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Granby Officials Master a Difficult Balancing Act

CommunityProfilesMAPgranbyFour decades.
One could say that’s how long it took to get a new municipal library built in Granby, said Virginia Snopek, a retired teacher in the town’s school system who chaired the building committee that finally got the job done and then orchestrated the elaborate ribbon-cutting ceremony on Nov. 16 that drew more than 1,000 residents.
But while serious talk of replacing the quaint, one-room structure built in 1917 officially began in 1973, active work to build a new facility was sporadic, said Snopek, who counted five different attempts to break ground in the ensuing years, the last, and ultimately successful, one coming in 2010, after town voters turned down a school-building project that would have included a new library, a development that effectively re-energized efforts to get a new facility built.
The elegant, $4.6 million, 12,062-square-foot library came to fruition thanks to an aggressive capital campaign that raised more than $3 million, said Snopek, adding that the successful end to this endeavor provides evidence of this rural community’s patience and resiliency, and offers another example of how change often comes slowly here.

Virginia Snopek

Virginia Snopek says the successful campaign to build a new public library is a good example of the community spirit that exists in Granby.

But not always. Indeed, thanks in large part to more than $15 million in ‘host fees’ generated by the regional landfill built and operated by Waste Management within the town’s borders, Granby was able to undertake a number of municipal projects, including the library, in the past decade or so. Others included a new police/fire complex, and Highway Department building, and relocation of the Council on Aging, said Louis Barry, former town police chief and current chair of the Board of Selectmen, adding that this unique revenue source has enabled the town to do all that without incurring costly debt.
“We owe nothing on the police station, the library, the Council on Aging, or the Highway Department building,” he noted. “We’ve done an incredible amount of construction in a short amount of time and don’t owe a dime, all because of that trash fund.”
But soon, that fund, or “cash cow,” as Barry called it, will be referenced only in the past tense. Indeed, the landfill is scheduled to close Dec. 31, leaving the town with both short- and long-term challenges. In the first category is the simple matter of how and where the town will now dispose of its trash, while the second includes the need to find new, and equally creative, ways to fund municipal projects.
And that challenge comes as the community’s leaders are moving to balance residential growth and those aforementioned municipal improvements with the growth of a business sector still dominated mostly by very small businesses and agricultural ventures.
The MacDuffie School recently relocated from Springfield to the former St. Hyacinth’s Seminary property off School Street, giving Granby a new second-largest employer (behind the municipality itself), but officials are eyeing more commercial development. To encourage it, discussions have been commenced about rezoning Route 202, the main throughway, enabling different types of businesses to locate there, and also about the possibility of infrastructure improvements, such as municipal water and sewer services, which would make the town much more attractive to businesses in several sectors.
“A new sewer line, and possibly town water, isn’t part of rezoning for business, but together, they could enable Granby to lay down a plan for the future, and that’s been one of the missions for the Granby Planning Department,” said Pam Desjardins, chair of the Planning Department.
For this, the final installment of its Community Profile series in 2013, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at Granby, its recent history, and emerging plans to make this bedroom community a more business-friendly address.

A New Chapter

Granby Free Public Library

A November ribbon cutting celebrated the new $4.6 million, 12,062-square-foot Granby Free Public Library, an effort 40 years in the making.

When visiting a neighboring community’s library, Snopek said, she came across a plaque that read, “communities build libraries; libraries build communities.”
“And that really was what happened with our project,” she went on, adding that the initiative was truly a community-wide effort that not only gave the town a 21st-century facility with a host of amenities — including a children’s programming room, a community room that seats 60, and an area dedicated to teens — but also gave it a source of pride and sense of accomplishment, even if it took 40 years to realize the dream.
Elaborating, she said the long and varied list of donations for the project drives home that notion of a community endeavor. That list includes the gift of land on which the facility was built — made by the Alice and Fred Stewart family — as well as a large challenge grant by the Fowler-Bombardier Family Charitable Trust, and even an in-kind donation of services by a local landscape-design student.
This sense of community has been a trademark of the town since it was settled in 1727 as part of South Hadley. Incorporated in 1768, Granby, which also shares borders with Ludlow, Belchertown, Amherst, and Chicopee, has been a farming community for most of its existence, and there are several agricultural ventures still in operation.
The Dickinson Farm & Greenhouse is one of them. Operated by members of the LaFlamme family — Leonard and his sons, Marc, Mike, and Bruce — the 265-acre farm focuses on produce and flowers. And this time of year, that means poinsettias.
“We sell roughly 15,000 a year,” said Marc as he gestured to one recently emptied greenhouse and another that was reaching that state, noting that many of the festive plants are bound for other florists and churches in the region.
The 70-year-old business also includes several pick-your-own fields planted with strawberries, blueberries, and apples, as well as a second retail location (the original) in Chicopee called LaFlamme’s Garden Center. Like other businesses in town, it has benefited greatly from the loyalty of those who grew up in Granby and surrounding communities and want to buy local.
“We’re a family here, and we take the brunt of everything,” LaFlamme said, adding that, instead of laying off employees during the recent recession, the family remained conscious of each season’s sales, planning for each year based on the year before. “And some people really do understand that ours is fresher, and the Buy Local campaign is helping us.”
When asked about the business climate in the town, he said most businesses have weathered the recent fiscal storms and are holding their own.
“Things aren’t much different than they were 10 years ago,” he noted. “People still have jobs; they’re still working. Things aren’t necessarily getting better, but they aren’t getting any worse, either.”
But there are signs of improvement and new vibrancy, said Barry, who cited the relocation of MacDuffie as an indication that the community can attract new businesses.
Tom Addicks, MacDuffie’s assistant head of school, said the institution, which was founded in Springfield in 1890, was hampered in its ability to grow by the land-locked nature of the campus, located just a few blocks from that city’s central business district. Space is not an issue in Granby — the school’s footprint covers 26 of the seminary’s 500 acres — and he said there are plans in place for further construction.
“MacDuffie is planning to increase its enrollment as soon as possible, and we hope to break ground on an arts facility as soon as the funds are raised,” said Addicks, adding that further expansion of the institution would be greatly aided by infrastructure improvements such as municipal water and sewer services.
Barry concurred, but noted that such a significant step could alter the town’s fortunes — and character — in many ways, if growth is not carefully controlled.
“We don’t have sewer or town water, and that’s a double-edged sword,” he said. “It has limited our development, which is a good thing, if you like rural living, but the limited development is also a bad thing because it limits tax revenue.”

Ultimately, the community, like many in this region, would like to achieve a greater balance between residential and commercial growth, said Barry, adding that, with the library project now in the books, it’s time to focus on the next chapters in this town’s history.
Whatever those new developments are, they probably won’t take 40 years to come to fruition. But they will be community projects, in every sense of that phrase, because that’s how it’s always been in this town, and that’s one thing that won’t change.

Elizabeth Taras can be reached at [email protected]

Some Things We’d Like to See in 2014

It’s time to say goodbye to 2013.
It was an interesting year in many respects — especially with regard to the casino-gambling picture, which changed in ways that probably couldn’t have been imagined just one year ago when there were four projects still in the running for the Western Mass. license — but one that was not very remarkable from a business standpoint.
Indeed, with the exception of a soaring stock market, which had climbed nearly 25% for the year at press time, this was a year of relative stagnancy, in terms of everything from employment to the overall economy, although there were signs of life toward the end of the year (more on that in a bit).
So, without further ado, it’s time to look ahead and identify some of the things we’d like to see happen in 2014. If all or even most of them come to fruition, it could be quite a year.
• Game On. Let’s start with the casino. As the voters in West Springfield, Palmer, East Boston, and other communities voted thumbs down to casino plans for their communities — dramatically changing and diminishing the competition for coveted licenses as they did so — many began to question whether this state really wants or needs such facilities.
Pollsters would tell you that the numbers show that the majority of state residents still support casinos, but don’t want one in their community. Springfield, in fact, was one of the few communities that said yes, and we hope that cranes start to appear in the city’s South End by the end of next year and that MGM Springfield becomes reality a few years later.
As we’ve said many times, a casino will not, by itself, change the city’s fortunes. But it can become part of the process of bringing new vitality, new jobs, and a new attitude about Springfield. Let’s hope it happens.
• It’s About Time. For close to half a decade now, people have been saying, “this could be the year the economy finally breaks out of its funk.” Well, people are saying it again, and this time, there’s more reason to believe them. Indeed, there are some actual signs — falling unemployment and a rise in state GDP among them — that indicate better times ahead.
We hope those reading these tea leaves are on the money — literally and figuratively — because there hasn’t been much of a recovery in this region, and businesses that have fought through this time deserve some sustained momentum and a year when the books become truly good reading.
• Class Act. Several months ago, the talk about whether UMass would create a downtown Springfield ‘satellite facility’ (the school eschews the word ‘campus’) officially shifted to when it would. School officials announced that UMass Springfield would soon start to take shape on the second floor of Tower Square. As the new year begins, we hope that this news alone starts to create momentum in a downtown that sorely needs a spark, and that, as 2014 unfolds, the construction work and then the facility itself will become a catalyst for more retail development and other forms of progress in the city’s central business district.
• Getting Things Started. Lastly, we hope to see work in 2014 in the broad realm of promoting entrepreneurship and getting new ventures off the ground or to that proverbial next level. There are several programs in place that are addressing this challenge — from Valley Venture Mentors to the Grinspoon Foundation’s Entrepreneurship Initiative to the Business Growth Center at the Technology Park at STCC (see story on age 45)— and this work needs to continue and expand in 2014 and the years to follow.
As we’ve said on many occasions, while it is still possible that a major employer will decide to make Western Mass. home and thus create hundreds or perhaps thousands of new jobs, the more likely scenario is that growth in this region will come organically, through new startups that mature and eventually add to their payrolls.
There are many challenges facing this region, but perhaps the biggest is creating more fuel for the economy. Programs that encourage entrepreneurship and help young businesses grow are a vital part of that equation.

