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AMHERST — UMass Amherst rose to the top 20 among higher-education institutions in the nation for its social and environmental sustainability development efforts, education, and practices, according to QS World University Rankings: Sustainability 2024 edition.

In the expanded second edition, published by global higher-education analyst firm Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), UMass Amherst rose to 16th out of 210 colleges and universities in the U.S., up from 28th in last year’s ranking that highlighted 135 U.S. institutions.

In the overall global sustainability rankings, UMass Amherst rose to the top 10% (136th) among 1,403 institutions across 95 countries and territories, which is more than double the number of institutions featured in last year’s inaugural edition.

The ranking provides a unique, detailed framework to assess how universities are taking action to tackle the world’s most pressing global challenges through evaluation of universities based on three areas: social impact, environmental impact, and governance. UMass Amherst also scored well above the global median in each of these areas.

“It’s good to see our accomplishments recognized at the global scale through this ranking,” UMass Amherst Sustainability Manager Ezra Small said. “I hope this helps attract more young, bright minds from around the globe who can come study here and help us continue to solve these pressing challenges by using our campus as a sustainable learning laboratory.”

Jessica Turner, QS CEO, highlighted the role of the QS sustainability rankings as a cutting-edge tool for gauging the progress and collaborative efforts of universities globally in tackling pressing existential challenges, and noted the increasing importance of these considerations for prospective students.

“Our 2023 sustainability survey revealed a striking trend: 79% of prospective international students view an institution’s sustainability practices as extremely or very important,” Turner said. “Additionally, 82% actively seek information on these practices while researching universities. This demonstrates a clear shift in priorities among today’s students, who are increasingly weighing the social and environmental impact of their future alma mater alongside academic excellence.”

This latest QS Sustainability Ranking adds to UMass Amherst’s sustainability accolades this year. In November, UMass Amherst moved up 10 spots to 18th in Princeton Review’s Top 50 Green Colleges.

Daily News

HADLEY — UMassFive College Federal Credit Union and its team of CUSO Financial Services (CFS) financial advisors have been recognized with the Gold Keystone Award in the medium-sized financial-institution category for 2022.

This annual award recognizes CFS programs with the highest ratio of GDC per $1 million of total deposits. This is the second year in a row that UMassFive has received this honor. In addition, UMassFive Financial Advisor Aimee Marden has also been recognized for her contributions to this GDC ratio with a CFS Bronze Pacesetter Award for 2022.

UMassFive has offered retirement planning and investment services as a complimentary benefit to its members and the local community for more than 15 years. The department is spearheaded by three financial advisors: Aimee Marden, Dana Graham, and Sam Einzig, and supported by Senior Investment Advisor Assistant Emi Lee.

UMassFive’s financial advisors are available to meet in person as well as remotely to discuss the retirement-planning and investing needs of any local person or business. The team also offers complimentary remote seminars throughout the year to educate clients on an array of retirement-planning and investment-related topics.

Daily News

CHICOPEE — At its Nov. 30 meeting, the Boys & Girls Club of Chicopee selected its 2024 executive committee and welcomed two new members to its board.

Michael Vogel of Westfield Bank will serve another year as president. Tracy Hebda of iSolved Benefits Solutions will serve as vice president. Dr. Jacqueline Pleet will serve as clerk. Roberto Nieves of Common Capital will serve as treasurer. And Jason Levine of Jason L. Levine Law, P.C. will serve the as an at-large member.

Welcomed at the meeting to begin three-year terms on the board were Julia Marrero of Bacon Wilson, P.C. and Ann Dargie Gladd of Family Law of Western Massachusetts, P.C. They will be joining current members Alayna Anderson of Bacon Wilson, P.C.; Benjamin Garvey of HUB International New England LLC, Angela Gotay-Cheverez of Freedom Credit Union, Robert Houle of Unity Financial & Insurance Group, Sarah Mailhott of Polish National Credit Union, Malar Patel of Google, and Danielle Rosario of PeoplesBank.

“I am excited to work with this dedicated, talented group of people that has committed themselves to furthering our mission,” said Jason Reed, the club’s executive director. “We have an amazing year ahead of us as we break ground on our new Teen Center in the spring of 2024. I look forward to joining the board as we embark on that project and the many other endeavors we have in store for our organization.”

Daily News

NORTHAMPTON — TommyCar Auto Group announced the success of its No Shave November initiative in partnership with the Hampshire County Sheriff’s Office and Sheriff Patrick Cahillane. Together, they have raised a record-breaking total of $9,826.90 for Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Throughout November, members of the Hampshire County Sheriff’s Office embraced No Shave November, setting aside their razors to symbolize solidarity in the fight against cancer. Each participant made a $20 donation, with all proceeds directly benefiting the Tom Cosenzi Driving for the Cure Charity Golf Tournament, a key supporter of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

TommyCar’s commitment to community engagement extends beyond automotive services. As part of its dedication to charitable causes, the TommyCard Rewards program, an exclusive loyalty program for TommyCar Auto Group customers, played a pivotal role. Members were given the unique opportunity to contribute their rewards points (1 point equaling $1) to Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

“The unwavering support from the Hampshire County Sheriff’s Office has been instrumental in furthering our mission,” said Carla Cosenzi, president of TommyCar Auto Group. “Witnessing the generosity of our community reinforces the urgency to strive for a future free from the hardships endured by those battling cancer.”

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — The Springfield Symphony Orchestra (SSO) announced the recent hiring of two new staff members: Kim Collins, Audience Development and Community Engagement manager; and Caitlin Meyer, Education director. Collins will work to create community connections for the SSO and engage new audiences, while Meyer will be responsible for bringing back the hosting of SSO educational performances for public-school students as well as creating new educational programming for the organization.

Kim Collins

Collins joined the SSO in October. She most recently served as director of Member Services with the Connecticut River Valley Chamber of Commerce. In that role, she was the first point of contact for all member relations, led the ambassador team, and revised and refreshed member benefits, onboarding, and retention. She also facilitated networking and member-orientation events, as well as ribbon cuttings, and planned large events for the chamber.

Collins has also been a performing artist and educator her entire life. As a flutist, she has performed with the SSO for more than 25 years and also served as the SSO’s orchestra librarian for several years. Apart from the SSO, she has performed solo engagements and performed as a pit musician both on Broadway and with nationally touring shows.

As an educator, Collins has held faculty positions at Choate Rosemary Hall, Fairfield University, the Hartt School Community Division, the Neighborhood School of Music, and Southern Connecticut State University, in addition to directing her private music studio. She has also been a guest teaching artist for the El Sistema-inspired Bravo! Waterbury program and has presented arts-integration programs to students at schools throughout Connecticut and beyond.

Caitlin Meyer

Meyer is an educational leader, music educator, and professional musician who has taught in China, Tanzania, Israel, and Australia. Before joining the SSO, she served as director of Programs for a charter school in Bridgeport, Conn., where she worked closely with the Connecticut Institute for Refugees and Immigrants to build out arts-integrative, culturally responsive programs for newcomer students.

In addition to her work as an educational leader, Meyer founded the Qingdao Visual and Performing Arts Educators Assoc., which has allowed students of every background in China to participate in district-wide arts initiatives as well as international travel opportunities to Singapore, the U.S., and Australia. The nonprofit now focuses on teacher development and arts integration for teachers from 13 countries.

Prior to her work in Qingdao, Meyer was the music director at Saint Bernard School in Uncasville, Conn. for seven years, where she grew the music program to include well over half of the student population. Under her direction, the music program was honored to perform at prestigious locations around the world, including at Saint Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, the USS Intrepid and Saint Patrick Cathedral in New York City, Disney World in Orlando, Fla., and the National Mall in Washington, D.C. She is a current doctoral student at DePaul University in Chicago, studying educational leadership.

“We are thrilled to have Kim and Caitlin join our SSO team,” said Paul Lambert, president and CEO of the SSO. “Both bring a diversity of musical and organizational experience that will serve the SSO and our community well. Kim is a musician herself and has worked with the business community and will help us engage and grow our audience. Caitlin, also a musician, is a music educator with a broad background in music education and will be instrumental for the SSO in re-establishing our relationships with local schools and young people in the region.”

Daily News

BOSTONNewsweek magazine, in partnership with global research and data firm Statista, publishes an annual list of America’s Most Responsible Companies. Eversource Energy has again been named among the top-scoring utilities on the 2024 list, and was also named a 5 Year Champion by Newsweek for being recognized among the nation’s most responsible companies every year since its list was introduced.

“Operating in an ethically, socially, and environmentally responsible manner is a choice we embrace across all areas of our company,” Eversource Chairman, President, and CEO Joe Nolan said. “With a constant focus to advance environmental and social justice, it’s rewarding to be recognized as a positive force in the way our employees work every day to provide our customers with the cost-conscious service they need today while also laying the foundation for new technologies and innovations for an even better future ahead.”

In the 2024 list, Eversource ranked fifth in the nation among 59 companies in the Energy & Utilities category, and 154th overall on the top-600 list among the leading 2,000 public companies by revenue with headquarters in the U.S. The company earned the highest environmental score in the utility industry and the highest overall ranking of any utility in the Northeast and the Eastern Seaboard.

The annual list determines the most responsible companies based on their corporate social sustainability performance and reputation. Eversource and the other recognized companies were featured in the Dec. 15 issue of the newsmagazine.

Daily News

HOLYOKE — Holyoke Community College (HCC) and its partners have been awarded a state grant worth nearly $1.46 million to create a CNA (certified nursing assistant) to LPN (licensed practical nurse) training program to help area hospitals meet their workforce needs.

Earlier this month, the Healey-Driscoll administration announced a total of $3.9 million in Senator Kenneth J. Donnelly Workforce Success Grants for six initiatives representing employers and collaborative organizations across the Commonwealth.

The lion’s share of that money — $1,457,143 — will go to an HCC-led training program to assist 86 unemployed or underemployed individuals transition from jobs as nursing aides to positions as licensed practical nurses.

The grants, funded through the Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund and distributed by the Commonwealth Corporation, aim to increase sustainable wage career pathways for Massachusetts residents facing employment barriers and improve the competitiveness of Massachusetts businesses by enhancing worker skills and productivity.

HCC’s partners in the grant include Baystate Medical Center, Baystate Wing Hospital, MassHire Hampden County, Springfield Works, and the National Fund for Workforce Solutions.

“We are delighted about the Commonwealth Corporation’s award to HCC and our many partners in this unique and innovative career pathway in nursing,” HCC President George Timmons said. “Healthcare is one of the largest industry sectors in our region, and it continues to grow. We hope that this pathway for licensed practical nurses will help create more family sustainable incomes for nursing assistants looking to advance in this exciting and rewarding career.”

The multi-stage program will first train individuals as nursing aides, then help them obtain jobs at area hospitals while they continue their training in HCC’s LPN program, all the while providing them with wrap-around support services. HCC already has an existing framework for CNA training through its Jump Start program, which is designed for individuals receiving public assistance.

“Every individual in Massachusetts should have access to quality job training, and our employers should have access to the skilled talent they need to do business,” Gov. Maura Healey said. “Our workforce is our greatest competitive strength. The latest round of Workforce Success Grants is another example of our administration’s commitment to expanding opportunities and expanding our lead.”

The six grant-funded initiatives aim to train and hire 384 individuals over three years. The Springfield-based Entrepreneurial & Business Collaborative also received a grant worth $630,998 to prepare 90 individuals for jobs in the hospitality industry. The group is partnering with Northampton Brewery, Granny’s Baking Table, River Valley Market, Tandem Bagel Co., and Puerto Rico Bakery II.

Other grant recipients include the Training and Upgrading Fund in Quincy ($717,220), African Bridge Network in Boston ($498,655), Cambridge College Inc. in Boston ($436,062), and Cape Cod Regional Technical High School District in Harwich ($225,425).

Daily News

GREENFIELD — Greenfield Cooperative Bank announced that its nomination of Empty Arms Bereavement, an organization offering compassionate support to families experiencing pregnancy or infant loss, has resulted in a $5,000 grant from the Massachusetts Bankers Assoc. (MBA) Community Service Grant Program.

“Empty Arms’ dedication to supporting families during some of life’s most difficult moments resonates deeply with our commitment to community service,” said Tony Worden, president and CEO of Greenfield Cooperative Bank. “We’re honored to nominate them, and are pleased they have received this well-deserved grant.”

This year, the MBA Charitable Foundation awarded 41 grants, totaling $152,500, to nonprofit organizations across the state. Empty Arms’ dedication to grieving families stood out among the many nominations, earning it this vital funding.

Daily News

NORTHAMPTON — Friends of Children Inc. recently accepted a donation of over $7,500 to establish Katie’s Fund, a program established through a fundraiser spearheaded by Joe’s Pizza in honor of former employee Katie Lyons. Katie’s Fund will be used to provide essentials for children and young adults who are affected by foster care.

Katie’s Fund was created by Meaghan Sullivan, owner of Joe’s Pizza, who recalled that, “every time I spoke with Katie around the holidays, it seemed she was going to or coming from shopping for Christmas presents for the kids working with Friends of Children. Like much of Katie’s generosity, I took for granted the resources and energy she had devoted to this initiative. It’s humbling to be able to establish a fund in Katie’s name that helps a cause that meant so much to her.”

Sullivan hosted a Katie’s Fund fundraising event at Joe’s Pizza on the evening of Dec. 13, where 25% of all sales benefited the fund. Those sales, combined with private donations, have already added up to more than $7,500 to honor Katie, who passed away in January.

“Katie had a way of being there when you were most in need, whether it be a shoulder to cry on, some reassurance, or just a good old-fashioned laugh,” Sullivan said. “On the night of the fundraiser, it was heartwarming to see friends and loved ones be there for each other in Katie’s honor and to support Katie’s Fund. There was so much love and warmth in the room — her presence was certainly felt. We miss Katie so much, but I trust that her spirit of kindness and generosity will forever be with us.”

Friends of Children is dedicated to improving the lives of children and young adults impacted by foster care or juvenile-justice involvement. Katie’s Fund will be used to purchase essential items to support the children and young adults enrolled in Friends of Children’s programming. Click here to contribute to Katie’s Fund.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — The Realtor Assoc. of Pioneer Valley (RAPV) announced its annual award winners at the association’s holiday luncheon on Dec. 14 at the MassMutual Center in Springfield. The Realtor of the Year Award was given to Vincent Walsh of Coldwell Banker Realty, while the Affiliate of the Year Award was given to Christine Webster, attorney at Begley & Webster LLC.

The Realtor of the Year Award is the highest recognition the association can bestow on a Realtor member. It is given to a member based on association activity, community activity outside the association, and business activity. A Realtor since 1992, Walsh served as president of the RAPV board of directors in 2011. He has also served on the grievance, government affairs, professional standards, and YPN committees. He continues to serve on the RAPV board of directors.

