Home 2012 June
Opinion
No One Said This Was Going to Be Easy

The casino era in Massachusetts is only seven months old, but we wouldn’t blame anyone if they thought it was closer to seven years. It certainly seems that way.

Indeed, since passage of the legislation approving Las Vegas-style gambling last November, after years of debate and near misses, things have proceeded in slow motion, according to many observers, who, citing many apparent missteps and controversies, predict only more of the same for the immediate future.

Experts and media representatives assessing what’s happened thus far — including everything from questions about a conflict of interest involving local Gaming Commission member Bruce Stebbins (a former Springfield economic-development administrator) to the embarrassing resignation of interim Executive Director Stanley McGee only three days after he was hired — have used the phrase ‘rocky start’ early and often.

And while they’re right to some extent — the Gaming Commission has often looked the gang that couldn’t shoot straight — should we have expected anything else? This is a huge, complex industry Massachusetts is entering, where the stakes are enormous and the scrutiny is intense.

Gaming Commission Chairman Stephen Crosby might have been glossing things over when he recently told the Boston Globe, “I think it’s gone really well,” in reference to the start of the casino era, but in some respects he’s not far off base. Anyone who expected a smooth, fast ride was not thinking realistically. Crosby hit the nail on the head, actually, when he also told the Globe, “we have to learn to be comfortable with the fact that controversy is inevitable.”

And for evidence of that fact, one need look no further than the rebuke — that’s the only word to describe it — administered to Crosby by state Rep. Joseph Wagner, a Chicopee Democrat and key player in the fashioning of the casino bill last year, after Crosby put forth comments that simply suggested that the commission might license fewer than three casinos and a slots parlor.

The legislation that Wagner helped draft clearly states “up to three” casinos and a slots parlor, but he looked between the lines at Crosby’s comments and reasoned that, if only two casinos were licensed, then it would be the Western Mass. license that would be most in jeopardy, and he was right to come to that conclusion. And he quickly called out Crosby for saying the commission would do essentially what it was empowered to do — look at all the data and make decisions that make the most sense for everyone in the Commonwealth.

This is the way it’s going to be for the next two years, or however long it’s going to take the Gaming Commission to do its analysis and render its decisions. Every word, every step, every bit of conjecture is going to be scrutinized, analyzed, and probably overanalyzed.

And in many ways, all that is good because, despite the urgent need for jobs and revenue in this state — those are the reasons why this measure was passed in the first place — the goal here is not to get this job done fast, but to get it done right, with the understanding that ‘right’ is most certainly a relative term and there will never be agreement on what that actually means, and that’s part of what makes this compelling and maddening.

The rocky, bumpy start for the casino era — if those terms are even appropriate — has certainly been eye-opening. As if there were any doubt, we have been reminded that there is probably nothing that is going to come quickly or easily in the process of bring casino gaming to Massachusetts.

As Crosby said, we all have to get comfortable with the fact that controversy is inevitable — and unavoidable.

Sections Women in Businesss
Having a Baby Can — and Often Does — Alter a Woman’s Career Path

Sylvia Callam

Sylvia Callam says she has no regrets about the time she took off from work to spend with her children.


Sylvia Callam had invested an enormous amount of time and energy into her career, so she said she “thought long and hard” about making the decision to have a child.

“I had worked on Wall Street for eight years,” said the Yale graduate and director of research at Gage Wiley Inc., a brokerage-dealer firm. She planned to take two months of maternity leave, then return to work full-time. And although she doesn’t consider herself overly emotional, Callam felt very conflicted when that time approached.

“When you have a baby, your heart changes,” she said. “I had always been the first one to get to work and the last one to leave. But I was definitely surprised and taken aback by how much I wanted to be with my son.”

So she made the decision to put her family first. “For a few years, my career took a backseat. The motherly love I felt was overwhelming, and I needed some time to make sure that going to work was worth it,” said the Hatfield resident, adding that she only worked two days a week.

When her son, Nathan, turned 3, Callam gave birth to her daughter, Alyssa, who was born with myriad medical issues. Thankfully, her boss was understanding, and although she had returned to work full-time, he allowed her to take six months off.

Today, her children are 7 and 4, and despite working part-time for a period of time, she has made remarkable advances in her career. “I was very fortunate that my boss was willing to be patient,” she said.

Still, Callam believes becoming a mother improved her performance. “It is a real success story even though I have always put my children first; I’m more decisive, more confident, and more resilient than I used to be. I had to learn to do the same amount of work in four hours that used to take me eight, and my boss finds my attitude refreshing,” she said. “I am a much better mom because I work and a much better employee because I am a mother. But it’s all a question of whether a woman has a flexible employer.”

Experts agree.

Iris Newalu, director of Executive Education for Women at Smith College, says women can have both high-power careers and children. “But it’s not easy,” she told BusinessWest, adding that many are able to do so only because of flex time or companies that allow them to work from home. “There is no one formula, and everyone has to figure it out for themselves and decide where to set boundaries.”

Fern Selesnick says there was a myth generated years ago that women could have a family and a job and do it all perfectly.

“The standards are unrealistic, but the myth still exists. And even though employers say they support working mothers, it really is not across the board,” said Selesnick, who works as a professional career coach and trainer at Fern Selesnick Consulting.

As a result, having a child or growing one’s family can pose real challenges for working women intent on climbing the career ladder. Although it can be done, the rate of ascension for those who take a significant amount of time off from their jobs depends on a variety of factors.

“There are competing priorities once a woman becomes a mother,” Selesnick said, adding that concerns change while a woman is pregnant, once she has a baby, and when she decides to return to work. “There is an identity shift. Most women realize after the fact that they can’t give 100% to motherhood and 100% to their job. It requires making adjustments, so they need to figure out how they can do both well and take care of themselves without burning out.”

Experts say women should talk to their supervisors about how a leave of absence will affect their job standing before they become pregnant. “Women need to look at a mixture of practical and emotional issues,” Selesnick said, advising them to begin by reading their employee manual to find out how much maternity leave their company allows.

And when a woman does leave, she should tell her manager, “I hope the door will be open for me to come back,” Newalu said.

 

Pregnant Pause

Fern Selesnick

Once a woman has a baby, Fern Selesnick says, she realizes she cannot give 100% to her career and 100% to her role as a mother.

Most women need to work for economic reasons. However, statistics show that it can be financially lucrative to delay motherhood until one has achieved a modicum of success.

A study conducted by Amalia Miller, an associate professor of Economics at the University of Virginia, shows that each year a woman delays having her first child while she is in her 20s and early 30s results in an earnings gain of 9%. This is significant, since other studies show earnings often plateau once a woman becomes a mother.

This results partly from an inability to continue advanced schooling due to the limited number of hours a woman can work due to child-care issues or her desire to be home with her family. Issues mothers discuss with Selesnick include time management, self-esteem, a realistic identity, and career changes or adaptations that must be made, since research confirms that women are still the primary caretakers in families.

Selesnick said the decisions a woman makes and her ability to advance within her company often come down to her supervisor. She cites the cases of clients who were allowed tremendous flexibility. “But some supervisors expect everything to be the same in terms of performance and availability,” she told BusinessWest.

Newalu says women must learn how to negotiate to achieve what they need to be successful as a mother and employee. “Flexibility is key. Once you have a child, you can’t control things; children get sick, have performances at school, and have accidents that require a parent to leave work,” she said.

Attorney Kathy Bernardo was working for the law offices of Bulkley, Richardson and Gelinas in Springfield when she had her first child. And although she continued at the firm, a few years later when she found out she was expecting twins, she made the decision to work part-time.

