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Daily News

BOSTON — The Baker-Polito administration has released “The Massachusetts Opioid Epidemic: a Data Visualization of Findings from the Chapter 55 Report.” The visualization can be viewed at www.mass.gov/chapter55.

This website is designed to complement the recent release of the Chapter 55 Report, an unprecedented public/private partnership that reviewed opioid-related data sets from a variety of sources to better understand the opioid epidemic. The report was a product of the Chapter 55 of the Acts of 2015 signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker in August 2015.

“This project represents our latest effort to use and present data to better understand the opioid epidemic and inform our residents about one of the great public-health challenges of our time,” Baker said. “It is also an example of drawing talent from across state government and working with our external partners to create a tool that makes this important report accessible to more people.”

The online site, produced by a MassIT and the Mass. Department Public Health (DPH) partnership, is an online, multi-media resource which illustrates and explains the complex nature of the disease of addiction, the role that legal prescription medications and illegal substances play in the epidemic, its impact across the demographic spectrum in Massachusetts, and what steps are being taken to address this fundamental public-health crisis in communities across the state.

“The Chapter 55 report was truly groundbreaking in the depth of its analysis and its use of advanced data to understand the underlying causes of opioid-related deaths,” said Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders. “We hope that this new way of communicating the data helps underscore the challenges ahead and our resolve for addressing this crisis.”

Led by DPH, the Chapter 55 analysis involved 10 data sets from 5 different government agencies. In total, 29 groups from government, higher education, and the private sector provided information and expertise. This level of partnership is what makes the Chapter 55 report a milestone achievement in Massachusetts. Before this legislation was passed, such a comprehensive look at the opioid epidemic in the Commonwealth would not have been possible.

“This innovative tool takes us beyond charts and statistics in a way that allows even greater insight into the devastating impact of the opioid epidemic in Massachusetts,” said Public Health Commissioner Dr. Monica Bharel. “We hope it will be a useful resource to help inform policymakers, stakeholders, and community members understand where we are, and how we move forward.”

Daily News

PITTSFIELD — Berkshire Bank announced a new product, Teen Checking, its newest deposit product designed to promote financial responsibility and teach teens important money basics.

As teenagers grow, they need to learn money basics, and that includes managing a checking account. Those skills might be more valuable today than ever before: 36% of college students at four-year institutions noted that overdrafting and managing a bank account are the leading causes of financial stress, according to the 2015 Money Matters on Campus survey by education technology firm EverFi and Higher One, a college financial-services company. Furthermore, 12% indicated they never check their balances because they are too nervous.

The Teen Checking product is available to individuals aged 15 to 17 with an adult co-owner and is intended to provide teens the freedom to use their own debit card to make purchases and manage a checking account using online and mobile banking.

The account has been tailored to meet the needs of teens, with a specific focus on immediate access. The convenience of account information is made possible through free online banking, e-statements, and mobile banking. In addition, the free debit card has a reduced limit for minors. Berkshire Bank’s website also provides financial-education resource options for teens and parents to explore and discuss.

Starting a checking account early for teens is a key way to avoid pitfalls later. “It helps them learn concepts related to money and gives them valuable experience,” said Tami Gunsch, executive vice president, Retail Banking. “Remember that, while your child has watched you swipe a debit card for years, he or she may not fully understand how the transaction works. A debit card connected to an account is essentially the same as cash.”

Daily News

HOLYOKE — The Dowd Insurance Agencies announced that David Griffin Sr. was selected as treasurer for the new Pope Francis High School board of directors.

Pope Francis High School is a faith-based, college-preparatory school serving grades 9-12, formed through the merger of Cathedral and Holyoke Catholic high schools, and currently operating out of the former Holyoke Catholic building. A new, state-of-the-art facility is under construction on Wendover Road in Springfield and is slated to open for the 2018-19 academic year.

“I have strong ties with both legacy schools — I’m an alumnus of Holyoke Catholic, and three of my children were educated at Cathedral,” Griffin said. “Participating on the new Pope Francis High School board is one way I can help ensure that Catholic secondary education remains a viable option here in the Pioneer Valley.”

Griffin is a principal and the executive vice president and treasurer of the Dowd Insurance Agencies. He has more than 35 years of experience in the insurance industry. He is a licensed insurance advisor as well as a certified insurance counselor.

Griffin is also very active in the community. He has served as president of the West Springfield Chamber of Commerce, West Springfield Rotary, Holyoke St. Patrick’s Parade Committee, Springfield Country Club, Hampden County Insurance Agents, and chair of Mont Marie Health Care Center.

Daily News

PALMER — As the holiday season approaches, the Baystate Wing Auxiliary has set the date for its annual Tree of Love ceremony. This special event, created to honor and remember loved ones, features ornaments that can be purchased, personalized, and placed on the tree with names in memory of family and friends.

“There is a definite comfort in coming together with others to remember someone, especially during the holidays,” said Teresa Grove, president of the Auxiliary and Philanthropy officer for the Baystate Health Eastern Region, which includes Baystate Wing and Baystate Mary Lane Outpatient Center.

The ornaments may be purchased for $5 for a single name and $10 for a family. In addition, the community is invited to be part of an event held on Sunday, Dec. 17 from 1 to 3 p.m., when the decorated Tree of Love will be displayed in the lobby located on the ground floor of the hospital. This special event will include fellowship, refreshments, and festive music by Voices of Love and Remembrance.

“The Tree of Love is our annual tradition that warms our hearts as we remember loved ones and celebrate their lives,” said Carol Doyle, an auxiliary member who coordinates the event. All proceeds benefit the Baystate Wing Auxiliary, which in turn donates needed equipment and other items for the benefit of patients to the hospital. The funds from this year’s event will benefit the Baystate Wing Hospital Emergency Department expansion project.

For more information about the Tree of Love or to purchase an ornament, stop in the Baystate Wing Hospital Gift Shop or call Doyle at (413) 267-9219.

