an advance to continue, we try to be as accommodating as possible, and that has created a good name for us in this arena.”

Interest Rates and iPods

The most important thing the team at MSB does is to always try to think like the customer,” Desrochers concluded. “People are extremely pressed for time these days. They need convenience, choice, and expertise … we believe the trick is to offer a unique blend of technology, financial sophistication, and genuine, personalized, outstanding service.”

And in thinking like the customer, Desrochers said while he won’t rely on chotchkes, he understands the power of want as well as need. MSB recently offered a Dell laptop drawing for new online bill-pay customers, and has plans to offer new iPod Nanos to the first 50 people to sign up for a new checking account this spring
“You have to be aggressive with what you’re doing out there,” he said, “on all fronts.”

Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at[email protected]

Opinion

Usually, planners of Bay Path College’s annual women’s professional development conference pick a theme and then select speakers who can properly address it.

For 2006, however, that approach was turned inside out.

Organizers thought they had a theme — concerning how careers and lives evolve, said Caron Hobin, vice president of Planning and Student Development, and then went about assembling a program.

As they looked at the resumes and speaking styles of the keynote speakers, however, conference planners noticed that they all used humor to get their various points across, said Hobin, noting that this trend eventually shaped the 11th edition of the conference into an event titled Humor Incorporated.

“This won’t be a program about humor,” Hobin said of the day-long event set for May 5 at the MassMutual Center. “Instead, it will provide lessons in how humor can be an effective tool to help get a message across or to help people understand dry or complex material.”

Like punctuation.

Indeed, Lynne Truss used humor in her discourse on that subject in the #1 New York Times best-selling book Eats, Shoots & Leaves. She will be the morning keynote speaker at the conference, and should get the event off to a rousing start.

Other keynoters are noted journalist, novelist, screenwriter, playwright, and director Nora Ephron, who has directed such hit movies as Sleepless in Seattle, When Harry Met Sally …, and You’ve Got Mail, and philosopher/comedian Emily Levine.

The three speakers will have different subjects to address, said Hobin, noting that Ephron will focus on her career and the subject matter that has been the focus of much of her work — the evolving relationships between men and women. Meanwhile, Truss will expound on civility in the world today (or the distinct lack thereof), which was the subject of her latest book, Talk to the Hand, and Levine will touch on a variety of subjects in a talk titled It’s Not You, it’s the Universe: How to Have Your Cake and Eat it Too and Lose Weight

But while what they have to say is important, said Hobin, how they say it is what this conference is really all about.

“By using humor, they’re going to provide some direct examples of how it can help people communicate better, and we all know how important that is,” she told BusinessWest, adding that there should be valuable lessons for women at any stage of their careers.

“This is something completely different for us,” said Hobin. “It’s going to be a lot of fun and very entertaining.”

In addition the keynote speakers and their focus on the effective use of humor, the conference will feature several break-out sessions designed to give attendees some knowledge and insight they can take to the office on Monday. This year’s offerings are:

• The Change Before the Change: Laura Corio, MD will address the subject of perimenopause, an important and highly misunderstood biological phase of womanhood. Corio, a board certified OB-GYN with a medical practice in New York City, will speak openly about perimenopause and suggest treatment options focusing on stress and diet, safe and natural hormonal treatment, and alternative therapies;

• Reading Between the Lines: Jo-Ellen Dimitrius, considered the nation’s leading jury consultant, and author of the book Reading People, will offer insight into how individuals can decode the hidden messages in appearance, tone of voice, facial expression, and personal habits to predict behavior and attitude. Dimitrius has used such skills as a consultant in more than 1,000 trials, including such high-profile cases as Scott Peterson, O.J. Simpson, and Rodney King, but she will show attendees how they can apply them to everyday situations, including job interviews, professional interaction, or even a date.

• The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life: Therapist and painter Rosamund Stone Zander will lead a workshop based on the book, The Art of Possibility, which she co-authored with her husband, Benjamin Zander, conductor of the Boston Philharmonic. Zander advocates that art can be a springboard for creating innovative ways to reach personal and professional fulfillment. She will show individuals how they can open their minds to the notion of possibilities and how it can play into their lives and careers to fulfill dreams large and small. For business leaders, the workshop will offer insight into many of the challenges people routinely face in organizations.

• Unfinished Business: A Democrat and a Republican Take on the 10 Most Important Issues Women Face: When Julianne Malveaux, a Democrat and writer and featured columnist, and Deborah Parry, a Republican and political commentator, met in 1998 on MSNBC to discuss a presidential scandal, they found their passionate viewpoints illuminated important political issues. In Unfinished Business, a book they co-authored and sessions they stage together, the two take on subjects that resonate with women such as child care, education, health care, reproductive rights, and foreign policy. Their program sheds light on issues from both sides that help individuals better understand and form opinions on those subjects.

