Home 2010 March
Features
All Eyes Are Focused Again on the Paper City
Doing Business in: Holyoke

Doris Ransford says she’s excited that private investment is driving Holyoke’s renaissance.

Doris Ransford calls Holyoke “a city of contrasts.”

As president of the Greater Holyoke Chamber of Commerce, she said the stark realities of poverty, unemployment, and urban blight should not be the focus at this point in the city’s history, a time when most would agree that the potential exists for progress on an historic level.

“For years now,” she told BusinessWest, “people have had good ideas, and it’s not that those ideas weren’t good, it’s just that the time wasn’t right, the situation wasn’t right.”

But all that is changing.

Groundbreaking for a high-performance computing center (HPCC), scheduled for this fall, is arguably one of the most exciting current developments in any depressed urban location in the state, if not the entire nation. But Mayor Elaine Pluta emphasized that, while this investment will have a profound impact on the city, there are many other elements that are coming together to give Holyoke a foothold on 21st-century reinvention.

She listed projects that, taken singularly, would be a boon for any city: the new multi-modal transportation center on Maple Street, the renovation of the Victory Theatre, commuter-rail expansion linking Holyoke to interstate transit, and the Canal Walk revitalization project.

“The challenges are to try to get something jump-started, to bring people down here,” she explained, pointing out the window to the city center. “People are the economic engine of what needs to get things going for economic development. You need people walking around, shopping, living … that’s our hope for the downtown.”

Open Square is John Aubin’s answer to that hope. For decades, it had been a mill property owned by his family, but in 1999 he returned to the area from New York and decided that the time had come for something more at the sprawling site.

“We have developed the space for people to live and work in, as part of the growth of small urban areas,” he said. “And it’s going quite well. We’ve brought 50 businesses into the center of Holyoke without subsidy from government. We’ve done it based on the market demand for it.”

Like most people in town, Aubin agreed that it is private investment that can act as the primary catalyst for significant revitalization in Holyoke, and that too is another unfolding chapter in the historic city. While the public and private entities — universities, Beacon Hill, and international computer firms — are all looking to invest the Paper City, it does seem that the city will continue to be one of contrasts, but also long-overdue good fortune.

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

“What is most exciting now,” said Ransford, “is that private investment is going to drive the fortunes of the city. The HPCC isn’t a government handout; it’s not ‘you poor city, let’s help you,’ it’s about the resources and the opportunities. The city has proven to be worthy of smart investors.

“We can no longer depend on huge influxes of public money,” she continued. “It’s not going to happen for a long time.”

Agreeing with that sentiment, Pluta said the city is working actively to ensure that the public projects and the HPCC are united in their approach to solidifying the city’s unfolding ‘Innovation District.’ City Hall has formed an Innovation Task Force, which has met several times since the announcement of the HPCC. “We have to be prepared for the spinoff businesses,” she said.

The mayor acknowledged that many questions are yet unanswered about specific details on the HPCC, and those will be addressed in the coming weeks.

Until then, Ransford said, patience is key. “Everyone wants instant gratification nowadays. We know that development doesn’t happen that way. But there will be a shovel in the ground this fall for the HPCC. People are just grasping for information because they just want this to happen so badly.”

As someone who has been involved in the city’s role for the HPCC from the earliest days, Brendan Ciecko knows firsthand the importance of the coming year. Speaking to BusinessWest from Poland, where some business has taken him temporarily away from the Paper City, Ciecko said that, in order to continue to attract those important resources from the private sector, Holyoke and the Commonwealth need to be as cooperative and aggressive as possible.

“After the HPCC is up and running, if the city and its economic-development partners play their cards right, they should be able find success in promoting the city to the international market as a cost-effective location for intensive computing and green and clean tech,” he said. “Let’s think and dream as big as possible. Some cities only have one opportunity to reinvent themselves, and this is currently that time.”

All signs augur an auspicious future for Holyoke, but Ciecko is not one to lock into a waiting game for what will be. He cited Donald Saunders of the Mass. International Festival of the Arts, and that group’s success in securing financing for the Victory Theatre, along with Open Square’s Aubin, as two perfect examples of what is being done right now to bolster the strength of Holyoke’s downtown.

“They both have a clear and well-thought-out vision of what downtown can and should be,” he said, “but on top of that, they have the courage and perseverance to put time, money, and resources where their mouths are. Courageous fellows like them are worth listening to.”

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

While Ciecko modestly excluded himself from that company, the reality is that he runs a parallel course toward a high-tech renaissance just up the road from those big names linked to the HPCC.

At the corner of High and Suffolk streets, in a nondescript building formerly housing an accounting firm, is an incubator of sorts for young, tech-savvy entrepreneurs. There, Ciecko owns and offers space alongside his own successful operation, Ten Minute Media.

Among the tenants there are the Dunn brothers, Sam and Zach, from Wilbraham. Zach mentioned that it was strangely fortuitous how their business, One Mighty Roar, came to be located in Holyoke.

He and his brother learned of Ten Minute Media, during a class in high school. “We both greatly admired what he was doing, and knew that he, just a few years older than us, was doing exactly what we wanted to do. Randomly one day, I reached out to him through social media. I think I added him as a friend on Facebook.”

Less than a year later, the company is designing Web sites and mobile applications, and maintaining a highly influential industry-related blog. “It has grown to over a half-million views per month,” said Sam. “It’s used, as we’ve come to find out, at a number of schools of higher education throughout the world. We’ve been published in several foreign magazines.

“We reach more than 200 countries per month,” he continued, with Zach interjecting, “provinces, too! There are only 195 countries.”

Having such an influential presence in their industry is proving to be an enormous success for the brothers, who have yet to finish their studies at the University of Hartford. Dollars aside, Zach said, “at this current pace of business, we’re all but certain that we’ll be able to work full-time by graduation. It’s sustainable and growing fast, which is an exciting combination to have.”

As with Ciecko’s company across the hall, the Dunns can operate their business anywhere, as long as there’s an Internet connection. Echoing Ransford’s thoughts on the city, Zach said that, with all of the new media that they are helping to shape, there’s a stark contrast between what is happening in that address and the rest of the city … so far.

Sam agreed. “Holyoke is a place for us that we want to see live up to its potential, in culture, in driving new business to us,” he said. “But right now, we are in a bubble. What’s happening with the computing center, that will open up possibilities.”

And big business thinks so, too.

Everything Old Is New Again

One of the names attached to the HPCC, Cisco, announced this past February its plans to transform Holyoke into a ‘Smart+Connected Community’ between the next six to 12 months. Holyoke is the first existing city that Cisco has undertaken. Previous attempts have focused on developing urban centers in the Middle East and Asia.

The implications are enormous. Cisco plans to build in a strong technology infrastructure, wireless and high-speed, but also to integrate software and hardware packages to make the city a paragon of efficiency. Aubin put the process into lay terms.

“The simplest way to look at it,” he explained, “is, if you put in a digital thermostat at your home, you typically save 20% right off the bat. Think of a city doing that by putting in smart meters for electricity, for water and sewer. Think of the savings on that kind of a scale. Then think of the peripherals, like communications for emergency services. This is an enormous market for these companies. Cisco has identified it as a $30 billion market, and Holyoke is its test pilot for working with existing American cities.”

Just up the road in their offices, the Dunn brothers agreed that the city is at an exciting time in its history. “We are at the point now, here, where we can shape what it is that we are doing, and what we can do,” Sam said.

With so much coming into Holyoke, the possibilities for the city are impressive. But the men from One Mighty Roar, part of that foundation of new technology and private investment, keep their focus grounded on new clients, bigger clients … and graduation from college.

