Daily News

WEST SPRINGFIELD — The city of West Springfield and Bird, a leader in environmentally friendly micro-electric transportation, have teamed up again to bring shared e-scooters back to the city.

Bird is a leading micro-mobility company that aims to make cities more livable by reducing car trips, traffic congestion, and carbon emissions, all of which contribute to more thgan 25% of greenhouse-gas emissions in the U.S. The company’s scooters provide a safe, eco-friendly way to get around, shop locally, and offer residents without cars or with limited access to public transit a reliable, convenient transportation option.

Bird launched a successful pilot program with West Springfield last summer. Residents and visitors to West Springfield enjoyed an affordable, eco-friendly alternative to cars, allowing residents to get around efficiently and encouraging visitors to explore all the city has to offer. According to a recent Emory University study, e-scooters have been shown to increase the amount of consumer spending in a city. Last year’s pilot program spurred significant foot traffic and economic activity for West Springfield-area businesses.

“We are excited to see our flock of bird scooters back in the community,” West Springfield Mayor William Reichelt said. “This program has allowed us to work on reducing our carbon footprint along with providing some fun alternatives in the area.”

Bird offers a number of features and benefits that make its scooters accessible to all riders, including its Community Pricing Program, through which low-income riders, veterans, and senior citizens receive a 50% discount, as well as select local nonprofits and community organizations.

“We applaud the city of West Springfield for their continued commitment to offering convenient, environmentally friendly, and affordable transportation options to residents and visitors,” said Lauren Scribi, Senior Government Partnerships manager at Bird. “We look forward to continuing our collaboration with city leaders to provide our industry-leading e-scooters during the 2023 season.”

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Eastern States Exposition (ESE) and the Basketball Hall of Fame’s 3×3 basketball tourney and festival slated for June 23-25 announced that Dunkin’ has joined the event’s sponsorship roster, leading the team as presenting sponsor of Hooplandia.

Dunkin’ is the world’s leading baked-goods and coffee chain, serving more than 3 million customers every day.

“We are thrilled to support an event that will bring together players of all ages and abilities for a sport that is so much a part of our DNA here in Western Massachusetts,” said Peter Martins, local Dunkin’ franchisee. “We look forward to working with Eastern States Exposition and the Basketball Hall of Fame to make this a terrific experience for players and fans alike.”

The 3×3 tournament will bring players from throughout New England and beyond to the hometown of basketball, as participants, spectators, and fans celebrate the sport’s heritage through a weekend of entertainment and healthy competition.

“Continuing the commemoration of our local region, there is no better way to highlight the Northeast than teaming up with an organization as beloved as Dunkin’,” ESE President and CEO Gene Cassidy said. “Everyone knows that America runs on Dunkin’, and now, so does Hooplandia.”

Registrations for elite and recreational players will be accepted through June 19. To register a team or learn more about the festival, visit www.hooplandia.com.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Springfield native Chris Marion announced the grand opening of the new Chris Marion Photography studio, located at 270 Albany St. in Springfield, will be held on Thursday, May 18 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 6 p.m. The ceremony will include brief remarks, with appearances by Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, City Council President Jesse Lederman, and other local dignitaries.

“While I’m probably most noted for my work with the NBA, much of my work includes portraiture and commercial photography, which will be the focus of the new studio,” Marion said.

Attendees will have the opportunity to meet Marion and preview the new, 1,000-square-foot studio. He has also recently used the space to hold photography workshops. Marion said he chose the location to be a part of the surging Gasoline Alley section of the city and its proximity to downtown Springfield.

Food will be provided by the other small businesses located on the Gasoline Alley campus, including Nosh and Monsoon Coffee Roasters. Beer will be provided by Loophole Brewing, and there will be live music by Charlie Diamond.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Understanding that a good night’s sleep is essential for children’s health, growth, and development, Freedom Credit Union is again partnering with the Pioneer Valley Chapter of the Cooperative Credit Union Assoc. to help provide ‘A Bed for Every Child’ throughout the Pioneer Valley. Through May 31, the community is invited to make cash donations at any Freedom branch.

“We believe every child deserves the opportunity to get a good night’s sleep in a warm and comfortable bed of their own,” Freedom Credit Union President Glenn Welch said. “This is a cause that is near and dear to the hearts of our members and staff, who all give generously every year to help ensure sweet dreams for all the children in our region.”

This effort began in 2011 when the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless learned that many public-school students were not getting enough sleep because they did not have their own beds. In response, they launched A Bed for Every Child with a mission to help children get the restful sleep they need to learn and succeed. To date, more than 14,250 children have been helped.

Every $350 allows for a ‘Bed Buddy’ package, which provides one child with a complete bed set. Freedom welcomes cash donations of any amount.

Community Spotlight Special Coverage

Community Spotlight

By Mark Morris

Doug Moglin and Heather Kies

Doug Moglin and Heather Kies stand at the construction site for Whalley Computer Associates’ 85,000-square-foot addition.

When Whalley Computer Associates in Southwick recently broke ground for a new 85,000-square-foot warehouse and office addition, Doug Moglin said the company was making a statement about its commitment to the town.

“We’ve been operating in Southwick for 44 years, and the new facility represents our investment in the next 25 to 30 years,” said Moglin, vice president for Whalley’s OEM business.

While many of its customers are based in New England, Whalley sells all over the U.S. and internationally. Warehousing is essential because a big part of the business involves acquiring various types of computer equipment from manufacturers, customizing it to clients’ specific needs, and then shipping out the final product. All of that requires space, which can present a challenge. Moglin gave an example of a national retail chain that needed new servers, a case that explains the need for the expansion.

“One day, 8,000 servers showed up to our near-capacity warehouse,” he explained. “And because only eight servers fit on each pallet, it quickly became a math problem.”

The company currently uses warehouse space in Westfield to handle the overflow, but the need keeps growing. For several years, senior managers had discussed building more warehouse capacity on the parcels that surround Whalley’s main facility in Southwick. Supply-chain issues during the pandemic accelerated those discussions.

