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South Hadley & Granby Chamber Relies on Support

Susan Stockman and Steven Markow

Susan Stockman and Steven Markow say the chamber relies on a support network woven from about 100 mostly small businesses and organizations in the two towns.

Steven Markow was talking about life as a small-business owner in a small community. And to make his point about what he liked most about that life, he recalled a recent episode at the supermarket.

“A customer came up to me, called me by name, and said, ‘I need your help; I’ve broken my glasses,’” said Markow, an optometrist and owner of Village Eye Care in South Hadley. “I really like that. It’s just what I love about living and having a business in a small town; my customers can come up to me in the grocery store, and I know them by name, and I can know right away what they need.”

The business community in South Hadley and neighboring Granby is dominated by such small businesses, he went on, noting that, while this constituency certainly contributes to the social fabric of those towns, it creates challenges, as well as opportunities, for the South Hadley & Granby Chamber of Commerce, which he will serve as president beginning in January.

Elaborating, he said that, while the chamber has some larger members — Mount Holyoke College would definitely be in that category — most of the 100 businesses and organizations involved with the chamber would be considered small if not very small. This creates fiscal challenges (dues are set based on overall employment figures) and limitations on overall support for chamber initiatives, he noted, adding that what this chamber lacks in terms of a membership base and large companies, it makes up with imagination, energy, and resourcefulness.

Those were some of the words chosen by the chamber’s part-time executive director and only employee, Susan Stockman, former director of Corporate Communications for Yankee Candle. She said the chamber is able to carry out its broad mission of serving members and promoting the business community through the donations of time, talent, resources, and vision from supporters such as Mount Holyoke and its president, Lynn Pasquerella, who Stockman refers to as “a dynamo.”

“A while back, she opened her home to our members, and it was a highly attended networking event,” Stockman explained. “We have to rely on others in the community to support us in various ways so we can support our members. The police and fire department, South Hadley School Band, and even our small group of volunteers that produce the annual Holiday Stroll [an outdoor winter festival filled with music, shopping discounts, and food in the Village Commons], they all help.”

Markow agreed. “We take advantage of working as a group, and we’ve even gained members who want to help with the Holiday Stroll, which helps to develop our betterment goals for the community.”

For this issue’s Getting Down to Business focus, BusinessWest talked with Stockman and Markow about this support network that has evolved over the years, and how it is integral to the chamber’s efforts to help improve quality of life in South Hadley and Granby.

 

It Takes A Village

When Stockman retired from Yankee Candle in the fall of 2005, it took less than four months, even through the typically busy holiday season, for her to realize that full days of downtime were not for her.

“I was so bored, I couldn’t stand it,” she told BusinessWest. “But this opportunity came about, and I had a good deal of experience working with the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce, since Yankee Candle was the largest employer in that area.”

Her background in corporate communications at the renowned tourist attraction was a good fit for the town of South Hadley, and since the position was only part-time, skills that included effectively communicating business objectives and working with volunteers through past chamber functions were welcomed, said Stockman.

But the road hasn’t been easy. “We’re very different from every other chamber in the region in that we are not in a tourism area, and that doesn’t offer us any funding sources, like the state funding that Springfield or even the Berkshires receive.”

But Markow adds that what South Hadley lacks in tourism destinations, it makes up for in the nationally recognized college — Mount Holyoke — and the aforementioned high quality of life and atmosphere that both towns offer. While Granby may be more of an agricultural community, it recently became the new home of the MacDuffie School, a highly respected, private, international boarding high school, which relocated from downtown Springfield.

Markow says there are still many businesses in Granby, but those come with what he calls “outreach issues.”

“Granby has plenty of business, but it tends to be home-based, like contractors, electricians, and plumbers — those businesses that are service-related,” he explained. “And with just a part-time executive director and those of us in the chamber who are already very busy running our own businesses, it’s difficult to go out and speak to them about the pluses of being with the chamber.”

Still, membership has held fairly steady in recent years, despite some losses prompted by the Great Recession.

“It’s been a hard time for many, but most of those that we lost are small, one-person businesses or those that had personal or family concerns,” said Stockman, who noted that membership, which was at 125 a few years ago, is now closer to 100. She noted a spate of recent closings or businesses restructurings, mostly in the restaurant industry along the Route 202 corridor. “But already, we see new businesses taking over those spaces — a gourmet deli, for one — and that is encouraging.”

Overall, membership is just one of the areas where the chamber relies on its members and volunteers to help grow membership and otherwise enable the chamber to carry out its mission, said Markow. “It’s as a group that we can make progress.”

Stockman noted that even the small town of Greenfield has a paid official charged with business development. “We are that person for South Hadley and Granby.”

Despite these challenges, the chamber has been able to bring value to members — and help many small businesses mature and grow — by enabling them to make contacts, largely through a host of formal and informal networking events, as well as informational sessions designed to keep them abreast of issues impacting all businesses in the Commonwealth.

“We’ve had a lot of success over the past few years with our Beyond Business monthly events (essentially an after-5 networking event), and we are very flexible with the days, but members do help out.”

She offered a recent example of group-effort support: Chris Brunelle, owner of Brunelle’s Marina, offered the Lady Bea vessel (on which the company provides cruises down the Connecticut River) as the venue for a networking cruise event on August 28, which will keep the cost of the event down for members.

 

School Is in Session

Stockman is also preparing for a special Beyond Business at the Old Firehouse Museum in September that will honor premier members. But aside from the networking and recognition, Stockman said there are two standout events in the chamber’s educational program: an annual legislative breakfast, which offers members an update on the political landscape from state Rep. John Sciback and state Sen. Stan Rosenberg (who missed this past spring’s event due to cancer treatments); and the annual Economic Forum, now in its sixth year, which features Mount Holyoke College Professor James Hartley.

“The Economic Forum is especially well-received due to Jim Hartley, who heads the department of Economics and, in fact, was recently named as one of the best 300 professors in the nation by the Princeton Review,” Stockman told BusinessWest.

Indeed, that book, The Best 300 Professors, compiled by the well-regarded Princeton Review, lists no less than 14 Mount Holyoke College professors, more than any college in the Commonwealth listed in that publication.

It is through this high caliber of talent within the South Hadley and Granby area, Markow noted — not just from the large businesses like Mount Holyoke College, but from enterprises of all sizes — that the chamber is able to pool support that helps to educate and better the business and personal lives of those in the area, even if they aren’t chamber members.