Hobin said plenty of seats are still available for the conference — the move to the MassMutual Center will enable organizers to host more than 1,000 people, 200 more than in the past — but the event is expected to sell out. v

To register online, visitwww.baypath.edu. For more information, call (413) 565-1293 or (800) 782-7284, ext. 293.

Departments

Heart Ball 2006

Below, Red drapes decorated the banquet room at the Log Cabin Banquet and Meeting House in Holyoke, site of Heart Ball 2006, staged by the American Heart Assoc. At right, Allison Belanger (left), account executive for the Healthcare News, BusinessWest’s sister publication, and Jaclyn Stevenson, senior writer for BusinessWest and The Healthcare News, pose with plaques awarded to the two publications in recognition of sponsorship and coverage of the AHA’s fundraisers and awareness events held in the Pioneer Valley this year.


The 2006 Heart of Gold Award was presented to Craig Rydin, CEO & Chairman, Yankee Candle Company.

Here, Linda, Craig and Brent Rydin and Lauren Ayers pause for a photo.

Attendees at the Heart Ball were able to take part in an extensive silent auction, as well as a live auction later in the evening. All proceeds went toward the continued fight against heart disease.

Fitness 5K

Above, runners and walkers at the starting line for the 13th annual Western Area Mass Dietetic Association (WAMDA) Fitness 5K Run/Walk, held on Saturday, March 4 at Look Park. WAMDA also held a fitness and health fair, celebrating National Nutrition Month.

Cindy Boutiette gets her blood pressure checked by Jayne Heede.

Grand Opening


U.S. Rep. John Olver chats with Jean Forget, a long-time supporter of the Holyoke Health Center, at the grand opening ceremonies.

Above, Executive director of the Holyoke Health Center Jay Breines poses with Joe Flatley, a guest speaker at the grand opening of the center’s new facilities in downtown Holyoke.

By the Book

On Feb. 27, Holyoke Mayor Mike Sullivan read to a group of children at the Holyoke Mall’s monthly Storytime. Sullivan is one of several special guest readers who visit the mall regularly.

‘Market’ Prep

Deb Boronski, vice president of the Affiliated Chambers of Greater Springfield, leads an informational program for exhibitors planning to take part in the 2006 Business Market Show at the MassMutual Center on April 5.

 

 

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Paul McDermott remembers the first time he saw the site of the former Belchertown State School.

That was late last fall, several months after Ernest Bleinberger, senior vice president and COO for Maryland-based Hunter Interests first invited him to take a look. Hunter is the firm hired by the Belchertown Economic Development and Industrial Corp. (BEDIC) to conduct a feasibility study of plans to convert the site into a resort hotel and wellness complex and generate some interest for the project in the development community.

Bleinberger had worked with McDermott, now president of a Chicago-based venture called Bridgeland Development LLC, on a few mixed use development projects, and thought the BSS campus and the potential to transform it into something unique would intrigue him.

He was right.
“It took some prodding, but I finally got there,” said McDermott, who had been working on several large-scale development projects and thus struggled to find some time in his schedule. “And when I did, I fell in love with the site and the community, and decided that this was something I really wanted to go after.”

By that, he meant the unique concept that has been proposed for a portion of the 400-acre site — a destination resort spa with related, wellness-oriented businesses and attractions. The planned mix would include several of the elements from other projects McDermott has worked on, including hotels, wellness centers, sports facilities, equestrian centers, restaurants, and others, but not all in the same package.

“I’ve never done a project quite like this one, and that’s what intrigues me,” said McDermott, whose firm was chosen earlier this month to be the master developer for the BSS project, known colloquially as the Cold Springs Resort Hotel and Spa Complex. Bridgeland will spend the next three months taking the conceptual plans for the concept and shaping them into a working model based on market realities.

A memorandum of understanding could be inked by the end of the month, said McDermott, adding that, while the project’s final price tag will be determined by the components included in it, the cost will likely be between $70 million and $100 million (with 80% or more being private money), making it one of the largest development efforts the region has seen in recent years.

BusinessWest looks this issue at the next steps in the process of making it reality.

Mind over Matter

As he talked with BusinessWest via cell phone, McDermott was being guided by his car’s onboard navigation system to a massive, 1,200-acre development in Rock Hill, S.C., just south of Charlotte.

