Home 2008 December
Opinion
A Head-on Approach to Green-based Prosperity

As our nation struggles with the global economic crisis, President-elect Obama and Congress must find the right measures to stimulate the economy today and invest wisely to create sustained prosperity. Obama recognizes an extraordinary opportunity exists to restart the economy and combat the threat of global warming by launching a green New Deal, but our long-term success greatly depends on educating skilled workers for new technical fields.

Obama has outlined an immediate plan to create 2.5 million jobs through green-based initiatives, such as building wind farms and solar panels. This first step must be complemented with a long-term strategy that improves the environmental and economic sustainability of our nation.

Through a national green initiative, centered at our public research universities, we can meet this challenge and emerge with a more sustainable environment and economy in the short and longer term.

This national green initiative, which would be launched in coordination with the flagship research universities across the country, would have three parts but one simple goal — building the human and capital infrastructure necessary to compete in the decades ahead, while simultaneously infusing millions of dollars into the private sector right away in building the facilities needed to create tomorrow’s green technology breakthroughs.

The federal government would create a loan-forgiveness program that would allow students in science, technology, engineering, and math to have their student loans partially or completely forgiven in return for a multi-year commitment to teaching in these fields in K-12 schools. Every state is facing shortages in qualified teachers, and at a time when the job market is increasingly difficult, there’s never been a better time to encourage bright, young people to become teachers.

To educate these students, each state’s public research university would develop a proposal to build or renovate the laboratories and classrooms necessary to train both workers and educators in math and sciences as well as environmental sciences and related fields. These facilities would drive innovation and research breakthroughs as well as provide valuable learning space. To support this, the federal government would establish a $50 billion fund for such construction across the nation, and encourage universities to match these federal funds with state and private support. At the same time, the universities would be required to plan to work with the educational systems in their state to increase the numbers of students in these fields, and to offer current teachers access to these facilities for improved training.

For this plan to work, these efforts must be aimed at improving the learning environment across the state, and our public research universities are uniquely positioned to drive this effort.

Each of these construction projects must meet the latest green-building standards, and the bid process should require that local workers in each of the states be employed on these projects — thereby training a whole new cadre of workers in the latest sustainable technologies. In addition, faculty at these universities should be directly involved in the project development to ensure that not only are these facilities as green as possible, but that they meet the teaching and research needs of our next generation of students and teachers, as well as for training our workforce of the future.

While this idea is, in many ways, very simple, it will require our government and universities to work closely together, to eliminate unnecessary bureaucracy and to move right away on these projects. It will also require our universities to fully engage the community colleges and other higher-educational institutions in a partnership.

We must, as a nation, address head-on the issue of energy self-sufficiency while combating global climate change. We must create jobs and financial security now, even as we attempt to prepare for an uncertain future.-

Robert C. Holub is chancellor of UMass Amherst.

Features
Surveillance System Brings Crime, Safety Concerns into Focus
Chris Castellano

Chris Castellano keeps on eye on Springfield from the monitoring room.

They’ve been in place only a few months now, but the cameras positioned in downtown Springfield are already showing enormous promise as a vehicle for making the area safer and more attractive. The surveillance system currently boasts more than 15 cameras, and there will be 25 within a few weeks and 40 by the end of the next year. They’re capable of picking up license plates from a few hundred yards away, and they’re giving Springfield officials and police some much-needed eyes in the sky.

Chris Castellano zoomed in on a stretch of Harrison Avenue near the Civic Center Parking Garage.

There had been a rather high incidence of motor vehicle break-ins of the so-called ‘smash-and-grab’ variety in that area, and Castellano, operations manager of the Springfield Business Improvement District (BID), wanted to show BusinessWest exactly where all this was happening.

He did so by manipulating a camera — installed atop the back of the TD Banknorth Building that sits on the corner of Main and Harrison — now sending images to a command post of sorts at the Springfield Guides offices within that office tower. This is one of about 15 cameras that have been installed in the downtown area, with another 10 to be put in place over the next few months, and a total of 40 by the end of 2009.

With his Nintendo-like joystick, Castellano, staring at a bank of computer screens in the so-called ‘monitoring room,’ could zero in on that aforementioned area along Harrison Avenue, pan across to other sections of that busy quadrant, and even get in tight enough to read license-plate numbers and identify features on passersby, such as their style of dress and the color of their pants.

And with all that capability, he and others involved in a broad surveillance program involving the downtown and other areas of Springfield hope — and expect — to be able to use the past tense much more often when it comes to describing crime and patterns of it in the City of Homes.

This was the overall motivation behind a $175,000 state earmark for cameras and monitoring equipment, the first several of which were installed a few months ago, with new additions coming regularly since.

Indeed, as he talked with BusinessWest, Castellano discovered that another camera had been activated since the last time he was in his chair — this one a few hundred yards down Harrison Avenue. Perched on a light pole, it provides great views of the corner of Chestnut and Mattoon streets, which has been identified as a trouble spot in some ways.

