Daily News

BOSTON — Massachusetts employers turned pessimistic about the economy for the first time since December 2020 last month as the state economy slowed to a crawl and the Federal Reserve continued to raise interest rates.

The Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Business Confidence Index lost a half-point to 49.6 in May, just below the 50 mark that separates optimistic from pessimistic outlooks. Confidence ended the month 5.1 points lower than a year earlier.

The survey was largely completed before President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy struck a deal to raise the nation’s debt ceiling and avert a U.S. default.

MassBenchmarks reports that the Massachusetts economy was essentially flat in the first quarter, growing at a 0.1% annual rate versus 1.1% for the nation. Employer confidence is reflecting that slowdown,” said Alan Clayton-Matthews, professor emeritus of Economics and Public Policy at Northeastern University. “At the same time, payroll employment remained strong in the first quarter, and unemployment rates remained low at 3.3% in April.”

The AIM Index, based on a survey of more than 140 Massachusetts employers, has appeared monthly since July 1991. It is calculated on a 100-point scale, with 50 as neutral; a reading above 50 is positive, while below 50 is negative.

The Central Massachusetts Business Confidence Index, conducted with the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce, rose slightly from 50.3 to 50.4. The North Shore Confidence Index, conducted with the North Shore Chamber of Commerce, increased from 48.2 to 50.5. The Western Massachusetts Business Confidence Index, developed in collaboration with the Springfield Regional Chamber, fell to 45.7.

The constituent indicators that make up the Index were mostly lower in May. The confidence employers have in their own companies fell 1.4 points to 51.8, ending the month 6.8 points below May 2022.

The Massachusetts Index assessing business conditions within the Commonwealth rose 1.1 points to 49.7, down 4.1 from a year earlier. The U.S. Index measuring conditions throughout the country gained 0.2 points to 42.6, remaining in pessimistic territory for an eighth consecutive month.

The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, fell 0.2 points to 51.3. The Future Index, measuring projections for the economy six months from now, lost 1.0 point to end the month at 47.8.

The Manufacturing Index dropped 2.2 points to 46.5, leaving it 8.0 points lower than a year ago. Confidence among non-manufacturing companies was up 0.7 points to 51.8. The Employment Index fell 0.8 points to 50.8. Large companies (50.8) were slightly more optimistic than medium-sized companies (50.2) and small companies (48.9).

Michael Tyler, chief investment officer at Eastern Bank Wealth Management and vice chair of the BEA, noted that “businesses have been stung by both stubbornly high inflation and persistently high interest rates, which have dampened demand and raised costs. It’s unfortunately not surprising that the Future Index indicates that business leaders expect these conditions to worsen further. Thankfully, a possible recession would likely be shallow and short, cushioned by a strong jobs market and healthy consumer spending.”

AIM President and CEO John Regan, a BEA member, added that employers will likely be encouraged in the coming months by the ability of Congress and the White House to reach an agreement on raising the debt ceiling.

“The President and Congress did the right thing in hammering out an agreement that will maintain the stability of the global financial system,” Regan said. “Employers need all the predictability they can get as the economy continues to slow down.”

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Living Local 413, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping the Western Mass. business community become stronger and more self-sustaining, hosted its first annual meeting on May 31 at Center Square Grill in East Longmeadow. The event marked the introduction of Robert Barkett, the newly appointed executive director, and featured a ceremonial presentation to thank state Rep. Brian Ashe for securing a $100,000 grant awarded to Living Local 413.

Attendees included Living Local 413 members, partners, volunteers, and supporters who share a common vision of building a vibrant and sustainable local business ecosystem.

“Mr. Barkett’s impressive background in community development and his strong leadership skills make him an invaluable addition to the Living Local 413 team,” Living Local 413 President Bill Cole said. “His appointment as executive director positions the organization for continued growth and the effective execution of its mission.”

The gathering also featured a special ceremony to express appreciation to Ashe for his instrumental role in securing the $100,000 grant for Living Local 413. “This substantial contribution will empower the organization to expand its impact and implement essential initiatives that benefit the local community,” Cole said.

During the event, Cole addressed attendees and reflected upon the organization’s recent achievements and milestones. He also shared insights into the strategic direction of Living Local 413, as well as critical initiatives for the upcoming year.

Daily News

WESTFIELD — David Caruso will join Westfield State University as temporary provost and vice president for Academic Affairs on Aug. 1.

With more than 35 years of higher-education experience, Caruso brings a strong background in the classroom, as a researcher, and an administrator. “Dr. Caruso’s deep commitment to academic excellence and student success was evident throughout our selection process, and I am confident he will serve our community well while he is with us,” President Linda Thompson said.

Caruso’s experience as a leader in higher education will play an important role to advance WSU’s concept of IDEAS — innovation, diversity, engagement, and advancement — that ultimately leads to student success.

“I am very pleased to have been selected to serve the Westfield State University community as temporary provost for the coming academic year,” Caruso said. “I have a deep commitment to the vital role that the state university system plays for the Commonwealth and believe that Westfield State is a leading campus in achieving that mission. As a resident of Western Mass., I am also very familiar with the accomplishments and contributions the university makes to the region and am proud to say that my son is a Westfield State University alum. I look forward to working with President Thompson, the deans, department chairs, and faculty, as well as other academic-affairs departments, to advance the university’s strategic goals and other important initiatives during the 2023-2024 academic year.”

Prior to his retirement, Caruso served as president of Antioch University New England (AUNE) from 2006 to 2013. There, he led the successful implementation of the 2007-12 strategic plan and doubled the campus annual fund. He launched AUNE’s first successful Horace Mann Spirit of Service Awards ceremony that provides funds for the general scholarship endowment. He also served on the boards of the New Hampshire College and University Council and Campus Compact for New Hampshire.

Previously, he was provost and vice president for Academic Affairs at Worcester State University from 2002 to 2006. Under his leadership, Worcester State implemented a universal student laptop program, revised general education, and launched a number of new academic programs. Earlier, he held faculty and administrative appointments at the University of Hartford, the University of Rhode Island, Purdue University, and Indiana State University. In 1995, he was awarded the American Council on Education Fellowship, a program designed to develop senior leaders in higher education. In 2014-15, he returned to Worcester State as interim provost.