Walsh has given back to the community through his involvement by being nominated for and approved by the Springfield City Council and holding the Realtor seat on the Springfield Historical Commission for nearly 12 years. He is a member of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and the USO. He is a supporter of the VFW, Habitat for Humanity, American Cancer Society, American Heart Assoc., and St. Jude Children’s Hospital.

The Affiliate of the Year Award is the highest recognition the association can bestow on an affiliate member. It is given based on affiliate membership activities related to the association, community service in activities outside the association, and business activity. A member of RAPV since 2005, Webster has served on the affiliate-realtor and professional development committees.

Webster has demonstrated significant support to the association and community outreach and volunteered in RAPV’s seminars held by the affiliate-realtor committee and the professional development committee’s “If the Realtor Had Only Known” sessions. She also provides guidance to all Realtors who seek assistance in transactions and legal questions.

Her community activities include being a Westfield Zoning Board of Appeal member and serving on the finance committee at St. Mary’s Parish of Westfield. She also volunteers preparing meals for the homeless and has been involved in fundraising for schools and the parish.

Daily News

WESTFIELD — Westfield Bank invited its customers and community members across Western Mass. and Northern Conn. to help provide new toys and books to children in local communities as part of its 2023 toy drive.

From Nov. 23 through Dec. 13, all Westfield Bank branches collected new, unwrapped toys, books, and monetary donations. Each branch donated to an organization or charity local to its service area.

“Giving back to our local communities is an important part of our mission,” said James Hagan, president and CEO of Westfield Bank. “That is why we are happy to partner with local organizations by running a toy drive at our branches during the holiday season.”

Daily News

SPRINGFIELDBusinessWest is currently accepting nominations for the 40 Under Forty class of 2023. The deadline for nominations is Friday, Feb. 16.

Launched in 2007, the program recognizes rising stars in the four counties of Western Mass. Nominations, which should be as detailed and thorough as possible, should list an individual’s accomplishments within their profession as well as their work within the community. Nominations can be completed online at businesswest.com/40-under-forty-nomination-form.

Nominations will be weighed by a panel of judges, and the selected individuals will be announced and profiled in the April 29 issue of BusinessWest and honored at the 40 Under Forty Gala in June. Event sponsorship opportunities are available.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — MP CPAs announced the promotions of Phil Giguere and Tim Provost to the position of partner with the firm.

Phil Giguere

Giguere provides consulting and tax solutions to a diverse group of clients, including individuals, partnerships, limited liability companies, corporations, and trusts. He also has experience working with international affiliates on foreign tax issues. He specializes in working with high-net-worth clients and with private equity firms and their owners.

Giguere joined the firm in 2006 and has more than 18 years of experience in business and individual taxation. He holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting and a master’s degree in business administration from Western New England University. He is a certified public accountant and a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and the Massachusetts Society of Certified Public Accountants.

He sits on the golf committee for Make-A-Wish Massachusetts and Rhode Island and the finance committee of Wellspring Cooperative, is a member of the Western New England University accounting advisory board, and volunteers his time with the Cory J Garwacki Foundation.

Tim Provost

Provost provides consulting and tax solutions to a diverse group of clients, including individuals, partnerships, limited liability companies, corporations, and trusts. He also has experience working with international affiliates on foreign tax issues. He specializes in working with high-net-worth clients and with private equity firms and their owners.

He is also the director of Business Valuation Services at the firm. He works with clients looking to value their business for the buying and selling of a business, gifting ownership interests in a business, estate-tax issues or estate planning, and other business-valuation needs.

Provost joined the firm in 2008 and has more than 15 years of experience in personal and business taxation. He holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Westfield State University and a master’s degree in accounting and taxation from American International College. He is a certified public accountant and a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. He is also a certified valuation analyst and a member of the National Assoc. of Certified Valuation Analysts.

He is active in the community as a volunteer board member of the West Springfield Youth Basketball Assoc.

Daily News

BOSTON — The state’s November total unemployment rate was 2.9%, up just 0.1 percentage point from the revised October estimate of 2.8%, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development announced.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) preliminary job estimates indicate Massachusetts gained 3,200 jobs in November. This follows October’s revised loss of 500 jobs. The largest over-the-month private-sector job gains were in leisure and hospitality, financial activities, and government. Employment now stands at 3,786,200. Massachusetts gained 724,600 jobs since the employment low in April 2020.

From November 2022 to November 2023, BLS estimates Massachusetts gained 66,100 jobs. The largest over-the-year gains occurred in education and health services, construction, and leisure and hospitality.

The state’s November unemployment rate of 2.9% was 0.8% lower than the national rate of 3.7% reported by BLS.

The labor force grew by an estimated 7,700 from the revised estimate of 3,721,400 in October, as 2,400 more residents were employed and 5,300 more residents were unemployed over the month. Over the year, the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was down by 0.8%.

The state’s labor-force participation rate — the total number of residents 16 or older who worked or were unemployed and actively sought work in the last four weeks — increased by 0.1% to 64.6% over the month. Compared to November 2022, the labor-force participation rate was down 0.2%.

Daily News

AGAWAM — Braman Termite & Pest Elimination, a family-owned and operated business serving residential and commercial customers across Southern New England since 1890, announced the upcoming retirement of Senior Vice President of Business Development Robert Guyette.

“Rob’s contributions to Braman are too numerous to count — from the way he mentors and connects people to his dedication to our customers to his impressive work ethic,” said Jerry Lazarus, third-generation owner of Braman Termite & Pest Elimination. “I can’t say enough about him. He has been a tremendous asset to our company from both a business and culture perspective, and we will miss him greatly.”

During his more than 17 years at Braman, Guyette said he is proudest of achieving his ACE (associated certified entomologist) certification, one of the biggest professional challenges he has ever faced. Prior to joining Braman as general manager in 2006, he was production manager at HP Hood in the milk and ice-cream divisions for nearly 26 years. He recently transitioned into his current role in preparation for retirement.

A self-described networker, Guyette said he will miss the people the most. He has no specific plans for retirement but is looking forward to spending more time with his grandchildren as well as his hobbies, bowling and fishing.

“Retiring is bittersweet; I may or may not be counting the days until December 28,” he said. “It’s what you work your whole life for, but I have mixed emotions about it. I have been honored to take care of our customers — it’s always about them, not the money. And I get to go to bed every night knowing I have never done wrong by anyone. I love mentoring, and I hope I have helped at least one person in their career. I just like to work and make things better — that’s always been my heart and my passion, and I like to say I give 150%.”

Daily News

NORTHAMPTON — The Tom Cosenzi Driving for the Cure Charity Golf Tournament celebrated its 15th annual golf tournament on Sept. 26, marking a significant milestone in its ongoing support for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, as this year’s tournament raised a record-breaking $160,000.

For more than a decade and a half, the charity golf tournament has stood as a beacon of hope in the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s fundraising initiatives.

Carla Cosenzi, president and co-owner of TommyCar Auto Group, expressed her gratitude, saying, “we’re deeply thankful for the incredible support at this year’s golf tournament. Our presenting sponsor, Volkswagen of America, along with other sponsors, volunteers, and golfers, played a pivotal role in this success.”

The charity golf tournament was held at Twin Hills Country Club in Longmeadow. The tournament featured a raffle, silent and live auctions, hole-in-one contests, on-the-course pop-ups, live music by Noah Lis, and illusionist Yoel Spielman.

Business Talk Podcast Special Coverage

We are excited to announce that BusinessWest has launched a new podcast series, BusinessTalk. Each episode will feature in-depth interviews and discussions with local industry leaders, providing thoughtful perspectives on the Western Massachuetts economy and the many business ventures that keep it running during these challenging times.

Go HERE to view all episodes

Episode 193: December 26, 2023

George O’Brien Interviews with Garett DiStefano, director of Dining Services at UMass Amherst

Garret DiStefano likes to say that he’s the CFO — that’s chief food officer — at UMass Dining, which has been named the best program in the country eight years running by the Princeton Review. On the next episode of BusinessTalk, contributing writer George O’Brien talks with DiStefano about the many ingredients that go into not just a successful program, but the best program in the country. And also about what it takes to not simply reach the top — something that’s hard enough given the high level of competition from schools across the country — but what it takes to stay there year after year. It’s all must listening, so tune in to BusinessTalk, a podcast presented by BusinessWest and sponsored by PeoplesBank.

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Daily News

LONGMEADOW — Bay Path University recently announced Jacquida Mars has been appointed the new director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA), which serves as a cultural resource for students, faculty, and staff, as well as providing direction and services for current and prospective students from underrepresented populations. Through creative and innovative programs, the office enhances cultural knowledge and produces a deeper appreciation for diversity and inclusion throughout the campus community.

“I am honored and overjoyed to hold such an important role at the university,” Mars said. “I am looking forward to the opportunity to impact and change the lives and futures of our students through mentoring, advocacy, social-justice education, and programming. In particular, I want students of color and first-generation students to feel that OMA will be a valuable resource for them in their academic journey from the moment they step on campus until graduation.”

Before joining Bay Path, Mars served as assistant director of Alumni & Parent Engagement for Affinity & Identity Programs at Connecticut College, where she successfully developed a mentoring program for BIPOC students and alumni. Prior to her time at Connecticut College, she contributed to the diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts as the Career Programming manager/GA DEI at Trinity College.

Mars earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology and crime, law & justice from the University of Connecticut, and a master’s degree in public policy from Trinity College. She is currently enrolled in a doctorate program in educational leadership for social justice at the University of Hartford.

Daily News

Trent Rivers

EASTHAMPTON — Hometown Mortgage recently promoted Trent Rivers to equity and consumer loan manager, based in Easthampton.

Rivers has 15 years of banking experience, including his most recent role as loan specialist. He joined Hometown Mortgage as a consumer loan coordinator in 2017. Prior to that, he was a branch supervisor at NBT Bank.

Rivers has a bachelor’s degree in business management from Westfield State University and completed coursework in the school of banking at the Pennsylvania Bankers Assoc.

Daily News

Jessica West 

EASTHAMPTON — bankESB recently promoted Jessica West to assistant vice president, branch officer of its 36 Main St., Easthampton office.

West has 31 years of banking experience. She was previously assistant vice president, branch manager in Amherst. Before that, she was branch manager at the Northampton Street, Easthampton office, and before that, assistant branch manager at the Belchertown office. She started at bankESB in 2002 as senior teller in Belchertown.

West earned an associate degree in mechanical technologies from Springfield Technical Community College. She has been actively involved with the Unitarian Universalist Society of Amherst and Craig’s Doors, helping prepare free community breakfasts every week. She also volunteers at the Amherst Survival Center. She is currently a board member of the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce.

Daily News

AMHERST — A team of researchers at UMass Amherst has developed the first dual-color optoelectronic neural probe. Unlike previous, single-color probes, which often control brain activity in only one direction — excitation or inhibition, but not both — this new design can enhance and silence the electrical activities of the same neurons within specific cortical layers of the brain. It promises to aid the investigation of tightly packed neural microcircuits within the cortex and deep-brain regions and, in the longer term, add to the functional mapping of the brain.

Guangyu Xu, assistant associate professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, appointee of the Dev and Linda Gupta Professorship at UMass Amherst, and principal investigator of the study, hopes the device can ultimately help researchers identify the origin of brain diseases.

The device is based on optogenetics, a method to control neural activity using light, Xu explained. “We are able to send one of two colors of light — red or blue — to the brain to let neurons within each cortical layer become more active or more silent, as you can tell from electrical neural recording signals. This capability, namely bidirectional optogenetic electrophysiology, will lend itself to high-resolution interrogation of the brain circuitry and shed light on animal disease models.”

He added that bidirectional control is a crucial feature for advancing the understanding of diseases such as epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease. “For instance, with epilepsy, you may need to silence certain regions of the brain, not to activate them. That requirement is one of our motivations in building such dual-color devices. The second color on the probe adds flexibility in optical control over the brain.”

Building such devices is not trivial, requiring different optoelectronic materials to be packed into a small footprint — less than a millimeter in size — with low crosstalk to each other. “We developed a high-yield integration approach in this work,” Xu said.

Published in Cell Reports Physical Science, this work marks the first preliminary test of this technology, showcasing the power of the device to provide a high spatial resolution and bidirectional control of the brain in mice.

“What we did on mice is turn on those blue or red LEDs to shut off or turn on the same local brain circuits,” Xu said, “and this spatial resolution comes down to specific cortical layers, which has been suggested in the recording traces.”

He anticipates that future research will extend to testing the device on other parts of the body, possibly outside the brain.

Community Spotlight

Community Spotlight

Kristine Koistinen

Kristine Koistinen says Enfield’s long-awaited rail stop is creating a great deal of anticipation in the community, as well as growing interest from developers.


For decades now, a rail stop in Enfield, Conn. on the line from Springfield to Hartford, New Haven, and points south has been a dream.

Finally, the dream is becoming reality.

Indeed, the Connecticut Department of Transportation made it real several weeks ago when it attached hard dates to the $45 million project to build a train station in the section of Enfield called Thompsonville, in the shadow of apartment buildings created at the sprawling former Bigelow Carpet complex.

Those dates include the summer of 2024 for the final design to be completed, the winter of 2025 for the construction bid to be awarded, the spring of 2027 for accompanying rail and bridge work to be completed, and the fall of 2027 for completion of the station and platform.

While a formal ribbon cutting is almost four years away, there is already a great deal of anticipation and excitement in this community of just over 42,000 — as well as interest from the development community, said Town Manager Chris Bromson, adding that the train stop will be, in a word, “transformational.”

“When you look at any of the other transit-oriented districts in Connecticut, it’s been just a boon to economic development and housing,” he told BusinessWest. “If you look at Meriden and other cities in Connecticut that have gotten a train stop, you’ve seen dramatic growth, so we’re very excited, to say the least.”

Elaborating, he said momentum toward a rail station has prompted developers to take options on several properties near the riverfront in the area near the planned station, including an old Eversource power plant, and he expects such interest to only escalate in the months and years to come.

“If you build it, they will come,” he said. “And two years is going to go by in a heartbeat, and developers … they don’t want to miss the train. They want to get in on the ground floor now because those properties are going to be hot.”

Meanwhile, the rail station is just one of many intriguing developments in this community, said Kristine Koistinen, Community Development specialist and also acting Economic Development director. Others include likely redevelopment of the dying mall known as Enfield Square; redevelopment of the former Strand Theater into housing; revitalization of the historic Hazardville Institute into a mixed-use facility that will become, among other things, home to the North Central Connecticut Chamber of Commerce; the recent conversion of the former United Presbyterian Church into the new home for the Opera House Players; and the expected arrival next year of L.L.Bean in the Brookside Plaza.

“It’s back to the future. Today, young people … they really aren’t interested in cars the same way that previous generations were; they want to jump on the train. They want to live in places like Thompsonville and jump on the train and go to New York for the weekend or go to Boston.”