There, Bridgeland and its parent company, Cincinnati-based Pollution Risk Services Inc. (PRS), are finalizing plans for the Greens at Rock Hill Project — one of the largest development projects currently underway in the country — at the long-shuttered Celanese Fibers Company complex. Plans call for roughly 300 acres to be devoted to warehouse and light manufacturing, another 300 acres of retail, a satellite medical campus with a 100,000-square-foot wellness center, and more than 1,000 residential units.

Rock Hill is one of many environmentally challenged sites that PRS has placed in its portfolio over the years. The company specializes in remediation of such sites — more than 3,000 of them since the company was formed 21 years ago — and, in recent years, has added a development component to its roster of services.

The desire to expand the development aspect of the business led PRS President Mark Mather to partner with McDermott and create Bridgeland in early February. The company is already engaged in managing four urban mixed-use development projects, including Rock Hill, and is consulting on an equestrian center project in San Antonio, a 50-acre retail and hotel development project in Bridgeview, Ill., and a 100-acre mixed-use project in Costa Rica that will include more than 100 residential units, retail, commercial, and an equestrian center.

Bridgeland is the latest stop in McDermott’s 28-year career in the management of complex projects that cross several realms, including commercial, industrial, hospitality, residential, sports, entertainment, and others.

While serving as a project executive for International Facilities Group, LLC (IFG) and, prior to that, as senior vice president at Mesirow Stein Real Estate and manager of project management services for Hanscom Inc., McDermott worked on several large-scale projects. They include ‘The Glen,’ a $1 billion redevelopment of the closed Glenview Naval Air Station in Illinois; another base-closure redevelopment at the Orlando Naval Training Center; a $70 million project to build a new stadium for the Chicago Fire professional soccer team; and the $150 million Orlando Performing Arts & Education Center.

McDermott told BusinessWest that he will borrow from those experiences and many others as he works to bring the BSS concept from the drawing board to reality.

The Cold Springs Resort Hotel and Spa Complex is the vision that has emerged for the state school property, which has been the subject of considerable speculation since the state-run residential facility for the mentally retarded closed its doors in 1992. Several possible uses have been forwarded in the years since — from a jail to a retail center, to a national music center — but none have materialized.

The spa concept was eventually brought to the table by town resident Elizabeth Tarras, who once worked in marketing for Springfield’s Business Improvement District. She began researching the subject and concluded there was a market for a moderately priced resort spa in the center of the state, and that such a venture could be complemented with other health- and wellness-related businesses and activities to create a viable destination.

Hunter Interests, which has undertaken feasibility studies, market studies, financing plans, marketing strategies, and other initiatives for a wide range of development projects, including the one in Rock Hill, was hired in early 2005 to conduct such pre-development work for the BSS site.

This included the coordination of a request for proposals (RFP) for the site, which eventually drew responses from 23 “interested parties,” including Bridgeland.

McDermott said the Belchertown site is not considered to be environmentally challenged — although there are some issues, such as asbestos removal — but it does fit the profile of the type of mixed-use project that he and PRS specialize in.

The next three months or so will be devoted to putting a mix together and creating a working plan for the site. Elements to the Cold Spring project could everything from senior housing to a micro-brewery; a medical office building to cross-country skiing.

“We have 90 days to pull together a development team, which means we’ll select a hotel developer and operator, a wellness center operating company, restaurateurs, and a planning team with architects, engineers, and master planners,” he explained. “We’re looking at developing a museum, some sports facilities, an equestrian center, some retail … we’re going to come up with the package we think will work.

“We want to confirm that this is economically viable,” he continued, “or, to put it another way, confirm what it will take to make it economically viable in terms of amendments to the original plan.”

The assembled team will also assess which of the buildings on the campus can be renovated for new use and which will be razed, said McDermott, noting that while the overall site is historic, individual buildings on it are not.

“There are well over 20 existing buildings on the site in various states of disrepair, and one of our next tasks is to do an assessment,” he explained. “Essentially, we’ll have to do a cost/benefit analysis on each building regarding the cost to remediate, renovate, and their specific usability.

“Overall, there are a lot of questions we need to answer — for example, do we want a boutique hotel or a main-brand hotel; a 50,000-square-foot wellness center or a 100,000-square-foot wellness center,” he said. “Hopefully, we can answer them over the next 90 days.”

Building Suspense

If all goes well, permitting and site plan work and remediation of buildings within the complex could be completed over the next 18 months, said McDermott, adding that the hotel could be open within 2 1/2 years.

For now, though, the focus is on shaping the broad vision for the property into a workable plan.

“This is an awesome site with enormous potential,” he said. “I think we can do something special here.”

