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Outlook 2009

The Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield sponsored its annual Outlook event at Chez Josef in Agawam on Feb. 9. Left: Keynote speaker U.S. Rep. Jim Tanner (D-Tenn.) cautioned of the dangers of a soaring national debt, yet issued his support for the $800 billion federal stimulus bill. Top right: Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno said strong education and public safety are at least as critical to healthy communities as economic development. Bottom right: Among the hundreds of attendees were Sue Mastroianni (left) a principal with Fitzgerald & Mastroianni, and Mary DeLiso of ABC 40.


Black History Month

Honorees at the Black History Month opening event at Springfield Technical Community College on Feb. 4 included, from left, Massachusetts Electoral College delegation President Ray Jordan Jr.; Jordan’s wife, Donna; Ron Copes, chairman of the STCC Board of Trustees; and Myra Smith, STCC’s Vice President for Human Resources and Multicultural Affairs.

Sections Supplements
What Are They, and How Can They Help You Bring in More Business?

Simply put, social media, or Web 2.0, is a communications tool. Wikipedia, the Internet’s most popular encyclopedia, describes Web 2.0 as a means to “…enhance creativity [and] communications, secure information-sharing, [and augment] collaboration and functionality of the web.” It encompasses several online tools that help you develop relationships that may facilitate new business opportunities.

These tools include LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, podcasts, YouTube, and a host of others. They are the online version of working the room, and can potentially spread your brand message to many people for free.

Social media provides tools that can introduce you to people who may become valuable resources. These people can be tapped for advice, assistance, or collaboration. It also helps professionals build relationships that can evolve into business opportunities that may not have presented themselves otherwise.

Let’s be clear right from the start: social media does not replace face-to-face interaction. It augments and creates new opportunities to meet people and demonstrate your expertise, and it may position you as the solution to your prospects’ problems by raising awareness. It can open new doors and put you in front of a whole new potential client base.

But social media marketing may seem a bit too new and foreign, and some professionals may be uncomfortable about experimenting. They may fear that their reputations could be compromised. Perhaps it would help to review the most popular social media tools.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is an environment where people display online resumes that detail what they can offer to employers and people in need of someone with their skills. The basic premise behind LinkedIn is to connect with a diverse group of professionals with varying skill sets, so when someone searches for an individual who does what you do, they will find you. In-network results (those of your connections) display first, so it is to your advantage to have as large a network as possible.

Your LinkedIn profile provides an opportunity to display the best resume you could possibly draft. It is much more powerful than any traditional paper resume because it is readily available for anyone in the world to view 24/7. In fact, the more progressive job applicants are now providing a PDF of their LinkedIn profile instead of a traditional resume because it contains much more information and includes recommendations from people familiar with their capabilities.

The strongest LinkedIn profiles thoroughly detail your skill sets, employment history, educational background, recommendations, interests, and activities. They present this information in a way that makes you appealing to a potential employer or business prospect. The best LinkedIn profiles use words that are chosen carefully to convey not only what you do, but what potential customers can get when they hire or engage you.

LinkedIn also provides an opportunity to demonstrate your expertise by answering questions in your field and contributing to group discussions. The possibilities are virtually without limit and can really set you apart when a potential employer compares you to a competitor.

Facebook

Facebook is a more socially oriented environment than LinkedIn. While LinkedIn presents an opportunity to establish professional connections, Facebook presents a platform to reconnect and interact with friends. It helps to re-establish relationships. According to iStrategyLabs, “Facebook’s 35- to 54-year-old demographic segment not only continued to grow the fastest, but it [accelerated] to a 276% growth rate over the past 6 months, [from June 18, 2008 to Jan. 4, 2009.] That demo is doubling roughly every two months.” Currently there are about 7 million Facebook users in that demographic.

Facebook is very personal. It has a communications component that allows instant messaging, space to write public messages, and an opportunity to post photos. It also includes many silly applications, such as the ability to pass virtual drinks to your friends. Facebook makes it easy to search for long-lost friends by your specific high school and college, sorted by year, and it is not uncommon to reconnect with people whose names you haven’t uttered since graduation.

A word of caution, though — think very carefully before meshing your professional network with your personal life on Facebook. You may regret having professional connections read something from your college roommate about, “Remember that time when we…?” It is possible to segment groups and hide information from particular group members, but that may be more work than you are willing to undertake.

Twitter

Twitter is a micro-blogging application that allows 140 characters to get your entire message across. It teaches you how to condense your thoughts and compress your words to economize precious space. Most of all, Twitter provides an incredible opportunity to build relationships with people who you would probably never meet in any other circumstance. But how can that happen in 140 characters?

On Twitter, you follow and are followed by fellow Tweeters. That makes Twitter unique in the fact that it is a 100% permission-based marketing tool. People make personal decisions to follow you based on the quality and variety of your Tweets (messages), and they can ‘unfollow’ you with a click of a button.

People use Twitter to share news and ideas, collaborate, ask advice, and build professional and personal relationships. However, it is not acceptable on Twitter to soapbox about your own company, product, or service. In fact, that is the quickest way to be unfollowed. Generally, people publicly Tweet a mix of information from their industry, current events, and breaking news, re-Tweets of other people’s information, and personal information. They also Tweet messages directed to specific individuals on the public timeline for all to see, as well as private messages when discretion is needed.

An additional benefit is that many companies are on Twitter. This is rapidly becoming one of the most efficient means to monitor chatter about your brand. Comcast has done this very successfully. When someone Tweets a complaint, @ComcastCares knows about it and takes appropriate action. Ford, Dell, and Lands’ End are additional examples of companies that have recognized the incredible potential to build, repair, and maintain their brands by monitoring and responding to Twitter chatter. Twitter is becoming a powerful customer-service tool.