Caruso obtained his Ph.D. in Human Development at Cornell University and his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Sonoma State University. His research and publications are in the field of child and youth development and early-childhood education. He has done consulting in early-childhood education and higher-education leadership and organizational change, chaired the governance committee at the University of Hartford Magnet School, and served on the editorial boards of Early Education and Development, Child and Youth Care Forum, and Infant Mental Health Journal. He currently serves on the Leadership Council for Boundless Way Zen.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — United Way of Pioneer Valley (UWPV), in partnership with the U.S. Department of Labor Women’s Bureau, Northeast Region, will host an interactive panel discussion to honor the 30th anniversary of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, June 20 at 1441 Main St., Springfield. The event is free and open to the public, but registration is required.

Panel members include local leaders as well as representatives from the Massachusetts Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Labor. The discussion will explore Massachusetts paid-leave protections and the impact of paid leave for workers and their families. Information for accessing leave to care for oneself or a family member will be available.

To register for this event, visit www.uwpv.org. Contact Jennifer Kinsman at [email protected] or (413) 693-0212 with any questions.

Alumni Achievement Award Cover Story

All AAAs

In 2015, BusinessWest introduced a new recognition program. Actually, it was a spin-off, or extension, of an existing recognition program — 40 Under Forty. The concept was rather simple: to recognize the individual (or individuals — there have multiple winners a few years) who has most improved upon their résumé of excellence, in both their chosen field and with their service to the community. Over the past several years, the competition for what has become known as the Alumni Achievement Award has been spirited, as it was this year. Indeed, a panel of three judges, including the 2022 honoree, Anthony Gleason III, scored nominations featuring individuals across several different sectors of the economy. The four highest scorers, the finalists for the 2023 AAA honor, are profiled here. They are: Ryan McCollum, owner of RMC Strategies; Orlando Ramos, state representative and Springfield mayoral candidate; Amy Royal, founder and CEO of the Royal Law Firm, and Michelle Theroux, executive director of the Berkshire Hills Music Academy. The AAA winner will be announced at this year’s 40 Under Forty gala on June 15 at the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House.

Select each finalist below to read their story:

Ryan McCollum

Owner of RMC Strategies

Orlando Ramos

State representative and Springfield mayoral candidate

Amy Royal

Founder and CEO of the Royal Law Firm

Michelle Theroux

Executive director of the Berkshire Hills Music Academy

This year’s 40 Under Forty Alumni Achievement Award is Presented by:

Education Special Coverage

A Calling to Serve

George Timmons

George Timmons

George Timmons recalled a conversation he had a with a friend — a college president and mentor — several years back. He had a simple question for him.

“I asked him, ‘doc, how to you know when you’re ready?” he recalled, meaning, in this case, ready to become a college president himself.

The answer wasn’t quite what he expected.

“He said, ‘George, you’ll know when you know you’re ready,’” he said. “And I used to say, ‘what do you mean?’”

Timmons said he would eventually come to understand what his friend meant — that there would come a time, after years of preparation, earning needed degrees, and working in different jobs that would provide learning experiences and the ability to hone leadership skills … when he would know that he was ready.

He said he reached that time a few years ago and soon began to at least consider jobs that carried that designation. But — and this is a big but — he stressed that he wasn’t chasing a title.

“When I looked at the student profile, I couldn’t help but be reminded of my roots, my humble beginnings, and where I came from; I’m a first-generation college graduate.”

“It was really about chasing the right opportunity that allowed me to demonstrate the skills and talents that I have that aligned with the needs of the organization and where I thought I could really add value,” he said. “For me, it’s really important that I’m at an institution where I can bring value and that I connect with, and be able to take it to a new level of excellence.”

And that’s what he saw when Holyoke Community College (HCC) began its search for someone to succeed Christina Royal last fall.

Specifically, it was the presidential profile, and especially its student profile, one that showcased a diverse population featuring a large percentage of first-generation college students, that caught his attention.

“When I looked at the student profile, I couldn’t help but be reminded of my roots, my humble beginnings, and where I came from; I’m a first-generation college graduate,” he told BusinessWest. “Also, with 48% students of color … that was very attractive to me, and would allow me to add value, particularly with an emphasis on equity and student success. I saw myself in that student profile.”

Fast-forward several months — we’ll go back and fill in all the details later — and Simmons is winding down his work at provost and senior vice president of Academic and Student Affairs at Columbia-Greene Community College in Hudson, N.Y., getting ready to start at HCC the middle of next month.

Upon arriving, he intends to embark on what he called a “soft launch of a listening tour,” one that will involve several constituencies, including students, faculty, staff, area elected officials, and members of the business community.

George Timmons says it’s important to hear from all constituencies

George Timmons says it’s important to hear from all constituencies — from students, faculty, and staff to local officials and business people — early in his tenure.

“I think it’s important to hear from the stakeholders who are present, as well as getting into the community, meeting members of the business community and key stakeholders, to hear what they have to say and understand their views on the college and where they see areas of opportunity. I think it’s important that I immerse myself in the community to understand and learn where there are challenges and opportunities, get to know people, and build relationships.”

Elaborating, Simmons said that, overall, he wants to build on all that Royal has been able to accomplish at HCC — everything from bold strides on diversity, equity, and inclusion to a food pantry and a student emergency fund — while putting his own stamp on the oldest community college in the state, one that recently celebrated its 75th anniversary.

For this issue and its focus on education, BusinessWest talked at length with Timmons about his new assignment, what brought him to the HCC campus, and what he hopes to achieve when he gets there.


Course of Action

Timmons told BusinessWest that, during one of his visits to the HCC campus for interviews, he was given a 90-minute driving tour of the city by perhaps the best-qualified person in the region to give one.

That would be Jeff Hayden, vice president of Business & Community Services at HCC and former director of Planning & Economic Development for the city.

“He’s a great tour guide,” Timmons said. “He’s a history guy, and I love history and people who like history — and there is a lot of it in Holyoke.”

