Home 2007 January
Opinion

The juxtaposition of the comments wasn’t the best.

Gov. Deval Patrick was addressing the Mass. Municipal Assoc. and discussing the state’s fiscal health and ways to improve it, when he offered that he would keep an open mind on legalized slot machines and casinos, and that they may eventually help the state keep its budget in the black, or at least out of the red — a stern challenge given projections for a billion-dollar shortfall to result from slowing tax revenues.

We’ve never preferred to view casino gambling as a budget-balancing option. Instead, we’ve looked at it as a form of economic development, one that has the potential to raise the profile of a city or region, bringing new jobs and the potential for tourism dollars and hospitality-related businesses. And we’ve long taken the view that casinos either make sense or they don’t, and that their practicality for the Commonwealth shouldn’t be a function of the state’s fiscal well-being.

But the reality of the situation is that casinos and slot machines at race tracks have always been viewed as a vehicle for revenue for the state’s cities and towns, many of which, especially older urban areas like Springfield and Holyoke, are struggling and looking to the state for some form of help. The phrase Patrick used when referring to legalized gambling was “money left on the table,” and by that, he was referring to the tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars that stream out of the Bay State each year and into Connecticut, New York, and other states that permit casino gambling.

His point is well taken, and we hope that Patrick and the Legislature give casino gambling another hard, thoughtful look.

Why? Because while it’s easy to say that there are better ways to raise revenue and create jobs, it’s harder to back up those statements. Tax hikes are always possible, but they are never popular, and few on Beacon Hill have the stomach for them. Nor do they have a fondness for cuts to existing programs.

Meanwhile, no one really knows from where the next load of jobs will come. As economists told BusinessWest recently, there are real doubts here and elsewhere about whether bioscience, biotechnology manufacturing, alternative energy ventures, or other sectors will ever become large or steady sources of employment, and traditional manufacturing jobs continue to decline as companies leave for states with a lower cost of doing business.

These realities may be enough to prompt Patrick, who opposed legalizing slot machines during last year’s campaign, to at least initiate some new dialogue on the subject.

While casinos are not the answer for every community or region — we are skeptical about placing them in large urban centers like Springfield, for example — there are scenarios in which they could work. Locally, the Quaboag area is a good example. This is a region that has lost a number of manufacturing jobs in recent years and is obviously struggling to replace them, with tourism and service-sector positions being the best hopes at the moment.

Meanwhile, although progress has been made in a broad effort to give the region an identity and to lure tourists from Boston and other areas, many people still consider Quaboag to be at least one turnpike exit too far. A casino at or near the Palmer interchange would certainly change that equation, and quickly.

Franklin County, Mount Tom in Holyoke, and perhaps some areas of Berkshire County are other places where a casino could, if it was done right, complement existing attractions and businesses and bring progress in the form of jobs and commerce to the area.

There are social costs that go along with casinos — gambling impacts all groups, but especially poorer constituencies, and many become addicted. These costs, many of which are already being felt with casinos only an hour or two away in other states, must be weighed, along with the potential benefits.

Patrick says he’s willing to keep an open mind. We hope the state’s Legislature can do the same.

Uncategorized

Kathleen Anderson is a fourth-generation Holyoker. And she’s proud of that heritage.

“My great-grandparents came here from Ireland,” said Anderson, who has headed the city’s Office of Planning and Development since last summer. “When I looked up their history, I found they received the 55th marriage license ever written in the city.

“I think a lot of people, even those who don’t live here anymore, have strong ties to this city,” she added. “People here are proud of their community.”

Indeed, Holyoke is a city with a rich manufacturing past, some intriguing prospects for the future, and a striking geographic diversity — all assets to build upon.

“You have a downtown with a city-type atmosphere, and you have rural parts of the community where you’ll find horses and other animals,” she said. “You have the Mount Tom reservation, which is an asset. We have dinosaur tracks along the Connecticut River, the Holyoke Dam and fish ladder, and the old mill buildings along the canals.”

In her dual role as head of economic development and director of the Holyoke Economic Development and Industrial Corp. (HEDIC), Anderson is on the front lines of packaging all of that in order to attract new business to the city and craft an overarching strategy to bring vibrancy to its business culture and its neighborhoods.

It’s a challenging role, but one that Anderson says she is prepared to tackle. After all, Holyoke is in her blood.

Stay a While

Anderson originally started working for the city in 1999 as an aide to then-Mayor Daniel Szostkiewicz, but it was anything but a secure job.

“I was hired in August, and he lost the election in November,” she recalled with a grin. “When Mayor (Michael) Sullivan took over in January, he called me up and said, ‘Kathy, I’ll give you plenty of notice to find another job.’ I had known from the start that I might be out of a job depending on what happened in the election, but that was fine; I just wanted the experience.”

However, as Sullivan settled into his role, Anderson said, he apparently liked what she was doing in hers, and kept her on board. And when Jeff Hayden stepped down from his position as Planning and Development director last year to head the Kittredge Business Center at Holyoke Community College, Sullivan asked Anderson to take over.

“My husband has always encouraged me, and he said, ‘go for it,’” she told BusinessWest. After all, she said, plenty of experience in different areas of development had built up her confidence.

“I was involved in a lot of committees before this role,” she said, including president of both the Greater Holyoke Rental Housing Assoc. and the Mass. Rental Housing Assoc.

Before that, Anderson had been a Realtor in the city and also served on the Churchill Neighborhood Partnership, which was commissioned by the mayor’s office to put together a plan to rejuvenate an area beset by abandoned buildings. The group eventually helped secure an $18 million grant to do just that.

Now, as director of the city’s Office of Planning and Development, she oversees both the Planning Department and the Economic Development Department. The two offices, which total seven staffers, were combined two years ago and moved into shared space on Suffolk Street last summer.

“It has worked out extremely well, having both departments under one roof, working together all the time on different projects, whether somebody is coming in to look at property we own, or talking with the Planning Department about zoning,” she said.