“I’m really proud of the quality of life in this community,” he said. “We’re working to make both towns a more attractive place to live and work.”

As a final example, Markow mentioned that, even though he doesn’t own a dog, he suggested that the chamber help make possible the creation of a dog park, a concept he says is becoming increasingly popular in towns across the nation, and certainly a act of ‘betterment’ in the community.

“Dogs these days, with all the town policies, rarely have a chance to be off-leash, and while we can’t take this all on ourselves, we’ll help to facilitate and get it going,” he said.

While every program, initiative, or event isn’t exactly a walk in the park, so to speak, Stockman says each effort — small or large and usually group-oriented — is just one more step in the right direction for the chamber and the communities it serves.

 

Elizabeth Taras can be reached at [email protected]

Law Sections
So What Does That Mean for Massachusetts Employers?

John S. Gannon

John S. Gannon

In its most significant decision of the year, and arguably the last decade, the U.S. Supreme Court recently upheld most of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), the controversial health care legislation also known as ‘Obamacare.’

But a blessing from the Supreme Court only seemed to take the health care debate to more contentious levels as Republican politicians, including presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, have promised to repeal the law. Even so, businesses cannot wait for a ceasefire in Washington. Employers must forge ahead and continue efforts to implement the law as provisions pertaining to the employer-employee relationship become effective.

 

The Court’s Ruling

At the forefront of the dispute over the PPACA’s legality was a constitutional challenge to the so-called individual mandate, which requires individuals to carry health insurance or pay a penalty. Opponents argued that Congress overstepped its authority when it enacted this part of the law. The Supreme Court majority disagreed, concluding that the individual mandate is a valid exercise of Congressional power to tax. “Because the Constitution permits such a tax, it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts, author of the majority opinion.

Notably, the Supreme Court rejected the Obama administration’s principal argument in support of the individual mandate. Trying to avoid labeling the provision a tax, the government contended throughout that the mandate was a valid exercise of Congress’ power to regulate interstate commerce. That contention failed. “The individual mandate forces individuals into commerce precisely because they elected to refrain from commercial activity,” declared Roberts. “Such a law cannot be sustained under a clause authorizing Congress to regulate commerce.”

Massachusetts is viewed by many as the birthplace of the individual mandate. The state health care reform law includes a similar provision requiring residents of the Commonwealth to carry health insurance or pay a fine, although the formula for calculating the penalty is different from the method used under federal law.

 

Next Steps for Employers

Now that the uncertainty surrounding health care reform has been resolved, at least from a legal perspective, employers must be prepared to comply with significant provisions of the PPACA that kick in over the coming months. Starting this year, employer-sponsored group health plans will need to provide employees with a summary of benefits and coverage (SBC), which must include certain coverage details. Insurance carriers may provide the SBC notification for fully insured group plans, but plan administrators will have to provide the notification for self-funded plans.

The PPACA also requires employers to report the aggregate cost of employer-sponsored health coverage on Forms W-2. Employers that filed more than 250 Forms W-2 for tax year 2011 must ensure that the cost of coverage is reported next year. Smaller employers may be off the hook until 2014.

Beginning Jan. 1, 2013, the PPACA limits employee contributions to an FSA to $2,500 per year. The $2,500 FSA cap applies only to employee pre-tax contributions to a health care FSA, and does not affect employer contributions toward health care premiums, health savings accounts, health reimbursement arrangements, or other similar accounts.

Looking Ahead

In addition, savvy employers should begin planning to implement parts of the law set to take effect in 2014, including an employer mandate that penalizes businesses for failing to offer adequate health-insurance coverage.

The controversial employer mandate kicks in a little over a year from now. Starting in 2014, employers with more than 50 full-time employees must provide a minimum level of health-insurance coverage or pay a $2,000 penalty per full-time employee. As noted above, this concept is not entirely new to Massachusetts employers, many of which have been required to provide health insurance to employees since 2006, when the Commonwealth enacted its own version of health care reform. However, Massachusetts employers need to be aware that the penalty for failing to offer coverage is far greater under federal law.

The PPACA also requires that the coverage be ‘affordable’ and provide ‘minimum value.’ Coverage is considered affordable if the employee’s required contribution does not exceed 9.5% of household income. An employer provides a ‘minimum-value’ plan if the plan covers at least 60% of the participant’s covered expenses. If the coverage fails to meet these requirements, the employer may be subject to an excise tax of $3,000 if an employee declines to enroll in the plan.

 

PPACA Uncertainty

Calls to repeal the PPACA will echo throughout the 2012 electoral season. But rescinding the law is no small task. For starters, it will almost certainly take a makeover in the Oval Office. Until that day comes, employers need to be sure they are in compliance with the provisions of the PPACA that are set to go into effect this year and next. They also need start planning for the critical employer mandate set for 2014.

 

John Gannon is an associate in the Springfield labor and employment law firm of Skoler, Abbott & Presser, P.C., which represents employers exclusively and specializes in helping employers understand their obligations under state and federal employment law; (413) 737-4753; [email protected]

Law Sections
And How Can I Get My Ex to Help Cover These Expenses?

Melissa R. Gillis

Melissa R. Gillis

If you divorced your ex-spouse when your kids were young, it is possible that you did not consider the funding of your children’s college education in your support order. Now that they are on the brink of college, you may be looking ahead to that considerable financial hurdle and wondering how you will be able to pay for it, and how to ask your ex-spouse to contribute their fair share. You may also be wondering how college will affect existing child-support payments.

Separation agreements and divorce judgments often don’t make a specific provision for how children’s college education will be funded, what percentage of the total cost each parent will pay, and what happens to weekly child-support payments as a result, which is entirely distinguishable from college contributions.

Instead, what is most commonly seen is ‘blanket language.’ That’s the language in an agreement or order that says child support is to be paid until a child is deemed emancipated, and once each child reaches the age of college, both parents will attempt to discuss with each other how college will be paid. They also agree to discuss which college each child will attend, given their aptitudes and desires. Parents also have an understanding that they must exchange financial information and cooperate with their child’s financial-aid office. Unfortunately, such blanket language often leaves parents confused as to what the nexus should be between their weekly child-support order and each parent’s college-contribution percentage.