The tour of the city pretty much confirmed what Timmons said he already knew — that this was a community, and a college, that he wanted to be part of, one that would provide that opportunity that he spoke of, and not merely a title.

His journey to the Paper City has been an intriguing one, and it began not far from here.

“She made me understand that, when you want to achieve a goal, it really doesn’t matter what others say or if other people will support you. Only one person gets to decide whether you will achieve that goal — and that’s you.”

Indeed, Timmons said he grew up in the Hartford area, and was essentially raised by his grandmother, who instilled in him a number of values, including the importance of education.
“She made me understand that, when you want to achieve a goal, it really doesn’t matter what others say or if other people will support you,” he recalled. “Only one person gets to decide whether you will achieve that goal — and that’s you.

“I made a commitment to myself at a very early age that no one was going to outwork me when it came to me achieving my goals,” he went on. “Those values shaped who I am today.”

Timmons has spent more than 25 years working in higher education in several different realms, from academic support services to online education; from working with adult learners to roles in both academic affairs and student affairs.

“I have a really broad breadth and depth in higher education that allows me to have a comprehensive view of a college,” he noted, adding that he believes his diverse résumé will serve him well as he takes the proverbial corner office at HCC, becoming just its fifth president in 75 years.

Timmons, who earned a bachelor’s degree in financial management at Norfolk State University in Virginia, a master’s degree in higher education at Old Dominion University in Virginia, and his Ph.D. in higher education administration at Bowling Green University in Ohio, started his career in academia in 1996 at Old Dominion as a site director at a satellite campus as part of a groundbreaking program called TELETECHNET. It provided the opportunity for students to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees at remote locations through the use of satellites and televisions with two-way video connections, a precursor of sorts of the remote-learning programs that would dominate higher education during the pandemic.

Later, he served as assistant dean of Adult Learning at North Carolina Wesleyan College before being recruited to be the founding dean of Online Education and Learning Services at Excelsior College in New York.

He served in that role for several years before becoming provost for Online Education, Learning, and Academic Services, and also serving later as dean of the School of Liberal Arts.

During that time in his career, he was able to take part in a number of professional-development opportunities, including the Harvard MLE program, as well as the American Council of Education Fellowship Program and the Aspen Rising Presidential Fellowship, which is focused on preparing community-college presidents.

“I’ve really had the opportunity to learn and hone my skills,” he explained. “I think it’s important that you learn your craft — it’s a journey; you continue to work to get better and strive to be better. There’s always room for improvement, and so it’s really important that you stay current and abreast of the trends in higher education to be effective.”

After his lengthy tenue at Excelsior, he became vice president of Academic and Student Affairs at Columbia-Greene Community College, a role that carried many responsibilities, including student affairs, athletics, events planning, partnership development, and more.

It was at some point during his tenure at Columbia-Greene that he reached that point his friend and mentor alluded to: when he knew he was ready to become a college president. But as he mentioned earlier, it’s one thing to be ready, but finding the right opportunity is something else altogether.

“I’m very selective — I’m not chasing a title,” he told BusinessWest. “I say this humbly, but I could have been a president a few years ago if I was just chasing a title. It was really important for me to align myself with an institution that I could have longevity with, and I believe Holyoke Community College allows me the opportunity to plant roots in Western Mass. and work with the board of trustees, the faculty, students, staff, and administrators to carry out its mission.”


Grade Expectations

Which brings him back to that that profile of HCC and how it resonated with him, personally and professionally.

“I actually felt a call to serve — that’s when I knew. I felt I was ready based on what they were looking for and my background; I felt like that profile was calling me.”

And after several rounds of interviews, those conducting the search for a new president would ultimately decide to call him — literally.

And as he winds down at Columbia-Greene, he is looking ahead to July and using his time before the fall semester starts to learn more about the school, the city, the region, and the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

There are plenty of both, but especially opportunities, he told BusinessWest, adding that, in this time of skyrocketing costs in higher education and ever-greater emphasis on value, community colleges are an attractive alternative — as a place to start, and often as a place to finish.

“Community colleges are, to me, a great pathway to a better life,” he said. “And when you consider that almost half of all students who are in higher education are enrolled in a community college, I don’t think that’s by accident, because there’s fair criticism about the cost of higher education and how prohibitive it is for some members of community to go to college. The community-college mission of access is one that I cannot underscore enough.

“Community college is a great way to get a quality, affordable education to advance one’s social mobility, and with minimal debt,” he went on. “It gives people a great foundation that prepares them to transition to a four-year institution or to go into the workforce and earn a livable, sustainable wage. That’s why community colleges are near and dear to my heart; thay are an important pathway to the middle class.”

Getting back to that aforementioned listening tour, Timmons said listening is a huge part of what could be called his management style. Other parts include transparency, being collaborative, fostering excellence, and more.

“As a contemporary leader in higher education, you should have a broad and comprehensive leadership style grounded in transformational, collaborative, and servant leadership,” he explained. “And by that, I mean encouraging people, inspiring them, knowing how to listen, building community, leveraging mutual respect for one another … these are all vital aspects of the leadership needed to advance an institution’s success.”

Elaborating, he stressed the importance of knowing how to transform “in a way that is acceptable, but that also challenges the culture to stretch and grow.

“And to do that, you have to be able to listen, respect your colleagues, understand why things were done the way they were, and, without judgment, maybe ask the question, ‘how can we be better?’” he went on. “As people, we can always be better, and as institutions, we can always be better. So what does that look like?

“You also have to stay current with what’s happening in our space,” he continued. “You have to continually ask, ‘are we remaining competitive, and are we meeting the needs of our students and the community?’”

When asked how someone masters that art of listening, he said simply, and with a laugh, “the key is not to talk.”

Instead, “you listen by seeking input and asking questions and giving people a platform to at least share their opinions, their thoughts, and their expertise,” he went on. “One of things I want to do coming in is listen to key stakeholders and say, ‘historically, what have you liked most about the institution, where do you see areas of opportunity, and if you could make a change, what would it be?’ And then you start to look at themes, see what themes emerge, and use that to guide your next steps.”