Anderson’s staff meets with several city departments on a regular basis, from Building to Law to Conservation, “and we’ve streamlined the permitting process. Nothing falls through the cracks.”

New Faces in Town

In her role as HEDIC director, Anderson is actively helping to recruit new business to Holyoke and move vacant and foreclosed property back onto the tax rolls.
“Streamlining these offices, I think, makes for a more business-friendly environment in which to do business,” she said. Meanwhile, “properties are very affordable in Holyoke, and there has been a great deal of interest in some of them.”

Anderson has several projects on her plate, such as a development near Holyoke High School that will soon house a CVS and medical offices, and the ongoing question of what will become of 18 industrially zoned acres on Whiting Farms Road, near the Holyoke Mall.

Also on the drawing board is the Holyoke Canalwalk, a project still in its design stage that will feature a two-mile pedestrian promenade along the city’s canals. Proponents say the initiative would not only promote the growth of the arts corridor now taking shape in the old mill buildings, but also enhance the profile of the downtown area, as well as nearby Heritage Park, Pulaski Park, and the dam.

“It’s a bit of a challenge, because we need easements signed by all the property owners, but it will really improve and enhance their property,” she said. But even before the project concludes its design phase, Anderson said she is impressed with what’s happening in the mills.

“There aren’t a lot of large manufacturers anymore, so a lot of these large buildings along the river and canals are made up of a lot of different kinds of businesses,” she said. “They include small manufacturers and small commercial ventures, as well as artists’ lofts. A lot of people see potential in the idea of artists downtown.”

Anderson pointed especially to the Open Square project, which owner John Aubin converted from a defunct paper mill into a thriving mixed-use complex that houses an eclectic mix of start-up businesses, artists’ studios, and niche manufacturers.

“There aren’t a lot of vacant manufacturing buildings left in the city, but there are some great ones along the river that have some potential,” she said. “John Aubin has done a great job with the concept of breaking up a building and making the best use of its space.”

Meanwhile, Anderson said the city has a number of properties in tax foreclosure that could be developed for reuse once a solid plan for them is in place. In speaking with BusinessWest, in fact, she kept coming back to the idea of an overall plan, not just random development.

“Holyoke has a lot of good qualities,” she said. “We were the first planned industrial city. We have the canals and the river. And there’s a lot of history here.

“I think the direction the mayor has been going in is extremely positive,” she added. “Yes, Holyoke does have its share of issues and problems, but we’re continually working to address those issues.”

The Next Phase

Helping to write the next chapter in Holyoke’s history is a challenge Anderson embraces.

“I enjoy this job. It’s a great learning experience, and gives me a whole different perspective on what I had been doing,” she said. “I had worked closely with Jeff Hayden on a number of projects, and I was well-aware of the things that he was doing.

“It’s just very exciting,” she concluded. “I love the direction this city’s going in.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at[email protected]

Sections Supplements
Younger Generations Show Savvy and Spunk When It Comes to Money and Managing It
Pat Grenier

Financial Planner Pat Grenier said many people under 40 are taking the precaution of saving earlier, but aren’t afraid to take risks, either.

On the whole, financial planners say younger investors are savvier and more willing to take charge of their own finances than any previous generation. This group, like those that came before it, will certainly face challenges. But it is in many ways better-suited to meet them, say the experts, because it is better-informed and has, for the most part, a no-fear attitude when it comes to wealth.

Pat Grenier, a financial planner with BRP Grenier based in Springfield, has been practicing for 22 years and said she’s seen a notable shift in how people approach money, and the saving thereof, in that time.

“Twenty years ago, if a young couple came to see me — which was rare — their outlook was much different,” she said. “They were looking at specific investment ideas, because the wide variety of options that we have today wasn’t available.

“Now,” she continued, “people are looking not for a product, but a plan, to create the financial future that they envision.”

Several factors contribute to this shift in financial planning trends among younger clients, said Grenier, among them a lack of confidence in Social Security and an increased awareness of money-management issues, thanks in part to the preponderance of free information now available on the Internet.

“Many people don’t believe Social Security will be in place when they reach retirement age,” Grenier said. “They have some knowledge, and usually have retirement plans at work, and many of them have also learned what not to do because their parents haven’t saved enough. They’re seeing firsthand the costs that can be incurred at an older age, especially when a parent is sick, and that’s prompting them to take action.”

Grenier isn’t alone in this assessment; many financial planners see the under-40 set, and Generation X in particular, as the most savvy of all constituencies when it comes to saving and investing, and also a group that is moving to the forefront of the country’s financial picture.

See How, Know How

Jeff Tomaneng is a financial planner affiliated with the Waltham-based Financial Planning Assoc. of Mass. (FPA), who, at 36, sees saving and investing trends developing among his peers as well as his clients.

“In general, there is a greater awareness of financial planning issues such as asset protection, insurance, retirement planning, and estate planning,” he said, adding that as recently as three or four years ago, if he attempted to address those issues with many of his younger clients, most would react with skepticism.

“Many would have thought I was trying to sell them something,” he said. “But now, there’s enough press out there to make people aware of the diversity of financial issues. Five or 10 years ago, specific financial information was only easily available to people with high net worth. Now, just about every type of information is available to everyone.”

Online resources such as Yahoo! Finance and Fidelity’s MyPlan are largely responsible for that new level of awareness, said Tomaneng, and for the younger set’s comfort level with finding and processing that information. It’s an awareness that wasn’t there for Baby Boomers during their earlier years, he noted.

“Baby Boomers didn’t see financial planning as important early on, and many figured it out during a mid-life career change,” he said, noting, however, that Generation Xers, those born roughly between 1963 and 1979 (the parameters have never been specifically defined), started investing, saving, or researching one or both earlier. “I find it easier to speak with Gen-X clients because of that awareness. They’re comfortable finding information on their own and presenting their ideas to me, and they’re more comfortable with the various software programs that can help them implement their own financial planning.