A Stern Challenge for the Region

If it seems like you’re spending more of your time reading about people retiring or going to functions where the guest of honor leaves the room with a rocking chair, gold watch, or gift certificate for a cruise, it is most definitely not your imagination.
Instead, it’s more evidence of a demographic phenomenon, one that reflects the size and influence of the Baby Boom generation.
Indeed, all that talk years ago about how this generation was going to start retiring — and in big numbers — is no longer talk. It’s reality.
And while this inevitable consequence of the passage of time is good for the people who handle IRAs, make watches and rocking chairs, host retirement parties, and operate cruise lines, it poses a huge challenge for this region as a whole and specific business sectors as well.
In just the past 12 to 18 months, this region has seen the retirement of several chamber of commerce directors, nonprofit managers (Gary McCarthy at the Springfield Boys & Girls Club is just one example), economic-development leaders (Bill Ward at the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County tops that list), and healthcare executives — Carol Katz, longtime director of Loomis Communities, retired in 2012, Holyoke Medical Center CEO Hank Porten stepped down earlier this year, and  Mark Tolosky, president and CEO of Baystate Health; Peter Straley, president and CEO of Health New England; and Craig Melin, president and CEO of Cooley Dickinson Hospital, will leave their jobs in 2014.
And there have been countless people whose exploits didn’t make the pages of BusinessWest who have also moved on to that proverbial next stage of their lives, with tens of thousands more to do so in the next several years.
The challenge is obvious: these people must be replaced.
And while it would seem that this wouldn’t be a problem with a statewide unemployment rate of roughly 7% and a number closer to 10% in major urban areas in this region, the reality is that many of those who are unemployed simply do not have the skills to move into these positions.
This is especially true in sectors such as precision manufacturing and healthcare, where employers have openings — hundreds and perhaps thousands of them — that they cannot fill because of that skills gap that we keep reading about. Like those aforementioned retirements, that gap is real, not your imagination.
And while there will always be people who can step into the shoes of leaders like Ward, Lee, Tolosky, Melin, and Straley, it is fair to ask if those who will occupy their offices and those of executives across the region possess the leadership skills that enabled their successors to be so successful.
So, moving forward, this region has to continue its efforts to address this demographic challenge — which is no longer looming, but actually here — and accelerate and intensify them.
Programs like Leadership Pioneer Valley, created at the encouragement of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission with all these retirements in mind, must continue to educate area young people about this region and its strengths, weaknesses, and challenges, and prepare them to be the leaders of tomorrow.
Meanwhile, people like David Cruise, who will have the unenviable task of succeeding Ward at the REB, must work in collaboration with local employers, area colleges and universities, and other economic-development agencies to close that skills gap. If they don’t, employers will be increasingly challenged to find that most important ingredient in any business success story: talent.
In reality, it is mostly the very oldest of the Baby Boomers (and those who belong to the generation before it) who are retiring these days. The huge bubble is still to come, and it may be delayed somewhat by the need for many members of this generation to work longer to secure a comfortable retirement.
But while there is still time to address this challenge, that time is running out.

Law Sections
Social Media Poses a Legal Minefield for Employers

SocialMediaLegalityDPartThe missive on Facebook reads like a typical workplace rant.
“It’s pretty obvious that my manager is as immature as a person can be, and she proved that this evening even more so. I am unbelievably stressed out, and I can’t believe NO ONE is doing anything about it! The way she treats us is NOT okay, but no one cares, because every time we try to solve conflicts, NOTHING GETS DONE!”
The poster worked in a San Francisco clothing store, and this message, and comments like it from fellow employees, led to numerous firings once the employer found out about them. But one of the booted employees filed an unfair-labor-practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) — which sided with the workers.
Why? Well, the store was located in a rough neighborhood of the city, and stayed open an hour later than other stores in the vicinity. The employees had complained to their manager about being harassed by “street people” upon leaving late at night. When the manager refused to change the store hours, the workers took to social media.

John Gannon

John Gannon says the National Labor Relations Board has recently taken a keener interest in making sure companies’ social-media policies aren’t too vague to be enforced.

“They went online and complained about their supervisor,” said attorney John Gannon, an associate with Skoler, Abbott & Presser in Springfield. “The NLRB said they were complaining about working conditions and were concerned about safety, and as a group, they were trying to get their supervisor or store manager to close that store earlier.”
And that, the board maintains, falls under the umbrella of ‘protected, concerted activity’ which employees are allowed by law to undertake. The fact that the complaints were posted very publicly and could have embarrassed the employer did not limit their rights.
“One issue that arises with respect to social media is, can we fire somebody for comments they have made online that may not be favorable to us, or that we perceive as disparaging?” said attorney Amy Royal, owner of Royal LLP in Northampton. “Before they take such adverse action, companies need to take a careful look at whether the comments are expressing an individual gripe or if the employee is trying to induce other employees to undertake group action that could potentially be seen as concerted activity.”
The difference is crucial, and gets to the heart of what employers need to know about their workers’ private use of social media.
“If it’s collective, and more than one employee is complaining online, is the complaint about the terms and conditions of employment?” Royal asked. “For employers, the frustrating piece is that the NLRB has a broad view of what constitutes terms and conditions of employment.
“If I read, ‘it’s pretty obvious that my manager is as immature as a person can be,’ human nature being what it is, if I’m the manager, I’m not going to happy with that, and I might want to take action because I feel slighted or slandered. But in this case, other employees joined in and made comments, and the NLRB said this is protected.”
That’s different, she said, than someone lashing out randomly at their employer with no such context, and no support from fellow workers.
“The number-one issue when talking about social media in the employment-law context is whether or not an employee’s activity, whether on Facebook or elsewhere, is protected by the National Labor Relations Act,” said Gannon, adding that the NLRB periodically issues ‘advice memorandums,’ examining about a dozen recent cases and discussing whether the employers’ conduct violated the act, or whether their policy on social media is too broad to be enforced.
“Through all those advice memorandums, they distinguish between someone’s individual gripes and somebody complaining about workplace conditions,” he said. “That’s the bright line — and it’s actually more of a gray line. Is somebody actually talking about improving workplace conditions, or is the employee just complaining about his supervisor? In a recent case, an employee said, ‘hey, my supervisor needs to back the f— off. If he wants to fire me, go ahead, make my day.’ The board said that’s your classic individual gripe; they weren’t talking about other employees or referencing any working conditions.”
Kate O’Brien, an attorney with Springfield-based Sullivan, Hayes & Quinn, noted that the NLRB has been busy assessing cases decided by administrative-law judges. “For the most part,” she said, “they’ve affirmed the approach of evaluating them for the potential chilling of employees’ right to engage in protected, concerted activity.”

Group Think

Amy Royal

Amy Royal says screening job applicants on social media can be helpful — but poses certain legal risks.