At first glance Twitter may appear confusing, but when you jump in and start engaging in conversations with people, you will probably find it to be a fun way to build relationships with people you wouldn’t have an opportunity to meet in any other way.

Blogs

A blog is an online publishing tool. It provides an opportunity to communicate ideas, passions, or interests. Search engines love blogs because, in contrast to static Web sites, blog content is constantly updated and continually fresh. Blogs allow a platform for people to demonstrate professional expertise, share information about their interests, collaborate, and report about their own lives.

It is possible to have a Web developer design a custom blog that is integrated right into your Web site, but there are several alternatives that make it easy for do-it-yourselfers to get going. Blogger.com is a free, Google-owned blogging platform, and TypePad is a popular paid blogging platform. WordPress is a very popular open source platform, and there are plenty of people who specialize in developing custom blogs in this format.

There is no best solution that suits everyone’s needs, so it is advisable to do a little research and/or tap into your LinkedIn or Twitter network for advice.

One of the really great things about blogs is that, like Twitter, their readership is permission-based. Unlike E-mail marketing, of which much is considered spam by the receiver, blogs can be subscribed to and syndicated, so readers can regularly receive updates that they may read at their leisure. This can be done through an E-mail feed or an online tool that keeps blog posts separate from E-mail.

Podcasting

Podcasting is simply adding audio or video files to your Web site, blog, or other electronic distribution method. It gives people the opportunity to hear your voice and experience your expressions and eloquence rather than just read your words. A podcast can be subscription-based, syndicated, and downloaded automatically when new content is added, so it is a convenient means of distributing information. Podcasts can then be played on iPods and other MP3 players, making it very convenient for listeners and viewers to hear your message on the go.

YouTube

YouTube’s tagline is “Broadcast Yourself,” and that is an accurate description of what it is. YouTube has taken the world by storm and created instant cyber-celebrities out of ordinary people. It is an online space where anybody can upload any video for the entire world to see.

An interesting, evolving use of YouTube in this challenging economy is for uploading video resumes. People are creating mini-documentaries of themselves that highlight their skills and expertise. These range from simple homemade versions to elaborate, professional productions. It is becoming increasingly common for job seekers to link to their YouTube video resumes from their LinkedIn profiles. This offers potential employers additional insight into the creativity, eloquence, and skills offered by candidates.

One of the most significant advantages of social media is the viral potential. People tend to share information that they find appealing, helpful, amusing, or educational, so social media offers many free branding opportunities for yourself and/or your business. People communicate daily through various social-media tools with others that they perceive to be valuable members of the professional community. They build relationships and share resources. They regularly hire from within their social-media networks because they feel a confidence and trust.

Social media can be perceived to be a brave new frontier or intimidating and confusing. There are many advantages to sampling the above tools as a means of expanding your professional circle. It is possible to develop relationships virtually, and millions of dollars of business is initiated daily through these tactics.

How much longer can you afford to let your competitors use these tools while you sit on the sidelines?

Christine Pilch is a partner with Grow My Company and a social-media marketing strategist. She trains clients to utilize LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social-media tools to grow their businesses, and she collaborates with professional service firms to get results through innovative brand strategies; (413) 537-2474;

linkedin.com/in/christinepilch;twitter.com/christinepilch;growmyco.com; “Miracle Growth for Your Company.”

Features
BusinessWest Will Celebrate the Difference Makers at March 26 Gala

Mark your calendar!

BusinessWest recently chose its first class of Difference Makers — four individuals and one group of young people who are all improving the quality of life in Western Mass. — and will celebrate their accomplishments at a gala set for March 26 at the Log Cabin Banquet and Meeting House in Holyoke.

Details of the event are falling into place, and the gala is shaping up as a not-to-be-missed gathering that will blend networking with some well-deserved recognition for people who are making a difference in the community.

“Our first Difference Makers have different roles, different backgrounds, and different ways to channel their generous donations of time, energy, and imagination to the community,” said Kate Campiti, associate publisher of BusinessWest. “But there are many common denominators, starting with a desire to connect people and businesses with resources.

“These resources vary,” she continued, “and include everything from library books to outfits women can wear to a job interview; from capital for sustainable energy projects to programs designed to help make individuals workforce-ready. In each case, these connections make the region a better place in which to live, work, and play, and they create a ripple effect that can be felt across the Valley.”

And this focus on the Western Mass. region has generated a theme, if you will, for the March 26 gala. Indeed, this will be a celebration of not only the Difference Makers, but the Pioneer Valley itself, with food and beverages produced locally and entertainment music provided by area artists.

“There is going to be an incredible amount of energy in the room that night,” said Campiti. “BusinessWest wants to invite all its readers to attend, celebrate excellence, and recognize all that is special about this region.”

Tickets for the inaugural Difference Makers Gala are $50 per person, and may be ordered by calling (413) 781-8600, ext. 10, or via E-mail at[email protected].