“Supply-chain reliability is a concern for our customers, so having components on hand is a huge benefit,” Moglin explained. “Having the capacity to hold more inventory brings additional customers to us because, instead of buying direct from manufacturers or companies like ours out of the area, they have a local resource that provides better service and better support.”

Heather Kies, marketing manager for Whalley, called its evolution “a great story of a company that’s growing but still staying in its hometown.”

The Southwick Select Board and the Massachusetts Office of Business Development worked with Whalley to secure a tax-increment financing (TIF) agreement.

Russell Fox, chair of the Select Board and a selectman for most of the past 40 years, said the TIF was well worth the effort to keep the project in Southwick. Under the agreement, Whalley has agreed to add to the 200 workers it currently employs. “The Whalley project is all positive news for Southwick,” Fox said.

“The reconfiguration addresses the concerns of people who don’t want a huge operation. I think it’s a good way to use this industrially zoned parcel.”

In another part of town, the Planning Board is now considering a reconfiguration of the site where a Carvana facility was once proposed but then shot down by residents over concerns of increased traffic along College Highway. Now the same area has been redrawn as five separate lots, with some facing the road and smaller lots positioned in the back of the parcel. Fox sees the new plan as a great compromise.

“The reconfiguration addresses the concerns of people who don’t want a huge operation. I think it’s a good way to use this industrially zoned parcel,” Fox said, adding that, when new businesses occupy that parcel, it will help the town make its case to add a traffic light at the Tannery Road intersection.

Moving forward, the town’s goal is to continue decades of work to create an attractive balance. Fox noted that, while Southwick is known as a recreational community — it is home to the Congamond Lakes, a successful motocross track, and two golf courses — it is also a town that wants and needs to continually grow its business community.

Overall, it strives to be a community where people can play, work, and live, with new housing developments under construction and others set to come off the drawing board, as we’ll see later.

For this, the latest installment of its Community Spotlight series, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at Southwick and how this community on the Connecticut border is building momentum — in all kinds of ways.


Getting Down to Business

A key agenda item at the upcoming Southwick town meeting in May involves bringing fiber optics into town to handle its cable-TV and internet services.

The process involves forming a municipal light plant, which voters approved at a special town meeting last fall. A second vote for the plant will be taken at the May meeting. Fox pointed out that the municipal light plant is an entity in name only. If the second vote is successful, Southwick will begin interviewing firms to install and maintain the fiber-optic network. Whip City Fiber in Westfield will be among the companies under consideration.

“We’re telling all bidders that they must cover the entire town and not just the densely populated neighborhoods; that’s a non-negotiable point,” he said. “We are a community, so everyone must have access.”

The fiber-optic network is considered an important step forward for the community, one that will bring faster, more reliable service to existing residential and business customers, and provide one more selling point as town leaders continue their work to attract more employers, across a wide range of sectors.

Diane DeMarco has a special trade-show display

Diane DeMarco has a special trade-show display room to help clients pick the right materials for their needs.

The town already boasts a large and growing business community, one that is served by the Greater Westfield Chamber of Commerce, which has increased its membership among Southwick businesses, a sign of growth both in Southwick and in the chamber.

Indeed, last year, the chamber reported 13 members from Southwick, while this year, that number has grown to 20.

Diane DeMarco, owner of Spotlight Graphics in Southwick, is a long-time chamber member. For 10 years, the company has provided area businesses with logo signage, trade-show materials, and graphic vehicle wrapping, among many other services offered.

When COVID hit, Spotlight lost a few clients when it was forced to shut down. Since then, DeMarco reports she has gained back many more clients than she lost. “Business has been very good for us. We have new clients coming on board, and word of mouth about us is spreading.”

She credits customer loyalty through the years thanks to the relationships she and her staff have built. “Our customers aren’t buying their graphics from a company; they are working with Allie, David, or Diane,” she said, listing long-time employees at the business.

In addition to offering full-service, quality work, Spotlight Graphics is a nationally certified Women’s Business Enterprise (WBE) and certified by the state as a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE). DeMarco explained the state designation has led to work from clients who are required to do business with DBE firms as part of their state contract. She described it as a win-win.

“The client is fulfilling their contractual requirement for the state by working with a woman-owned business, and they are getting a quality product at a fair price,” she said.

While DeMarco competes with online graphic firms that offer cheaper prices, she’s not worried because they often can’t match Spotlight’s quality.

Southwick at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1770
Population: 9,232
Area: 31.7 square miles
County: Hampden
Residential Tax Rate: $16.11
Commercial Tax Rate: $16.11
Median Household Income: $52,296
Family Household Income: $64,456
Type of Government: Open Town Meeting; Select Board
Largest Employers: Big Y; Whalley Computer Associates; Southwick Regional School District
*Latest information available

“Sometimes a client will buy an inexpensive retractable banner stand or go for the cheap price on a poster,” she said. “Then, when the stand breaks or the poster is the wrong color, they come to us to get it done right.”

In fact, Spotlight clients can see and touch the quality of banner stands and other graphic materials at its trade-show display room. DeMarco said online and print catalogs provide only an approximate idea of the size and quality of trade-show materials.

“People who are new to trade shows or have to revamp their current displays like to stop by because they can see the actual items they would use and get answers to their questions from our staff.”


No Place Like Home

While its business community continues to grow, Southwick is experiencing residential growth as well.

Indeed, the Greens of Southwick, a housing development located on both sides of College Highway on the former Southwick Country Club property, is nearing completion. With 25 lots on the west side and 38 on the east side, only a handful of parcels remain for this custom-built home development.

Fox appreciated the quality of the homes that added to the number of new residences in Southwick. “The developers did a tremendous job with the houses there,” he said. “The whole project is a real asset to our town.”

