Home 2006 June
Opinion

Here we can go again.

It seems like every five or seven years, the talk about commuter rail and high-speed rail starts to heat up again. It usually subsides, however, due to a lack of funding, a lack of momentum on Beacon Hill, or both.

But it always comes back again — this time in the form of a proposed route between Springfield and New Haven and preliminary talk of a route between Springfield, Worcester, and points east — and we’re not really sure why.

We understand the general theory — that if you can connect cities like these with a modern, fairly high-speed form of rail transportation, then people can live in one of those cities and work in the other, creating some employment opportunities. But the last time we checked, these cities were already connected, and rather effectively, by bus, specifically Springfield-based Peter Pan, which runs several routes to New Haven and Worcester a day. And relatively few people take them.

That’s because the bus is for poor people, or so goes the argument, which continues with the presumption that if there was a publicly subsidized commuter rail line, offering rates a few dollars cheaper than the bus, then people would rush to take it. Quite frankly, we don’t see it.

What we see instead are people clinging to an old, romantic notion of rail travel. Years ago, before the interstate highway system was built and jet travel made the country exponentially smaller, rail is how anyone got anywhere. A generation ago, people commuted to and from work by rail, often traveling dozens of miles in the process.

Commuter rail proponents, and there are many of them, say it could happen again. They say individuals who want to work in Boston and New York could do so — and while living in the Pioneer Valley. They also say that a commuter rail system will ease congestion on the region’s highways, improving commerce and creating other opportunities for growth. And commuter rail has, in fact, worked in other parts of the Northeast and other regions of the country.

But we see it as an expensive gamble, one with promise, to be sure, but also considerable risk. Indeed, high-speed rail may actually hinder economic development efforts in Western Mass., by taking talent and jobs out of the region.

Before this region, the Baystate as a whole, and Connecticut dive into commuter rail with both feet, it might be best to study the matter first. ‘Study’ is often a dirty word in government and economic development circles because it’s often meant as a way to stall things or put them on the backburner for a while and hope their proponents go away or find something else to promote.

In this case, however, study is necessary, because there is no real evidence that commuter rail will stimulate economic development, as proponents claim, only speculation, and lots of it. The Springfield-to-New Haven line presents little risk, at least in the form of financial burden, for the Commonwealth, which at this point is only being asked to pick up 10% of the $300 million cost, so it might serve as a litmus test of the concept.

But the region is far from ready to take on its commitment to the project — the Union Station renovation project seems dead in the water and there currently isn’t an infrastructure in place to handle a large-scale rail service in the city — and it has other priorities.

Proponents of commuter rail argue that this economic region, which includes Northern Connecticut, needs to be imaginative in its transportation planning if it is to see economic growth . Being imaginative is fine, but the region also needs to be practical and not create redundancies in a transportation infrastructure that has not been identified as a problem.

In short, more homework is needed before we can state with any degree of confidence that commuter rail can or should be part of the solution for this region.-

Sections Supplements
JGS Continues to Adapt as the Tide Turns in Elder Care
Resident James Moberg and Director of Case Management Lucy Giuggio

Resident James Moberg and Director of Case Management Lucy Giuggio share a moment outside of the JGS campus.

With its 100-year anniversary fast approaching, Jewish Geriatric Services is a mainstay in the Western Mass. landscape with which many people are familiar. However, what people often do not realize is the breadth of JGS services – from home care to comprehensive health and wellness management to day programs. Through them, the organization is redefining the very process of aging for many seniors.

Lucy Giuggio RN, director of case management for Longmeadow-based Jewish Geriatric Services, often compares the organization to a ship; and the seniors the organization serves, she says, are the captains.

“There are a sea of options for seniors today,” she said, continuing the metaphor. “The challenge is identifying what the best option is for each person, and recognizing that changes … what’s good today may not be suitable tomorrow.”

To that end, JGS, which began in 1912 as a nursing home in Springfield called that Daughters of Zion Home for the Aged, has grown in its 95-year history to not only meet the needs of area elders, but also to predict those changes on the horizon.

“I spend a lot of time answering questions,” said Giuggio, “from seniors as well as their families and caregivers. When need arises, the first thing that comes to mind for most people is a nursing home. But part of my job is explaining that there is a continuum of care today to be utilized.”

 Homeward Bound

Indeed, many people still equate JGS only with its nursing facility, the Julian J. Leavitt Family Jewish Nursing Home (JNH), a 200-bed facility that serves as the flagship for JGS at its Converse Street location. However, the JGS footprint is much larger than that, including several aspects of that continuum of care, a staff of more than 400, and an operating budget of $25 million.

In addition to JNH, the non-profit also operates Ruth’s House, a 76-bed assisted living facility; Genesis House, a 109-unit independent living facility; Spectrum Home Health Care, which offers home-based nursing and assistance services to residents in 10 towns, and the Wernick Adult Day Health Care Center, which provides daily acitivities and health assistance to seniors still living in their own homes.

Alan Rosenfeld, president and CEO of JGS, said keeping people in their own homes will be a driving force behind several new initiatives within the organization in the coming years, as JGS embarks on a new strategic planning phase this year.

“We’re looking very closely at home-based care and trying to create more opportunities for people that will allow them to stay in their own homes,” said Rosenfeld. “It goes back to our mission. We started as a nursing home, but our mission is much broader — to serve the elderly. We have no desire to bring people into a nursing home that do not need to be.”

The growing need for comprehensive care that caters to a wide range of seniors at various levels of independence and health is indeed a major focus for Rosenfeld and his team as JGS moves forward. Baby Boomers are aging, and that means all elder care facilities will be facing capacity issues in the next 20 to 30 years.
But more pressing, Rosenfeld said, is the WWII generation, which although markedly smaller than the Boomers, represents the population with the greatest need.

“The older Boomers are currently turning 60,” he explained. “But the generation that went through World War II — they’re turning 85. That’s the highest-demand population, although it is one that is shrinking.”

The strategy moving forward, then, becomes two-fold, added Rosenfeld — maintaining the quality of the nursing home as enrollment numbers dip, and refocusing attention on home and community services, in order to enter the next decade with a strong care model.

“Baby Boomers will begin turning 85 in 2030,” he told BusinessWest. “And this idea of entering a nursing facility as one’s health declines, I don’t think they’re going to go for that.”

Diane Mintz, executive vice president for Spectrum Home Health Care, agreed with Rosenfeld that in terms of the broad makeup of care at JGS, Spectrum’s services will be very much at the forefront of new planning initiatives, because the home health agency often represents the entry point for seniors seeking assistance. That in turn can lead to a long-standing relationship with the organization as an elder’s needs change.

“Spectrum launched in 1994,” she explained, “which makes us relatively young — many visiting nurse services in the area are more than 130 years old. But in terms of our relationship to the entire campus, we represent a big part of the team. Our clinicians are seeing about 80 people a day, offering specific services including nursing care and rehab.