Still, they have no immediate plans to leave town. “Our money means a lot more here than it would in Brooklyn or Boston,” Zach said. “And that is great for start-ups.”

As he looked across his desk at his brother, the two nodded in agreement. “As for a place to do business,” Sam said, “I think it will be brilliant.”

Features
Springfield College Makes Its Entry into the Competitive MBA Market
Getting Down to Business

Kathryn Carlson Heler says the timing is right for Springfield College to roll out its MBA program, and especially the concentration in nonprofit management.

As she talked about Springfield College’s new MBA (master’s in business administration) program to be launched in a few months, Kathryn Carlson Heler said that, in many ways, the school is going back to its roots.

By that, she meant a return to what was a strong focus on management of organizations such as YMCAs and other nonprofits — with curriculum grounded in business — that would match a concentration on athletics that would give the college its national and international reputation.

“When the college was founded 125 years ago, it was created to educate the YMCA secretary, who today we would call the executive director,” said Heler, professor of Business Administration at the college and director of the MBA program. “And when you look at the curriculum that these secretaries followed, it was business, and there were courses in bookkeeping, management, and reaching out to the community that you were to attract, or what we would call marketing.

“And of course, there was the athletic side,” she continued, “and the secretary could decide if he wanted to take the management track or the athletic track. But somewhere down the road, the management track fell away, and Springfield College became known for the athletic side. So we’re going to back to where we began.”

It is doing so with an MBA offering that comes with two concentrations, one in management and the other in nonprofit management, and the timing for bringing such products to the market couldn’t be better, Heler told BusinessWest.

Indeed, now more than ever before, nonprofit agencies must be run like businesses, and their managers must have the skill sets of a successful business owner, she said, adding that, in the business world, an MBA is becoming more of a necessity for managers looking to climb the ladder.

“The definition of a nonprofit today is that of a mission-based business, and those two words sum it up,” she explained. “They have to run like a business, they have to show a profit, and they are under many of the same rules and regulations that any small business is.

“Most nonprofits are selling a product,” she continued, “and they’re marketing a product. And for social entrepreneurs, they’re looking for new ways to raise money beyond the annual campaign.”

Meanwhile, with the economic picture still muddled, and many college graduates facing an uncertain job market, some individuals are choosing to stay in school and get a graduate degree rather than fight for jobs that are few and far between.

“This is a good time to be doing this,” said Heler. “Right now, there are roughly nine people for every job that comes available. People are being turned off by that, and they’re deciding to stay in school.”

Considering these and other factors, Heler, who came to SC from Indiana to get the new initiative off the ground, is generally optimistic about the prospects for the latest addition to the region’s roster of MBA programs. She told BusinessWest that there has been strong interest in the offering — from both those aforementioned college students looking to stay in school and those already working at area nonprofits and businesses who want to take their knowledge and skill sets to a higher level.

The nonprofit management concentration is fairly unique, said Heler, adding that the new, 30-credit program features an optional one-year track that will appeal to many, but also a two-year track that includes a corporate residency. Meanwhile, all courses are taught by full-time faculty members, rather than adjuncts, unlike many competing programs.

For this issue, BusinessWest looks at Springfield College’s entry into the MBA market, and why it does so with a large degree of confidence.

Course of Action

When asked about the factors that prompted SC administrators to become a player in the MBA realm and create a program specifically for nonprofit managers, Heler had some numbers ready to help make her case.

The first one was 5,200. That’s the latest unofficial count on the number of nonprofits in the Springfield-Hartford area that SC is marketing to. The next was 35,000 — the number of people who work in the nonprofit arena followed by 19%, or the share of the local economy that is comprised of nonprofits. And according to a nationwide study completed in 2006, there will be a need over the next decade for 600,000 new senior managers in the nonprofit realm as a result of new organizations coming online and the retirement of many current managers.

“So the market is there for such a program,” said Heler, adding quickly that, in addition to the quantity of nonprofit managers as a major consideration, the issue of quality is a matter as well.

In other words, the boards running nonprofit agencies want real business leaders at the helm of their organizations.

“In the past, educating nonprofit managers has been done through conferences and workshops,” she explained. “These managers have come up through the field. Now, there’s a real call for these people to be professionals. Nonprofit education now means making sure managers, supervisors, and executive directors have business knowledge, skills, and tools.”

All these factors indicated a strong need, and a niche that Springfield College, which has a proud reputation of training nonprofit leaders, could capitalize on.

It is meeting that need with those two MBA offerings, or concentrations. Both feature seven core courses, including ‘Economics of the Firm in Contemporary Society,’ ‘Research Methods and Statistics for Business and Nonprofits,’ and ‘Corporate Social Responsibility and Ethics,’ but feature different concentration courses.

The Management option includes ‘Managerial Accounting,’ ‘Project and Information Systems Management,’ and ‘Organizational Behavior and Leadership,’ while the Nonprofit Management model features ‘Leadership and Governance for Nonprofits,’ ‘Accounting for Nonprofits,’ and ‘Fund Development and Philanthropy.’

Both packages are drawing some attention, said Heler, adding that she expects 15-20 students for the first classes, to begin this summer. These will be diverse classes, she continued, noting that she’s signed up some currently with area businesses and nonprofits, some current undergraduates (including a few from SC) who want to pursue an MBA now instead of slugging it out in a tough market, and a even a few individuals who joined the Peace Corps, have returned from various assignments, are experiencing difficulty finding the right job, and have chosen instead to seek a graduate degree.

“We’re going to have people ages 22 to 50,” she explained. “That’s going to be a fascinating mix that will make learning a great experience.”

Erin Vermette will be one of those students on the younger end. The Belchertown resident, who is currently wrapping up a bachelor’s degree in Marketing online from the University of Phoenix, decided to pursue an MBA now instead of entering the job market — or trying to gain entry.

“The way the economy is right now, I’m not saying I couldn’t get a job, but it would certainly be more difficult,” she said. “I think it makes more sense to get the MBA now, and have an edge when I do compete for jobs. An MBA is becoming more of a prerequisite for many positions today.”

Vermette said she did some comparing and contrasting of area programs, and decided that SC’s provided the needed flexibility — she currently works in day care and wants to continue doing that while pursuing her degree — and an attractive course mix.

“I’ve been talking courses online for 2 1/2 years, and decided I wanted to go back to the campus,” she explained, adding that her ultimate goal is to work in the fine arts, perhaps in marketing for a gallery.

School of Thought

Heler told BusinessWest that it will take perhaps five years for a program like SC’s new MBA to become established and reach stated goals for enrollment.

She believes that the offering has the right mix of qualities — from course selection to scheduling flexibility to that specific concentration in nonprofit management — to meet or exceed that timetable.

If she’s right, then the new program will represent a degree of progress — literally and figuratively — for the college, the students, and area nonprofit agencies.

George O’Brien can be reached at

[email protected]

Departments

ADDY Awards

The Advertising Club of Western Mass. staged its annual ADDY Awards on March 18 at CityStage. A total of 141 entries were received from 31 agencies, companies, and individuals in Western Mass., and 32% of the entrants received awards. Above, Rob and Damia Stewart of Rob & Damia Design receive their award for Best in Show (for ‘Transit Authority Figures Poster Campaign’) from Barbara Perry, Ad Club president. At left, Amy Scribner, assistant vice president and senior marketing administrator for Hampden Bank, accepts an ADDY from Perry for one of the bank’s 2009 ad campaigns.