“As early as five years ago, people were still saying ‘I can do this later,’ but I’m not hearing that as much,” he continued. “Today, I’m starting to see college students opening their own IRAs.”

Tomaneng agreed with Grenier that there are social as well as political and economic reasons for the shift. But he said a common thread among many of his clients is that they’ve received somewhat of an early wake-up call, by seeing their older relatives struggling.

“It’s less about lessons learned than it is about learning what not to do,” he said. “Many people under 40 see their grandparents with nothing, and that, in turn, has led them to understand the importance of having a nest egg, and also having legal documents in place.”

Risk Takers

That’s not to say there aren’t some challenges for people under 40 in addition to this new mindset.

Molly Keegan, a registered representative and CPA with New York Life in Northampton, said this group has grown up largely in healthy economic times, and while that allows them to see the benefits of capitalism in general, it also leads them to spend more.

“These people have grown up in wonderful economic times, so they want nice stuff,” she said. “Their life costs are much different than those of older people, and therefore it’s easier for them to get trapped in a debt cycle.”

But Keegan added that Gen-Xers are also more prone to take financial risks than their parents and grandparents, and while debt coupled with risk is a real danger for many, she said those who are actively taking charge of their own financial futures by managing their cash flow and saving both pre-tax dollars — through a Roth IRA, for instance — and after-tax dollars are doing well.

“It boils down to behavior management,” she said. “These people are in their building years, and high-wage earners and good savers are not always the same thing. Those who will be financially secure in the long run are those who will practice cash-flow management, save early and often, save for the long term and the short term, and avoid debt.”

That advice resonates even more when some of the lifestyle choices of this age group are further examined, said Grenier. In addition to noting the effects of poor or tardy planning among older investors, other societal trends factor into the financial planning decisions of people under 40, such as having children later in life.

In that case, Grenier said, more people than ever are saving for college and retirement at the same time, a scenario that serves as an apt example of the financial pressures that could emerge as people age, but may be alleviated by making saving and investment decisions earlier.

“I approach it like building a house,” said Grenier of her work with younger clients. “I tell people to take care of their basic needs first — look at your cash flow, determine what any liabilities are, contribute to a retirement plan, and increase those contributions over time.”

She also recommends investing in life and disability insurance, “so the other plans don’t fail because of catastrophe,” and accruing and saving at least four months of living expenses as a general rule of thumb.

Beyond those steps, she said, the bulk of young professionals will then ask for assistance with creating a strategy to save for retirement, and for the most part are reaching that point armed with more knowledge — and wealth — than previous generations.

A Matter of Trust

But there are also some specific changes to the financial planning landscape in this country that specifically affect the under-40 set, among them the advent of one of the largest wealth transfers in history.

Boston College’s Social Welfare Research Institute (SWRI) estimates that $41 trillion is expected to change hands in the U.S. between 1998 and 2052; $25 trillion of that is expected to pass from decedents’ estates to their heirs, while the remainder will go to estate taxes, charitable bequests, and estate-settlement expenses, according to the SWRI’s findings. Of the $25 trillion slated to move from one generation to the next, the majority is expected to pass to the children and grandchildren of Baby Boomers.

That phenomenon, which was first reported by the SWRI in 1999 and updated in 2003 following a downturn of the economy, joins other variables that will impact younger investors, such as complicated tax law changes, dwindling numbers of defined benefit plans (being replaced by more versatile defined contribution plans), and the ever-fragile future of Social Security.

Together, they create a climate in which younger investors are more likely to take charge of their own destiny, rather than depend on employers or governmental bodies.

Robert Ostberg, a registered investment adviser with Eagle Strategies Corp. in Northampton, agreed with the notion that people under 40 are, in general, more financially literate and more willing to take risks than other generations, and that has an impact on their saving and investment habits.

“The impact of the tools available today is significant,” he said. “Generation X is comfortable doing research, they’re self-reliant, and the information available to them, often for free, is more substantive than ever before.”

Ostberg added, however, that the increase across the board in financial education also puts the onus on financial planners to be more progressive, in order to meet a new set of demands.

“People under 40 are generally interested, and want to participate,” he said. “They’re more sophisticated in their demands, and they want more for less — they’ll shop price and will pay for personal service, so there’s an entrepreneurial challenge for us there.”

Have No Fear

But overall, most financial planners who spoke with BusinessWest agreed that the higher level of awareness concerning financial issues among clients is a positive. And even with all of the pressures and changes affecting those clients, Grenier concluded that, for the most part, these investors are not afraid of the mighty dollar, or of using it to their advantage.

“People under 40 aren’t afraid of wealth,” she said. “They’re not embarrassed or apologetic. Most work to aspire to a lifestyle, they remain philanthropic, and to them, that’s the purpose of business.”

Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at[email protected]

Cover Story
Community Music School Makes Sound Contributions
January 22, 2007 Cover

January 22, 2007 Cover

Coming of age in New York City, Eric Bachrach, founder of the Community Music School of Springfield (CMSS), said he realized the power of music early on, but only later did he realize that not everyone has the means to study the universal language. He set out to change that in the early 1980s, and today, Western Mass. continues to hear the strains of one organization doing its part to change the world.

It was a disaster that would dampen anyone’s resolve.

In 1994, a broken water main on Birnie Avenue caused a 10-million-gallon flood to course through the halls of the Community Music School of Springfield.
Countless sheets of irreplaceable music were lost, the building was uninhabitable, and one of the school’s pianos was drowned under 25 feet of water.

The blow was catastrophic for CMSS, still fragile 10 years after opening its doors with two borrowed pianos and a second-hand drum set held together with masking tape.

But the school lived on, as did the ill-fated piano, which, after some repair, still plays. CMSS Executive Director and Founder Eric Bachrach says that’s an apt metaphor for the entire organization.

“We are famous for rising from the flood, for our resilience,” he said. “We’ve been through the vagaries and trials of any nonprofit, but we’ve always been confident in our importance, and the importance of keeping music a reality for anyone and everyone.”