None of this, however, applies to employee use of social media on work time. Companies have long been well within their rights to police what their staffers do while on the clock, and routinely bar the recreational use of the Internet during work hours.
“Companies can and should have a policy that prohibits employees from using social media at work, and it should also extend to the use of their own devices,” Royal said. “In the real world, it becomes difficult for companies to police that, or they may not want to have a total prohibition, but they need to know that, if they allow some level of use of social media, employees can use it for union-organizing purposes.”
But when it comes to off-the-clock activity, she said, many employers — especially those with non-unionized workforces — still aren’t aware of workers’ rights when it comes to freedom of expression, laid out in Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act.
“Section 7 applies to both union and non-union workforces and gives employees the right to come together and complain about the terms and conditions of their workplace,” Royal noted. “That particular section is implicated when we’re talking about social-media issues in the workplace.”
However, Gannon noted, although the NLRB remains engaged in complaints about unjust firing, it has also taken proactive steps to examine various companies’ social-media policies and determine which ones too broad to withstand scrutiny.
“They’ve reviewed a lot of policies dating back to 2010 and 2011 that prohibit certain kinds of behavior — prohibitions against inappropriate comments or unprofessional comments or misleading comments on Facebook — and they’ve come out and said that’s overly broad and not specific enough, that it could chill somebody’s Section 7 rights, so they’d be afraid to speak out.”
One recent case involved Giant Foods, which had a policy prohibiting employees from discussing confidential, non-public information on social media.
In an advice memorandum issued in July, “the board came out and said that’s overbroad, that they need to be more specific,” Gannon explained. “A lot of people were surprised by that; they think an employer has a right to protect its confidential information. But the board’s point was that, yes, you need to protect your confidential information, but make sure employees understand what that confidential information is.”
In another case — an actual decision, not just a memorandum — the board determined that Costco’s policy, barring employees from posting things that might damage the company’s reputation, was also overbroad.
In yet another case, Royal noted, an employer’s policy said workers must be courteous, polite, and friendly to customers and fellow employees, and not use language that injures the image or reputation of the company. “That sounds like a policy any company would want to implement, but the NLRB said that policy is problematic because it’s too vague,” she said. “They want specifics in these policies.”
So how should employers craft a policy that stands up to the law? “One thing I recommend is to link it to other policies,” Gannon said. “For example, I’ll recommend that the employer, in their social-media policy, reference the anti-harassment policy and make it clear that employees have to follow the anti-harassment policy in social media, and can’t post things that are harassing in nature.”
The same applies to confidentiality policies, he added. “You have to treat it as if it happened in the workplace.”

Searching for Clues
Still, O’Brien said, while overbroad policies are certainly a consideration, “I think a more prevalent consideration is the discipline or termination of employees for their comments and activity in social media.”
And it’s not just current workers employers must be concerned with. Job applicants pose their own kind of minefield. Specifically, employers who use sites like Facebook to gauge an applicant’s character often discover information about his or her beliefs or race or sexual preference — issues that shouldn’t be used in hiring decisions, but sometimes are.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” Royal said. “You want to investigate an unknown commodity before you invest in them. We know that bringing someone into a workplace is a huge investment, and social media is a great way to find out information about a person’s character, their reputation, their likes, and their interests. But on the flip side, you may be given information that you wouldn’t otherwise have in the application process, that could then be used as ammunition against you.”
Importantly, even if a decision not to hire is based solely on job qualifications and experience, simply knowing certain things about an applicant can open an employer up to the perception of discrimination — and lawsuits can follow.
“That’s not to say you shouldn’t use social media as part of background check into an applicant — I think you should — but you need to know the parameters,” she said. “And if you use social media inconsistently, you open yourself up to attack as well. If you’re going to use it, then use it for all applicants when they reach a certain point in the application process.”
Gannon said much of the strategy depends on what sites employers are checking.
“Generally speaking, I think there’s a lot of information out there that would be valuable to employers in their recruiting efforts. LinkedIn is a very good place employers can use to double check what their employees say in an interview; you can find out if there’s some conflict there.”
However, he added, “some other sites present problems stemming from learning too much information. Even visiting someone’s Facebook page and learning information that isn’t part of an application — information about an applicant’s religion, disability, genetic information — all of that can lead to an unlawful-hiring lawsuit, claiming the information learned through social media was the reason the individual wasn’t hired.”
Gannon agreed that hiring managers need to be consistent about what searches they perform, and then document those efforts.
“But the most important thing an employer can do is have a gatekeeper perform the search, an individual who is not connected to the hiring decision itself,” he said. “If they find any negative characteristics, they report back to the hiring manager.”
That way, he continued, “if someone brings a failure-to-hire lawsuit, you can defend the hiring — management didn’t know you were Muslim, for instance. That’s really the key in recruitment.”

Media Messages
Royal stressed the importance of keeping tabs on the NLRB’s evolving thought process on social media as it relates to Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act and other factors.
“A lot of employers do have social-media policies, and now that we’re coming up on a new year, it’s a good time to revisit those policies to make sure they’re still compliant with NLRB decisions that have come in over the past year,” she said.
For example, “a semi-pro-employee decision came out of the NLRB that basically said that, if an employee is publicly critical in a way that the comments are maliciously untrue, then you can fire them — but employers need to be able to demonstrate that the comments were made with knowledge of their falsity or with a reckless disregard for their truth. That’s a high threshold to meet under those circumstances.
“Because this area is still emerging,” she added, “employees need to connect with their counsel to sort through these issues before they take action. You can’t unring that bell.”
Another potential shift in current thought involves the ‘like’ button on Facebook — specifically, whether simply liking a comment on Facebook is enough to be considered concerted activity, Gannon noted. “That’s something the NLRB is currently looking at. It’s kind of an interesting issue.”
O’Brien agreed that the picture is far from settled. “The board has provided a little more guidance on what’s acceptable or not acceptable. But it’s still constantly evolving, and an area employers need to stay on top of.”
Part of the reason social media has become such a scrutinized issue is the sheer volume of personal information being revealed on public websites.
“It’s a different world, but an interesting world, and employers really have to rely on outside counsel to keep them up to speed on what’s changing,” Gannon said.
“A policy that was OK in 2010 might not pass muster in 2013 based on advice memorandums that have come out from the board,” he continued. “Those policies might need to be revised. Employers need to be aware that this is an area of the law that’s constantly in flux. I’d be reviewing those policies in some way, shape, or form at least on an annual basis.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Cover Story
LED Technology Could Be a Game Changer for Zasco Productions

COVER1213cMike Zaskey says LED (light-emitting diode) technology has been on his radar screen for more than a decade now.
He understood its vast potential to open new doors for the company he founded, Chicopee-based Zasco Productions, by enabling it to contend for projects — and there are many of them — that could benefit from the technology’s ability to produce a sharp, bright, high-quality video display image, even in direct sunlight, a considerable improvement over projection technology.
But he also understood its high price tag and how difficult — especially years ago, when this technology was considerably more expensive — it would likely be to recover it. “Virtually unattainable” was the phrase he used to describe the product for most of that decade.
Indeed, he and Barry Gadbois, manager of Operations and Business Development and also video director for the company, would spend countless hours at a whiteboard in Gadbois’ office crunching numbers and trying to get them to work.
Finally, last spring, they were confident that they could.
So Zasco proceeded with the purchase of Oracle LED Systems’ Black Widow HD9 indoor/outdoor display modules — 80 2-by-2-foot tiles, to be exact, which can be joined to create two 10-by-16-foot screens or a host of other configurations. The company’s marketing piece to prospective customers calls it “New England’s premier visual display system,” and then goes into much more detail, with bullet points such as these:
• “True 9mm resolution, 3-in-1 SMD LEDs for superb clarity”;
• “7,000 nits of brightness so that every image leaps off the screen, even in direct sunlight”;
• “Weather-resistant to shine through the toughest conditions!”;
• “Ability to create curved surfaces, plus an innovative frameless flex kit, and other features, make virtually any scenic application possible”; and
• “A network of nationwide cross-rental partners means that we can build nearly any size or number of displays!”

Rays of Hope event

Barry Gadbois says the LED display used at the Rays of Hope event last fall is a good example of how the technology allows groups to make “eye contact” with large audiences.

Slicing through all those numbers, letters, exclamation points, and technical terms (a nit, by the way, is a unit of visible light intensity, and ‘9mm resolution’ means the dots, or pixels, are just 9 millimeters apart, creating very high resolution), Zaskey said this roughly $300,000 acquisition has the vast potential to be a “game changer” for Zasco,  which started nearly 25 years ago as a wedding-video operation and has morphed into a multi-faceted event-production company that has handled everything from college commencement ceremonies to annual meetings for major corporations, to BusinessWest’s 40 Under Forty gala.
“This technology puts us on a different playing field,” he said, noting that the technology was used for concerts at this year’s Big E, the 20th annual Rays of Hope walk in October, and other events. “It’s a door opener for us.”
Gadbois agreed.
“There’s a certain level of client that requires service on a large scale that was inaccessible to us because we couldn’t meet the largest part of their needs, which was display technology like this,” he explained. “Now, we can go to clients who were inaccessible before and tell them, ‘not only can we cover your display needs, we can do it with the best stuff on the market, and we’re also a turn-key provider for all the other services you need.
“It’s a game changer for us,” he went on, “because it gives us a chance to introduce ourselves, and our core services, to customers who may have passed us over before because we didn’t have these displays.”
Zasco said the Black Widow system also gives Zasco an opportunity to fill out its calendar and provide a more level revenue stream, an important consideration for any business. He noted that the company is most busy in the late spring and early summer, with college commencements, corporate meetings, and other events, “but in July, we’re often sitting here waiting for the phone to ring. This will hopefully make it ring more often.”
For this issue, BusinessWest takes an indepth look at the Zasco company, its latest investment in technology, and how it has taken Zaskey and Gadbois from their work at that whiteboard to a new assignment — aggressively rewriting the business plan to reflect new opportunities.