Law Sections

OSHA’s Big Year

By John Gannon, Esq. and Susan Fentin, Esq.

John S. Gannon

John S. Gannon

SUSAN G. FENTIN

Susan G. Fentin

Over the past several months, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has announced a number of regulatory changes that may have slipped under your radar during the summer season.

The changes are not favorable to the business community and may call for significant changes to your workplace practices.

Increased penalties

Effective August 1, 2016, OSHA’s maximum fines for safety violations went up a massive 78%.  Serious violations, which previously maxed out at $7,000 per violation, will now increase to maximum of $12,471 per violation.

Similarly, the failure-to-abate penalty will also max out at $12,471 per day, which is up from $7,000. Willful and repeat violations will cap at $124,709 per violation, which is up from $70,000. Given the dramatic increase, employers should consider auditing workplace safety practices to evaluate OSHA citation risk.

Electronic reporting data available to the public

OSHA also announced a final rule back in May 2016 that will require certain employers to electronically submit worker injury and illness data starting in 2017. Notably, OSHA intends to post this information on a website available to the public. This means the information will be instantaneously available to other interested parties, including customers, competitors, attorneys and union organizers.

Contractors reviewing project bids may consider this information as part of the bidding process. The agency explained that it will post the data on its public website so that “prospective employees [can] identify workplaces where their risk of injury is lowest.”

Employers that are not exempt from OSHA’s injury and illness record-keeping rules are already required to keep track of their workers’ injuries and illnesses in what is commonly called an “OSHA log.” However, only certain serious injuries currently require direct reporting to OSHA, such as work-related fatalities, amputations and inpatient hospitalizations.

The new rule will require non-exempt employers to directly report far more injury and illnesses data on an annual basis.

The reporting frequency and content will vary depending on the size and industry of the business. Establishments with 250 or more employees that are currently required to keep OSHA injury and illness records must electronically submit information from all OSHA Forms 300 —including Form 300 (Log of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses); Form 300A (Summary of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses); and Form 301 (Injury and Illness Incident Report) — by July 1 each year.  However, in 2017, only information on the Form 300A will need to be submitted.  Establishments with 20-249 employees that are classified in a high-hazard industry with historically high rates of occupational injuries and illnesses only need to electronically submit information from OSHA Form 300A.

Employers can find out whether their industry is classified as high-hazard by visiting this website:  https://www.osha.gov/recordkeeping/NAICScodesforelectronicsubmission.pdf

Reporting of workplace injuries

The electronic reporting rule also includes provisions aimed at improving safety without discouraging employee reporting of injuries.  The “anti-retaliation” language is meant to protect employees from being punished for reporting workplace injuries.

For example, the rule requires employers to inform employees of their right to report work-related injuries and illnesses free from retaliation, which many employers already do in a company handbook. However, the rule also states that several common practices may be deemed retaliatory, including:

• Automatically conducting post-accident drug testing of injured employees;

• Maintaining rules or policies that discipline employees who do not immediately report workplace injuries; and

• Maintaining incentive programs that reward employees for experiencing no recordable workplace injuries or illnesses.

The limitation on post-accident drug testing has caused the most concern within the business community. OSHA explained that post-accident testing is not prohibited outright.  Instead, according to the agency, testing should be limited to situations where drug use is likely to have contributed to the accident.

For example, if the employer has reasonable suspicion to suspect the accident is linked to drug use, testing would be permissible. Factual circumstances surrounding the accident, such as odor or bloodshot eyes, may give rise to reasonable suspicion of drug use. Employers should consider implementing a drug-testing policy into their handbook or policy manual that addresses reasonable suspicion testing.

Although the new rule has no impact on random testing, Massachusetts employers must remember that random drug testing is only permissible in limited circumstances.

The anti-retaliation provisions of the final rule were originally set to take effect in August 2016, but have been delayed until Nov. 1, 2016, so that OSHA can “conduct additional outreach and provide educational materials and guidance for employers.” Even so, employers that engage in any of the practices listed above should consult with employment counsel.

John S. Gannon is an associate at the firm of Skoler, Abbott & Presser, P.C.; (413) 737-4753; [email protected] Attorney Susan G. Fentin has been a partner at Skoler, Abbott & Presser since 2004. Her practice concentrates on labor and employment counseling, advising large and small employers on their responsibilities and obligations under state and federal employment laws, and representing employers before state and federal agencies and in court.  She speaks frequently to employer groups, conducts training on avoiding problems in employment law, and teaches master classes on both the FMLA and ADA; [email protected]; (413) 737-4753.

Opinion

Opinion

By Elizabeth Barajas-Román, Valerie Bassett, and Ann Bookman

As directors of organizations working to elevate women’s civic leadership, we salute Sec. Hillary Rodham Clinton on the historic and courageous campaign she led as the first woman to run for president of the United States as the nominee of a major political party.

But to come, are the highest stakes our nation has faced since its founding. How do we ensure the door of opportunity not only remains open — but opens wider — for women of color, LGBTQ people, and immigrants, as well as including low-income white and rural residents who feel left behind?

As the results of the recent election show, the majority of our elected officials do not look like the population they represent. In Massachusetts only 25.5% of the total seats on Beacon Hill are occupied by women. Throughout the history of the United States, 1,917 men have been elected to the Senate, whereas only 46 women have held this post; until now, only two of whom were women of color. In the 115th Congress, the overall number of women will remain the same, but nine new women of color, will enter Congress in 2017, three in the Senate and six in the House.

That’s why the work of our organizations is more critical than ever before. The Women’s Fund of Western Mass. fuels progress toward gender equity by funding the most promising solutions, collaborating with results-oriented partners, and by elevating the collective power of local women to take charge, and to lead with purpose. The Women’s Fund of Southeastern Mass. creates pathways for women to economic independence through funding and leading a regional agenda for change, advocacy, and education. The Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy at UMass Boston’s McCormack Graduate School has a dual mission:

• To advance the political leadership of women in both the public and nonprofit sectors, with particular focus on women of color; and

• To design and implement public policies that will advance economic security for all women and their families by raising the minimum wage, closing the wage gap, providing caregiving supports, and other critical issues.