“It’s a very exciting time in Enfield; there’s a lot going on and a lot to get excited about,” she said, adding that there are new developments in many different parts of the community, including Thompsonville, Hazardville, the retail district, and others.

Those sentiments apply to one of the community’s largest institutions as well.

Indeed, Asnuntuck Community College, which marked its 50th anniversary this year, is now known as CT State Community College Asnuntuck. It is one of 12 community colleges, some with satellites, that came together in a merger (creating CT State Community College) that has been years in the making, with the goal of bringing a number of advantages and new opportunities to the colleges, but especially students, said Michelle Coach, Asnuntuck CEO.

“What’s amazing for the students is that they apply once, and they can register on any campus anywhere in the state,” she explained. “In the past, we used to share less than 1% of our students among the 12; we now share about 28% of our students.”

But while the merger is generating new opportunities, Asnuntuck and all the other CT State schools are coping with budget cuts, and more dramatic cuts to come in the future unless the governor and Legislature reverse course and increase their overall commitment to public higher education (more on that later).

As for Enfield Square, it has been in a state of deterioration for several years, with the loss of anchors such as Macy’s, JCPenney, and Sears. It was acquired by New York-based Namdar Realty Group in 2019 amid hopes that there would be investment in the facility and the securing of new tenants. However, it has continued to decline, and there is growing speculation that it may be sold to a developer who will raze all or most of what exists and create a mixed-use facility that may include everything from retail to housing.

planned new housing

An architect’s rendering of the planned new housing to take shape at the site of the former Strand Theater.

A few developers have expressed interest, said Bromson, who declined to name them, adding that Enfield Square may follow the same path as Springfield’s Eastfield Mall, which is currently being demolished in favor of new development following the relocation of several dozen mostly smaller tenants. In fact, Koistinen has talked with officials in Springfield about the Eastfield Mall project and the relocation of tenants there.

For the latest installment of its Community Spotlight series, BusinessWest focuses on Enfield, the arrival of rail service, and the many other forms of progress in this community.


Train of Thought

Bromson is on his second stint as town manager in Enfield — he held that post from 2019 to 2021, when he resigned, only to return just last month. Overall, he’s spent more than 33 years working for the town in various capacities, including town attorney, Public Safety director, and acting town manager.

For all that time and more, securing a rail stop in town has been a dream and a true priority for the community, for reasons made obvious by looking at similar communities that have a stop. In those cities and towns, development has followed, Bromson noted, adding that there has been significant reversal of the development strategies of the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s that focused on the automobile and creating infrastructure to support its use.

“It’s back to the future,” he went on. “Today, young people … they really aren’t interested in cars the same way that previous generations were; they want to jump on the train. They want to live in places like Thompsonville and jump on the train and go to New York for the weekend or go to Boston.”

Elaborating, he said Enfield’s station will be more than a metro stop, bringing people to Hartford to work; it will also be a larger hub for Amtrak for more distant destinations. Coupled with the planned spur off the Windsor Locks stop that will bring people to Bradley International Airport, it’s easy to see why a rail station is generating such enthusiasm.

“You can come down to the Enfield station, park — there will be ample parking here — get on the train, take the spur to Bradley, and get on a plane, and never have to deal with the parking or the congestion there,” Bromson said.

the historic Hazardville Institute

Renovation of the historic Hazardville Institute is one of many developing stories in Enfield.

While the rail plans are generating excitement among residents and officials, they are also gaining the attention of the development community, with more interest certainly to come, said those we spoke with.

Bromson said the rail service will likely generate interest in development of more housing, such as the hugely successful Bigelow Commons, now home to more than 2,000 people.

And if more housing becomes reality — and renovation of the former Strand Theater is already set to move off the drawing board — there will be a need for more retail and service businesses, said Koistinen, adding that such need will likely help fill some of the many vacant storefronts and other properties in Thompsonville, but also other parts of the city.

Enfield at a Glance

Year Incorporated: 1683
Population: 42,141
Area: 34.2 square miles
County: Hartford
Residential Tax Rate: $30.56
Commercial Tax Rate: $30.56
Median Household Income: $67,402
Median Family Income: $77,554
Type of Government: Town Council, Town Manager
Largest Employers: Empower Retirement LLC, Town of Enfield, LEGO, Advance Auto Parts Distribution Center, Eppendorf Manufacturing
* Latest information available

“For decades, people have been talking about how we revitalize Thompsonville,” she said. “Having the train come is the first step in all of this; here are several vacant properties there, and having the train station so close — that walkability to the downtown — will provide a real boost.”

Overall, there is a sizable trickle-down effect from the rail service, said Bromson, adding that it will likely extend to places like Enfield Square. Indeed, the station will be an intermodal transit center that will send buses and shuttles to locations such as the shopping areas off I-91.

This includes Enfield Square, he noted, adding that the community is talking to developers about the future of the site, while also working with existing tenants to help promote them and prepare them for eventual transition. “I’m very optimistic that we’re going to have a good result there in the near future.”


Course of Action

There have been several good results from the merger of the state’s community colleges, a process that has been in motion for more than seven years now, Coach noted.

The new infrastructure brings benefits for the schools, including additional buying power and greater ability to collaborate and share ideas, concepts, and, yes, students.

Indeed, she said there are students who now attend classes at as many as five different schools, taking advantage of each school’s specialty, such as Asnuntuck’s manufacturing program.

Indeed, Asnuntuck now boasts 1,329 students who call the campus home, and another 886 who call another school home but attend at least one class in Enfield, boosting enrollment and bringing more energy and vitality to the campus.

“If the governor doesn’t give us more money, that’s going to hurt our students — that’s what we’re worried about right now.”

Overall, said the merger has brought about a harmonized processing system across the 12 campuses, while allowing each school to maintain its own identity and culture.

“I’ve always said to the employees, our culture is our people, and we have our people,” Coach said. “We can give our students what they need, and I don’t think we’ve changed. But at the same time, they can now register anywhere, we have some amazing processes, and we just hired a behavioral-health counselor for the first time. We’ve always wanted an in-house counselor, and we haven’t been able to do so. By becoming CT State, every campus is getting at least one counselor.”

The merged system is still only a few months old, she said, adding that it will continue to evolve, hone processes, and bring new opportunities and greater collaboration — something that was missing historically — between the individual campuses and their students.

And greater collaboration will be needed because there are many current budget challenges, and deeper cuts likely to come in the year ahead.

“We are underfunded right now,” she said, noting that the system recently cut $33.6 million for this fiscal year, with Asnuntuck slicing roughly $500,000, in large part because elected leaders would not raise the spending limit for the state.

Asnuntuck was able to avoid personnel cuts this fiscal year, but it may not be so fortunate in FY 2025, when an additional $41.3 million will have to be cut, unless already-intense lobbying efforts succeed in garnering more support from the state.

“If the governor doesn’t give us more money, that’s going to hurt our students — that’s what we’re worried about right now,” she told BusinessWest. “And, of course, these are the students that need the help.”


The Road Ahead


high-speed EV chargers

Gary Rome has made a major investment in high-speed EV chargers, with capacity for more when demand increases.

The car-shopping experts at Edmunds say opposing market forces are expected to keep new vehicle sales relatively steady in 2024, forecasting that 15.7 million new cars will be sold. That forecast represents a 1% increase from its estimate of 15.5 million new vehicle sales in 2023. Meanwhile, electric-vehicle (EV) market share is expected to tick slightly higher to 8% of total new vehicle sales in 2024, up from 6.9% in 2023 to date through November.

Jessica Caldwell, Edmunds’ head of Insights, noted that “2023 experienced improved inventory levels from pandemic-era lows combined with pent-up demand to deliver strong sales, estimated up 12.7% year over year. While the year ahead holds the promise of further increased inventory and enticing deals that consumers have eagerly awaited, 2023’s high interest rates are expected to linger, provoking conflicting market dynamics. Automakers specifically will weigh one other key consideration in 2024: are they satisfied with this newly established supply-demand equilibrium, or are they willing and able to push sales volumes closer to pre-pandemic norms?”

Gary Rome, president and CEO of Gary Rome Auto Group, told BusinessWest that carmakers are responding to high interest rates by pushing 0% financing promotions, or close to it. At his two dealerships, he noted that Hyundai is offering 0%, and Kia is offering 0.9%.

“People have been buying the same car, and their payment is $80 to $100 more because of the higher interest rates,” he explained. “So manufacturers are starting to do something about it with low-rate financing.”

Edmunds put together a list of the three biggest industry trends it predicts will shape the road ahead in 2024.


New-vehicle Prices Will Plateau

The COVID-19 pandemic spurred a series of significant vehicle price hikes, first from consumers leveraging low interest rates to buy larger, well-equipped vehicles, and later from out-of-whack demand due to supply shortages. But Edmunds data reveals pricing has peaked, as improved inventory has driven incentives back into the market.

Shoppers seeking options on the affordable side of the new-vehicle market, however, will have a tougher time as those vehicles are selling quicker than their more expensive counterparts, the reversal of a trend witnessed from the fall of 2020 through the fall of 2021.


EVs Will Continue to Disrupt Brand Loyalty

A lack of consumer brand loyalty creates opportunities for electric-vehicle makers to win over buyers in the still-early stages of EV adoption, considered even more impactful given today’s lower overall sales rates relative to pre-2020 levels.

With brands jockeying for pole position in the EV adoption race, Edmunds’ experts note that shoppers ready to make the switch to electric should see plenty of incentives in 2024, even before tax credits kick in. As of November, EVs saw the largest discounts by powertrain at $2,326 below MSRP on average, compared to an industry average of $1,006 discounted.

Locally, Rome said he carries a lot of electric vehicles, but consumers are still wary about availability of charging stations. Still, he recently installed six high-speed ‘superchargers’ at Gary Rome Hyundai and has capacity for 10 more when the need develops.

“Our percentage of EV sales is only around 10%, so it’s a lot of investment for only 10% of sales,” he added. “When we see a trend toward more EV sales, we’ll certainly invest in more chargers.”


Hybrid Sales Share Will Grow Further

Edmunds experts say the transition to full EVs has slowed, and hybrids are the more comfortable choice for the majority of Americans seeking electrified options right now.

According to Edmunds data, hybrid market share increased to 9.7% in November from 4.9% the year prior, representing 99% growth. Over that same time period, EVs increased just 25% in share.

Hybrids are transacting more quickly and at less of a discount than both EVs and pure gas competitors, the report notes. “If you’re on the hybrid versus EV fence and prefer leasing, Edmunds experts suggest EVs could be the way to go due to available inventory, discounts, and rebates. But if you’re a drive-it-until-the-wheels-fall-off shopper and are set on a hybrid purchase, you might be best off placing an order rather than scouring local lots in search of a strong deal.”


Biting Comments


Jim Kinney

Jim Kinney says Altus Dental is well-positioned to handle the seismic changes taking place in the dental-insurance landscape.


Jim Kinney acknowledged that it will certainly take some time before the full impact of changes to the dental-insurance landscape in the Bay State — specifically a successful ballot initiative requiring insurers to dedicate 83% of revenue from premiums to patient care — is known.

But already, that landscape is changing, and in profound ways, said Kinney, vice president of Sales and Business Relations for Rhode Island-based Altus Dental, noting that several insurers have announced their intention to withdraw from the small-plan market in Massachusetts as a result of the measure, and more will likely do so in the months to come.

Altus isn’t one of them, he said, adding that the company is committed to staying in Massachusetts and continuing to provide small-plan coverage, despite the many challenges inherent with doing so.

“There’s been some contraction — five carriers have notified the Commonwealth that they’ll be exiting the market,” he told BusinessWest. “So right now, small group is really … turbulent. That’s the word I would choose to use; there’s going to be a lot of change.

“But we’re really committed to staying in the market,” he went on, adding that Altus prefers to look at these companies exiting the small-business market as an opportunity, one that will require an even greater emphasis on efficiency, something the company has always made a priority, and creating more volume — assignments we’ll hear more about later.

Meanwhile, beyond the turbulence, the companies exiting the small-market segment will be “doubling down,” as Kinney put it, on the large-market component, creating more competition and more challenges in the segment.

But Altus sees opportunities there as well, he said, adding that 2024 will certainly be an intriguing year, to say the least, as it looks to continue growing its membership in Massachusetts, which is currently about 230,000.

“We’ve been on a good growth trajectory, and with the market changes coming next year and going forward, we’re really expecting to see new sales in small group,” he said, adding that, in this environment, there is even more strength in numbers.

For this issue and its focus on insurance, BusinessWest talked at length with Kinney about how Altus, which has been steadily growing market share in Massachusetts, intends to continue its pattern of growth amid the tumultuous changes in the market.


Some Things to Chew On

In the run-up to the November 2022 election, insurers issued not-so-subtle warnings to Bay State residents that, if the ballot question passed, carriers would likely flee the state, leaving fewer options, especially in the small-plan market, and, more alarmingly, more people without dental insurance.

But, backed by the American Dental Assoc. and local dentists, the referendum question passed with ease, bringing dental insurers in line with healthcare insurers that are required by Obamacare to allocate 83% from premiums to patient care.

Now, some of those warnings are coming to pass.

Ameritas Dental Network and Principal dental insurance recently notified the National Assoc. of Health Plans, of which they are members, of their intention to abandon the Massachusetts small market. Those moves follow the announcement in August that Guardian Life Insurance, one of the country’s largest mutual insurance companies, had notified small businesses in Massachusetts that it would no longer provide dental insurance as a result of the ballot question.

And others will likely follow suit, said Kinney, who, when asked if the market was done shaking out, said simply, “there’s more to come.”

“The legislation goes into effect Jan. 1, but it’s going to be delayed, at least with some aspects of it,” he told BusinessWest. “We’re going to see more companies exiting the market, and unfortunately, that’s not a good thing for the health of the market.”

The small-business component comprises roughly 80% of the market in Massachusetts, with about 46,000 client companies, said Kinney, adding that this is a very large slice of the dental-insurance pie in the Bay State.

Now, there will be fewer players contending for slices of that pie, a scenario that, as noted, comes with opportunities and challenges, and probably more of the latter than the former, which is why companies are exiting the small-business market here.

“The numbers are very difficult; it’s difficult to make it work for carriers — they’re being really restricted,” he said of what’s known as the medical-loss ratio that is now being applied to dental insurers. “We have a bit of a different model — we’re more efficient, and we run a lot of new business on a much tighter margin than many can.”

And this efficiency, this ability to thrive on much tighter margins, will be ever-more important, said Kinney, who used some simple math to get his points across about this new regulation and why so many companies have decided to exit the small-business market.

He said a commercial market medical-insurance premium runs about $600 per month on average; this contrasts with $35 for a dental PPO and $20 for a dental HMO. Despite this huge monetary gap, dental and medical plans perform most of the same administrative tasks. That’s why most of the industry has long held that dental insurers should not be subject to the same medical loss ratio, in this case more than 80%.