“This is going to be interesting,” said Castellano as he maneuvered the camera and developed a feel for its range of motion, noting, as he did so, that the street corner in question and the surrounding area have seen larger-than-desired volumes of loitering and panhandling, much of it in front of a liquor store at the intersection. The new camera should help the Springfield Guides, a small group of individuals who patrol the 26-block area under the auspices of the BID and assist the police with keeping order, to reduce such activities and thus better protect visitors, workers, and residents in the downtown.

“A lot of the complaints we get — and the reason we put this camera here and put cameras in the positions they’re in — involve loitering and people who make others feel unsafe,” he explained. “With this camera, we can zoom in, and if we see anybody, we send out one of our patrols and ask them to move along. If they refuse to move, we contact the police, and they tell them to move along.”

This isn’t exactly what would be called serious crime, said Castellano, but it falls under the categories of quality of life and perception of safety, and the surveillance program should improve both.

“And when we cut down on those types of things, people will see that downtown is not a bad place to live or work in,” he continued, adding that the surveillance program is as much an economic-development tool as it is a public-safety initiative.

If the bad guys don’t yet know there are cameras on them — “it’s been all over the news, and if they read the press release we sent out, they’d know where the cameras are located,” said Castellano — they may well find out the hard way.

“It’s amazing what we’ve been able to see and do in just a few weeks — we’ve caught some people doing things they wouldn’t do if they knew there was a camera on them,” he continued, adding that he believes the cameras have helped police identify some wrongdoers, and will undoubtedly contribute to taking many such individuals off the streets, while giving law-abiding individuals more peace of mind.

For this issue, BusinessWest spent some time in the monitoring room to gain an understanding of the new surveillance system and how it should impact some of the big-picture issues in the region’s largest city.

Zoom Service

As he clicked through the menu of cameras currently installed, Castellano stopped at the one aimed down Worthington Street by what’s called Duryea Park.

“This is a fun one,” he explained. “With this camera we can see all the club action — we can see all the petty things kids do when they’re drunk and heading in and out of all the clubs.”

‘Fun’ was a word Castellano used more than a few times, but this surveillance program is serious business with a hard purpose — making a large dent in the twin issues of crime and the perception of same, which have been identified as some of the keys to revitalization of the city.

Such programs have been instituted in several other metropolitan areas, and even some much smaller communities — all as part of a broad program funded mostly by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. While officials in the Boston suburb of Brookline recently made headlines for threatening to reject cameras amid concern from residents about a “surveillance society,” hundreds of cities and towns have embraced them.

That list includes New York, which has cameras in several areas of the city, Chicago, Atlanta, and Wilmington, Del. Business-improvement districts have been involved with the surveillance efforts, Castellano explained, and Springfield BID officials checked out several other cities’ systems to gain insight into their capabilities — and performance.

In downtown Atlanta, cameras were installed roughly a year ago, said BID Director Jeff Keck, adding that, according to one account, development officials in that city noted a significant drop in crime over the past six months — and the surveillance system has been given some of the credit.

A comprehensive surveillance system has been talked about in Springfield for the better part of a decade, said Castellano, adding that, while cameras had been approved and money earmarked, the cameras were not actually funded by the Legislature until very recently. In fact, lawmakers had to override Gov. Patrick’s budget veto to bring the first cameras to the downtown in early October.

There are now cameras spread across the 26-block section handled by the BID — an area that stretches from East Columbus Avenue to Edward Street, from Frank B. Murray Way to Bliss Street — and some locations outside that zone, including two in Mason Square.

The surveillance system is still a work in progress, said Castellano, with some kinks being worked out, new cameras being added regularly, and software upgrades pending that will significantly improve overall performance. In addition, the BID is exploring opportunities with Springfield Technical Community College to create classes that would train individuals to use the technology.

As an example of what this technology can — or soon will — do, Castellano paused to watch a pedestrian moving past the MassMutual Center. Soon, a software upgrade will enable individuals monitoring images sent from the cameras to essentially click on such an individual and follow their movements — all hands-free.

There is a certain Big Brother-like nature to this kind of surveillance that concerns some, Castellano acknowledged, but polls show that a majority of Americans support such activity as a way to reduce crime and keep streets safer.

Frame Work

Running through the scope and capabilities of the system, Castellano said the cameras are perched on buildings and streetlights, and have been strategically placed (with significant input from city police) to help reduce the incidence of crime. Images are monitored from 4 p.m. to 4 a.m. each day.

The cameras have a 360-degree range of motion, are equipped with night-vision technology, and can bring license plates into focus from several hundred feet away. The accompanying software, meanwhile, enables those monitoring the images to zoom in and out, play back any incidents, break them down frame by frame, and review them using slow-motion and freeze-frame technology.

“We can see things much better than we could with the naked eye,” said Castellano, noting, for example, that a frame-by-frame review of some images from one camera revealed how an individual was able to determine which cars to break into.

“He had a scout working ahead of him, checking out the cars,” he explained. “That’s how he could tell one car was unlocked. We used the tape to see that a guy was using a torch to break into cars; it turned out to be the same guy.”