“I made a conscious decision to get myself off the partnership track — I thought it would be more than I could handle,” she explained. “I knew I couldn’t commit 100% to my firm and my family, and I wanted to be fair to everyone as well as myself.”

When she returned full-time, it took her a year before she re-established her standing within the practice. “It wasn’t easy because I had to prove to them and to myself that I could handle it, and wanted them to have wonderful data to assess,” she said.

Bernardo achieved her goal of becoming a partner, but it took her 10 years instead of seven. “But I got where I wanted to be without sacrificing my family and was actually able to enjoy my children and be there for them in those important early years; babies demand most of your time,” she said.

Today, her children are teenagers, and she has no regrets about her decisions.

“Sometimes people feel that, if they don’t proceed as planned, they will lose their opportunity,” she said. “But I was fortunate to be somewhere where I could have that dialogue with my employer.”

Experts agree that a woman should have a frank discussion with her supervisor, manager, or someone in the company’s human-resources department before she leaves her job. They advise women to maintain relationships at work while on extended maternity leave, which has personal and professional benefits.

“It’s important for a woman’s self-esteem and confidence to feel that she still has a hand in her career and her work identity isn’t gone,” Selesnick said.

Other safeguards can help her to remain marketable. Selesnick recommends working part-time or doing volunteer work in an area that correlates to one’s career so there is not a large gap in a résumé.

Women also have a responsibility to stay current in their fields, Newalu said, adding it is especially important for those who work in information technology or other areas where change occurs rapidly.

 

Fair Exchange

Tricia Parolo’s career began in 1997, when she became an intern at MassMutual. In 2000, she achieved full-time status and held a variety of positions within the company until 2007, when she left to become a full-time mother.

“My husband and I had planned for it for two years; I took a leap of faith because I had no idea what to expect and what it meant to be a stay-at-home mom,” she said, adding that she had her second daughter shortly afterwards and soon discovered that working in an office seemed easier and less stressful than raising babies.

“I found it was really, really hard being at home,” Parolo said, adding that other people perceived her differently once she lost her professional identity.

She retained the part-time retail job she’d had while she was at MassMutual, but sometimes felt jealous of her husband when he left for work. “I was constantly torn about my decision.”

In 2010, a co-worker who had risen to a management position contacted her and asked if she wanted to work 20 hours a week. Parolo’s former colleague allowed her to work at home from 7 p.m. to midnight, although she did have to go into the office for four hours one day a week.

The following year, when her youngest daughter was 2, Parolo returned full-time and found she had to prove herself all over again. “I worked really, really hard to make up the gap,” she said.

But she has no regrets. “I had the best of both worlds. I was able to stay home with my two little babies and pick up where I left off,” she told BusinessWest.

Newalu says the top companies in the country are willing to invest in a woman’s career and make accommodations if she has a good track record, has been an excellent employee, and has established good relationships. “Talent is very expensive, and companies do not want to keep training new people; they want good employees back.”

However, as Parolo and Bernardo discovered, no one should expect to take up to a year off without consequences.

“It is unrealistic to think that you can slip right back into the position you had — a woman will probably be put where she is needed,” Newalu said. “The situation is the same for anyone who takes time off; you lose seniority, and the people who have stayed on the job have more understanding of the current situation.”

Women who cannot return to their previous position or are unhappy about what they are offered may want to seek employment at another company. However, when they do return to work — whether it is with their previous employer or a new one — they should know what they need and be willing to talk about these needs, even though it may be uncomfortable.

“Research shows that women don’t tend to be good negotiators. It’s a learned skill,” Newalu said, explaining that they can take a course, read books on the subject, or get a coach to teach them how to leverage their talent.

“Early in my own career, I did what I was told, but as I got more experienced, I learned to ask for what I needed,” she said. “You have to be willing to step outside your comfort zone. If you ask for what you need in the right way, you often get it. It can’t hurt to ask, and if you don’t have an open-door situation, you have to define how you will re-enter the workforce.”

Prior to becoming a mother, Selesnick held positions in management where she was required to be available at all times. She took a few years off when she had her daughter, but continued her part-time job as a writer. “It was a cut in income, but it allowed me to be the mother I wanted to be,” she said. “If I had taken a corporate management position, I couldn’t have been a mother in the way I wanted.”

When she did return to full-time work, she chose a much easier position at a nonprofit agency with a set schedule that didn’t include night or weekend hours. “Plus, my boss let me bring my daughter to work if it was necessary. Life was much simpler.”

 

Back to Business

As children grow, women often find that juggling roles becomes easier. “Women need to know that the demands of motherhood decrease and the time will come when you have complete flexibility again,” Selesnick said.

In fact, taking time off can be simply viewed as a detour on a career path.

“I am so glad that I persevered,” Callam said, “even in the lowest of times.”

Architecture Sections
Architects Increasingly Focus on Eco-friendly Design

From left, Aelan Tierney, Charles Roberts, and Ann Wills Marshall

From left, Aelan Tierney, Charles Roberts, and Ann Wills Marshall have all worked on LEED projects at Kuhn Riddle Architects.

New England Environmental (NEE) is an Amherst-based consulting firm that specializes in environmental assessment, restoration, and management. Oh, and setting a good example.

“We saw that project as sort of a laboratory for the kind of work they do, almost an exhibit of sorts,” said Ann Wills Marshall, an architect with Kuhn Riddle Architects in Amherst, which designed NEE’s new headquarters in Amherst with the sort of ‘green’ features that fit the company’s mission.

“They can take clients through and show them what a bioswale is, and a rain garden that uses all native plants and doesn’t require irrigation. It has a tremendous amount of green space,” Marshall noted.

The development will earn Platinum certification — the toughest-to-attain rating — from LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a program developed in 1994 by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) to encourage environmentally friendly and energy-efficient design, construction, and operation of buildings.

And New England Environmental, which uses both geothermal heat and photovoltaic solar panels for energy, is only one of Kuhn Riddle’s recent LEED projects. Others include the George N. Parks Minuteman Marching Band Building, a 15,000-square-foot facility at UMass; the Ken Burns Wing of the Jerome Liebling Center for Film, Photography, and Video, a 6,700-square-foot addition to the facility at Hampshire College; and the Northeast Veteran Training and Rehabilitation Center in Gardner — which, like NEE, boasts both geothermal and photovoltaic energy.

In fact, LEED has become a major buzzword in the architecture and construction world; the state has mandated eco-friendly design on many projects, while individual cities and towns are increasingly seeking out the long-term benefits of energy-efficient, environmentally non-invasive design as well.

“It’s an involved process,” said Charles Roberts, a principal with Kuhn Riddle. “First, the client has to decide what they want to do, then we sit down with the user groups and our LEED consultants and basically go through the checklist typical for all projects and see what points are attainable. It’s important to do that as early in the design process as possible.”

Those ‘points’ are awarded according to a development’s adherence to five key areas: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection, and indoor environmental quality.

Sustainable site development includes the reuse of existing buildings, when possible, and preservation of the surrounding environment. Water conservation may include the recycling of gray (previously used) water or the installation of catchments for rainwater.

Energy efficiency can be increased by orienting buildings to take advantage of seasonal changes in the sun’s position and by the use of alternative energy sources, such as solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, or water.

Meanwhile, developers are encouraged to use as much recycled or renewable materials as possible, or those that require the least energy to manufacture, are locally sourced, or are in themselves recyclable. Finally, indoor environmental quality emphasizes how the building user feels in a space and involves ventilation, temperature control, and the use of nontoxic materials.