There will be a number of next steps for Timmons, who at first didn’t really grasp that he would know when he was ready to be a college president.

Eventually he would understand what his mentor was saying, and he did know when was ready — not for a job or a title, but for a real opportunity to make a difference.

And that’s what he intends to do at HCC.

Healthcare News Special Coverage

Easing the Strain

Teresa Kuta Reske

Teresa Kuta Reske, in the nursing simulation lab at Elms College, said many nurses were influenced in their career choice by care they or a loved one received.

Teresa Kuta Reske loves nursing.

She said that on more than one occasion when speaking with BusinessWest recently for this special HCN section celebrating nurses, and especially recent nursing graduates beginning to enter the workforce.

As interim dean of the Elms College School of Nursing and director of the college’s Doctor of Nursing Practice program, she also loves seeing that passion develop in students.

“We prepare nurses with the skills and knowledge it requires to be in the nursing workforce, but when partnered up in the hospital setting, with students having clinical experience and being mentored by these organizations, they’re learning about what nurses contribute to patient care, watching nurses in action, and seeing systems come together,” Reske said, adding that there’s only so much students can learn in a simulation lab; they learn to form their own professional identity when training inside the healthcare system.

She noted that many students gravitate to the profession because of positive experiences with nurses, either for themselves or a loved one. In other cases  they were influenced by a parent’s career in the field. But that passion also quickly gets tempered by the realities of an increasingly challenging job.

“When we build a strong nursing workforce, it begins with education. And educators are tasked with teaching the new demands of the healthcare system,” Reske said, with factors ranging from population-health concerns to a more interdisciplinary focus in patient care. “Learning to become a nurse means understanding the realities of the nursing workforce today.”

Those realities come at a time when staffing shortages have increased stress on nurses. At a time when the annual Gallup Honesty and Ethics poll, released in January, ranks nursing as the most trusted profession for the 21st year in a row, nurses are feeling strain.

In fact, the American Hospital Assoc. (AHA) reports that about 100,000 registered nurses left the workforce during the past two years due to stress, burnout, and retirements, and another 610,388 intend to leave by 2027, according to a recent study by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN).

“The pandemic has stressed nurses to leave the workforce and has expedited an intent to leave in the near future, which will become a greater crisis and threaten patient populations if solutions are not enacted immediately,” said Maryann Alexander, NCSBN’s chief officer of Nursing Regulation. “There is an urgent opportunity today for healthcare systems, policymakers, regulators, and academic leaders to coalesce and enact solutions that will spur positive systemic evolution to address these challenges and maximize patient protection in care into the future.”

Among other recommendations to strengthen the healthcare workforce, AHA has urged federal lawmakers to invest in nursing schools, nurse faculty salaries, and hospital training time; enact federal protections for healthcare workers against violence and intimidation; support apprenticeship programs for nursing assistants; increase funding for the National Health Service Corps and the National Nurse Corps; and support expedition of visas for foreign-trained nurses.

For its part, Baystate Health said the Gallup poll is worth celebrating.

“The honor comes as nurses throughout the country, including here at Baystate Health, continue to deal with the effects of a nationwide nursing shortage and the emotional impact that the COVID pandemic has had on nurses,” said Joanne Miller, chief Nursing executive for Baystate Health and chief Nursing officer at Baystate Medical Center. “I am proud to say that, since the beginning of the pandemic, every nurse at Baystate Health has fulfilled our promise of advancing care and enhancing lives.”

Today’s nearly 4.4 million registered nurses in the U.S. constitute the nation’s largest healthcare profession, and the field offers a wide range of opportunities to those considering a career, including practicing as clinicians, administrators, researchers, educators, and policymakers.

In 2022, Baystate Health welcomed more than 900 nursing students into clinical placements from nursing programs at American International College, Bay Path University, Elms College, Holyoke Community College, Greenfield Community College, Springfield Technical Community College, UMass Amherst, and Westfield State University.

Linda Thompson, left, and Holyoke Community College President Christina Royal

Westfield State University President Linda Thompson, left, and Holyoke Community College President Christina Royal shake hands after signing a dual-enrollment nursing program agreement.

Newly graduated registered nurses (with less than 12 months of clinical nursing experience) can apply to its 10-month paid nurse residency program. During that time, they work directly with a unit preceptor and nurse educator for clinical instruction combined with classroom-style seminars and skills/simulation sessions. The collaborative learning approach is designed to provide the knowledge base and skillset needed to successfully transition into the role of a professional nurse.

Reske said professional experiences like these demonstrate the need for collaborative practice. “They’re not alone but working with other teams, providing patient care where everyone is thinking about how to improve the patient’s health and experience, looking at that patient’s values and experiences.

“We’re preparing students to understand the complex realities of healthcare today,” she went on. “Nurses can really make a unique difference by looking at patients through the nursing lens with a more holistic view.”


Satisfaction Suffers

While all this is meaningful work, many nurses feel there’s a long way to go to reach ideal job satisfaction. According to the annual “State of Nursing in Massachusetts” survey conducted by the Massachusetts Nurses Assoc. (MNA), bedside nurses feel undermined in their ability to provide quality care by understaffing and assigning unsafe numbers of patients, which fuels the flight of nurses away from the profession and leads to hospitals relying on expensive travel nurses to fill the void. Among the survey data:

• 85% of nurses say hospital care quality has deteriorated over the past two years;

• 53% say hospitals that rely on travel nurses have worse care;

• 71% of nurses say their biggest obstacle to delivering quality care is understaffing and/or having too many patients at one time; and

• 88% of nurses support legislation limiting the number of patients assigned to a nurse at one time.
That last statistic rises to 98% when only new nurses are surveyed, demonstrating that nurses are entering the field with eyes wide open to to the impact of staffing challenges.

Rather than causing the staffing crisis, said Katie Murphy, a practicing ICU nurse and president of the MNA, “the COVID-19 pandemic has simply laid bare a system already broken by hospital executives. The industry claims it cannot find nurses, but the data shows there are more nurses than ever. There is not a shortage of nurses, but rather a shortage of nurses willing to work in these unsafe conditions.”