Together, we are creating hope, higher expectations, and alliances among diverse women that are essential to helping create the America we believe in.

So where do we go from here?

Prioritize the work of organizations serving women. Organizations like ours have paved the way for significant milestones reached over the past year, including a new equal pay law. We’re also working at a direct service level to increase women’s access to financial literacy or negotiation training, building cross-sector partnerships at the community level that encourage solutions-orientated dialogue often with local businesses, and investing in research that can be used by advocates and policymakers to drive systems-level change. Organizations like ours amplify the power of women to transform their lives, and the lives of the people in their community.

Support policy advocacy efforts and train women to lead the way. Research shows that high-visibility political campaigns by women make girls think differently about their own futures: they begin to imagine they too, could one day lead. The goals for political leadership are broad: More women in elected office, appointed positions, and more women leading nonprofit organizations and grassroots campaigns. While progress on policies that impact women’s lives may be stalled on the federal level in the foreseeable future, we are optimistic about action and change on the state and local level.  In fact, state and local action — coordinated across New England — is now likely to be across the most fruitful avenue for policy change; and

• Invest in cross-racial, cross-class, and cross-gender alliances. Millions of women sit at the center of several overlapping and intersecting social identities – and they suffer the related systems of oppression, domination, or discrimination that come with the territory. Investing in the visibility and inclusion of all women is the only way to ensure success. We will go forward truly together or not at all.

We celebrate the wins and learn from the losses. We rest from the recent flurry of campaigning and retool for the campaigns and social change work ahead. Most importantly, we must continue to grow a broad and diverse coalition to fight for equity and economic justice for all. Count us in.

Elizabeth Barajas-Román is CEO of the Women’s Fund of Western Mass.; Valerie Bassett is executive director of the Women’s Fund of Southeastern Mass.; and Ann Bookman is director of the Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy, and Clinical Professor, Department of Public Policy and Public Affairs, McCormack Graduate School.

Environment and Engineering Sections

Beneath the Surface

The ground beneath the former Westinghouse manufacturing plant

The ground beneath the former Westinghouse manufacturing plant is cleaned up by OTO so Chinese rail car maker CRRC MA USA can build a factory there.

The firm known colloquially as OTO has been involved in most of the major building projects that have taken place across the region in the past few decades — everything from the major addition at Baystate Medical Center to construction of a subway-car manufacturing plant in Springfield’s east end. But much of the company’s work goes unnoticed, because it takes place before the heavy machinery arrives. To say their work is important, though, would be to only, well, scratch the surface.

Jim Okun and his partners often joke that no one ever sees their best work.

Indeed, it generally takes place where almost no one goes; although O’Reilly, Talbot & Okun Associates (OTO) has been involved in almost every major building project in Western Mass. for the last 20 years, the bulk of work that the specialty geo-environmental engineering consulting firm does is literally beneath the ground.

“Our work often takes place before the heavy equipment shows up,” Okun said about the Springfield firm. “We deal with the environmental safety of soil and water as well as the engineering properties of soil in or around a new development.”

In other words, they determine not only whether the ground is contaminated by pollutants, but also address whether it can and will remain stable beneath the weight of a new structure.

From left, Jim Okun, Mike Talbot, Kevin O’Reilly and Bob Kirchherr

From left, Jim Okun, Mike Talbot, Kevin O’Reilly and Bob Kirchherr specialize in different areas, which gives their firm the ability to handle complex environmental and engineering problems.

Founding Partner Mike Talbot used the Leaning Tower of Pisa as a prime example of what can go wrong without a preliminary assessment.
“The tower is a classic case of building on bad soil,” he said, explaining that it was erected on a former river estuary and sank into the ground due to the soft, sand-like texture of the dirt under the south side of the monument.

Today, thanks to geo-engineering research and best practices, things like this can be prevented, but it takes expertise combined with creative thinking to solve problems in a way that saves time and money, qualities that are generally unexpected since issues are fairly common.

For example, OTO was recently called to assess a building site in Holyoke, and although the surface appeared clean, research showed it had been home to a former mill, and hazardous materials were found in the old cellar hole area.

Although some companies would have removed all of the contaminated soil and taken it to a landfill, OTO found a way to improve and compact the dirt so it didn’t present any safety risk to humans and could withstand the weight of a new building, steps that ultimately saved the developers a substantial amount of money.


List of Engineering Firms in the Region


The firm also addresses issues that come to the surface when contaminants are found in buildings set to be demolished, or environmental issues are uncovered when a business or school starts to make improvements to, or put an addition on, an existing structure.

“We’re not really consultants, we’re problem solvers,” said Partner Bob Kirchherr. “We stay current with changing regulations and by combining our skills and using scientific techniques we are able to find cost-effective solutions that allow new structures to be built.”

OTO’s work involves an equal mix of projects for commercial, institutional, and government clients across New England and includes asbestos consulting, environmental assessments, geotechnical engineering, human health risk assessment, and related practices. They also work with homeowners on issues such as cleanup after an oil tank has leaked.

About 70% of its jobs are in Massachusetts, but over the past few years its reputation has led to work in other states, and the firm has projects underway in Connecticut; it just started two in New Orleans, and is about to begin one in Dallas.

“Clients like our approach to solving problems,” O’Reilly said, noting that the company uses scientific methods and regulatory knowledge to resolve challenging situations in a way that is practical, pragmatic and cost-effective.

For this edition and its focus on Environment & Engneering, BusinessWest looks at some of the “invisible” problems that O’Reilly, Talbot & Okun Associates has uncovered and what they have done to solve them.