As he focused in on another pedestrian seen in a recording of events captured by a camera at 1648 Main St, near the federal building, Castellano showed how the system could detect such details as a red hooded sweatshirt, brown pants, and sneakers. Sometimes, this is all police need to further an investigation.

Indeed, while most of the cameras have only been in place a few weeks or even a few days, Castellano said it’s certainly not too early to state conclusively that the surveillance system should help reduce the incidence of crime in Springfield.

“The cameras are proving themselves extremely effective in showing us all that’s going on and helping to make the streets safer,” he explained. “We’re still working the kinks out; once we’re at 100%, this system is going to be able to catch everything. It’s amazing what it has caught already — and sometimes we don’t even realize what we’ve caught.”

Castellano was careful not to reveal information that could hinder ongoing police investigations, he did say the cameras have helped achieve what he would term “progress” in some trouble spots.

These include Stockbridge Street, and specifically the area behind the Community Music School — site of several motor-vehicle break-ins — and the area by Gridiron Street and the Hippodrome.

Meanwhile, Castellano said he and others who monitor the images are finding their work intriguing — and ultimately quite rewarding.

“It’s work, but I have some fun with it, and my guys have some fun with it, too,” he explained. “They get really pumped up trying to catch someone committing a crime, and they love working with police; it’s exciting to them. We’re the eyes and ears for the police.”

Eyes in the Sky

Returning to the images provided by the camera positioned on Worthington Street, Castellano said that, in addition to the antics of club-goers, those monitoring the images have witnessed a few minor fights, all of which were broken up by police or bouncers.

Overall, he said the cameras have revealed something he pretty much knew already as a BID official and downtown resident — that Springfield has crime, but nothing more than most cities its size.

The surveillance system will make this known, he said, and also let residents, workers, and visitors understand that the city is focused on public safety, quality-of-life concerns, and, in general, making downtown a place to be, not a place to avoid.

In other words, big-picture issues.

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

Sections Supplements
A Dose of Daily Motivation Builds Momentum

As a leader, it does not matter what product or service your company offers or what specific responsibility your team has; your job is to motivate and develop your employees. While most leaders believe motivation is the key to any organization’s success, many struggle to keep their people motivated on a daily basis.

So if keeping your teams motivated is a struggle in good times, is it even harder in a weak economy? Yes, absolutely. The focus shifts to the tough economy, so it becomes even easier to ignore the day-to-day obstacles. Here’s an idea — instead of ignoring the real issues, challenge your team to recognize, overcome, and be successful. Of course, it may be tough when research shows two important factors are prohibiting leaders from doing their jobs effectively: they fear losing their jobs due to downsizing, or they lack knowledge of how to actually motivate their teams. If leaders are afraid of losing their jobs, imagine how the employees feel.

So, as leaders, how can you motivate someone — or even yourself — when there is fear of being laid off? The fact is, the best way to keep your job during reorganization is to stay focused on your job and ignore the ‘noise,’ and do your job better than anyone else. Corporate leaders will, at some point in their careers, experience company restructures and downsizing. During these times it is important not to ignore the option of losing your job; however, don’t focus on it. Focus on what you can control — you, your team’s actions, and ultimately the performance of your division.

There is no doubt that the market and economy will rebound and will be bigger and better than ever. The only question is, when? While this is an optimistic view, what choice do you have? You can be motivated and believe you will achieve your goals, or you can focus on the negatives and feel miserable and hopeless. It’s vital you choose to be excited and motivated with an optimistic outlook for a better end result. Here’s the best part: By making this choice as a leader, your team will follow your example.

So, this being said, how can you keep your team motivated every day? Again, while motivation is the key part of any leader’s job, it is one of the most difficult. People are made up of energy, and when people communicate with each other, it is merely a transfer of energy. To keep your team motivated on a long-term, consistent basis, a leader must have a plan that involves that energy. A leader needs to focus on what he or she can do daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly to achieve the goal: to maximize their team’s motivation.

Knowledge creates confidence, and when a person is confident, he or she is more motivated to take action: knowledge + confidence = motivation.

A leader must turn the energy thermostat to high. Everyone has to understand that the right energy will empower everybody to achieve more. Remember, most people spend more time at work than at home, so it should be fun and motivating.