“And if extended care is necessary due to an acute illness or a fall, for instance,” added Mintz, “there are other services readily available within the same system. I think it’s comforting for people to know that everything is all right here.”

More importantly, though, Rosenfeld noted that Spectrum allows JGS to extend its services and its mission to a larger audience.

“We need to be able to address the needs of the aging population while at the same time keeping them independent longer, and we’re making progress in this area.”

Staying on Course

The work is multi-faceted — in addition to some program additions and enhancement, Rosenfeld said JGS’ new strategic plan, currently still on the drawing board, is expected to include the creation of a privately operated Hospice program. Also planned are an expansion of home health services, a revamped approach to treatment services, particularly of chronic ailments such as Alzheimer’s Disease and diabetes, and an ongoing effort to streamline the many service aspects at JGS, so they work together as seamlessly as possible.

The new directions are an extension of similar initiatives taken on in recent years at JGS to address the varied needs of seniors. These include the addition of telemedicine to home health care services, free-standing digital health diagnostic centers in every building on the JGS campus (residents swipe an ID card and can immediately check blood pressure, weight, and other variables), and a remodeling effort at Genesis House two years ago that added 29 units, new elevators, and a community kitchen and meeting room.

Prior to that project, though, was the notable construction of Ruth’s House assisted living eight years ago, and a renovation of JNH that made the facility more home-like.

Susan Halpern, director of development at JGS, said those projects were funded largely by a capital fundraising campaign called ReGeneration, which took place from 1995 to 1997 and raised more than $7 million.

“The ability to meet the changing needs of the elderly and to be able to adjust to a changing health care community were the driving forces behind that campaign,” she said, noting that as JGS embarks on new projects, the mission will remain largely the same.

The organization conducts an annual fundraising campaign, but also an annual donors’ night, complete with entertainment, and the Kinsler Classic, a bridge, tennis, and golf tournament, among other endeavors. Halpern said the events as well as the annual appeal allow JGS to maintain services and to develop new ones, but in the coming years she expects a greater focus on major gifts and planned giving, in preparation for new additions to the JGS suite of services.

“Part of my job is to educate the public on the challenges of providing quality care for elders,” she explained. “The task is very taxing on our system, because essentially we are being called upon more and more each year to provide more costly health care with fewer dollars.

“We are very blessed with a supportive community of donors who understand and embrace our mission,” she continued, “but there is a growing gap between funding and services, and the question becomes ‘where do we look to fill that gap?’”

Halpern said some of the options she’s experimented with have been some new media initiatives — billboards and other marketing tools that the organization had not used before. She also said JGS recognizes contributors whenever possible through events and inclusion in the community, and through a number of educational projects, meant to better translate the JGS mission to a greater number of people. Naming opportunities — from bricks in the walkway to entire builings on the JGS campus — remain a strong fundraising tool as well.

“We continually establish new budgets and try to reach new goals time and time again, in terms of major gifts and growing our endowment,” Halpern said of JGS’ fundraising objectives (the endowment currently stands at approximately $22 million). “What got us here today was our ability to remain fluid in terms of fundraising, but also in terms of the entire health care picture.”

Sailing Away    

Giuggio agreed.
“We are a long-term care system that offers most levels of care that people need,” she said, “and that allows us to help others balance care with quality of life.

“I use the analogy of the sea a lot because of the many options we provide for the elderly,” she continued, “but also because we provide a sort of telescope for them … the ability to sail through those options, and find the best possible outcome.”

Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at[email protected]

Sections Supplements
Stop Thinking About Technology and Start Thinking About Your Target

Some people will read the title of this article and presume that ‘getting’ means ‘understanding.’ Others will assume it means ‘acquiring.’ And the answer is yes — though you need the former before you can achieve the latter. And you can pull the word ‘interactive’ out of the title because it doesn’t add anything to the discussion since understanding and acquiring interactive technology are really just understanding and executing basic marketing practices using some tool sets and features that are enabled by interactive technology.

However, before we get into a discussion of the ‘what to whom,’ (my definition of marketing) I think it bears mentioning that as a person who has worked on both the client and agency sides of the business, I believe best practices in this realm are seldom defined as purely an interactive technology solution alone but rest upon the idea that interactive elements helped achieve the overall marketing goals of the client.

Good interactive marketing starts with good strategic marketing planning. You can’t maximize the effectiveness of technology if you haven’t integrated it into an overall communications plan. Time and time again, the biggest mistake companies make is not thinking about interactive as an integral part of the marketing plan. Instead they treat it as stand-alone effort.

And the second mistake? Ownership. How can a company be effective in getting its message out and connecting with and developing customers if one person or group is handling traditional advertising and marketing programs and somebody else is responsible for so-called interactive technology? Just because the word technology is in the mix often there is a turf war between marketing and IT. These are the ugly barriers to successful implementation.

Once you’ve established the ground rules the next step is relatively simple. Stop thinking about technology and start thinking about your target. An 18-year-old consumes media in a much different way than their grandparents. It’s not an earth-shattering insight. But you’d be amazed how many projects I’ve seen where the objective seemed to be technology deployment rather than improving communication with a target consumer.

If you think of media as a continuum ranging from print through radio and television to interactive, and your tool sets as display advertising, direct mail, broadcast advertising, etc., you can begin to define a set of options around new media. But these options, like everything you do in marketing, have to be directed toward business objectives. Creating a feedback loop with customers, creating a new product launch channel, a cross-selling channel, speed to market, online sales to augment traditional sales – even just a simple way to stay connected – are all valid goals toward which your efforts can be directed.

Bear in mind, interactive can offer some clear advantages. For one, if you include the Web site, your ability to present reams of information and allow potential customers a feast of self-selected details makes the concept of a printed brochure pale by comparison. More important, is the truly interactive nature of the collective technology in that it allows you to open a dialogue in the guise of a self-directed exchange.

Building a connection is usually a function of privileged E-mail. I say privileged, because treated any other way it has the potential to burn you. If you want to communicate directly, you have to ask permission. And if you get the opportunity, you have to meet or exceed your customer’s expectation of your brand. Over-communicating with blatant sales pitches, filler nonsense, or poorly defined content are all ways to tarnish your image. The last time I bought a car they actually asked me if I would find it convenient for them to contact me about service calls by E-mail. So far they’ve kept it to that, and I find it convenient, unobtrusive, and worthwhile.

For a more dynamic example, think of the problem an educational institution has in trying to attract good candidates to its campus. On the first level is the problem of ‘really interested’ versus tire kickers. ‘Really interested’ (RI) will register and give you their E-mail. Now let’s begin marketing by more precisely segmenting the customer base so we can really zero in on their needs. Let’s give RIs several choices as to areas of interest (a,b,c). Once they’ve self-selected further we can connect on the basis of interest with differentiated content being offered to RI-a, RI-b and RI-c. If the potential students continue to engage you can be pretty sure interest is high and knowledge is good.