Safety First

Jewish Geriatric Services (JGS) was recently recognized with the 2009 Leadership in Safety Award by CNA HealthPro, a leading health care insurer. The award honors an organization with a commitment to patient/resident safety and a leadership team that consistently demonstrates efforts to improve the quality and safety of care services. It was presented by Bruce Dmytrow, vice president of CNA Global Specialty Lines, to JGS leadership and senior staff. Representatives of FieldEddy Insurance, partners in this effort, also attended. Pictured are, from left, FieldEddy representatives Kevin Munsell, Teresa Petit de Mange, and Executive Vice President Timothy Marini; Alan Rosenfeld, JGS president and CEO; Linda Donoghue, JGS COO and CNO; Dmytrow; Martha Finkel-Ceppetelli, vice chairman of the JGS board of directors; Mary Ryan, CNA risk introduction consultant; and Michael Hurwitz, chairman of the JGS board of directors.

Uncategorized
How to Protect Your Nest Egg and Provide for Your Care

Americans are largely independent folks who could not imagine a future where their independence is compromised because they require long-term care as a result of prolonged illness or disability. Long-term care refers to the wide range of medical, personal, and social services a person may receive as a result of a prolonged illness or disability. It can include help with activities of daily living, home health care, adult day care, nursing-home care, and care in a group-living facility.

On average, you will have worked more than 30 years before you retire and will have accumulated a nest egg to support yourself during retirement and to hopefully pass on to your children and family as an inheritance. The thought of losing the independence you value or the funds you have worked so hard to put aside, as a result of needing long-term care, is a major concern. Sound financial and estate planning can address these issues.

Part of the planning process can include the purchase of a long-term care insurance policy that can protect your nest egg and provide a means to pay for necessary long-term care expenses. This is the best way to protect yourself from spending your resources on nursing-home expenses and medical services. Long-term care insurance is designed to cover all or some of the services provided by long-term care and create options regarding where you will receive services and the type of services you will be able to access. After satisfaction of an elimination period, a number of days you must need the nursing-home or home-health care before the policy will pay benefits, the insurance will kick in.

A long-term care policy typically pays a daily benefit ranging from $50 to $250, which can be paid for a specific number of days, months, or years. The maximum benefit period can range from a year to a lifetime depending upon the policy you purchase. Additionally, policies can include an inflation rider that will provide for coverage increases over time. Of course, a higher daily benefit or longer term of coverage will increase the premium paid for the insurance.

Other factors such as age and life expectancy, gender, family situation, health status, income, and assets should be considered when determining whether or not to purchase long-term care insurance. Naturally, the longer you live, the more likely it is that you will need long-term care, and younger and/or healthier people will pay lower premiums. Women are more likely to need long-term care due to their longer life expectancies, and people with families or children are more likely to obtain in-home care from those family members. Of course, if family care is not available and you can’t care for yourself, insurance can pay for care outside of your home, which may be your only alternative.

People with family history of chronic illness or poor health histories may be also at greater risk for needing long-term care. Perhaps most significantly, however; if you have accumulated assets during your lifetime, long-term care insurance can protect those assets from being spent on your long-term care. But if you have low income or minimal assets, long-term care insurance is not a wise investment.

Another major consideration is whether or not your long-term care insurance will meet the Medicaid eligibility standards in effect at the time the insurance is purchased. Medicaid is the federally funded, state-administered health program that pays for your long-term care bills if you meet certain poverty levels. If you have assets in excess of the minimum allowances, you will be required to spend down those assets to qualify for Medicaid. You will also need to have income at or below the federal poverty level before Medicaid will pay for your long-term care. This can deplete your nest egg very quickly, as the average annual cost of nursing-home care is upward of $95,000 per year.

Some states, Massachusetts included, have programs designed to minimize the financial impact of spending down assets to meet Medicaid eligibility standards. By purchasing a qualifying policy, you will receive partial protection against the normal Medicaid requirement to spend down your assets to become eligible.

For Massachusetts residents, the policy must provide certain benefits in order to qualify for the Medicaid-eligibility and asset-recovery exemptions. Specifically, when you enter a nursing home, your policy must:

  • Cover nursing home care for at least 730 days;

  • Pay at least $125 per day for nursing-home care; and
  • Not require an elimination period (days that services must be provided before your policy will begin to pay) of more than 365 days, or, in lieu of a waiting period, a deductible of more than $54,750.
  • A visit to your state’s division of insurance will provide you with the current requirements necessary for a policy to be qualifying. It is of paramount importance to ensure that your policy meets the qualifying requirements necessary for your state to accept it.

    When purchasing a policy, it is important to work with a knowledgeable agent and reputable insurance company, as you want to ensure compliance with the requirements set forth by Massachusetts regulation and also remain confident that the insurance company will be solvent at the time you need to make a claim.

    While most folks do not think they need this insurance coverage at first glance, it should be noted that 58% of people making claims under long-term care policies are under the age of 65. Of those making claims, the majority of long-term care utilized, approximately 66%, is for care in one’s own home, compared to only 17% being provided in a nursing home.

    Interestingly, age-related ailments such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are not the major claim. In fact, the leading cause for needing long-term care is cancer. Given these facts, long-term care is likely necessary for most people, and finding a way to pay for it by means other than depleting your savings makes sense.

    Like all insurance policies, you pay for long-term care coverage hoping you will never need to use it. However, accepting the fact that it is likely you will need long-term care at some point in your life will make the payments more palatable. Giving yourself options for where you will receive your care is invaluable.

    Julie A. Dialessi-Lafley, Esq. is a partner with the law firm Bacon Wilson, P.C. She focuses her practice in business, real estate, estate planning and administration, elder law, and family law; (413) 781-0560 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              (413) 781-0560      end_of_the_skype_highlighting;[email protected];

    facebook.com/baconwilson

    Uncategorized

    The recession is over — in Massachusetts, anyway.

    That was the word from Pennsylvania-based Moody’s Economy.com, which has analyzed employment, production, and housing data, and concluded that the Bay State began a recovery in January, thus becoming one of the 22 states with growing economies.

    “The data has been strong enough to move Massachusetts out of a moderating recession and into a recovery,” Gus Faucher, director of macroeconomics at Moody’s Economy.com, told the Boston Globe. “Massachusetts will be seeing job gains pretty consistently from here on out.”

    Let’s hope so, because despite what the numbers might say to those crunching them at Moody’s, this recession won’t be over, officially or unofficially, until businesses start hiring again. And there is some very real concern that companies won’t hire again — or at least to the extent that they were before the Great Recession began — thus raising the specter of a true jobless recovery.

    And that wouldn’t be a real recovery at all.

    There have been many recessions over the past several decades, but nothing quite like this one. What separates it from the others is the number of jobs lost and the quality of those jobs. When so many people are unemployed and thus quite uncertain about their futures, spending drops precipitously. And when that happens, more people become unemployed and spending is curtailed further, and this leads to more layoffs … well, everyone knows how this cycle works and why it contributed to the long length of the Great Depression.

    Locally, hesitancy on the part of individuals and businesses to spend has impacted every industry, from construction to auto sales; from the media to retailers at all levels, including stalwarts such as Fran Johnson’s Golf & Tennis, now fighting to stay afloat.

    Unemployment in the Bay State was at 9.5% in February, the highest level in three decades, and the job losses over the past 18 months or so have come in every sector, including two pillars of the local economy, health care and education.

    There are some signs of brightening skies, however. The latest Manpower Employment Outlook Survey reveals that more companies in the Greater Springfield area plan to hire in the second quarter than plan to reduce staff. Specifically, 19% fall in the first category, and 10% in the second (the rest plan to maintain current levels or don’t know what they’re going to do), and that 9% net employment outlook, as it’s called, is the best spread this region has seen in some time.