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

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When Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatist and Mount Holyoke College alumna Suzan-Lori Parks delivered the college’s commencement address five years ago, she remarked “when you wish for it, you begin moving toward it, and it, in turn, begins moving toward you.”

That’s a sentiment that this private women’s liberal arts college, established in 1837 by Mary Lyon, has held onto since Parks spoke those words. In fact, it now uses them in some admissions materials sent to prospective students.

And, in many ways, the essence of the message describes the school’s efforts to become ever more visible in the community and take an active role in educational, cultural, and economic-development-related initiatives. Indeed, as the college moves closer to the community, and especially the town of South Hadley, the community moves closer to the school.

Mary Jo Maydew, vice president for Finance and Administration at Mount Holyoke College, said the institution has historically been a ‘friendly resident’ of South Hadley, serving not only as a landmark institution – it is one of the vaunted Seven Sisters of women’s higher education, and the first – but as a partner in a number of ventures, from conservation efforts to development projects.

The school’s contributions can be quantified, said Maydew, noting that the college disseminates an economic impact report annually, which breaks down the various events, programs, and contributions the college has made throughout the course of the year that have, directly, or indirectly, had a positive impact on South Hadley and the region as a whole. But they can also be qualified through a growing number of partnerships and collaborative efforts that include everything from programs for area elementary school students to the 2004 U.S. Women’s Open, played at a golf course, The Orchards, owned by the school.

“We began offering this information to the town for use during its annual town meeting,” said Maydew, referring to the economic impact report. “We didn’t think people fully understood the economic impact of the college, and we also sensed a lack of understanding in regard to what the college does and how it fits into the life of the community.”

College Town

Referencing the report, Maydew said the college contributes regularly to town programs and purchases, including two $25,000 infusions to the town’s stabilization fund in 2003 and 2004, a town grant program that assists graduates of South Hadley High School who attend Mount Holyoke College, and a recent $300,000 pledge toward the purchase of the Bachelor Brook property, a $1.55 million transaction the town has undertaken in order to preserve the property for passive recreational use.

Donations such as these are a large part of the annual reports, as are the more constant economic variables provided by the college, including jobs, tax dollars, and property development within South Hadley.

The college has a $447 million endowment and an $89.4 million operating budget for FY 2005-2006. In addition to bringing about 2,100 students to the area each year, Mount Holyoke is also one of the largest employers in the area, with an annual payroll of $48 million and a workforce of 1,050.

Beyond that, though, the college’s economic impact report for 2005 states that the college made $13,619,457 worth of purchases within the four counties of Western Mass. alone, $5 million of which was spent in South Hadley, where MHC is also one of the largest taxpayers, paying about $136,000 in property taxes.

Maydew said that while the college remains relatively neutral when it comes to town issues, financial and development-related or otherwise, Mount Holyoke does communicate regularly with town officials and regional leaders in order to maintain a strong voice within the community.

“Interactions between colleges and towns have to be ongoing and cooperative,” she said. “We keep in touch with the businesses in town and meet with the chambers of commerce regularly. We don’t enter discussions with particular points of view, but we are mindful that we are a big player in this area, and if we can make a difference or have an effect, we need to contribute.”

That is particularly important for Mount Holyoke, given the college’s physical reach extends beyond the campus in South Hadley. In addition to the 800-acre campus, the college also owns the Village Commons, the office, retail, and restaurant complex located just across the street, and The Orchards. Those two ventures alone employ nearly 400 people, and in 2004, the property taxes paid to the town between the two holdings exceeded that paid for the college itself – about $155,000.

Maydew said it’s numbers such as these that the annual reports help call greater attention to, as well as the morenebulous economic benefits Mount Holyoke offers, through various events and programs.

One of the more visible examples of college-sponsored events was the U.S. Women’s Open, a mammoth undertaking that Maydew describes as a true partnership between the college and the community. The event brought millions of dollars worth of economic activity to the region, but Maydew said other, less-visible programs held at Mount Holyoke are held year-round, benefiting residents and bringing in a steady influx of visitors.

The Mount Holyoke College Art Museum and the Talcott Greenhouse are active throughout the year, for instance – both are involved in the region-wide Go Dutch! program, celebrating Dutch art and culture and sponsored by Museums 10, a marketing partnership of 10 college and independent museums of which Mount Holyoke is a member.

The college also has a robust conference schedule, particularly in the summer months, when visitors academic and otherwise flock to Mount Holyoke for a number of programs, ranging in length from days to months in session.

“We have enormous stability in the area of conferences and events,” said Maydew. “We typically stage several at a time, and we’re booking one to two years out.”