The Difference Makers for 2009, as profiled in the Feb. 2 edition of BusinessWest, are:

  • Doug Bowen, president and CEO of PeoplesBank, emphasizes a strong philanthropic platform — the bank ranks among the leading charitable contributors among Massachusetts businesses, giving well over $3 million over the past five years — as well as a solid leadership position in lending to ‘green’ businesses and sustainable-energy-related ventures. He has also steered the bank to strong profitability, while balancing his own time with service to a number of civic and charitable organizations.
  • Kate Kane, managing director of the Springfield office of the Northwestern Mutual Financial Network, has used her platform in a variety of service roles, from mentoring young entrepreneurs to helping steer the Sisters of Providence Health System through a time of uncertainty for health care providers, to serving on the board of Friends for the Homeless. She co-wrote the original business plan for the Western Mass. chapter of Dress for Success, an organization that has become an international phenomenon.
  • Susan Jaye Kaplan founded GoFIT, which introduces young people to the importance of fitness and provides them with not only running shoes but a game plan to stay in shape. Later, she co-founded Linked to Libraries, which collects new books and donates them to elementary schools across the region that serve children of low-income families. In both roles, she has started kids on the path to good habits, both physical and intellectual, that will hopefully last a lifetime.
  • Bill Ward, as executive director of the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County, has worked to create access to employment, especially for minorities, young people, and underskilled individuals. The REB’s latest project, Building a Better Workforce — Closing the Skills Gap on the Road to Economic Resurgence, brings together businesses and colleges in an effort to establish universal kindergarten, improve young education proficiency and career awareness, increase adult literacy, and boost technical training in high-growth industry sectors.
  • The Young Professionals Society of Greater Springfield, in just two years, has grown to include more than 200 members. YPS creates professional-development programs, educates members on economic and other issues of the day, and provides reasons for young professionals to plant roots in the Pioneer Valley and become valuable contributors to its long-term progress. It also conducts events intended to connect young people with the arts, promote mentoring, and facilitate efforts to give back to the community.
  • Opinion
    Infrastructure Needs a Bill of Its Own

    President Obama is the first urbanite in the White House since Teddy Roosevelt. He certainly knows the vital role that cities play in America. Yet despite the Chicagoan on Pennsylvania Avenue, infrastructure spending in the House stimulus bill follows a business-as-usual pattern that discriminates against density.

    The only way to break that pattern is to take non-repair-related infrastructure spending out of the stimulus, and craft a separate bill that looks beyond the current recession. Major infrastructure projects, especially in cities, cannot be done quickly.

    Per-capita transportation spending in the House stimulus package, including transit, is more than 50% higher in the 10 least-dense states than in the 10 densest states, including Massachusetts. Yet America’s highways and rails already make it easy to move goods and people across America’s open spaces. The hard slog is getting across dense downtowns.

    Other elements in the stimulus package also favor farm over city. The subsidies for broadband infrastructure are unnecessary in already-connected cities. Access to the latest technologies is, after all, one reason for cities’ economic success. The $6 billion for weatherizing homes will surely do more for rural America than for apartment dwellers. There is urban spending in the bill, but money spent rehabilitating public housing is not the transformative investment that will make cities more productive.

    Infrastructure is the skeleton on which the economy hangs. In the 19th century, America built a great transportation network of rails and canals that enabled the wealth of the land to make its way east. America’s 19th-century cities — Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh — were nodes on that network that grew along with it.

    In the 20th century, Americans built a highway system that decentralized urban areas. The resulting exodus from cities to suburbs reminds us that infrastructure can have far-reaching consequences.

    A visionary infrastructure strategy cannot fit into a stimulus package. For stimulus, speed is vital. The Big Dig took 21 years. Working in cities is particularly slow because it takes time to tunnel, and because community opposition holds up urban mega-projects. A need for speed will always create an anti-urban bias.

    America needs both a stimulus package and new infrastructure, but combining the two in one bill is a mistake. Congress should eliminate any pretense that the stimulus plan is addressing long-run infrastructure needs, and leave in only those infrastructure expenditures, like rehabilitating decaying roads and bridges, that require minimal planning, public approval, and time to implement.

    A separate infrastructure bill would take cost-benefit analysis seriously, and direct spending to the projects with the highest returns. This means breaking the infrastructure spending status quo. As the Office of Management and Budget’s expectmore.gov Web site notes, highway infrastructure “funding is not based on need or performance and has been heavily earmarked.” To reduce boondoggle projects, localities, particularly wealthier ones, should provide a significant share of the funding. Requiring locales to pony up their own cash helps ensure that new projects are really valued.

    The role of cities is vital. According to County Business Patterns, 56% of America’s wages are earned in the 22 mega-metropolitan areas with more than 2 million people each. A serious infrastructure bill would aid metropolitan areas, but ask for sacrifice in return for subsidy.

    The cities that stand at the center of the economy need new infrastructure, but that can’t be built in two years. To ensure an infrastructure plan that does not shortchange metropolitan America, major infrastructure needs to come out of the stimulus package and get a bill of its own.-

    Edward L. Glaeser, a professor of Economics at Harvard University, is director of the Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston. This article first appeared in the Boston Globe.

    Departments

    Boston Wine Festival

    Thru 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.

    Managing Customer Satisfaction

    Feb. 24: The New England Performance Excellence Initiative will present “Managing Customer Satisfaction Performance” from 11:45 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. at the Scibelli Enterprise Center, 1 Federal St., Springfield. The lunchtime workshop will acquaint participants with Enterprise Performance Management, a unifying management approach that drives one’s business to the next level. In addition, the workshop will provide focus and context to all customer-satisfaction initiatives across one’s organization. The event is co-sponsored by the Springfield Business Incubator at Springfield Technical Community College. Participants will also be able to take the Performance Self Analysis Scorecard free of cost and find out the score in less than five minutes. A registration fee of $5 includes a bag lunch. To register, call (413) 737-6712.

    Women and Retirement

    Feb. 26: Shelly Colville, a registered representative of the National Planning Corp., will present a lecture titled “Women and Retirement: Are You Saving Wisely?” as part of the Kaleidoscope lecture series at Bay Path College in Longmeadow. Colville will lead women and men of all ages in an Oppenheimer Funds workshop to guide them to a better understanding of planning for the future. The free event is open to the public and will be conducted in Breck Suite in Wright Hall. For more information, call (413) 565-1066 or visit www.baypath.edu.