“Nurses throughout the country, including here at Baystate Health, continue to deal with the effects of a nationwide nursing shortage and the emotional impact that the COVID pandemic has had on nurses.”

This year’s survey featured an all-time high number of nurses saying hospital care quality has gotten worse over the past two years. The survey has tracked this number since 2014, when it was 38%. In 2023, 85% of nurses saw care quality decline, up two points from last year, 30 points from 2021, and 46 points from 2019. This troubling trend tracks with survey results showing increased numbers of nurses who do not have enough time to give their patients the care and attention they need and who are forced to care for too many patients at one time. In 2023, 72% of nurses saw both of those issues as “major challenges,” up 11 and 13 points from 2021.

Newer nurses are disproportionately feeling the impact. Sixty-three percent of nurses with five or fewer years of experience say understaffing is their biggest obstacle to providing quality care, compared to 56% of all nurses. Of those nurses planning to leave the field within two years, 67% of newer nurses say they will find work outside of healthcare, compared to 31% of all nurses.

Colleges are doing what they can to draw new nurses into the pipeline. For example, Holyoke Community College (HCC) and Westfield State University (WSU) recently announced a new pathway for individuals to earn both an associate degree and bachelor’s degree in nursing simultaneously or in a streamlined manner by combining the curricula of both programs. The concurrent program is the first in the Commonwealth.

“The concurrent ADN-to-BSN pathway is an innovative approach to nursing education,” WSU Executive Director of Nursing Jessica Holden said. “It enables students to earn their ADN while simultaneously completing coursework that counts toward their BSN. This integration of education allows for a more efficient and streamlined approach to nursing education that is advantageous to some students.”

The concurrent nursing program will help address the nursing shortage by increasing the number of students who can get into a bachelor of nursing program and allow them to earn their degree faster.

According to a Massachusetts Health Policy Commission report, “registered-nurse vacancy rates in acute-care hospitals doubled from 6.4% in 2019 to 13.6% in 2022, with especially high vacancy rates in community hospitals. Employment in nursing and residential care facilities has not recovered since 2020 and remained below 2018 levels.”

HCC Director of Nursing Teresa Beaudry explained that “we had to meet with the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Nursing, who had to approve it, and they’re equally as excited as we are to create another pathway for nurses to advance in their education and a different way for those students who might not be able to get into a bachelor’s of nursing program.”


A Question of Balance

In fact, moving up in the profession is a significant draw to many aspiring nurses. Most area colleges and universities with nursing programs have master’s and doctoral programs structured in such a way that nurses can work full-time while earning advanced degrees that will open up more doors and set them on track to be nursing managers, educators, administrators, or work in other roles.

“Usually, nurses return for an advanced degree,” Reske said. “They begin to look at, ‘what can I contribute in practice? What attracts me? Is it working in an ambulatory-care setting or rehabilitation, or as a nurse leader or a nurse educator? Maybe I want to be a nurse practitioner.’ The opportunities for nurses are amazing.”

And the education they’re getting — both in the classroom and in the field — must prepare them for the new complexities of medical care today, she added.

“Nurses definitely have to deal with more complex issues — speak the language of finance, speak the language of marketing, speak the language of population health. All those require additional learning beyond the classroom. You’re connecting practice to knowledge and knowledge to practice, and learning how to apply that.”

In short, it’s a challenging time to be a nurse, and also a time of great opportunity. Whether their love of nursing outweighs the stresses is a question for every professional in the field — and those questions are not going away any time soon.

Special Coverage Tourism & Hospitality Travel and Tourism

Let’s Have a Ball

Summertime is a great time to get away, but in Western Mass., it’s also a great time to stick around and enjoy the many events on the calendar. Whether you’re craving fair food or craft beer, live music or arts and crafts, historical experiences or small-town pride, the region boasts plenty of ways to celebrate the summer months. Let’s start with Hooplandia — a major basketball tournament that’s been a long time coming, as you’ll find out starting on the next page, but one that promises to grow even bigger as it returns year after year. After that, we detail 20 more recreational and cultural events to fill in those summer days. Admittedly, they only scratch the surface, so we encourage you to get out and explore everything else that makes summer in Western Mass. a memorable time.

Tipping Off a Tradition

After Delays, Hooplandia Finally Gets a Chance to Shine >>Read More

Fun in the Sun

There’s Plenty to Do in Western Mass. This Summer >> Read More


Home Improvement Special Coverage

Sustainable Solutions

By Mark Morris

Brian Rudd

Brian Rudd compares a traditional vinyl panel with an insulated one.

In the past year, energy prices have taken a bigger chunk out of everyone’s budget. Increases at the gas pump get the most attention, but rising costs for heating and cooling homes have also taken their toll on bank accounts.

That’s why, as homeowners look to renovate and update their spaces, energy efficiency is often top of mind.

As local contractors told BusinessWest, when homeowners build or invest in new projects, long-term energy savings have become a key consideration. The good news is that many home-improvement products today use technologies that deliver that energy savings better than ever before.

Brian Rudd, owner of Vista Home Improvement in West Springfield, explained that, when people consider vinyl siding, it’s an opportunity to make their house look good and create an insulation barrier that saves energy.

“The foam insulation that is behind the siding is amazing in the way it encapsulates the home,” he said. “The siding panel that faces out looks great and is designed to reflect the sun and slow down the transfer of energy, which keeps the house cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.”

Rudd believes it’s important to stay on top of advances in materials and sees siding as more than a house covering; in fact, he considers siding installed 20 or 30 years ago “old technology.” Indeed, one industry statistic suggests that a proper siding job can increase energy efficiency on an average home up to 15%.

“There are advances happening in materials all the time, and we believe in staying on top of the latest technologies,” he added.

Another project that adds to aesthetics and energy efficiency is replacement windows. The Environmental Protection Agency notes that new windows can save energy and increase comfort. Like new siding, windows can also add to a home’s resale value.

“There’s nothing worse than having an attic that overheats in the summer and loses heat in the winter. Proper ventilation allows for better air flow, which contributes to a longer life for the roof and helps to better control a family’s energy costs.”