And that, in essence, is the school’s mission and purpose. Dedicated to music education for children and teenagers across the region, Springfield’s Community Music School has grown from about 80 students in the 1980s to more than 2,000, involved through both on- and off-site programs. Many of those students are receiving their musical education for free, and many others through the benefit of scholarships and financial aid, amounting to more than $250,000 a year.

The goal is a simple one — to offer exposure to music to as many young people as possible, regardless of their social or financial strata. But often, the importance of music and cultural education can be difficult to articulate.

To help him translate the school’s objectives, Bachrach, a violinist, returns to both his own roots and those of community music schools in general, of which there are about 350 across the country. Each school operates independently and in a variety of ways, but all share one common bond: they provide musical opportunities for students who otherwise may never get the chance to simply make a joyful noise.

Bach to Basics

“I grew up in a middle-class family in the Bronx,” Bachrach began. “My mother taught at Julliard, and my father taught psychology at City College of New York. A time came when they decided it was time for me to study music, and I did so privately — never realizing that there are so many people who do not have access to the study of music.”

It wasn’t until he began to study under violinist Ruth Kemper, who helped found the National Guild of Community Music Schools, of which CMSS is a member, that he began to fully grasp that reality.

“She made me realize the importance of equitable and democratic access to the arts,” he said, reaching for a tattered — and water-stained — copy of Music, Youth and Opportunity, a text published in 1926 for the National Federation of Settlement Schools. Kemper presented the book to him, and it became the guide for many of CMSS’s programs.

“The community music school model came from the early settlement schools in this country,” he explained. “They were set up to teach immigrants the basics of life.”

In addition to balancing a budget and negotiating at a public market, the schools also considered music to be basic.

Bachrach taught music in New York City throughout the 1970s, and moved to Massachusetts in the 1980s to pursue a master’s degree in Music at UMass Amherst. In 1983, he made his first and last foray into providing accessible music education, by sending leaflets to about 18,000 Springfield public school children announcing a new music school in the city.

Of those students, less than 1% signed up for classes, but the CMSS never shut its doors after that point.

It has moved a few times — the original CMSS was located on Birnie Avenue until the flood in 1994. At that point, the school was homeless, but not defunct. Bachrach said within a week, classes had resumed in a variety of locations throughout the city, and staff had begun searching for a new home.

“We knew it was going to be in Springfield — we’ve always been in Springfield,” he said. “We knew we needed parking, and we wanted it to be downtown, in a neighborhood that effectively belongs to everyone regardless of ethnicity.”

No Strings Attached

A search committee that included some recognizable names in the Western Mass. business community, among them real estate developers Harold Grinspoon and Tom Henshon, attorney Steve Schatz, and and former SIS president Bill Marshall, began looking for a suitable property, and in 1996, they found it — an historic 1933 Art Deco bank building on State Street with high ceilings and, in turn, fabulous acoustics.

The building had just been acquired by Fleet Bank, along with four other properties downtown, and Bachrach said because there was not a lot of obvious re-use potential in the State Street facility, CMSS was in position to take advantage of an excellent opportunity.

“But we took a risk and held out, because we needed the building and also its adjacent parking garage,” he said, noting that Fleet was prepared to virtually give the building to the school, but was more hesitant to give up prime-location, downtown parking space. “It took a lot of negotiating, but in the end it resulted in a priceless gift.”

The bank building and its adjacent parking were sold to CMSS by Fleet for $1 in 1996. Bachrach said staff moved the school’s music library, instruments, and furniture in over one weekend, and have operated from that location for a decade with no plans to move again. Back rooms were converted into studios and offices spanning four floors, and the Ruth Kemper Music Library was created, housing all of the sheet music, books, and recordings that were salvaged from the Birnie Avenue flood or procured since then.

Development plans have also been brisk in those 10 years, and remain so as CMSS approaches its 25th year.

Bachrach explained that about 700 students study music at the State Street school, while an additional 1,300 or so take part in off-site programs, all of which are free to students. They include the Prelude program, which, through the assistance of a Wallace Foundation grant, provides music and creative movement instruction to Head Start classrooms; and the Presto program, which identifies young, inner-city elementary school students and provides lessons in stringed instruments.

The school also offers musical instruction to incarcerated teens through the Renaissance program and to others through various community organizations, such as Girls Inc. and the YMCA. It has also created a special Saturday program for Somali mothers and their children, through a program that again returns to CMSS’s settlement school beginnings.

“In addition to music, that program also offers arts and craft instruction and English as a Second Language classes,” said Bachrach, “and these mothers have been gathering here for about a year and a half. It’s sort of a home away from home that allows them to create a community amongst themselves, after years of feeling displaced.”

At the school, students take part in private and group lessons with one or more of its 68-person faculty, all professional musicians. Instruction is available for a wide array of instruments, including violin and guitar through the internationally-known Suzuki method, and ranging further from baritone horn to vibraphone and beyond.

Classes include early childhood programs for infants, toddlers, and young school-age children and music therapy classes for those with special needs, in addition to instruction in a variety of instruments and genres. Jazz and classical ensemble programs are also available, as is participation in the CMSS Chamber Orchestra, chorus and choir programs for young singers, and an adult instruction program.

Those programs, as well as improvements to the CMSS building to make them possible and the scholarships that bolster its student roster, are financed largely by grants and private support, including $2.1 million raised through the Focus on the Future campaign in 1999, which financed renovation of studios and the school’s exterior, installation of a handicapped-access elevator, a scholarship endowment, the start of a community partnership program, and other program expansions.

Currently, the school’s annual operating budget is about $1.3 million and its endowment $500,000. Soon, it will embark on a new fundraising campaign to further expand programming and make improvements to the CMSS facility. Less than half of the operating budget is funded through tuition.

A Handel on Things

On top of Bachrach’s to-do list is the creation of a new performance hall at the school, which would provide a more professional space for concerts, now held in the school’s spacious foyer.