Diverse Talents

The company was founded in 1994 by Kevin O’Reilly, Mike Talbot, and Jim Okun who had worked together at another environmental consulting/engineering firm and wanted to go off on their own.

They set up shop in East Longmeadow, but two years later merged with Enviro Comp in Springfield and moved the business to Springfield.

Kirchherr joined the trio as their fourth partner at the time of the merger.

“It was a good fit because there was a lot of synergy. We had worked on projects together,” O’Reilly said, noting that the merger allowed them to expand the services they offered because Enviro Comp specialized in asbestos remediation, industrial monitoring, and compliance with regulations.

Today the firm has 30 employees, and each partner has a specialty that complements the others and allows the firm to deal with complex projects from start to finish.

O’Reilly focuses on environmental consulting and compliance in Massachusetts, and investigates and plans for the cleanup of waste disposal sites, including brownfields.

Cleaning the soil after an oil leak at a home

Cleaning the soil after an oil leak at a home is one of the most stressful jobs the firm encounters due to the anxiety it causes homeowners.

Talbot concentrates on geotechnical engineering and Massachusetts Contingency Plan compliance; Okun also focuses on MCP compliance; but his expertise includes PCB (polychlorinated biphenyl) assessment and management; risk assessment and brownfields development.

Kirchherr specializes in asbestos management; indoor air quality and industrial hygiene; safety and environmental compliance; and lead inspection and management.

“Most companies don’t have the skills needed to deal with environmental, soil, and building issues so people come to us because we do it all,” Okun said.

Talbot noted that people often drive by sites and wonder why they have remained vacant, but in those instances there is usually a problem because banks require an environmental site assessment before investing in a project because they want to understand the risks and costs associated with building.

The principals at OTO say there are few sites today without problems, because almost every desirable business location has had at least one building on it and when they are demolished, it’s uncommon to find clean soil beneath.

“Today every site has challenges and every project requires all of our skills,” Talbot told Business West.

For example, a few weeks ago a seemingly straightforward job suddenly turned complex. The firm had been hired to investigate the foundation of an existing building that a client wanted to repurpose, but it discovered that it had once served as a gas station and had to be torn down.

Problems also arise due to chemicals called PCBs that were used in building materials in the U.S. between 1950 and 1979.

Kirchherr says the caulk around windows in schools often contains PCB’s, so when a city or town decides to replace single panes with energy efficient glass, the putty has to be tested and toxic ingredients in the caulk can complicate the project.

Unearthing Solutions

Projects the firm has undertaken range from work at individual homes and in large buildings and developments, and include the new addition to Baystate Medical Center and the recently built Roger Putnam Vocational Technical High School. OTO also recently completed work for Chinese rail car maker CRRC MA USA which is building a factory in Springfield on the site of the former Westinghouse manufacturing plant. It was a brownfields site, and OTO assisted the former owner with cleanup, including asbestos removal in the old building, but then had to make sure the soil met standards that would allow CRRC to build there.

Talbot said the land contained a lot of loose soil and the firm designed a solution to compact it using a special technique that will allow it to support the weight of the rail cars manufactured inside the building. It then provided engineering services to design a new foundation.

The revitalization of Ludlow Mills was another project that required considerable environmental remediation, and the firm worked closely with Kenneth Delude, recently retired president of WestMass Area Development Corp. on that project; and also helped get Lee Premium Outlets off the ground, assistance needed because a portion of the land near the entrance was once home to a mill that dated back to the Civil War.

Clients include the Diocese of Springfield; Smith College; Amherst College; Springfield College; American International College; and private schools such as Williston Northampton School in Easthampton, and projects include work at Six Flags New England that was necessary before rides such as the Superman Coaster could be built.

And in some instances, the firm has been at a site almost immediately after a problem is discovered. For example, 15 minutes after the 2011 tornado finished wreaking havoc throughout Western Mass, Kirchherr walked down to a family member’s home across the street from the former Cathedral High School and helped efforts to stabilize the building with the Diocese of Springfield’s emergency response team.

“We identified long-term safety related issues with regards to a potential renovation because it was not known at the time if the building would be reused,” Kirchherr said, explaining that their work included litigation with the insurance company because the initial settlement offer was inadequate.

“It was a very complex project that required a lot of interaction with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but we provided services throughout the process,” he continued, adding that he serves on the Diocese of Springfield Building Commission and is a member of the board of trustees for St. Michael’s Academy.

O’Reilly Talbot & Okun has also undertaken a lot of preconstruction work for the City of Springfield. A site assessment before the Basketball of Fame was built turned out to be another involved project, because 19 buildings had to be demolished to make room for the new museum.

“We also provided litigation and oversight assistance when the former Union Station in Springfield was taken by eminent domain,” Kirchherr said, adding they worked on that project from start to finish.

The firm’s residential jobs often involve leaking oil tanks, which is difficult work.

“You can only dig so far under a house without undermining the foundation, and you have to meet stringent soil and groundwater standards. Vapors can rise from the ground, get into the house and cause risk to occupants, and the oil can also impact a person’s neighbors as it can migrate into groundwater,” O’Reilly said, explaining that in some cases a ventilation system must be installed to pipe air from below the floor of a home into the atmosphere for years after the leak.

“These are the most stressful projects we do because they affect people personally,” he said.

Changing Landscape

Ensuring that soil is clean and the ground is stable for new projects, along with assessing old buildings for environmental hazards before they are reused or torn down are services that fall under the umbrella of O’Reilly Talbot & Okun Associates.

“It’s a very dynamic field so we keep on top of all of the regulatory issues,” Talbot said. “New solutions to old problems come up all the time, and we offer the latest and best practices available.”

So even though the work they do is something most people never see or even think about, it has been critical to economic growth in Western Mass. and always begins far below the ground.