In addition, more than 1,000 school-age children from across the region participate in the museum’s educational programs, and Maydew said a number of community and cultural events are open to the public, often free of charge or at a nominal fee.

“We try to make the campus as permeable as possible,” she said. “Anything that demystifies the college is an immediate benefit.”

The New Recruits

Maydew said that practice can also aid in marketing future opportunities, as well.

Opportunities such as the economic impact colleges can create by stimulating the area’s educational landscape, through partnerships with the region’s community colleges.

Kevin McCaffrey, associate director of communications at Mount Holyoke College, said the college recently secured a $779,000 grant from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, which will enable Mount Holyoke to offer scholarships to students transferring to the school from Holyoke Community College or Springfield Technical Community College. Amherst College also received a similar grant.

“We’re looking at community colleges as untapped sources for high-achieving students,” he said, “and this grant is going to help us step up a number of programs we already have in place.”

McCaffrey added that with an already strong national and international presence, it has become a particular goal of Mount Holyoke’s to improve its visibility within Western Mass.

“There won’t be any particular focus on any specific type of student,” he said, “we want to attract high ability, high achievement students from wherever we can get them.

“But, we would like to reach out to people who might not at first see Mount Holyoke as an obvious choice for schooling,” he continued, “through some more continuous communication with the region. This is an opportunity to make some new, strong partnerships.”

Those partnerships are something the college wished for, and it’s a goal Mount Holyoke is moving toward.

And it, as Parks might say, is beginning to move toward the institution, as well.

Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at[email protected]

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Rob Parslow was getting pretty frustrated in his search last spring for an internship within the financial services sector, a step he considered critical to his pursuit of a new career in accounting.

He had sent out more than 40 resumes, including many to Fortune 500 companies that had active internship programs, and heard nothing back. He was on the verge of giving up when he went to a new Web site — and eventually hit pay dirt.

It was an opportunity with a small, East Hartford-based company called Horizon Services Corporation, which specializes in customized cleaning solutions for a wide range of clients. It had posted a listing onwww.internhere.comlooking for a quality-management intern who could help the company become ISO 9000 certified.

Parslow, a student at Springfield Technical Community College and a former Air Force officer, saw it, and became intrigued.

To make a long story short, Horizon Services eventually stepped back from its pursuit of ISO certification, but it engaged Parslow in the creation last fall of a quality-management system that is already paying dividends for the company.

And as he talked about Horizon, his work with the company, and the satisfaction he gains from knowing it is still using the system he implemented, Parslow made heavy use of the word we.

Which is exactly what the creators ofwww.internhere.comhad in mind.

The user-friendly, free of charge site was developed by business and economic development leaders involved with the Hartford-Springfield Economic Partnership, with the purpose of retaining more of the 235,000 students attending area colleges and universities; especially those who will be graduating in the next two years.

It is much too early to gauge how effective the site will be with regard to that mission, said Nancy Scirocco, vice president and business development officer for the Healthcare/Not for Profit Division of Webster Bank and chair of the committee that launched the site just over a year ago. But there are signs that it is successfully linking students with opportunities while helping companies, especially small- to medium-sized ventures solve problems and ultimately become more competitive.

“Student perceptions of the region have been causing them to seek jobs elsewhere,” she explained. “We believe this site can ultimately change those perceptions.”

At present, internhere.com is largely a Connecticut phenomenon — the vast majority of posted listings are from companies in that state and large firms there were instrumental in getting it off the ground — but officials on this side of the border would like to change that.

“I think this is a great tool with which we can hopefully keep more of our college graduates in this area,” said Bill Ward, executive director of the Western Mass. Regional Employment Board (REB). “We want to make people aware of this Web site and make full use of it.”

A Job to Do

Scirroco said the motivation for internhere.com can be found in statistics garnered from a 2003 survey completed by the Graduate Retention Committee of the Hartford-Springfield Economic Partnership.

Nearly half (45%) of the graduating seniors surveyed believed that better job opportunities were to be found elsewhere. However, 31% of those polled at the time of the survey were undecided. Meanwhile, 51% of students who had successful internships and co-ops in the area were more likely to stay in the region.

What the survey revealed was a matter of perception regarding the region and the job opportunities it presents, said Scirroco, adding that the region does have good jobs for graduates — but many simply don’t know about them.

The Web site was created to generate some awareness, she continued, noting that it has a wide array of information about the Hartford-Springfield region beyond internships, including its educational, cultural, and recreational assets. But part of its purpose is to link students with companies in ways that may create employment opportunities after the students graduate.

Here’s how it works. Employers wishing to use the site log on and enter a profile that will remain permanently on the site. Meanwhile, they can post specific internships and co-op opportunities and place them under categories of employment that range from accounting/auditing to underwriting; entertainment to IT.