“As grand and regal as this space is, it’s really not fitting for us now,” he said, noting that performances are held adjacent to the school’s administrative offices and front door, where ringing phones and visitors are a distraction. “We need to close the world off and form a discreet space.”

Plans to collaborate with Boston’s Berklee College of Music to offer the Pulse program, which will serve 100 middle- and high-school students each week through Web-based, acoustic and electronic instrument instruction are also in the works, as are plans to start an arts-based pre-school at CMSS.

That program would augment existing early education initiatives at the school, and also provide an academic preschool with a focus on music and the arts for area children. Half of those students, Bachrach said, are expected to have their education fully subsidized.

“We’re always looking to raise money for really important work,” said Bachrach. “Our students are high achievers, who come from families that are interested in the important parts of life, but which are often not easily accessible.”

As he continues to tear down those barriers, Bachrach said his hope for CMSS is that it will continue to evolve from a small community music school into a regional center for the arts and arts education. Following the launch of the school’s newest capital campaign, yet to be formally announced, he added that he hopes the creation of a new performance hall and other improvements will also help return State Street, one of downtown’s main thoroughfares, to “boulevard status.”

Flood of Memories

These are lofty goals, Bachrach concedes, but not unachievable.

“It was a real eureka moment for me when I realized that increasing access to music education can change the lives of students, regardless of social strata,” he said. “That’s an idea to which we’ll stay very deeply connected, and we have some very concrete plans for the future.”

Indeed, following the flood, many contend that a new world was born.

Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at[email protected]

Departments

The Micro-wave of the Future

Microtest of Agawam has enhanced its analytical lab services with the installation of a new, advanced technology, MicroSeq® Microbial Identification System. The MicroSeq is a state-of-the-art DNA sequence-based system that enables Microtest technicians to more quickly and accurately identify bacteria isolates that are not viable or easily identified. Using the MicroSeq system, Microtest technicians can provide precise and reliable bacteria, mycoplasma, and mold identification in a 24-hour time period. Traditional bacteria and mold identification lab tests are often less accurate, and require up to a one-week turn-around time.


For Kids in Need

Nearly 4,000 new toys, games and books were donated to domestic violence shelters throughout New England as part of Verizon Wireless’s annual Kids in Need holiday toy drive. The collection is part of the company’s year-round HopeLine program to benefit domestic violence shelters and the families they serve. Pictured here (left to right) are Verizon Wireless Springfield employees Megan Mosher, Tony Leonczyk, and Jackie Van Buren along with Jodi Smith from the ARCH Program of the YWCA in Springfield, a recipient organization. The photo was taken at the Verizon Wireless Communications Store at 1420 Boston Road in Springfield.


Marching On

For the fourth year in a row, Morgan Stanley has made a contribution to the March of Dimes to help in the mission to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality. To date, the company has contributed more than $25,000 dollars to the March of Dimes, a national voluntary health agency. Pictured are employees at Morgan Stanley in Springfield, proudly presenting a check for $5,000 to March of Dimes Western Mass. Division Director Carrie Fuller.

Departments

Economy Withstanding Slumping Housing Market

WASHINGTON — Despite some economic slumps in the market, most industries are withstanding the sharp drop in housing activity. Analysts report that the economy is going through a slow period in response to a serious housing slump, but has not shown strains that could bring on a recession. Economic data released this month included big retail chains reporting sales in December below expectations, and orders to factories for manufactured goods rising by 0.9% in November, a smaller-than-expected gain. Also, demand declined for home appliances and furniture, two industries connected to the slumping housing market, and orders dropped for new cars. Additionally, the service sector, where most people in the country work, grew at a slower rate in December than in November. On a positive note, there was a gain in orders in November for military aircraft, and orders for commercial airplanes rose by 0.8%.

City Sees Junk Bond Status Evaporate

SPRINGFIELD — Standard & Poor’s has upgraded the city’s bond rating from BB to BBB, which means the city has an adequate capacity to pay interest and repay principal. Standard & Poor’s credits the Finance Control Board with its remarkable turnaround from just two years ago. Mayor Charles V. Ryan termed the rating as a “major step forward for the city.” In related news, Moody’s Investor Services has reported a stable financial outlook for the city for the first time since 1990.

Six Flags Selling Off Seven Parks

NEW YORK — Six Flags Inc. plans to sell seven of its theme parks as part of a strategy to reduce debt and enhance its operational and financial flexibility. Six Flags New England in Agawam is not one of the parks up for sale. Six Flags currently owns 30 North American parks and expects to garner $312 million from the sale of the seven parks. At press time, the parks were being purchased by Jacksonville, Fla.-based park operator PARC 7F-Operations Corp., but PARC will simultaneously sell them to Orlando-based real estate investment trust CNL Income Properties Inc. CNL will then lease the parks back to PARC. The parks include Six Flags Darien Lake near Buffalo, N.Y.; Six Flags Elitch Gardens in Denver; both Frontier City and the White Water Bay water park in Oklahoma City; SplashTown in Houston; Waterworld USA in Concord, Calif.; and Wild Waves and Enchanted Village in Seattle. The sale is expected to close in March.

Mortgage Rates on the Rise

WASHINGTON — Rates on 30-year mortgages rose during mid-January to the highest level since mid-November after a better-than-anticipated employment report renewed inflation worries in financial markets. Freddie Mac, the mortgage giant, reported that 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages were averaging 6.21% during the week of Jan. 8, up from 6.18% the previous week. Analysts noted that financial markets were reacting to a stronger reading on employment, with 167,000 jobs created in December — the best showing in three months. Analysts also are optimistic that mortgage rates would not rise far this year, predicting that 30-year rates would not top 6.5%.

Office Building to Get Upgrade

HOLYOKE — Suffolk Realty Associates LLC, with offices in Holyoke and New York City, has purchased the former Hadley Falls Trust Co. building at Maple and Suffolk streets, as well as an adjoining one-story structure on Suffolk Street and two parking lot areas on Maple Street. The firm purchased the parcels in December for a reported $675,000. The new owners have notified tenants of the properties that improvements would be made and that their input would be considered. Additionally, the new owners hope that the upgrades will entice new renters to its available building space.