While Rudd said updating windows is always a good choice, he pointed out that it’s easy to forget about doors. “Most people with older doors have air leaks because, over time, doors shift out of place due to foundations moving from hot and cold temperatures over many years.

New doors are designed using newer technology and provide better insulation, he noted. “Some doors have self-leveling frames so they can adjust with changes in the seasons.”

Roofing technology also continues to advance as shingles are engineered with more reflective components. As important as the installation and materials, Rudd said the most effective energy savings with a new roof starts inside.

Patrick Rondeau

Patrick Rondeau says the rise in utility costs has driven demand for solar installations.

“We make sure there is proper ventilation in the attic space,” he said. “There’s nothing worse than having an attic that overheats in the summer and loses heat in the winter. Proper ventilation allows for better air flow, which contributes to a longer life for the roof and helps to better control a family’s energy costs.”


Here Comes the Sun

Due to international events and domestic refining issues, energy prices spiked across the board in 2022. While gasoline was a dollar higher at this time last year, it had a ripple effect on electric utility prices later in the year. At the two largest utilities in Massachusetts, National Grid raised its winter rates by 60%, and Eversource increased its rate by 30% in January.

Such increases have kept Patrick Rondeau busy. As general manager and co-owner of Valley Solar in Easthampton, he said the significant rise in utility rates has increased homeowner demand for solar-energy installations.

The cost to generate a kilowatt hour by solar averages between 7 and 14 cents over the life of the system. By contrast, winter utility rates were as high as 45 to 50 cents per kilowatt hour, he explained. “In an ideal scenario, a solar installation can produce 100% of the energy a person needs for their home.”

In many cases, in fact, solar installations can produce more than a homeowner currently needs. Rondeau encourages customers to build a system that will consider their future needs.

“In an ideal scenario, a solar installation can produce 100% of the energy a person needs for their home.”

“If someone is planning to buy an electric car, for example, their energy use will increase,” he said. “When people only look at today’s usage, they often come back two years later to see if they can add panels.”

Even if they don’t buy an electric car, Rondeau pointed out that energy use tends to increase after a solar installation because customers stop worrying about energy consumption. “It becomes a quality-of-life and comfort issue. The preoccupation with the thermostat setting goes away. I see it all the time.”

In Massachusetts, another advantage to generating more energy is net metering. When a homeowner’s solar panels generate more energy than needed, the excess energy can be sold back to the grid. As an example of how it works, Rondeau said a solar installation might produce 10,000 kilowatt hours each year, and 7,000 of those kilowatt hours might be produced during the five months of the year with the most sunshine.

“The homeowner will net meter a certain percentage of what they produce, which generates a credit on their electric bill,” he explained. “Then, in the winter months, when there are shorter, darker days, they use that credit. It’s essentially a wash.”

He further explained net metering with a familiar New England analogy. “It’s like squirrels socking away food for the winter. Instead of acorns, people are storing up credits on their electric bill.”

Some homes have limited roof or yard space to accommodate solar panels, so their systems might not generate 100% of the home’s energy needs. But Rondeau said going solar is still a worthwhile investment.

Josh Smith

Josh Smith shows off an outdoor unit that powers a mini-split heat-pump system.

“Some people are concerned about only producing enough energy for half of their needs,” he noted. “If you could lock in even half of your energy consumption at 14 cents, why wouldn’t you do that?”


Pump It Up

People with solar units can save even more energy and money when they install a heat pump. Recent advances in electric-powered heat pumps are helping homeowners to save energy without sacrificing comfort. These units have the ability to heat and cool a home and work best as a supplement to whatever heating system is already in the home.

“For years, heat pumps were found primarily in the south and warmer regions,” said Josh Smith, service manager for Berkshire Heating & Air Conditioning in West Springfield. “In the last 10 years, the technology has improved their efficiency so much that they are now a good choice for places like New England.”

In the simplest terms, a heat pump works like a furnace in the winter to warm the home and like an air conditioner in the summer to cool the house two to three times more efficiently than a traditional furnace or air conditioner.

For homes with a natural-gas furnace and ductwork, the heat-pump unit resembles a traditional central air-conditioner compressor. For houses without ductwork, a differently designed heat-pump compressor connects to a series of units inside the house. These air-handling units are known as mini-splits and provide cooling and heating for each room. One heat-pump compressor can feed up to six mini-splits, each one managed by remote control.

“For example, if three people are in the house and they all have different comfort levels, they can keep each room at a different temperature,” Smith said. “People really like this because they can have true zone-control for their heating and cooling using one main source.”

The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that homeowners can save, on average, $1,000 per year by switching to a heat pump. Savings vary depending on the type of heating system in the home. For example, when a heat pump replaces an electric baseboard system, the savings can exceed $1,200.

By contrast, savings compared to a natural-gas furnace are a few hundred dollars. Making the switch from a natural-gas system is still encouraged because Massachusetts and other New England states have plans in place to significantly reduce the use of natural gas and other fossil fuels used for heating by the end of this decade.

“The states want more people to use electricity as their energy source,” Smith said, “and heat pumps are the most efficient form of electric heat.”

While heat pumps provide plenty of benefits as the main heating and cooling source, he went on, it’s smart to keep traditional heating systems in place as a supplement.

“I like having a backup source because we live in New England where every few years we get a long cold snap,” he said. “Heat pumps have a hard time keeping up when it’s really cold, so it’s good to have that backup source when you need it.”

Even as a supplemental source, today’s traditional heating systems are more efficient than units from 10 years ago.

“Everything in the heating and cooling universe is becoming more efficient,” Smith said. “Even new oil burners use less oil than in the past.”


What’s in Store?

The next big development in solar involves energy storage, an area Rondeau called an increasingly large part of his business. At the most basic level, storage means batteries to keep the excess energy generated from a solar installation.

New battery-storage units are available that can send energy back to the grid as well as store it for the homeowner. The state program Connected Solutions allows utilities to pull energy out of home-based batteries during the highest-demand times and then compensate the homeowner when there is less demand. It’s up to the individual how much energy they want to make available to the grid and how much they want to store.