    Ann Hood Lecture

    March 5: Bestselling, New England-based author Ann Hood will present a free lecture at 7 p.m. in Empsall Hall at Bay Path College in Longmeadow as part of its Kaleidoscope series. Winner of the Best American Spiritual Writing Award, her last two novels (Comfort and The Knitting Circle) have received wide acclaim. For more information, call (413) 565-1066 or visit www.baypath.edu.

    Innovative Voices

    March 10: The MassMutual Center in downtown Springfield will be the setting for a capacity-building conference, co-presented by the Women’s Fund of Western Mass. and Bay Path College. Titled “Innovative Voices: Crafting a New Agenda for Leadership,” the daylong conference will feature guest speakers Sara Laschever and comedienne René Hicks. Workshop topics offered throughout the day will include: “New Faces in Leadership I: Generations & Cultures,” “New Faces in Leadership II: Strategies for Change,” “Wikis, Twitter, and Blogs – Oh My!,” “Learning to Ask: Negotiation Basics,” “The Art of Politics: Navigating the Political Waters,” and “Making Yourself Memorable: Personal Branding from the First Handshake.” Workshops will also include “Expanding Our Capacity: Energizing Our Spirit,” “Balancing Mission and Money: How Nonprofits Can Do Both,” and “Finding Your Voice and Changing the World: Passion, Emotion, and Leadership.” Registration is $70 for the first organizational attendee, and $60 for each additional organizational attendee. The deadline to register is March 2, with early bird registration closing on Feb. 13. For more information, visit www.womensfund.net.

    Casino Royale Fundraiser

    March 14: For persons who enjoy gambling for a great cause, consider CityStage’s annual fundraiser, Casino Royale, at the Sheraton Hotel in Springfield. Highlights of the affair include hors d’oeuvres, a cash bar, live entertainment, prizes, a live auction, a 50/50 raffle, and a mystery raffle. Single tickets are $100, which includes $400 in gaming money. There are also special rates for groups of 10 or more, as well as VIP tickets for $150 each. Casino Royale begins at 7:30 p.m. For more information, call (413) 788-7646. Pit Boss sponsors are Berkshire Bank, Hampden Bank, MassMutual Financial Group, Mercy Medical Center, and United Bank.

    Rock ‘n’ Roll & Management Styles

    April 15: “Everything I Learned About Management, I Learned From Rock ‘n’ Roll” will be presented by James M. Wilson, III, Ph.D., assistant professor of Business at Bay Path College; and Gregory Jones, director of Cannes Associates Production Management. Wilson and Jones have been conducting research for three years on the production of live rock ‘n’ roll concerts featuring Metallica, Green Day, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson, among others, with a focus on how event management contributes to organizational theory. The free lecture at 7 p.m. will take place in the Breck Suite in Wright Hall at Bay Path College in Longmeadow. The event is part of the Kaleidoscope lecture series. For more information, call (413) 565-1066 or visit www.baypath.edu.

    Women’s Professional Development

    April 30: Bay Path College in Longmeadow will host the 14th annual Women’s Professional Development Conference from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the MassMutual Center in downtown Springfield. For more information, call (413) 565-1293 or visit www.baypath.edu.

    Sections Supplements
    $1.6 Million Grant Will Fund Efforts to Build Awareness of Careers in Health Care
    The SIMS Medical Center at Springfield Technical Community College, which uses more than a dozen patient simulators, will be a key component in efforts to raise awareness of opportunities in health care and what’s involved with various careers.

    The SIMS Medical Center at Springfield Technical Community College, which uses more than a dozen patient simulators, will be a key component in efforts to raise awareness of opportunities in health care and what’s involved with various careers.

    Facing spiraling demand for workers in many health care careers — as well as a recognized lack of awareness concerning the many opportunities in this field — a host of partners will take a $1.6 million federal grant and put it to work in ways designed to put more employees in the pipeline.

    Mike Foss says that Springfield Technical Community College tries to do what he calls “exit interviews” with individuals who decide to leave the school’s various health programs before graduating.

    “There are several reasons why they might do so,” said Foss, STCC’s dean of the School of Health and Patient Simulation, who told BusinessWest that the college has been charting responses, unofficially at least, for some time now. “Sometimes it’s finances, other times there are personal issues, and they need to drop out. And sometimes they just disappear and don’t give a reason.”

    “But many times, people will say that they just had no clue about what they were really getting into,” he continued, adding that often this means they found themselves in over their heads, and other times that they were preparing for work that simply didn’t intrigue or challenge them to the extent they thought it would.

    And while dropping out is certainly a setback for the student in question, career-wise and otherwise, he continued, it is for the health care community as well, because it means there will be one fewer person entering a field such as nursing, physical or occupational therapy, or radiology, at a time when the industry is desperate for qualified people in those and many other professions.

    Thus, reducing the number of people who might someday say they didn’t know what they were getting into when they enter a health program is one of many outcomes Foss and a host of others will work to achieve through a $1.65 million, three-year grant from the U.S. Labor Department. The grant was given to STCC, but it is intended for what Foss calls an “unprecedented collaboration” involving no fewer than 16 partners.

    These range from the three other community colleges in Western Mass. (Holyoke, Berkshire, and Franklin) to several regional employment boards; from major employers, including several area hospitals, to The World Is Our Classroom; from Springfield Public Schools to the Mason Square Veterans Outreach Center.

    Together, all those involved with the Community Based Job Training Grant, as it’s called, will work to make people of various age and demographic groups more aware of the many career paths that can be taken in health care, and also the academic preparation needed to get into specific fields and the rigors of the courses of study.

    Such insight is necessary, Foss told BusinessWest, because despite widespread focus in the press on shortages of personnel in several health care fields, many people are simply not aware of what opportunities exist beyond becoming a physician or a nurse.