New England Environmental

New England Environmental incorporated both geothermal and photovoltaic energy on its LEED Platinum project.

“Good architecture has always been environmentally responsible,” Roberts said. “Development and land-use patterns create stresses on the environment, and as buildings become much more complicated, LEED is kind of an effort to try to think about these pressures and minimize them.”

However, they should not get in the way of basic aesthetic appeal, said Aelan Tierney, an associate with Kuhn Riddle.

“While it’s important to focus on sustainability,” she said, “it’s also important to remember that buildings should be beautiful. So the form can still be beautiful if it’s a green building, or a LEED-certified building. I think there are some people out there who are so hyperfocused on sustainability that they forget about the aesthetics. In our firm, they’re equally important to us.”

 

Breaking Ground

Other architects are saying the same. Among them is Jim Hanifan, a principal with Caolo & Bienek in Chicopee, which recently completed the new UMass police station, the first LEED-certified building on the Amherst campus, but very likely not the last.

That project earned Gold status, just under platinum in the USGBC’s rating system, which is based on the points assigned for green compliance. Further down are Silver and simply ‘certified.’ The police station features a geothermal heating and cooling system drawing heat and cold from the earth.

“We’ve also got the Northampton police station,” Hanifan said. “They’re going to occupy the building in a couple of weeks, and that’s targeted for LEED Gold as well.”

Another of the firm’s jobs, the new Easthampton High School set to open in 2013, has earned certification from Massachusetts CHPS (Collaborative for High Performance Schools), a LEED-like green-building program for the Commonwealth. Among the considerations are bigger windows to maximize daylight, a photovoltaic array being installed on the roof to harvest solar power, and LED lighting. “It’s similar to LEED in its requirements,” he said of the CHPS designation.

Hanifan said building owners, whether governments or businesses, want to know the long-term savings built into an investment in green design — which can be costly up front. “You’re trying to balance improvements to a building’s system with what the projected payoff will be. Maybe you’ll spend $250,000 on improved mechanical or electrical systems, and you try to project out how many years it will take to pay that back.”

Tierney said the owners of the Northeast Veteran Training and Rehabilitation Center took this into account when they had 28 geothermal wells and more than 8,000 square feet of electrical panels installed. “It’s a large initial investment, but in the end, they’ll save money. In a lot of cases, it’s easier to get capital funding than it is to get operational funding.”

Added Marshall, “I think there’s a leap of faith you have to take, knowing you have these upfront costs, but they will pay for themselves in a very short time.”

And the initial costs can be significant, Hanifan said, noting that some LEED points are easier to come by than others, and not every type of point is attainable. “Some points you won’t get, depending on the building design,” he said. For instance, a developer can earn points for tearing down an existing building and reusing the site for a new structure. “But if it’s a clean site, there’s no way to get that point.”

The LEED certification process itself is costly, which is why some cities and towns will put a priority on green design, but not go for the certification, he added. “So you’re getting the payback for sure and achieving the intent of a LEED project; you just don’t have a plaque on the wall that says you achieved it.”

 

The Old College Try

The Liebling Center project at Hampshire College is a good example of a broad mix of LEED points, Roberts said, from the use of native plants to cutting-edge air-quality-monitoring systems, to white, reflective surfaces to keep the building cool. It also gained points for its location along a bus route and the installation of bike racks and showers, all of which encourage earth-friendly commuting.

“It’s a good example of a project done on a modest budget,” he said, “and just by doing pieces of all these things, were were able to achieve LEED Gold.”

Hampshire College has been pursuing eco-friendly development for some time, and other area schools have done the same. In fact, the U.S. Green Building Council recently opened a local branch on the UMass campus.

“The university has been working to expand its green-building commitment for more than a decade now,” said Ludmila Pavlova, a senior planner at the UMass Campus Planning Physical Plant, who started the branch. “Here, we can provide education, outreach, and information to the general public about the LEED rating system and green building.

“It’s really important that people who use the rating system talk to the general public, network, and learn together,” she continued. “It’s great to have a location where people looking into green building can come to learn how to become proficient in green building, and turn around and help their communities as well.”

UMass recently made a commitment to build all new structures to a minimum of LEED Silver, and the state already requires all publicly funded buildings of at least 20,000 square feet to be 20% over baseline in terms of energy efficiency. All of which makes plenty of sense to Pavlova.

“People live in buildings and spend most of their time in buildings,” she told BusinessWest. “Forty percent of our energy is embodied in buildings. If we want to improve the environment, one of the first basic places to improve it is in the places where you work and live.

“Our buildings constitute such a huge investment, and so much of our ongoing operations and capital costs go into facility maintenance,” she added. “And so much of our health depends on how buildings keep us healthy — or not.”

That’s just one more reason businesses and communities are increasingly choosing to build green — and often taking the LEED while they’re at it.

 

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Agenda Departments

YMCA Celebration at Basketball Hall of Fame

June 18:  A celebration of the YMCA’s 160th anniversary will be staged at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, starting at 6 p.m. The event will feature a keynote address by sports and business leader Mannie Jackson and Boston Globe sportswriters and ESPN commentators Jackie MacMullan and Bob Ryan. MacMullan and Ryan, both Basketball Hall of Fame Award winners, will share their thoughts and experiences covering the celebrated Boston sports teams, with a special concentration on the Boston Celtics. Jackson is a former player for the Harlem Globetrotters who, after a successful business career, purchased the Globetrotters from near-bankruptcy and extinction, reinvigorating one of America’s most popular sports brands. He is now a philanthropist and author who recently released a book called Boxcar to Boardrooms: My Memories and Travels. Tickets to the June 18 celebration are available by contacting Peggy Graveline, development assistant at the YMCA of Greater Springfield, at [email protected], or by calling (413) 739-6951, ext. 179. Tickets are $160 each or $1,500 for a table of 10. All proceeds from the event will benefit the YMCA of Greater Springfield’s 2012 Annual Scholarship Campaign.

 

Health Care Expo and Career Fair

June 19: The Greater Chicopee Chamber of Commerce has partnered with Health New England to produce a Health care Expo and Career Fair to be held at The Castle of Knights on Memorial Drive in Chicopee, from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. According to Gail A. Sherman, President of the Greater Chicopee Chamber of Commerce, the Healthcare Expo has a multi-level purpose. “It is an opportunity for companies in the health care industry to promote their products and services; but it will also include what we are calling the “Corridor to Your Career” section where companies that have job openings in the healthcare industry will be there to welcome and meet job seekers in that field.” Companies that are in the health care industry can reserve a skirted-marketing table. If they are members of the Greater Chicopee Chamber of Commerce, the cost is $125. For non-members, the cost is $175. Admission to the event is free. Health New England’s Lynn Ostrowski, director of Brand & Corporate Relations, will launch the day’s event by teaching attendees how to effectively manage their energy throughout the day. Complimentary coffee, herbal tea and seasonal fresh fruit will be available until 9:30 a.m. To sign up or to learn more about this event, call Sherman at (413) 594-2101.

 

Elder Planning Seminar

June 20: Williamstown Commons Nursing & Rehabilitation Center will host “The Ins and Outs of Health and Long-Term Care Planning” at 6 p.m. Elder-law attorney James Sisto of the Berkshire Elder Law Center — a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and a certified public accountant — will discuss strategies for seniors in preparing for long-term care, financial planning, and estate planning. Certified senior adviser Kira Breard, branch manager of Interim Health Care, will discuss services designed to help with health and personal-care needs, as well as sharing information on a variety of programs and services available to seniors in Berkshire County. To RSVP for this program, call (413) 458-2111.