Survey: Executives Expect Moderate M&A Activity

MENLO PARK, Calif. — Corporate marriages may be on the rise through the end of the decade, according to a new survey by Robert Half Management Resources. Twenty-seven percent of chief financial officers (CFOs) polled recently said they expect the number of corporate mergers and acquisitions (M&As) overall to increase in the next 12 months. In a follow-up survey, 48% of CFOs polled said they anticipate greater M&A activity in the next two to three years. The survey was conducted by an independent research firm and includes responses from 1,400 CFOs from a stratified random sample of U.S. companies with 20 or more employees. Among industries, the greatest amount of merger activity is expected to take place in the transportation and finance sectors in the next two to three years, according to executives polled. Relatively low interest rates and deep cash reserves within many companies are prompting firms to make strategic acquisitions, according to Paul McDonald, executive director of Robert Half Management Resources. McDonald added that the complex nature of the merger and acquisition process is driving the need for financial executives with specialized M&A experience to support them in conducting due diligence, analyzing financial data, developing competitive forecasts, and assisting with tax compliance issues.

Departments

Free Business Counseling

Jan. 25: The Greater Westfield Chamber of Commerce has partnered with the Mass. Small Business Development Center (MSBDC) to bring free business counseling to the city. Starting at 10 a.m., Allen Kronick Sr., management counselor with the MSBDC, will be available at the Chamber office on Court Street to counsel individuals thinking of opening a business or current business owners who are seeking management consulting on a variety of issues. All services are confidential and free. MSBDC network services include packaging, financial projections, and cash flow management. For more information, contact Lynn Boscher, executive director, Greater Westfield Chamber of Commerce, at (413) 568-1618.

Philanthropy Breakfast Series

Jan. 26: “The Changing Face of Philanthropy: What Does It Mean for Your Nonprofit?” is the focus of the first session of a “Hot Topics in Philanthropy” breakfast program series at Bay Path College in Longmeadow, hosted by the Graduate School. The free program will take place from 8 to 9:30 a.m. in Blake Student Commons, with a continental breakfast beginning at 7:30. The program will provide an overview of the most important trends taking place in philanthropy today, the implications of these trends for nonprofit professionals, and what these trends might mean for fundraising and alternative sources of revenue, recruiting and managing volunteers and board members, and connecting with various constituencies. Registration is requested and may be made by calling (413) 565-1332 or sending an E-mail to [email protected].

History Symposium at STCC

Jan. 27-28: Teachers, local history buffs, scholars, and students from across the Northeast are invited to attend a history symposium at Springfield Technical Community College that will focus on Daniel Shays’ Rebellion. The insurrection in 1787 was a significant factor leading to the adoption of the U.S. Constitution. The symposium, marking the 220th anniversary of Shays’ Rebellion, will be conducted at the Springfield Armory National Historic Site. The free symposium is open to the public and is a collaboration between STCC and the Armory. Registration is required, and forms are available through Professor John F. Gately, chair of the Department of English at STCC. For more information on the two-day event, E-mail [email protected], or call Arlene Rodriguez at (413) 755-4232 or send an E-mail to [email protected].

Outlook 2007

Feb. 9: Gov. Deval Patrick will make his first major address in Western Mass. as the keynote speaker at The Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield’s annual Outlook 2007 luncheon at 11:45 a.m. at Chez Josef in Agawam. The Outlook program, made possible through the sponsorship of presenting sponsor Health New England, platinum sponsors Berkshire Bank, the Eastern States Exposition, MassMutual Financial Group, United Personnel Services Inc., Western Massachusetts Electric Company, and sound sponsor Zasco Productions, LLC, offers business professionals a first-hand opportunity to gain regional, state and federal perspectives on legislative issues, politics and economies. Patrick is expected to give a detailed analysis of his view of the state’s current condition as he puts the finishing touches on his first budget for the Commonwealth, which will be presented to the legislature later in February. Reservations must be made in writing and advance. The cost is $45 per ticket for Chamber members and $65 for non-members. Tables of 10 and 12 are available. Deadline for reservations is Feb. 2, but guests are urged to register early. (Outlook 2006 was sold out with more than 1,000 people in attendance.); visit www.myonlinechamber.com, or E-mail at [email protected].

Sections Supplements
Start! Program Reaches Out to Employers to Improve National Health Statistics
Matt Bannister

Matt Bannister says Start! is an ambitious effort to help improve cardiovascular health.

According to a recent Harvard University study, for every hour of physical activity, the average person gains two hours of life expectancy.

That’s just one nugget of information the American Heart Association (AHA) needed to bolster its newest nationwide program, Start!, which is designed to promote healthy living through regular physical activity and better nutrition.

Start! was launched this year and represents the newest program introduced by the AHA to raise awareness of cardiovascular health. Like other AHA initiatives such as Power to End Stroke and Go Red for Women, Start! works to promote education and awareness of cardiovascular disease, the nation’s number-one killer.

However, Start! is also unique, in that it promotes specific ways to prevent heart disease and other health issues by partnering with employers across the country.

Specifically, companies are being urged to do whatever they can to get their employees to do some walking.

In the Right Vein

Matt Bannister, senior vice president of Health Strategies for the AHA’s Northeast Affiliate, explained that Start! is the first program geared toward participation on a corporate level that goes beyond sponsorship or financial assistance.

“We’re really trying to focus on prevention with this program,” he said. “Historically, the American Heart Association has been focused on treatment and research, and we still will be. But if that’s all we do, then there’s this enormous bubble of people with existing problems moving through the health care system. If we don’t get to them beforehand, we’ll never meet our goals.”

These include increasing understanding of cardiovascular disease and its risk factors, but also reducing the number of preventable illnesses in the United States. In turn, Start! is geared toward the nation’s employers because of the connection between preventable illness and skyrocketing health care costs.