Such numbers explain why, in this environment, there will be a premium on efficiency and providing value, he said, and with fewer competing players, on top of the new regulation, there will be added pressure on premium costs.

“We’re committed to being fiscally responsible, keeping premiums affordable, and focusing on high value for the premium,” he said. “But I do have concerns that less competition will erode some of that for the market. But our commitment is to remain affordable, with a good focus on value for our members.”

And one of the keys to keeping premiums affordable will be efficiency, Kinney noted.

“We’ve gotten down to a process with our technology where we get a lot done in a simple way,” he said. “I think we’ve just done a really good job of using technology to focus on getting the right things done in the most efficient way. Also, many of our employees have been here for 20 years, so they really understand our systems very well, and they can make things happen quickly.”

Elaborating, he said this emphasis on technology, such as electronic data files, enables Altus to sped up the approval process on many procedures and process claims more quickly, thus improving overall customer satisfaction.


Bottom Line

As noted earlier, this changing environment puts additional emphasis on both size and efficiency, Kinney said, adding that Altus, which, unlike some carriers, focuses exclusively on dental, is better-positioned to thrive in this climate than its smaller and larger competitors.

“We’re small enough that we’re nimble and able to make changes and really meet the demands of the market very quickly,” he explained. “But our infrastructure is large enough to handle the administration and be able to actually support all the things that go into this.

“We understand that this legislation is going to impact us financially, there will some challenges, and the policy is going to bring some negative consequences for Massachusetts,” he went on. “But with our 20 years of experience focused on dental and our position as one of the fastest-growing companies, we really think we’re well-positioned to navigate this market and the changes and challenges that are going on.”

Accounting and Tax Planning

Setting the Course

By Barbara Trombley, CPA, MBA


As we usher in the new year, it is an opportune time to make financial resolutions that will secure your financial future. Whether you are new to investing and personal financial planning or you are approaching retirement and contemplating estate planning, here are some tips for making the most of your financial life in 2024.

“Peace of mind comes with knowing you can cover unexpected expenses in the case of emergency or job loss.”

Build or Enhance Your Emergency Fund

In an era marked by economic uncertainty, we all need a robust emergency fund. This means having three to six months of living expenses in a money market or high-yield savings account. Peace of mind comes with knowing you can cover unexpected expenses in the case of emergency or job loss.


Pay Down Debt

In today’s world of high interest rates, it is imperative to not carry ‘bad debt.’ What is bad debt? Credit cards, personal loans, and some car loans are all examples. The interest on some of these debt instruments can be financially crippling. Come up with a plan to tackle the debt sooner rather than later.


Review Your Credit Report and Credit Score

Federal law gives you the right to get a free copy of your credit report every 12 months from the three nationwide credit bureaus. To get the free credit report, go to annualcreditreport.com. Review for any inaccuracies and report them right away. Make a plan to increase your score, if needed, by making timely payments and attacking outstanding debt. A strong credit score is the key to favorable interest rates when financing a house, car, or other business opportunities.


Meet Your Match

Many companies offer a match in contributions to retirement plans. There is a reason this is called ‘free money.’ You do not have to earn the money. You need to contribute enough to get the match that the company provides. Most companies match 50% or 100% of your contribution, up to a certain percentage.


Increase Your Retirement Contributions

Beyond just getting a match, you should increase your retirement-plan contributions each year and certainly when receiving any type of raise or bonus. The 2024 contribution limit for 401(k), 403(b), and most 457 plans is increased to $23,000, up from $22,500. The catch-up contribution for those turning 55 or older in 2024 is $7,500. The limit on annual contributions to an IRA plan will increase to $7,000, up from $6,500. If you are over 55, the limit is $8,000.

Also consider whether a Roth 401(k) or IRA is a good option for you. You need to weigh whether it is more advantageous to pay taxes now or later on to the contributions to your retirement accounts. Having both a traditional retirement account and a Roth retirement account may give you the tax flexibility that you need in retirement.


Review Social Security

Social Security makes up the bulk of many Americans’ retirement income. Do you know how much you will get at full retirement age? Do you know that you receive about 30% less if you take your social security payment at age 62? Do you know that you can wait until age 70 to begin your payments and realize a significant pay increase of 8% for each year that you wait? Be cognizant of how much you can anticipate receiving in retirement and how much your spouse will receive. Work with a financial planner to strategize the possibility of staggering claiming ages to reach your retirement goals.


Do a Pension Calculation

About 20% of Americans receive a pension. This is a stream of payments that come each month in retirement. Do the research now to calculate at what age your pension will be maximized. Also, find out what options you may have in retirement to provide for a spouse. There also may be the ability to consider a lump-sum payment in lieu of monthly payments. Knowing all your options will allow you to calculate how much additional money you may need to save to have an enjoyable retirement.


Consult a Financial Planner

It is never too early or too late to see if you are on track for retirement. A good financial planner is a trained professional in the field and can assist you in setting and achieving your financial goals. A financial planner can also evaluate your investment options and suggest suitable investments for your risk profile. Many planners will also help optimize your tax strategy and possibly save you money in the long run.


Barbara Trombley is a financial planner with Wilbraham-based Trombley Associates Investment and Retirement Planning. Securities offered through LPL Financial. Member FINRA/SIPC. Advisory services offered through Trombley Associates, a registered investment advisor and separate entity from LPL Financial. This material was created for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as ERISA tax, legal, or investment advice. If you are seeking investment advice specific to your needs, such advice services must be obtained on your own separate from this educational material.

Daily News

STONEHAM — Massachusetts-based cannabis company Theory Wellness is transitioning its ownership entirely over to its employees, in what is known as an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP). By doing so, Theory has become the first employee-owned cannabis company in the Commonwealth and the largest of its kind in the country.

Established in 2015 by co-founders Brandon Pollock and Nick Friedman, Theory Wellness has grown to include four dispensaries, production and cultivation facilities, and more than 200 employees, and has served more than 3 million customers since its inception.

“Our team is the heart and soul of our company,” said Pollock, Theory’s CEO. “Now we have the opportunity to honor their dedication by handing 100% of the company over to them.”

Pollock and Friedman have been business partners since they met at Colby College in 2006.

“It’s the right thing to do,” Nick, Theory’s chief strategy officer said of the ESOP. “We are proud of our employees; they deserve to own what they have worked so hard to create.”

This change in ownership is not expected to disrupt the company’s day-to-day operations, Brandon emphasized. “We expect a seamless transition. Neither our brand nor our management is changing. We are simply transitioning ownership over to our team.”

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — U.S. Rep. Richard Neal joined Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey, Massachusetts Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development Lauren Jones, MassHire President and CEO David Cruise, Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, Holyoke Mayor Joshua Garcia, and Baystate Health President and CEO Dr. Mark Keroack in celebrating the selection of MassHire Hampden County Workforce Board (MHHCWB) as a finalist for the Economic Development Administration’s (EDA) Distressed Area Recompete Pilot Program.

Funded through the CHIPS and Science Act, the Recompete Program will invest in economically distressed communities to promote job growth, targeting areas where the prime-age (25 to 54 years) employment is significantly below the national average. Authorized for up to $1 billion in the CHIPS and Science Act, the Recompete Program received $200 million in initial appropriations for the 2023 competition. Through local investments, the Recompete Program will help support closing the employment gap by connecting historically marginalized communities with good-paying jobs.

“The CHIPS Act is about bolstering economic activity through investments that will empower American innovators, stimulate job growth, and achieve economic security for future generations. With opportunities like the Recompete Program, that is precisely what the Pioneer Valley will see in the years to come,” Neal said. “I applaud MassHire, whose efforts in spearheading the Springfield-Holyoke Recompete Plan were critical in navigating the EDA’s rigorous application process. By collaborating with local partners, both public and private, MassHire’s targeted approach would help thousands of local residents access economic opportunities otherwise not afforded to them.”

Healey added that “this program will boost our efforts to ensure that all workers can access the training and workforce-development opportunities they need to succeed in today’s economy.”

Selected from more than 200 applications, MHHCWB was one of just 22 applications to be named a finalist for Recompete Plan approval. Through cross-sector collaboration, MHHCWB’s $20 million proposal would spur job growth and retention in the gateway cities of Springfield and Holyoke, putting individuals on career pathways with living wages.

Funding from the Recompete Program would support four holistic investments that address employment barriers through a shared services hub, workforce development and training, and the expansion of employer commitments to worker-friendly jobs. The formation of a workforce training system would establish a structure in which schools, training institutions, and employers mutually equip, commit to, and credential one another, creating an ecosystem in which partners are using the same approaches, systems, and practices that most effectively recruit, promote, and retain historically excluded prime-aged adults.

“Creating cross-sector collaboration in key census tracts in Springfield and Holyoke that increase employment and retention of prime-aged individuals and put them on career pathways with living wages is critical to accelerating job creation, driving economic development and industry competitiveness, strengthening families, and ensuring resilient communities,” Cruise said.

As a Recompete Program finalist, MHHCWB will now move to phase 2 of the program and receive a $500,000 Strategy Development Grant to refine its Phase 2 application. This funding will be accessed in early 2024 and can be used to increase regional economic-development capacity by hiring experts, building and strengthening partnerships, conducting studies, and piloting strategies. In addition, EDA will provide individualized feedback and technical assistance to each of the Strategy Development Grant awardees.

“Baystate Health is proud to partner with the MassHire Hampden County Workforce Board on the Springfield-Holyoke Recompete Project, and we are thrilled the project is among the 22 finalists for funding,” Keroack said. “As the largest healthcare provider in Western Massachusetts, we are not only committed to providing high-quality healthcare, but we are also dedicated to being changemakers in our communities. This funding will help our workforce-pipeline programs which were designed to change lives for those who may not have job training and workforce-development opportunities.”

Daily News

Trevor McCarthy

EASTHAMPTON — bankESB recently promoted Trevor McCarthy to float retail manager.

McCarthy has three years of banking experience and joined bankESB in 2020 as a teller. In his new role, he will manage the float staff at bankESB. He will be based in Easthampton but will float to all bankESB branches to support with supervisory needs.

McCarthy has a bachelor’s degree in economics from Westfield State University.

Daily News

HOLYOKE — Members of the Holyoke Community College (HCC) community helped spread some holiday cheer earlier this month as they delivered piles of wrapped and donated gifts to representatives from three local charities at the closing reception for the college’s 22nd annual Giving Tree campaign.

This year, the HCC community fulfilled the holiday wishes of more than 300 clients from Homework House, WestMass ElderCare, and the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

“These gifts are very, very meaningful for our kids,” said Virginia Dillon, executive director of Homework House, a free academic support program for Holyoke children. “It’s a happy time of year at Homework House. There’s an air of excitement, but we also know that it can be fraught for the families who oftentimes have to make a choice between warm coats and clothing and gifts, or putting food on the table and buying presents. For our kids, this means that families will have something underneath their trees again this year, and we are ever so grateful for your continued generosity.”

Each year during the campaign, Giving Trees are set up in designated areas around campus. Participants choose tags from one of the nonprofit agencies based on the age of the recipient and their wish for a gift. The purchased gifts are then wrapped and stacked on tables for the closing celebration, when HCC faculty, staff, and students join with representatives from the agencies to distribute the gifts and share food and stories.

HCC held its 2023 Giving Tree closing reception on Dec. 12 in the PeoplesBank Conference Center in the Kittredge Center for Business and Workforce Development.

“We have been part of this great tradition for many years now, and our participants couldn’t be happier and more thankful for everything you do for us,” said Nancy Allen-Scannell, executive director of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. “We are located in Holyoke, and we serve families, young parents, who are struggling with their day-to-day lives. And now we have the great privilege of bringing presents to them, so they have something to put under their trees, because no parent ever wants to feel like they can’t provide for their kids.”

This year’s Giving Tree campaign was the first for new HCC President George Timmons.

“This warms my heart,” he said. “It is just another example of how we live out our values by being kind to our community during a difficult time of year for many people. Being able to give a little holiday joy and happiness this holiday season is really important to me and makes me very proud to be the leader of this great institution.”

Commercial Real Estate Cover Story

Improving on the Model

Chris Orszulak, left, and Bill Laplante

Chris Orszulak, left, and Bill Laplante at the Modern Workspace facility they are building in East Longmeadow.


Before going into some detail about the new co-workspace initiative he’s part of in East Longmeadow, Chris Orszulak first wanted to talk about another project he partnered on in the town next door.

Specifically, he referenced restoration of the historic Brewer-Young mansion in the center of Longmeadow and, even more specifically, conversion of its third floor into what has become known as 734 Workspace, to match the mansion’s address on Longmeadow Street.

He started there because it was success in that endeavor that ultimately inspired the East Longmeadow project and, before it, something similar on the Cape.

Indeed, when they conceived the new co-work facility in Longmeadow in the year before the pandemic, Orszulak, a financial planner by trade, and partners Andrew Lam, Henry Clement, and Jason Pananos were not exactly sure what they would find.

What they found — and it took a while for things to fully shake out because the pandemic hit just after they opened, and it changed the dynamic in many respects — is that there are professionals, and a healthy number of them, who don’t want to work in a large office, but also don’t want to work at home — at least all the time.

Many need a place where they can bring clients; where they can access reliable, high-speed internet; where they can have some privacy; where they can get some work done; and where they can have their mail sent.

“What this has turned into is the evolution of working from home and remote work that is permanent now in the workforce, post-pandemic.”

And, yes, 734 Workspace became that place — a place where there is remote work, but with some twists and some style. There are 17 small offices there, all of them are leased out, and there is a good-sized waiting list, Orszulak noted.

“What I found attractive about the model, pre-pandemic, was simply its flexibility,” he explained. “When you have a membership with us, it’s month to month, and we include everything with your membership. But what this has turned into is the evolution of working from home and remote work that is permanent now in the workforce, post-pandemic.

“And the reasons why people would join a place like ours are what you might expectm” he said. “You can’t get everything you want to get done at home; you’re distracted by your pets, your kids, your husband, your wife; you need a change of scenery — you’re not productive at home.”

Brewer-Young mansion in Longmeadow.

Modern Workspace was in many ways inspired by the success of an earlier venture on the third floor of the Brewer-Young mansion in Longmeadow.

This model, this change of scenery, has worked so well that Orszulak, partnering with Pananos and East Longmeadow-based luxury homebuilder Bill Laplante, moved with confidence and optimism to create something similar in a commercial condominium in Chatham on the Cape.

Further inspired by success there, they are moving forward aggressively with construction of a unique co-working space on a small lot owned by Laplante in East Longmeadow that will be branded Modern Workspace — a name that will eventually go on all the facilities in the portfolio.