    Still, the number that matters in that survey is 71%. That’s the percentage of companies that aren’t planning on hiring or aren’t sure if they will. It shows that a lot of business owners clearly need more evidence that things are better before they add staff. Meanwhile, many experts contend that companies weren’t downsizing over the past 18 months as much as they were rightsizing, a prudent strategy for employers but not a trend that bodes well for the region.

    The news that the recession is officially over, at least according to Moody’s Economy.com, is welcome. Headlines like that can actually help inspire confidence in business owners at a time when it is truly needed.

    But as every business owner knows, the recession isn’t over when some economic analysts say it is. Instead, it’s over when they can see it out their window or in their quarterly sales numbers. It’s over when companies large and small gain the confidence they need to expand, introduce new products, and hire people in large numbers.

    When we see those things happen, then we can actually let the celebration begin.

    Features
    Is the Time Finally Right for Springfield?s Union Station?
    Train of Thought

    John Judge says that, given the priority status attached to commuter rail regionally and nationally, Union Station may be able to turn back the clock and thrive.

    The hands on the large clock in the main lobby of Springfield’s Union Station haven’t moved in nearly 40 years. For this landmark built in 1926 by the Boston and Albany Railroad, time has stood still — literally. But time hasn’t run out, insist those now working to advance yet another redevelopment plan for the station, one they say is unlike previous concepts, because it is grounded in market realities.

    John Judge understands that, when he says he’s “hopeful and “optimistic” about the prospects for Union Station, he’s echoing the comments of myriad Springfield officials, Pioneer Valley Transit Authority administrators, and area economic-development leaders, some of whom have watched the landmark sit idle and deteriorate for almost 40 years.

    When he says he believes the timing is right for the station to soon end its long hibernation, he knows that others have been saying words to that effect since Ronald Reagan was in the White House.

    Judge has been Springfield’s chief development officer for only 11 months now, but he knows all about Union Station’s long and recently quite sad history. So he understands why so many are skeptical about something positive ever happening there.

    “I can’t blame them. They have every right to be skeptical; one thing after another has created roadblocks for this property, and the years have turned into decades,” said Judge, who was enthusiastic but also quite realistic as he talked about the latest in a series of plans — some formal, some just idle talk — for reuse of the station on Frank B Murray Street. This one is far more grounded than the ones that have come before it, said Judge, noting that previous incarnations have included everything from a hotel to an IMAX theater that have never come close to seeing the light of day.

    This version, called Union Station II by some and ‘Option One’ by the consulting firm that drafted the plan, is based mostly on transportation-related components, including a 23-bay bus terminal, and comes at a time when the nation and the region are making commuter rail a priority matter, said Judge. He expressed the hope, but also the expectation, that Springfield could become a hub of commuter-rail service running from Southern Vermont to New Haven, Conn. and, ultimately, New York.

    The plan has other components, including plans for a day-care center, what is called ‘transit-related retail’ (kiosks, newsstands, coffee shops, and fast-food operations), and what the consultants call ‘opportunity space’ for other retail.

    It’s a nice picture, and variations of it have been painted before, many times, which explains why so much skepticism remains about Union Station. And those doubts are just one hurdle to be overcome. The economy is another, as is a sluggish commercial real-estate market that has property owners of all kinds, from private developers to Springfield Community College and its assistance corporation, vying for the same small pool of office tenants.

    And then, there’s Worcester’s Union Station, which was renovated a decade ago and has sat mostly empty since then, becoming a poster child for historic train-station redevelopment gone awry — or gone nowhere — thus casting further doubt on Springfield’s efforts.

    Judge is optimistic that 2010 will yield the first real, visible signs of progress at Union Station in many years, which he says could start to erase some doubts. He expects there might be movement to solidify some of the transportation components, especially the PVTA’s eventual move from its headquarters on Main Street to the train station, and also some of the other pieces to this puzzle, such as a day-care center, a senior center, and that transportation-related retail. And he anticipates that work to begin razing the so-called ‘baggage building’ adjacent to the station could begin late this year or early next, providing some tangible evidence that redevelopment is happening.

    The economy is still quite soft now, which is actually good, from a timing perspective, for this project, in that those working to redevelop Union Station can position it for the day — not far off — when times are better and the appetite for commuter rail will be much greater.

    “We’re in a unique time in history in that we have an administration that’s committed to high-speed commuter rail, and we also have a society that’s embracing the idea of regionalism and how important that is,” he explained. “If gas goes to $4 a gallon again, people are going to have few if any options in terms of commuting. What we want to do is reposition Union Station as not simply an intermodal facility for Springfield, but as a hub for the Pioneer Valley.”

    For this issue, BusinessWest takes a look at the latest plans for Union Station and their prospects for becoming reality.

    On the Right Track

    Judge calls it the “Union Station task force.”

    That’s the name he’s given to a small working group that now gathers around the conference table in his office on Tapley Street every Tuesday morning starting at 8:30. The group began meeting a few months ago, he told BusinessWest, and he intends to stay with the weekly schedule for the foreseeable future to keep this latest Union Station project on the front burner, where he says it belongs.

    “We want this to be a priority,” he said, “and when you meet every month or every other month, it’s not a priority.”

    Recent meetings have had a number of agenda items, but especially the steps — legal, financial, and technical — needed to make the Springfield Redevelopment Authority the lead agency on this project (a memorandum of understanding between the SRA and PVTA was signed last summer making them partners in this initiative) and the entity that would be the direct designee for the close to $60 million in state and federal funds that have been awarded for Union Station redevelopment.

    The money is in place, technically speaking, and has been for many years, said Judge, adding that the individual earmarks must be “re-energized.”

    In general, discussion among task force members, who include Judge, Kevin Kennedy, senior aide to U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, a strong advocate for re-development of the station; Maureen Hayes, president of Hayes Development and a consultant to the city on this project; and others, centers around a redevelopment plan crafted in late 2008 by the Nebraska-based consulting firm HDR.

    As they talked about the plan, Judge and Kennedy echoed what HDR said in its executive summary of the latest redevelopment initiative:

    “Past efforts to redevelop this facility were not successful due to a variety of reasons, but the common denominator was that the plans were not based on market realty,” said the report’s authors in reference to such concepts as the hotel, IMAX theater, upscale restaurants, and other components of previous plans. “This redevelopment plan takes a grounded approach based on well-defined objectives, available funding, economic viability, and the realities of the real-estate market.”

    At the heart of HDR’s redevelopment plan is something the consultants call simply ‘Option One,’ or the best of several scenarios for revitalization of the Union Station complex.

    Option One has several components, including:

  • Restoration of the terminal building, with approximately 33,000 square feet for PVTA, Amtrak, commuter rail, and intercity bus operating facilities; 58,000 square feet of transit-related retail and office space, including day care, PVTA administrative offices, and a transportation conference center; and 30,000 square feet of commercial ‘opportunity space’ for future economic development;
  • Removal of the baggage building and construction of a new, 139,000-square-foot bus terminal with 23 bays;
  • Construction of a 400-space, two-level parking garage connected to the terminal building to accommodate transit and public parking above the new bus terminal; and
  • Reopening of a passenger tunnel, providing a safe, walkable connection from the terminal building to the Amtrak station and platforms, and Lyman Street.
  • Funding is essentially in place for these various components, say the report’s authors, adding that $4 million would still be needed to complete the build-out of the opportunity space, which could be financed by a loan or “obtained through some other funding source.”