According to a study evaluating physical activity and its correlation with disease, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that fitness programs can reduce employer health care costs by 20% to 55%, and further, that preventable illnesses make up 70% of illness costs in the U.S.

Reducing just one health risk, the study continues, can increase a person’s productivity on the job by 9%.

“What we’ve recognized is that health care costs are a major concern among U.S. employers, and we can already prove through research the health care benefits that come to an employer if employees are more active,” Bannister said. “Productivity increases, and there is less absenteeism. Better health can have a significant impact on an employer’s bottom line, so we’re looking to them to join with us to improve the health of their employees, but also of their wallets.”

Bannister said two basic factors lead to weight problems — too many calories in and too few calories out — and creating a balance between the two in order to help curb health problems is the crux of the Start! program for both individuals and employers.

“On a corporate mission level, our goal is to reduce injury and death from cardiovascular issues such as heart disease and stroke. One way to do that is to tackle the risk factors that lead to cardiovascular disease, and one of those is obesity,” he said. “At this point, we’re not looking for anything except for individuals and companies to join us, and within those companies, we’re looking for internal champions of the cause. This is our chance to give instead of ask.”

Weighing In

Start! revolves around walking as a cardiovascular activity, because it has the lowest drop-out rate of any fitness regimen among Americans. Participating companies are given a kit that includes weekly mile trackers for internal teams and access to several assistance tools, such as the My Start! online portal that logs daily activity and weighs it against calories ingested, and a wake-up call service that provides 12 free calls for an earlier start to the day, recorded by celebrities such as Jane Seymour, Vanna White, and Jared Fogle, spokesperson for Subway restaurants.

“It’s something you can stay with, and it isn’t intimidating,” said Bannister, adding that for Western Mass., the AHA has set a preliminary goal to enroll at least 10 of the region’s top employers in the Start! program by April.

On the 25th of that month, the AHA will stage an ‘Icon Day,’ which has been designed to put a public face on the initiative, asking company leaders both locally and across the country to lead their employees in walking activities, wearing sneakers to work, or participating in walking meetings and walking press conferences.

“The idea is that employers will encourage employees to go walk at some point during the day,” said Bannister, “and lead by example to incorporate walking into the work day.”

Among those companies already pledging involvement is Lenox American Saw in East Longmeadow. Bill Burke, its president, first became involved with AHA initiatives three years ago and has already promoted healthy habits within the company, but said Start! is a natural, easily implemented addition to AHA programming on the corporate level.

“It’s a perfect fit to bring additional awareness,” he said. “There are so many companies that recognize the problem, but how do you grab on to it and formalize it? In this case, the AHA has done the tough work and given us a comprehensive package.”

Burke added that, from a business perspective, Start! addresses not only physical issues, but job satisfaction as well.

“In a pressure-packed work environment, exercise allows you to think more clearly,” he said.

“On every single front, it’s a good cause,” Burke added. “It promotes awareness of a major health issue that affects virtually everyone in some way, and it’s great for families and companies. At American Saw, we’re getting people involved through contests, so even more get out and walk.”

Making Strides

A Start! Heart Walk, which Burke will chair, will be held on May 20 in Forest Park, and overall, Bannister said the program may expand in coming years. But at this point, he said, the main objective is to spread the word about the program and, more importantly, its importance.

“Like with other programs such as Go Red, we’re primarily trying to create awareness,” he said, noting that Start! has begun with a focus on major employers, on both the national and regional level, in order to allow that awareness to gradually trickle down. Nationally, companies like Subway, ConAgra Foods (which produces Healthy Choice), and AstraZeneca have signed on, while locally, American Saw, Health New England, Peter Pan Bus Lines, and Western Mass. Electric (WMECO) will serve as sponsors of the Start! Heart Walk.

“The next phase will be to introduce Start! to the consumers, in hopes of creating a culture of fitness in America,” Bannister said. “We’ve completely gotten away from the ‘I think I’ll take the stairs’ mentality … so not only are we an aging society, but we’re much more sedentary.”

To change that, the AHA maintains that just an hour a day could lead to a new lease on a longer life.

Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at[email protected]

Departments

The following bankruptcy petitions were recently filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court. Readers should confirm all information with the court.

Alvarez, Eddy
75 Commonwealth Ave.
Springfield, MA 01108
Chapter: 13
Filing Date: 12/22/06

Anderson, Mark E.
276 East Main St.
Orange, MA 01364
Chapter: 13
Filing Date: 12/18/06

Anderson, Robert David
Anderson, Deanne Jacqueline
1 Belden Court Apt. K4
Agawam, MA 01001
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 12/19/06

Aponte, Aida
Aponte, Jose A.
28 Dalton Place
Springfield, MA 01109
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 12/27/06

Appleby, Marianne
8 Park St.
Lee, MA 01238
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 12/27/06

Bess, Sharon J.
162 1/2 Main St.
Indian Orchard, MA 01151
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 12/28/06

Bigby, Eleanor
69 Princeton St.
Springfield, MA 01109
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 12/21/06

Bogdan, Jessica S.
105 White St.
Westfield, MA 01085
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 12/29/06

Burgess, Edward T.
Burgess, Peggy A.
99 Ducharme Ave., Apt. 3
Chicopee, MA 01013
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 12/21/06

Chin, Lissette
539 Springfield St.
Chicopee, MA 01030
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 12/29/06

Dawson, Timmy Edward
DAWSON ENTERPRISES
106 Church St.
Ludlow, MA 01056
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 12/28/06

Fahey, Joseph P.
83 Wilton St.
Springfield, MA 01109
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 12/29/06

Fontaine, Jill Ellen
211 Glenoak Dr.
Springfield, MA 01129
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 12/19/06

Galeziowski, Linda L.
26 Eastern Ave.
South Deerfield, MA 01373
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 12/21/06

Gasque, Veronica
131 Yale St.
Springfield, MA 01109
Chapter: 13
Filing Date: 12/28/06

Grifoni, William J.
253 South St.
Athol, MA 01331
Chapter: 13
Filing Date: 12/26/06