To maximize your team’s motivation, here are some things you can do daily, weekly, and quarterly in your office:

  • Something to do daily: As a leader, when you get to the office, walk around and talk to every person. Leaders usually have a thousand things they need to complete every day, as soon as possible, so many walk straight to their offices and get to work right away. WRONG! The most important task is to get the team ready for the day. Walk the office every morning pump up your employees as they walk in the door. Remember, it is not only what you say, but how you say it. Give positive energy, and be genuine as you spend time with each person.
  • Something to do weekly: Everybody complains about sales meetings and staff meetings except the person holding the meeting. Because communication is so important to any company’s success, not having a meeting is NOT going to work; instead, ensure the meeting is effective and a good use of time. Use the meeting to teach your team how to do their jobs better. This doesn’t mean teaching your staff more about the product or service you make or sell, but rather focusing on the soft skills. Soft skills are leadership, customer service, sales, and communication. Every week, choose a different topic. For example, next week, try to make your customers feel special every time you talk to them.
  • Something to do quarterly: Conduct an all-team practice day; an offsite meeting that encourages employee growth and motivation is the best option for this. Make this event an extreme learning experience that involves everybody and allows each employee to learn and have fun. Many companies don’t think they have the budget for these activities, but that is a huge mistake. When you compare the cost of these offsite events — whether they are quarterly or semiannually — to the cost of having complacent and unmotivated employees, it is a small price to pay. Remember your employees are one of your largest expenses, and also the single largest contributor to your revenue. Don’t look at these events as an expense, but rather as an investment in the company’s success.
  • Remember to play to win day in and day out. You should never be in the defensive position, either waiting for the corporate ax to come down or hoping your teams will motivate themselves. Get in the trenches, talk with your teams, and be energetic, positive, and focused, and your team will do the same with your customers, ultimately ensuring your success.

    Nathan Jamail, president of the Jamail Development Group and author of “The Sales Leaders Playbook,” is a motivational speaker, entrepreneur, and corporate coach. As a former executive director for Sprint and owner of several small businesses, Jamail travels the country helping individuals and organizations achieve maximum success. His clients include Radio Shack, Nationwide Insurance, Metro PCS, and Century 21;www.nathanjamail.com

    Sections Supplements
    Take These Steps to Help Younger Workers Reach Their Full Potential

    The next generations of workers, i.e. teens and young adults, have gained a reputation from the older generation of not being able to contribute at the same level they did when they were young. People often talk about how today’s teens just don’t have the work ethic, are lazy, and don’t listen, follow rules, or respect their supervisors.

    For sure, teens will be teens, and their immaturity and attitudes will surface on many occasions. However, well into a new millennium, it’s become clear that the pace and environment that these young people have been raised in is unique to their short lives.

    So before you dismiss this new generation of workers, take the following into account, and use this knowledge to turn them into workplace stars:

    Technology: One of the biggest technological advancements of the Baby Boomer generation was replacing the 8-track tape player with the audiocassette. Teens and young adults today have known a world with cell phones, computers, the Internet, Google, MySpace, YouTube, and iPods. This has played a role in shaping every aspect of their lives. Use this to your advantage by allowing younger workers to help you with technology-related projects. Get their input when updating your Web site or using social networking sites. Allow them to share their wealth of knowledge with you and your staff.

    Information and Communication: Not very long ago, information came from the nightly news, daily newspaper, or books. Communication was face-to-face, in writing, or over the phone. But all that has changed. Over the past decade, information and communication have flowed in an instant stream and can even be customized. Teens and young adults are hardwired to process the maximum amount of facts, figures, and news. Now, communication occurs at a far greater rate through cell phones, E-mails, instant messaging, texting, and social-networking sites. However, it is far less personal.

    Use this to your advantage by texting or E-mailing your schedules and company information to younger workers and bringing them up to speed in a way that they are more familiar with.

    Society and Culture: Much could be written regarding the escalating changes in society and our culture; however, here are just a few observations that will have an impact on how a teen or young adult will perform at work.

    We are a long way from the family sitting around the dinner table with mom and dad, recapping the day and discussing tomorrow. With access to credit cards, we have evolved into a consumer-driven society, dominated by brand names. At both the individual and professional levels, sports have taken on a far greater level of significance and involvement. Many times, role models have moved away from a local positive adult influence to distant celebrities who can easily disappoint.

    All of these things have shaped what teens and young adults expect in the workplace, so they are certainly less ready for the traditional workplace than past generations. Preparation for entry-level, hourly, and seasonal jobs rarely occurs. Parents and schools have tended to abdicate this responsibility, and young adults honestly don’t see the cause and effect between a part-time job and the million-dollar lifestyle they aspire to. Smart employers will tackle this challenge by setting honest expectations upfront, and mentor younger workers on a regular basis so they stay on track with their future goals.

    Appearance: Self-expression and personal identity has always been a high priority for teens. Tattoos, body piercings, and hairstyles are not acts of rebellion. Carving out one’s individuality is a natural response to the bombardment of messages they receive on how to look and act. Don’t pass judgment simply based on appearance. As a rule, it is not a reflection of their performance. Instead, learn from this situation. Teens and young adults are used to seeing things differently … and they are more accepting of other cultures and differences.

    Speed Is Everything: All of the above tend to have speed as a common characteristic. Today’s youth have been raised in a 24/7, got-to-have-it-now world. They didn’t ask for it or demand it. From Main Street to the Internet, in their lifetime, companies never close for business. Don’t expect to witness patience as a virtue at work. Use this to your advantage by encouraging multi-tasking in the office. Teens and young adults are used to managing multiple projects at once, so don’t feel the need to look over their shoulder constantly.