Unique — and modern — for several reasons, starting with energy efficiency. Indeed, this will be a net-zero building, said Laplante, adding that it features a solar array on the roof that will provide 100% of the electricity for heating, cooling, and hot water; a car-charging station; and more.

It also features 24 individual spaces across two floors; multiple conference rooms; printing, scanning, and copying equipment; 24/7 access; and more, said Orszulak, adding that the doors are expected to open late in the spring of 2024.

There has been considerable interest in the East Longmeadow facility already, said the partners, adding that results there will help determine if and where this concept might go next.

Indeed, Orszulak stressed that Modern Workspace is certainly scalable, but the model will likely work only in communities like Longmeadow and East Longmeadow, which don’t have existing co-workspace but do count large numbers of professionals among the population base.

The partners are considering Wilbraham and some communities in Northern Conn., such as Suffield and Simsbury. But for now, they are focused on the new East Longmeadow facility, getting it off the ground and on a path to success.

“We’re really excited to see how it does here in East Longmeadow,” Laplante said. “And if does well, and we expect that it will, we’ll see where we can go from there.”

For this issue and its focus on commercial real estate, BusinessWest talked with Orszulak and Laplante about this latest venture in the broad and ever-changing co-work realm, and what it might lead to down the road in terms of further expansion.


Right Time, Right Place

As he talked about this expansion of the model forged in Longmeadow, Orszulak first addressed the larger topic — the elephant in the room, if you will — of remote work and its long-term future.

And he was direct in his opinion that there is a large degree of permanence to what is being seen in most workplaces in terms of not simply flexibility, remote work, and hybrid schedules, but also the notion that, for many professionals, there will be a need for a place that isn’t home and isn’t the office, at least in the traditional sense.

“The hybrid model is the model of the future, where there’s partial work from home, and you also work from an office space,” he explained, adding that, in his estimation, this office space will not be in an office building or office park, but a smaller space in a co-working facility that will be used a few days a week, often with the employer reimbursing for space rental.

Chris Orszulak, left, and Bill Laplante

Chris Orszulak, left, and Bill Laplante say Modern Workspace was conceived and designed to reflect changes in the workplace they believe are permanent.

“This is a permanent thing,” he went on. “We’re in the very early innings of complete generational change to the way people work; it will never revert back completely.”

It is with this mindset, as well as the high degree of success recorded at the Brewer-Young mansion, that Orszulak and his partners are moving forward with the facility in East Longmeadow, which is quickly taking shape.

As they offered a tour of the work in progress, Orszulak and Laplante pointed to rows of studs outlining future individual offices and other facilities, such as a conference room and common space, and gestured to where flat-screen TVs, standing desks, and storage would be in those offices.

“You can basically come in with your laptop and immediately work,” said Orszulak, adding that he expects some tenants will come in several days a week, others a few, and still others maybe just one.

He expects this new facility will attract roughly the same demographic as the Brewer-Young mansion, which includes several lawyers, a few financial advisers, several entrepreneurs with various types of small businesses, and other professionals. There are men, women, both younger and older professionals — “it pretty much appeals to everyone.”

Also appealing are the various levels of membership — from simply having a mailing address to a 10-day membership, to a ‘common-space membership,’ which enables members to come in as many days a week or month as they want to use a common space that includes soft chairs, high-top tables, and stand-up desks and use of the conference room; from a ‘dedicated common-space membership’ (a member has his or her own desk) to rental of an office. The rates vary accordingly, from $150 for a mailing address to $850, on average, for office rental.

The lawyers within the membership base provide an effective snapshot of the type of client the partners are attracting there, and expect to attract at the East Longmeadow facility.

“In many cases, it’s attorneys who had office space, but they didn’t require as much office space as they had rented,” Orszulak said. “Some of them might be winding down the practice, but they don’t want to stop working, so they’ve reduced the size of the practice, and this facility gives them an area they can go to, one that gives them a great deal of flexibility.”

Like the 10-day membership, which, as that name suggests, enables members to use the various facilities 10 days a month.

“There are many people who permanently work from home, but they would prefer not to have their home be the place where they meet clients,” he explained. “So they’ll just use our conference room for meetings, and we have a really simple app on your phone where you can book time and meet clients. There’s a handful of attorneys that just do that; they’ll use the conference room half a dozen times a month.”

Meanwhile, some members just want a business address, he went on, adding that there are mailboxes for these individuals, as there will be in East Longmeadow.


Getting Down to Business

Overall, each of the successful elements of the model created in Longmeadow and followed in Chatham — where the partners have found a strong market for co-work space among permanent residents, professionals with summer homes in that area, and even those on vacation for two weeks who need a place to take a Zoom meeting — will be used in East Longmeadow, where the setting will be decidedly different.

Indeed, while the Brewer-Young mansion is more than a century old, historic, and in most all ways energy-inefficient, the facility under construction in East Longmeadow will be anything but.

“This will be a net-zero project; we will not be purchasing any electricity or gas — there will no gas to the property,” Laplante explained, adding that the building will be ultra-modern in many other ways as well, from reliable, high-speed internet to the car-charging stations.

And while they proceed with construction of the East Longmeadow facility, the partners are already thinking about where they might go next with the concept, although they obviously want to see how this space does before expanding further.

Overall, they believe it will work in mostly residential communities with many working professionals, scenarios where people can live and work in the same town, but not necessarily in the same place.

“We don’t see someone from South Hadley jumping in the car and going to the Brewer-Young mansion for their co-working office space,” said Orszulak, adding that several members at the facility actually bike or walk to the ‘office.’

Elaborating, he said there are co-work spaces that people can get on a highway and drive to, but there is an increasing need for something right around the corner.

Given those patterns, the concept could work in other area communities in Western Mass., such as Wilbraham, as well as Connecticut, he went on.

“We think Simsbury in Connecticut is a great market,” he noted, adding that other communities in that area, such as Suffield, may be attractive landing spots as well. “The towns are very similar to Longmeadow and East Longmeadow, and we see great potential there.

“We want to be smart about where we grow; I think we’re learning more as we talk to more people, and we’re learning a lot here,” he said, adding that there are certainly challenges to expansion, including finding appropriate locations and building facilities, often from scratch. “It’s a scalable model.”

For now, though, they are laser-focused on opening the doors in East Longmeadow. They said they have already received a good amount of interest and expect there will be much more as the facility starts to take shape.

Co-working is not a new concept, per se, but it continues to evolve, and this model represents what would be considered state-of-the-art.

It represents work in progress — in every sense of that phrase.



Features Special Coverage

A Year of Challenge and Progress

By Joseph Bednar and George O’Brien

Way Finder CEO Keith Fairey

Way Finder CEO Keith Fairey says the housing crisis has been years in the making and results from several factors, including a lack of investment in new housing.

One one hand, every year removed from the pandemic of 2020 is a step toward normalcy, and, for the most part, business rolled on in 2023 — but the effects of that pivotal year still linger, through persistent challenges like inflation, workforce shortages, the deepening roots of remote work, and behavioral-health crises.

But other trends have emerged as well, from a harsher landscape for cannabis businesses to actual movement on east-west rail, to positive developments in downtown Springfield.

As 2024 dawns, undoubtedly bringing a new host of challenges and opportunities, BusinessWest presents its year in review: a look back at some of the stories and issues that shaped our lives, and will, in many cases, continue to do so.


The Housing Crisis Deepens

One of the more poignant stories of 2023 was a deepening housing crisis that is touching virtually every community in this region, the state, and many parts of the country.

“We got here over decades of underinvesting in housing production nationally, and not tuning that production to the needs and demographic changes of communities,” Keith Fairey, president and CEO of Springfield-based Way Finders, told BusinessWest in an interview this fall, adding that a resolution to this crisis won’t come quickly or easily, either.

“One of the things we have to do is make sure Massachusetts remains a competitive state for years to come. And one of the main indicators of whether you are competitive is ‘can people afford to live in this state?”

The major challenges involve not only creating more housing, because not much was built over the past few decades, but housing that fals into the ‘affordable’ category.

Indeed, state Rep. John Velis, a member of the Senate’s Housing Committee, said there are many side effects from the housing crisis, especially when it comes to the state’s ability to retain residents. “One of the things we have to do is make sure Massachusetts remains a competitive state for years to come. And one of the main indicators of whether you are competitive is ‘can people afford to live in this state?’”


Inflation and Interest Rates

The Fed was on a mission in 2023 — to tame inflation but without putting the country into recession, as it famously did in the ’80s. By and large, it was mission accomplished.

Indeed, the latest data on inflation showed a 3% increase over last year in November, a significant improvement on the numbers from late last year and early this year. Meanwhile, the country seems to have avoided a recession, with the economy expanding at a seasonally adjusted, annualized rate of 5.2% in the third quarter, after generating 2.2% annualized growth in the first quarter and 2.2% in the second quarter. In short, the economy actually accelerated, rather than slowing down, due to persistently strong consumer spending.

Efforts to stem inflation by raising interest rates were not without consequences, though, as the housing market cooled tremendously, if not historically. And commercial lending cooled as well, as many business owners took a wait-and-see approach with regard to where interest rates were headed.


New Challenges for Cannabis

Is the ‘green rush’ over for the cannabis industry in Massachusetts? If so, the Bay State is simply following the pattern of every other state that legalizes the drug.

According to that well-told story, the first dispensaries on the scene are bouyed by a favorable supply-and-demand equation — and long lines of customers. But as the market is flooded with competitors — not only locally, but from across state lines — not everyone survives, as a series of business closings this year demonstrates. In fact, according to the Cannabis Control Commission, 16 licenses in Massachusetts have been surrendered, not been renewed, or been revoked by the agency.

The heightened competition has caused retail prices to plummet for an industry already beset by profit-margin challenges. Unfavorable federal tax laws surrounding the growth, production, and sale of cannabis, coupled with local and state tax obligations and continued federal roadblocks to financing, transport, and other aspects of business have made it increasingly difficult to turn a profit. On the latter issue, federal decriminalization would ease the challenges somewhat, but progress there has been frustratingly slow.

Steven Weiss, shareholder at Shatz, Schwartz and Fentin

Steven Weiss, shareholder at Shatz, Schwartz and Fentin, says he’s surprised lawmakers haven’t moved more quickly toward decriminalizing cannabis on the federal level.

Workforce Challenges Continue

While many businesses and institutions, including the region’s hospitals, reported some progress in 2023 when it comes to attracting and retaining talent, workforce issues persisted in many sectors, especially hospitality.

Indeed, across the region, many restaurants have been forced to reduce the number of days they are open, and some banquet facilities have been limiting capacity due to challenges with securing adequate levels of staff.

Those are some of the visible manifestations of a workforce crisis that started during the pandemic and has lingered for a variety of reasons, from the retirement of Baby Boomers to an apparent lack of willingness to accept lower-wage positions in service businesses.

The ongoing crisis has led to stiff battles for help in certain sectors, including manufacturing, the building trades, engineering, and healthcare, among others, resulting in higher wages, more benefits, and greater flexibility when it comes to where and when people work, which brings us to another of the big stories in 2023…


Remote Work, Hybrid Schedules Gain More Traction

While some larger employers succeeded in bringing everyone back to the office in 2023, most have decided not to even try. Indeed, there was more evidence in 2023 that remote work and hybrid schedules have become a permanent part of the workplace landscape.

In interviews with employers large and small, a persistent theme on this topic has been the need to be flexible when it comes to schedules, and especially where people work. Many businesses, from banks to architecture firms to financial-services companies, have found that employees can be effective and productive working remotely, with many favoring a hybrid schedule that brings people to the office a few days a week. Such flexibility makes employees happier, they said, making it easier to attract and retain talent.

This pattern is causing some anxiety in the commercial office market amid speculation that companies will be seeking smaller spaces moving forward, but the full impact of the shift to remote work and hybrid schedules may not be known for years.


Movement on East-west Rail

This story might continue to inch down the tracks, so to speak, for years before the engine really starts moving, but after many years of debate, planning, and crunching the numbers, actual progress is emerging in the effort to connect Pittsfield with Boston by rail, with stops in Springfield, Palmer, and Worcester, among others.

“We can also make progress in breaking cycles of intergenerational poverty by helping residents complete their higher-education credentials so they can attain good jobs and build a career path.”

The big news this past fall was a federal grant of $108 million to Massachusetts for rail infrastructure upgrades, and Gov. Maura Healey also signed off on $12.5 million in DOT funding in the state’s FY 2024 budget toward the effort.

The additional east-west service would complement passenger trains now running north-south through Springfield’s Union Station, offering access to points from Greenfield to New Haven.

“The facts are simple: improving and expanding passenger rail service will have a tremendous impact on regional economies throughout Massachusetts,” U.S. Rep. Richard Neal said. “That is why we will continue to invest in a project whose framework has the potential to serve as a model for expanding passenger rail service across the country.”


Free Community College

Almost 2 million Massachusetts residents are over age 25 without a college degree. MassReconnect aims to change that, by offering free tuition and fees — as well as an allowance for books and supplies — at any of Massachusetts’ community colleges for residents over age 25.

Gov. Maura Healey pitched it as a strategy to generate more young, skilled talent in the workplace at a time when businesses are struggling to recruit and retain employees (more on that later). “We can also make progress in breaking cycles of intergenerational poverty by helping residents complete their higher-education credentials so they can attain good jobs and build a career path,” she added.

New HCC President George Timmons

New HCC President George Timmons says “community colleges are, to me, a great pathway to a better life.”

Holyoke Community College President George Timmons called the initiative “an exciting moment for HCC and all Massachusetts community colleges,” adding that “MassReconnect will enable our community colleges to do more of what we do best, which is serve students from all ages and all backgrounds and provide them with an exceptional education that leads to employment and, ultimately, a stronger economy and thriving region.”


New Higher-education Leadership

Speaking of Timmons, he was among the new presidents at the region’s colleges and universities, taking the the reins from Christina Royal, who had been at HCC since January 2017. Timmons was previously provost and senior vice president of Academic and Student Affairs at Columbia Greene Community College in Hudson, N.Y.

Meanwhile, Danielle Ren Holley, a noted legal educator and social-justice scholar, became the first Black woman in the 186-year history of Mount Holyoke College to serve as permanent president. Since 2014, Holley had served as dean and professor of Law at Howard University School of Law.

And at UMass Amherst, Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy stepped down after 11 years leading the university, to be succeeded by Javier Reyes, who had been serving as interim chancellor at the University of Illinois Chicago.

“You’re not coming in to repair something, but to build on the shoulders of giants — and that is a very attractive opportunity,” Reyes said. “You’re not trying to catch up; you’re really trying to move and set the direction and be a forward leader. It comes with more pressure, but it’s more exciting.”


Thunderous Impact for the T-Birds

The Springfield Thunderbirds released the results of an economic-impact study conducted by the UMass Donahue Institute that shows the team’s operations have generated $126 million for the local economy since 2017.