 

40 Under Forty

June 21: BusinessWest will present its sixth class of regional rising stars at its annual 40 Under Forty gala at the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House in Holyoke. The gala will feature music, lavish food stations, and introductions of the winners. Tickets are $60 per person, with tables of 10 available. Early registration is advised, as seating is limited. For more information, call (413) 781-8600, ext. 100, or log onto www.businesswest.com.

 

WBOA 30th Anniversary

June 21: Chez Josef in Agawam will be the setting for the 30th anniversary celebration of the Women’s Business Owners Alliance of the Pioneer Valley (WBOA) at 6 p.m. The WBOA will recognize its 2012 Business Woman of the Year, as well as its 2012 Outstanding New Member, and will name its Top Women in Business in the Pioneer Valley. Renate Oliver, WBOA founder, will also be a featured speaker. The event will feature entertainment by Jeannie Pomeroy-Murphy, as well as a raffle fund-raiser. For more information or tickets, call (413) 525-7345 or visit www.wboa.org.

 

Walk for Miracles at Six Flags

June 23: Six Flags New England will host Walk for Miracles, a Children’s Miracle Network initiative to raise funds for patient-care programs at Baystate Children’s Hospital. “Six Flags New England is thrilled to be the sponsor of this incredible walk that benefits our local community,” said John Winkler, the park’s president. “We are proud of our commitment to our philanthropic work.” Registration for Walk for Miracles begins at 7:30 a.m., followed by step-off at 8:30 a.m. for a family-friendly stroll of about 1.5 miles inside the amusement park. Following the walk, from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m., there will be a special celebration including music and entertainment, as well as a medal ceremony for Baystate Children’s Hospital’s “Miracle Kids.” Registration fee is $10 for all walkers and includes participation in the walk, a light breakfast snack, and a T-shirt, while supplies last. Walkers who raise $50 or more for their efforts will receive free admission to the park on June 23. Walkers who do not raise $50 are also welcome to enjoy the park at 50% off general admission. All proceeds will remain local and support pediatric needs throughout Baystate Health, including equipment, outreach programs, and services at Baystate Children’s Hospital in Springfield, Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield, Baystate Mary Lane Hospital in Ware, and Baystate Visiting Nurse Assoc. & Hospice. To register, visit helpmakemiracles.org/event/walkformiracles.

 

Party with the Animals

June 23: The Zoo in Forest Park & Education Center is holding its 10th annual “Party with the Animals” fund-raiser at 5:30 p.m. under the big tent at the zoo. The October snowstorm hit the zoo especially hard. “We suffered damage to almost every exhibit at the zoo, from falling limbs from the trees that surround the zoo,” said John Lewis, executive director. Fortunately, the zoo was able to open on schedule this spring, but some exhibits are still undergoing repairs and renovations. The Party with the Animals includes gourmet food prepared by Noble Feast, a full-service bar, and music provided by the Westfield High School Jazz Band. Attendees will enjoy close encounters with some very special animal friends. The live auction, with Ray Hershel of Channel 40 as auctioneer, always generates an entertaining bidding frenzy. This is an adult-only event, and dress is casual-elegant. Tickets are $100 and can be ordered at www.forestparkzoo.org, or by calling (413) 733-2251.

 

Fork It Over

June 26: From 5 to 7:30 p.m., Girl Scouts of Central and Western Massachusetts present Fork It Over, a competitive, culinary fund-raising event featuring some of the region’s top chefs, who create original appetizers and desserts using Girl Scout cookies and present their creations to the public and a panel of judges at Storrowton Tavern and Carriage House. Participants include Hofbrauhaus, La Cucina di Hampden House, Magic Spoon Catering, School Street Bistro, Cornerstone Café, Nadim’s Mediterranean, Chandler’s, Johnsens Catering, Hampden Country Club, Eighty Jarvis, Four Main Street Bar & Grill, McLadden’s Irish Publick House, Chez Josef, Dana’s Grillroom, and Great Grapes Catering. The panel of judges who will determine the winners in both sweet and savory categories is led by Peter Rosskothen of the Log Cabin and Delaney House, and includes Lon Breedlove of the Massachusetts Restaurant Assoc., Bon Appetit Contributing Editor Dede Wilson, and West Springfield Fire Chief William Flaherty. Attendees will vote for a people’s-choice favorite. Live music will be provided by Ethel Lee and her Jazz Ensemble, and a raffle will feature items from dozens of Pioneer Valley businesses. Tickets are $30 each or four for $100 for advance purchases, and are available online at www.gscwm.org or by calling (413) 224-4031. All tickets at the door on June 26 are $30 each.

 

NYC Bus Trip

June 30: The Chicopee Chamber of Commerce will host a bus trip to New York City, leaving the chamber parking lot at 7 a.m. and returning around 9:30 p.m. Participants are on their own for the day in New York City. Tickets are $45 per person. For more information, contact Lynn at (413) 594-2101.

 

Massachusetts Chamber Business Summit

Sept. 9-11: The Massachusetts Chamber board of directors will conduct its annual Business Summit and Awards Ceremony Sept. 9-11 at the Resort and Conference Center at Hyannis. The two-day meeting allows participants to meet with business professionals from across the state, as well as listen to state and local elected officials who will discuss the future of business in Massachusetts. Additionally, representatives from the Mass. Office of Economic Development will discuss loans, grants, and tax incentives available to business owners. Industry experts will also be on hand to discuss topics such as leveraging social media, search-engine optimization, and health care cost containment. The winners of the Business of the Year Award and the Employer of Choice Award will also be announced during the summit. For more information, call (617) 512-9667 or visit www.masscbi.com.

 

Western Mass.

Business Expo

Oct. 11: BusinessWest will again present the Western Mass. Business Expo. The event, which made its debut last fall at the MassMutual Center in downtown Springfield, will feature more than 180 exhibitors, seminars, special presentations, breakfast and lunch programs, and the year’s most extensive networking opportunity. Comcast Business Class will again be the presenting sponsor of the event. Details, including breakfast and lunch agendas, seminar topics, and featured speakers, will be printed in the pages of BusinessWest over the coming months. For more information or to purchase a booth, call (413) 781-8600, e-mail [email protected], or visit www.wmbexpo.com.

Commercial Real Estate Sections
Downtown Initiative May Prove to Be a Unique Stroke of Genius

John Simpson in the transformed space on the ninth floor at One Financial Plaza.

John Simpson in the transformed space on the ninth floor at One Financial Plaza.

Evan Plotkin says the ninth floor of One Financial Plaza had been “dark” — that’s a commercial real-estate industry term synonymous with vacant — for more than six years.

“With a few exceptions, no one had been in there, except for maintenance people, in a long, long time,” Plotkin, co-owner of the building and president of Springfield-based NAI Plotkin, told BusinessWest, adding that things have changed dramatically over the past month or so, and in a way that bodes well for Springfield and its downtown.

Indeed, roughly one-third of the ninth floor is now the exact opposite of dark, and while this space hasn’t exactly become a tourist attraction — not yet, anyway — a large and diverse group of people have hit that button in the elevator over the past several weeks. Many city officials have made the trek, as have many UMass trustees and administrators, including new president Robert Caret and recently named Amherst campus Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy. The city’s police chief, William Fitchet, has been up for a look, as have a number of Plotkin’s friends and lovers of art.