Cover Story

Seeing Through the Smoke

page6marijuanadpOn Nov. 8, voters said ‘yes’ to Question 4, the so-called Massachusetts Marijuana Legalization Initiative. But that’s all they said ‘yes’ to. What happens now, concerning everything from whether marijuana shops can be licensed, to where and how many of them, remain somewhat unsettling question marks that municipalities will need to resolve.

Peter Vickery says ballot questions are, for the most part, “blunt instruments.”

And by that he meant that, generally speaking, these questions are broad in meaning, as opposed to sharp, or specific, and are usually to be considered a starting point, with the details to be colored in later.

And so it is with the Massachusetts Marijuana Legalization Initiative, a.k.a. Question 4 on this month’s election ballot. In simple terms, the question asks the voter whether he or she supports a proposal to legalize marijuana but also regulate it in ways similar to alcoholic beverages. And they can only vote ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ said Vickery, an employment law attorney based in Amherst, a community where the vast majority of voters — something approaching 70% — did in fact vote ‘yes.’

But that’s all they voted for, he went on, adding that all those ‘yes’ votes do not mean the town will want or support several marijuana shops in its vibrant downtown — or even one of them.

“People change — opinions change,” he explained. “What people were voting on was a ballot question. And what ballot questions do is let you vote ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ You know by the end of the election that the people have spoken, but it’s not always easy to tell what they’ve said.

“What they’ve said in Amherst is ‘yes’ to Question 4,” he went on. “But whether they thought ‘yes’ to Question 4 in terms of wanting several marijuana shops in our downtown — I don’t really know if that’s what they were voting in favor of.”

Peter Vickery

Peter Vickery describes ballot questions as ‘blunt instruments,’ short on needed specifics.

And this sentiment essentially dominates every corner of the state, where the phrase ‘I don’t really know’ is being uttered by all kinds of people concerning all manner of topics related to recreational marijuana and its legalization — from how to license and tax those seeking to set up shops, to how many jobs this industry (and it can certainly be called that now) will create in the Bay State.

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, in a published press release and also follow-up remarks to BusinessWest, probably spoke for every elected official in the state when he said, “we’re in uncharted waters, and in such should take a step back, maybe a proper time-limited moratorium, so that we can proceed with extreme caution.”

The mayor, who wasn’t shy in his opposition to the question before the election, went on to say that before municipalities like Springfield do anything with regard to this measure, the state has to come forward and perhaps eliminate or mitigate many of the question marks that now define this matter.

“I do believe that the state must look at a more progressive tax to deal with all the — pardon the pun — headaches of eventual expenses vs. revenues,” said Sarno, citing issues ranging from public safety enforcement to employment and addiction issues, and more, adding that until such specifics are known, the city is in many ways operating in the dark.

And that hardly makes it unique among the state’s 351 municipalties, most of which are trying to shed some light — or at least some conjecture — on the matter.

That was the goal of one presentation in Amherst a few weeks ago, a conversation moderated by Vickery and hosted by the Business Leadership for Amherst Area Strategies (BLAAST).

 

Dominic Sarno

Dominic Sarno

I do believe that the state must look at a more progressive tax to deal with all the — pardon the pun — headaches of eventual expenses vs. revenues.”

 

The program included the city’s police chief, a former marijuana retailer from Colorado, a member of the state’s opioid taskforce, and one of the authors of the ballot question, said Tim O’Brien, president of the Amherst area Chamber of Commerce, adding that it’s a good example of the kind of fact-checking and opinion-taking that all cities and towns should embark upon as they consider how to best live with Question 4.

“Something that was illegal is now legal, and we have to ready to observe some change,” he said. “There may be some unintended consequences, but we’ll have to deal with those. There are a great many unknowns at this point.”

For this issue, BusinessWest tries to answer some of the questions concerning the marijuana law and its implications for municipalities and businesses alike. But, and this will become clear in the course of this discussion, specific answers are difficult to come by.

Joint Concerns

So perhaps it’s best to start with what we do know, which, all things considered, isn’t much apparently.

Here’s how the ballot question’s official summary reads:

The proposed law would permit the possession, use, distribution, and cultivation of marijuana in limited amounts by persons age 21 and older and would remove criminal penalties for such activities. It would provide for the regulation of commerce in marijuana, marijuana accessories, and marijuana products and for the taxation of proceeds from sales of these items.

The proposed law would authorize persons at least 21 years old to possess up to one ounce of marijuana outside of their residences; possess up to 10 ounces of marijuana inside their residences; grow up to six marijuana plants in their residences; give one ounce or less of marijuana to a person at least 21 years old without payment; possess, produce or transfer hemp; or make or transfer items related to marijuana use, storage, cultivation, or processing.

The measure would create a Cannabis Control Commission of three members appointed by the state Treasurer which would generally administer the law governing marijuana use and distribution, promulgate regulations, and be responsible for the licensing of marijuana commercial establishments. The proposed law would also create a Cannabis Advisory Board of 15 members appointed by the governor. The Cannabis Control Commission would adopt regulations governing licensing qualifications; security; record keeping; health and safety standards; packaging and labeling; testing; advertising and displays; required inspections; and such other matters as the Commission considers appropriate. The records of the Commission would be public records.

The proposed law would authorize cities and towns to adopt reasonable restrictions on the time, place, and manner of operating marijuana businesses and to limit the number of marijuana establishments in their communities. A city or town could hold a local vote to determine whether to permit the selling of marijuana and marijuana products for consumption on the premises at commercial establishments.

The proceeds of retail sales of marijuana and marijuana products would be subject to the state sales tax and an additional excise tax of 3.75%. A city or town could impose a separate tax of up to 2%. Revenue received from the additional state excise tax or from license application fees and civil penalties for violations of this law would be deposited in a Marijuana Regulation Fund and would be used subject to appropriation for administration of the proposed law. Marijuana-related activities authorized under this proposed law could not be a basis for adverse orders in child welfare cases absent clear and convincing evidence that such activities had created an unreasonable danger to the safety of a minor child. The proposed law would not affect existing law regarding medical marijuana treatment centers or the operation of motor vehicles while under the influence.