Next up for new housing, a 100-unit condominium complex has been approved at Depot and Powder Mill roads. While construction has not yet started, the town has already secured a grant to install sidewalks around the perimeter of the eventual construction. Fox said the sidewalks make sense because the location of the condos is an active area.

“The sidewalk will connect to Whalley Park, the rail trail, the Southwick Recreation Center, and to the schools at the other end of Powder Ridge,” he explained.

In Southwick, much of today’s activity is as much about the future as it is about the present.

As Moglin noted about Whalley Computer’s building addition, “this is not a 2024 investment; this is a 2044 investment, and beyond.”

The same can be said of the fiber-optic network soon to be built, the plans to divide and then develop the site eyed by Carvana, and the many housing projects in various stages of development.

In short, this is a community with expanding horizons, both literally and figuratively.


Material Growth

LiftTruck celebrates 35 years

As LiftTruck celebrates 35 years, Kara Sotolotto says, its focus is on continuing to grow its many business operations and building on an already-solid foundation.

Kara Sotolotto says she essentially grew up in her family’s business, LiftTruck Parts & Service Inc. in West Springfield.

She remembers doing a little bit of everything for this company — founded by her father, Mario C. Sotolotto, which specializes in forklift and lift-truck sales, maintenance, parts, rentals, and more — but especially the vast amounts of paperwork that have long since been replaced by computer files. This included handling work orders, parts inventory (something that is still done by hand), calling customers, and much more. It seemed there was something new every day, and, collectively, those various assignments have prepared her for her current and somewhat new role, as the company’s vice president, a title she shares with her brother, Mario A. Sotolotto.

She was still waiting for her new business cards when she talked with BusinessWest, but she has already eased into the role, which will see her work with other family members (and there are many of them) and other employees to chart a course for future growth for this venture, which this year celebrates 35 years in business.

It is marking this milestone in a mostly quiet fashion — but also with charitable donations each quarter, including one recently to Baystate Children’s Hospital — and by essentially doing what it has been doing from the start, Kara Sotolotto said — taking care of the many different needs of its clients, mostly manufacturers and distributors located across the Bay State, but also in Connecticut and Rhode Island.

Over the years, the company has expanded well beyond its West Springfield roots, opening an office in Brockton to better serve customers in the eastern part of the state, including Cape Cod and the islands, as well as Rhode Island. Looking forward, she said the company is looking at possible additional expansion in the Worcester area, with a location to house what she called a ‘green division,’ dedicated to sales and service of battery-powered BYD material-handling equipment (more on that later).

Overall, though, the business plan calls for shifting more of the day-to-day responsibilities of managing the company to the second generation, Sotolotto explained, as well as simply building on the solid foundation created over the past 35 years, one that has enabled the company to thrive in a sector with many competitors.

Indeed, when asked how LiftTruck manages to stand out in such a crowded field, she said simply, “our service and our mechanics; these are mechanics that everyone likes and trusts, and they really know their stuff.

“He started from the ground up with a few mechanics, who are actually still with us today, and one person in the office.”

“Also, our lines,” she went on, adding that, while many competitors will sell one or a few brands, LiftTruck handles many labels and many options when it comes to how machines are powered — from propane to electric.

It is this ability to provide clients with choices, but also reliable, quality service, that has both enabled the company to thrive for the past 35 years and positioned it for continued success for the next 35.


Getting a Lift

As she offered BusinessWest a tour of the LiftTruck facilities and posed for a few pictures, Sotolotto pointed to a Clark forklift — vintage 1948, by her estimate — that was at the shop for some maintenance. It’s not really used anymore, and she believes it is one of the items on display at a small museum at Barnes Airport in Westfield.

While it is not in active service, the company services many pieces of equipment dating back to the ’60s and even the ’50s that still are, she said, adding that fork trucks, depending on how much they are used, can run for decades, and most clients are determined to get their money’s worth out of their machines.

But there are challenges to servicing such long-lasting pieces of equipment.

“These forklifts were built like tanks because they were used in the military,” she explained, referring to the older Clark machines. “The trouble is, it comes to a point where you can’t find parts for them; there are times when we can have people fabricate the parts for them, but once you get to certain big parts, like cylinders, you have to give in.”

Helping companies keep their machines running as long and as efficiently as possible has become one of the many trademarks of this company, which was started by the elder Mario Sotolotto in 1987.

As Kara explained, her father worked for Northeast Clarklift, joining his father-in-law there, and starting in the parts department and moving up the ladder. He eventually decided to take all that he had learned and start his own venture, one that would focus on all aspects of this competitive business — including sales of new and used machines, service, parts, forklift training, rentals, and more.

“He started from the ground up with a few mechanics, who are actually still with us today, and one person in the office,” she said, adding that the company has enjoyed steady, consistent growth over the years.

This is a family business, she added with conviction in her voice, noting that there are many members of her family who are involved, including her father, the company’s president, who, she said, “likes to keep involved in all aspects of the business,” as well as his uncle, Sales Manager Anthony Sotolotto.

There’s also her brother, Mario, who works mostly out the Brockton facility, and focuses on the sales and everyday operations sides of the business, while Kara is focused more on the back end of the operation — accounting, receiving equipment, managing the West Springfield facility, and talking with the press.

As noted, this is a multi-faceted business, with several components and revenue streams.

On the sales side, the company handles a number of manufacturers, including Clark, Komatsu, Doosan, Heli, and the most recent addition, BYD, which offers machines that run on iron phosphate batteries, Kara said, noting that buyers have a number of options these days in terms of both brands and how machines are powered.

Indeed, while gas-, propane-, and diesel-powered vehicles are still popular, this sector, like the automotive industry, is moving aggressively toward more electric vehicles.

“A lot of people are switching over to electric forklifts,” she explained. “It’s more economical for them, and it’s better for the environment; they’re becoming more and more popular.”

Looking ahead, Sotolotto said the company is strongly considering creation of that aforementioned ‘green division,’ one that will focus on the BYD line and likely be based in the central part of the state so it can effectively serve all corners of the Commonwealth.