Howie, Clifford H.
Howie, Brenda M.
194 Rolf Ave.
Chicopee, MA 01020
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 12/27/06

Kiforishin, Stepan N.
Kiforishina, Nadezhda S.
7 William St.
Feeding Hills, MA 01030
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 12/20/06

Kratt, David William
180 Elm St.
Greenfield, MA 01301-4313
Chapter: 13
Filing Date: 12/22/06

 

Latvis, Victor G.
25 Spring St.
Chicopee, MA 01013
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 12/22/06

Lee, John H.
Lee, Soonduck
Lee, Hyouongtae
Lee, Hyoung T.
Green Cleaners
29 Amherst St.
Feeding Hills, MA 01030
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 12/21/06

McCarthy, James W.
McCarthy, Donna A.
33 Henry St.
Feeding Hills, MA 01030
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 12/29/06

Murphy, Brenda
226 Eagle St.
North Adams, MA 01247
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 12/27/06

Nielsen, Carol A.
735 Memorial Dr., Lot 3
Chicopee, MA 01020
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 12/21/06

Noska, Ronald T.
Noska, Sara C.
9C Russell Road
Westfield, MA 01085
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 12/29/06

Ortiz, Loyda
34 Temby St.
Springfield, MA 01119
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 12/20/06

Phillips, Brian K.
62 West Alvord St.
Springfield, MA 01108
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 12/29/06

Prokopowich, Edward R.
57 Kendall St.
Barre, MA 01005
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 12/21/06

Radtke, Mark Edward
121 Sterling St.
Springfield, MA 01107
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 12/27/06

Sanchez, Florentino
PO Box 81232
Springfield, MA 01138
Chapter: 13
Filing Date: 12/29/06

Santos, Marilyn I.
115 Tokeneke Road
Holyoke, MA 01040
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 12/21/06

Sieron, Joseph E.
18 Gould St.
Ware, MA 01082
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 12/29/06

Smethurst, Thenderia N.
5 Waltham Rd #6
Stow, MA 01775
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 12/28/06

Swain, Robert Donald
Swain, April May
6 Highland St.
Palmer, MA 01069
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 01/02/07

Talbot, Edward J.
Talbot, Jean M.
132 Mayfair Ave.
Springfield, MA 01104
Chapter: 13
Filing Date: 12/28/06

Torres, Yvette
107 Vadnais St.
Springfield, MA 01104
Chapter: 13
Filing Date: 12/16/06

Youngblood, Yukiha
128 Old Pleasant St.
Lee, MA 01238
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 12/28/06

Sections Supplements
Obesity Trend Demands Personal and Societal Responses

In December 2001, then-U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher issued a call to action on the trend toward being overweight or obese, saying both conditions “may soon cause as much preventable disease and death as cigarette smoking.”

Two years later, his successor, Dr. Richard Carmona, addressed Congress on the obesity crisis, calling it “the fastest-growing cause of disease and death in America.”

The situation is not improving. Today, obesity in America, and indeed throughout the world, is a runaway freight train heading down the track of public health. The question is whether we stand still or do something to stop the train.

A Large Problem

The National Center for Health Statistics says that more than 30% of U.S. adults — some 60 million people — are obese, and at least an additional 35% are overweight. The distinction between the two is determined by Body Mass Index, a physical measurement using an individual’s height and weight.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the percentage of overweight young people has tripled since 1980: among children and teens age 6 to 19, 16% — about 9 million — are considered overweight. In Massachusetts, the CDC estimates that 55% of adults are overweight or obese, and 24% of high-school students are overweight or at risk of becoming so.

The consequences of overweight and obese children are that adult complications begin much earlier. Imagine patients in their 30s comprising more than half of the beds in an intensive care unit for heart disease, standing at the pharmacy to get bottles of pills for their diabetes, filling the roster of the cancer care center, or lining up for injections to treat their arthritis.

Obesity is associated with more than 30 medical conditions, including coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, respiratory illness, low back pain, and cancer. It’s a major cause of joint-replacement surgeries, type 2 diabetes, and osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis, affecting about 21 million Americans.

There’s more. Studies show that overweight Americans are sicker late in life and die prematurely, women who are overweight or obese at 18 are at greater risk of dying in middle age than women who stay at a healthy weight in their teens, and obesity is even affecting infants, posing potential health problems in children as they age.

Obesity has some troubling side effects as well. Radiologists say that very obese people can’t get full medical care because they’re too big to fit into imaging scanners, or their fat is too dense for X-rays or sound waves to penetrate.

As a result, hospitals are making capital investments to care for such patients, paying for wider doorways, beds, and operating tables that hold up to 1,000 pounds, and special lifting devices to move obese patients, to avoid injuries to the staff.

The causes of obesity — genetic, environmental, and behavioral — are being debated around the world. Nonetheless, as a ‘super-size me’ society, we find ourselves in a perfect storm, consuming much larger numbers of calories than we expend.

Today, even small amounts of physical activity are decreasing, as remote controls, escalators, and now personal transport devices are all designed to remove the need to put one foot in front of the other.

Dual Response

Our response to this crisis must be both personal and societal. Individuals must think more about healthy eating and less about convenience eating. Physical activity must become a part of everyday life.

In other words, the best parking space is farther away from the entrance. Take the stairs for one or two flights.

Meanwhile, businesses can provide on-site exercise programs. Buildings can be built or renovated to encourage using the stairs. Communities and government agencies can develop walking and biking trails and provide safe places for exercise. Schools can promote physical activity and healthy eating and create smarter consumers and shoppers in restaurants and grocery stores.

If we become more informed and take action, we can influence the marketplace — and business, government, and communities — to create the goods, services, and environment we need to maintain a healthy life.

Stuart R. Chipkin, M.D., a physician with the Valley Medical Group in Amherst and a research professor in the School of Public Health and Health Sciences at UMass Amherst, chairs the Mass. Medical Society’s Committee on Nutrition.