    The HDR report also lays out budgetary projections:

    “A fully occupied Option One is expected to generate an annual revenue of budget of approximately $1.9 million, of which $1.5 million is associated with the transit-related operations and $400,000 from the opportunity space. The total annual operating cost is estimated at approximately $1.5 million. A net balance of about $400,000 would generate enough cash flow to cover the debt service of the financing needed to build out opportunity space.”

    Getting Everyone On Board

    All this looks good on paper, but there are many questions involving whether the plan can become reality. They concern everything from whether Peter Pan Bus Lines will be a player in this new plan (and if the project can go ahead if it’s not) to whether there will be any interest in that aforementioned opportunity space.

    Judge and Kennedy said those questions will be answered over time, but both expressed optimism that the plan can come together as HDR has outlined it.

    “With a lot of projects of this magnitude, it comes down to timing and circumstance,” said Kennedy, who has a long history with Union Station — he was an aide to then-Mayor Neal when the city took possession of the landmark. “Looking to the future and what will be a greater emphasis on rail, I think Springfield is positioned to be a hub of a commuter rail line and also positioned for an economic-development project in the north of its downtown blocks.

    “To do nothing with Union Station would be a bad idea,” he continued, “and I think we have a much better chance for success now, because this plan is based on market realities.”

    As for specific components for a revitalized Union Station, Judge said some discussions have taken place with administrators at Square One, the Springfield-based day-care provider, and there is some interest in possibly creating a new facility in the station, which would be a natural location if it were to become an intermodal transit center. And such an operation would help create additional vibrancy in the station, something that would be needed to attract other forms of retail.

    A senior center would provide similar benefits, said Judge, adding that he can visualize a facility that seniors could reach via mass transit and stay at during the day.

    “We have to look at what we can do to make this a vibrant, 24/7-like spot for the city,” he explained, “and not a situation where a train pulls in, people walk through, and you’re missing that added vibrancy.

    “Having Square One there would be critical,” he continued, “and another thing I’d like to have, and I think it would be innovative, would be a senior center. There would be some inter-generational opportunities, and a place where seniors can go to do a power walk, grab a bite to eat, use wifi, and maybe volunteer some time with the kids.”

    Another possibility, he said, is creation of facilities, such as conference rooms and other amenities, that could be used by businesses and individuals with virtual offices. “The region doesn’t have anything like that, and it needs one.”

    But to achieve real success with this project, Springfield, and Union Station, would need to become the hub of much more extensive commuter-rail service, said Judge, who firmly believes that day is coming.

    “The scenario works out this way … you live in Sixteen Acres, take a PVTA bus to Union Station, walk through the station, get your coffee and your bagel and your ticket, and then get on a train to New Haven, and from there you can go to New York,” he said, adding that many business executives currently drive to New Haven and take a train to Gotham.

    This scene that Judge lays out is similar to the way things were decades ago, before air travel and the interstate highway system crippled the railroads — and dozens of once-proud facilities like Union Station. A return to those days, and a commuter-rail system approaching what is seen in most European countries, could enable Springfield’s landmark to come full-circle.

    Last Stop

    As he talked about moving plans for Union Station off the drawing board and to reality, Judge said he has an excellent team in place for that assignment (his task force), that the timing is right, with the state and region due to emerge from the recession at about the same time the project heats up, and that the latest plan is realistic and doable.

    As he spoke those words, he realized that many before him, in various governmental capacities, have said essentially the same things.

    Time will tell if things go differently with this plan for the landmark that time forgot, meaning that things will go right. But Judge firmly believes that soon — a relative term if ever there was one — people will talk about Union Station using something other than the past tense.

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

    Features
    More Groundbreaking Events for the Balise Family of Dealerships
    Driving to the Finish Line

    Jeb Balise says the massive new Honda dealership borrows heavily from the new Toyota dealership a few miles down Riverdale Street.

    There was still some work to be done at the new Honda dealership on Riverdale Street in West Springfield — some landscaping, outfitting the sales offices, and other last-minute details — but Jeb Balise was already talking about the next phase of his company’s long and ongoing project.

    That would be the demolition of what is now the old Honda dealership a few miles down the street. Once that structure is razed, Balise Motor Sales can get started on the construction of a new Lexus dealership on that footprint. And when that’s done, the company can take down the old Lexus facility and create a boulevard between the new Lexus store and the massive new Toyota dealership the company opened in late 2007.

    And then … Jeb Balise might actually get a break from talking about construction work.

    “Maybe, but by then we’ll probably be starting on work at some of our dealerships in Rhode Island,” he said with a laugh.

    So there is no clear end in sight for one massive project — comprised of many smaller initiatives — to expand and upgrade the Balise company’s dealerships to meet the demands of various carmakers and, more to the point, serve customers better.

    This project, as Balise calls it, has involved several different facilities, and it has changed the landscape on Riverdale Street and both East and West Columbus Avenue in Springfield, often in dramatic fashion. No more so than with the new, 39,000-square-foot Honda facility, built on the site of the former Yale Genton clothing store, but not before a number of additional parcels were acquired to turn what had been a 2.5-acre footprint for Yale Genton into a 9-acre facility.

    The dealership is more than twice of the size of the old Honda facility, and it has 33 service bays, compared to 14 at the store it replaced.

    With that capacity, the dealership can take care of more service customers in a more-timely fashion and, bottom line, sell more cars, said Balise, adding that this has been the goal — and the result — with each of the projects it has undertaken to date.

    “When the [old] Honda comes down and we build Lexus, we’ll have absolute world-class customer conveniences in all three dealerships,” he said, “in every way, shape, and form.”

    Model of Excellence

    Now that the old Honda facility is officially closed and already half-demolished, Balise felt he could talk about that facility candidly.

    “Getting in and out of that [old] Honda store was like going to a demolition derby — you just hoped to survive finding a place to park,” he said, noting that the dealership, built in 1985, had become inadequate years ago. “We were so successful in sales that we just outgrew that store; we couldn’t give customers the kind of service they deserved.”

    Balise says he can’t see 25 years down the road, and doesn’t know what the auto-sales business will look like then. But he can’t imagine that the new Honda dealership will ever become as inadequate as the old one was in its final years. “We overbuilt in a lot of ways,” he said, “and we overdid the parking. We have more than enough spaces now.”

    Building first-class facilities that will easily last 30 years has been the goal with each individual piece of Balise’s project to modernize and expand its facilities. Recalling the various components and their dates of completion (at least to the best of his memory), Balise said the pieces started falling in place in 2006, with the completion of the new, state-of-art Toyota dealership on Riverdale Street.

    Soon thereafter, renovations were completed at Balise Chevrolet on West Columbus Avenue in Springfield. A new Buick/GMC dealership was constructed on that same street in 2008, the same year that a new Balise Hyundai dealership was built on the site of the former Houser Buick on East Columbus.

    Most of these projects, as well as the Honda and Lexus initiatives, were put on the drawing board in 2004 and 2005, said Balise, noting that, for the most part, things have gone according to the original schedule.

    There have been a few complications, though, including the securing of a proper site for the new Honda store. Balise said the goal was always to remain on Riverdale Street — site of nearly a dozen dealerships, and a place where many car shoppers begin and end their searches — but assembling a site big enough was a stern challenge.

    “We didn’t have enough land to keep Honda on the site, so we were struggling with what to do,” he explained. “We kept playing with a number of alternatives, but we were afraid that, with our growth, we’d end up two years later in the same boat that we were in — without adequate space. So we waited, and and when the Yale Genton site became available, everything just fell into place.”

    When building the new Honda facility, Balise borrowed heavily from what has been a very successful new Toyota dealership. The looks are very similar, from the showroom space to the service waiting area to the backroom facilities.