“Having a facility to at least store all of our electric lifts and maybe have a few mechanics operate out of there would be great,” she told BusinessWest. “This is definitely something we’ve been talking about and moving toward; it’s a logical next step.”

The sales side of the business has been steady, she added, and it received a somewhat unexpected boost during COVID, when rentals were harder to come by (just as rental cars were) and many customers decided to buy instead — if they could find machines to buy.

And overall sales remain steady as customers seek to replace machines that hit a certain number of hours.

Meanwhile, the machine-rental side of the business remains solid as well, she said, noting that businesses will rent equipment for a day, a few weeks, a quarter, or for much longer stretches depending on need. To mark its 35th anniversary, the company is donating 10% of its rental revenue to various charities, including Baystate Children’s Hospital, each quarter.

The service side of the operation is another key contributor to the company’s overall success, Sotolotto said, noting that clients need their machines to operate successfully, and LiftTruck’s ability to provide reliable service has been another of its hallmarks.


Lock and Load

These various parts contribute to the whole, she said, adding that LiftTruck has much to celebrate as it marks its milestone anniversary this year.

Mostly, it is celebrating what has become a family, or a bigger family, to be more precise, one that includes several people related to one another, but also others who have been part of this operation for years — in many cases, 35 years.

Together, they have made this venture an uplifting success story — in every sense of that phrase.

Banking and Financial Services

Checks and Balances


By Mark Morris

About a year into the pandemic, banks found themselves in a strange position.

When the federal government pumped stimulus and Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) money into the economy to help consumers and businesses regain their footing, it created an unprecedented glut of deposits.

In normal times, banks would have celebrated the excess in the form of making more loans — and generating more revenue — but these were different times. Consumers and businesses kept their money in banks to take advantage of FDIC protection while they figured out their next moves.

Despite record-low interest rates, uncertainty from the pandemic also resulted in reduced loan activity. When deposits sit idle, banks don’t generate revenue — or profits. As one executive noted at the time, all these deposits became a burden, a concept that went against everything they were taught about banking.

Another executive said simply, “back then, cash was a four-letter word.”

“There’s a rate battle these days because, with higher interest rates, we have to offer more generous rates on CDs to keep deposits here and attract new funds.”

Mary McGovern

Mary McGovern

Things began to change by the third and fourth quarter of last year as excess deposits began flowing out. Some people withdrew money to pay for increases in daily living expenses, while other depositors sought to move their money into financial products that pay higher rates than banks.

As a result, what was once a problem of too much liquidity became a matter of banks competing for deposits.

“There’s a rate battle these days because, with higher interest rates, we have to offer more generous rates on CDs to keep deposits here and attract new funds,” said Mary McGovern, executive vice president and chief financial and operating officer for Country Bank.

Jeff Sullivan, president and CEO of New Valley Bank, added that, with excess liquidity a thing of the past, his staff is working harder to bring in deposits because demand for loans remains strong for his four-year-old institution.

“If we can raise new deposits, we can keep generating new loans and keep growing our franchise,” he noted.

These forces have been compounded by recent events in the banking world, which was rocked in March when Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) failed and was shut down by the state of California. News like that can create panic in bank customers everywhere. The bankers BusinessWest spoke with all said they communicated with their respective customers early and often to allay any fears.

“When I saw the news about Silicon Valley Bank, I sent emails and text blasts to our members to let them know everything was safe, secure, and that we are well-capitalized,” said Michael Ostrowski, president and CEO of Arrha Credit Union. He also credited the Massachusetts Division of Banks for calling every institution to make sure there were no problems.

Sullivan agreed the industry did a good job preventing a bigger problem.

“We certainly made phone calls with our customers and communicated as much as we could,” he said. “As a result, we did not see any outflows caused by people worried about the system.”

Dan Moriarty, president and CEO of Monson Savings Bank, said the deposit spend-down, along with higher interest rates for loans, particularly mortgages, have caused a paradigm shift.

“If we can raise new deposits, we can keep generating new loans and keep growing our franchise.”

Jeff Sullivan

Jeff Sullivan

“Most banks have seen a drop in their residential mortgage business due to higher interest rates, low inventory of available houses, and the high cost of houses,” he explained. “So we are seeing a couple different forces at play, and that’s a dramatic change compared even to last year.”

For this issue and its focus on banking and financial services, BusinessWest looks at these colliding forces and how they are impacting local banks — or not, as the case may be.


Points of Interest

The foundation of the banking system has long been the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), which insures accounts up to $250,000, an amount that provides sufficient protection for most people. McGovern noted that, in today’s banking world, people with higher assets don’t usually keep their money in one place.

There are situations, however, when FDIC coverage isn’t enough for an account. For example, a small business that keeps its payroll in a savings bank or a consumer who has sold a house or other large transaction can exceed the FDIC limit.

To address those needs, Country Bank and Monson Savings Bank are two of 78 savings banks in Massachusetts that take part in the Depositors Insurance Fund. The DIF is supplemental insurance to protect deposited amounts that exceed $250,000. McGovern and Moriarty said having the extra protection of the DIF gives everyone peace of mind.

“We made sure to educate our customers that all the deposits in Country Bank, even the ones over $250,000, are safe and insured,” McGovern said.

“Because Monson Savings has both FDIC and DIF, it calmed a lot of nerves during the weekend when Silicon Valley Bank failed,” Moriarty added. “We had conversations with some of our customers, but their concerns quickly subsided.”

Having conversations with clients and explaining acronyms like FDIC and DIF has become a somewhat unexpected addition to the workload for area banks, which have been placed in a situation of explaining what has happened at SVB and other institutions, and why the fallout has not extended to the smaller community banks populating this market.

Indeed, those we spoke with pointed out that Silicon Valley Bank’s troubles stemmed from mismanagement and went against the norms of good banking practices. “By contrast, the bankers in our area do things the right way, and the regulators do a good job, too,” Ostrowski said.