It would permit property owners to prohibit the use, sale, or production of marijuana on their premises (with an exception that landlords cannot prohibit consumption by tenants of marijuana by means other than by smoking); and would permit employers to prohibit the consumption of marijuana by employees in the workplace. State and local governments could continue to restrict uses in public buildings or at or near schools. Supplying marijuana to persons under age 21 would be unlawful.

The proposed law would take effect on Dec. 15, 2016.

So given all that, what do we know? Well, for starters, we know that marijuana use is still forbidden by federal law, a not-so-minor detail that impacts a great many of those question marks moving forward.

And we know that, contrary to what some might believe, the new law does not enable individuals to show up at the workplace stoned — just as they can’t show up drunk. Those basic laws of the business world still exist.

After that, there is mostly just speculation and concern, perhaps in equal quantities. For example:

• Elected officials in border communities are already concerned that people will drive across state lines to buy marijuana products in their municipality — and then drive back to where they came from, perhaps after they’ve consumed some of those products, creating public safety issues;

• Health officials are concerned about the potential impact of the measure on everything from hospital emergency rooms (Colorado, which legalized marijuana four years ago, has experienced a significant jump in patients seeking emergency medical treatment for complications related to suspected marijuana use) to the health of young children, especially with regard to one segment of marijuana products known as ‘chewables;’

• Employers and employer groups are concerned that the new law (while it doesn’t green-light being under the influence on the job) may blur some of the previously sharp lines when it comes to drug testing and other matters.

As Sarno said — and he’s far from the only public official to use the term — these are uncharted and somewhat dangerous waters.

“The people have spoken, so we’ll move forward accordingly,” said the mayor. “What I’m concerned about is that the state has yet to get it in gear and issue any specifics on this.”

Actually, he listed a number of concerns, from employment law matters, to worries about increased drug addiction, to the many hidden costs that may result from this measure.

“I keep hearing that the costs of this program really outweigh the revenues,” he went on. “And who does that fall upon? The municipalities.”

Look West, Young Man

To navigate these uncharted waters, cities, towns, individual elected officials, and some business leaders, are looking for some answers, or at least some help in formulating them.

And for most, this means googling ‘Colorado, legalization of marijuana,’ or words to that effect. And there’s plenty to read, which is good, said O’Brien with a laugh, noting that even if there was money in the budget for a trip to the Centennial State — and there isn’t — he would likely be doing his research with his laptop anyway.

“There’s this thing called the Internet, and along with telephones, it does a pretty good job of providing information,” he said, adding that Massachusetts can, and must learn from Colorado about what has worked, why, what hasn’t worked, and what can be done differently.

Bob Nakosteen

Bob Nakosteen

They say they have a $1 billion recreational marijuana industry that creates 18,000 jobs; that’s 1, 8, zero, zero, zero. That’s what they say … and this is from the proponents of legalized marijuana, so maybe that has to be taken with a grain of salt.”

 

Bob Nakosteen, a professor of Management at UMass Amherst, who was approached to discuss some of the business ramifications of Question 4, has also turned his attention to Colorado.

Some of the numbers are intriguing, he said, while wondering out loud just how reliable they are.

“They say they have a $1 billion recreational marijuana industry that creates 18,000 jobs; that’s 1, 8, zero, zero, zero,” he said, using some additional emphasis to get his point across. “That’s what they say … and this is from the proponents of legalized marijuana, so maybe that has to be taken with a grain of salt.

“I’m not expecting that many jobs here,” he went on, adding that there is already an infrastructure in place for medical marijuana (made legal in this state a few years ago) and this may impact the number of ‘new’ jobs to result from Question 4’s passage.

What is generally conceded is that the marijuana business will not sprout up like a weed (pun intended), quickly or easily, and the industry locally is almost certain to be dominated by smaller firms, most of them home-grown (another pun) startups or locally owned partnerships, in large part because of the federal ban on marijuana, which makes it difficult to operate in many states.

As Kris Kane, the Boston-based president of the marijuana investment and consulting firm 4Front Ventures, told the Boston Globe recently, “The notion that there are these gigantic, big-money players running in to take this whole thing over is just fiction.

“There’s no Phillip Morris, no Anheuser Busch, no cannibus division at Bank of America,” he went on. “Even the most successful company is still barely in the growth stage.”

Still to be determined in Springfield, Amherst, and everywhere else in the Bay State for that matter, is just how many of these home-grown enterprises will earn the privilege of growing or selling marijuana products, where (meaning which areas will be zoned for such activity), and under what conditions (meaning the specific terms printed on the licenses), said Nakosteen.

He noted that even Amherst, an extremely liberal community dominated by tens of thousands of college students and known to some as the ‘People’s Republic of Amherst,’ is as big a question mark in this regard as the proverbial ‘next town.’

“While Amherst is, in most all ways, a very liberal community, when it comes to business, it can be quite conservative, and I think there would be some resistance to large numbers of marijuana shops,” said Nakosteen, noting that new ventures must generally endure a comprehensive review of their plans and a long list of conditions, architectural and otherwise, before being able to do business. “It will be very interesting to see how it all plays out.”

This is especially true in the downtown, which is quaint and diverse, and therefore a draw for students, their families, professionals, tourists, retirees, and other constituents, said Nakosteen, adding that it competes in many ways with Northampton’s downtown.

And at this time, no one really knows whether a marijuana shop — or two or three — would become a competitive advantage or disadvantage.

“Amherst has enough trouble competing with Northampton anyway, in terms of the attractiveness of downtown for spending money, other than the students at UMass,” he told BusinessWest. “Downtown Amherst has been challenged for as long I’ve been here, and Northampton, as it’s developed, has become the more attractive destination. What would marijuana shops mean for that equation?”

He asked the question, but didn’t feel qualified to answer it, which means he is not unique.