Nit Withstanding
As he talked about the Black Widow, and LED technology in general, Zaskey drew a number of comparisons to HD televisions.
They’ve been around for years, he noted, and the technology has greatly improved while the price has come down considerably. In other words, the first person on the block to get one paid considerably more than someone who waited a few years. Meanwhile, that first one in has a set that today isn’t exactly obsolete, but it’s not as good as the newer editions.
“Like everything else that’s technology-driven, the quality increases and the price comes way down,” he explained, referring to LED systems. “And that gives us a competitive advantage, especially over some companies in the eastern part of the state that invested in this technology in the late ’90s and are possibly still trying to recoup those very large investments. It’s older technology, and they have to charge a premium for it.”
This phenomenon essentially explains what all the work with that whiteboard was all about, said Zaskey, adding that, while an investment in this kind of technology is always somewhat of a gamble, especially for a company of this small size, he and Gadbois were researching and waiting for something that they could consider a relatively safe bet.
And they believe they’ve made one, with the purchase of a system that is versatile, affordable (or at least much more so than what was on the market years ago), and won’t be obsolete before the end of next year, or this decade.
“We bought a product that’s very mature — this is as high a resolution value as we’ve seen in an outdoor display, and it’s probably as high a resolution value as anyone is going to bother to make,” said Gadbois. “The expense of developing something better than we have is probably prohibitive.”
The LED technology ushers in a new chapter in the life of an intriguing local company, one that got its start when Zaskey was in middle school learning how to handle a video camera.
What started as a hobby — videotaping weddings for family and friends of the family — eventually became a business, thanks to startup financing from his father. By the time he graduated from high school, Zaskey was starting to diversify into corporate work, such as training videos.
Eventually, companies that hired him started asking about how to display those videos at events. He saw an opportunity and invested in projection, lighting, and audio equipment, and essentially changed the course of what by then had become Zasco Productions.
Over the past 20 years, growth has been consistent, averaging about 10% annually, he said, and while most of the company’s work is in this region, it has been involved in projects in Las Vegas and other major cities, mostly east of the Mississippi.
Fast-forwarding to when LED technology came onto his radar screen, Zaskey said that, business-wise, the need for such an investment was growing because large-screen displays were now commonplace at corporate events and gatherings such as commencements, and projection technology has its limitations.
“The challenge has always been displaying video outside, in direct sunlight, or where ambient lighting conditions cannot be controlled. LED technology makes that possible. Projection outside is simply not an option — there’s just no projection that can compete with sunlight.”

Barry Gadbois

Barry Gadbois says consumers are becoming more demanding when it comes to video presentations, and LED technology is now an expectation.

Meanwhile, a discerning public, now quite used to HD television and 150-foot-wide LED scoreboards in sports stadiums, has come to increasingly expect — and, more importantly, demand — such high-quality visual displays.
“People have become accustomed to a very high level of technology, especially when it comes to video and audio,” Gadbois explained. “No one would now consider it acceptable to go to a major-league baseball game and see a scoreboard with little white lights. We’ve come to expect a very immersive, very technically advanced experience, and the natural extension of this is that it’s trickling down; it’s not just major-league ballparks or the biggest concerts or the biggest events. People have high expectations for their experience.”
As an example, he pointed to the Big E, which had essentially gotten by with projection technology at its concerts for years, but had, with its vendor, KMJ Video (a Zasco client), reached the conclusion that the target audience wanted, and deserved, something better.
“They [KMJ] were ready to make a move and enhance the experience for their customer,” said Zaskey, “and the timing was perfect, because we had just acquired this new technology.”
That aforementioned trickle-down effect has now reached college commencements — “parents want to see their son or daughter on a big screen in a sharp, high-definition image,” said Gadbois — as well as corporate gatherings and many other kinds of events, and this phenomenon was one of the factors that led the company to invest in LED technology, and to believe it will prove to be a very fruitful investment.

Shedding Light on the Subject

Now that Zasco has made this leap forward, said Zaskey and Gadbois, the obvious challenge becames making the most of the opportunity it presents.
“Equipment like this has to be in use,” said Zaskey, underscoring the assignment that faces any business that makes a large capital investment aimed at driving new business.
Elaborating, he said the work now facing the company involves everything from aggressive marketing to educating potential customers about how LED technology can add value, as well as quality, to their events, to expanding their horizons geographically.
And when it comes to the marketing and educational components of this assignment, there are inherent challenges, said Gadbois, adding that people need to see and experience the technology to understand what it can do.
“This isn’t a product you can put in your briefcase, bring to a client, and show it to them on their conference table,” he explained. “You can’t always build a 16-foot-wide wall for people. But if they can see it … there hasn’t been anyone, including us, who hasn’t looked at this for the first time and said, ‘wow, this really looks incredible.’
“Once we realized that we had a product that showed itself so well,” he went on, “we quickly understood that we had to get this in front of people.”
Zasco had a huge display of the LED technology at the Western Mass. Business Expo in November, and has marketed the technology in many other ways as well, said Zaskey, adding that perhaps the most effective promotional vehicles have been the recent events that have put the Black Widow system to the test.
Most of the 20,000-plus participants in this year’s Rays of Hope event were able to see for themselves, said Gadbois, adding that the LED technology (one 10-by-16 screen positioned near the starting line) gave organizers an opportunity to connect with the walkers and runners more effectively than in years past, when they had only a microphone with which to communicate.
“We changed their audience experience,” he explained. “Previously, they had a stage and sound. They have a crowd of thousands of people stretched over a large area. This technology enabled people to see and also hear, which is important.
“If you’re attending this event and not visually engaged — maybe you hear parts of what’s going on, but you’re talking to people around you because you’re distracted — that’s a completely different audience experience than if you can literally make eye contact and create a little bit of a relationship with a speaking subject typically talking about something that’s powerful and designed to motivate the audience,” Gadbois went on. “When you can make eye contact with 20,000 people, that’s a pretty neat experience, and we try to help our clients understand and leverage the value of that kind of power.”
And value can come in ways beyond this eye contact, said Zaskey, adding that nonprofits can use an LED display to provide creative and highly visible exposure to sponsors, a reality that could enable the technology to essentially pay for itself in such instances.
Looking ahead, he said the company’s investment should provide opportunities on a number of levels. As he said earlier, it will open doors that had previously been closed, and, once those doors are open, enable Zasco to present its full roster of services to those clients.
It could also make the company a bigger player in the Boston area and other large municipal markets where competitors may have older LED technology and, very possibly, a higher price tag for their services.
Meanwhile, because of the growing demand for high-quality video displays, Zasco could become a vendor, or partner, with competitors who don’t have LED technology but need it to satisfy increasingly demanding clients. Zaskey called such opportunities “good consolation prizes,” meaning Zasco didn’t get the contract but did get a chance to rent out its equipment, and said these could become a new and possibly lucrative revenue source.
“If you’re not going to win the whole pie, it’s always nice to have a piece of the pie,” he explained. “And this technology will give us many more opportunities to do that.”

A Bright Future
Zaskey told BusinessWest that the term LED has gone well beyond buzzword status in recent years. It has become, in many respects, a standard and an expectation for an increasingly demanding public.
“Anything LED sparks an emotion in people,” he said. “You have LED uplighting, LED lighting in your home that’s more energy-efficient. So when people say they have LED visual displays at their event, that elicits a response from their audience and gets people excited.”
The hope at Zasco is that this emotion grows stronger in the years to come. If it does, then this investment will certainly bring a return for a company that is now, more than ever, focused on the big picture.

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

Law Sections
Many Pending Bills Will Have a Significant Impact on Employers


Annie Lajoie

Annie Lajoie

Karina L. Schrengohst

Karina L. Schrengohst

As we usher in the new year, employers should be mindful of pending legislation that has the potential to impact their businesses. Here are some things to keep an eye on.