Silicon Valley Bank also had a handful of customers with billions of dollars in deposits. Money movements by these few contributed to destabilizing the bank. When Silicon Valley failed, it provided an opportunity for McGovern to reassure Country Bank customers.

“We explained that we have $1.3 billion in deposits, and we are in sound financial condition,” she said. “We have a diversified depository clientele, so there was no risk of large outflows of the kind Silicon Valley experienced.”

“We are seeing a couple different forces at play, and that’s a dramatic change compared even to last year.”

Dan Moriarty

Dan Moriarty

While local bankers remain mostly unscathed by these highly publicized events, they are keeping their focus on raising deposits and managing the fallout from increases in interest rates.

Ostrowski noted that first-time homebuyers face perhaps the sternest challenge because housing prices are at an all-time high and interest rates are higher than they’ve been in recent years.

“Young people buying their first home have never experienced anything but very low interest rates,” he said, adding that today’s mortgage rates of 6% to 7% aren’t exceedingly high, but when combined with high housing prices, they can keep buyers on the sidelines.

Still, while loan volume might be down, mortgage activity continues.

“People are still moving and buying houses,” McGovern said. “Many are taking out adjustable mortgages thinking that rates may adjust down.”

In recent years, many homeowners refinanced their mortgages to take advantage of the low interest rates. Sullivan pointed out there’s no incentive for people to pursue refinancing today. “The folks who refinanced at 3% a few years ago are obviously not looking to do it again at today’s rates.”


By All Accounts

Even with the challenges they face, the bankers we spoke with remain optimistic. Interest rates have begun to stabilize and, in some cases, go down.

“We may find that the crisis at Silicon Valley and the other banks may have caused a credit pullback and stabilized the market without the federal government having to raise interest rates,” McGovern said.

Sullivan predicted there may be smaller bumps in the road, but nothing of the magnitude of SVB in the near future.

While the remainder of the year looks slow and steady on the retail side at Monson Savings, Moriarty believes there may be better news on the commercial side of his business.

“We’ve been hearing that some areas of manufacturing are still robust,” he said. “There could be opportunities for us if a manufacturer decides to expand or purchase some new machinery.”

Despite all the challenges local bankers have seen, they are moving forward in a strong position.

“The system is working correctly, just as it was designed,” Ostrowski said. “That’s important to hear because people need to have trust in our financial system. The good news is, it’s not going anywhere.”

Banking and Financial Services

And If There Is One, How Will It Affect You?

By Barbara Trombley, CPA


It seems as if we have been waiting for a recession for quite a while now. Economists initially thought 2022 would bring a recession. Certainly, it seemed as if a recession was inevitable as the stock market (S&P 500) dropped more than 19% in 2022.

But, by definition, a recession never occurred. Many people think that two consecutive quarters of negative GDP define a recession. Technically, this is not true. The National Bureau of Economic Research considers a wide range of economic indicators when declaring a recession rather than only negative GDP. It defines a recession as “a significant decline in economic activity that is spread across the economy and that lasts for more than a few months.”

Warning signals often precede a recession. The U.S. economy has slowed from January through March of this year to just a 1.1% annual pace. Business inventories have reduced; companies usually slash inventories when they anticipate a downturn. Employment also declines before a recession. I would argue that we have started to see this decline with the large layoffs in the tech industry by companies such as Meta, Google, Microsoft, and Amazon. Higher interest rates have slowed housing sales, and rents are stabilizing. Compounding these economic signs is the debt-ceiling debate; House Republicans say they will raise the debt limit in exchange for sharp reductions in spending.

“The Fed is walking a tightrope of slowing inflation and trying to prevent further damage to our economy.”

Barbara Trombley

Barbara Trombley

These signs, which we all can see, may just be the tip of the iceberg.

The actions of the Fed in the coming months may dictate the strength of the potential recession that we are facing. As we all now know, the U.S. has been experiencing critical inflation mainly because of the easy money that was distributed during the pandemic and the pent-up demand for consumer goods and travel after COVID.

The only way for the Fed to combat inflation has been to raise interest rates, making it more expensive for businesses and consumers to borrow money, thereby slowing the economy and lowering inflation. Unfortunately, inflation has been stubborn and has not decreased as quickly as the Fed would like. The quick rise in interest rates contributed to the bank failures that we have seen recently. The Fed is walking a tightrope of slowing inflation and trying to prevent further damage to our economy.

The main questions that people need to ask is how a recession may impact them and how to prepare. Unfortunately, many people lose jobs during recessions.

‘Recession-proof industries’ typically are unharmed. The medical field, education, and government jobs may be unaffected by a recession. If you do worry about the future of your job, have you saved emergency money to live on for a while? Can you network in your industry to see what other positions may be available if the worst-case scenario occurs and you lose your job?

How about your bank? Is it possible that it collapses as others have? Most people are aware that the FDIC insures deposits according to the ownership category in which the funds are insured and how the accounts are titled. The standard deposit-insurance coverage limit is $250,000 per depositor, per FDIC-insured bank, per ownership category. If you are still nervous, utilize the services of two or more banks.

“Credit is also reduced during recessions. Banks may be choosier about whom they loan to as unemployment rises. If you need a loan, be prepared to be scrutinized and pay a higher interest rate.”

Credit is also reduced during recessions. Banks may be choosier about whom they loan to as unemployment rises. If you need a loan, be prepared to be scrutinized and pay a higher interest rate. Tight lending leads to consumers putting off larger purchases, compounding the depth of the recession, as spending slows.

Many retirees worry about a recession and the impact of the stock market on their portfolios. A deep recession could mean a drastic drawdown in stock prices. Making knee-jerk reactions to economic situations never bodes well for the long term. It is impossible to time the market. Most retirees know that they need to stay invested to grow their assets to mitigate inflation. Having a conversation with your advisor to make sure that you are properly allocated to your risk tolerance is a good way to start. If you find yourself overly concerned, perhaps a portfolio adjustment is due. A proper allocation to bonds or ‘like’ investments is always a good idea in volatile times.