They’ve come to see a unique collection of paintings, sculptures, and other works of art assembled by John Simpson, manager of the Hampden Gallery at UMass Amherst and an art professor in the Commonwealth Honors College at the university. Many of these same works had been occupying space — meaning that, in many cases, they were leaning up against walls, often back-to-back — in a gallery/theater in the old Hampden Dining Commons in the Southwest residential area at the university.

When Simpson was essentially evicted from that space by the building inspector several months ago, he launched a frantic search for alternative accommodations in which he could display art and create more of it. Before he really got started, Plotkin, who has been at the forefront of efforts to use art to stimulate economic development in Springfield, offered him a good chunk of the ninth floor free of charge.

It was, as they say, a deal he couldn’t refuse, and what the two men have created is intriguing on myriad levels.

Starting at the elevator doors, art abounds, ranging from self-portraits of the Commonwealth College students who created many of the works on display to various pieces that were part of a display on Egypt that Simpson helped create for the Springfield Museums nearly a decade ago.

But as they look out on all this art, both Plotkin and Simpson see something else — opportunities that come in many forms. These include the ability to demonstrate the potential for art to bring attention, energy, and vibrancy to a city or downtown, as well as a chance to show the leaders at UMass how an expanded presence in Springfield, something city leaders have desired for some time, could benefit both the school and the community.

“I like to say that we’ve planted a seed,” Plotkin told BusinessWest. “We’re watering it, we’re going to nurture it, and hopefully at some point in time this will grow into something bigger.”

The ninth floor is crowded with an eclectic mix of art, including this piece from an exhibit on Egypt at the Springfield Museums.

He envisions UMass eventually taking over all or most of the ninth floor and bringing a program or programs to the downtown, perhaps in the form of a satellite campus.

“We’re hoping that someday, UMass will plant its flag here,” he said, “and that some component of the university is located here. We have serendipitously gone in this direction, and now we have something wonderful that we can build on.”

For this issue, BusinessWest talked with Plotkin and Simpson about what they’ve done in One Financial Plaza, and also about how they expect that seed that’s been planted to germinate and yield something special.

 

Brush with Fame

Printed over one of the entranceways to the ninth floor from the bank of elevators is a famous quote from author John Updike: “What art offers is space — a certain breathing room for the spirit.”

In this case, though, it was the need to create physical space for the art in question — not to mention breathing room for Simpson — that provided the first compelling chapter of a story that could unfold in any number of ways.

For now, it’s a tale of new life for formerly dark square footage, or an opportunity, as Plotkin put it, to “activate” more space in Springfield’s downtown. He’s been using that term often in recent years, always in reference to taking facilities that were dark — in either a literal or figurative way — and putting them back into use, or better use.

Examples include everything from the revamped plaza area at 1550 Main St. (the former federal building) to the park-like spaces within the Morgan Square apartment complex further down Main Street, to the lobby of One Financial Plaza, which has become an art gallery of sorts in recent years. Meanwhile, many buildings and open spaces downtown have been further activated by the placement of many works created by local artist James Kitchen. His welded-metal creations, such as the massive ‘Saturn’ now gracing the small park created on the former Steiger’s lot, adorn many public and private spaces as part of another initiative spearheaded by Plotkin.

How the ninth floor at One Financial Plaza came to join that list is a saga that began when Simpson was turned out of his space at UMass.

Evan Plotkin, right, with John Simpson

Evan Plotkin, right, with John Simpson, equates his activation of the ninth-floor space to “planting a seed.”

Backing up nearly a decade, Simpson said he’s been involved with several projects, such as the display on ancient Egypt for the Springfield Museums, as well as creation of the Art Discovery Center in the George Walter Smith Art Museum at the Quadrangle, and a Buddhist temple that was displayed at the Smithsonian as well as the Springfield Museums. His search for space to store and display these pieces and others brought him to the Hampden Theater, which the university allowed him to use for more than eight years. But this arrangement conflicted with the university’s plans to put Hampden back into use as a dining commons, he continued, so he was forced to vacate the premesis.

The university has been cooperative in trying to find alternative arrangements, Simpson went on, but in the meantime, Plotkin offered something more immediate and potential-laden, in a building that has made great strides in recent years in terms of reducing a high vacancy rate, but still has several vacant floors.

“Pushing us out of Hampden created this opportunity to display all these years of work by the students, making it a living thing,” Simpson explained. “So people can make things and at the same time look at these previous accomplishments, and learn how to do their own.”

In less than two months, Simpson and some of his students have transformed a large portion of the ninth floor from a dark, cold (figuratively) place with peeling wallpaper in many places into an oasis of art worthy of that Updike quote.

There is ample gallery and reception space, with walls crowded with paintings and other art forms, most of them created by Commonwealth Honors College students who are not art majors, but have created art that somehow expresses their chosen field of study. There is also a large studio — formerly the cafeteria for the most recent tenant, UniCare — that boasts the large amount of natural light that artists require.

 

The Shape of Things to Come

The donation of the ninth floor for the foreseeable future solves Simpson’s immediate need for space, said Plotkin, but it also provided a significant opportunity for more of that “activation” work that he described.

“We’ve been successful in using art as a vehicle to transform space, and now it’s happened again here,” he said, gesturing with his hand to the art all around him. “This floor was vacant and dark for more than six years; now, it’s alive with energy.”

Simpson and Plotkin said the eclectic collection usually draws a one-word response from those seeing it for the first time — ‘wow.’

“Their jaws just drop,” said Plotkin, who has taken many friends and business associates through the space, which was also visited by many of those attending a pre-concert gallery opening and reception in the lobby of One Financial Plaza. The works hanging there, created by Commonwealth Honors College students, were inspired by Gustav Holt’s The Planets, which was performed that night by the Springfield Symphony Orchestra.

But while the present picture is drawing positive reviews, it is the prospects for the future that Plotkin, Simpson, and others find most intriguing. And speculation comes on many levels.

For starters, those involved with this project see the ninth-floor space as a possible site for events and fund-raising initiatives, and they speculate that it could someday be open for public visitation. They also see the strong possibility of collaborative initiatives with area schools, with the gallery and studio space providing unique learning opportunities for young people. Meanwhile, they also see it as a potential catalyst for more artists to seek to work and perhaps live downtown.

“This is where the business world and the art world intersects, and in a way that allows that revitalization thing to happen,” Plotkin said of what he believes is taking place at One Financial Plaza. “People can see this through all the things we’re doing in this building — it’s an example of what can happen.

“It’s like a test tube,” he continued. “We’ve created this environment, and people are looking at it as a microcosm of what can take place on a larger scale.”

And, on an even bigger scale, they see this collaboration as a possible springboard for creating a larger UMass Amherst presence downtown, one that might include a satellite campus, but also perhaps housing for students, which Plotkin described as a potential catalyst for further growth and new business development in the central business district.

“Everyone who’s talked about economic development has touched on the importance of creating student housing downtown,” he said. “Westfield State University has done this, and it has helped to re-energize economic development efforts in that city.”

Meanwhile, he believes that what has been created at One Financial Plaza can serve as an effective recruitment tool for UMass, as potential students see art created by others and hear how it has helped them gain confidence and resolve.

“The narrative here is that these very bright kids, many of whom didn’t know they had any artistic ability, discovered themselves,” he explained. “It’s incredible, it’s profound, and it’s enormous in its scope when you look at the quality of this work.”

 

Art of the Matter

As he looked around the ninth floor, Plotkin shook his head a few times while attempting to sum up all the possibilities.

“There is so much that can happen here — and also happen elsewhere because of this,” he explained. “As this matures, we’re hoping UMass can find the funds to have this fulfill all of its vast potential.”