    As different as this may be from the way you were raised, these elements drive all of the positive qualities of this new generation. Today’s teens and young adults are as able and capable as any generation before them, maybe even moreso. These same life components have made them adaptable, committed, innovative, knowledgeable, time-efficient, tolerant, and able to multi-task like it’s an Olympic sport.

    Understanding and appreciating the unique environment they have been raised in is often the first step in making real progress with your younger staff. Take the time to consider how you can use their skills in your business, and watch your productivity and profits soar.

    Ken Whiting is an industry expert on providing solutions for entry-level workforce challenges. His WAVES for Success program teaches companies what inspires young adults and teens to participate, contribute, and excel at work. His new book, “WAVES for Teenage Workforce Success,” provides insights on recruiting, motivating, and retaining;[email protected]

    Departments

    Acts of Kindness

    Major Thomas Perks of the Salvation Army of Springfield helps kick off the 24th annual Hasbro Children’s Giving Tree program at the Eastfield Mall. Members of the East Longmeadow High School chorale group are in the background. Through the program, which ran through Dec. 12, Hasbro partners with the Salvation Army, the United Way of Pioneer Valley, Rachel’s Table, and the community to get toys, games and non-perishable food items to underprivileged children and families in the Springfield area. Hasbro donates the toys and games, while community members donate non-perishable food items and perform ‘Acts of Kindness.’


    Link to Libraries

    Meyers Bros. Kalicka, CPA, in Holyoke; and Link to Libraries, a not-for-profit organization based in Western Mass. whose mission is to collect and distribute to public elementary schools and non-profit organizations throughout Western Mass. new books to enhance reading, literacy, and language skills to children of all cultures, are pictured at the December holiday donation of new books to Sullivan Elementary School in Holyoke. Meyers Bros. Kalicka Managing Partner David Kalicka (middle, left) represented the firm as corporate sponsor for the Sullivan Elementary School holiday book drive. More than 300 books were donated by the firm for the Sullivan School and other area schools in the region. Also pictured are: Susan Jaye-Kaplan, co-founder of Link to Libraries (next to David Kalicka); Janet Kalicka, Sullivan School staff representative; and Sullivan School Principal John Breish.


    Rosa Parks Day

    The fourth annual Rosa Parks Day commemoration was held on Dec. 5 at Springfield Technical Community College. The event at STCC, which marks the anniversary of Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Ala. bus, featured Springfield-area guest speakers who were active in the civil rights movement. Here, speakers pose with a group of students and a teacher from William DeBerry School. Left to right, from the middle back: Frederick Hurst, publisher of Afro-American Point of View; E. Henry Twiggs, Chair of the Springfield Democratic City Committee and a member of the Rosa Parks Day Organizing Committee; Dr. Ruth B. Loving; and state Rep. Benjamin Swan.


    By the Numbers

    Pollster John Zogby, president and CEO of Zogby International, addressed a gathering of more than 100 members and friends of the World Affairs Council of Western Mass. on his new book, “The Way We’ll Be,” at the Springfield Sheraton Hotel on Dec. 3. The event was sponsored by FieldEddy, A. L. Cignoli Co., and BusinessWest. Here, Zogby talks with some attendees prior to his address.


    Open for Business

    Ribbon-cutting ceremonies were staged recently at Agawam Crossing, a new medical and office building on Route 75. At left, Ken Vincunas, president of Development Associates and developer of the project, chats with Agawam Mayor Susan Dawson, who was on hand to help cut the ceremonial ribbon. Above, Stacy Magiera, practice administrator, and Christopher Magiera, DMD, PC, stand at the booth of the new general dentistry offices of Christopher J. Magiera, one of many tenants now doing business in Agawam Crossing, including Individual & Family Counseling Center, Baystate Rehabilitation Care, and Anytime Fitness.

    Departments

    Boston Wine Festival

    January 10-April 3: Hosted by the Boston Harbor Hotel on Rowes Wharf, the Boston Wine Festival offers more than 50 wine and food pairing events. The schedule of events includes a variety of evening receptions, wine seminars, dinners, and themed Sunday brunches. For details on the festival, visit www.bostonwinefesival.net.

    Long-term Planning Seminar

    January 13: As part of a joint effort to educate the public about the importance of long-term care planning and insurance and the role it can play in helping to finance assisted living, Rockridge Retirement Community on Coles Meadow Road in Northampton will host an informational seminar to increase long-term care insurance awareness. Richard A. Eisenberg of Eisenberg Associates Insurance Agency Inc. will present the 4 p.m. seminar, which will discuss the long-term care planning process, long-term care insurance, and assisted living. The seminar is free and open to the public; however, reservations are required by calling (413) 586-2902, ext. 23.