Students, meanwhile, can log on and search through those listings as well as the company profiles, said Scirroco, adding that the site effectively exposes area students — not to mention others from well outside the area (inquiries have come from Brown University in Providence, for example) — to the vast array of career opportunities in the area.

But the site’s ultimate mission is to match students with employers, she said, and this is why the site remains free of charge — to encourage students and companies of all sizes to take advantage of it.

A look at some current postings gives an indication of the quantity and diversity of opportunities available. For example, the category ‘Communications and Mass Media’ lists dozens of entries.

They include internships in the University of Hartford Athletic Department, Boerhringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, Jacobs Pillow, the acclaimed dance festival in Beckett, Mass., the Hartford Business Journal, the Connecticut AIDS Resource Coalition, ThinkGlobal Incorporated, the Northampton-based advertising and marketing firm, and many others.

Scroll down the listings in the category ‘Information Technology,’ and one finds posted internships for such companies and organizations as Abot Software, Hartford Stage, Pratt & Whitney, St. Paul Travelers, and New Wave Industries Inc., all in Connecticut and the Pioneer Valley Design Center in Springfield, among others.

Position Players

It was under the ‘Accounting and Auditing’ category that Parslow found Horizon Services’ posting for an internship centered around creation of a quality-management program. He submitted a resume, and got a call from the company’s president, Ted Hsu (pronounced ‘shoe’) the day it arrived.

The two met and shook hands on a paid internship that brought benefits to both parties.

“He essentially acted as a consultant for us,” said Hsu, noting that Parslow’s first assignment was to read and digest (hopefully) the 700-page ISO manual and offer some recommendations. “That was well above and beyond the scope of a traditional internship; he did a tremendous job for us.”

Hsu actually posted two internships on the site — the other was for someone to focus on marketing efforts such as search engine visibility — and he found matches for both. He told BusinessWest that the resource proved an effective way for his company to reach out to a large audience of qualified candidates.

“What was unique about this site is that it let students know that there are real opportunities out there in small, growing companies,” said Hsu, who was referred to internhere.com from a colleague on the Conn. Minority Supplier Development Council. “That was the first time that link had been made.”

Getting the word out on the Web site, the opportunities if offers small companies, and success stories like Parslow and Horizon Services is one of the challenges facing the committee coordinating the site, said Scirocco.

She told BusinessWest that some aggressive marketing is planned to create awareness. Organizers are using area chambers of commerce, technology councils, other business groups, and some media advertising to not only familiarize business owners and colleges with the concept, but make it part of the economic development fabric in the region.

“People need to hear the message two or three times before it really sinks in,” she explained. “And that’s why we want to work with the chambers and other groups to make sure internhere.com isn’t a best-kept secret.”

Meanwhile, the committee will search for additional and more permanent sources of funding for the venture, she said. Several companies and organizations (most in Connecticut) have contributed money or in-kind services to the cause, including St. Paul Travelers, the MetroHartford Alliance, The Hartford, Northeast Utilitities, Pratt & Whitney, and Ashton Services, based in Springfield, which currently hosts the site. The state of Connecticut is currently considering legislation to provide steady funding toward upgrades and marketing, she noted, adding that similar contributions are being sought from the Bay State, but thus far without success.

“It’s easier for us in Hartford, because this is the state capital and we have some clout with the Legislature,” she said. “It’s obviously going to be harder in Western Mass.”

Ultimately, the committee will look to hire an individual to manage and market the Web site, she continued, adding that such a step is predicated on securing a steady stream of revenue that must be achieved without charging students, businesses, and colleges for using the resource.

“We don’t want to do that, because that’s one of the site’s big advantages right now,” she said. “Because we don’t charge, many smaller businesses and non-profit groups are able to take part.”

Work in Progress

Still another challenge for the committee is to introduce tracking procedures that will let site organizers know how many students have been linked with internships and if any of those individuals have found permanent jobs in the region.

After all, the stated purpose for the site is to increase graduate retention rates and reduce brain drain out of the Hartford-Springfield area.

Ultimately, Scirocco believes it will succeed in keeping students — one of the region’s biggest assets — in the area.

“The opportunities are there,” she said. “We have to make people aware of them and then make some connections.”

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

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The salespeople employed by James J. Dowd & Sons Insurance Agency have, on average, more than 20 years of experience selling insurance products. And they’ve always done things their way.

“Now we require our salespeople to use PDAs,” said John E. Dowd Jr. one of the agency’s three partners, referring to the handheld electronic devices used to store and transmit information. “They’re all going high-tech – some of them kicking and screaming.”