Independent Contractors
One piece of legislation related to independent contractors potentially offers game-changing good news for employers. There are several bills proposed that would make independent-contractor status more feasible, one of which is universally germane. With the change of one word, this proposed legislation would make a previously insurmountable hurdle less challenging.
The proposed bill would change the ‘and,’ which currently requires satisfying an essentially impossible three-prong test, to an ‘or,’ which would allow categorizing an individual as an independent contractor even though he or she performs services that are within the company’s usual course of business.  While there would still be a presumption of employment, it would be phenomenally easier to establish an independent-contractor relationship.
In more good news for franchisors, another proposed bill would clarify that franchisees are independent contractors and not employees. A third bill would allow freelance writers, editors, proofreaders, artists, and similar persons who work out of their own residence whose work constitutes intellectual property, to which copyright laws apply, to be classified as independent contractors.
Massachusetts independent-contractor law is long overdue for a change. The proposed changes would allow employers to maintain independent-contractor relationships where previously the burden was virtually impossible and misclassification was a large risk with hefty penalties.

Non-compete Agreements
Our governor would like to do away with non-compete agreements. The first step toward this is proposed legislation that would further limit the enforceability of non-compete agreements between employers and employees. Pending bills seek to limit the duration of these restrictive covenants to as little as six months.
In addition, pending legislation would limit use of non-compete agreements to employees with a minimum salary of $75,000 per year. Similar to California employers, restrictive covenants may eventually be a thing of the past for Massachusetts employers.

Raising Minimum Wage
One challenge employers may face in the next year is an increase to the minimum wage. The Massachusetts Senate has already voted to raise the state’s minimum wage from $8 per hour to $11 per hour over a three-year period, and future increases would be tied to the rate of inflation.
Restaurant owners should take note that this legislation could have a detrimental impact on their business. This pending bill would increase the minimum wage for tipped employees from $2.63 per hour to half the minimum wage.
If this legislation passes, employers would see an increase as early as July 1, 2014.

Paid Sick Time
Pending legislation would mandate that employers provide sick time to full-time, part-time, and temporary employees. Here’s a breakdown:
• Employers with 11 or more employees would be required to provide up to seven paid sick days per year;
• Employers with six to 10 employees would be required to provide up to five paid sick days per year;
• Employers with five or fewer employees would be required to provide up to five unpaid sick days per year; and
• Employees would earn one hour of sick time for every 30 hours they work.
Unlike accrued vacation time, employers would not be required to pay unused sick time at separation. Also, seasonal employers would be exempt from these requirements. Finally, employers would still be able to require proof of need for the sick time, such as a doctor’s note.

Parental Leave Act
Legislators have set out to make the Massachusetts Maternity Leave Act gender-neutral. The Parental Leave Act would expand coverage to men. Significantly, under this bill, employers would be required to give written notice to employees prior to the commencement of the leave that taking longer than eight weeks of leave may result in the loss of rights and benefits or denial of reinstatement.

Domestic Violence Bill
Finally, under proposed legislation, employers with 50 or more employees would be required to provide up to 15 days of job-secured leave per year for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking to take time off to attend to court, housing, health, or other issues related to the abuse.
With new legislation comes new challenges. Consequently, employers would be wise to consult with employment counsel to stay abreast of new legal obligations to ensure compliance.

Annie E. Lajoie, Esq. specializes exclusively in management-side labor and employment law at Royal LLP, a woman-owned, SOMWBA-certified, boutique, management-side labor and employment law firm; (413) 586-2288; [email protected] Karina L. Schrengohst, Esq. is an attorney at Royal LLP; (413) 586-2288; [email protected]


Editor’s Note: Again this year, five individuals have been chosen to score the nominations submitted for the 40 Under Forty Class of 2014. In keeping with past practice, BusinessWest has chosen two former winners to be part of this panel — in this case, members of the classes of 2011 and 2013. In addition, BusinessWest has sought out individuals with experience in business and entrepreneurship. This year’s judges are:

Jim Barrett

Jim Barrett

• Jim Barrett, CPA/PFS, MST is the managing partner of Meyers Brothers Kalicka, P.C., the largest regionally based public-accounting firm in Western Mass. He is a certified public accountant licensed in Massachusetts and Connecticut, and holds a personal financial specialist credential. In the taxation practice, he works with privately held commercial companies, partnerships, and individuals. In addition to tax compliance, his engagement experience includes consulting on accounting periods and methods, review of corporate tax provisions, computation of corporate earnings and profits, and mergers and acquisitions. In the financial-planning and wealth-management services practice, Barrett assists clients in integrating and managing issues concerning life and wealth. These issues include pre- and post-retirement planning, estate- and gift-tax planning, income-tax planning, investment planning, education planning, insurance planning, and charitable giving.
Barrett joined the firm in 2002. Prior to that, he was a senior tax manager for KPMG, LLP. He is a member of the AICPA and the MSCPA, and serves as treasurer of the Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce. He also serves as the treasurer of the Young Presidents Organization of Western New England.

Shonda Pettiford

Shonda Pettiford

• Shonda Pettiford, assistant director of Communications for Commonwealth Honors College, a program for academically talented students at UMass Amherst. A member of the 40 Under Forty class of 2013, Pettiford builds the brand of the Honors College through strategic communications, marketing, social media, website development, and event publicity. Before entering that role, she helped direct community-service learning at the university.
For more than 12 years, Pettiford has been involved with the Women’s Fund of Western Mass. She has channeled her passion for advancing social justice for women into myriad volunteer roles within the organization, from co-chairing the grant-making committee to participating on the development, governance, and executive committees, to serving as president of the board of directors.

Peter Rosskothen

Peter Rosskothen

• Peter Rosskothen, co-owner and president of the Log Cabin & Delaney House. A veteran of the hospitality industry, Rosskothen has also been a serial entrepreneur, and a former BusinessWest Top Entrepreneur. After working as restaurant manager at the Holiday Inn in Holyoke, food and beverage manager at Twin Hills Country Club, and director of food services at Classic Foods in Greenfield, he became owner and president of three Boston Chicken locations in Western Mass. and manager of 65 across the Northeast. Later, he was a partner in a venture to convert the former Log Cabin restaurant into a banquet and meeting facility, and, several years later, acquired the Delaney House restaurant. His most recent venture has been the opening of two Mt. Joe coffee shops.
Rosskothen has been involved with the Holyoke Chamber of Commerce, the Holyoke Rotary Club, the Greater Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Holyoke Health Center, the Economic Development Council of Western Mass., the Volleyball Hall of Fame, and other organizations.

Meghan Rothschild

Meghan Rothschild

• Meghan Rothschild, co-owner of the marketing and public relations firm chikmedia. A member of the 40 Under Forty class of 2011, she and chikmedia partner Emily Gaylord put an emphasis on female-run organizations and women business owners, and offer full design, strategic marketing planning, and creative PR. Current clients include SkinCatering and Papa John’s Pizza.
For the past seven years, Rothschild has worked closely with the Melanoma Foundation of New England as a board member and spokesperson. She is a 10-year melanoma survivor who started her own awareness organization, Surviving Skin, seven years ago. She advocates for skin health through interviews with media across the New England region and by appearing as a speaker at various engagements across the state. She also acts as host of Skin Talk, a local talk show focused on melanoma awareness and skin care. She was recently the keynote speaker at the Melanoma Foundation’s Shades of Hope event in Boston.

Jim Sheils

Jim Sheils

• Jim Sheils, partner at the Springfield-based law firm Shatz, Schwartz and Fentin, P.C., where he concentrates his practice in commercial finance, representing banks and private lenders in the Pioneer Valley and the Berkshires. He also represents clients in the acquisition or sale of businesses. Currently the town moderator of East Longmeadow, he has also served on a number of charitable and civic boards, including the Dunbar Community Center, the Mass. Moderators Assoc., Goodwill Industries of the Pioneer Valley, and the St. Vincent de Paul Society.
Sheils has also been a member of the Mass. Advisory Council for the U.S. Small Business Administration, a director of the Smaller Business Assoc. of New England (SBANE), and a member of the Commercial Law League of America. He was the first program director at WICN Radio, Worcester’s NPR radio station. Sheils is a graduate of the College of the Holy Cross, where he received the Presidential Service Award, and Boston College Law School.

Departments Picture This

Send photos with a caption and contact information to:  ‘Picture This’ c/o BusinessWest Magazine, 1441 Main Street, Springfield, MA 01103 or to [email protected]

Gingerbread and Business Cards
YPS-1YPS-5YPS-7YPS-3The Young Professional Society of Greater Springfield (YPS) celebrated the holiday season amid the “Magic of Gingerbread” exhibit, which runs until Dec. 31 at the Springfield Museum of Science, for its monthly YPS Third Thursday networking event. Members and friends traded business cards surrounded by decorated holiday trees and dozens of fanciful gingerbread houses created by local bakeries, schools, youth groups, individuals, and families for the annual Gingerbread House Competition. Left to right from top: from left, Sean Wandrei, lecturer at UMass Amherst, Jeremy Leap, vice president of Commercial Lending at Country Bank, and Jeremy Hollins, operations and asset manager for Environmental Integrity; from left, Ryan McCollum, owner, RMC Strategies, Ed Nunez, assistant vice president, Business Development, Freedom Credit Union, and Jean Canosa Albano, manager of Public Services for the Springfield City Library; Mariga Ward, coordinator of ticket operations, and Eric Levine, coordinator of Business Development for Springfield Falcons Hockey; Ashley Clark, left, commercial service officer, Westfield Bank, and Kaitlin Casey, occupational therapist, Hartford Healthcare.