“People who want to be off grid as much as possible can set up their storage so they can be self-sufficient to an extent without risking too much battery drain,” Rondeau said.

Because the cost of these sophisticated storage devices can be expensive, the state offers 0% loans from Mass Save.

The biggest benefit of energy storage is evident during power outages. With the batteries storing power, a home’s electric system can continue to work uninterrupted. Rondeau noted that stored energy can be more effective and less fussy than owning a backup generator.

“Generators need to be tested every month. When you need to use them, they are noisy, and you have to buy fuel for them,” he explained. “Also, there are no 0% loans available for generators.”

As technology allows home solar systems to perform more complex tasks, the user interface is becoming simpler.

“It’s like your smartphone,” he said. “What it’s doing in the background is complex, but what you are doing with your thumb is simple.”

Because new materials are coming to market all the time, it’s important for homeowners considering any of these projects to speak with a professional. The businesses we spoke with all offer free consultations to help people get a realistic idea of what will work for them.

“I suggest people do their research,” Rudd said, “and spend the extra time to make sure they are getting exactly what they want for their home.”

Tourism & Hospitality Travel and Tourism

Tipping Off a Tradition

John Doleva (left) and Gene Cassidy

John Doleva (left) and Gene Cassidy didn’t think, when Hooplandia was announced in early 2020, that it would take three more years to tip off, but they say it will be worth the wait.


It’s been a long road from Hooplandia’s conception to its tipoff on June 23.

Even longer than the road — that would be Interstate 90 — from Springfield to Spokane, Wash., the home of Hoopfest, a 3-on-3 basketball tournament established 33 years ago that now draws 7,000 teams per year.

When he first visited Spokane, Gene Cassidy saw an enormous highway sign calling that city ‘Hooptown USA.’ And he had two initial thoughts, the first being that, if anyone should call themselves Hooptown, it’s Springfield, not Spokane. The second thought was that this type of event could be huge in the birthplace of basketball.

At the sight of the Hooptown USA sign, “I was shaking my head, asking, ‘how in the world does this region, this city, get that moniker?’” recalled Cassidy, president and CEO of the Eastern States Exposition. “They’re on the right street, but that’s the wrong end of the country, right?”

So he brought that idea back to the right end of I-90. And by 2019, Cassidy and John Doleva, president and CEO of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, were busy planning to unveil Hooplandia the following June.

And then the pandemic shut the whole world down. Tourism and events were shuttered and canceled.

Or, in the case of Hooplandia, postponed. It was clear right away there would be no such event in 2020, but as the pandemic persisted and subsequent surges continued to hit the nation and the region, the tournament was scrapped for 2021 as well. And while the situation improved somewhat that year, there were too many uncertainties and not enough time to put a tournament in place for 2022.

Which brings us to 2023, and the inaugural Hooplandia event finally set to descend on the region for three days on June 23-25. Most games will be played at the Big E fairgrounds, while championship matches in numerous divisions — which include children, first responders, active military, veterans, high school and college students at various skill levels, adult teams at various age ranges, even Special Olympics and wheelchair teams — will get the spotlight of being hosted at the Hall of Fame itself.

“With three weeks left to go before the event takes place, we’ve got about 350 teams registered,” Cassidy said last week, adding that he hopes to reach 500 by tip-off. “And the growth potential is really unlimited. In Spokane, they’ve been doing it for 33 years. They’ve got 7,000 teams. And we’re prepared at Eastern States to beat them.”

Doleva agrees. He knows it will take time to ramp up to that level — but believes it’s possible.

“We’re at the beginning stages of this. And I think we’re in a really good position to launch this. Having the number of teams that Gene’s talking about and getting some momentum here is very important. This first year and the second year are going to be very important to position this tournament as a premier tournament for the future.”

He compared the progression of the tournament to a concentric circle that expands farther out each year.

“Spokane draws from all 48 states consistently. They have international teams,” he said. But after the first year or two in Springfield and West Springfield, “with B-roll to show and as we recruit teams and share through social media, all those things will build as we go further and further out. So I think Gene is right. We’ll go beyond New England this year, and we’ll go beyond that to Philadelphia and down to the Washington, D.C. area. And if we’re able to accomplish that, then we really are in kind of a national march with this by years three to five.”

Besides signing Dunkin’ on as presenting sponsor, Hooplandia has attracted many other big-name sponsors and supporters, including Baystate Health, Ford Dealers of New England, local Boys and Girls Clubs, PeoplesBank, Westfield Bank, and Bulkley Richardson, to name just a few.

“We are thrilled to support the inaugural Hooplandia event,” said Mary Kay Wydra, president of the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau, adding that its Western Massachusetts Sports Commission division is committed to supporting athletic events that bring visitors into the region and contribute to the economic vitality of Western Mass. “Hooplandia is a great collaboration between the Eastern States Exposition and the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame — two important attractions that have joined together to provide even more opportunities for increased visitation to the region.”

All that is gratifying to Cassidy. “Getting the community to buy in is really important,” he said. “In the end, we’re going to have a signature event for Greater Springfield that’s going to generate business for a lot of people and a lot of regional businesses, not the least of which will be hotels and restaurants. But it’s also going to raise awareness about basketball.”

As well it should, he and Doleva agree — especially in the rightful Hooptown USA, the one thousands of miles east on I-90 from Spokane.

—Joseph Bednar

Tourism & Hospitality Travel and Tourism

Fun in the Sun

Beyond Hooplandia, the region offers a wide variety of cultural and recreational happenings for the whole family, from baseball to beer tastings; fireworks to festivals; jazz to jubilees. Here are 20 such upcoming events, and where to find out more about them. Enjoy!


Valley Blue Sox

MacKenzie Stadium, 500 Beech St., Holyoke


Admission: $5-$7; flex packs, $59-$99

Now through July 29: Western Mass. residents don’t have to trek to Boston to catch quality baseball. The Valley Blue Sox, two-time champions of the New England Collegiate Baseball League, play the home half of their 44-game schedule close to home at MacKenzie Stadium in Holyoke. Frequent promotional events like postgame fireworks and giveaways help make every game a fun, affordable event for the whole family.