From political turmoil to world events, it is easy for investors and consumers to feel concerned. Stress and recession go hand in hand. Know that you can only control your own personal situation. Reassess your budget, evaluate your employment, and review your investments.

Historically, there have been many terrible things the world has endured. People still have money and plan for the future. The markets still function. Recessions are an unavoidable part of life, but are a precursor to an eventual healthy economy.


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.


Bridging the Divide

Leaders from the Commonwealth’s Executive Office of Economic Development and the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) at MassTech recently announced $14 million in new grants from the state’s Digital Equity Partnership Program to address statewide digital-equity gaps during an event at Tech Foundry in Springfield.

The three grants were announced by Economic Development Secretary Yvonne Hao, who highlighted selected projects from Tech Goes Home, which will receive $4.5 million; Vinfen, on behalf of the Human Services Alliance for Digital Equity, which will receive $4.3 million; and Baystate Health, on behalf of the Western Massachusetts Alliance for Digital Equity, which will receive $5.1 million.

“Massachusetts has a real opportunity to close the digital divide and ensure all people in our state can participate in the digital economy,” Hao said. “These grants will help residents build their digital skills and get online affordably, thereby expanding their connections to job and training opportunities, healthcare resources, social connections, and so much more. We are grateful to the Massachusetts Broadband Institute for its work to make affordable high-speed internet available to residents across the state.”

The secretary was joined at the event by business and nonprofit leaders from across the state, highlighting the critical need for increased digital connectivity for residents statewide, an issue that grew in importance during the COVID-19 public-health crisis. Following the secretary’s remarks, MassMutual Chairman, President, and CEO Roger Crandall spoke about the issue, appearing in his role as a board member of the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership, which published a report last year titled “Connecting Communities through Digital Equity,” highlighting the importance of addressing digital equity statewide.

“Internet access is a crucial driver of economic and social advancement, from fostering innovation and creating new jobs to utilizing government and community services,” Crandall said. “Yet, far too many households in Massachusetts lack broadband service, creating a significant barrier to many career and educational opportunities. The business community has a collective responsibility to help address this inequity by continuing to invest in and expand access to digital infrastructure, literacy programs, and affordable digital tools for all residents throughout the Commonwealth.”

The event included a roundtable discussion with executives from the three grant-recipient organizations, which pointed to the digital-equity challenges Massachusetts citizens face each day and how the awarded projects aim to increase connectivity and access. The grants will support two years of critical digital-equity project development and implementation across the state.

“The genesis of the Alliance for Digital Equity in June 2020 was a direct response to digital disparity — not new — and our societal dependence on the internet to address to meeting basic material needs as the COVID-19 pandemic surfaced,” said Dr. Frank Robinson, vice president of Public Health at Baystate Health. “It was embarrassingly obvious that digital marginalization for already-marginalized people would exacerbate negative health outcomes, economic oppression, and racial injustice. Digital equity and inclusion is truly a super-social determinant of health, critical to our meaningful progress toward health equity and satisfying basic human rights in this connected society, linking people to vital resources, such as jobs, education, healthcare, food, and information.”

The Digital Equity Partnerships Program was launched in September 2022 with the goal of designating qualified organizations to implement projects that meet the goals outlined in the Commonwealth’s ARPA COVID recovery legislation, which created a $50 million fund to bridge the digital divide in the state.

“I am thrilled to see that Baystate Health, in partnership with the Western Massachusetts Alliance for Digital Equity, have been recognized by the Commonwealth’s Digital Equity Partnership Program and received a grant of $5.1 million to continue addressing the digital divide,” state Sen. Jo Comerford said.

State Sen. Adam Gomez added that “the funds created by the ARPA COVID recovery legislation of 2021 represented a momentous step toward bridging the digital-equity divide for Western Massachusetts. There are far too many unserved communities in this region of the Commonwealth who do not have simple access to WiFi. Communities in this region will now have substantially increased access to not only WiFi, but also support for key programming areas such as digital literacy, public-space internet modernization, and connectivity initiatives for economic hardship. Eliminating the digital-equity divide in Western Mass. is absolutely crucial to supporting a thriving economy.”

While the state has made trides to improve broadband and WiFi access, state Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa noted, many communities have been left behind, much public housing remains unwired, and towns that don’t know how to fund projects that would level the playing field for all residents. “The Digital Equity Partnership Program will assist these communities, providing important funding and assistance in learning how to incorporate this technology into their daily lives.”

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno said the Digital Equity Partnership Program will help eliminate or mitigate the barriers faced in accessing digital equity and help close the digital divide. “Access to affordable and reliable internet is essential for our residents, and achieving this goal will not only enhance the quality of life for many, but will also help advance vital economic-development projects and educational initiatives, not only here in Springfield, but across the Commonwealth.”

The state’s digital-equity programs build on initiatives launched in response to the COVID-19 public-health crisis, which included public WiFi hotspots in unserved towns in Western and Central Mass., as well as the Mass Internet Connect program, which worked with MassHire to provide financial support and digital-literacy tools to help get unemployed residents back to work.

The MBI has also launched a Municipal Digital Equity Planning Program to support Massachusetts communities with planning activities that will help build a broad understanding of how a lack of internet access is impacting residents in their community, as well as a Broadband and Digital Equity Working Group comprised of stakeholders from across the state that will inform the makeup and focus of state programs, providing key technical expertise and representation of target populations.

“Our partner organizations are leaders in the digital-equity field and have cultivated an incredible network of local stakeholders who will ensure these funds have maximum benefit to the communities they are designed to serve,” said Michael Baldino, MBI director. “Today’s grants, coupled with our municipal planning program and the engagement of our dedicated working-group members, will ensure that the dollars invested lead to the desired impact — more residents will not only gain access to devices, digital skills, and more affordable internet, they will have access to a wider range of social, educational, and healthcare resources.”