OK, so maybe that’s an exaggeration – the fact that Dowd’s salespeople carry portable digital assistants and have learned how to navigate cutting-edge database software in the office hasn’t caused any actual screaming.

But still, “for people who have done things a certain way for 20-plus years, saying we’re going to throw away paper and centralize our technology has been a big challenge,” Dowd said. “And if we insist that they become high-tech, we have to provide the training for them to utilize the technology in which we’ve invested so heavily. Our challenge is to teach people how to use it in a way that makes them better salespeople.”

In short, even a company that has been a part of the Pioneer Valley for 108 years needs to continually adapt to new modes of doing business, Dowd said.

Long History

While the Dowd agency has long been a recognized name in the region, its origins are humble. James J. Dowd was one of 14 children brought to America by their father in 1865 to escape hard times in County Kerry, Ireland. In 1898, he and partner Jeremiah Keane opened the Keane and Dowd insurance and real estate business in Holyoke.

The company was renamed James J. Dowd & Son before Dowd’s son took over the firm in 1916, eventually moving it into a new, larger building on Suffolk Street in 1926. Over the next 50 years, two more generations of Dowds would move into company leadership. The agency moved into its current location on Bobala Road in 1993 and boasts branch offices in Amherst and Southampton.

Today, as part of the fourth generation of Dowds at the company, John Dowd says his path was inevitable. “I thought about no other careers,” he told BusinessWest. “From the time I started thinking about what I would do when I got out of school, I had only the insurance business on my mind. It’s in my blood.”

That heritage includes a well-honed sense of when to adapt to the changing times. For example, to survive in an increasingly competitive marketplace, today’s insurers have become more creative with the range of services they offer, and Dowd is no exception.

“We offer all lines of property and casualty insurance for any size business, from a corner store to a publicly traded company with worldwide operations. We have that range,” Dowd said, adding that the company also offers several personal lines, such as homeowners’ and auto insurance.

But in addition, Dowd also carries financial products ranging from life insurance and investment services to employee benefits such as 401k plans and health insurance.
“The idea is to become a one-stop shop for insurance and financial services,” he said. “We’re looking to expand that where it makes sense to provide other services that our customers might like to have available. From our standpoint, that’s the direction the industry has gone.”

The major shift came in 2002 when banks were allowed to sell insurance. “We, in essence, now look at them as competitors,” Dowd said, “so we compete with them not only on insurance, but on financial services as well. That really opened up the financial marketplace to where different services that were once separated are now sold under one roof.”

But the products Dowd offers are only one factor in the company’s success. He said customer service is crucial to building and keeping a loyal clientele.

“We’ve long recognized that we sell services and products similar to what’s being sold by many of our competitors,” he said. “But it happens to be a complex product that can be fraught with potential problems, concerns, and misunderstandings. We feel we need to see things from the customer’s standpoint, anticipate their needs, and make the whole process as easy as possible for them.”

That means putting a premium on finding information for clients quickly and making sure they’re able to talk to a person on the phone, not an automated wall of options behind an 800 number.

“People want to have their hand held, and we want to hold their hand,” Dowd said. “We’ve done surveys of our clients to assess how well they are treated, not just by us but by their insurance carriers and people in claim services. If it’s not a positive experience for whatever reason, we make sure that the parties involved are aware, and that steps are taken so the same problems don’t occur next time.”

He said those surveys produce consistently high feedback ratings, but he pays close attention to the few that do not. “Those are the people who can shape your reputation. For better or for worse.”

Repeated Cycles

In order to build a strong reputation over 108 years, a company in any industry must go beyond offering strong products backed by solid service. Part of the challenge is anticipating and riding shifting trends, and insurance is particularly sensitive to market shifts.

For example, throughout the 1990s, rates stayed low in a soft market as insurers were happy to underwrite policies at a loss because they were making more profits by reinvesting that money in financial markets, often to double-digit returns. But that couldn’t continue forever, and the market was already hardening when the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 accelerated that process.

“Many insurance companies went out of business. It did turn the industry upside down for a time,” Dowd said. “But we’ve grown accustomed to going from a soft market to the inevitable hard market and back to a soft market. It’s a fairly predictable cycle. When insurance companies experience losses, they need to restore their surplus and profit margins.

“There is a softening now,” he added, “but it’s not in all segments of the marketplace. The challenge is to know which ones are susceptible to softening and which ones aren’t.”

One trend that emerged from the hard market following 9/11 was a new emphasis among companies on internal loss control and loss-prevention measures, such as disaster-recovery plans and safety awareness programs.