Reaching that perfect balance between a weekly support order and college contribution can be tricky at best. Most parents paying weekly child-support orders pursuant to the child-support guidelines can’t pay both and don’t feel that they should have to. If there have been some college funds or accounts set aside to assist paying parents, an agreement or order should dictate whether those accounts are to be utilized prior to either parent contributing out of pocket, or whether the funds within the accounts are actually a part of the contribution that a parent will be required to make.

In the case where there is no fund set aside, and a parent is now being asked to pay both a weekly support amount and contribute to college, the typical paying parent begins to feel as though their weekly support is more like alimony. They fear that they are being set up for exactly that: a request for alimony once child support is over, creating a never-ending stream of payments to a spouse they haven’t been married to for years.

The best time to discuss how to pay for college and how this affects a weekly support order is certainly not when the first tuition payment is due, but the September of that child’s senior year of high school. By then, you probably know whether your child is going to apply to a community college, a state university, Harvard (or its cost equivalent), or something in between. This gives you a feeling for what the tuition will be, whether financial aid is necessary, and how much input each parent will or wants to have in the college-selection process.

If there is a required mediation clause in the parties’ agreement or judgment, then arguably you and your ex-spouse can wait until your child’s actual acceptance is received from the institution. But be careful not to set your child’s expectations too high if you know there is simply no way to afford a $40,000-per-year tuition bill even with loans. Being practical, reasonable, and knowledgeable of the law is the key to successful negotiations in this regard.

If you and your ex-spouse can’t work out how much each should contribute, what should happen to weekly child-support payments, whether to use any college savings or investment accounts first or last, and whether to require your child to apply for student loans, scholarships, and grants without court intervention, a modification action should be filed about eight to 10 months prior to the child’s entrance to college to allow adequate time for financial discovery. During this period, you and your ex-spouse may reach resolution, but in the event that you cannot, there is enough time to have a trial on the merits and receive the judge’s decision.

The statute governing periodic payments of child support from one parent to another provides that, between the ages of 18 and 21, a court can award child support if a child principally resides with the custodial parent and is principally dependent upon them for support, without any requirement that a child be attending college. Between the ages of 21 and 23, a court can still award child support if a child continues to principally reside and be dependent upon the custodial parent, but they must be pursuing further education, not to exceed a bachelors’ degree.

Because there is no ‘bright-line’ rule for how judges must treat weekly support orders if a parent is also ordered to contribute to college, this opens up myriad possibilities and differing judicial decisions. It should also be noted that the actual child-support guidelines are merely discretionary and arguably do not apply after a child reaches the age of 18.

Often, practitioners will run the guidelines for children over the age of 18 anyway to give the judge a suggestion of what could be and to perform an analysis of what some combination of weekly support payments and direct college contribution would look like, in an attempt to figure out how much extra the paying parent should be asked to contribute.

That said, the resulting possibilities are endless. Some judges use the ‘1/3, 1/3, 1/3’ approach, making the parents and the child each responsible for contributing one-third of the total, whether by loans or cash equivalent. Other possibilities include:

• A straight contribution to college, only if the child will spend approximately equal time living with each parent when home from school, with termination of the weekly support order;

• An order of straight continued weekly child support to the custodial parent if the other parent doesn’t have much contact with the child;

• A combination of reduced weekly support and a percentage of college funding, depending on whether the child will live at home and the ability of a parent to pay; or even

• Both continued weekly payments plus a substantial college contribution.

The above options will all be dependent upon additional factors, including whether there are remaining non-college-age children still in the home, the non-custodial parent’s ability to pay, and the custodial parent’s inability to contribute.

Any way it’s looked at, the message is clear. Absent an agreement, and given the amount of judicial discretion present, it is imperative that a parent facing this battle have a skilled lawyer in their corner who can advocate all the intricacies in order to best suit the needs of the child without breaking the bank of one or both parents or causing an undue burden on one parent because the other refuses to provide an adequate financial contribution to their child’s higher education.

 

Melissa R. Gillis, Esq. is an attorney with Bacon Wilson, P.C. in the domestic, special education, and real estate departments; (413) 781-0560; baconwilson.com/attorneys/gillis

Law Sections
Annino Draper & Moore Charts a Growth Strategy

From left, Louis Moore, Tracie Kester, Cal Annino, Mark Draper, and Trant Campbell.

From left, Louis Moore, Tracie Kester, Cal Annino, Mark Draper, and Trant Campbell.

Cal Annino says most law firms, especially smaller boutique operations like his, don’t traditionally embrace those proverbial five-year operating plans.

“Things change much too quickly in this business for that,” he explained, referencing all that’s happened over the past half-decade to get his point across. But this doesn’t mean that firms can’t undertake strategic planning, he stressed repeatedly.

At Springfield-based Annino Draper & Moore, or ADM, as it’s called, the firm he started with Mark Draper and Louis Moore (former colleagues at the firm Ryan & White) in 1990, planning is a year-round assignment usually focused on the shorter term, said Annino. And often, track is laid at a year-end meeting of the minds, or planning session, in the firm’s conference room.

At the most recent one, last December, the partners decided to move ahead with everything from a larger and more visible satellite office in Westfield (it has another, similar facility in Northampton) to more extensive marketing, including a revamped and expanded Web site and an electronic newsletter, to a hard push into the realm of alternative dispute resolution, or ADR.

“We’ve jumped with two feet into the arbitration and mediation aspects of alternative dispute resolution,” said Annino, the firm’s managing partner, adding that the creation of the ADR Group was an aggressive step taken in response to ongoing trends toward greater use of ADR and thus less work in the courts, and the recognized need to fill voids in business in such areas as estate planning, family law, and others.

Draper is a certified arbitrator who has handled a number of cases, and others at the firm have taken mediation training, Annino noted, adding that ADR services could become a strong growth area for the firm moving forward, especially if marketed aggressively, which ADM intends to do.

“With the reputation that this firm has in the marketplace now, once we let people know that we’re in the mediation and arbitration business, this will be a good source of business for us,” he explained, adding that, with ADM’s expertise across many areas of the law, it could mediate or arbitrate a wide range of matters.

The past several months have been spent putting the ADR Group and other strategic initiatives into effect, said Annino, adding that these steps, coupled with the firm’s wide diversity of specialties — covering everything from construction law to estate planning; environmental law to general business law — has Annino Draper & Moore positioned for continued growth.