This kind of segmentation with a potential customer group showcases the granularity of interactive marketing, and though it takes some thinking to programmatically plan, it is both effective and cost-effective.

A well-managed E-mail marketing effort has another clear advantage over traditional media – it is easily measurable. From that standpoint, it’s a bean counter’s dream. Open-rates, click-throughs, conversion rates, unique visits. Yum. Mind you, you have to understand the metrics, watch them, and use them to dial in your effectiveness. The ability to conceive, test, and refine is an inherent part of the value proposition and you should be prepared to take advantage of it. In contrast to traditional marketing programs this flexibility can either be looked at as a burden (someone has to assess and refine) or an opportunity (we’re getting increasingly close to customers).

This leads into another aspect of interactive marketing that some clients find frustrating: it keeps changing. It’s what I like to refer to as the wet edge. That describes the phenomena of constant change and enhancement. Some change is good; other change can easily be a double-edged sword. New technology functionality doesn’t guarantee value creation. Just think of the times you went to a Web site that wouldn’t load because of bandwidth or you couldn’t view it because you didn’t have the latest plug-in. The problem is that purveyors of technology will dazzle you with what it can do and limit the discussion of access.

That’s why any discussion of technology deployment has to be balanced but your target demographics’ use and access patterns.

Sounds like a lot to keep track of, but it isn’t. You just have to be careful about chasing technology or being a beta test. The ultimate objective is not to use the latest and coolest technology; it’s to increasingly cement your relationship with your customers. It’s a gentle balance, and like everything interactive, it changes over time.

On the other hand you have to stay abreast. Certainly the things like keyword purchases in search (paid placement), changing search-engine optimization protocols, the move toward more localized search, RSS (really simple syndication) feeds, and video ad distribution are all trends that will alter the landscape and create opportunity to best your competition. Just be judicious in your thinking — using something totally cool on your Web site isn’t effective if it limits access of or becomes a point of frustration for your target audience. Seems pretty simple, but everyone’s been frustrated by enough Web sites to know how many companies make this mistake.

I realize I have generalized to the most common denominator and perhaps not offered insights specific enough to act on. So here’s some top-line thinking based on my experience with clients about getting interactive. If you’re still questioning whether you really need to investigate this new media option, with all due respect, you’re a hopeless Luddite. On the other hand you have to be very careful to create the balance that matches your market dynamics.

You have to study interactive marketing and assess technology in terms of its ability to meet business objectives within the bounds of your customer’s comfort zone. You should seek best practices, demand metrics and measure value based upon goals in marketing plan.

Above all, remember that technology is not a message in and of itself, though some allow it to become that. At its best it’s simply another, often better way to deliver your message. For no matter how much technological dazzle you create, it is ultimately the message that counts and delivers the customer – and understanding that much is how you start ‘getting’ interactive marketing.

Nathan Winstanley is president of Winstanley Associates and Lenox Softworks, a full-service advertising, marketing e-communications and public relations firm in Lenox, Massachusetts; (413) 637-9887;[email protected].

Features
EDC Appointments Expected to Advance Agency’s Mission
Michael Graney, Alan Blair, and Kenneth Delude

From left, Michael Graney, Alan Blair, and Kenneth Delude.

Alan Blair says a transition in leadership at Westmass Area Development Corp. has been in the talking stages for some time now.

“We wanted to make the change when it made sense to do so,” said Blair, referring to his recent decision to step down as president of that agency, an affiliate of the Economic Development Council of Western Mass. (which he also serves as president), and hand the reins over to his long-time lieutenant, Kenneth Delude. “And that time is now.”

By that, he was referring to both the 10-year anniversary of the creation of the EDC (see related story, page 6), what Blair considered a logical time to take stock of the corporation and its affiliates, but also the state of Westmass, the private, non-profit organization that has developed industrial parks in several area communities.

Westmass, like its sister organization, Westover Metropolitan Development Corp., the non-profit group created by the state Legislature to oversee development of former Westover Air Force Base property into what has become four industrial parks, is a vital cog in regional economic development efforts, said Blair. For Westmass to better carry out its role of job creation, he continued, it was decided that Delude, who has served that agency as senior vice president for several years, would assume the presidency and that additions to the staff would be made.

The move also gives Blair, who will remain in his role as president of Westover, more time and energy to devote to the EDC as it enters its second decade of operation.

“There is a strong imperative to continue Westmass’s mission, which is to continue to find ways to work with area communities to bring jobs to this region,” said Blair, noting that the changes in staffing will help with that assignment. “If we don’t continue to provide space for new development, growth in this region will begin to slow.”

Delude’s promotion is one of two appointments announced by the EDC this month. The other is the naming of Michael Graney, most recently director of the Springfield Business Development Corp. (SBDC) as senior vice president of Marketing and Business Development for the EDC.

Graney succeeds Ralph Carlson, the recently retired vice president of Marketing for the EDC, but he will have a broader and somewhat different role than his predecessor, said Blair. That new job description will also include work in what he called “prospect management.”

Elaborating, he said this is work that takes leads for development in the region — both new ventures and job-retention efforts — and works them through what can be a lengthy, complicated process.

Prospect-management has always been an organization-wide function within the EDC, Blair, continued, and it will continue to be, but Graney, in the ‘business development’ role included on his business card, will play an active role in those efforts.

Delude has been part of the team at Westover/Westmass for nearly 25 years. A former engineer for the city of Chicopee, he has worked for both agencies in all aspects of development, in a capacity that essentially matches prospects with suitable sites in the agencies’ industrial parks.

His responsibilities have included everything from working out purchase and sale agreements and closings for individual parcels, to representing the EDC before boards and commissions in communities where the agency has conducted business. In his capacity as president he will maintain some of the duties, but will mostly be tasked with the broad assignment of making sure Westmass can continue its mission for the long term.

Looking forward, Delude told BusinessWest that his agency has several tasks at hand.

The first involves staffing issues, he said, noting that in addition to securing his successor, he will also look to hire another individual to handle a combination of sales and closing duties.

Those staff additions will help Westmass make some progress with its two primary assignments — filling remaining space in existing parks and developing new parks to ensure that the region has an adequate inventory of land for development.

As for existing parks, some are filled or near that point, said Delude, referring to facilities in Westfield and Agawam, while a recently developed park in East Longmeadow has a few parcels remaining. University Park in Hadley has approximately a third of its 76 acres remaining, he continued, while the Chicopee River Business Park, which has one current tenant and a second deal in the works, will have 10 remaining sites and roughly half its developable acreage left after that second deal is inked.