Women in Businesss

Making Workplaces Better

Allison Ebner

Allison Ebner says EANE’s services have become more important in the wake of recent workforce challenges, from retention to legislative compliance.

Looking back, Allison Ebner said she’s had the perfect trajectory to transition into her newest role, as president of the Employers Assoc. of the NorthEast (EANE).

“My background has always been in the third-party services area, working in the staffing industry,” said Ebner, who joined EANE seven years ago. “You get to see so much when you’re in so many different businesses, so many different organizations, across a variety of industries, working with their leadership teams and their human-resource departments.”

Those roles, over the years, included talent agent at FIT Staffing, director of Membership Development at Associated Industries of Massachusetts, and vice president of Sales & Marketing at United Personnel Services.

“So I’ve had the opportunity to get to know so many of the businesses that are members of EANE throughout my career,” she added. “And that’s why it’s really fun to be able to step into this position and continue some of the relationships I’ve had with HR professionals and CEOs for a number of years.”

Longtime EANE President Meredith Wise recently announced she will be stepping down at the end of June after 28 years with the organization, the last 21 as president.

“We have the opportunity every day to make 1,050 organizations across the Northeast better, to have a better employee experience. We talk about that here — how we help create exceptional workplaces.”

“I am so proud of our accomplishments and the work we’ve done to continue the 100-plus-year tradition of the association, including expanding our footprint to serve employers in Connecticut and Rhode Island as well as all of Massachusetts,” Wise said. “The depth and breadth of our resources and services has grown to meet the ever-changing needs of our members and employers in the region.”

Ebner joined EANE in 2016 as director of Membership and Partnerships, overseeing the group that is responsible for keeping members with the association and expanding membership, as well as developing relationships with partners who might provide services and support to members.

For example, “we have partners in the payroll space. We have partners in the background-checking space,” she said. “And we fully vet those vendors and bring them to our members if they’re good partners for our members to have and use.”

Last year, Ebner was promoted to vice president of Membership and Partnerships, and later selected by the board to succeed Wise. Linda Olbrys will join the EANE team as the new director of Membership and Partnerships, bringing considerable experience in both human resources and talent acquisition and retention services.

As for Ebner, she brings not just her experience to the president’s chair, but a passion for EANE’s multi-faceted work.

“We are a nonprofit organization that provides amazing resources to these member companies, and we all really believe so strongly in that mission,” she told BusinessWest. “We have the opportunity every day to make 1,050 organizations across the Northeast better, to have a better employee experience. We talk about that here — how we help create exceptional workplaces. That’s really what we do.”


What’s the Pitch?

Ebner jokes that it’s impossible to craft an elevator pitch detailing all the reasons a business should join EANE. An elevator ride of that length simply doesn’t exist. But it helps the discussion, she said, to break its services into three pillars.

The first is membership support, funded by annual dues that are benchmarked to the number of workers a member employs.

“Probably the most popular member benefit we have is access to our employer hotline, which is staffed Monday through Friday from 8 and 5 with seven or eight certified HR professionals. Members can call with compliance questions, employee-relations issues, safety-related issues, best practices, anything around policies, forms … really, anything.”

Last year, the hotline fielded more than 5,000 calls. During the first year of COVID, it took more than 8,000 as companies were suddenly faced with unprecedented challenges.

“When needs arise, people want answers, they need advice, they need resources,” Ebner said. “Our director of Compliance, Mark Adams, was doing weekly Friday webinars with 500, 600 people — it almost crashed our Zoom. Everyone was trying to keep up — ‘well, what are they saying now about compliance? What do we do about testing? Are we allowed to require masks, or not require masks?’ It just got so crazy. And we had to be on top of everything.

“The pandemic was a game changer,” she added. “The hotline was really crazy during that time. And it still remains our most popular member benefit.”

But members also get access to monthly webinars, compensation and salary-benchmarking data, a library of sample forms and policies, and an online resource tool offering performance-management systems, job-description writing tools, and other resources.

“The pandemic was a game changer. The hotline was really crazy during that time.”

The second pillar has to do with HR support services, like employee handbooks, affirmative-action plans, audits, and recruiting services.

“We’ve done a lot of compensation reports for organizations. When you can’t find the talent, the first place people go is, ‘well, what am I paying? Am I paying fair market? How am I benchmarked versus my competition?’ So we’ve done a lot of compensation work over the last few years, during the talent crunch.

“We also use a service called HR Partner, where, if you need an extra hand in HR or you’re missing HR — maybe you’re a small organization, and you don’t have a dedicated HR person, or maybe you lost your HR person to a medical leave — we have a team that will go out and be your HR team,” she explained. “That’s a really nice option for folks, and a very fast-growing part of our business here at EANE.”

The third pillar centers on learning and development, including more than 40 different training programs, both virtually and on site.

“Our learning and development area is very, very strong, and that’s a fast-growing part of our organization,” Ebner said. “We just had a leadership summit with over 500 attendees at the MassMutual Center.

“So, it’s all those resources, the HR services and the training. What I love about EANE is we’re all under one umbrella; members get a discount on all the HR services and training, and then they get all those benefits with their membership dues,” she went on. “Our challenge is shortening that elevator speech. But, in alignment, it all makes sense.”


Growing Footprint

That network of services and resources benefits members of all sizes, she said, and from all across the Northeast; the majority of EANE members are in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, but the organization is growing in Vermont, and it has members in New Hampshire and even Maine as well.

“It’s for a five-person organization that’s looking for support getting started with their HR infrastructure, all the way up to a large healthcare organization here with more than 10,000 employees,” she noted. “The sweet spot for us is that 50- to 300-employee organization.”

No matter what their size or sector, employers of all kinds continue to deal with compliance challenges, from proposed legislation to raise the Massachusetts minimum wage again to recent laws regarding sick time and family leave.

“We’re looking at those challenges from a compliance standpoint, federally and statewide. But I think what’s really changed for organizations is the deal between employers and employees — that currency, that transaction.”