Party in PJs
SquareOneSanta Claus and Adam Quenneville, owner of Quenneville Roofing, Siding & Windows (seen here just left of Santa), both recently participated in this year’s Christmas pajama party at Square One’s King Street Children’s Center. Claus, Quenneville, and teacher Kristine Gorman (second from right) distributed 200 new toys and games, ensuring a happy holiday for each child.

Weighing In
Fat-HeadThe Springfield College Center for Wellness Education and Research (CWER) recently hosted a guest appearance by Tom Naughton, writer and director of Fat Head, the popular comedy-documentary about diet and health. The lecture, titled “Diet, Health, and the Wisdom of Crowds,” explored the growing notion that social networking is a key factor in healthcare, particularly with respect to lifestyle-related issues. Naughton, also an editor and writer for Family Safety and Health magazine, contributing writer for the Encyclopedia Britannica Health and Medical Annual, and a freelance humor writer for essays published in Newsweek and Omni, takes complex information about diet and nutrition and makes it both amusing and understandable to his audience. From left, Sara Gregory, assistant director, and Richard Wood, director, both of CWER, and Naughton.

Holiday Party
WTCC-xmasPartyNearly 100 area children attended the annual Children’s Holiday party on Dec. 14, hosted by WTCC 90.7 FM, the community radio station of Springfield Technical Community College. DJ Phillip Anthony Borras again volunteered as Santa Claus. Donations for the party, for toys and food, came from WTCC station members and area businesses. Barnes & Noble donated 100 books for the children.
(Photo by Christopher Winslow)


Lists of the previous seven 40 Under Forty classes

Class of 2013

Timothy Allen, South End Middle School
Meaghan Arena, Westfield State University
Adrian Bailey Dion, Harold Grinspoon Foundation
Jason Barroso, Tighe & Bond
Elizabeth Beaudry, NUVO Bank & Trust Co.
Melyssa Brown, Meyers Bothers Kalicka, P.C.
Kam Capoccia, Western New England University College of Pharmacy
Jeremy Casey, Westfield Bank
Tommy Cosenzi, TommyCar Auto Group
Erin Couture, Florence Savings Bank
Geoffrey Croteau, MassMutual Charter Oak Insurance and Financial Services
William Davila, The Gandara Center
Ralph DiVito Jr., Yankee Candle Co.
Shaun Dwyer, PeoplesBank
Erin Fontaine Brunelle, Century 21 Hometown Associates
William Gagnon, Excel Dryer Inc.
Allison Garriss, Clinical & Support Options Inc.
Annamarie Golden, Baystate Health
L. Alexandra Hogan, Shatz, Schwartz and Fentin, P.C.
Samalid Hogan , City of Springfield
Xiaolei Hua, PeoplesBank
Mark Jardim, CMD Technologies
Danny Kates, Wealth New England and MassMutual Charter Oak Insurance and Financial Services
Jeremy Leap, Country Bank
Danielle Letourneau-Therrien, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Franklin County
Isaac Mass, Law Office of Isaac J. Mass
Kelvin Molina, HAPHousing
Brenna Murphy McGee, Commonwealth of Massachusetts/City of Holyoke
Vanessa Pabon, WGBY-TV
John Pantera, Fitness Together Franchise Corp./Elements Therapeutic Massage
Justin Pelis, North Country Landscapes & Garden Center
Shonda Pettiford, Commonwealth Honors College, UMass Amherst
Shannon Reichelt, S. Reichelt & Co., LLC.
N. Andrew Robb, Burgess, Schultz & Robb, P.C.
Stacy Robison, CommunicateHealth Inc.
Rachel Romano, Veritas Preparatory Charter School
Jennifer Root, Center for Human Development,Terri Thomas Girls Program
Jonathan Stolpinski, Westfield Electroplating Co.
Walter Tomala Jr., TNT General Contracting Inc.
Mark Zatyrka, American Homecare Federation Inc.

Class of 2012

Allison Biggs, Graphic Designer
Christopher Connelly, Foley/Connelly Financial Partners
Scott Conrad, Center for Human Development
Erin Corriveau, Reliable Temps Inc.
Carla Cosenzi, Tommy Car Corp.
Ben Craft, Baystate Medical Center
Jessica Crevier, AIDS Foundation of Western Mass.
Michele Crochetiere, YWCA of Western Mass.
Christopher DiStefano, DiStefano Financial Group
Keshawn Dodds, 4King Edward Enterprises Inc.
Ben Einstein, Brainstream Design
Michael Fenton, Shatz, Schwartz, and Fentin, P.C.
Tim Fisk, The Alliance to Develop Power
Elizabeth Ginter, Ellis Title Co.
Eric Hall, Westfield Police Department
Brendon Hutchins, St. Germain Investment Management
Kevin Jennings, Jennings Real Estate
Kristen Kellner, Kellner Consulting, LLC
Dr. Ronald Laprise, Laprise Chiropractic & Wellness
Danielle Lord, O’Connell Care at Home & Staffing Services
Waleska Lugo-DeJesus, Westfield State University
Trecia Marchand, Pioneer Valley Federal Credit Union
Ryan McCollum, RMC Strategies
Sheila Moreau, MindWing Concepts Inc.
Kelli Ann Nielsen, Springfield Academy Middle School
Neil Nordstrom, Pediatric Services of Springfield
Edward Nuñez, Freedom Credit Union
Adam Ondrick, Ondrick Natural Earth
Gladys Oyola, City of Springfield
Shardool Parmar, Pioneer Valley Hotel Group
Vincent Petrangelo, Raymond James
Terry Powe, Elias Brookings Museum Magnet School
Jennifer Reynolds, Meyers Brothers Kalicka, P.C.
Dan Rukakoski, Tighe & Bond
Dr. Nate Somers, Center for Human Development
Joshua Spooner, Western New England University College of Pharmacy
Jaclyn Stevenson, Winstanley Partners
Jason Tsitso, R & R Windows Contractors
Sen. James Welch, State Senator, First Hampden District
Karen Woods, Yankee Candle Co.

Class of 2011

Kelly Albrecht , left-click Corp.
Gianna Allentuck , Springfield Public Schools
Briony Angus , Tighe & Bond
Delania Barbee , ACCESS Springfield Promise Program
Monica Borgatti , Pioneer Valley Habitat for Humanity
Nancy Buffone , University of Massachusetts
Michelle Cayo , Country Bank
Nicole Contois , Springfield Housing Authority
Christin Deremian , Human Resources Unlimited/Pyramid Project
Peter Ellis , DIF Design
Scott Foster , Bulkley, Richardson and Gelinas, LLP
Stephen Freyman , Longmeadow High School
Benjamin Garvey , Insurance Center of New England
Mathew Geffin , Webber and Grinnell
Nick Gelfand , NRG Real Estate Inc.
Mark Germain , Gomes, DaCruz and Tracy, P.C.
Elizabeth Gosselin , Commonwealth Packaging
Kathryn Grandonico , Lincoln Real Estate
Jaimye Hebert , Monson Savings Bank
Sean Hemingway , Center for Human Development
Kelly Koch , Bulkley, Richardson and Gelinas, LLP
Jason Mark , Gravity Switch
Joan Maylor , Stop and Shop Supermarkets
Todd McGee , MassMutual Financial Group
Donald Mitchell , Western Mass. Development Collaborative
David Pakman , Vivid Edge Media Group/The David Pakman Show
Timothy Plante, City of Springfield/Springfield Public Schools
Maurice Powe , The Law Offices of Brooks and Powe
Jeremy Procon , Interstate Towing Inc.
Kristen Pueschel , PeoplesBank
Meghan Rothschild , SurvivingSkin.org
Jennifer Schimmel , Greater Springfield Habitat for Humanity
Amy Scott , Wild Apple Design Group
Alexander Simon , LogicTrail, LLC
Lauren Tabin , PeoplesBank
Lisa Totz , ITT Power Solutions
Jeffrey Trant , Human Resources Unlimited
Timothy Van Epps , Sandri Companies
Michael Vedovelli , Mass. Office of Business Development
Beth Vettori , Rockridge Retirement Community