This fairly limited inventory — the Westover parks are also nearing capacity — makes the development of new industrial parks a priority, said Delude, noting that Westmass officials have been exploring both urban and surburban sites in Hampden, Hampshire, and Franklin counties. There are some options, he continued, but mostly smaller parcels, at least when compared to the two large parks Westmass developed in Westfield and Agawam.

“We may never see a 300-acre park again,” said Delude, referring to the Agawam Regional Industrial Park, built on the site of the former Bowles Airport. “But there are opportunities for smaller developments, and we’re looking at both greenfields and brownfields sites in several communities.”

Graney brings a diverse resume to his new position, one he told BusinessWest he lobbied for as part of his pursuit of a new challenge.

He had spent the previous decade at the helm of the SBDC, an agency now with no personnel and an uncertain future. During that time, the agency contributed to formation of the Springfield Business Improvement District, created a new management model for Symphony Hall and StageWest (now City Stage), and worked unsuccessfully to bring minor league baseball to Springfield, among other initiatives.

Prior to that, Graney managed the Springfield Civic Center, as well as other area arenas and theaters, including the CTNow.com Meadows Music Theatre (Meadows Music Center) in Connecticut, and before that worked on commercial real estate, particularly specialty retail centers.

It was that broad depth of experience that appealed to Blair.

“As it developed, the job description for this position was not pure marketing,” he told BusinessWest, adding that there was no formal search for Carlson’s replacement. “We’re trying to attract investors; we needed someone who understands marketing, but also someone who understands real estate and this region. We realized that this isn’t someone you find on the street.”

The new challenge that Graney has assumed involves equal parts marketing, education, and the management of prospects for the region’s industrial parks, said Blair, noting that, a decade after its creation, the EDC, a unique management model, remains a difficult concept for many in the region to grasp.

Thus, marketing will involve initiatives both inside the region and outside it, said Blair, noting that the EDC takes part in a number of trade shows and conventions involving developers and site selectors. Graney took part in his first, a medical device manufacturers show staged in New York, earlier this month.

As for prospect-management, Graney described it as the process of “turning leads into deals,” and said his background in real estate, building management, and in working with other agencies to get things done, will assist him in that assignment.

“Leads can come from a variety of places, from trade shows to state agencies — there’s a whole alphabet soup of them out there,” he said. “We want to take those leads and work with whomever we need to work with to turn them into deals.”

Departments

Meyers Brothers Kalicka, P.C. of Holyoke and Greenfield announced the following:
• Donna Nichols has joined the firm as a Receptionist in the Holyoke office;
• Hanna Ramanenka has begun a 10-week internship at the firm;
• Timothy Garstka has begun a 10-week internship at the firm, and
• Chaim Muller-Ravett has begun a 10-week internship at the firm.

•••••

Richard D. Wilson Jr. has been appointed National Sales Manager for Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). He will have management responsibilities for the external team that wholesales life insurance product and sales concepts to the MassMutual career agency sales force.

•••••

The Springfield Falcons announced the following:
• Garrett Nolan has been promoted to Manager of Ticket Operations;
• Jason Gonet has been named Manager of Game Night Operations & Promotions/Sales Associate;
• Mike Mitchell has joined the team as a Sales Associate;
• Kyle Bousquet has joined the team as a Sales Associate, and
• Brent Bousquet has joined the team as a Sales Associate.

•••••

UMass Amherst announced the following:
• Engineer Jonathan Rothstein has garnered $300,000 over three years for his research in finding ways to modify the surface of an object to reduce drag. The Office of Naval Research Young Investigator Award will support his investigations of drag and how to reduce it;
• Lila Gierasch, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, has been appointed a Distinguished Professor. Gierasch was recommended for the honor by Chancellor John V. Lombardi and Charlena Seymour, provost and senior vice chancellor for academic affairs, who called her a “world-renowned leader” in the study of protein and peptide structure and folding, and the interaction between proteins and biological membranes, and
• Brian Conz, a graduate student in geosciences, has been awarded a Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad fellowship from the U.S. Department of Education for political ecology fieldwork in Guatemala. Conz will carry out six months of fieldwork on indigenous people, conservation, and protected areas in Guatemala starting in July.

•••••

Mary Beth Wood has joined Park Square Realty of Westfield as a Sales Associate in its Feeding Hills office.

•••••

Sam Everett has been promoted to Vice President of RDW Group Inc. He will supervise RDW’s Worcester office.

•••••

Eric Person has joined Johnson Health Network in Stafford Springs, Conn., as Vice President of Johnson Development Fund Inc.

•••••

Carlson GMAC announced the following:
• Carole Sterritt has joined the firm as a Salesperson in the Longmeadow Shops;
• Linda Ferrero has joined the firm as a Salesperson in the Longmeadow Shops;
• Brian Spears has joined the firm as a Salesperson in the Wilbraham office;
• Michael Guardione has joined the firm as a Salesperson in the Wilbraham office, and
• Nathan Czub has joined the firm as a Salesperson in the Holyoke office.

•••••

 

John W. Therrien has been named Manager of Plant Operations at Holyoke Medical Center.

•••••

Greenfield Community College has appointed Anna Berry its Coordinator of Disability Services.

•••••

Maryann Aubuchon, Salon Manager at JC Penney in the Holyoke Mall at Ingleside, was among almost 100 Penney salon managers who were named Personal Best Award winners.

•••••

Nancy Harper, RN, BSN, RHP, has been promoted to Regional Director of Resident and Family Services for Benchmark Assisted Living, based in Wellesley.

•••••

New officers of the Pioneer Valley chapter of Business Network International are:
• Corrine Chartland of Charter Home Mortgage, serving as president;
• Steve Lang of Curry Copy, serving as vice president, and
• Eric Lubarsky of E & G Automotive, serving as treasurer.

•••••

Rocky’s Ace Hardware of Springfield announced the following:
• Lynn Kelly has joined the company as Director of Human Resources, and
• Laraine Johnson has joined the company as Vice President of Store Operations.

•••••

The Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, based in West Springfield, announced the following regional leadership and service awards at its recent annual meeting:
• Judith S. Eiseman received a regional recognition award for being a long-standing member of the PVPC’s Executive Committee. She is also a PVPC Commissioner representing the town of Pelham;
• Stanley E. Kowalski, Jr. received a regional recognition award for his service as a Plan for Progress Trustee. Kowalski is retiring as Dean of the School of Business at Western New England College, Springfield;
• Delania Barbee, a High School of Commerce graduate, received the Linda L. Petrella Springfield Summer Youth Internship Award, and
• Kinshasa Fowkles, a High School of Commerce graduate, received the Linda L. Petrella Springfield Summer Youth Internship Award.
Both teens will serve internships at PVPC this summer before starting college in the fall.

Departments

The following building permits were issued during the month of May 2006.
     