    New Year’s Gala

    Dec. 31: The inaugural Young Professional Society (YPS) of Greater Springfield New Year’s Eve Gala on Dec. 31 at the Sheraton Springfield is nearly sold out. Interested parties, of any age, are invited to grab the last spots as YPS celebrates New Year — New Time: Springfield Shines In ’09. The theme of the YPS New Year’s Eve event is a celebration of not only the new year, but pride in the city of Springfield. Presented by NUVO Bank and supported by Williams Distributing and BusinessWest, the event is offering only 300 tickets; prices are $59 for one ticket, $109 for two tickets, and $209 per couple with overnight accommodations (plus additional room tax and fees) at the Sheraton Springfield. Final tickets are on sale at www.springfieldyps.com. The evening includes three different party rooms with a live band, Decades by Dezyne, and a DJ, with all guests receiving a ‘goodie bag’ with a number of offerings from sponsors. The night will also offer gourmet dinner stations, a dessert station, and a champagne toast after the ball has dropped at midnight. In addition, a continental breakfast will be served after midnight. Interested parties may go directly to www.springfieldyps.com to purchase tickets. Guests do not have to be YPS members to attend. Opportunities to sponsor this event are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Any company interested in reaching young professionals, call Jill Monson at (413) 219-9692 or E-mail [email protected].

    Sections Supplements
    Steps Taken Now Can Lighten Your Tax Burden Later

    While year-end tax planning is always and in all ways important, it is especially crucial in 2008. The time is now to apply new tax rules to secure your best tax advantages for this year and beyond.

    This is a very challenging time for individuals and businesses, a climate that demands that each of us takes a look at year-end tax planning, regardless of the level of our income, with an eye toward reducing our tax burden down the road. One or more of the following unprecedented events likely had an impact on you during 2008 and potentially for a number of years going forward: the stock-market collapse, the credit crisis, the recession, the bursting of the real-estate bubble, and/or the rise and fall of energy prices.

    What follows is a primer that will identify some of the ways in which you can take the lemons that may have been hurled at you and turn as many of them as possible into lemonade.

    Income and Deductions Shifting

    Usually the most efficient planning opportunities will grow out of the time-tested strategy of maneuvering your income and/or expenses between tax years. The two primary benefits that grow out of the opportunities for doing this are the ability to control the tax rate at which you will be assessed and the ability to control when those taxes will be paid.

    If you are in a position to control the timing and flow of income into your possession, it presents an opportunity for you to contemplate whether you are going to be in a higher marginal income tax bracket in the current tax year or the one to come. When you compare these tax brackets, you will then have the opportunity to determine in which year that income might generate the lower tax.

    The corollary to the moving of income is the timing of the payment of your deductible expenses. Combining the two presents an opportunity to generate a larger tax benefit by making those swings of taxable dollars more substantial. For example, if you are able to put off $10,000 of income into the next tax year and can accelerate $5,000 of deductible expenses into the current tax year, you will effect a $15,000 swing in your reportable income, impacting your applicable tax bracket and potentially postponing the due date for those taxes by up to 15 months.

    This particular strategy can be even more valuable in light of changes in the tax laws that have been made and those that experts anticipate coming down the pike. The importance of contemplating this strategy is significant for the tax years 2008 through 2010, inclusive, when you consider that those taxpayers who are in — or can put themselves in — the 10% or 15% tax brackets will potentially be able to take advantage of the 0% tax rate currently applicable to qualified dividend income and/or capital gains during those years.

    A more challenging situation presents itself to those whose income is above the $200,000 to $250,000 threshold identified by President-elect Obama. Although it remains unclear when the tax increase on those taxpayers will actually go into effect, the question here, for those who can anticipate remaining at those income levels during the next few years, is whether to accelerate income into 2008 in order to potentially have it taxed at the lower brackets. This same group of taxpayers should also contemplate this issue while bearing in mind the president-elect’s proposal to restore the limitations on the amount that can be claimed for either personal exemptions and/or itemized deductions.

    Bunching Deductions

    The next concept impacted by the timing of payments is for those that qualify as itemized deductions, and is generally referred to as ‘bunching.’ The strategy of bunching deductions involves consideration of the timing of your various expenditures and/or deductions, including real-estate and excise taxes, state income taxes, charitable contributions, certain interest payments, medical expenses, and the like. The underlying concept of this strategy is that your itemized deductions are typically compared against a standard deduction that varies depending on your marital status and your age.

    In some instances your itemized deductions may only be exceeding the otherwise available standard deduction by a small amount. In this case, a beneficial strategy might be to postpone some of those deductions until the next tax year and accelerate similar expenses from the following year. This will bunch all of your deductions into the middle of three years and create an amount that will substantially exceed the otherwise available standard deduction, potentially giving you better tax results over all three years.

    This calculation needs to be considered in the context of the new tax provision enacted as part of the Housing Assistance Tax Act of 2008, which allows homeowners to claim an additional standard deduction for real property tax if the taxpayer does not itemize. The additional amount is limited to $500, or $1,000 for joint filers.

    This bunching strategy also has applications in the context of higher earners who will have a reduction in their otherwise-available itemized deductions simply by virtue of their income level. Specific examples of this application include the fact that medical expenses are deductible only to the extent that they exceed 7.5% of one’s adjusted gross income; and miscellaneous itemized deductions, including the fee that you pay to your tax professional, employee business expenses, and the like, are subject to a 2% threshold.