    “None of that’s by accident,” said Balise. “That model has been working very well for us, so it just made sense to do the same things here.”

    And, as with the Toyota dealership, the larger Honda facility will add up to more jobs — 25% more, by Balise’s estimate. “We’ll be adding people across the board — technicians, advisors, salespeople, and managers.”

    And while the Honda dealership did very well given the limitations of a 25-year-old facility and demolition-derby-like conditions, the expectations are even higher now that the company has what would certainly be considered room to grow.

    Drive Time

    As he led a quick tour of the new Honda facility, Balise conveyed considerable pride that the dealership had kept the dealership on Riverdale Street, replicated the amenities in the Toyota store, and completed construction in only six months.

    But one could sense that he already had one eye, and much of his attention, on the next project — and the one after that.

    With each piece that falls into place, he’s a little closer to being done with ‘the project,’ but there is still much ground to be broken and many ribbons still to be cut.

    George O’Brien can be reached at

    [email protected]

    Uncategorized
    Knowing the Law Is Just Part of the Strategy for Staying Out of Trouble

    Most Massachusetts employers are now aware that, effective July 13, 2008, violations of the Massachusetts Wage Act carry mandatory treble damages. As an example, if an employer is found by a court to have failed to pay an employee for overtime or other wages owed, the employer will be ordered to pay the employee three times the amount owed, plus attorney’s fees and costs.

    Unfortunately, the Mass. Wage Act and the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and their accompanying regulations are highly technical laws that carry many pitfalls for the unwary. Even employers who are conscientious about treating their employees fairly can run afoul of requirements of which they are unaware, potentially exposing both their companies and themselves to severe penalties. The purpose of this article is to alert small-business owners to some common mistakes employers make when attempting to implement the Massachusetts and federal wage-and-hour laws.

    Salaried vs. Hourly Employees

    Many employers make the mistake of paying certain supervisory employees and office staff a fixed salary (but not overtime) when, in fact, the employees are deemed non-exempt from minimum wage and overtime requirements. Frequently, paying an employee a fixed salary is seen as a benefit to the employee because it ensures a guaranteed wage even when the employer’s business is slow. However, unless an employee falls within one of the Fair Labor Standard Act’s exemptions for executive, administrative, professional, outside sales, computer, or certain other employees, he or she must be paid at least the minimum wage for every hour worked and receive overtime compensation.

    These exemptions are not as straightforward as they appear. For example, while an employer may consider a working foreman to be a supervisor covered by the executive exemption, that employee will not qualify as exempt unless their primary duty is management and they have the authority to hire or fire other employees, or have particular weight given to their recommendations as to the hiring, firing, advancement, or promotion of other employees.

    Employers who choose to pay non-exempt employees a salary may do so as long as they keep accurate records of hours worked and compensate employees appropriately. For example, a non-exempt employee who is paid a weekly salary for a 35-hour week must be paid overtime when they work more than 40 hours per week. Overtime is calculated at 1 1/2 times the regular rate (which is calculated by dividing the employee’s weekly pay by 35 hours). The employee is entitled to receive the regular rate for the first 40 hours worked and 1 1/2 times the regular rate for each hour worked thereafter.

    Timekeeping

    It is important that employers maintain accurate records showing total time worked in a given workweek. While a time clock is not required, employers should take steps to make sure that these records are accurate, and if a time sheet is used, each employee should be required to sign each week’s time sheet.

    The accuracy of an employer’s records becomes crucially important when an employee alleges that he or she has been underpaid. If an employer cannot produce accurate records, the employee’s assertions may be presumed to be accurate if he or she can provide proof of hours worked. It then becomes the employer’s burden to provide evidence to rebut that presumption.

    Federal regulations require 12 records that employers must maintain for each employee covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act. For example, in addition to the hours worked each day and the total hours worked each week, an employer must maintain the total straight-time wages due for the week, the total paid for overtime hours, the regular hourly rate of pay for the employee in any week when overtime is earned, and the total additions to or deductions from an employee’s wages, including employee purchases or wage assignments. Additionally, employers must also retain various types of records for specified periods.

    Posters Are Important

    It is essential that employers prominently display posters setting forth their employees’ rights under both Massachusetts and federal wage-and-hour laws in a location where employees regularly congregate, such as a break room, in the human resources department, or next to a time clock. The appropriate posters are available from the U.S. Department of Labor and the Mass. Attorney General’s Office. When an employer fails to post informational notices regarding payment of wages, the statute of limitations on Fair Labor Standards Act and Mass. Wage Act claims can be tolled, exposing employers to damages for a period of time greater than the normal two years under federal law and three years under the Mass. Wage Act.

    Travel Time

    Ordinary commuting time between an employee’s home and the employer’s place of business is, of course, not compensable. However, when an employer requires an employee to report to their place of business at the beginning of the day prior to heading to a job site, or at the end of the day, the time spent at the employer’s location is compensable, as is travel time to and from the job site. Any traveling that an employee is required or directed to do during the workday is also compensable.

    Lunch

    Under Massachusetts law, an employee must be given a 30- minute break after six hours of work. This break is generally unpaid. During this period, an employee must be relieved of all work-related duties. An employer who requires employees to remain on premises or otherwise restricts their movements while on break must treat the time as hours worked.

    You May Be Personally Liable

    Under the Mass. Wage Act, “the president and treasurer of a corporation and any officers or agents having the management of such corporation shall be deemed to be the employers of the employees of the corporation.” Principals of a corporation may be personally liable to employees for violations of the Wage Act, and an ‘officer or agent’ of a corporation who fails to pay required overtime can be personally subject to civil and criminal penalties.

    As this partial list indicates, there are a host of issues that employers must be attentive to implementing state and federal wage-and-hour laws. While compliance can seem daunting, employers can usually identify and correct errors through a simple review of policies and practices. Most importantly, by establishing and implementing compliant policies, small-business owners can avoid the potentially crippling consequences of a wage-and-hour complaint.

    This article is intended as a general summary only and does not constitute legal advice.

    David S. Lawless is an associate with Springfield-based law firm Robinson Donovan; (413) 732-2301 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              (413) 732-2301      end_of_the_skype_highlighting.

    Features
    Area Colleges Are Applying Imagination to Enrollment- building Efforts
    Numbers Game

    AIC’s Peter Miller says that colleges need to be more sophisticated than ever to reach enrollment targets.

    American International College is targeting young people in China, as well as individuals who simply can’t find a seat at a four-year school in California. Meanwhile, UMass Amherst is putting added focus on out-of-state students. These are just some of the strategies being applied as area colleges seek to bolster their enrollment numbers, which have been steadily rising over the past several years.

    This is the season that high-school seniors have been waiting for all year. Upcoming graduation? Guess again.

    By May 1, all students expecting to go on to college this fall will need to make their decisions regarding where they will go. It’s called Candidates’ Reply Date, and for the admissions departments at area four-year colleges, this time of year is critical.

    The word from local colleges is that application numbers are strong for the incoming freshman class of 2010, mirroring a trend in place for the last several years.

    It has been widely reported that, during the first months of the recession, students were returning to school in record numbers. But that trend toward higher application numbers, and resulting higher enrollment sizes, are the only constants in the admissions process. In Western Mass., colleges saw their class sizes swell, but in many cases the competition for those students has led to substantive changes in the admissions process.

    At American International College, Vice President for Admission Services Peter Miller said that the school is far more sophisticated than ever before in how it does its job. From national and international outreach all the way to use of social media, the role of admissions is more important than ever to secure those target numbers. Some schools go to great lengths in their use of contemporary technology, but Miller only half-jokingly said, “if I ever text-message for a prospective student, I’ve told my colleagues to shoot me!”