And while Amherst, because it is a liberal college town, is perceived by many to be a litmus test of sorts on the marijuana matter, or a community to be watched, Vickery hopes ample amounts of attention will also be focused on far-less-affluent cities and towns.

“I expect people to watch Amherst, but I would hope that they would not watch it exclusively, and would also look for the impact on less-affluent communities like Holyoke and Springfield, and also Orange and Athol,” he said. “There is already a huge addiction and substance abuse problem in those communities. I think Amherst will be able to cope, but other communities that are less well-off will bear the brunt of policies designed for the comfort of the middle class.”

Where There’s Smoke …

Returning to his comments about ballot questions being blunt instruments, Vickery said Amherst, and other communities across the state, will find out just how blunt.

“As the implications become more manifest, as the town starts to consider over the next few years what the ramifications might be for the downtown Amherst economy and the impact on the wider community, from the standpoint of public health, public safety, etc., that 70% may be chimerical,” he explained. “It may be 70% in favor of the state-wide law, but in our backyards … that’s a much different question.”

And certainly only one of many hanging over the ballot measure and what will happen because of it.

As Sarno noted, Springfield, like most all communities to be sure, will be taking some steps back before it takes any forward in this uncharted territory.

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

Sections Women in Businesss

Tapping Potential

Jill Monson-Bishop

Jill Monson-Bishop says women who own businesses can benefit from creating a team of advisors who can support them.

That famous quote from Oprah Winfrey — “Follow Your Passion: It is What Will Lead to Your Purpose” — is emblazoned in oversized letters on a wall in the waiting room of Inspired Marketing Inc. in Springfield.

The quotation is in line with the belief system embraced by the company’s self-named ‘chief inspiration officer,’ Jill Monson-Bishop, a title she put on her business card when she established her full-service advertising company, then went on to hire team members with a driving desire to help clients realize their goals.

The climate within the office was also carefully orchestrated: there are three dogs on-site most days; they sport the titles  ‘employee satisfaction manager,’ ‘customer experience associate,’ and ‘siesta manager.’ Everyone has a pair of comfortable slippers under their desk, and not only is collaboration encouraged, milestones of any kind are announced and celebrated.

It’s a formula that has led to success: Over the past three years Inspired Marketing has retained 93% of its clients and increased revenue by 362%.

“We don’t strive to be the number-one local marketing agency and win awards,” Monson-Bishop said. “Our aim is to have our clients win awards and reach goals and know that everyone here is invested in their growth.”

Indeed, awards have been forthcoming: One client was feted with a Better Business Torch Award; others were finalists for the honor; and still others have been named Super 60 companies by the Springfield Regional Chamber of Commerce for revenue and revenue growth.

Monson-Bishop tells new clients she doesn’t just want to purchase media for them, create a logo, or do graphic design; instead, she wants to be part of their team. That vision has materialized, and one business sends her their weekly sales report.

“I’m part of their growth or struggle depending on the week,” she noted.

She took pride in the fact that one client, the Good Dog Spot was recently able to open a second location, which was among its goals, and says she and her team have been invited to a number of company holiday parties.

Team members at Inspired Marketing

Team members at Inspired Marketing have increased revenue over the past three years by 362% and retained 93% of their clients.

One thing she focuses on is creating synergistic relationships between clients. For example, when Square One needed a pizza donation, she approached Frankie and Johnnie’s Pizzeria. Today the restaurant donates pizza to the non-profit once a month and employees and families involved with Square One frequent the eatery and buy lunches there, which they hadn’t been doing in the past. In addition, Frankie & Johnnie’s will cater an event for Square One next year.

Another example is a collaboration between Bob Pion Buick GMC; Square One; and the American International College Men’s –D1 Ice Hockey team.

AIC had planned to stage a toy drive at a December ice hockey game, and, thanks to Inspired Marketing, Bob Pion has volunteered to donate a truck, the toys will go to Square One, and every donor will receive a ticket to another AIC hockey game.

“I believe businesses are stronger together and if they can find opportunities to work together, they can grow together,” Monson-Bishop said “Our clients know we put our heart into what we do. If I write a press release and the media uses it, my teammates come running down the hall to tell me. They get very excited when we help a business attain success.”

Personifying Beliefs

Monson-Bishop says starting her own business has been the most difficult and rewarding thing she has ever done.

“I love being an employer,” she said, “being able to watch people’s dreams come true and being part of it.”

The decision to launch her advertising firm was made after her mother died unexpectedly at age 56. The loss was devastating, but also prompted the thought, “What if I only get 56 years on this planet? What would my legacy be?”

Monson-Bishop had worked as a radio broadcaster, and when her mother passed away she was selling coupon advertising and making more money than she ever had in her life. “But I didn’t want my legacy to be selling 50% off pizza coupons,” she said.

“I enjoyed working with clients and had found that small and medium-sized businesses were not being served by advertising agencies. Many were good at what they did but they had no idea how to spend money effectively on marketing,” she noted, explaining that the belief was reinforced by Butler Carpet & Upholstery Cleaning, which had been in business for 30 years, and became her first client.

Monson-Bishop launched her new venture by renting a desk in a friend’s Springfield office. She moved to Agawam after hiring one part-time employee; then moved back to Springfield two years ago, which is a city she truly loves.

“I just purchased a Victorian in the Historic McKnight area, and believe the city is on the cusp of a renaissance. Great things are happening and I want to be part of them,” she said, noting that she also owns another house in the City of Homes.

Today Inspired Marketing has five team members in addition to Monson-Bishop  and gets help from two interns every college semester.

Their business is split equally between marketing and events, and clients include Smith & Wesson; Northwestern Mutual, American International College and the City of Springfield School Department; as well as smaller businesses.