    It is possible that some taxpayers will find that they are able to benefit from higher amounts of itemized deductions by applying this strategy of bunching.

    Loss Harvesting

    Historically, the end of the year has been the time to take a look at your investments and see where you stand relative to capital gains realized during the course of the year. It was always prudent to look at your portfolio to determine which positions you held that might generate a loss, so that you could either match your gains to your losses and/or exceed your gains by an amount of up to $3,000. That is the amount that would be available as a deduction on your income-tax return to offset other ordinary income.

    While there are sound tax reasons for considering this strategy, it is also important to remember that you need to consider the underlying investment wisdom and considerations associated with your having purchased the investment in the first place.

    However, beyond that historical strategy, there is a very important planning opportunity that this year’s stock-market collapse has presented relative to what is known as ‘loss harvesting.’ The application of the loss-harvesting concept this year extends more to the concept of stockpiling losses to be used in subsequent years, for several reasons, including the possibility of more short-term transactions or the prospect for capital-gains tax rates being increased.

    The application of this strategy would be to sell those mutual funds, stocks, and/or bonds that are now in loss situations in order to realize the capital losses.

    Assuming further that you do not wish to be out of the market altogether and would prefer not to be out of the market for any period of time during which a rebound might occur, the critical component of this strategy is to move the proceeds into comparable funds or investments in a way that will avoid the application of the ‘wash sale rule.’ Here, the IRS does not allow you to sell a stock or investment simply to generate a tax loss. For that reason you are not allowed to take a tax loss on an investment if you sell and repurchase the same within 30 days, before or after the sale.

    If this strategy is being implemented with mutual funds, you could find a comparable fund within the same mutual-fund family — and thereby avoid sales charges. For example, if you had invested in the Vanguard fund based on the S&P 500 and you sold it and moved the proceeds into the Fidelity S&P 500 fund, the underlying investments would be substantially identical, and the wash sale rule would apply. But if you are able to select mutual funds that are comparable but not substantially identical, then you should be able to recognize the capital losses.

    If the underlying investments are stocks or bonds, you must bear the wash sale rule in mind and avoid its application by not investing in ‘substantially identical’ securities. There are, however, strategies beyond the scope of this article that are available to allow you to get back into the identical security without being adversely affected by the rule. Another important component of this loss-harvesting strategy is the fact that the capital losses may be carried forward indefinitely.

    The concepts and theories set forth here represent only a few of the tax-planning opportunities that are available. It is imperative for you to remember that, in all but a very few instances, those opportunities for the calendar year 2008 will expire at the stroke of midnight, New Year’s Eve. It is important that you contact your tax professional in order to see which of these and the others might be applicable to helping you be the most efficient taxpayer you can be.v

    Bruce M. Fogel is a partner with Bacon Wilson, P.C. / Morse & Sacks in Northampton. He is a member of the firm’s estate-planning, elder, real estate, and business departments. He has extensive experience in matters relating to income, gift, and estate taxes, and he focuses on the tax implications of all legal transactions. He can also be heard on the radio show,“Taxes and Assets,” which he co-hosts Saturday mornings at 8:30 a.m. on WHMP; (413) 584-1287;[email protected];bwlaw.blogs.com/estate_planning_bits

    Sections Supplements
    Navigating and Advocating for Families with Special-needs Children

    It is difficult enough for parents and family to ensure their child is receiving an appropriate education in today’s education model without the added difficulty of navigating the often-barely chartered waters of special education. Parents of ‘mainstream’ children must advocate and stay involved in the day-to-day schooling activities in order to obtain the best education available to their children. This can be daunting without the emotional stress of dealing with the challenges of our children, a system filled with acronyms, and a process and procedure that can be confusing on a good day.

    Navigating the waters of special education can be made easier by a basic understanding of the rights, rules, and regulations that govern the school districts when deciding if a student is eligible for special education and, if so, what services that student will receive.

    School districts are subject to state and federal laws that provide detailed procedures to ensure that a student receives a FAPE (free appropriate public education) during the entire time he or she is eligible for special education. Because special education is such a highly complex and regulated area of the law, it is in the parents’ best interest to seek assistance to understand the special-education process. The more informed and well-advised the parent, the more they can make of the opportunity to be a part of the design and development of their child’s educational experience.

    The idea that you, the parent or person with custody of the child, will work in partnership with the school district is essential to the process of providing a FAPE for that child. In doing so, you will be a member of the IEP (individualized education plan) team for the student, which is charged with the development of an IEP. Both state and federal laws provide that the IEP be tailored to the student’s unique needs to provide sufficient services to enable the student to make meaningful educational progress and to assist the student in the acquisition of knowledge and skills, including social and emotional development based on appropriate chronological and developmental expectations.

    Services to be provided to the student will be at no cost or expense to the family as part of the public-education program. It is also required that students in private schools at private cost are entitled to a FAPE if they want to take advantage of public educational services.