Class of 2010

Nancy Bazanchuk , Disability Resource Program, Center for Human Development
Raymond Berry , United Way of Pioneer Valley
David Beturne , Big Brothers Big Sisters of Hampden County
Maegan Brooks , The Law Office of Maegan Brooks
Karen Buell , PeoplesBank
Shanna Burke , Nonotuck Resource Associates
Damon Cartelli , Fathers & Sons
Brady Chianciola , PeoplesBank
Natasha Clark , Springfield School Volunteers
Julie Cowan , TD Bank
Karen Curran , Thomson Financial Management Inc.
Adam Epstein , Dielectrics Inc.
Mary Fallon , Garvey Communication Associates
Daniel Finn , Pioneer Valley Local First
Owen Freeman-Daniels , Foley-Connelly Financial Partners and Foley Insurance Group
Lorenzo Gaines , ACCESS Springfield Promise Program
Thomas Galanis , Westfield State College
Anthony Gleason II , Roger Sitterly & Son Inc. and Gleason Landscaping
Allen Harris , Berkshire Money Management Inc.
Meghan Hibner , Westfield Bank
Amanda Huston , Junior Achievement of Western Mass. Inc.
Kimberly Klimczuk , Royal, LLP
James Krupienski , Meyers Brothers Kalicka, P.C.
David Kutcher , Confluent Forms, LLC
James Leahy , City of Holyoke and Alcon Laboratories
Kristin Leutz , Community Foundation of Western Mass.
Meghan Lynch , Six-Point Creative Works
Susan Mielnikowski , Cooley, Shrair, P.C.
Jill Monson , Adam Quenneville Roofing & Siding Inc. and Inspired Marketing & Promotions
Kevin Perrier , Five Star Building Corp.
Lindsay Porter , Big Y Foods
Brandon Reed , Fitness Together
Boris Revsin , CampusLIVE Inc.
Aaron Vega , Vega Yoga & Movement Arts
Ian Vukovich , Florence Savings Bank
Thomas Walsh , City of Springfield
Sean Wandrei , Meyers Brothers Kalicka, P.C.
Byron White , Pazzo Ristorante
Chester Wojcik , Design Construction Group
Peter Zurlino , Atlantico Designs and Springfield Public Schools

Class of 2009

Marco Alvan, Team Link Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
Gina Barry, Bacon Wilson, P.C.
Maggie Bergin, The Art of Politics
Daniel Bessette, Get Set Marketing
Brandon Braxton, NewAlliance Bank
Dena Calvanese, Gray House
Edward Cassell, Park Square Realty
Karen Chadwell, Doherty, Wallace, Pillsbury and Murphy, P.C.
Kate Ciriello, MassMutual Financial Group
Kamari Collins, Springfield Technical Community College
Mychal Connolly Sr., Stinky Cakes
Todd Demers, Family Wireless
Kate Glynn, A Child’s Garden and Impish
Andrew Jensen, Jx2 Productions, LLC
Kathy LeMay, Raising Change
Ned Leutz, Webber & Grinnell Insurance Agency
Scott MacKenzie, MacKenzie Vault Inc.
Tony Maroulis, Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce
Seth Mias, Seth Mias Catering
Marjory Moore, Chicopee Public Schools
Corey Murphy, First American Insurance Agency Inc.
Mark Hugo Nasjleti, Go Voice for Choice
Joshua Pendrick, Royal Touch Painting
Christopher Prouty, Studio99Creative
Adam Quenneville, Adam Quenneville Roofing
Michael Ravosa, Morgan Stanley
Kristi Reale, Meyers Brothers Kalicka, P.C.
Amy Royal, Royal & Klimczuk, LLC
Michelle Sade, United Personnel
Scott Sadowsky, Williams Distributing Corp.
Gregory Schmidt, Doherty, Wallace, Pillsbury & Murphy, P.C.
Gretchen Siegchrist, Media Shower Productions
Erik Skar, MassMutual Financial Services
Paul Stallman, Alias Solutions
Renee Stolar, J. Stolar Insurance Co.
Tara Tetreault, Jackson and Connor
Chris Thompson, Springfield Falcons Hockey Team
Karl Tur, Ink & Toner Solutions, LLC
Michael Weber, Minuteman Press
Brenda Wishart, Aspen Square Management

Class of 2008

Michelle Abdow, Market Mentors
Matthew Andrews, Best Buddies of Western Mass.
Rob Anthony, WMAS
Shane Bajnoci, Cowls Land & Lumber Co.
Steve Bandarra, Atlas TC
Dr. Jonathan Bayuk, Hampden County Physician Associates
Delcie Bean IV, Valley Computer Works (Paragus Strategic IT)
Brendan Ciecko, Ten Minute Media
Todd Cieplinski, Universal Mind Inc.
William Collins, Spoleto Restaurant Group
Michael Corduff, Log Cabin Banquet and Meeting House
Amy Davis, New City Scenic & Display
Dave DelVecchio, Innovative Business Systems Inc.
Tyler Fairbank, EOS Ventures
Timothy Farrell, F.W. Farrell Insurance
Jeffrey Fialky, Bacon Wilson, P.C.
Dennis Francis, America’s Box Choice
Kelly Galanis, Westfield State College
Jennifer Glockner, Winstanley Associates
Andrea Hill-Cataldo, Johnson & Hill Staffing Services
Steven Huntley, Valley Opportunity Council
Alexander Jarrett, Pedal People Cooperative
Kevin Jourdain, City of Holyoke
Craig Kaylor, Hampden Bank / Hampden Bancorp Inc.
Stanley Kowalski III, FloDesign Inc.
Marco Liquori, NetLogix Inc.
Azell Murphy Cavaan, City of Springfield
Michael Presnal, The Federal Restaurant
Melissa Shea, Sullivan, Hayes & Quinn
Sheryl Shinn, Hampden Bank
Ja’Net Smith, Center for Human Development
Diana Sorrentini-Velez, Cooley, Shrair, P.C.
Meghan Sullivan, Sullivan, Hayes & Quinn
Michael Sweet, Doherty Wallace Pillsbury & Murphy
Heidi Thomson, Girls Inc.
Hector Toledo, Hampden Bank
William Trudeau Jr., Insurance Center of New England
David Vermette, MassMutual Financial Services
Lauren Way, Bay Path College
Paul Yacovone, Brain Powered Concepts

Class of 2007

William Bither III, Atalasoft
Kimberlynn Cartelli, Fathers & Sons
Amy Caruso, MassMutual Financial Group
Denise Cogman, Springfield School Volunteers
Richard Corder, Cooley Dickinson Hospital
Katherine Pacella Costello, Egan, Flanagan & Cohen, P.C.
A. Rima Dael, Berkshire Bank Foundation of Pioneer Valley
Nino Del Padre, Del Padre Visual Productions
Antonio Dos Santos, Robinson Donovan, P.C.
Jake Giessman, Academy Hill School
Jillian Gould, Eastfield Mall
Michael Gove, Lyon & Fitzpatrick, LLP
Dena Hall, United Bank
James Harrington, Our Town Variety & Liquors
Christy Hedgpeth, Spalding Sports
Francis Hoey III, Tighe & Bond
Amy Jamrog, The Jamrog Group, Northwestern Mutual
Cinda Jones, Cowls Land & Lumber Co.
Paul Kozub, V-1 Vodka
Bob Lowry, Bueno y Sano
G.E. Patrick Leary, Moriarty & Primack, P.C.
Todd Lever, Noble Hospital
Audrey Manring, The Women’s Times
Daniel Morrill, Wolf & Company
Joseph Pacella, Egan, Flanagan & Cohen, P.C.
Arlene Rodriquez, Springfield Technical Community College
Craig Swimm, WMAS 94.7
Sarah Tanner, United Way of Pioneer Valley
Mark Tanner, Bacon Wilson, P.C.
Michelle Theroux, Child & Family Services of Pioneer Valley Inc.
Tad Tokarz, Western MA Sports Journal
Dan Touhey, Spalding Sports
Sarah Leete Tsitso, Fred Astaire Dance
Michael Vann, The Vann Group
Ryan Voiland, Red Fire Farm
Erica Walch, Speak Easy Accent Modification
Catherine West, Meyers Brothers Kalicka, P.C.
Michael Zaskey, Zasco Productions, LLC
Edward Zemba, Robert Charles Photography
Carin Zinter, The Princeton Review

Valley Gives Organizers Look to Continue Building on Their Success

‘Doug the Dakin Dog’

‘Doug the Dakin Dog’ traveled throughout Western Mass. on Valley Gives Day to promote the second annual e-philanthropy initiative.