Whether this will happen, and when, remain to be seen, but for now, what’s important is that the seed has been planted.

 

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

 

Manufacturing Sections
Instrument Technology Inc. Has an Eye on the Future

ITI

ITI has found a number of military and law-enforcement uses for its scopes.

Walk inside the Westfield headquarters of Instrument Technology Inc., and the first thing you’ll notice is the totem pole. It’s kind of hard to miss, rising dramatically up two levels of the front atrium.

In fact, an abundance of Native American art graces many of the walls and offices of the facility. ITI President Greg Carignan says there’s a good reason for this, and it has to do with a hobby his father, Donald, stumbled upon by accident decades ago, shortly after founding the company.

“He was on the road, in very remote areas of the United States, calling on nuclear power plants that were usually out in the boonies,” Carignan said. “Usually, there was nothing around except Indian reservations. So, when he had time on his hands, he’d visit these reservations and meet artists, and he started growing an interest in Indian art. He started collecting it, and when his house overflowed, it started coming here. It’s quite a collection.”

Why nuclear power plants? When he launched ITI in 1967 as a manufacturer of optics equipment, the elder Carignan got heavily involved in the nuclear-energy market; “he started building underwater periscopes and wall periscopes to look at the spent fuel rods being stored underwater.”

Greg Carignan explained that, after a period of time, a nuclear fuel rod’s energy is spent, but it’s still radioactive, which has led to debate over the years about establishing a national repository for those spent rods in the Southwest, but bureaucracy and public opposition have made that all but impossible.

“So nuclear plants are required to store spent rods at their facility, mostly underwater, and they’re required to be inspected periodically,” he said. “Dad developed a large-diameter periscope that could go down underwater and look at those spent fuel rods and make sure they’re in good condition. He built quite a few of those scopes in the late ’60s and early ’70s.”

Greg Carignan

Greg Carignan says the company’s diversity has allowed it to thrive during societal changes, such as a shift away from nuclear power plants.

Today, Carignan, who, along with two siblings, took over the company from their father in 1990, oversees a 47-employee workforce designing and building cutting-edge optical equipment for a wide range of purposes, from peering around corners in war zones to helping doctors navigate inside the human body.

For this issue’s focus on manufacturing, BusinessWest pays a visit to Instrument Technology, which has been scoping out new opportunities in an intriguing field for the last 45 years — and shows no signs of slowing down the pace of innovation.

 

Solo Act

Donald Carignan, his son recalled, had a background in optics and worked as a project engineer for American Optical from 1960 to 1966. He then took a job with Kollmorgen Electro-Optical; “that’s where he got his experience building borescopes and periscopes.” Just a year later, he was ready to strike out on his own, launching ITI in Southampton.

“My dad was a pretty driven individual; he worked hard to make it a success,” Greg Carignan said, noting that the company was a bit gypsy-like during its first two decades, moving from Southampton to West Springfield, then to Westfield, and finally to the current facility on the other side of the city in 1985.

“We specialize in the design and manufacturing of remote-viewing instruments,” he explained, noting that the company employs designers and engineers, as well as a full machine shop and assemply department to build the products it designs.

“What is remote viewing? It’s the ability to view a photograph or video-record any area that’s inaccessible or hostile, as well as the ability to view covertly,” he explained. “We added that last portion over the past 20 years because, before that, it hadn’t been used for covert operations.”

But he backed up a bit to describe how ITI has branched into so many diverse fields.

It began with the nuclear-power plants, for which the company developed not only those underwater-viewing scopes, but wall periscopes that allowed workers to see past thick concrete walls into the ‘hot cells’ where radioactive materials were handled. But societal changes that impacted the nuclear-power industry would force ITI to shift its focus — and not for the last time.

“During the Carter years of the late 1970s,” Carignan said, “the nation saw a drastic decline in the number of nuclear facilities being built. And most facilities had our equipment in them. My dad was in need of business, so he looked elsewhere to try to continue moving ITI forward.

“He looked at the industrial market and saw that it was being served by medical endoscopes at the time, and nobody was building industrial borescopes,” he said, noting that the two words are essentially interchangeable, with ‘endoscope’ typically referring to a medical instrument and ‘borescope’ a non-medical one.

“Endoscopes for the human body came on the scene about 40 years ago, but it wasn’t until later on that people figured out they could use the same scopes to look into jet engines, castings, pipes, and other things in industry,” Carignan said. “My dad started working for companies like Pratt & Whitney and General Electric to build delicate industrial borescopes to inspect their engines. They called it the ‘jetscope.’”

Many years ago, he explained, the airline industry had to take apart engines to conduct inspections required by the Federal Aviation Administration — a very costly, time-consuming process. But the development of a flexible borescope that could be inserted into each end of the engine was a revolutionary and cost-saving change.

“Designers started designing points along the engine so they could look in the middle, too,” he said. “You take out a plug and stick in the scope to look at the different sections of the engine.”

During the ’80s and ’90s, the industrial market grew for ITI, and the scopes became more complex, with flexible shafts and articulated tips allowing for more flexible movement.

 

A Time to Kill, a Time to Heal

Dawn Carignan Thomas

Dawn Carignan Thomas holds one of ITI’s scopes used for medical applications.

Throughout this expansion, ITI hadn’t done anything in the medical market. “But that changed in the 1990s when a company on the West Coast — Accuscan in Mountain View, Calif. — knocked on our door and asked us to make what they called a gastroscope for them,” Carignan said.

“They didn’t want to see through it; they didn’t want fibers in it or optics of any kind,” he continued. “They were going to put a transducer in the tip and use it as an ultrasonic device for an esophageal probe down the throat to scope the heart, which is much easier than to try to do it externally and look through the rib cage and all the muscle and fatty tissue.

“We worked with them for a year and a half, and that’s when we started in the medical business,” he continued — a shift that has seen the company produce rigid arthroscopes, ureteroscopes, otoscopes, spine scopes, and laparoscopes; flexible gastroscopes, bronchoscopes, and colonoscopes; as well as equipment for video intubation.

“After 20 years, we’ve become a lot more selective about who we decide to work with,” Carignan said regarding the ideas potential customers pitch to ITI. “If it sounds like a very high risk, or a low chance of successfully bringing it to market, we may not get involved. If it’s a startup company or doctor/inventor that’s asking us to do it on our dime and pay for the development costs, oftentimes we’ll say no.

“The model we’ve come to develop,” he continued, “is companies that have some success already and are willing to share the developent costs of the product.”

Eventually, ITI expanded its offerings even further by getting involved in the law-enforcement and military markets, with products such as telescopic cameras that can see around corners and in darkness, under-door scopes, and scopes that see into rooms using tiny (as small as 2.6 mm) holes in the wall.

“We also needed non-conductive probes that could look into a package or parcel to check if there was anything explosive,” Carignan said. “You don’t want to stick in something metallic that could short the device and cause an explosion.”

The original models used infrared light to expose images, and “that was very successful — then the bad guys figured it out,” Carignan said. “So we were asked to find out new ways of seeing. So we developed a blue-light diode, with different characteristics that wouldn’t trigger detection devices. We always want to stay one step ahead of the bad guys.”

ITI also built a pole camera to look into second stories of buildings, down stairwells, into ceiling tiles, and even underwater. “This was a scope we sold quite a bit of to special-ops groups in Iraq, to clear buildings, streets, and neighborhoods, to look around corners and into rooms where the bad guys might be before clearing out a room. They were eventually used in caves to hunt down Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.”