    “When people come to us and say, ‘I want to be a fill-in-the-blank,’ usually a nurse,” he explained, noting that by ‘us’ he means area colleges, health care providers, and other constituencies, “we’ll ask, ‘what other fields in health have you considered?’ And they’ll look at you like they don’t know what you’re talking about, because all they know is nurses and doctors.”

    Jean Jackson agreed. As vice president of Workforce Planning for Baystate Health, she will be one of those developing strategies for filling an estimated 10,000 positions (new and created through retirement and attrition) over the next 10 years or so, and she knows this will be an extreme challenge in many fields, due in part to that lack of awareness when it comes to options and opportunities in this sector.

    “Unless you’re in health care or know someone who works in health care and you’re exposed to it, you’re probably not aware of all the different opportunities that exist,” she said. “Someone can apply to nursing school, not get in, and not be aware that there are many other attractive alternatives.”

    Kelly Aiken, project manager with the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County, said there are a number of quantifiable and qualifiable goals with regard to the grant-funded initiatives, including an across-the-board increase in applications for health care programs at area colleges; reaching full capacity for these programs — or getting much closer to that mark; increasing graduation rates in many programs; and, in general, producing graduates that are able to meet the needs of area health care providers.

    When asked when the region could or should expect to see progress in these realms, Aiken told BusinessWest that it would be difficult to give a more scientific answer than ‘as soon as possible.’ But she and others certainly hope to see recognizable improvement by 2015. That’s the date many experts have identified as a critical point, when the region and nation will certainly be feeling the impact from a wave of retirements in nursing and other fields, as well as soaring needs for the huge (and aging) baby boom generation.

    “It will be a perfect storm of conditions,” she said of that not-so-far-off time. “And we need to be ready for that storm.”

    Course of Action

    Aiken told BusinessWest that the various initiatives to be spawned through the Community Based Job Training Grant will dovetail with other health care workforce-building efforts created and funded through a host of programs with some serious acronyms.

    For example, there’s ‘Collaborating for the Advancement of Nursing: Developing Opportunities,’ or CAN DO, a program funded through the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that is designed to put more nurses in the pipeline and provide incentives for those in the field to pursue advanced degrees so they can teach the subject and thus help bolster the ranks.

    There’s also a broad initiative to put more health care workers in the flow that is part of the region-wide program called Building a Better Workforce — Closing the Skills Gap on the Road to Economic Resurgence. That project is designed to clear pathways for lower-skilled incumbent workers by providing certified nursing assistant (CNA) and acute-care training.

    Motivation for these various endeavors is supplied by trends and statistics clearly indicating growing demand for workers in a number of fields across health care — and hard questions about just how all this demand is going to be met. For example, projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics concerning the fastest-growing jobs between 2006 and 2016 show a list dominated by careers in health care.

    Among the top 30 are specialties ranging from personal and home care aides (with projected growth in need of just over 50% by 2016) to physical therapist assistants (32.4%); from pharmacy technicians (32%) to medical assistants (35.4%).

    Familiarizing young people (and some who are maybe not so young) with these professions and detailing how one can enter such fields is the broad goal of the Labor Department grant, said Foss, who drew a parallel between this collaborative effort’s mission and a spike in interest in the emergency medical technician (EMT) field, and others, after 9/11.

    “There was a lot of press given to EMTs, paramedics, firefighters, and police,” he said of the days, weeks, and months after 9/11. “From what we understand, there was a sudden surge in EMT and paramedic programs across the country; the media was making people aware that this was a career possibility.

    “We want to do the same thing with some of these other careers,” he continued, “because if a student doesn’t really know what the opportunities are, it’s very difficult for them to make a reasoned and rational decision like ‘maybe I shouldn’t be in nuclear medicine; maybe I should be a respiratory therapist.’”

    But individuals need to know more than what the opportunities are, he said, adding that many current applicants for programs are not aware of what they’ll need in terms of preparatory course work to be accepted into a program. “And that’s extremely frustrating.”

    To address all this, the grant has many provisions. They include:

    • Two educational programs to be offered at all four community colleges; one will be a half-day, intense ‘medical encounter’ for high-school students, while the other will be a semester-long course — Introduction to Patient Skills — that will promote understanding of what it’s like to work in health care. The Springfield Public Schools and the regional employment boards will assist in recruiting students for these experiences.
    • One full-time counselor will be hired at each of the colleges to provide targeted, individual counseling to guide the students into academic programs and careers, as well as follow-up assistance. Counselors from each of the colleges and hospital partner sites will receive academic advising training from the National Academic Advising Assoc.; high school guidance counselors will also have an opportunity to attend a medical encounter.
    • Funding will be provided to revamp the existing Web site healthprograms.org, which gives information and contacts for health programs at the four Western Mass. community colleges.
    • Study in Contrasts

      To execute many of these initiatives, especially the ‘medical encounter’ and the semester-long course, STCC will make broad use of its SIMS Medical Center (SMC), which uses more than a dozen patient simulators to closely replicate the medical workforce environment of today, said Foss. The center includes a four-bed acute care unit, trauma room, surgical suite, basic care unit, and the two-bed Berkshire Bank Critical Care Unit.

      “Such exposure will likely eliminate much of the students’ ‘not knowing what they’re getting into,’” said Foss, adding that work with the simulators offers first-hand, almost-real-life experience with what it takes to be a health care provider. “They’d be working on these patients as if they were in charge of them.”

      And the situations that participants will find themselves in should introduce them to a number of different health care professions, he continued. “They get to touch the patients and work with them — change bandages, check vital signs, do documentation, and learn communications skills. And there’ll be some blood and gore as well.”