For this issue and its focus on business law, BusinessWest turns the spotlight on a two-decade-old firm that is shedding its comparatively low profile and taking intriguing steps in response to changes in the legal profession, as well as the local business community.

 

Firm Resolve

Tracing the history of the firm, Annino said it is one of several that were essentially spun off from Ryan White, which at one time had more than two dozen lawyers and was one of the largest firms in the area.

Lawyers in that firm were “compartmentalized” into certain practice groups, he continued, adding that, with their backgrounds in diverse areas, the three individuals with the names now over the door decided there was proper chemistry and synergy for a partnership.

The firm had a solid foundation in the form of clients that stayed with the three partners after they left Ryan & White, and continuously built on that foundation over the years.

“We’ve been able to grow because many of the clients who came with us when we left Ryan & White are still with us,” he continued. “We have very loyal clients, and, frankly, we do a great job for them. We do excellent work, and we’re responsive; that’s what a small firm has to do in order to compete.”

Trant Campbell, who specializes in everything from family law to dispute resolution, joined the firm in 2007, and the latest addition is Tracie Kester, Annino’s one-time assistant and paralegal, who earned her J.D. at Western New England Law School, became an associate at the firm soon thereafter, and was named partner earlier this year.

From the beginning, the firm’s success has been attributed to its diversity and ability to provide a wide range of services to specific clients.

Annino, the firm’s managing partner, focuses on corporate law, municipal and health care law, banking and finance, commercial and residential real estate, estate planning, and elder law, while Draper specializes in construction law and civil litigation. Moore’s areas of practice include environmental law, land-use issues, municipal law, insurance law, civil litigation, and dispute resolution, while Campbell focuses on family law and domestic relations, estate planning, business and corporate law, and dispute resolution, and Kester specializes in business and corporate law, commercial and residential real estate, estate planning and elder law, and civil litigation.

“The work I do in residential and commercial real estate works out well with Mark’s construction practice and Lou’s environmental practice,” said Kester, offering just one example of the synergies within the company and how the various specialties complement one another and improve the overall quality of service. “Any time I have a hint of an environmental problem with one of my real-estate deals, I go down to hall — I don’t pass ‘Go,’ don’t collect $200, and go straight to Lou’s office.”

There is similar synergy between estate-planning work and real estate, noted Campbell, adding that ADM can handle a full range of client needs, and often without having to go outside the firm for an expert.

“Clients’ legal needs don’t necessarily fall in one area,” he explained. “If there was an estate administration going on, there may be a piece of real estate involved, and there may be some environmental issues and some title issues. What I found when I came here was a willingness and a desire on the part of the other members of the firm to help us reach a solution; it’s a great level of comfort.”

Moore agreed. “We don’t do everything that the large firms do,” he said, “but the things we do, we do well and more cost-effectively than most other firms.

“It’s not unusual, especially in some more complex matters, when you’re dealing with a larger firm on the other side, to see them have two or three lawyers in a meeting or at a hearing,” he continued. “And maybe not in every instance, but many of them, clients are getting billed for that.”

The firm’s diversity and cost-effective service have served the company well during the recent — and in many ways still ongoing — economic downturn, he continued, adding that the firm, like most all others, struggled during the leanest of times, especially in hard-hit fields like construction, where most activity came to a grinding halt, but persevered without cutbacks or salary cuts because of its broad range of specialties.

 

Case in Point

Looking ahead, Annino said the business community, and society in general, are moving increasingly in the direction of ADR, and the firm is responding accordingly — and proactively — with its new ADR Group.

He noted that in addition to divorce and other areas where ADR has been used effectively for many years, there is vast potential for the firm to gain business in such areas as environmental law, construction law, and family law.

“When people find out that we’re doing environmental, family, and contract mediation and arbitration — and we really haven’t told them yet, but we’re starting to — I think we’re going to be very busy,” he said. “I see the family-mediation piece as one where there is growth potential — I’m not aware of it being done extensively now.

“You look at a case where the parents die and now there’s an issue with the estate,” he continued, offering an example of the type of work he anticipates. “You’ve got four children, and everyone is going to get a lawyer. If you’re well-thought-of as being able to mediate or arbitrate those types of issues, rather than fighting them out in the courtroom, that would seem like the perfect venue to resolve family disputes — privately, quietly, and less expensively.”

When asked how a firm, or a specific individual, gains a solid reputation in the realm of ADR, Draper said it does so by becoming known for both expertise and fairness, which can only be attained through time, experience, and thoughtful resolutions.

“The first thing you need to do is get the word out, which we’re trying to do,” he told BusinessWest, noting the use of the firm’s Web site and other vehicles to introduce the service. “Beyond that, it’s just like any aspect of a legal practice — if the parties in the mediation or arbitration perceive you to be fair, then I think you’ll get a good recommendation from the parties and the attorneys. On the other hand, if you’re perceived as being unfair or biased toward one party or the other, you’re not going to get a good recommendation from either side.

“If I see someone who has a bias as an arbitrator, I’m disinclined to use that person,” he continued, “because I’m not sure where the bias is going to fall next time. So it’s just like building any other kind of practice.”

While working to build its portfolio in ADR, the firm is making strides with many of the other strategic initiatives identified last December.

For example, the firm has relocated into larger quarters on Broad Street in Westfield, providing improved visibility. Annino and Kester (both Westfield residents) spend at least one day in a week in that city, which has recorded significant residential and business expansion in recent years and offers strong growth opportunities.

Meanwhile, the firm is moving ahead with plans to market itself more aggressively and become much more visible than it has been in the past.

Specific steps include the revamped Web site, which will, in addition to offering information about the firm, its lawyers, and their areas of expertise, provide visitors with information on timely issues of the day, as well as a new e-newsletter sent to hundreds of clients and prospective clients.

The first edition, which came out in June, chronicles the Westfield relocation, announces Kester’s new status as partner, introduces the new ADR services, and even offers a bit of commentary on the economy.

“We have definitely noticed an uptick in business and consumer confidence and a resulting demand for legal services,” it reads. “There is also new optimism in our clients. Much of our new work results from clients expanding business operations or taking advantage of new business opportunities. It is exciting to be part of this emerging vitality, and to see long-time clients optimistic again about the future for their families and businesses.”

 

Closing Argument

Whether this perceived uptick and rise in optimism translates into new growth opportunities for ADM remains to be seen. But it’s clear that the firm is taking solid steps to effectively position itself within a changing economic and legal landscape.