The study included an analysis of team operations data, MassMutual Center concessions figures, a survey of more than 2,000 T-Birds patrons, and interviews with local business owners and other local stakeholders. Among its findings, the study shows that the T-Birds created $76 million in cumulative personal income throughout the region and contributed $10 million to state and local taxes.

The impact on downtown Springfield businesses is especially profound. Seventy-eight percent of T-Birds fans spend money on something other than hockey when they go to a game, including 68% who are patronizing a bar, restaurant, or MGM Springfield. The study also found that median spending by fans outside the arena is $40 per person on game nights and that every dollar of T-Birds’ revenue is estimated to yield $4.09 of additional economic activity in the Pioneer Valley. Meanwhile, since the team’s inaugural season, it has doubled the number of jobs created from 112 in 2017 to 236 in 2023.


Big Y Opens Downtown

In fact, despite the speed bump posed by the pandemic, downtown Springfield seems to have some momentum again. One of the more intriguing stories of 2023 was the opening during the summer of a scaled-down Big Y supermarket on the ground floor of Tower Square.

The new Big Y Express

The new Big Y Express represents an imaginative use of ARPA funds, addresses a food desert, and contributes to momentum in downtown Springfield.

The development was noteworthy for several reasons. First, it continued the reimagination of Tower Square, which now boasts the Greater Springfield YMCA, White Lion Brewing, two colleges, and other institutions. It also brings a supermarket to what had been a food desert. And it represents an imaginative, community-building use of ARPA funds.

The store opened its doors in June to considerable fanfare, and early results have been solid, with the store becoming a welcome addition to the downtown landscape. Combined with the Thunderbirds’ success, some of MGM Springfield’s strongest revenue months, and the ongoing residential development at the former Court Square Hotel, there’s a lot to be excited about.


New Home Sought for ‘Sick Courthouse’

Not all downtown news emerged from a positive place. Another developing story in 2023 was the ongoing work to secure a replacement for the Roderick Ireland Courthouse on State Street in Springfield, whose dilapidated conditions have been under scrutiny for years and have earned it the nickname the ‘sick courthouse,’ because many who have worked there have contracted various illnesses.

Gov. Maura Healey has called for investing $106 million over a five-year period to construct a new justice center in Springfield, and in November, the Healey administration issued an official request for proposals involving a least two developable acres on which to build a new courthouse. Proposals are due Jan. 31.

While redevelopment of the current site remains an option, Springfield officials are intrigued by the possibility of building not only a new courthouse, but also redeveloping the current site, which is right off I-91 in the heart of downtown.


Weather Challenges for Farmers

It’s called the Natural Disaster Recovery Program for Agriculture, and it exists because Mother Nature hit Massachusetts — in particular, its farmers — hard in 2023.

The state program provides financial assistance to farmers who suffered crop losses as a result of any of three natural disasters: the Feb. 3-5 deep freeze that impacted a large amount of peach and stone-fruit production, the May 17-18 frost that impacted a large amount of apple production and vineyards, and the July 9-16 rainfall and flooding that impacted a large amount of vegetable crops, field crops, and hay and forage crops.

But the government wasn’t alone in the effort to help farmers sustain this triple body blow. Area banks and other oranizations created funds, as did philanthropist Harold Grinspoon — a long-time and notable advocate for farmers through his foundation’s Local Farmer Awards — swiftly pledged $50,000 toward flood-relief efforts following the July rains, distributing checks to 50 farmers impacted by the floods.


Behavioral Health at the Forefront

In August, Baystate Health and Lifepoint Health celebrated the opening of Valley Springs Behavioral Health Hospital, a 122,000-square-foot, four-story facility in Holyoke featuring 150 private and semi-private rooms for inpatient behavioral healthcare for adults and adolescents.

It’s yet another development — the opening of MiraVista Behavioral Health Center in Holyoke in 2021 was another one — that aims to fill an access gap in behavioral health, at a time when the mental-health and addiction needs remain high. The pandemic caused a spike in both, the effects of which are still being felt today.

Dr. Mark Keroack, president and CEO of Baystate Health, said Valley Springs increases the inpatient behavioral-health capacity in the region by 50%. “Until now, about 30% of behavioral-health patients needing care would have to go outside the region. Valley Springs Behavioral Health Hospital will allow us to provide top-quality care for more patients right here in Western Massachusetts.”


Holyoke Celebrates Its 150th

One of the more fun stories of 2023 was Holyoke’s year-long 150th-anniversary celebration. BusinessWest printed a special edition in March to coincide with the St. Patrick’s Day parade, which included stories and photos that celebrated the past and present, while speculating on the future. The many interviews captured the unique essence and character of Holyoke, a close-knit community with a proud history and many traditions.

“There’s been a lot of change over the years, but what hasn’t changed is the spirit of the people,” Jim Sullivan, president of the O’Connell Companies and a Holyoke native, said. “There is a very proud heritage in Holyoke, and it still exists today.”

Said Gary Rome, another native of the Paper City and owner of Gary Rome Auto Group, “there’s a saying … as Holyokers, we can talk bad about Holyoke, but you can’t talk bad about Holyoke.”

Autos Special Coverage

Keep on Truckin’

Ben Sullivan, seen here beside the Chevy Silverado ZR2

Ben Sullivan, seen here beside the Chevy Silverado ZR2 he’s now driving, says demand for trucks is up across the board, especially in the compact category.

Before relocating to the 413 and a job with Balise Motor Sales, Ben Sullivan lived in Texas for 15 years.

In the Lone Star State, he said, one of every four vehicles sold is a half-ton pickup or larger. There, parking lots and parking garages are designed specifically to accommodate large pickups, with wide-open spaces and yellow lines that are farther apart. Pickups, he said, are part of the culture.

“Here, people drive diesel, heavy-duty trucks because they’re pulling a landscape trailer behind them or they’re going to a construction site,” said Sullivan, chief operating officer at Balise. “In Texas, people drive them because they want to look cool.”

Western Mass., and much of the rest of the country, is a long way from Texas — at least when it comes to pickups — but there is considerable movement in that direction, he said, adding that pickups are becoming increasingly popular with just about all age groups, and especially young people.

And part of the reason why is the wide range of options now on the market — from large trucks to the mid-range, half-ton offerings, to a growing number of smaller, modestly priced trucks that are especially popular with active, outdoor-loving young people.

These include Ford’s Maverick, which came out in 2022. This is a compact truck that seats five, boasts hybrid power, and has an XL trim with a base sticker price of $23,400, but also offers a Lariat model with leather seats.

“When you look at the truck market, there’s work trucks, there’s people who need them for towing boats, you have people who use them for leisure activities, and then, you have people who drive them for lifestyle — ‘I like the look of a truck.’”

That makes this an attractive option for people who don’t necessarily want to tow a boat or trailer and don’t work in construction, but do want everything else a pickup can provide, said Mike Marcotte, president of Holyoke-based Marcotte Ford.

“It’s been doing really well since it came out,” he said, adding that it’s become a solid option for many constituencies. “It’s popular with people right out of college, but also with contractors who want a vehicle they can go out and quote with, or people who may not need the size of F-150; it has the capability for multiple purposes.”

Marcotte said he’s selling a lot of Mavericks, but also a number of Rangers (another smaller truck) and F-150s, the ever-popular half-ton truck; the larger 250s and 350s; and even the Lightning, the all-electric version of the F-150, as well. With inventories improving, sales have been strong across the board.

Sullivan, whose company, Balise, sells several different nameplates, concurred, noting that there are a number of increasingly popular truck models on the market, with standard bearers Ford, Chevy, and Ram leading the way, but many others also doing well in this space, including Hyundai, Toyota, and Honda, especially with the smaller models.

Many of these ‘compact’ offerings now come with the descriptive phrase ‘adventure truck’ attached to them, said Sullivan, adding that, when these vehicles are on area lots, they’re usually not there for long.

In many ways, the current scene is reminiscent of the early and mid-’80s, when the market was flooded with smaller truck models.

“There were little trucks everywhere,” he said of those days. “Cheap little trucks, get-around trucks were very, very popular back then, and we’re seeing a return to those times; these smaller trucks are getting a lot of interest from young people.”

Mike Marcotte says Ford’s Maverick, a smaller truck

Mike Marcotte says Ford’s Maverick, a smaller truck, has been a hot seller, but there is demand for trucks in every category.

There are some differences between now and then, though, especially when it comes to accessibility. Indeed, while some makes and models are readily available — Marcotte said he has more than 150 trucks on his lot — others are not.

Indeed, Rob Pion, president of Bob Pion Buick GMAC, said he’s on his fourth year of struggles with truck inventory, especially the larger models needed by contractors and snow plowers, and especially toward year-end, when their accountants are urging them to make such purchases to take advantage of tax incentives, rather than in the new year.

“I have inventory, but not the right inventory,” he said, noting that he has several half-ton models, such as the Sierra 1500, on the lot. These are not what most of his contractor and snow-plowing customers are looking for. Meanwhile, what he does have is generally vanilla when most of his customers want something specific.

He said the market for the 1500 is somewhat soft at the moment, with those vehicles being “more of a want than a need.” Meanwhile, GM continues to struggle to supply him with the trucks for which there is a need, such as the larger 2500s and 3500s.

For this issue and its focus on auto sales, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at the burgeoning truck market and what will happen down the road, as they say.


Bedding Down

Sullivan isn’t a dealer, per se, but like most executives in the auto-sales business, he takes full advantage of an industry perk — driving some of the latest models with dealer plates attached.

He has a hard and fast rule that he follows, though: “I drive what doesn’t sell,” he said, noting that he’s not going to hamstring any of the GMs at Balise by driving a vehicle that is in demand and could be easily sold.

So right now, he’s driving a white Chevy Silverado ZR2, which is, as they say in this business, fully loaded.

“It has the 6.2-liter engine, the big tires, the big wheels — it gets up and goes,” he said, adding that the price tag is roughly $80,000, which, in these days of higher interest rates and less-readily-available incentives, helps explain why it had been in inventory for more than six months at Balise’s Chevy story in Rhode Island and became a prime candidate for his next ride.

But while this particular Silverado wasn’t moving off the lot, trucks in many different categories (especially the smaller trucks) and across most makes and models are.

That’s because the manufacturers are making models that are, in some cases, affordable, versatile, comfortable, and fun to drive.

Rob Pion

Rob Pion says demand for trucks is growing, but there are still issues with availability.

All those adjectives apply to several Ford models, said Marcotte, adding that he’s enjoying robust sales of the Maverick, the Ranger, the F-150, and most other truck lines put out by Ford, which has been the top seller of trucks for 46 years running, he said — and, with just a few days left in 2023, appears to be headed for a 47th.

Sullivan agreed, noting that, while soaring interest rates and higher price tags — several higher-end models now go for $100,000 or more — have slowed some segments of the market, pickup sales are still strong across the board.

“When you look at the truck market, there’s work trucks, there’s people who need them for towing boats, you have people who use them for leisure activities, and then, you have people who drive them for lifestyle — ‘I like the look of a truck,’” he said, adding that all these elements are fueling sales.

Marcotte agreed. “Trucks are more versatile now — you can use them for multi-purposes,” he said. “You can use them for casual driving or also for work; the F-150 drives like a car these days.”

Meanwhile, many of the incentives that made trucks a ‘value play,’ as he called it, such as low lease rates, attractive financing offers, and more, are coming back — slowly — and availability is improving as well.

Perhaps the biggest growth in this segment is in the mid-size and smaller categories, he went on, adding that these are for people who don’t necessarily use a truck for work or towing, but for adventures and “utilitarian use.”

“They don’t need the big platform and the big motors,” he said, adding that there are many models now in the mid-size category — the Tacoma, Chevy’s Colorado, GMC’s Canyon, Nissan’s Frontier, Ford’s Ranger, and others.

And there is perhaps even more growth in what he called the “compact truck” segment — trucks built essentially on a car platform — with models like the Maverick, the Hyundai Santa Cruz, the Honda Ridgeline, and others, said both Sullivan and Marcotte.

“Those Mavericks sell the day that they land. It’s a small truck, it’s got a hybrid powertrain in it, it can carry stuff in the back, but it’s less expensive, it gets better gas mileage, and it rides better,” Sullivan noted, adding that the same things can be said of other trucks in this category; indeed, there is a lengthy waiting list for Santa Cruzes at Balise’s Hyundai store. “These trucks are a good value play, they’re not overly expensive, they’re good-looking … and there are a lot of young people who like all that they have to offer.”

And given the popularity of this segment, there will certainly be more of them in the future, said Sullivan, adding that Toyota is expected to come out with a smaller truck soon, and other makers will likely follow.

Meanwhile, with the larger trucks, there are still some lingering supply issues, said those we spoke with, citing everything from supply-chain issues — yes, still — to the recent UAW strikes.

For Pion, inventory has been a long-standing problem. He told BusinessWest that, if a customer isn’t too specific with their needs, he can probably find them something on the lot or order it, but the narrower the request, the more difficult it gets.

“If someone’s willing to work with you and just wants a 1500 pickup, you can probably find something,” he said. “But if they want something specific, like a Sierra Denali with a specific motor and a specific package, that can be very difficult to get, still.”

This environment has created great demand — and higher prices — for used trucks, he said, adding that “the value on a used one is almost as much as brand-new one because you can’t find a new one.”

With Ford, availability has greatly improved over the past year or so, said Marcotte, noting that they are, by and large, back to pre-pandemic levels. The recent UAW strikes certainly threw a scare into all dealers, he added, but production seems to already be back to what would be considered normal, meaning there are trucks being delivered regularly.


Towing the Line

Referencing the long-standing ‘truck war’ between Ford and Chevy — with Ram a close third — Sullivan said those hostilities took on much quieter tones during the pandemic and its aftermath as availability became a lingering issue.

“During COVID, there was no reason for a pickup-truck war; every truck that they could make — and they could only make some percentage of what they used to make — was sold before it hit the lot,” he said, adding that, as availability improves and the portfolio of in-demand models increases, the truck wars will heat up again.

And that’s only one aspect of a developing story in the truck market, one with some ongoing shifts and movement to a higher gear when it comes to overall interest and the laws of supply and demand.

Western Mass. probably won’t ever be like Texas when it comes to pickups, but there is movement in that direction.


Insurance Special Coverage

Shelter from the Storm

Beth Pearson (left, with Alex Bennett) says a dog bite (not from this good boy, of course) could leave a homeowner without proper coverage in a bad spot for a long time.

Beth Pearson loves dogs as much as anyone else.

Working in the insurance world, she also knows people can be careless.

“If you have a dog, and that dog bites a dog walker or bites a child, if you’re sued, that’s a catastrophic impact that can affect your life for a very, very long time,” she said. “Or let’s say a teenage driver gets behind the wheel while impaired, and an accident ensues.”