      All this will hopefully create not only awareness, but interest, said Jackson, noting that, with many health care professions, current supply doesn’t meet demand, and demand is only going to increase.

      She hopes and expects that the ‘medical encounter’ and especially the first-year, semester-long course at each community college will help prompt many students who are undecided about which career path to take — and many freshmen fall into that category — to take a hard look at health care and take that road.

      Direct exposure to specific careers and the work involved could help open people’s eyes in ways that literature or even a Web site cannot, she continued.

      “Instead of just reading or hearing about what a surg-tech (surgical technician) does, people can get a flavor for what the work is really like,” Jackson explained, adding that such direct contact will likely help increase graduation rates in various programs down the road.

      Meanwhile, there must be simultaneous efforts to build awareness among younger people (in high school and even earlier) so that, when they do graduate, they have the prerequisites needed to pursue health careers in college.

      This is where The World Is Our Classroom, which works with area employers to exposes young people to careers in everything from manufacturing to environmental engineering, will play a role, said Aiken, adding that involvement of a host of diverse groups to advance workforce-development strategies is part of a nationwide trend toward what she called “sector-based partnerships.”

      The region is developing several of these partnerships, she told BusinessWest, citing others involving precision manufacturing and early-childhood education, and early-stage work for one in ‘green’ jobs, for example.

      “That’s a workforce-development trend,” she explained, “and one that will help us put our ducks in a row and make us more attractive for more federal funding.”

      Close Encounters

      Summing up the many goals set by the partners involved with the Labor Department grant, Foss said STCC and the other players obviously want to compel more people to explore health care careers and, when the fit is right, pursue one of them.

      But beyond that, he said the ultimate goal is to help those who contemplate such moves to make the “right decisions and be prepared to be a competent and dedicated health care worker.”

      If all goes as planned, he’ll be doing fewer of those exit interviews, and encountering far fewer people who didn’t have a clue about what they were getting into.

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

      Sections Supplements
      On-the-go Convenience Defines Today’s Technology

      You can hold it your hand or slip it in your pocket. You can take it wherever you go. And it doesn’t matter where you go, because wherever you go, it’s like you never left.

      Today’s technology is all about convenience. It’s measured in ounces, not pounds, and is often no larger than a deck of cards. It’s designed to keep you connected and amused.

      It lets you check E-mails from all corners of the globe or watch your home TV program from a hotel room in India. Miniature camcorders and cameras let you document your life in pictures. And multi-purpose smart phones do it all — take pictures, play music, and let you surf the Net.

      BusinessWest has pulled together a list of some of the most-talked-about new gadgets of 2008. From a tiny photo printer that doesn’t use ink to a Bluetooth stereo that fits in your hand, here’s what’s creating the buzz.

      Call It Like It Is

      Smart phones in 2009 are stylish and multifunctional with a host of features that keep you connected. In many instances, virtual touch keyboards replace physical ones, and QWERTY keyboards enable faster typing.

      As the first smart phone to run Google’s new Android operating system, T-Mobile G1 ($179) is a key addition to the mobile market. Android puts programs like Gmail, Blogger, and Google Maps at your fingertips. The software is better than what’s on most phones and will improve with new releases over time. A physical QWERTY keyboard that slides out from underneath the phone adds thickness, but makes the G1 ideal for text messaging.

      If you’ve been contemplating getting an iPhone, now is the time. The new Apple iPhone 3G ($199 to $299) supports faster 3G data speeds and sports a price that’s finally within reach for most consumers. Lag time has always been an issue with smart phones when browsing the Internet, but according to Apple, Web pages load up to 2.8 times faster on the 3G. However, it comes at a cost: you’ll also pay about $10 extra per month for the 3G service.

      For E-mail addicts, RIM Blackberry Curve ($179 to $599) is the smallest and lightest full-QWERTY Blackberry available to date. As compact as a cell phone, it has a wider body and a full keyboard for fast messaging. Cutting-edge multi-media capabilities separate the Curve from the earlier Blackberry Pearl and 8800 models. But keep in mind that, overall, this model is more about style than new features.

      If the Blackberry and the iPhone are more money than you care to spend, then check out Peek ($99). Strictly an E-mail checker, Peek offers a sleek design with a full QWERTY keyboard for comfortable typing. Monthly service cost is only about $20 for unlimited access to your E-mail messages. Peek supports Yahoo, Gmail, Hotmail, and AOL, but doesn’t work for corporate E-mail yet.

      Capture the Moment

      Cameras today are so portable you can take them anywhere to document your life in pictures. But why stop there? Tiny camcorders now let you capture moments in video, and you can even print on the go.

      The Flip Mino HD ($230) is a pocket-sized camcorder that shoots high-definition (HD) video for an image crisp enough to view on your HDTV. This portable video emphasizes one-button simplicity and comes with its own onboard editing software. It has four gigabytes of internal memory, enough for one hour of video, and a rechargeable battery that provides two hours of shooting. If you don’t need the HD, the standard Mino is a good bet at half the price, but doesn’t come with the editing software.

      If you’re looking for something to match your style—or even your outfit — the Nikon CoolPix S60 ($349) is a tiny camera that comes in six different colors. It’s small and convenient enough to take on weekend trips or a long hike. In fact, there’s no reason to be caught without this 10 megapixel camera. Its key feature is an impressive 3.5-inch touch-screen LCD display and graphical user interface that puts shooting and playback controls at your fingertips.

      If you miss the magic of Polaroid, you’ll enjoy this new toy. Polaroid’s PoGo Instant Mobile Printer ($150) is a sleek, black, 8-ounce photo printer that lets you print on the go. Its unique ZINK technology prints without ink. The ink is in the photo paper in the form of color dye crystals that react when heated. You can print directly from your cell phone or digital camera via Bluetooth or USB cord. Print quality is decent enough for casual prints.