On Dec. 11, Flying Object was a small, relatively obscure nonprofit agency based in Hadley that was quietly carrying out its mission to provide opportunities and educational programs to writers, artists, musicians, and publishers, locally and nationally.
On Dec. 13 … well, it was still carrying out that mission, but it was far less obscure. And it had an additional $33,230 with which to carry out its work.
And that’s because of what happened on Dec. 12, or Valley Gives Day, as that date is now known in this region. Indeed, those involved with Flying Object, including Executive Director Guy Petit, its only paid employee, “had their act together” on Valley Gives Day, said Kristen Leutz, vice president of Philanthropic Services for the Community Foundation of Western Mass., the managing organization for the program.
By that, she meant that the agency was organized, worked hard to get its name and mission out to the public, and took full advantage of the many events and initiatives scheduled that day — from so-called ‘golden tickets’ to ‘power hours’ — as well as the online giving, or e-philanthropy, concept that is so appealing to the many young people involved with Flying Object. And when the 24-hour giving period had ended, the nonprofit, launched just three years ago, had taken second place in the ‘most money raised’ category for organizations with budgets under $300,000, and thus earned another $7,500 in the process.
“The day after, the guys at Flying Object were here [at the Community Foundation] for a meeting, and I said, ‘well, everyone knows who you are today,’” said Leutz, adding that there were many nonprofit agencies that similarly had their act together on Valley Gives Day, enabling the program to meet the ambitious goal of raising $2 million ($2,012,089 is the official number), doubling the total from the inaugural year in 2012, and creating a great deal of momentum for 2014.
“Online giving is growing at a very rapid pace, and social media is a crucial tool for nonprofits to engage supporters and educate the community about their mission,” said Katie Allan Zobel, president and CEO of the Community Foundation, noting that the number of donors nearly doubled from the first year, soaring from 6,600 to more than 11,000. “Our message this year was ‘bring a friend,’ and people did, and it works as a social-media-driven campaign.”
While still basking in the light of their successful event, Valley Gives organizers have essentially moved onto the next edition of the program. The team is already preparing surveys and poring over the data from this year’s efforts, while also watching — and learning from — similar iniatives around the country.
“We’re not the only city or region doing this,” said Leutz, “and we’re going to watch others in Miami, Seattle, Minnesota, and their Give Days to see what best practices we can adopt.”
For this issue, BusinessWest takes a look back at Dec. 12, but then turns the focus to the future and where this already hugely successful event can go from here.

In Real Time
When a volunteer for the inaugural Valley Gives Day approached Mark Teed in downtown Springfield’s Tower Square last year, he gladly gave $100 to his favorite nonprofit. Teed, senior vice president of investments at Raymond James in Springfield, didn’t even know about the program then, but this year he was prepared, if not totally up to speed on some of the recent changes that encouraged online interactivity and presented new opportunities for the 350 participating nonprofits.
Splitting $100 among 10 different agencies in Franklin, Hampden, and Hampshire counties this year, Teed’s donations just happened to come during the day’s third power hour, between 4 and 5 p.m., and one was chosen at random to be a ‘golden ticket,’ allowing that nonprofit to receive an extra $1,200.
“It was just serendipity, and I didn’t know about it until afterward, but next year I will certainly be aware of it,” Teed said, laughing. “In our world of the stock exchange, we talk about return on investment. That was certainly a good ROI for the Springfield Symphony Orchestra.”
Golden tickets and power hours are fast becoming part of the local lexicon, especially within the nonprofit community, as Valley Gives continues to broaden its influence.
Based on the model used by the Minnesota Community Foundation for the Give to the Max Day event, or GiveMN, as it’s called — which has facilitated more than $75 million in donations to 6,600 Minnesota-based nonprofits and schools since 2009 — Valley Gives is providing more solid evidence of the effectiveness of e-philanthropy in boosting donations to nonprofits, said Leutz, adding that the program enables people like Teed to choose from more than 350 participating nonprofits, in an easy-to-use format.
Philanthropy is encouraged by program organizers, as well as individual nonprofits, who filled area residents’ e-mail boxes with reminders that Valley Gives Day was coming and messages about why their agency was worthy of support that day, and in general.
And the competition is spiced with special programs and incentives that, as Teed and countless others learned, could make an individual donation become so much more.
ValleyGivesBonusGrantWinnersIndeed, the prize pool (provided by the Community Foundation) was increased $25,000 from last year to $225,000. It includes bonuses for agencies that place high in a host of categories (see box above) as well as for the power-hour and goldenticket donations. (Hourly golden tickets worth $1,200 apiece were drawn from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., and power-hour tickets offered 20 opportunities for donors to increase their donation by $1,200 during four specific hours of the day  —10 a.m., noon, 4 p.m., and 6 p.m.)
These incentives helped trigger a number of individual success stories, such as the one authored by Flying Object.
Launched in 2010, the agency has produced, hosted, and coordinated more than 250 events and exhibits and dozens of workshops, and published more than 60 books through its Factory Hollow Press, said Pettit, adding that it signed on with Valley Gives to gain visibility and more operating revenue — and wildly exceeded its expectations with both goals.
“I think our success had a lot to do with the events we had going on throughout the day and into the evening,” said Pettit. “We have a certain amount of younger people involved in the organization who really responded to the fact that it was all based around social media, and they took off and ran with it.”
But there were many other big winners that day.
For the second year in a row, Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society had the highest total of donations, with $68,965, putting it atop the field among nonprofits with budgets of $300,000 or more. The agency also boasted the highest number of unique donors, with 712. Those accomplishments netted Dakin an additional $20,000 ($10,000 for each competition) from the prize pool.
“That was thrilling for us because you know you’re reaching a lot of people, and every gift matters,” said Candy Lash, manager of marketing and communications for Dakin, which operates with a budget of $3 million. She attributes the amount of unique donations to a huge Facebook following of people who enjoy Dakin’s creative and engaging videos online.
To help promote participation, Valley Gives organizers had three mobile giving teams roaming Western Mass., from downtown Springfield to Greenfield, with iPads to help passersby make gifts to their favorite nonprofits. Meanwhile, Lash and ‘Doug the Dakin Dog’ traveled around the Valley as well, encouraging people to donate.
The outreach proved extremely successful, with some calling it the best way to encourage a new generation to give.
“If you send them [the younger generation] an end-of-the-year appeal in the mail, they might not respond in the same way they respond to something like Valley Gives Day,” said Pettit.  “And seeing that in real time made a difference.”

Community Effort

Michael Balise

Michael Balise says Balise Motor Sales donated graphic and digital-marketing expertise to this year’s Valley Gives effort.

Not all sponsors of Valley Gives donate money; in the case of Balise Motor Sales, the effort was more a donation of time and talent through graphic art and digital marketing assistance. President Michael Balise said that, while the company tends to limit its charitable giving to 501(c)(3) organizations involving children, youth sports, and family nonprofits, Valley Gives is a “no-brainer” for his auto group.
“While this may not be the most focused effort, you can give to any nonprofit, and it’s guilt-free,” Balise said. “And I think this is incremental money. I don’t think that what people are doing here for Valley Gives is displacing other spending; I think it’s getting people to give who wouldn’t normally give.”
Colleen Loveless, executive director of Rebuilding Together Springfield, agreed.
“Many donors were new, because our person-to-person fund-raising efforts really just got off the ground this year,” she noted. “However, we were excited to see that 10% of our donors were not personally asked to give, which tells us that our marketing and social-media campaigns were effective.”
But reaching, and keeping, these new donors will require continued momentum and quite possibly fresh new contests and challenges each year.
Pettit, for example, said he believes that more mobile giving teams roaming the Pioneer Valley that day with their iPads will increase on-the-go electronic giving.
Meanwhile, Loveless would like to see if donors could have a visual representation through a meter on donation pages to show how the nonprofits challenge themselves to meet increased Valley Gives fund-raising goals from year to year.
To that end, the Community Foundation is preparing surveys for nonprofits and donors this month, said Leutz, adding that the results should prove invaluable to organizers as they go about the challenging task of continually raising the bar when it comes to the annual goal, and then meeting or exceeding it.
And what will the goal be for 2014?
“I can’t really say yet, but we do have a careful practice of goal setting,” she said. “But we hope that it will be inspiring for our community, and no matter what the goal is, it’s going to be more than $2 million.”

Challenge Accepted
The results from the first two Valley Gives Days clearly show both the philanthropic nature of the Valley’s residents and businesses, and the power of the Internet as a way to facilitate giving, thus offering area nonprofits and schools more resources with which to carry out their respective missions.
“The nonprofit sector is an economic engine that employs many, and I can’t imagine any business not being online these days,” Leutz added.  “You have to bring the nonprofits into that space, and Valley Gives is a fun way to do that.”
Beyond the fun, though, are the bottom-line numbers, which for many agencies, such as Flying Object, were surprising — and what Pettit called “amazing.”
“This opens up a lot of doors for us to provide programming,” he said, “and we’re pretty good at squeezing out a lot from a dollar.”
Thanks to Valley Gives, his organization — and many others — have considerably more dollars to squeeze.

Elizabeth Taras can be reached at [email protected]