In situations like this, she added, “I always say one thing: ‘I hope you have an umbrella policy.’ It’s that important.”

An umbrella policy, as its name suggests, essentially sits atop existing auto, home, or commercial insurance policies to deliver an additional layer of protection, especially against catastrophic liability loss, noted Pearson, president of Pearson Wallace Insurance in Amherst and Pittsfield.

Alex Bennett, vice president of Business Development at Pearson Wallace, suggested another example: an inground swimming pool.

“The neighbor’s child comes over, hops the fence, jumps in the pool, and even though he’s not permitted to get on your property, the owner can still be essentially responsible for the death — or responsible for someone who’s badly injured from a diving board, a slide, or any sort of pool-related incident on your premises.”

In short, personal liability coverage of $500,000 or $1 million is simply not enough when real tragedy — accompanied by soaring liability — strikes, said Nathan Lee, a Commercial Lines producer at Rush Insurance Group in Chicopee.

“We live in a litigious environment these days,” he noted. “One million does not go nearly as far as it did five or 10 years ago. It’s not a lot of money these days.”

Bennett said agents on his team look at the property and unique situations of each client and make recommendations based on their general net worth and the specific exposures they might have.

“You have to consider the potential impact of what could happen in a life-changing event, in a lawsuit, when you find yourself in a hole for something that insurance could have protected against.”

“Things can happen to anyone. If someone broke into your house and fell down the stairs, they can sue you,” he said, citing what most people would consider a particularly unfair example of liability. “You have to consider the potential impact of what could happen in a life-changing event, in a lawsuit, when you find yourself in a hole for something that insurance could have protected against.”

Perhaps the most compelling aspect of an umbrella policy is its cost — maybe $300 to $400 per year for $1 million in coverage, with additional layers of coverage available beyond that, typically in increments of $1 million.

“In its most basic form, an umbrella policy is an additional layer of liability insurance,” Lee said. “It’s additional layers above and beyond the primary, underlying policy, and its intent is to protect against catastrophic losses that exhaust that primary policy’s limits.

“If I have, say, $1 million in underlying protection, general liability, and I have an accidental death in an auto claim that comes to be a judgment of $3 million, that would exhaust the primary underlying policy, and I would look for that $2 million above and beyond that. The umbrella policy is really just an additional layer of liability.”


Know the Difference

On the commercial side, Lee said, there’s a difference between an umbrella policy and what’s known as an excess insurance policy. Essentially, excess policies provide coverage only when the underlying policy responds to a particular situation, like major injuries or death. Umbrella insurance, on the other hand, does expand terms and provides broader coverage for losses not outlined in the underlying policy. It also covers legal defense costs.

Nathan Lee

Nathan Lee says he recommends umbrella insurance to “absolutely everyone.”

“An umbrella policy is much broader, more comprehensive, and frankly, we don’t see it a lot in the commercial space,” he explained. “Excess liability policies are more common in the high-hazard businesses, like fuel dealers and aircraft machine shops.”

But it’s the unexpected nature of life that should cause all business owners to consider umbrella insurance, Pearson said.

“We know that the cost of insurance is expensive and continues to rise every year. But not having the umbrella is one of the major liabilities of running a business,” she added. “A commercial umbrella gives you excess coverage over the general liability limits, the auto limits, as well as workers’ compensation. If someone is gravely injured by a machine and the underlying workers’ comp is a million dollars, but this person is dismembered for life, it’s important for the umbrella to be in place to reach down and provide an additional million to the liability.”

Lee stressed that he recommends such a policy to “absolutely everyone.”

“It’s really the broker’s job to examine the historical claims of the individual, see where the trends are, and build a program that’s priced conscientiously to the customer around how much excess umbrella they can afford and what they need,” he told BusinessWest. “We make recommendations to the customer — they make their own decisions, but it’s up to us to recommend the overall program.”

Clients can also purchase multiple layers of umbrella insurance, each carrying a less costly premium than the one below it. The key is to make sure the underlying policy limit is high enough to trigger the umbrella with no gap in coverage.

“If the umbrella policy says they need an underlying limit of $1 million and you only have a half-million dollars, it may not respond because of that half-million gap,” Lee said. “In some instances, you can pay that half-million gap personally, but those are very critical components when building a program.”

On the personal-lines side, an umbrella policy sits on top of primary home insurance, primary auto insurance, or other underlying policies, Pearson noted.

“It doesn’t matter whether it’s a small businesses with few employees or an employer with 100 people. Businesses are not exempt from accidents. This can provide coverage against losing everything.”

“Say, for example, you have a car accident and someone is seriously injured in your vehicle and loses a limb or some other body part, and you’re brought into a lawsuit for medical expenses well as any liability issues. If another person is injured and can’t go back to work or has a long-term disability, your auto insurance becomes exhausted in situations like that. The umbrella comes down and covers costs above and beyond those limits, and defense costs as well.”

She agreed with Lee that $500,000 or even $1 million in primary coverage can disappear quickly in a catastrophic event. “When those become exhausted and completely paid out, the umbrella gives additional coverage if they need it.”

Most people, Bennett added, “can’t afford not to have one. It starts at $1 million, but it can go as high as $25 million or $50 million.”

Those numbers may seem exorbitant, he added, but clients should consider what they’re putting at risk without one, especially considering the reasonable cost of premiums.

“With the nature of our world and our country, you can’t have enough of it these days. I think of umbrella insurance as peace of mind and asset protection,” he said. “We look at the account holistically. We want to understand what the net worth is, and we want the umbrella to be equal to, or more than, the family’s net worth.

“God forbid something happens,” Bennett went on. “The question we never want to hear is, ‘why didn’t I have an umbrella policy, if there was a policy that could have covered me?’ In a death or a large lawsuit, all kinds of different things can come into play in a situation. You’ll sleep better at night knowing that you have protection.”


Critical Questions

In Massachusetts, most umbrella policies provide coverage for the policyholder and their immediate family members living in the same household, with some exceptions.

Meanwhile, on the commercial side, the nature of the business would impact the risk exposure and, hence, the level of coverage needed. While a $1 million umbrella might be fine for a storefront florist or clothing store, a business owner with a fleet of heavy trucks would likely need more.

In addition, the level of coverage should reflect not only one’s net worth, but future earning potential as well. A doctor who just graduated from medical school and plans a career in brain surgery might have little more than debt to show right now, but a lawsuit could put significant future earnings at risk.

The keys are to “make sure you have minimum underlying limits, and make sure that the excess umbrella policy responds. Those are critical,” Lee said. “And you really need to pay attention to whether it’s an umbrella policy or excess.”

Pearson said business owners of all kinds need to consider their exposure. While a new business might be trying to keep initial costs down, liability can rear its head at any time, and for often-unexpected reasons.

“It doesn’t matter whether it’s a small businesses with few employees or an employer with 100 people. Businesses are not exempt from accidents. This can provide coverage against losing everything,” she said.

“I’ve seen businesses have catastrophic events and not have an umbrella, and it’s a very tough situation to dig out of. This saves money because, even though you’re spending a little extra, you’re protected from the storms that may occur.”

Accounting and Tax Planning Special Coverage Wealth Management

Planning Is Key

By Kristina D. Houghton, CPA


Surprisingly, 2023 was a year with no tax-law changes. Congressional members of both parties introduced major tax policy legislation, but so far, most of those bills were partisan. For Congress to pass tax legislation, it will need to be the product of bipartisan compromise. Any tax-policy legislation should also adhere to core values of fostering domestic economic growth, providing support for workers and their families, and prioritizing fiscal responsibility.

Despite the lack of legislation, year-end is still the optimal time for tax planning. But you must be careful to avoid potential pitfalls along the way.

We have prepared the following 2023 year-end tax article divided into three sections:

• Individual Tax Planning;

• Business Tax Planning; and

• Financial Tax Planning.

Be aware that the concepts discussed in this article are intended to provide only a general overview of year-end tax planning. It is recommended that you review your personal situation with a tax professional.

“If you come out ahead by itemizing, you may want to accelerate certain deductible expenses into 2023.”


Itemized Deductions

When you file your personal 2023 tax return, you must choose between the standard deduction and itemized deductions. The standard deduction for 2023 is $13,850 for single filers and $27,700 for joint filers. (An additional $1,850 standard deduction is allowed for a taxpayer age 65 or older.)

YEAR-END MOVE: If you come out ahead by itemizing, you may want to accelerate certain deductible expenses into 2023. For example, consider the following possibilities:

• Donate cash or property to a qualified charitable organization.

• Pay deductible mortgage interest if it otherwise makes sense for your situation. Currently, this includes interest on acquisition debt of up to $750,000 for your principal residence and one other home, combined.

• Make state and local tax (SALT) payments up to the annual SALT deduction limit of $10,000.


Charitable Donations

The tax law allows you to deduct charitable donations within generous limits if you meet certain record-keeping requirements.

YEAR-END MOVE: Step up charitable gift giving before Jan. 1. As long as you make a donation in 2023, it is deductible in 2023, even if you charge it in 2023 and pay it in 2024.

• If you make monetary contributions, your deduction is limited to 60% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). Any excess above the 60%-of-AGI limit may be carried over for up to five years.

• If you donate appreciated property held longer than one year (i.e., it would qualify for long-term capital-gain treatment if sold), you can generally deduct an amount equal to the property’s fair market value (FMV) on the donation date, up to 30% of your AGI. But the deduction for short-term capital-gain property is limited to your initial cost.


Higher-education Credits

The tax law provides tax breaks to parents of children in college, subject to certain limits. This often includes a choice between one of two higher-education credits.

YEAR-END MOVE: When appropriate, pay qualified expenses for next semester by the end of this year. Generally, the costs will be eligible for a credit in 2023, even if the semester does not begin until 2024.

Typically, you can claim either the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) or the Lifetime Learning Credit (LLC), but not both. The maximum AOTC of $2,500 is available for qualified expenses for four years of study for each student, while the maximum $2,000 LLC is claimed on a per-family basis for all years of study. Thus, the AOTC is usually preferable to the LLC.

Both credits are phased out based on your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI). The phase-out for each credit occurs between $80,000 and $90,000 of MAGI for single filers and between $160,000 and $180,000 of MAGI for joint filers.

TIP: The list of qualified expenses includes tuition, books, fees, equipment, computers, etc., but not room and board.



• Install energy-saving devices at home that result in either of two residential credits. For example, you may be able to claim a credit for installing solar panels. Generally, each credit equals 30% of the cost of qualified expenses, subject to certain limits.

• Avoid an estimated tax penalty by qualifying for a safe-harbor exception. Generally, a penalty will not be imposed if you pay 90% of your current year’s tax liability or 100% of your prior year’s tax liability (110% if your AGI exceeded $150,000).

• Empty out flexible spending accounts for healthcare or dependent-care expenses if you will forfeit unused funds under the ‘use it or lose it’ rule. However, your employer’s plan may provide a carry-over to 2024 of up to $610 of unused funds or a two-and-a-half-month grace period.



Depreciation-based Deductions

As the year draws to a close, a business may benefit from one or more of three depreciation-based tax breaks: the Section 179 deduction, first-year ‘bonus’ depreciation, and regular depreciation.

YEAR-END MOVE: Place qualified property in service before the end of the year. If your business does not start using the property before 2024, it is not eligible for these tax breaks.

Section 179 deduction: Under Section 179 of the tax code, a business may currently deduct the cost of qualified property placed in service during the year. The maximum annual deduction for 2023 is $1.16 million, provided your total purchases of property do not exceed $2.89 million.

Be aware that the Section 179 deduction cannot exceed the taxable income from all your business activities this year. This rule could limit your deduction for 2023.

First-year bonus depreciation: The first-year bonus depreciation applicable percentage for 2023 is 80% and is scheduled to drop to 60% in 2024.


Qualified Retirement Plans

The new SECURE 2.0 law includes a number of provisions affecting employers with qualified retirement plans.

YEAR-END MOVE: Position your business to maximize available tax benefits and avoid potential problems. Consider the following key changes of particular interest:

• For 401(k) plans adopted after 2024, an employer must provide automatic enrollment to employees. Certain small companies and startups are exempt.

• Beginning in 2023, employers with 50 or fewer employees can qualify for a credit equal to 100% of their contributions to a new retirement plan, up to $1,000 per employee, phased out over five years. The 100% credit is reduced for a business with 51 to 100 employees. This tax break is in addition to an enhanced credit for plan startup costs.

• Beginning in 2024, employers may automatically provide employees with emergency access to accounts of up to 3% of their salary, capped at $2,500.

• Beginning in 2024, an employer may elect to make matching contributions to an employee’s retirement-plan account based on student-loan obligations.

• The new law shortens the eligibility requirement for part-time workers from three years to two years, beginning in 2023, among other modifications.

• Any catch-up contributions to 401(k) plans must be made to Roth-type accounts for employees earning more than $145,000 a year (indexed for inflation).

TIP: This last provision was initially scheduled to take effect in 2024, but a new IRS ruling just delayed it for two years to 2026.


Employee Bonuses

Generally, employee bonuses are deductible in the year that they are paid. For instance, you must dole out bonuses before Jan. 1, 2024 to deduct those bonuses on your company’s 2023 return. However, there’s a special rule for accrual-basis companies. In this case, the bonuses are currently deductible if they are paid within two and a half months of the close of the tax year.

YEAR-END MOVE: If your company qualifies, determine bonus amounts before year-end. As a result, the bonuses can be deducted on the company’s 2023 return as long as they are paid by March 15, 2024. Keep detailed corporate minutes to support the deductions.

This special deduction rule does not apply to bonuses paid to majority shareholders of a C-corporation or certain owners of an S-corporation or a personal-service corporation.

TIP: Note that the bonuses are taxable to employees in the year in which they receive them — 2024. Thus, the employees benefit from tax deferral for a year even if the company claims a current deduction.



• Stock the shelves with routine supplies (especially if they are in high demand). If you buy the supplies in 2023, they are deductible this year even if they are not used until 2024.

• Maximize the qualified business interest deduction for pass-through entities and self-employed individuals. Note that special rules apply if you are in a ‘specified service trade or business.’ See your professional tax advisor for more details.

• If you buy a heavy-duty SUV or van for business, you may claim a first-year Section 179 deduction of up to $28,900. The luxury-car limits do not apply to certain heavy-duty vehicles.



Securities Sales

Traditionally, investors time sales of assets like securities at year-end to maximize tax advantages. For starters, capital gains and losses offset each other. If you show an excess loss for the year, you can then offset up to $3,000 of ordinary income before any remainder is carried over to the next year. Long-term capital gains from sales of securities owned longer than one year are taxed at a maximum rate of 15%, or 20% for high-income investors. Conversely, short-term capital gains are taxed at ordinary income rates reaching as high as 37% in 2023.