AGAWAM

Amherst Commercial LTD
Partnership
352 Northampton Road, Bldg. 1
$27,000 — Replace existing
shingles, install drip edge, ice
and water shield

Amherst Commercial LTD
Partnership
378 Northampton Road, #4
$14,000 — Replace existing
vinyl siding

Amherst Housing Authority
36 Tamarack Dr. 36 -38
$20,000 — Foundation for
new duplex

J. David Marley
100 University Dr.
$249,250 — Convert/alter 314
of first-floor to medical offices
for Cooley Dickinson PHO

Martin Wells
867 East Pleasant St.
$15,000 — Convert singlefamily
home to workshop

Slobody Development Corp.
101 University Dr. A4 –
UMass Outreach
$537,559 — Interior build-out

Trustees of Hampshire
College
Franklin Patterson
$35,600 — Convert storage
space into two offices

CHICOPEE

Eugene Warguleski
41 Springfield St.
$700,000 — Alterations to
Rivoli Theatre Nightclub

Top Flight Golf Co.
425 Meadow St.
$9,880 — Pour foundation

HOLYOKE

Open Square Properties
4 Open Square Way
$28,500 — Interior alterations

 

NORTHAMPTON

Ahamed Bashir
213 Main St.
$4,500 — Replace ceiling and
construct counters for carpet
business

Coolidge Northampton LLC
225 King St.
$10,000 — Construct
partition walls

518 Pleasant Street LLC
518 Pleasant St.
$3,000 — Construct partition
walls, add door

Northampton Co-operative
Bank
8 Main St.
$2,450 — Erect ground signs

Pug Realty LLC
557 Easthampton Road
$31,550 — Remove three non
-bearing walls and construct
two half walls

Smith College
College Lane
$2,281,721 — Renovate first
& second floor College Hall

Smith College
126 West St.
$30,000 — Construct 8 x 20
steel drop box

SPRINGFIELD

Bank of Western MA
1391 Main St.
$33,893 — Add office space

Baystate Medical
3300 Main St.
$269,200 — Replace MRI
machine

Eastfield Mall
1655 Boston Road
$516,000 — Interior
renovations for new store

WESTFIELD

Robert Williams
8 Turnpike Road
$289,000 — Addition

Cover Story
Taking Stock of the EDC After a Decade in Business
June 26, 2006 Cover

June 26, 2006 Cover

The Economic Development Council of Western Mass. recently marked 10 years of work to promote the cities and towns of the Pioneer Valley as one economic entity. Its president and CEO, Alan Blair, says the council has achieved its primary mission — making the region more competitive — but much work remains to bring jobs and economic growth to Western Mass.

As he stood at a podium in a meeting room at Chicopee’s Parwick Center a decade ago to announce the formation of the Economic Development Council of Western Mass. (EDC), Alan Blair was asked by BusinessWest how and when he would know if the new venture was a success.

“If we become more competitive as a region,” was the quick response, with much to follow about how he believed the EDC, a new and fairly radical concept in planning and economic development, would enable the counties of Western Mass. to better compete for everything from jobs to the attention of lawmakers in Boston and Washington.

Ten years later, Blair, the EDC’s first and only president and CEO, says he can state with confidence that this basic mission has indeed been accomplished — although he stressed that the work is just getting started.

“We’re definitely in the game now,” he explained, using that phrase to imply that the region is now a larger player in the high-stakes and truly global competition for jobs and economic growth — it even had a site or two reportedly in the mix for the $1.1 billion Bristol-Meyers Squibb manufacturing facility that will be built on the former Fort Devens site. “That doesn’t mean we’re going to win every game, certainly — just that we’re in a lot more than we were before.”

But is the region winning enough?

That is a question Blair knows many people are asking — and also answering with a ‘no.’ And he would be the first one to say that the region could be doing better in its efforts to attract more companies and jobs, and hopefully will in the years to come.

It is handicapped in that assignment by everything from geography to well-financed competition, said Blair, adding quickly that luring large employers to the 413 area code has never been the region’s strong suit — most of the larger companies that call the Valley home grew up here — and it is merely one aspect of that broadly defined term economic development.

Others include job-retention, advocacy, government relations, growth of the tourism sector, and new-business development, and in these realms Blair believes the EDC has enjoyed varying measures of success.

“There are 33,200 more people working in the Pioneer Valley today than there were in 1995; our economy is growing, if it wasn’t, we couldn’t absorb those jobs,” said Blair, noting that while some might question where those people are working — many new jobs have come in the tourism and distribution sectors — that simple statistic shows that the region is growing while others in the Commonwealth are not.

There are other ways to quantify and qualify the relative success of the EDC, said Blair, citing everything from the MassMutual Center, which he says might not have gotten off the ground without the council’s work to rally area legislators around that cause, to the fact that other regions in Massachusetts and other cities, including Hartford, are incorporating the EDC model in one form or another.

Overall, he said the EDC has succeeded in taking an area with nine cities (six when it was first created) and dozens of small towns, which were all slugging it out on their own and competing against one another in the process — ‘Balkanized’ was the word Blair used to describe the Valley’s state — and making it one economic region.

Actually, it has gone further, he said, adding that in 2000, the EDC partnered with officials in Connecticut to create what has become known as the Knowledge Corridor.

A region that stretches from south of Hartford to Northampton, the corridor boasts roughly 1.7 million people, 27 colleges and universities, and perhaps 30,000 college graduates a year. These are numbers that can be sold to site selectors and company owners, said Blair, adding that many people are shocked when they hear them.

Turning that initial shock into growth on both sides (but preferably this side) of the border will be a priority for the EDC as it enters its second decade of work, said Blair, who recently talked with BusinessWest about the council’s first 10 years and what the future will likely hold.

History Lesson

As he traced the history of the EDC and outlined the factors that motivated its creation, Blair flashed back to a conference he attended in 1995 as president of Westmass Area Development Corp. and Westover Metropolitan Development Corp., with the goal of finding prospects for those agencies’ industrial parks.

He doesn’t remember where that show was, but he clearly recalls a conversation he had with another attendee.

“He asked me who I was representing and what I was selling,” said Blair. “I said, ‘Chicopee, Ludlow, Westfield, and other communities where we had parks, and he laughed. He said, ‘where are those places?’

“That helped make it clear to me and other people just how absurd it was for us to sell a single municipality to site selectors and brokers who were looking at broad regions and needed a ton of information in order to make decisions about where to locate,” he continued. “That became a foundation for our regional approach to selling this area.”

The vehicle for doing that selling would be an economic development council, funded by several sources, including contributions, totaling $150,000, from area businesses. The council would have a president and a large board of directors that would reflect the regional nature of the agency by including all the region’s mayors and college presidents.

The council’s operating model would be unique in that it would act as what Blair called a “management company” for its six affiliate economic and business development organizations: Westover, Westmass, the Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield, the Greater Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Springfield Business Development Corp., and the Regional Technology Corp., which joined over time.