    The numbers game for student population has changed the admissions techniques, but it also has led some schools to focus on their brand image — the goods and services that can be sold to high-school prospects.

    In these highly competitive times, improved campus amenities make a big difference, said Mary DeAngelo, interim director of Enrollment Management at Springfield College. “We have recently opened two new facilities that help in making the college appealing to prospective students. We have a brand-new campus union that just opened in January. Students are thrilled with it. Last fall, 2008, we opened a new recreation and wellness facility, which is second to none.”

    UMass Amherst Chancellor Robert Holub has publicly stated his goals for gradual growth of the student body to better represent the school’s status as a state flagship university. His goal has a focus on attracting out-of-state students, whose tuition money stays on campus, rather than state students’ payments, which are filtered into the state revenue stream.

    There has been wide support of his initiative, but voices on campus have publicly criticized the cost of attracting such a population, and the means to make it happen. The numbers game of student enrollment has reached a critical stage for colleges attempting to keep up with years of record student populations, but some ask, when is not enough too much?

    Digital Readout

    DeAngelo said that the school year beginning in fall 2009 has been “very interesting.”

    “I think you’ll hear that from just about any private school,” she continued. “And it was because of the economy. We were very uncertain how enrollment would turn out, even though application numbers were good, and interest was high. But families were really anxious. When they are sitting at the kitchen table on April 27, they had to ask themselves, ‘can we afford a private college?’”

    Others echoed that sentiment. While the recession caused many families to take a sober look at their expenses for higher education, 2009 was a great year for the state’s flagship Amherst campus. “We set a record last year, and the year before,” said Ed Blaguszewski, director of the school’s News and Information Office.

    “We have been at over 30,000 applications for the last three years for incoming freshman,” he continued, “and we believe that continues to indicate a very strong interest in the value of a UMass education, at an affordable price.”

    Kathleen Wrobleski, director of Communications and Marketing at Bay Path College, called the economic downturn “a double-edged sword.” While students and families grapple with the cost of a college education, when times are tough, people historically head back to school.

    With finances as a potential pitfall to prospective students, she said that is one area where Bay Path stands out. “We recognized early on that people shouldn’t have finances as a barrier to going to college. We’ve made institutional changes to make that happen. For the undergraduate program, and the Saturday program, there are more scholarships. We have a very aggressive program.”

    She said that Bay Path’s method of admissions is different than most, with undergraduate, one-day, and graduate programs accepted on a rolling basis throughout the year. Every October, however, a snapshot of all three populations is offered for statistical analysis. From that perspective, Wrobleski said that Bay Path’s enrollment was at 2,000, the highest in the college’s history.

    Tools of the Trade

    By the time President Obama made a pledge last year that the U.S. will “have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world,” the numbers across the nation were already steadily edging toward that goal.

    Statistics from the U.S. Department of Education show that, over the past 10 years, the percentage of students who go on to college within 12 months of high-school graduation has increased significantly. In 2007, that number was at 67% of the nation’s youth. Competition for those best and brightest is at an all-time peak as well, college officials say.

    According to Wrobleski, Bay Path has something unique to offer as a means of driving students to their campus. “We develop programs that are very career-focused, and very responsive to the job market.”

    Elaborating, she said, in its graduate program, Bay Path “has an MBA in entrepreneurial thinking and innovative practices, the only one of its kind in the area. And then we have an MS in nonprofit management. These are closely linked to many of the job opportunities in this region.”

    DeAngelo said that her job is essentially the top of a pyramid that extends over the campus, with recruiting new students seen as “everyone’s job.”

    “And that comes from the top down,” she continued, “which it needs to, in order to be successful. Dr. Richard Flynn has been president for 11 years, and from his first day on this campus, every time he has a chance to speak to all members of the college community at one location, he says that recruiting students is everyone’s job. What that means is we enjoy great support from the faculty, other administrators, coaches — who are a great recruiting force for us — from students, and phenomenal support from our alumni base.”

    At AIC, Miller agreed that recruitment is a campus-wide endeavor. He, too, credits the school’s current administration as influential. “As our first new president in many, many years, Vincent Maniaci came in with a lot of enthusiasm and vision, and he wanted to move AIC forward.”

    What that has translated into is expansion of several programs and departments at the school, both locally and far afield. New departments and majors have been coupled with an increase in athletics, and the coaching staff has been given full-time status in order to take more than one for the team.

    “If we want to get to the number that we want to each year,” Miller explained, “we know that we need to rely on the football coach to recruit 75 students. We set goals for each coach, but we’ve added new teams. There’s been enormous success with a new track and field team in attracting students.”

    As full-time faculty, the coaching staff operates on several levels. In addition to their ability to recruit, they are also often closely linked to the students’ performance at school. Miller said that this is an enormous aid in student retention from year to year.

    “Those numbers, from freshman year on through graduation, have been improved,” he said, “by about 7% between the last years, and by 5% between the years prior.”

    Go East, Young Man

    Miller had just returned from a recruiting trip to China, which he said was the college’s newest focus for out-of-state students.

    Parallel to the college’s accreditation process a few years back, something revisited every 10 years, was a period of self-study for the vision of AIC.

    “We decided that we wanted to be more global in what we were doing,” he said. “We’ve created some pretty significant goals in internationalizing the campus, both for our current students and integrating into the classroom what international students can bring to the campus. China is a country that we’ve targeted, one obvious reason being the millions upon millions there. We wanted to be a player in that, so we set up a recruiting center there.”

    And prior to setting their sights overseas, AIC had established a presence in the beleaguered California state college system.

    While the Commonwealth has had its share of budget woes in the last couple of years, the California Department of Education has been faced with nothing short of a crisis: too many students, not enough vacancies, and, most importantly, not enough money. At the end of February, Jack Scott, chancellor of that state’s community colleges, said 200,000 students would be unable to return to campus this fall because there simply isn’t any space for them.

    Miller said that, because access to a four-year degree for those community-college students has been made so difficult, he and Maniaci spent a week building a beachhead for students to come to AIC.

    “How are we going to make ourselves attractive?” he asked. “Well, initially, we decided that we were going to offer a $10,000 scholarship to those students, anyone graduating from a community college in California. As a marketing tool, that really grabs you.

    “But,” he continued, “we can’t just drop in once a year and expect that we’re going to win people over. We need an ongoing presence on those campuses. We heard that from all the schools. So we’ve hired a transfer counselor to eventually be full-time out there.”

    State of Affairs

    The Bay State’s budget woes are nothing to sniff at, either.

    Between 2008 and 2010, Beacon Hill slashed 37% in state support for higher education, the largest percentage reduction in the country. As one means to address that, Blaguszewski said, “the state legislature has provided us an incentive over the last five or more years to work effectively in recruiting out-of-state students.

    “We want to maintain access for students in Massachusetts,” he continued, “and we’re not diminishing that. But the extra spaces we’re creating are targeted at out-of-state students. Not only will that add to the dynamic aspect on campus, but it will be a revenue generator. We get to keep out-of-state tuition on this campus, whereas state tuition goes back to the state coffers.”

    In a recent essay printed in the New York Times, Professor Nancy Folbre of UMass Amherst’s Economics Department likened the measure to students as “the new cash cows.”

    She said the intensified marketing campaign aimed at out-of-state students is a well-meaning strategy that could backfire for several reasons.

    “Administrators can feel pressure to invest in new facilities that look good on the glossy brochures … rather than improving student advising or course availability,” she wrote, and “if more students are added without increasing the number of faculty and staff, students get less individual attention and can’t get into the courses they need to graduate.