The wars and Iraq and Afghanistan saw a surge in the production of such devices. Carignan showed BusinessWest a chart breaking down sales from 1999 through 2008, and while medical devices tend to make up the biggest percentage of the company’s sales in a typical year, the law-enforcement and military division took that spot from 2003 through 2006. Meanwhile, sales of industrial scopes have fallen off somewhat over the years, but are rebounding.

 

Next Generation

The three siblings — Greg, Controller and Purchasing Manager Dawn Carignan Thomas, and Manufacturing Manager Jeff Carignan — admit their devices don’t allow a clear view into the company’s future. With six kids among them, third-generation ownership is always possible.

“We’re wondering where the next generation might take us,” Greg Carignan said, “but it’s still early for that.”

For now, they continue to grow and innovate, scoping out new ideas to help people — manufacturers, surgeons, and soldiers alike — see a lot more clearly.

 

Joseph Bednar can be reached at  [email protected]

Sections Women in Businesss
Understand Your Obligations for Maternity and Paternity Leave

Kevin V. Maltby

Kevin V. Maltby

At any given time, a female employee may approach you and share the wonderful news that she is pregnant. Similarly, a male employee may approach you with the news that he is going to be a father.
While such news is usually well-received, it also serves as notice that you, as the employer, should begin making preparations for your employee’s maternity or paternity leave. You must be mindful of both state and federal law.

The Massachusetts Maternity Leave Act
Under state law, the Massachusetts Maternity Leave Act (MMLA) applies to all businesses that employ six or more employees. As written by the state Legislature, the MMLA is gender-specific to females, and provides eight weeks of unpaid leave to full-time female employees for purposes of giving birth, adopting a child under the age of 18, or adopting a child under the age of 23 who is mentally or physically disabled.
The MMLA requires the employee to give her employer at least two weeks notice of her anticipated date of departure and intention to return. It should be noted that an employer cannot refuse to grant MMLA leave on the grounds that doing so would constitute a hardship.
The Mass. Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) is the state’s chief civil-rights agency and is empowered with enforcing and overseeing the MMLA. As the chief enforcement agency, the MCAD has taken the position that the MMLA should be applied equally to both men and women despite it being gender-specific. In doing so, the MCAD effectively converted the MMLA to a paternity-leave act so that it would apply equally to men and women. Therefore, employers should treat both male and female employees equally under the MMLA when reviewing guidelines and leave requirements.
In a recent case involving a pregnant employee, the MCAD awarded an employee almost $25,000 in damages after finding that the employer had taken adverse employment action against the employee based on her pregnant status. In Sally Scaife v. Florence Pizza Factory, the MCAD found that, despite the employee’s positive work-performance reviews, the employer cut her hours upon learning that the employee was pregnant. The MCAD found that, as her pregnancy started to show, her boss reduced her work, stating, “it was bad for her and bad for the business” if she mopped or lifted. When she contested, her boss grew frustrated and reduced her hours, and finally told her “not to come in for the next shift because … she was too big.”
In another recent case involving the MMLA, the MCAD awarded an employee $111,300 in back pay and $35,000 in emotional-distress damages. In Patricia D. Kane v. College Central Network, the employee mostly worked from home, as one of 10 employees in a national company. In April 2000, she started working full-time as a regional manager, and she became pregnant in July 2001. She requested maternity leave, and was told that she “could take four weeks maternity leave and receive compensation equal to one week’s salary.” She made use of that time, and also took five sick days. In time, she became pregnant again, and was told that she “could take no more than four weeks of maternity leave and could not use any sick time toward her maternity leave.” The company president started to divert work from her and to pressure her to return as soon as possible.
Before she delivered her second child, she requested a full eight-week unpaid leave and a transition period of three days a week thereafter. She gave birth on Oct. 7, 2003, and started her leave. During that time, her boss took actions to remove her from the company, including stopping the lease payments on her car, shutting off her work cell phone, and replacing her name in the newsletter.
When she tried to come back to work, she found she was locked out of the intranet and e-mail. Her boss later informed her that her regional office was being closed and she was being laid off. Based on the employer’s conduct, the MCAD awarded the employee back pay and emotional-distress damages.

The Family Medical Leave Act
Under federal law, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) applies to businesses that employ more than 50 employees. The FMLA provides for 12 weeks of leave to an employee, regardless of the gender, for the birth and care of a newborn child or care for a newly adopted or foster child, or leave for a serious illness.
Leave can either be for paternity, maternity, or specified personal health reasons, depending on the needs of the employee. Under the FMLA, employees are eligible for FMLA benefits if they have worked for their employer for at least 12 months and at least 1,250 hours during the 12 months immediately preceding the leave, and they work within 75 miles of the location of the business.

A Case for Both MMLA and FMLA
As you can see in the chart above, some of the parameters of MMLA and FMLA seem contradictory. In addition, there are some circumstances where an employee may be entitled to 20 weeks of leave. These circumstances include a pregnant employee who has experienced complications and is on bed rest. During this pre-birth period, the employee can make use of her FMLA leave because she is experiencing a serious illness. Once the employee gives birth, she may then use her MMLA, because it applies only for the purpose of giving birth. Under these circumstances, the employer must comply with both FMLA and MMLA.
If you are unsure whether MMLA, FMLA, or both apply to your employee’s circumstance, and given the possibility of a discrimination claim, you should be sure to consult with a lawyer who concentrates their practice in employment law to be sure that you are in compliance with the law.

Kevin V. Maltby is an associate with Bacon Wilson, P.C. and a former prosecutor for the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office. He was named by SuperLawyers as a Rising Star from 2009 to 2011 in the field of employment and labor law, has extensive jury-trial and courtroom experience, and is an adjunct faculty member in the Legal Studies department at Bay Path College; (413) 781-0560; baconwilson.com/attorneys/maltby; bwlaw.blogs.com/employment_law_bits

Features
Chicopee Chamber to Celebrate a Milestone

Gail Sherman

Gail Sherman says the Greater Chicopee Chamber will have a lot to celebrate at its 50th-anniversary party later this year.

Oct. 12 is shaping up as a big night for the Chicopee Chamber of Commerce. Make that the Greater Chicopee Chamber of Commerce (GCC).

That’s the original, corporate name of the organization that will celebrate its 50th anniversary on that evening with a dinner dance at the Castle of Knights on Memorial Drive. “Through the Years” will be the theme for the event, which will feature a special commemorative program, complete with a pictorial history of the chamber, a salute to board members, recognition of the 13 remaining charter members, (a list that includes Elms College, Chicopee Savings Bank, Spalding, and others), and the unveiling of a new logo that will return the word ‘Greater’ to the chamber’s brand.

And while much of the focus this fall will be on the past, there is much to celebrate concerning the present and future as well, said Gail Sherman, who this year will mark 15 years as director of the organization.