As Annino noted, five-year plans don’t generally work out in the legal industry. But firms still need to look down the road and anticipate where opportunities will be found and take proactive steps to capitalize on them.

And ADM has a firm resolve — both literally and figuratively — to do just that.

 

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

Cover Story
Entrepreneur Matches People with Business Opportunities

BW0812bCOVER
More than a decade ago, after the downsizing of his family’s business, Serv-U, Steve Rosenkrantz was trying to decide what to do next. He knew he wanted to run his own business, but didn’t know exactly which path to take. He enlisted the help of a company called Entrepreneur’s Source, which links clients with franchises — and the franchise they linked him with was Entrepreneur’s Source. Since then, he’s helped dozens of couples and individuals take charge of their lives and turn dreams into reality.

Tim Scussel still has many good things to say about the McDonald’s corporation.
“They were great … they made me an owner when I had no money,” said Scussel, who would eventually go on to operate three outlets for the fast-food chain — one at Mercy Medical Center in Springfield and the others in Enfield.
But things didn’t end well between Scussel and the company. Indeed, frustrated by what he considered unreasonable demands for him to essentially tear down and rebuild one of the Enfield locations — among many other things — the franchisee eventually sold out and commenced a search designed to identify what he would do next in terms of business ownership.
He didn’t know exactly what he wanted, but he had some parameters. He wanted to remain the kind of hands-on operator he was at McDonald’s — “I was at the stores every day; I was behind the counter working most days,” he said. But he also wanted a franchise, or corporate parent, that was more supportive and less combative. Meanwhile, he and his wife and full business partner, MaryAnn, desired fewer hours, a considerable drop in the number of times their beepers went off, and, overall, far greater control of their own destiny.
And Steve Rosenkrantz managed to find all that for them in an outfit called The Maids Home Services.
As the name suggests, this is a company that provides cleaning services, in this case for mostly residential clients. The Scussels now manage two such franchises, one serving Western Mass. and the other in the Greater Hartford area.
They arrived at this stage thanks to a process that Rosenkrantz, himself a franchisee with a company called Entrepreneur’s Source, describes with a number of words, phrases, and acronyms (like ILWE — income, lifestyle, wealth, and equity — more on that later), but boils down succinctly by saying that he helps people take charge of their lives.

Judy and Peter Yaffe

Judy and Peter Yaffe had never worked with seniors or the disabled before taking over a franchise of Homewatch Caregivers.

And by that, he meant that he often helps people transition from the corporate world to the realm of entrepreneurship. Put another way, he said he provides people with the resources to take a dream and make it reality.
Elaborating, he described his role as being not that of a consultant, but rather much more like a life coach and business coach combined. “People tell me what they want their life to be like,” he told BusinessWest, adding that, through an exhaustive process that could last from a few months to several years, he helps them find that life.
“We call ourselves coaches, not consultants,” he explained. “I think of a consultant as someone who’s an expert in a certain area, brought in to fix something; they get compensated, and they leave. A coach, quite simply, puts up guardrails on the highway and lets the client steer the car. We provide the inspiration.”
And very often, it’s with a business they would never have imagined being in.
Such was the case with the Scussels, and also with Jim Brennan and Rick Crews, two local businessmen, neither with anything approaching a background in health care, who wound up starting a Doctor’s Express franchise and now have several locally and in the Boston area.
And it was that way with Peter and Judy Yaffe, who had never worked with seniors or the disabled, but now operate a franchise of Homewatch Caregivers based in West Springfield. Over the course of roughly a decade in business, they’ve expanded into larger quarters twice, and now have eight office employees and about 100 caregivers in the field, who provide non-medical services to more than 80 clients a week, on average. And like most who have made the transition from employee to employer, they thoroughly enjoy that status.
“It was really a rush at the beginning — I really enjoyed the idea of not working for anyone else,” said Peter. “It was a complete and utter change for me, a 180-degree shift from what I had been accustomed to, and I loved it. I loved the free expression and the independence, and the idea of not needing a committee of people to agree with what I wanted to do. It was extremely exhilarating and stimulating.”
For this issue, BusinessWest takes an indepth look at Rosenkrantz’s entrepreneurial gambit, taken just over a decade ago, and how he assists others when they arrive at what he called the “career crossroads.”

Franchise Players

Tim and MaryAnn Scussel

Entrepreneur’s Source helped Tim and MaryAnn Scussel find a career that offers them far greater control over their own destiny.