YEAR-END MOVE: Review your portfolio. Depending on your situation, you may want to harvest capital losses to offset gains, especially high-taxed short-term gains, or realize capital gains that will be partially or wholly absorbed by losses.

Be aware of even more favorable tax treatment for certain long-term capital gains. Notably, a 0% rate applies to taxpayers below certain income levels, such as young children. Furthermore, some taxpayers who ultimately pay ordinary income tax at higher rates due to their investments may qualify for the 0% tax rate on a portion of their long-term capital gains.

However, watch out for the ‘wash sale rule.’ If you sell securities at a loss and reacquire substantially identical securities within 30 days of the sale, the tax loss is disallowed. A simple way to avoid this adverse result is to wait at least 31 days to reacquire substantially identical securities.

Note that a disallowed loss increases your basis for the securities you acquire and could reduce taxable gain on a future sale.


Net Investment Income Tax

When you review your portfolio, do not forget to account for the 3.8% net investment income tax, which applies to the lesser of net investment income (NII) or the amount by which MAGI for the year exceeds $200,000 for single filers or $250,000 for joint filers. (These thresholds are not indexed for inflation.)

The definition of NII includes interest, dividends, capital gains, and income from passive activities, but not Social Security benefits, tax-exempt interest, and distributions from qualified retirement plans and IRAs.

You may consider investing in municipal bonds (‘munis’). The interest income generated by munis does not count as NII, nor is it included in the MAGI calculation. Similarly, if you turn a passive activity into an active business, the resulting income may be exempt from the NII tax.

TIP: When you add the NII tax to your regular tax, you could be paying an effective 40.8% tax rate at the federal level alone. Factor this into your investment decisions.


Required Minimum Distributions

For starters, you must begin ‘required minimum distributions’ (RMDs) from qualified retirement plans and IRAs after reaching a specified age. After the SECURE Act raised the age threshold from 70½ to 72, SECURE 2.0 bumped it up again to 73 beginning in 2023 (scheduled to increase to 75 in 2033). The amount of the RMD is based on IRS life-expectancy tables and your account balance at the end of last year.

YEAR-END MOVE: Assess your obligations. If you can postpone RMDs still longer, you can continue to benefit from tax-deferred growth. Otherwise, make arrangements to receive RMDs before Jan. 1, 2024 to avoid any penalties.

Conversely, if you are still working and do not own 5% or more of a business with a qualified plan, you can postpone RMDs from that plan until your retirement. This ‘still-working exception’ does not apply to RMDs from IRAs or qualified plans of other employers.

Previously, the penalty for failing to take timely RMDs was equal to 50% of the shortfall. SECURE 2.0 reduces it to 25% beginning in 2023 (10% if corrected in a timely fashion).

TIP: Under the initial SECURE Act, you are generally required to take RMDs from recently inherited accounts over a 10-year period (although previous inheritances are exempted). These rules are complex, so consult with your tax advisor regarding your situation.


Estate and Gift Taxes

During the last decade, the unified estate- and gift-tax exclusion has gradually increased, while the top estate rate has not budged. For example, the exclusion for 2023 is $12.92 million, the highest it has ever been. (It is scheduled to revert to $5 million, plus inflation indexing, after 2025.)

YEAR-END MOVE: Reflect this generous tax-law provision in your overall estate plan. For instance, your plan may involve various techniques, including bypass trusts, that maximize the benefits of the estate- and gift-tax exemption.

In addition, you can give gifts to family members that qualify for the annual gift-tax exclusion. For 2023, there is no gift-tax liability on gifts of up to $17,000 per recipient (up from $16,000 in 2022). You do not even have to file a gift-tax return. Moreover, the limit is doubled to $34,000 for joint gifts by a married couple, but a gift-tax return is required in that case.

TIP: You may ‘double up’ again by giving gifts in both December and January that qualify for the annual gift-tax exclusion for 2023 and 2024, respectively.



• Contribute up to $22,500 to a 401(k) in 2023 ($30,000 if you are age 50 or older). If you clear the 2023 Social Security wage base of $160,200 and promptly allocate the payroll tax savings to a 401(k), you can increase your deferral without any further reduction in your take-home pay. Note that SECURE 2.0 further enhances catch-up contributions for older employees after 2023.

• If you rent out your vacation home, keep your personal use within the tax-law boundaries. No loss is allowed if personal use exceeds the greater of 14 days or 10% of the rental period.

• Consider a qualified charitable distribution (QCD). If you are age 70½ or older, you can transfer up to $100,000 of IRA funds directly to charity, free of tax (but not deductible). SECURE 2.0 authorizes a one-time transfer of up to $50,000 to a charitable remainder trust or charitable gift annuity as part of a QCD.



This year-end tax-planning article is based on the prevailing federal tax laws, rules, and regulations. Of course, it is subject to change, especially if additional tax legislation is enacted by Congress before the end of the year.

Finally, remember that this article is intended to serve only as a general guideline. Your personal circumstances will likely require careful examination.


Kristina D. Houghton, CPA is a partner at the Holyoke-based accounting firm Meyers Brothers Kalicka, P.C.


Daily News

HOLYOKE — Ready to pick up pickleball as a new hobby or improve your game while outdoor courts are closed for the winter? Holyoke Community College (HCC) is running a series of pickleball classes in January and February for beginners, intermediates, and tournament-level players in the college’s indoor athletics facility.

The group classes will be led by pickleball coach and racquet sports instructor Kelly Canniff, who has 25 years of experience educating children, adolescents, and adults.

Sessions run on both Tuesday and Thursday mornings on the pickleball courts inside the David M. Bartley Center for Athletics & Recreation on the main HCC campus, 303 Homestead Ave. Each class runs 90 minutes. The cost for each three-week, three-session series is $90.

• Pickleball 101: Tuesdays, Jan. 16-30, or Thursdays, Jan. 18 to Feb. 1. Classes start at 8:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. These classes are geared toward beginners or those who have played a few times, and covers topics such as serving, developing a forehand, scoring, basic rules, positioning, and strategy.

• Pickleball Intermediate Level: Tuesdays, Feb. 6-20, or Thursdays, Feb. 8-22. Classes start at 8:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. This series is designed for players who have taken beginner classes or already have some familiarity and experience with the game and want to advance their play by improving their groundstrokes, overhead shots, volleys, and serves, while adding direction, control, and accuracy.

• Pickleball Tournament Ready Prep: Tuesdays, Feb. 27 to March 12, or Thursdays, Feb. 29 to March 14. Classes start at 8 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. These classes are designed for players who want to prepare for tournament-level play, with practice that will help them improve shot variety and accuracy and develop better strategies for playing doubles.

To register, visit hcc.edu/health-and-fitness.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Market Mentors, LLC, a fully integrated marketing, advertising, and public-relations agency, announced the addition of two Enfield, Conn. residents to its account-services team. Chelsea Shelander has joined the agency as an account executive, and Kaitlyn Smith has joined the agency as an account coordinator.

“We are delighted to welcome Chelsea and Kaitlyn to our team,” said Michelle Abdow, president and CEO of Market Mentors. “In the short time they’ve been on board, their contributions have been notable; their passion and energy are contagious. We love having them here and are excited about all we can accomplish together.”

Shelander provides client support and ongoing communication and research as well as proposal and presentation development. Prior to joining Market Mentors, she worked in public relations and brand management at BioSafe Systems and as a service and retention consultant for the Aspire Group at UConn Athletics. She earned an MBA at the University of Dayton in Ohio after receiving two bachelor’s degrees — one in business administration with a concentration in marketing, and one in sports management — from Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania.

Smith liaises with the agency’s internal teams to identify client needs and develop and implement strategies to achieve their goals, using her organizational skills, attention to detail, and creative flair. Before coming to Market Mentors, she spent several years as an account manager for ADESA Boston, as well as a social-media manager for the DiGrigoli Companies. She earned her bachelor’s degree in media arts and analysis from Westfield State University.

Daily News

EASTHAMPTON — bankESB has been named one of the Boston Globe’s Top Places to Work in Massachusetts.

“We’re so proud to be named one of the Commonwealth’s Top Places to Work and humbled that it’s the direct result of positive feedback by our own employees,” bankESB President and CEO Matthew Sosik said. “I’m inspired every day by our talented employees, who are passionate about helping our customers unlock their potential while fostering a work environment that’s inclusive, innovative, team-oriented, and fun.”

The Globe’s list recognizes the most admired workplaces in the state, according to the people who know them best — their employees. Rankings are based on a confidential survey of more than 137,000 employees at 347 Massachusetts-based organizations, administered by employee engagement and retention firm Energage. Winners are selected based on employees’ opinions of their company’s direction, execution, connection, management, work, pay and benefits, and engagement.

Earlier this year, bankESB also was named a Top Financial Services Industry Workplace by Energage for the second year in a row, as well as a Top Charitable Contributor and Corporate Citizenship Award winner by Boston Business Journal for the ninth consecutive year.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Hampden County District Attorney Anthony Gulluni visited United Way of Pioneer Valley (UWPV) headquarters this week, bringing with him a large donation of toys. The donation from the District Attorney’s Office capped off UWPV’s annual Hope for the Holidays campaign, a holiday gift drive for children in the region.

“We have the unique opportunity to distribute toys to the families we serve weekly in our Springfield food pantry,” said Megan Moynihan, UWPV interim president and CEO. “Without the support of our corporate partners and community members, we would not be able to give our families the extra help they may need this holiday season.”

Thanks to a local businessman, a vintage Fiat sat inside the TD Bank building in downtown Springfield for the past several weeks. UWPV invited donors to help “Fill the Fiat” with educational toys this holiday season. UWPV collected new, unwrapped toys appropriate for children ages 0-12, such as games, trucks, dolls, sports equipment, books, and puzzles.

Picture This

Email ‘Picture This’ photos with a caption and contact information to [email protected]


Elite Company

The Springfield Museums recently celebrated reaccredition by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), the highest national recognition for museums. Only 3% of the nation’s 33,000 museums can claim this distinction.

Elite Company

Pictured, from left: state Rep. Carlos Gonzalez; U.S. Rep. Richard Neal; Springfield Museums President Kay Simpson; Cynthia Campbell, chair of the Museums’ board of trustees; Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno; and state Sen. Adam Gomez. (Photo by Ed Cohen)



Brighter Future

Springfield Technical Community College (STCC) recently donated $5,000 to Girls Inc. of the Valley, a gift that will help support the youth-development organization’s teen center renovation as part of its “Her Future, Our Future” campaign.

Girls Inc. of the Valley

Pictured: after a tour of the new Holyoke location for Girls Inc., STCC administrators, staff, and faculty, including President John Cook (second from right), join representatives from Girls Inc. of the Valley, including Dee Ward and Ruth Roy.


Ice Out Hunger

Florence Bank has partnered with UMass Sports Properties and the UMass Amherst hockey team to Ice Out Hunger in the Valley. Through this innovative new program, the bank will provide $9,500 in $500 grants to each of 19 food pantries across the region.

Florence Bank

Pictured: Robin Bialecki, executive director of the Easthampton Community Center, one of the 19 recipients, attends a UMass hockey game on Oct. 14 and accepts the $500 check on the ice at intermission.


Christmas by Candlelight

Through Dec. 30: Christmas by Candlelight at Old Sturbridge Village is now open select Fridays, Saturday, and Sundays through Dec. 30. Unique, Village-made holiday items are available at the Miner Grant Store during the event, as well as the Ox & Yoke Mercantile, which opens daily at 10 a.m. and does not require admission to the Village. Visitors who would like to give the gift of something handmade can learn about crafts made throughout the Village, purchase craft kits for gift giving, or try their skill at hand-dipping candles. Attendees will find themselves enchanted as they step back in time to celebrate Christmas in New England in the 19th century. They can enter Village households to watch traditional craft-making demonstrations; stroll through the Christmas Tree Trail, featuring over 80 cut trees; and take in 4,000 candles and lanterns and more than 2,000 yards of garland dressing up the Village in its holiday finest. A lighting ceremony takes place at 4:30 p.m. each day. And Santa Claus himself makes a nightly appearance, allowing the little ones to tell him their Christmas wishes. Visit www.osv.org/event/christmas-by-candlelight to purchase tickets.


Bright Nights

Through Jan. 1: The 29th season of Bright Nights at Forest Park will be lit every night from 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 5 to 10 p.m. on Friday, Saturday, and holidays, which include Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day. Tickets are available at brightnights.org. Over the past 29 years, a lot has changed, but many iconic displays have stayed the same. The Cat in the Hat still waves at the entrance to Seuss Land as he has been doing since 1995. The deer in Winter Woods bound across the road. Toy Land is still a storied land for children to dream of living in. Santa’s Magical Forest continues to grow with activities, attractions, and Santa himself, who will be in residency through Christmas Eve. He has a cozy cottage to welcome visitors, listen to holiday wish lists, and pose for photos, whether visitors take their own or purchase a photo package.


40 Under Forty Nominations

Through Feb. 16: BusinessWest is currently accepting nominations for the 40 Under Forty class of 2023. The deadline for nominations is Friday, Feb. 16. Launched in 2007, the program recognizes rising stars in the four counties of Western Mass. Nominations, which should be as detailed and thorough as possible, should list an individual’s accomplishments within their profession as well as their work within the community. Nominations can be completed online at businesswest.com/40-under-forty-nomination-form. Nominations will be weighed by a panel of judges, and the selected individuals will be announced and profiled in the April 29 issue of BusinessWest and honored at the 40 Under Forty Gala in June. Event sponsorship opportunities are available.


Red Sox Winter Weekend

Jan. 19-20: Red Sox Winter Weekend will take place at MGM Springfield and its neighboring facility, the MassMutual Center. The event will include a welcome and introduction of participating Red Sox players and roundtable discussions on a variety of baseball topics, as well as autographs and photos. The weekend also includes a full baseball festival for fans of all ages. Weekend passes for Winter Weekend are available now at redsox.com/winterweekend. Passes provide access for the entire event and cost $95 for adults ($85 for season-ticket holders) and $40 for children age 14 and under ($35 for season-ticket holders). Children age 2 and under are free. Information about discounted hotel rooms in the area is available on the website. Mastercard is the preferred payment of the Boston Red Sox. Members of the 2024 Red Sox, including coaching staff, are invited to attend. Red Sox alumni, Wally the Green Monster, and his sister, Tessie, will also be in attendance. The weekend will begin Friday night with a welcome and introduction of the participating players. Throughout the day on Saturday, fans will have an opportunity to get autographs and take photos with players and alumni and see the 2004, 2007, 2013, and 2018 World Series trophies, as well as Red Sox artifacts such as Silver Slugger, Gold Glove, MVP, and and Cy Young awards. Family-friendly activities include Wiffle ball on the indoor field, a virtual-reality experience, batting and pitching cages, and the chance to meet Wally and Tessie. Panel discussions will also take place throughout the day on Saturday, with the return of the popular favorites including the kids-only press conference.