Elaborating, Ebner noted, “pre-pandemic, employers were really in the driver’s seat. The talent crunch was tight, but it was still a very employer-driven economy for the workforce. That has been turned upside down, and it’s turned into an employee-driven marketplace, where employees are making demands. They want more flexibility. They want work-life balance. They want to work differently. They want to work from anywhere.

“That’s where we’ve had to pivot and provide resources to employers so they can sustain their organizations,” she went on. “And a lot of our members are in multiple states, too. So paid family leave in Massachusetts is very different than paid family leave in Connecticut. And if you’ve got a headquarters in Massachusetts, but you’ve got another facility in Connecticut, you have to know everything; you’ve got to know what’s happening in both states, plus federally. We just brought on a new member, and they have remote employees in 22 states, which means you’ve got tax and employment implications in 22 states.”

HR professionals often find it challenging to keep up with all of that on their own, Ebner noted, and that’s if a company even employs an HR team. “So we really try to provide that value, where we keep up with those things so you don’t have to. And we execute on those things that you need to know.”

And while the questions might not be flying the way they were during COVID, the quickly changing nature of business — from compliance to talent retention to strategies for pay and benefits — is a constant.

“It’s challenging, obviously, but it’s gratifying, helping businesses navigate all this,” Ebner said. “That, I think, is our core mission. That’s why we work here.”

Women in Businesss

Changing Tides

The Massachusetts labor force has transformed in recent decades, with some of the biggest changes being the advancement of women, workers getting older and more diverse, and a divergence in labor-force participation rates based on levels of educational achievement.

Those are among the findings in “At a Glance: The Massachusetts Labor Force,” a policy brief written by Aidan Enright and published by Pioneer Institute, with data drawn from the institute’s new laboranalytics.org website.

“Decreasing labor-force participation rates among prime-aged (25-54) men and college-educated individuals may portend future labor shortages,” Pioneer Institute Executive Director Jim Stergios said.

Nationally, the labor-force participation rate among 25- to 54-year-old men has fallen from 96.2% in 1948 to 88.8% last year.

Massachusetts had nearly 300,000 unfilled jobs in 2021. Inadequate daycare capacity, a mismatch between the skills needed for these jobs and the skills possessed by potential workers, immigration restrictions, and a spike in retirements during the pandemic are among the reasons economists cite for the shortage.

The number of individuals 65 and older in the Massachusetts workforce rose dramatically in recent years, then plateaued and decreased from 2019-21, possibly due to retirements during the pandemic. Overall, the number of older workers more than doubled between 2007 and 2021, from 131,000 to 271,000.

The increase in older workers was particularly notable among women aged 55-64. Between 2007 and 2021, an additional 105,000 women in that age group entered the workforce, compared to 79,000 men.

According to the report, women are likely the reason why New England has a high labor-participation rate compared to other census regions, as women there have a higher rate than in all but one other region. New England men, on the other hand, had the fourth-highest rate out of nine total census regions in 2021.

The pandemic also affected women the most — their employment rate dropped 7.7% compared to 6% for men — even though their recovery from it has been quicker than for men. Women in Massachusetts also had a labor participation rate 4.5% higher in 2021 than women nationally. While men in that age range accounted for 79,000 additional workers to the workforce, women added 105,000.

Among other findings in the report:

• As a higher rate of older individuals remained in the workforce, the number of 16- to 19-year-old workers fell by 40,000 between 2019 and 2021.

• The labor-participation rate among non-whites has been higher than among white workers in every year since 2018. Minorities accounted for 18% of the Massachusetts labor force in 2007, rising to 30% in 2021. The Massachusetts workforce is still less diverse than many other states, but it’s by far the most diverse in New England.

• In New England, Massachusetts ranked second behind New Hampshire with 62.1% of its total population employed in 2021. Previously, the Commonwealth also often ranked behind Connecticut and Vermont.

• Massachusetts saw a notable increase in the size of its workforce between 2016 and 2018 before shrinking during the pandemic. In 2018, the labor-force participation rate reached its highest level since 2007, and the workforce was still larger in 2021 than it had been in 2016.

Without policy intervention, serious structural challenges will remain for the Massachusetts labor force, the report notes. Like the rest of New England, Massachusetts has an older population and will struggle to maintain and grow its labor force as Baby Boomers continue to retire and less-populous younger generations attempt to fill the void they create. This, if left unattended, will create an employment desert. Employers finding it increasingly difficult to hire skilled candidates to fill positions will limit the state’s economic growth potential.

To address these issues, the report continues, the Healey administration and Beacon Hill lawmakers should consider three primary areas that are ripe for reforms and advocacy: expanding daycare capacity and affordability, expanding vocational-technical school programs, and advocating for less-strict high-skill immigration caps.

One of many issues that keep healthy, prime-aged adults sidelined from the labor force is concerns over childcare. Several studies have indicated that affordable childcare increases the number of hours worked by mothers and frees up parents to re-enter the labor force. Nationally, Massachusetts ranks below average in terms of available childcare. One study found that, in 2019, the state was likely more than 30% below demand in terms of available seats. This lack of supply has severely inflated prices; the average parent pays as much as $20,000 a year for an infant and $15,000 for a 4-year-old, ranking Massachusetts near the bottom of all states in affordability.

Separately, many workers remain sidelined as a result of a skills mismatch between them and employers. While there are nearly 300,000 job openings in the state, there remain 140,000 unemployed workers, a ratio of more than two open jobs for every unemployed person. This ratio has largely remained the same since 2021, despite millions of dollars spent on workforce training.

Lastly, and likely most consequentially, the state has suffered from diminished immigration levels due to overly restrictive federal immigration policies. Massachusetts relies heavily on immigrants, as the state would likely have seen significant net outmigration without inflows from immigrants over the last decade. Only recently has the state lost net residents — more than 110,000 since 2019 — due to pandemic-era restrictions on immigration and other compounding factors like remote work and an increased cost of living.