As part of his efforts to market himself and stay in touch with clients and potential clients, Rosenkrantz sends out a number of company-produced correspondences that blend words and pictures to get some messages across — and remind people that he’s there and available for free consultation. Together, they pretty much tell the story of what he does and, to a large extent, how he does it.
There’s one with three portable toilets on the front and the headline, “you don’t have to love a product or service to capitalize on it.”
“Some people think you have to have an emotional connection to a business to be successful; the reality is, successful people are ‘in the business of business’ — they don’t have a love affair with the product of service,” it reads on the back. “The type of business you choose is less important than its ability to get you where you want to be.”
There’s another with that time-honored image of a needle in a haystack, with the headline “finding new career directions can be a little daunting.”
“On their own, most people find themselves wasting time, looking in all the wrong places,” it reads on the back. “They hunt for the business that will make them successful. But the business doesn’t make you successful: you make yourself successful. The business is just a vehicle.”
And then, there’s the one with a monster under a child’s bed and the one-word headline “boo!” On the back, the card explains what Rosenkrantz calls the FEAR (false evidence appearing real) factor. “Fears need a reality check,” the missive explains. “Exploring change can be uncomfortable, stirring up feelings like fear. But just because you have a feeling doesn’t mean events will bear it out. Give yourself permission to dream a little. We’ll take care of the monsters.”
In essence, what Rosenkrantz has been doing for the past 11 years is putting a strong touch of reality to all that hyperbole and, in the process, encouraging people to dream a little and help make their dreams real. Perhaps it’s best summed up with one more of those correspondences, the one with a closeup of a doorknob and the simple message, “you can’t open new doors with a closed mind.”
Opening minds to the full range of franchise opportunities has become an art and a science for Rosenkrantz, a process he knows intimately, because he went through it, from the other side of the desk — figuratively speaking, because most of his work is now carried out virtually, and there is no desk.
The story starts with the dramatic downsizing of what was once a chain of Serv-U hardware and home-improvement stores, owned and managed by Rosenkrantz and five cousins. When most of those pieces were sold off — a locksmith operation and decorating center remain — Rosenkrantz commenced a search for what to do next and turned to Entrepreneur’s Source for some guidance.
Like many of the people he now helps, he was intent on being in business for himself, and in an interesting twist of fate, one of the franchise opportunities put in front of him to consider was Entrepreneur’s Source.
“I was a model client; I went through the whole process in 2001,” he explained. “And I liked it so much that I said to my Entrepreneur’s Source coach, ‘I want to do what you’re doing.’ And he said that, coincidentally, one of the opportunities he had for me was that company.”
Over the past 11 years, Rosenkrantz, who is paid by franchisors when successful matches has made, has helped script many transition stories for individuals and couples, following those axioms printed on the company’s correspondences, especially the ones about keeping an open mind and finding opportunities in places that one wouldn’t expect.
And as he talked about what he does, he returned to that notion of being a life coach and business coach rolled into one.
“We are very empathetic about our clients,” he explained. “We get to understand what their emotions are, where they’ve been, and where they want to go to. It’s more than just looking at a résumé; it’s understanding the whole personal and family dynamics to be the best of our ability, to then fit the right business culture to their personality and what drives them. We don’t just throw ideas at them … we find out what makes them tick.”
And with that, he summoned that acronym (or phrase) ILWE, which pinpoints the four things he works to help people find.
“What we tell people is that you can have a great job and get the first two — income and, if it’s the right kind of job that gives you flexibility and autonomy, the lifestyle as well. What you generally can’t build as easily in the working-for-someone-else corporate world are the last two, wealth and equity.
“Building equity is about something of substance that you call yours,” he continued. “It’s your business to sell, or hand down to your children, to do what you want. Often, the first thing people say to me is, ‘the appeal to me of owning a business is that I want a clear, 10-year exit plan on my terms, not someone else’s.’”

At Home with the Idea
Many of these factors came into play with the Yaffes, who together launched a search for a business to run after Peter parted ways with Casual Corner in the fall of 2001 after a 20-year stint in which he served in many roles, including director of merchandise control.
Finding a job, especially one with the salary and benefits he was earning, wasn’t easy in the downturn that followed 9/11, said Yaffe, who told BusinessWest that his search took on a different complexion after he took in a PowerPoint presentation given by Rosenkrantz at a meeting involving the outplacement group he was involved with.
“I had never owned a business, but my background was a really good background for owning one,” he explained. “I just didn’t understand the product or service — but you can learn the product or service more easily than you can gain the financial background.”
The next step was a host of questions that comprise a big part of what Rosenkrantz calls the “discovery process.” Such questions cover everything from personal and financial background to the type of business the potential client believes he or she would be suited for and like to pursue.
“He has 500 franchises in his database, and he came up with five he wanted me to validate,” said Yaffe, adding that, while a few of these sparked some interest, he eventually asked for five more. That first batch included a paint business, a stained-glass operation, and a health-and-wellness outfit with a name that escaped him.
“Inches Away … Pounds Away … something like that,” he recalled, adding that, while he and Judy gave this option some real consideration, they ultimately concluded that the price — and the opportunity — were not quite right.
Somewhere along the way, Yaffe started thinking about home care, and while one of the companies he researched wasn’t in the Entrepreneur’s Source database, Rosenkrantz included a different company, Homewatch Caregivers, in the next batch of five.
Making a long story somewhat shorter, Peter Yaffe said he did some extensive research on the Denver-based company, and found it to be the match that the couple was looking for. It wasn’t something they knew a lot about from a business perspective, but they understood from personal experience both the importance of the service and its vast potential at a time when people are living longer and, in many cases, desiring to remain in their homes.
“The key to buying it was that we saw the potential for helping all these people because we had gone through it ourselves,” she said, noting that her mother needed some forms of assistance in the home, which she and others provided, and Tim’s parents also needed care. “We saw the potential for a business that would grow.”
So while Judy stayed on at a job as program director of the Hatikvah Holocaust Education Center in Springfield to secure needed benefits (she would join the venture roughly a year later), Peter leased a small space in West Springfield and commenced the process of getting the business off the ground.
The learning curve was fairly significant, he said, while echoing some of Rosenkrantz’s literature when he said that it’s not necessarily the type of business one gets into that determines success, but the skills and drive that one brings to the table.
“I never felt frightened,” said Peter. “I felt determined, and there was no question that I would be successful; failure never entered my mind — I wouldn’t allow it to enter my mind.”
As they talked with BusinessWest, the Yaffes stopped to offer a quick tour of their new offices — larger quarters in the same professional building on Union Street in West Springfield they’ve been in from the beginning. They’ve occupied the new space for several weeks now, but wall art and other forms of décor still sit in boxes waiting to be hung — testimony to how busy they’ve been and how successful their business has become.
It’s also an indicator of how well Rosenkrantz’ process works, and how people with the right skill sets and requisite measure of resolve can succeed in a business they probably couldn’t have imagined being in.