      But if you want a virtual way to share photos of your travels, the Eye Fi Explore ($130) is the answer. It’s a 2-gigabyte wireless SD card that pops into your digital camera. Snap away, and when you near a public wi-fi access point, the Eye Fi automatically delivers your photos to the photo-sharing Web site of your choice. Eye Fi intelligently handles your photos behind the scenes taking care of log-ins and passwords and even resizing photos if necessary. It also features a cool geotagging capability that records the exact location each photo was taken.

      Now That’s Entertainment

      If you are an audiophile or a TV addict on the road, these unique gadgets may appeal to you.

      No larger than an eyeglass case, the Dahl Audio FoxL Bluetooth Speaker ($249) is a tiny sound system powered by an onboard rechargeable battery. It transmits sound wirelessly from your cell phone or MP3 player. You can take it with you while traveling or tether it to your cell phone and use it as a speaker phone while driving. (The Bluetooth version has a microphone hidden behind the front speaker grille.) Although not particularly loud, the FoxL’s two 1-inch speakers (dubbed ‘Twoofers’) produce impressive sound at reasonable volumes.

      Glued to the TV has just taken on new meaning. Thanks to Slingbox SOLO ($179), you can now watch your home TV from anywhere in the world through your laptop or mobile phone. You can watch regular TV or any cable subscription or sports packages you may have. The SOLO connects to equipment such as your DVR, satellite system, or cable box to deliver TV signals to wherever you are. Now you can relax and enjoy your local news program from a hotel room in Bangladesh or from your office at work.

      If you like the features of the Apple iPhone but don’t need the mobile phone capabilities, you can opt for an Apple iPod Touch ($229). This nifty gadget has everything the iPhone has except for the calling (and monthly service and data fees). You can use your iPod Touch to check and reply to E-mail, surf the Web, check the weather, download songs from iTunes and even create Microsoft Word documents. It also includes a unique feature not found on the iPhone: a Nike program that tracks how far you’ve jogged.

      Notebook Computers

      No gadget list is complete without some mention of laptop computers. They come in all shapes and sizes, but two ultra slim ones really stand out.

      Weighing in at just over 4.5 pounds, the ultra-portable HP TouchSmart tx2z ($1,200) is light enough to take anywhere. It’s a true Tablet PC, meaning that you can fold the display flat for writing and drawing using the stylus pen included in the system. It’s a ‘multi-touch’ laptop, meaning you can use one or two fingers to navigate applications or surf the Internet.

      The stylish, 3-pound Macbook Air ($1,799) is touted as the world’s thinnest notebook. To reduce the size and weight, Apple omitted certain features, so don’t expect it to replace your everyday laptop. It has a single USB port, and the latest version features a 120-gigabyte hard drive. If you can afford the luxury, it might be worth the fun.

      And fun is a good thing to carry around.

      Sections Supplements
      Entré Computer Rolls Out an Aggressive Growth Strategy
      The leadership team at Entré Computer, from left, Bob Bellamy, Andi Aigner, Robert Braceland, Liz Soticheck, and Norm Fiedler.

      The leadership team at Entré Computer, from left, Bob Bellamy, Andi Aigner, Robert Braceland, Liz Soticheck, and Norm Fiedler.

      The landscape in the computer sales and service realm has changed considerably over the past quarter-century, with ever-improving technology and an evolving field of competitors. Through it all, Entré Computer Center has remained a constant, enjoying steady growth fueled by a strong focus on the customer. As the company marks 25 years in business, it is embarking on an aggressive growth strategy, one that seeks to add customers to the portfolio and expand the roster of services provided to existing clients. President Norm Fiedler says the key to success is simply doing more of what the company has always done — provide solutions, not merely products and services.

      Norm Fiedler has been working in the technology field since around the birth of the personal computer. As president of the West Springfield-based Entré Computer Center, he works, and in many respects lives, in a world of bytes and hard drives, servers and high-speed printers.

      And while he’s well-versed in all that, naturally, what he really likes to talk about is … marbles.

      He has a large bowl full of them on the credenza in his office, along with a yellow polishing cloth. A booklet called The Marbles — which he wrote, had published, and now distributes to customers and seemingly everyone else who might want a copy — explains it all.

      “Life,” he writes, “is an accumulation of treasure, and the more abundant and brighter the treasure, the more rewarding and successful the life.” Treasure, in this case, means marbles, with each one representing someone that an individual has met in his or her life, he continued, listing family, friends, a next-door neighbor, a first girlfriend or boyfriend, schoolmates, and teachers.

      “These marbles, these relationships need to be polished,” he said, noting that co-workers and clients are also marbles, and the fact that he treats them as such explains the solid, consistent growth of this company over the past quarter-century.

      “This is the basic philosophy that has defined this company, and my life really,” said Fiedler. “We’re all about relationships … and that’s what differentiates us from our competitors.”

      And now, as the company celebrates that milestone quietly, Fiedler and his leadership team are preparing to grow that marble collection in a figurative, if not literal, sense, through aggressive expansion plans laid out over the past several months.

      That plan calls for 20% to 25% annual growth (and those are conservative estimates) over the next several years, and to meet those goals, Fielder is relying on strong teamwork and a core of leaders — specifically an expanded sales team charged with acquiring new business and essentially turning it over to account managers and customer-service representatives who will work to not only retain these additions to the portfolio but provide them with a evolving, expanding roster of services.

      Leading the team will be Robert Braceland, vice president of sales and marketing, who came to the company about two years ago. He told BusinessWest that his job boils down to customer acquisition, and he intends to do so across a wide spectrum of business sectors.