The cooperation of those affiliates, and the EDC’s unique relationship with them, have been pivotal factors in the overall success of the council, said Blair, adding that the EDC’s architects didn’t want to create a ‘super agency;’ instead they wanted to coordinate the work being done by those organizations.

“This could have been a disaster if the affiliates felt that this was a parent-subordinate relationship, one where we somehow forced them to conduct themselves in a way they weren’t comfortable with,” he said. “That was never the intent, but we knew it was a delicate relationship; every affiliate has found the way to interact as part of the whole, while still maintaining the identity they need to maintain to properly serve their members.”

Working together, the EDC and its affiliates have managed to promote the region as one entity and make it more competitive in the process, said Blair, who, when asked for examples of how the council has accomplished this, started with the Coolidge Bridge.

The structure, which links Northampton with Hadley was badly in need of repair and widening, he said, noting that congestion on the bridge had created legendary traffic tie-ups that in some ways threatened growth of those communities and UMass.

“We were selling the research capability of the university,” he explained,” but people were saying that they couldn’t get there.”

What the EDC did was effectively convert the bridge from an Amherst-Hadley-Northampton issue, which it had been for decades, into a regional priority. Through letters to state transportation officials, talks with area legislators, and efforts to get the region’s mayors to get on board, the EDC helped move the project forward by “taking some of the politics out of the equation.”

“When we got the mayors to support it, that said to state representatives and senators that their backs were covered,” Blair explained. “That hadn’t happened before; someone from Springfield could now advocate for this project in Northampton without fear of having their legs cut out from by the mayor of Springfield.”
The same M.O. has helped with other regional projects, said Blair, listing the MassMutual Center, legislative action to lower the airport user tax (a measure that significantly benefited Westover Municipal and Barnes Airport in Westfield), and an I-91 broadband project now in the works.

The regional approach has also been applied to the task of bringing companies and jobs to Western Mass. and now the larger Knowledge Corridor, he said, adding that before the creation of the EDC, individual cities and towns would compete against each other, often with calamitous results.

The most notable case was the Coke Cola bottling plant that eventually wound up in Northampton in 1995. For several months, Coke played those two communities against one another in a game that resulted in no clear winners.

The EDC now takes large measures of that gamesmanship out of the equation by creating a central entry portal for companies looking to enter the region or expand within it, said Blair. The specific wants and needs of those companies are weighed, and possible sites are forwarded.

The streamlined process has helped bring many companies to the region, said Blair, citing German-based Suddekor LLC as one of the better success stories. The company, a paper-maker, was looking to locate a plant somewhere in the Northeast, and was steered to Western Mass. and eventually the Agawam Regional Industrial Park by the EDC.

The company has steadily grown, and recently opened a second plant in the region in an East Longmeadow industrial park developed by WestMass.

“They’re an example of a company that could have gone anywhere,” said Blair, “but they came here in part because of our regional approach and our ability to put ourselves in the game.

“That’s how we got started with the EDC and why we started — to become more competitive,” he said. “And as soon as we did, we not only got attention statewide, but we got attention from other places, like Northern Connecticut; people were saying, “maybe they’re on to something there, maybe this is the way to go.”

The Jobs at Hand

Despite Blair’s many positive measures of the EDC’s performance in its first decade in business — not to mention the attempts to duplicate the model elsewhere — the council has its critics and skeptics.

Indeed, there are those who have questioned everything from the size (85 members) and makeup (too many old guard members and not enough women or small business owners) of the Board of Directors, to the area’s new marketing image and slogan.

‘Arrive Curious, Leave Inspired’ emerged from a lengthy and somewhat controversial EDC-led process that included the hiring of a Tennessee firm that specializes in destination branding, a move that didn’t sit well with some members of the local creative community.

Meanwhile, some have suggested that the EDC is too Springfield-centric, at the expense of Hampshire and Franklin counties, and still others maintain that it hasn’t done enough to help the struggling city out of its fiscal morass.

But the most consistent criticism of the EDC is that it hasn’t brought large numbers of jobs to the region, despite ongoing efforts to market it as an attractive, lower-cost option to Boston, and hasn’t created much in the way of economic development.

The Chicopee River Business Park, which straddles Chicopee and Springfield, has become the poster child for perceived EDC underachievement. It’s been on the market for nearly a decade, but has just one tenant — laser manufacturer Convergent Prima — although a second deal is said to be nearing completion.

Blair acknowledges the criticism, but bristles at the notion that there hasn’t been any economic development over the past several years. He says it just hasn’t come in the form that most equate with that phrase — companies building new plants and hiring hundreds of people.

There has been some of that, Blair noted, citing Suddekor, the giant Target distribution center that will soon take shape in Westfield, and other companies that have built or expanded in the WestMass and Westover industrial parks over the past 10 years.

But economic development has come in many other ways, some of them less visible, at least from the standpoint of the EDC’s involvement. These include everything from heavy lobbying for the MassMutual Center and the Coolidge bridge widening to creation of the Business Improvement District in Springfield and emerging BIDs in Westfield and other area cities.

And it also includes job-retention, a less-glamorous, often overlooked aspect of economic development, he said.

Citing the decision of Performance Food Group to relocate from Taylor Street in Springfield to the new Memorial II industrial park to be created on land adjacent to Smith & Wesson, Blair said that initiative will bring about 250 new jobs to the region, a number he believes isn’t drawing the proper amount of respect.

“If we were bringing in 250 jobs from outside the region, there would be headlines for three days about how great that was,” he said. “Why don’t we have three days of headlines when we create 250 jobs by keeping a company here?”

New-business development has also been a priority and another relatively successful realm for the EDC, said Blair, adding that through the work of affiliates like the ACCGS and facilities like the Technology Park at STCC, the region is a much more “friendly” place for entrepreneurs.

Tourism has also seen steady growth, he said, noting that several new hotels have been built in the region and occupancy rates remain higher than the state average despite that higher volume.

Moving forward, the EDC will look to improve its track record in efforts to bring more large employers to the region, he said, adding quickly that success will likely not come quickly or easily because the level of competition and the comparatively low level of financial support from the state.

“We didn’t expect to suddenly turn on the spigot just because we printed some brochures and went to a few trade shows and conferences,” he explained. “We knew this would be a long-term effort that would require a lot more resources than we could generate on our own.

“We look to the ‘Research Triangle’ in North Carolina as the model that everyone refers to; they say, ‘look at what they did in the middle of nowhere with a couple of colleges and the state university,’” he continued. “When we investigated that, we found that the brand Research Triangle has been around for more 30 years and that the state has put half-a-million dollars into that brand every year since the beginning. No one had even heard of the triangle until six or seven years after they started.”