“We’ve developed a reputation as a chamber that’s very active, very inclusive, innovative, and that thinks outside the box,” she said, adding that there are many recent examples of how those qualities have manifested themselves to the benefit of members and the businmess community as a whole. They include:

• A new advocacy policy that represents a dramatic departure from the chamber’s longtime approach to issues impacting the business community. Where before, the GCC sought only to thoroughly educate its members on such matters, it will now do that while taking a position as well. Adopted in April, the new policy’s first position statement came in the form of opposition to a state budget proposal to centralize policy and budget control of community colleges under the state’s Board of Higher Education (more on that later);

• A new health care expo and career fair that will make its debut on June 19. Also located at the Castle of Knights, the fair, which is expected to draw at least 30 exhibiting companies from across the broad health care sector, has been designed to showcase those businesses, continue a chamber-wide focus on health and wellness, and help match companies in the field with qualified job candidates;

• Another new job fair — this one focused on veterans — that will take the name ‘Employ Wisdom — Hire a Veteran.” A collaborative effort between the chamber, the Chicopee Department of Veterans Service, and the Employer Support of the Guard & Reserve, the event, slated for July 3, is designed to bring veterans and employers together under one roof and create effective matches;

• Continuation of the chamber’s Business Executive Roundtable Series, a monthly program designed to help business owners and managers confront the many challenges involved with surviving and thriving in an increasingly global economy;

• A recent initiative called “Easy to Enter Chicopee Center,” a collaborative effort involving the chamber and downtown businesses that was launched to help those companies, especially retailers, cope with the closing of the Davitt Bridge; and

• Continuation of an accelerator program, or incubator initiative, that has helped a number of companies move from the garage or home office into the Western Mass. business community.

For this issue and its Getting Down to Business series, BusinessWest talked with Sherman about the coming milestone anniversary, but more about why she believes there will be much more to celebrate in the years and decades to come.

 

The Party Line

When Sherman arrived at the chamber in 1997 after career stops that included a lengthy stint as managing editor of the Chicopee Herald and later president of the Jay Peak Area Assoc. in Vermont, she didn’t expect that the stay would approach 15 years.

What has kept her in the chamber offices on Exchange Street in the heart of downtown has been the ongoing challenge to grow the chamber and make it a more effective force in what would be called the Greater Chicopee business community — and the way it has energized her and yielded a number of successful responses.

“It’s a busy, interesting, dynamic position,” she said of her role. “You get to know the business community and a lot of people, and you become so immersed in what’s going on in the community. I love the challenge of creating new programs and making this a better chamber.”

Indeed, over the years, and in collaboration with several other area chambers and other economic-development-related agencies, the Chicopee chamber has been part of a number of initiatives, ranging from innovative networking events, such as the recent Mine Your Business, to educational programs and the recently launched Business Roundtable series.

The key moving forward, said Sherman, is to continue to find new ways to serve the business community as a whole, while also bringing more value to a chamber membership.

And this brings her to the new advocacy program, which will involve issues — and there are many of them — that:

• Involve or pertain to the business community as a whole;

• Impact more than a substantial portion of the chamber membership;

• Influence the overall economic development of the area;

• Impact an entire business sector such as manufacturing, education, or tourism/retail; or

• Impact the enture business climate.

The state budget proposal to centralize policy and budget control of community colleges falls into each of those categories, said Sherman — so much so that a firm position statement on what the GCC calls a “red-flag issue” was deemed necessary.

“The chamber considers the local community colleges to be an important economic-development partner,” it reads. “We believe their ability to quickly identify and respond to particular local needs is a fundamental role that the colleges play in preparing residents for the available jobs and future employment opportunities. This ability would be drastically compromised if management were shifted to a centralized entity in Boston.

“We recognize that there are important gaps in the state’s overall arrangement for workforce preparation statewide that must be addressed,” the statement continues. “However, community colleges are only part of that system, and such issues have little to do with their governance. … Allowing for local control and self-determination to meet the ever-changing needs of the business community empowers the community colleges and their local boards.”

There will be more such position statements — reached when there is a consensus among chamber members on a specific issue — as the need arises, said Sherman, adding that possible subjects include everything from local property tax rates to unemployment insurance rates to a controversial proposal regarding mandated sick leave.

“Chambers are being pushed more and more toward becoming very involved in economic-development issues,” she told BusinessWest. “And that includes taking a position that would give our voice some power. We represent about 11,000 employees; to give them a voice is very important.”

 

Value Proposition

Due in part to the advocacy program and a desire to better reflect the regional impact of its programs and services, the chamber is re-emphasizing its original corporate name and the phrase ‘Greater Chicopee,’ which has not been used in many years, Sherman noted, adding that two area marketing firms, Jasin Advertising and Westwood Advertising, both based in Chicopee, are working on a new logo that will be launched at the October gala.

Meanwhile, there are a number of other new initiatives that are also part of that broad strategy to bring more value to members, she continued. These include the two job fairs slated for this summer. They were created to help job seekers find opportunities, she noted, but also to assist employers facing the ongoing challenge of finding qualified workers to fill job openings.

The health expo and career fair actually has many goals, she continued, and is in many ways an expansion of a collaborative effort with Health New England focused on health and wellness that included a unique event last fall called “Dancing Your Way to Wellness.” The June 19 event will feature exhibitors from across the medical field, a “Corridor to your Career” section, and a number of health screenings, including blood pressure, blood glucose, and body mass index.

“In order to lower their health-insurance premiums, people have to take an interest in becoming healthier,” she said. “One of the things we want to do with this expo is to keep the focus on wellness and remind people of the importance of taking care of themselves.”

The job fair focused on veterans, meanwhile, will have a singular purpose — bringing employers and potential employees together, said Sherman, who cited statistics showing that roughly one in three recently discharged young male veterans is unemployed, far more than double the current national jobless rate.

“Veterans can offer employers extensive skills sets — they have a lot of wisdom and skills that they can transfer to a job,” she explained. “But many veterans struggle to market themselves effectively. “Employ Wisdom — Hire a Veteran” was created to bring the employer and veteran employee together under one roof to meet face to face and interact in a less-stressful environment.”

And then, there’s the Easy to Enter Chicopee Center initiative, which has been active in raising money for an immediate need — promoting the downtown while the Davitt Bridge is closed, which it will be for the next two years — if all goes according to schedule.

The program includes a Web site (www.easytoenterchicopeecenter.com) that includes a button visitors can hit to find alternative routes into the central business district and a video featuring former Mayor Richard Kos explaining the many things people can do in Chicopee Center once they get there.

“We’re not doing this just because the bridge is closed,” Sherman told BusinessWest. “We want to start focusing on downtown and the gem that it could be. There are many mainstays that do bring people downtown, and we want to start shedding a positive light on downtown, but in the meantime, while people are readjusting their behavior because of the bridge closing, we want to make sure we stay positive.”

In addition to these new programs, the chamber is continuing and expanding many existing initiatives, said Sherman, citing, as just one example, the accelerator program that has been in place for more than a decade.

There are four incubator spaces of varying sizes at the chamber offices, she explained, noting that, at any given time, at least two are being rented by entrepreneurs trying to get ventures off the ground or to the next level. Current tenants include a massage therapist and Sandler Training, a business started by long-time consultant Jim Mumm that focuses on providing sales-staff training and other services to area businesses.

“We give people the opportunity to gain a downtown presence at a very affordable price,” said Sherman. “For businesses that are coming out of their home office or their cellar and want to have a professional environment, this is the perfect setting. We’ve had a lot of people come and go, and many have done very well in business.”

Another ongoing program is the series of business executive roundtables. Led by Lynn Turner and Ravi Kulkarni, principals with the Clear Vision Alliance, these sessions, staged on the second Thursday of each month from November through June, are a forum for leaders to stretch their thinking and challenge current assumptions in order to remain relevant and competive into the future.

 

The Bottom Line

The chamber’s 50th birthday actually arrives on Oct. 3, said Sherman, adding that she and her staff have been working for the past several months on the party that will come just over a week later and is expected to draw more than 200 people.

It will be a celebration of everything that’s happened since 1962, she told BusinessWest, adding quickly that, while this chamber is content to look back for this important milestone, its real mission is to look ahead and find new ways to build on that reputation for innovation and thinking outside the box.

 

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