    In order to determine eligibility for special services, the student is referred for an evaluation. Parental consent is required before the school can evaluate or test a child. However, the school can review existing data, give your student a test or other evaluation that is given to all students (i.e. MCAS or classroom tests) that are part of the general education program, or share information with federal or state educational officials without parental consent.

    Such parental consent is required before your school district can provide special-education and related services to your student for the first time; to make a change in services, placement, or reevaluation; or to excuse members of the IEP team from attending a team meeting.

    As the student’s advocate, you will be entitled to prior written notice from the school district when it proposes or refuses to take steps to identify your student as one with a special need, to evaluate your student, to provide special services to your student, or to change your student’s program. This is called ‘prior written notice’ by federal regulation, and the notice must state:

    What the school district proposes or refuses to do;

    Why the school district proposes or refuses to take the action; and

    How the school district came to this decision, including information about each evaluation procedure, assessment, record, or report that was considered.

    It must also describe any other options the IEP team considered and why those options were rejected.

    Let the advocating begin. You have the right to request an IEE (independent education evaluation) from an independent, qualified examiner at public expense, provided you meet financial-eligibility requirements, or at your own cost at any time. This IEE must be considered in 10 days by the IEP team to determine if any changes should be made.

    If disagreements about the IEP continue, the law provides for several methods of attempting to resolve the dispute. Initially, parents can bring the dispute to the attention of local public-school officials, and then, if still unresolved, they can use the services of the ESE (Department of Elementary and Secondary Education) Problem Resolution System. Mediation is another often successful option, and ultimately, if a hearing with testimony and witnesses is necessary, a due-process hearing through the BSEA (Board of Special Education Appeals) can be convened.

    At all times in this education planning process, the assistance of an advocate, attorney, or other qualified professional is recommended. The laws regulating special education are very complex and can be easily misinterpreted or not properly followed procedurally. In order to ensure that your child’s educational experience is smooth sailing, engaging the services of the appropriate advocate, attorney, or other professional is essential.v

    Julie A. Dialessi-Lafley, Esq. is a multi-faceted attorney with the law firm of Bacon Wilson, P.C., who focuses her practice areas in business law, real estate, estate planning, and administration and family law. She contributes to a popular Family Law Blog at bwlaw.blogs.com/ familylawbits; (413) 781-0560;[email protected]

    Opinion

    A few months ago, a contributing columnist to BusinessWest suggested retiring the phrase ‘hunkering down.’ He said that, overall, the term doesn’t really mean anything anymore (if it ever did), but that if there is a connotation, it is generally a sense of ducking and dodging.

    Webster’s Collegiate states only that ‘hunker’ means to squat or crouch, and that the word is, in fact, generally used with ‘down,’ although that sounds somewhat redundant.

    And if people are going to continue to use that phrase with regard to the recession and their efforts to withstand or survive it, then it should be retired. That’s because this region doesn’t need a lot of hunkering, or even hunkering down, right now.

    Instead, as business-management experts state in an informal guide to getting to the other side of this recession in this issue, it needs some imaginative thinking and determination to grow, and not merely survive. What the experts say, and they’re right, is that, while this may be a time of challenge — or extreme challenge for those in some sectors — it is also a time of opportunity, if people choose to view it as such and have the daring not to merely hunker down.

    Such daring remains a foreign concept to many, including most of those who remember what 1990 and 1982 were like. The phones in their offices stopped ringing — unless they were in the bill-collection business — and didn’t start ringing again for years.

    In response, many did some real hunkering, and in the process they probably missed out on some excellent business opportunities, while helping to deepen those recessions in the process.

    We know that’s it’s very easy to preach such action, and much harder to do it. The ‘experts’ (yes, that word needs quotation marks around it) pull out some well-worn rhetorical phrases like ‘be active, not reactive,’ and ‘thrive, not simply survive,’ which are overused and can sound as trite as ‘hunkering down.’

    But they’re right.

    While it goes against some of their most basic of instincts, now is a time when business owners should be thinking imaginatively and perhaps taking some steps they normally take only when those handling both accounts receivable and accounts payable sound much more upbeat.

    This might be the time to find new ways to collaborate with other businesses and organizations to create new revenue streams that will yield dividends long after the recession is declared over. Likewise, this could — and should — be the time to make sure your company is providing relevant products and services and that customers are receiving what they demand most — value.

    This is also a time, as one expert stated, when business owners and managers should be exploring what would be considered missed opportunities — such as the huge and still-growing Hispanic market and other ethnic populations — to turn such misses into hits.

    Meanwhile, this is definitely the time to look at operations, procedures, and personnel to make sure one’s company is being as efficient as it can be. This sounds like a no-brainer, but businesses don’t do enough of this whether the economy is bad or good.

    In summation, those ‘I Refuse to Participate in a Recession’ buttons are good, clever, and practical. But the wearers need to back up the words with actions.

    If they don’t, those words are hollow and somewhat meaningless — just like ‘hunkering down.’