It will take more time and resources for the Knowledge Corridor to become a recognized brand, he said, adding quickly that it is already becoming part of the lexicon for brokers, developers, and site selectors.

“We have a cross-border brand that’s only five or six years old,” he told BusinessWest. “We should be looking at a 15-year timeline to see if we can be successful in changing the perception of Western New England by using this brand.”

The Bottom Line

While Blair feels confident that the EDC has met that threshold for success he laid out a decade ago, he’s far from content with what the council has accomplished.
“You never want to leave the impression that you’re ever satisfied with results,” he said. “If you ever feel that way, you might as well get out; there are many things we can be doing better.”

But overall, Blair believes the EDC has had a productive first decade in businesses, and, like the region itself, has built a foundation on which to grow.

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

Features
Still Struggling with Budget Cuts, Area Career Centers are Being Entrepreneurial

Kevin Lynn

Kevin Lynn of FutureWorks said proactive programs and business strategies are one way to offset the effects of funding cutbacks.

Sometimes, when David Gadaire, executive director of CareerPoint one-stop career center in Holyoke, talks about the center, it sounds like he’s describing an emergency room.

“When people lose their jobs, they go into panic mode,” he said. “Often, people are frantic. They walk in off the street, and we work to help them as best we can. At the same time, the phone is ringing, sometimes 300 calls a day, and everyone has a specific, important question that needs to be answered. To succeed, it becomes part of our jobs to cut through the bureaucratic system, which we are — very — and focus on being as customer-driven as possible.

“It’s like triage.” CareerPoint and its Springfield counterpart FutureWorks, have been serving Western Mass. as the only one-stop career centers in the area for 10 years, and upon this anniversary, Gadaire and others are reflective of the challenges of the past that have been surmounted. However, they’re also mindful of the challenges to come.

In those 10 years, career centers across the country have faced mortal wounds to their budget, while the job-seeking community remains in constant supply, and more in need than ever to enter the job market armed with increasingly sophisticated skills.

Rexine Picard, executive director of FutureWorks, has been at the center since its inception in 1996, and has seen the changes to the market firsthand.

“It has been an intense journey,” she said. “I came on board as a career counselor and made my way up to my current position. This was the first one-stop career center in Massachusetts, and I saw it as a great opportunity to do things out of the box.”

Center Cuts

According to Picard, that’s exactly what happened — FutureWorks thrived in its first year by focusing on the development of individual career skills, education, and strong employee-employer matches. And despite budget cuts that have necessitated some downsizing over the past 10 years, she said FutureWorks has managed to remain on an even keel in terms of services, although there have been stormy periods.

At one point, for instance, state funding was virtually eliminated in the middle of the year for a program called Next Step, which provides work opportunities for welfare recipients. The slash necessitated the lay-off of 14 people, and although funding was eventually restored and all 14 employees returned to their posts, it’s surprises like those that can rock the boat.

As can a little controversy. Several years ago, Picard explained, FutureWorks be-came the site of protests, as some local groups called the center’s private standing – at the time, the organization functioned as a private, for-profit venture – into question.

“Some people in Springfield saw issues surrounding the idea of private industry managing a government entity,” she said, noting that FutureWorks rechartered as a private non-profit in 2001, forming a local board of directors. “The local board of business professionals has given us a much stronger hold in the community.”

Despite their private status, however, FutureWorks and CareerPoint (also a private non-profit) still glean the majority of their funding from state and federal sources, and have suffered the same financial dire straits as many career centers in the Commonwealth, public and private. Kevin Lynn, manager of business and youth services at FutureWorks, said that while unexpected hits like the loss of the Next Step funding can have a profound effect on the center’s bottom line, it’s the steadily diminishing stream of funding that has an even greater impact.

“For career centers, funding has declined every year for the last 10 years,” said Lynn, noting that fiscal year 2007 is expected to see a $900,000 cut. “The high-point was really that very first year, when money was rolled out for this new concept.

“The loss in federal funding is due in part to the state’s loss in population,” he continued. “There are occasional grant opportunities, but not all are of an appreciable amount, and grants also usually have a dedicated purpose, and that doesn’t allow you to solidify your core mission. So in many ways, career centers are limping along.”

In Business

To address that fiscal need, though, many career centers have turned to new, profitable service options, in order to gain greater control of their finances.

Gadaire explained that CareerPoint’s business division, which provides training classes for companies across the region for a fee, was a response to the need to serve several specific populations on a shoestring, and the realization that funding just wasn’t going to stretch far enough.

“What has changed the most for us is the sheer volume of people coming through the doors,” said Gadaire. “The first year we were open we served 4,000 people. Last year, the number was 14,000. That, paired with the fact that we’re currently receiving less funding today than we were in that first year, has prompted us to keep a close watch over how we do business, and what services we provide.”

Gadaire explained that at the outset, CareerPoint’s central mission was to provide as many job-related services as possible to the greatest number of clients as possible.

“We were set up to serve as a one-door, access-for-everyone career center,” he told BusinessWest. “When we acknowledged the fact that we didn’t have the resources to serve everyone, including special populations such as the disabled, ex-offenders, those who speak little or no English … that’s when we became more entrepreneurial in our thinking.”

He said CareerPoint’s business division was created to tap into funding sources outside of state and federal programs, and in turn to serve a greater number of people more completely.

“The largest population of people we serve is still people who want to change or expand in their careers, or who have been dislocated from their jobs,” said Gadaire. “The problem there is that when the population of people in need gets too big, the specific populations get lost.

“We’ve been able to expand our capacity over the last five years by $1 million,” he continued, “by tapping into three key areas: grants, partnerships with other businesses, and through fee-for-service offerings. We want to become even more self-contained … we’re not there yet, and I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to be fully free of state and federal funding … but we do need to be more flexible.”

And beyond expanding revenue, the new funding streams have also allowed CareerPoint staff to expand their knowledge base. The center’s partnership with the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department, for instance, has allowed CareerPoint to conserve time and resources by tapping the Sheriff’s Department for assistance with ex-offender re-entry to the job force.

“The Sheriff’s Department goes for grants for ex-offender re-entry which in turn benefit us through the partnership,” said Gadaire. “That also allows us to grow our area of expertise. It allows us to have people on the payroll who are truly experts in one or more of those sub-groups of people, and those groups begin to add up.
“We still believe in the universal access model,” he added. “And expanding our expertise helps us ensure that people with specific needs don’t get lost in the crowd.”

The business division will continue to play a major part in CareerPoint’s strategic planning, said Gadaire, especially in light of the news that funding is expected to drop substantially in 2007.

“We’re taking some fairly draconian hits,” he continued, noting that the center is expected to lose 22% of its federal funding. “They’ve necessitated some layoffs and some hours cut, which is ironic, because now some of our staff members will be using our services. That really drives the point home that everyone is a customer.”