A Clean Break
Rosenkrantz, who said that he’s typically working with 30 or 40 people at a time and at all of the various stages of the process, told BusinessWest that his clients’ stories vary widely, but a common denominator is that they’re going through change — loss of a job, divorce, and relocation are just some of the triggers — and figuring out what to do with their lives.
And while he works with people of all ages, he says most of his clients are in their 40s, 50s, and 60s and might have achieved the first two parts of the ILWE equation (that’s might have), but are probably still searching for the others. And they possess many of the attributes necessary to be in business for themselves.
“They have good street smarts — they have some common-sense skills,” he said of those who have successfully made the transition. “They’ve lived a life, they understand personal and family battles and career battles, and they’ve persevered in many ways. Franchising really tends to embrace these people, while the corporate world, while it can’t say anything, generally doesn’t embrace that 63-year-old male.”
Franchising certainly embraced Tim Scussel. Indeed, as he talked about his relationship with McDonald’s, he noted that it lasted 35 years — and for roughly 33 of them, things were generally good.
But those last two … well, he summed them up with an anecdote or two that effectively conveyed his frustration with the corporate giant.
“They wanted me to rebuild the Enfield Street location, which I did,” he recalled. “A few years later, they said they wanted me to knock down the Elm Street location and rebuild it. I told them there was nothing wrong with it — it had all the latest equipment. When I said ‘no,’ they harassed the heck out of me for two years every single day, to the point where I finally said, ‘I’m done.’”
Long before he officially parted ways with the company, Scussel began the search for what would come next. He knew Rosencrantz from his days at Serv-U and counted him as a customer in a small swimming-pool cleaning-and-maintenance business he also operated.
“I was working on his pool one day and said to him, ‘Steve, it’s time to talk; what is out there for other businesses?’ I knew I was leaving McDonald’s — the train was leaving the station, and there was nothing I could do to stop it, short of knocking a building down. It was time to move on.”
After a lengthy period of discovery — ascertaining what the Scussels wanted from their next business venture — Rosencrantz presented them with several options, including a dry-cleaning outfit, a picture-framing operation, and The Maids. None seemed particularly appealing, Tim Scussel recalled, but he did copious amounts of homework on each, eventually had several conversations with the owner of The Maids, and liked what he saw and learned.
The couple started with the Hartford location and expanded into Western Mass. with what Tim called a satellite operation in 2006. The Great Recession certainly took its toll — maid service would, in most cases, anyway, fall into the category of discretionary spending — but they rode out the storm and are climbing back to something approaching pre-downturn business volume.
Meanwhile, they also have the lifestyle and supportive franchise that were both missing from the equation years ago.
“The culture here is to support the franchisee, not criticize,” he said. “The focus is on helping people grow their business, which is a breath of fresh air for me. That’s one of the things I was looking for, and I was able to find it.”

Taking Ownership of the Situation
A quick look around the Scussels’ facility in West Springfield reveals that they’ve traded golden arches for all things yellow and blue (mostly yellow)  — the corporate colors of The Maids Home Services.
The walls, marketing materials, uniforms for field employees, and business cards all feature that scheme, and they even have a bright yellow station wagon, decked out with the company name and logo, with which to visit clients and travel between the two locations.
But beyond the new colors, they also have a new and different relationship with their franchisor, and, in many respects, a different and better lifestyle. It came about through a unique business matchmaking process, which is both an art and a science, said Rosenkrantz, and a method by which people can truly take charge of their lives.

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

Law Sections
Recent Decision Could Impact Financially Challenged Borrowers

James B. Sheils

James B. Sheils

A recent Court of Appeals decision interpreting the Bankruptcy Code may result in limiting the ability of struggling commercial borrowers to obtain replacement financing from a new lender.

TOUSA Inc. was the 13th-largest homebuilding business in the U.S., with operations in Florida and many other states. It incurred significant debt to expand its business, largely through acquisitions; one such purchase involved a Florida entity. While TOUSA had numerous subsidiaries, and those subsidiaries had guarantied other debt owed by TOUSA, the subsidiaries did not guaranty the debt incurred to the original lenders providing the Florida acquisition financing.

The economic downturn, especially affecting real estate, significantly impaired TOUSA’s business, including the Florida entity it had acquired. The original lenders who provided the acquisition financing brought suit; as part of a settlement, TOUSA borrowed in excess of $470 million from a group of new lenders, whose funds were used to pay the original lenders. As collateral for the rescue loan, the new lenders obtained guaranties from TOUSA’s subsidiaries, secured by the assets of those subsidiaries. Those assets constituted collateral which had not secured the original lenders’ financing.

Despite the new funding, TOUSA ultimately sought Chapter 11 protection. The security interests of the subsidiaries were challenged by the creditors’ committee as “fraudulent conveyances,” based upon a claim that the subsidiaries did not receive “reasonably equivalent value” in exchange for the liens granted to the new lenders. The subsidiaries had not received any loan proceeds, but the new lenders argued that the funding they provided allowed TOUSA, and as a result the subsidiaries, to continue in business, even if the business ultimately failed.

The Court of Appeals endorsed the original decision of the Bankruptcy Court that ‘fair consideration’ is a fact-based determination, and that the almost-certain costs of the new loan far outweighed any perceived benefits. An argument that the subsidiaries faced an existential threat absent the new loan was rejected; the court stated that not every transfer that decreases the risk of bankruptcy for a corporation can be justified. The decision almost certainly will result in increased caution by lenders where upstream guaranties are an integral component of the financing.

The loss of the liens securing the new lenders’ loans was not the only action addressed by the Court of Appeals. The Bankruptcy Court also required the original lenders to ‘disgorge’ (i.e. pay back) $403 million received from the new lenders. The disgorgement issue involved a discussion of Section 550 of the Bankruptcy Code, which deals with recovery of property if a ‘transfer’ is avoided, as was the case with TOUSA’s subsidiaries. Section 550 allows recovery of a transfer from the initial transferee or from an entity for whose benefit such a transfer was made. The original lenders had argued that, since the liens went to the new lenders, the original lenders were ‘subsequent transferees,’ not entities that benefited from the initial transfer. The Court of Appeals disagreed; the loan agreements with the new lenders required the loan proceeds to be paid over to the original lenders.

The case was remanded to the District Court for further action regarding damages; if the initial Bankruptcy Court decision is fully upheld, the unwinding of the refinancing will result in the disgorged funds to be first used to repay the transaction costs for the new loan, then the costs incurred by the creditors committee in bringing and prosecuting the challenge and any decline in the value of the collateral, all before any funds are returned to the new lenders.

The TOUSA decision could complicate the ability of financially challenged borrowers to stay out of Chapter 11 because it raises questions regarding the enforceability, in certain circumstances, of upstream guaranties and highlights risks to lenders who are paid off by a borrower. The benefit to the total enterprise can’t be assumed to provide sufficient consideration. It’s also likely to increase the scrutiny of debtors/trustees in connection with potential claims to include prior lenders who, it will be asserted, are included in the ‘for whose benefit’ language of Section 550 of the Bankruptcy Code.

It is possible that further appeals may be taken, or that the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals may decide to have the entire court consider the case (a so-called ‘en banc’ review), but for now, the tussle with TOUSA may have chilled the air a bit for lenders to distressed businesses.

 

Attorney James B. Sheils is a shareholder with Shatz, Schwartz and Fentin, P.C., and concentrates his practice in the areas of commercial finance law, creditors’ rights, banking law, and telecommunications siting matters; (413) 737-1131.

Features
Business Expo Will Feature a Wide Array of Educational Programs

Mobile marketing. E-mail marketing. Social-media marketing.