      Other members of the team are vice president Andy Aigner, accounts manager Bob Bellamy, and Liz Soticheck, director of administration and human resource management, who Fiedler described as the “glue” of the company. They all have key roles in the relationship-building process, and for this issue, they talked with BusinessWest about where they want to take this company and how they intend to reach that destination.

      Crafting a Game Plan

      Braceland called it a ‘SLED’ business.

      That stands for ‘state, local, and education,’ he explained, meaning, essentially, public-sector entities that comprise a significant niche in the technology-solutions-providing business.

      And it’s just one of many targets identified in Entré’s growth strategy. Others include the health care sector, the retail (or point-of-sale) segment of the market, large companies — meaning those with more than 500 employees — and many others.

      Adding business, or marbles, in each of these sectors, essentially comes down to taking market share from the many types of competitors in this market, said Braceland, listing everything from small technology solutions companies to national office-supply chains such as Staples. Entré will approach this exercise with an eye toward heavy emphasis on its strong customer-relations work, which he says comes down to partnering with the client to meet as many of its needs as possible.

      “‘Partner’ is an overused term these days,” Braceland acknowledged, “but that’s the best way to describe what we are and what we do. We partner with our clients to help them make the most of the opportunities that today’s technology offers them.”

      It’s been this way since Fiedler and business partner Kirk Barrell ended their search for a new, joint entrepreneurial venture back in 1983 by becoming part of a then-fledgling chain that eventually grew to 350 locations across North America (Fiedler’s was No. 53). The West Springfield facility, located on Memorial Avenue, is just one of 11 remaining privately held entities that still have the Entré name, and the only one in this region.

      “I was looking for a new opportunity,” said Fiedler, who worked for many years in sales and marketing for companies in the abrasives field. While with Bendix Corp., he met Barrell, and when the two found themselves unemployed after the company was sold, they invested significant time and energy deciding where to take their careers.

      “We were looking for something for the long term,” he explained, “and decided that the personal computer was where we wanted and needed to be.”

      Much has changed since 1983, said Fiedler, noting that many of the chains and individual companies that Entré competed against back then, such as Computerland and MicroAge, are long gone, and technology continues to improve and evolve. Meanwhile, the scope of Entré’s mission has changed as well; it began as a retail company and has evolved into a business-to-business entity focused much more on service. What remains constant, however, is the company’s resolve to be not merely a provider of products and services, but a deliverer of solutions.

      And what has fueled success has been that focus on relationships, he said, adding quickly that these come with both clients and employees, and both are equally important — and also intertwined.

      “Most of our employees have been with us for a number of years, and our philosophy has always been employees first,” he explained. “Because if employees are happy and motivated and feel good about themselves and their company, they’ll take good care of the customers.”

      It is this solid operating platform that Fiedler and other members of his team believe will support the company through its growth initiative and help it meet or exceed some aggressive goals.

      Taking Their Best Shot

      As he outlined that growth strategy for taking Entré to the next level, forged late last year, Braceland said it will have two main thrusts — acquiring new customers across all those sectors he mentioned, and providing more services to those clients, as well as to a strong core of 200 existing customers.

      These services include everything from installation to network issues; parts to printer repairs; supplies to something called ‘end-of-life’ work, meaning environmentally friendly disposition of equipment, a growing concern for ‘green’-conscious businesses of all sizes and an emerging opportunity for ventures like Entré.

      “As companies come out of older technologies, including PCs, servers, printers, and empty toner cartridges, they’re faced with the question of what to do with it,” said Braceland, adding that helping them find an answer is a relatively recent addition to Entré’s roster of services. “The worst thing they can do is take it to the landfill, first because this equipment is hazardous to the environment, and secondly, because there’s potentially confidential data sitting on those devices.

      “What we do is provide corporations with options as far as protecting their data and disposing of what’s called E-waste,” he continued, adding that Entré has been successful in adding this work on to other services ranging from hard-drive sweeping to print management.

      Describing the latter, he said it comes down to helping companies reduce their printing costs across the board and make the most effective use of the technology they’re invested in.

      Overall, said Aigner, who brings many years of experience in the food-service industry to his role at the company, Entré has shown the willingness over the years to make what he calls “investments” in the customer and service to same, and this won’t change as the company grows. What will change, though, if all goes expected, is the number of investments being made.

      Bellamy said that the main goal, and the primary challenge, for Entré is to get that proverbial foot in the door at companies and public entities like school departments. Once it does so, he’s confident that the company can get all the way in.

      “If people give us the opportunity to show what we can do, we make the most of that opportunity,” he explained. “If we get a chance, we perform, and we win. That’s how we’re going to win market share.”

      Braceland concurred. He said Entré and its sales team has been cultivating new customers and relationships for the past year or so — this is a lengthy process that usually takes several months — and that this work is starting to bear fruit. Once the company gets its foot in the door, he continued, it goes about the process of gaining the trust of the client.

      In this business, as in all others, trust must be earned, and this is accomplished by meeting and exceeding expectations, anticipating client needs, and then devising strategies to meet them.

      “Our aggressive goals for growth will be met through what I call efficient customer life-cycle management,” he explained, adding that this comes down to consistently adding services for existing customers while efficiently managing the client base.

      Time to Shine

      Summing up where Entré stands with implementation of its growth strategy, Fiedler said, “we’re at the 10-yard line, with 90 yards to go.”

      But there is no shortage of confidence that this team will reach the end zone, because of the expertise and determination it brings to the assignment.

      Not to mention that philosophy that has propelled Fiedler and other team makers for a quarter century — the notion of marbles, continually polishing them, and growing the collection.

      If all goes as planned, Fiedler may need a bigger bowl for that credenza.

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