Stitch in Time

And while not every case is an emergency, there is a wide gamut of clientele to be served – some, arriving just hours after losing a job, need wounds healed, while others are looking to improve the overall health of their careers.

Either way, said Gadaire, whatever the fiscal year brings, FutureWorks and CareerPoint both have waiting rooms that are perenially busy.

Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at[email protected]

Departments

Steady Job Market Anticipated for Springfield Area

SPRINGFIELD — Springfield-area employers expect to hire at a respectable pace during the third quarter of 2006, according to a new Manpower Employment Outlook Survey. From July to September, 32% of the companies interviewed plan to hire more employees, while 21% expect to reduce their payrolls, according to Manpower spokesperson Cathy Paige from the Springfield office. Another 22% expect to maintain their current staff levels and 25% are not certain of their hiring plans, added Paige. For the coming quarter, job prospects appear best in non-durable goods manufacturing, finance, insurance and real estate, education, services, and public administration. Employers in construction, durable goods manufacturing, and transportation/public utilities plan to reduce staffing levels, while those in wholesale/retail trade voice mixed hiring intentions. According to the national seasonally adjusted results of the survey, U.S. employers still won’t budge on hiring plans for the third quarter of 2006. Of the 16,000 U.S. employers surveyed, 31% expect to add to their payrolls during the third quarter, while 6% expect to reduce staff levels. Fifty-seven percent expect no change in the hiring pace, while 6% are undecided about their July-September hiring plans.

Westfield State President Resigns

WESTFIELD — Vicky L. Carwein, the first woman president at Westfield State College (WSC), recently announced her resignation to accept the chancellor position at Washington State University. Carwein said that the opportunity was too good to pass up since her husband also has a new position in the same area. Carwein will continue to serve as president at WSC through the summer and will assume her new position in the fall. The college’s Board of Trustees will soon embark on a national search for a successor to Carwein.

Hayden Tapped For Kittredge Center Post

HOLYOKE — Holyoke Community College (HCC) President William F. Messner has recommended the appointment of Jeffrey P. Hayden to vice president for business and community services and executive director of the Kittredge Center. Hayden’s nomination must be formally approved by the college’s Board of Trustees, which next meets on June 27. If approved, Hayden will begin the position in early July. Hayden has worked in the Office of Economic and Industrial Development for Holyoke for 12 years, and most recently as its director. Hayden was one of 38 candidates for the position, which was left vacant last summer when long-time HCC administrator Paul Raverta assumed the interim presidency of Berkshire Community College. Named after Yankee Candle founder and HCC alum Michael Kittredge, the Kittredge Center for Business and Workforce Development houses the college’s academic and community focused business services. The $18 million complex is home to the WISER (World Institute for Economic Research) Center, as well as the Center for Business and Professional Development.

Springfield Has Pros, Cons to Economic Profile

SPRINGFIELD — Twelve cities recently participated in a study by the Northeastern University Center for Urban and Regional Policy, with Springfield ranking in the middle of the pack. Springfield has been the only city to publicly release its information about the comparison, according to Donald Walsh, a senior fellow at Northeastern University, who also supervised the survey project. The participating cities answered 194 questions relating to the economic profile and municipal infrastructure, and then a survey of 4,000 site selectors, industrial and commercial real estate brokers, and developers ranked the importance of various measures of community performance. Springfield scored well on several issues ranging from modest traffic and the proximity of higher education to relatively low rental rates. Areas that ranked poorly in Springfield included limited parking near development sites, crime rates that are higher than average, and scores on standardized tests of students are lower than average. Mayor Charles Ryan noted that the city has been diligently working to improve results in several of the key areas cited in the survey. Other cities that participated in the survey were Attleboro, Brockton, Chelsea, Fitchburg, Haverhill, Holyoke, Lawrence, Pittsfield, New Bedford, Revere, and Worcester. The cities were chosen because they elected to pay the costs of participating, according to Walsh. The survey was co-sponsored by the National Assoc. of Industrial and Office Properties, the Mass. Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission, and electric utility NSTAR.

Opinion
A Modern Touch for the Pension System

It’s time to take a hard look at how to modernize and streamline Massachusetts’s archaic pension system.

There are 106 state and local public employee pension systems. Each has overhead, inefficiencies, loopholes, and, in some cases, mounting deferred expense.
The state pension system has $13 billion in unfunded liability that acts like an anchor on the budget and mortgages the state’s future. Next year, taxpayers are set to pay more than $1 billion just to chip away at the pension debt. Those annual payments will rise to $2.3 billion by 2023.

In addition, cities, towns, and counties waste almost $200 million a year running their own systems, much of that going toward making up for poor returns on investment. A study by the Pioneer Institute found that just 5.7% of local pension systems match the state fund’s investment returns.

Local pension systems are also weighed down with separate investment managers, accountants, and additional duplicative overhead. Maintaining that local control over pension systems comes at a large cost. Taxpayers will pay another $3 billion over 20 years just to make up for poor investment performance in local systems over the last decade.

The pension system is also easily gamed by insiders who know how to work the system to maximize their payout. At the same time, the system discourages bright, idealistic young people from spending a few years in public service before moving on in their education or career, by denying short-term employees any pension benefit.

What can be done to fix this mess? Most companies have started offering their employees a 401(k) option. Recognizing that modernization, other states have followed the lead of the private sector, and Massachusetts should be next.

If we institute changes that bring us more in line with the successes of the private sector, we can stop the $13 billion in unfunded pension liability from growing larger, and immediately deliver nearly $200 million in annual savings while maximizing returns for retirees.

The Healey-Hillman pension reform plan would apply to all new public employees in Massachusetts, except police officers and firefighters, who often retire at an early age and spend their days in hazardous working conditions. It would fold 106 taxpayer-funded state, county, municipal, and authority systems into one, eliminating abuses, duplication, and unnecessary local overhead costs, and give municipalities the benefit of the state pension fund’s strong performance.

Employees could choose to invest the money themselves, continue to have the Commonwealth invest it for them, or opt for guaranteed annual interest equal to the 10-year Treasury bond, currently around 5 percent.

Employees could take their retirement benefits with them when they leave, creating an incentive for young people to spend a few years in public service.

Our proposal will save some money immediately and have significant long-term financial benefits. The system would save more than $100 million over the next decade. Once all state employees are covered by the plan, taxpayers will save $140 million each year.

Municipalities would save about $200 million a year immediately, and could use the savings to return money to taxpayers in the form of property tax relief, or to boost local services. Most important, once all employees are in the new system, taxpayers in Massachusetts will not have to worry about unfunded pension liability dragging down the budget and the economy again.

Our pension reform will transform a broken system into one that is fair to employees, less burdensome to taxpayers, and helps to modernize an out-of-date Massachusetts bureaucracy that is weighing the state down and making it less competitive.

Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey is the Republican candidate for governor.