“Claims are inevitable, but good loss control minimizes the number of claims,” Dowd said. That, in turn, allows insurers to gradually sell policies at a lower price, and competitive pressures eventually toward another softening trend – that predictable cycle Dowd talks about.

Other trends have emerged in recent years as well, particularly in response to major insurance events. For example, following the devastation along the Gulf Coast last year following hurricanes Katrina and Rita, it’s difficult to find coverage for coastal properties, including on Cape Cod, Dowd said.

Around the World

James J. Dowd & Sons has come a long way in more than a century of insurance and financial services, now reaching around the globe as part of an international insurance network.

“If you have operations in Singapore, I can provide coverage for you,” Dowd said. “We’ve been able to provide everything from workers’ compensation to property and liability coverage for publicly traded companies as far away as Asia. This is a smaller world than we used to live in, and we can now insure companies with a global exposure.”

Whether dealing with customers around the world or close to home, he said, it helps that Dowd shares a strong relationship with its carriers, some of whom have been associated with the agency for 100 years.

“Those relationships do come into play when settling claims,” he said. “Our carriers trust us; they trust our knowledge and integrity, and that’s important to us.”

Dowd also boasts of the quality of his employees, not only the experienced sales force, but support personnel – a team he calls the strongest in the company’s history.

Still, he worries that the pool of insurance professionals on which to draw is shrinking, which is why the agency is teaming up with Holyoke Community College to help provide insurance-related courses and assist students with internships.

“We want to help this industry grow by helping people get into this business, so we can continue to have strong professionals serving our clients,” he said.

And if, along the way, they learn how to use a PDA, that can’t hurt.

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In the past four years Massachusetts has lost more than 200,000 jobs. If the state wants to keep its share of technology-based industries, such as biotech, it has a lot to learn from places like North Carolina, which does a better job of incubating a skilled workforce.

Two proposed programs under the Workforce Solutions Act, which is part of the economic stimulus bill in the Massachusetts House, are a good beginning. But what they leave out is more instructive than what they include. The proposed $11 million Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund would match employer investment in worker training and build partnerships of employers, the workforce development system, community organizations, and unions to support business needs for particular skills in short supply. The $3 million Education Rewards program would provide assistance to workers attending community colleges or state universities to obtain a certificate or degree that allows them to advance in their occupation. But even with these combined programs, Massachusetts has a lot of catching up to do.

The state’s two major competitors in biotechnology — North Carolina and California — have corporate headquarters and research facilities, just like here. All three states hope to use this strength to expand bio-manufacturing. But Mass-achusetts has not made the strategic investments that those states have in training bio-manufacturing workers.

For starters, too much of the state’s focus is on providing incentives for firms to locate here rather than investing in the workforce that will keep them here once they go into manufacturing. In 2003, Governor Mitt Romney launched the ‘Massachusetts, It’s All Here’ marketing campaign, whose first phase was to attract bio-manufacturing and medical device producers. Another Romney economic development initiative set aside $125 million in subsidies to attract bio-pharmaceutical and medical device companies that create manufacturing jobs. These initiatives are important, but ignore workforce development.

The missing link in the economic development agenda is a community college system that responds to the needs of the labor market. While community college systems in North Carolina and California are collaborating with employers and universities throughout their states to develop bio-manufacturing certificate and degree programs, Massachusetts has few degrees and only tried a pilot certificate program in 2001. The pilot, Building Essential Skills Training, created a short-term bio-manufacturing certificate for the state’s community colleges, which a couple of colleges, including Springfield Technical Community College, still offer. But last year only 13 associate degrees and seven certificates in biotechnology were awarded by Massachusetts community colleges. In contrast, 874 people were enrolled in 17 associate degree programs in biotechnology in North Carolina’s community colleges and 559 completed a one-semester technician certificate in 2005.

Furthermore, the Golden LEAF Foundation, North Carolina’s tobacco settlement fund, put up $60 million in 2002 to improve biotechnology programs at the community college and the university level. This human-capital approach to attracting biotechnology companies should have other payoffs as well. Even if workers do not get jobs in biotechnology, they are building skills that can be used in other high-tech industries.

North Carolina shows what a state can do when it links its community college system to its economic development agenda. CommCorp, primary workforce development agency in Massachusetts, tried to make such a link with initiatives like the Building Essential Skills Training program, but it cannot provide the funding that the state’s higher education system could.

The Workforce Solutions Act is needed, but if the Commonwealth hopes to convert its leadership in research and entrepreneurship into good manufacturing jobs, it has to be better integrated with higher education.

Joan Fitzgerald is director of the graduate program in Law, Policy & Society at Northeastern University.