    “The percentage of students taught by full-time, tenure-track faculty members per student at state universities has steadily declined in recent years,” she added.

    A new plan to increase out-of-state expansion involves rewarding individual departments more adept at recruiting outside the state line, she noted. Given Massachusetts’ striking distance to the Empire State, Folbre humorously noted that a colleague “has offered to publicly renounce the Red Sox in favor of the Yankees.”

    At AIC, Miller said that, in his 35 years in college admissions, the industry might have evolved, but some things will always stay the same. “What will never change, as long as I’m in this role, is the notion of relationship marketing.”

    Technology, technique, and sometimes tactics might all be keeping pace with competition, but, he added, “there’s a fine balance in implementing all the things necessary for moving a student a certain way without losing sight of that student as a person.”

    Features
    Wing’s Center for Geriatric Psychiatry Fills a Critical Role
    Acute Needs

    Dr. Ricardo Mujica said Wing’s geriatric psychiatry unit has the advantage of being on a hospital campus, with the full resources of the institution available to meet whatever medical needs might arise.

    It’s retirement time for the Baby Boomers.

    Specifically, by 2030, more than 75 million Boomers will be age 65 or older, and the population considered elderly in the U.S. will be double what it is today — partly because this demographic is healthier and more active than past generations of senior citizens, and cutting-edge medical breakthroughs are helping them to live longer.

    But as that population increases, so do the specific needs of the elderly, including behavioral-health services targeted for that age group.

    That’s where Wing Memorial Hospital saw an opportunity. The Palmer-based hospital opened its Center for Geriatric Psychiatry (CGP) last September, offering 15 beds to care for older people with behavioral-health needs too acute to be managed in an outpatient setting.

    “We take a comprehensive approach that includes a medical evaluation to determine whether a medical problem may be causing the psychological symptoms,” said Dr. Ricardo Mujica, a geriatric psychiatrist and director of the center. “The idea is to stabilize the acute problem and send them back to their previous environment.”

    The center is designed to treat people age 55 and older, but the typical patient is at least 75, Mujica said, and most are female, since women tend to live longer. Their conditions range from mood disturbances and anxiety disorders to cognitive impairment and dementia, and they’re generally referred by long-term care facilities, primary-care physicians, family members, even the emergency room at Wing or another hospital.

    “The reason we wanted a unit that focuses on the elderly population is that the demand for this treatment is growing, and as the Baby Boomer population gets older, we expect that to continue to be the case.”

    Safe and Sound

    To operate the center, Wing has partnered with New England Geriatrics, a Massachusetts-based organization specializing in mental-health services to residents and their families in long-term care facilities.

    With its 15 beds, the center increases the number of acute-care beds at Wing from 59 to 74, an increase of 25%. To create space for the unit, Wing moved its medical/surgical unit into the hospital’s new Country Bank Pavilion in 2008.

    That move was followed by eight months of work to renovate the vacated space. The $1.5 million, 11,000-square-foot project includes 11 private rooms, two semi-private rooms, an activity room, a dining room, and various other areas designed for treatment and rehabilitation purposes.

    On a tour of the facility, Mujica showed off a series of security features designed to keep patients safe. For example, each entrance to the CGP is electronically monitored and access-controlled. All patients wear wrist bracelets that ensure they remain within the safety of the unit and alert staff of any patients’ attempts to wander. In addition, the center is equipped with 10 security cameras monitored by staff, who conduct safety rounds every 15 minutes.

    In patient rooms, Wing also follows the safety standards set by the Mass. Departments of Public Health and Mental Health. These include secure ceiling tiles, drawerless shelving for clothes, tamper-resistant bathroom fixtures, electrical cords run with as little slack as possible, and blinds embedded between the windows — all measures to prevent patients from hurting themselves.

    The medical team in the Center for Geriatric Psychiatry includes nurses, social workers who specialize in procuring follow-up care, therapists, a psychiatrist board-certified in geriatric psychiatry, and physicians who specialize in the geriatric population. But the center also has the advantage of being located within a full-service, acute-care hospital in case a patient’s medical needs change.

    The unit is one of only two geri-psych programs in Western Mass. (the other is at Providence Behavioral Hospital in Holyoke), and is the only one to have on-site access to acute hospital-level medical treatment, Mujica said.

    “We have our own medical team working on the floor, but all of the hospital is a medical backup,” Mujica said. “If there’s an acute problem, if we need to increase the level of medical care, we can provide other services.”

    Mujica touted the unit’s dual emphasis on physical and psychological care as critical to its success in transitioning patients safely back into the community.

    “Many people assume that people with mental illness don’t have other medical issues, but if you don’t look for medical reasons in mental illness, you can do a lot of harm to that individual,” he said.

    The CGP also provides psychological education to family members and caregivers regarding each patient’s illness, including medication management.

    “Even though, with certain conditions, we don’t have a cure — let’s say for dementia — medication can still improve the quality of a patient’s life and reduce the stress that is secondary to assorted psychiatric symptoms,” he said.

    Mujica told BusinessWest that it’s difficult to express why he chose the niche of geriatric psychiatry when he selected a career path, but it was likely a variety of reasons.

    “I have a good deal of respect for the elderly, and the challenges of treating frail individuals with multiple medical problems is interesting to me,” he said. “It’s also gratifying to give back to this ‘greatest generation’ that served this country and all of us.”

    Still, he worries about the ability of the health care system in general to provide this type of care at a time when the need is growing, especially considering the current atmosphere of uncertainty surrounding Medicare and health reform in general. “I hope the elderly don’t get left out as they shift their focus to something else.”

    Picking Up the Pieces

    That concern applies to all mental-health services, said Maria Russo-Appel, Wing’s chief of Behavioral Health Services, who called the need for such resources “enormous.”

    Wing’s program includes inpatient services through its 13-bed Parker North unit and outpatient mental-health and substance-abuse services through the Griswold Behavioral Health Center. Both are being strained right now, she said.

    “There were two significant layoffs by the Department of Mental Health last year, and that left many patients stranded without an advocate,” she said. “The role of the DMH worker is to coordinate care for people who are disenfranchised.”

    At the same time, she said, many group homes and other behavioral-health programs have been closing or changing hands (as in the case of Baystate Health’s substance-abuse programs being taken over by Behavioral Health Network). The reduction in program capacity statewide, and a general sense of uncertainty over the status of services, has programs like those at Wing feeling the pinch.

    “We receive, at the Griswold Center, up to 75 calls a day for services. That far outstrips our resources,” Russo-Appel said. “We’re doing everything we can to meet the needs of the community.”

    And those needs tend to grow when the economy sours, she added.

    “We’re seeing more situational depression, situational anxiety syndromes, more addictions, including gambling,” she said. Meanwhile, more people are being hospitalized with behavioral-health issues, including many who can’t access outpatient services and are relying on emergency-room care instead. “The emergency rooms have become deluged with mental-health patients who can’t find resources.”

    To meet these growing needs, Wing is adding two or three more psychiatrists within the next few months and is looking at programmatic changes, like new support groups targeted to specific disorders, but before it can make more wholesale changes to grow the behavioral-health program, it needs to make sure the programs it does offer are stabilized, she explained.

    That’s partly why the Geriatric Psychiatry Center is so important, Mujica said. It takes pressure off the entire system and helps allows patients to access a continuum of care in the Wing system.

    “The challenge with mental-health patients is that different facilities maintain their own histories, and patients tend to have a very fragmented history,” Russo-Appel said. “The advantage of Wing is that we’re able to maintain a continuity of behavioral-health care that many hospitals cannot.”

    No matter how old a patient might be.