These are terms that most people in business has no doubt heard, and that most have uttered themselves. But not many can truly say they fully understand them, or know how to effectively utilize them to move their company or organization forward.

They’ll have a much better appreciation after attending the Western Mass. Business Expo 2012 on Oct. 11 at the MassMutual Center. Indeed, among the nearly two dozen informational programs to be presented that day will be “The Growing Role of Mobile Marketing: New Trends in Mobile and Why Consumers Love It,” “The Power of E-mail Marketing,” and “Social-media Marketing Made Simple.”

“E-mail marketing is the most cost-effective, targeted, trackable, and efficient way to build and maintain relationships for all types of businesses and organizations,” said Corissa St. Laurent, director of Regional Development for Constant Contact New England, which will present the latter two programs. “In this [e-mail] session, participants will discover how communicating with customers regularly can help a small business stay connected and generate increased referrals and repeat sales, as well as unwavering customer loyalty.”

As for mobile marketing, Tina Stevens, president of Stevens 470, who will present that program, said research shows that the number of mobile Internet users will exceed desktop users by 2014, and business owners must be prepared for that eventuality.

“Mobile devices have become so easy and convenient to use, they are now an integral part of our on-the-go lifestyle,” said Stevens. “Many of us are using a mobile device as much as, or more than, our desktop computer. We want businesses to realize that this is happening, and help them find ways to use this mobile technology to their advantage.”

These programs, part of the broader Sales & Marketing category of programs, are good examples of the way in which the Expo is much more than a networking event and opportunity for a company to gain exposure — although those opportunities exist as well, said Kate Campiti, associate publisher of BusinessWest, which will again produce the event.

“We want to provide attendees with tools, resources, and knowledge that business owners and managers can take back to their offices or plants and put to use the next day,” said Campiti. “That’s why we’ve made educational programs such a big part of the Expo. The expertise offered by our many speakers is one of many ways of providing value to attendees and exhibitors alike.”

The full roster of educational programs will be finalized over the next few weeks, said Campiti, adding that, in addition to Sales & Marketing, other categories will include Management & Leadership and General Business. In addition to the 21 seminars, there will be a number of Show Floor Theater presentations, including a talk by Michael Martin, vice president of Sales for Vibram FiveFingers, who will tell that company’s intriguing story, while also addressing the broader subject of innovation and how one development — such as the FiveFingers product — can lead to a number of growth opportunities for a company.

Details of the Expo are emerging, said Campiti, adding that organizers have been meeting through the spring and summer to finalize programs and fill in a schedule of events that will begin with breakfast at 7:30 a.m. and conclude with the popular Expo Social starting at 4:30 p.m., a get-together that has become one of the more highly anticipated networking events of the year.

Highlights will include more than 180 exhibitors, breakfast and luncheon speakers, presentation of the Better Business Bureau’s Torch Awards, educational seminars and special programs, a Technology Corridor, a Health Care Corridor, and a number of co-located events that will bring more people, energy, and opportunities for doing business to the MassMutual Center.

The event is being sponsored by Comcast Business Class (presenting sponsor), and silver sponsors Health New England, Johnson & Hill Staffing Services, and  Stevens 470. Additional sponsorships are available.

Booths are also still available, and can be ordered by calling (413) 781-8600, logging onto www.wmbexpo.com or www.businesswest.com, or e-mailing [email protected]

 

— George O’Brien

Opinion
Moving Beyond the Pretty Pictures

MGM Resorts International staged a lavish press event at the MassMutual Center last week to announce its plans to build a casino and entertainment complex in Springfield’s South End. There was an overflow crowd, music, high-tech imagery, performers from Cirque du Soleil, and a full complement of media.

Springfield hadn’t seen anything quite like it before, but it will see something like it again, and probably very soon. Indeed, with the MGM event, the casino era in Western Mass. entered a new and intriguing phase. Let’s call it the ‘pretty pictures stage.’

Actually, they’re architect’s renderings, and there were a few on display in the packets being handed out at the MassMutual Center. They showed a South End teeming with people, lights, and vibrancy, a stark contrast to what exists now. Older buildings and properties damaged by last year’s tornado had been replaced by storefronts, restaurants, and attractive buildings for market-rate housing.

And along with the pictures came promises, in this case to connect the casino complex with downtown entertainment venues, such as the MassMutual Center, via a pedestrian walkway, thus eliminating one of the major complaints about casinos — that they keep people inside their walls and don’t spread the wealth. There were also pledges to incorporate existing downtown buildings, such as the former MassMutual headquarters at the corner of State and Main streets, and existing businesses, such as the Red Rose pizzeria, into the MGM complex.

There will be more of these press events, renderings, and promises in the weeks and months to come. There are casino plans unfolding for the North End of Springfield, involving the Republican building and other parcels, as well as the old Westinghouse complex in East Springfield, and perhaps another for a site in the middle of the central business district.

The trouble with these images, however, is that they tend to blind people, create expectations, and, in many ways, distract them from any other form of economic development and urban revitalization.

Indeed, with the start of the pretty pictures stage, it is quite evident that Springfield, and this region as a whole, needs some form of resolution to the question of where the casino is going to go — and the sooner the better. That’s because nothing is going to get done until that $64,000 question is answered.

Look at what has happened in Palmer. Mohegan Sun started putting out pretty pictures of what a casino on the hill just off the turnpike exit would look like, and the town has been in what amounts to a trance since. Granted, there is nothing approaching a Plan B for job creation and overall economic development in that community, but nothing else will even be considered until the casino matter is resolved.

In Springfield, we’re starting to see signs of the same thing. The phrase ‘tornado reconstruction’ seems old and passé. The matter of rebuilding the battered South End is on the back burner, and it will stay there until the winner of the Springfield casino sweepstakes is announced.

The same is true for other areas of the city, including the North End and the center of downtown. Almost everything now seems to hinge on where the casino will go — if Springfield lands one at all — and what the plan entails.

So it is incumbent upon those who will be making the decisions locally and then on a statewide basis to be diligent, thoughtful — this could be, after all, the biggest development in Springfield since the building of the Armory more than 200 years ago — but also expeditious.

There are currently about as many casino plans for Springfield as there are for the rest of the state combined, and the longer we have to look at the pretty pictures, consider the possibilities, and speculate, the longer it will be before we can move this city forward.