They also work with a number of nonprofits including Valley Venture Mentors and the Zoo in Forest Park. “They do so much for us and we need to support them,” Monson-Bishop said, noting that last year, Inspired Marketing staged a Tiny Tea to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Square One’s popular fundraiser. Dignitaries included Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno and Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse who enjoyed tea seated at a child’s table. They wore hats and the event attracted a lot of media attention.

The crew also takes pride in coming up with creative advertising ideas. When they did a campaign for one non-profit they mailed reading glasses to potential donors with a note that said, “See the difference we can make,” then went on to explain the charity’s mission.

Another client received the attention it was seeking when Inspired Marketing did a mailing that contained scratch tickets with a note that said, “You wouldn’t throw away the enclosed without taking a chance on it. Take a chance on us and you will win every time;” while a press release delivered to media outlets about a classic-car cruise night contained matchbox cars; and another client’s business blossomed due to a marketing promotion in which packets of seeds were mailed with handwritten notes that said, “Let us help your business grow.”

Unique Challenges

Monson-Bishop believes female entrepreneurs face challenges unique to their gender. Her own accomplishments are significant: not only has she grown from a sole entrepreneur to a thriving advertising firm; she lost 125 pounds 3 1/2 years ago, has kept it off and been sugar-free for more than 1,200 days; was chosen as a BusinessWest 40 Under Forty 2010 class member, among other honors.

When she was notified about the most recent award, “I only celebrated for about 10 seconds,” she said, adding that she believes it’s easier for women to praise other people’s accomplishments and victories than take pride in their own.

“We tend to beat ourselves up for mistakes and need to learn to celebrate our own accomplishments and say ‘thank you’ when we receive a compliment,” she noted.

She believes her weight loss has led business professionals to take her more seriously and is now able to purchase a professional wardrobe, which was difficult to do when she was 125 pounds heavier.

Monson-Bishop has an advisory board composed of 10 local business leaders who have guided her over the years by providing honest and critical input. She shares her financial information with them and believes every female business owner could benefit from creating her own confidential circle of supporters.

“When you have a hard day or have to make a difficult decision, it helps to have someone to talk to, and that person isn’t always your spouse,” she said.

The founder of Inspired Marketing also feels many women suffer from what she calls the “Wizard of Oz Syndrome,” which is her metaphor for the imposter syndrome.

“The world may see you as the big and powerful Oz, but sometimes you feel like the man behind the curtain who is afraid to have it pulled back and be found out,” she said.

But testimonials from clients say that Monson-Bishop and her crew are truly inspired, have the ability to attract attention and help clients succeed.

Blazing a Path

Monson-Bishop not only used personality and drive as criteria when she began hiring people, today when a new position is created all team members are included in interviews with prospective job candidates to ensure they are a good fit.

Heather Ruggeri was thrilled the team chose her to be vice president and chief events officer, even though her credentials didn’t exactly match the job description.

“But she had a willingness to learn; a desire for absolute customer satisfaction and it was evident that she was deeply loyal. She didn’t want a job, she wanted to be part of something,” Monson-Bishop said, adding that Ruggeri is one of many team members whose professional achievements have made her proud.

Kristin Carlson was hired immediately after graduating from Fitchburg State University, and says her fellow team members have become like family and whenever they reach a goal, it is viewed as cause for celebration.

“I have run down the hall to Jill’s office when we have achieved something such as getting 10,000 Likes on a client’s Facebook page,” said Carlson. “We get excited about things here.”

That enthusiasm is generated by passion and the purpose that Monson-Bishop has found since she started her business venture. “You only get one chance at life, and this is it,” she said.

Opinion

Editorial

Behold … the Power of Cranes.

Maybe that should have been the title placed on the latest update on economic development initiatives throughout Springfield, hosted last week by the city and the Springfield Regional Chamber.

Instead, they chose ‘Springfield, Rising to New Heights, subtitled ‘The Renaissance is Real,’ which is a serious play on the crane-themed invitation to the event. It features an extremely detailed rendering of the giant crane at the MGM Springfield site, which has become a very famous addition to the city’s skyline.

The crane art and the accompanying subtitle are appropriate when juxtaposed together. Indeed, countless people have said (out loud or to themselves) that they didn’t really believe the MGM project was real until they saw those cranes. (MGM President Mike Mathis would have a ready response in such cases: ‘We always thought it was real.’

In some ways, the same conversational tones can be used for the city itself, although when it comes to a true renaissance, the city will have to do better than the ‘crane test.’

While progress (totaling a whopping $3.307 billion in public and private investments) really does seem genuine on many fronts — from Union Station to the subway-manufacturing plant; from MGM to vast amounts of entrepreneurial energy; from new places for people to live, to new places for them to work and play — one might still have a hard time convincing those in the city, and those looking from the outside, that this is the real thing.

That’s because it’s easy to make people believe it isn’t. As evidence, look no further than the piece that ran in the Boston Globe this month concerning MGM’s casino, the city’s image problem concerning crime, and how the latter might impact the former.

Complete with a close-up shot of razor wire on a building downtown and beginning with what amounts to a recreation of a drive-by shooting just blocks from the MGM site, the story also includes this quote from City Council President Michael Fentin: “We have a perception problem. People don’t want to come into the city; they say “I’m not going into that war zone.”

We’re not sure what he was attempting to do with that quote — maybe draw a line between perception and realty — but all he really did was blur the line and make ‘war zone,’ the one phrase everyone will remember from that piece.

But in a way, he helped make our point. You can’t just say the renaissance is real, you have to prove it. And right now, the city still has some work to do in that regard.

The cranes in the sky will generate some believers, but to generate more of them, the city must continue to move in the right direction on crime and the perception of it. Even if  ‘war zone’ is extreme and represents the view of the minority, public safety remains a real concern.

And while doing that, the city must do more to tell its story — and tell it to people living outside the city limits. The story is good and getting better all the time, and others need to hear it.

Maybe with some additional PR and work to reduce crime, more people will come to the conclusion that this renaissance is, in fact, real.