Westfield Starfires

Bullens Field, 181 Notre Dame St., Westfield


Admission: $10; flex packs, $99

Now through Aug. 6: Still can’t get enough baseball? Celebrating their fifth season of action, the Starfires, a member of the Futures Collegiate Baseball League, play a slightly longer schedule (56 games) than the Blue Sox. The team plays at Bullens Field in a city with a rich baseball history, and peppers its games with plenty of local flavor and fan experiences.


IRONMAN 70.3 Western Massachusetts Triathlon

Downtown Springfield


Admission (for spectators): Free

June 11: Springfield will host the inaugural IRONMAN 70.3 Western Mass. triathlon, which consists of a 70.3-mile journey as athletes will take on a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride, and 13.1-mile run. Athletes will start with a downriver swim in the Connecticut River. Once out of the water, athletes will transition to the bike at Riverfront Park in downtown Springfield for the 56-mile ride around the region’s biking areas. Once back in Riverfront Park, the race will conclude with a run using the riverwalks and downtown streets of Springfield.


Juneteenth Jubilee

Downtown Springfield


Admission: Free

June 16-18: Juneteenth is a federal holiday celebrating the emancipation of those who had been enslaved in the U.S. two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued. Juneteenth in Springfield will celebrate this holiday with three days of activities, including a flag raising at the Black Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Mason Square and an adult block party at Level 5 restaurant on June 16; a family fun day featuring music, kids’ activities, youth and business award presentationsl, complimentary food from Black-owned restaurants, and more on June 17; and a Father’s Day brunch at the Dunbar Center on June 18.


Worthy Craft Beer Showcase

201 Worthington St., Springfield


Admission: $35-$50

June 17: Smith’s Billiards and Theodores’ Booze, Blues & BBQ, both in the city’s entertainment district, will host more than two dozen breweries at an event that also features live music from the General Gist and others, and plenty of food. The event will also feature a home-brew contest; Amherst Brewing will make the winner’s beer and serve it at next year’s Brew Fest. Designated drivers pay reduced admission of $10.


Green River Festival

One College Dr., Greenfield


Admission: Weekend, $169.99; Friday, $59.99; Saturday, $74.99; Sunday, $74.99

June 23-25: For one weekend every summer, Franklin County Fairgrounds hosts a high-energy celebration of music; local food, beer, and wine; handmade crafts; and games and activities for families and children — all topped off with hot-air-balloon launches and a Saturday-evening ‘balloon glow.’ The music is continuous on three stages, with more than 35 bands slated to perform.


Municipal Fireworks

Admission: Free

June and July: Western Mass. communities will host numerous fireworks events around the Fourth of July this year. Sites include Szot Park, Chicopee, June 24; Quarry Hill School, Monson, June 24; Look Memorial Park, Northampton, June 24; Westfield Middle School, June 25; Holyoke Community College, June 30; UMass Amherst McGuirk Stadium, July 1; Beacon Field, Greenfield, July 1; Smith Middle School, South Hadley, July 1; Six Flags New England, Agawam, July 1-3; and Riverfront Park, Springfield, July 4.


Berkshires Arts Festival

380 State Road, Great Barrington


Admission: $7-$15; ages 9 and under free

July 1-3: Ski Butternut plays host to the Berkshires Arts Festival, a regional tradition for more than two decades. Thousands of art lovers and collectors are expected to stop by to check out and purchase the creations of 155 jury-selected artists and designers from across the country, in both outdoor and air-conditioned indoor exhibition spaces. The family-friendly event also features demonstrations, food, and live music.


Monson Summerfest

Main Street, Monson


Admission: Free

July 4: In 1979, a group of parishioners from the town’s Methodist church wanted to start an Independence Day celebration focused on family and community, The first Summerfest featured food, games, and fun activities. With the addition of a parade, along with booths, bands, rides, and activities, the event has evolved into an attraction drawing more than 10,000 people every year. This year’s parade steps off at 10 a.m. on Main Street, followed by activities, music, and a beer garden later in the day.


Southwick Pro Motocross National

The Wick 338, 46 Powder Mill Road, Southwick


Admission: $30-$395

July 8: The Southwick National is back on the schedule at the Wick 338. This historic racetrack makes its return to the circuit on July 8 and will serve as the sixth round of the 2023 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship, sanctioned by AMA Pro Racing. Gates open at 7 a.m., and ticket prices span a wide range of viewing opportunities, including preferred and VIP options.


Brimfield Outdoor Antiques Show

Route 20, Brimfield


Admission: Free

July 11-16, Sept. 5-10: After expanding steadily through the decades, the Brimfield Antique Show now encompasses six miles of Route 20 and has become a nationally known destination for people to value antiques, collectibles, and flea-market finds. Some 6,000 dealers and close to 1 million total visitors show up at the three annual, week-long events; the first was in May.


Glasgow Lands Scottish Festival

300 North Main St., Florence


Admission: $5-$22; age 5 and under free

July 15: Held at Look Memorial Park, this 28nd annual festival celebrating all things Scottish features bagpipes, heavy athletics, Celtic dance, drumming, vendors, historical demonstrations, musical guests, children’s events, and much more. For the second straight year, guests can also attend a whiskey-tasting master class ($30) where they can sample and learn the differences and complexities of single-malt scotch whiskey, as well as learning the history of the spirit and how it is made.


Springfield Jazz and Roots Festival

Stearns Square, Springfield


Admission: Free

July 21-22: The annual Springfield Jazz & Roots Festival descends upon Stearns Square and surrounding streets this summer, offering a festive atmosphere featuring locally and internationally acclaimed musical artists. More than 10,000 people are expected to attend. The musical lineup will be announced soon on the website.


Springfield Dragon Boat Festival

121 West St., Springfield, MA


Admission (for spectators): Free

July 29: The sixth annual Springfield Dragon Boat Festival returns to North Riverfront Park. Hosted by the Pioneer Valley Riverfront Club, this family-friendly festival features the exciting sport of dragon-boat racing and will include music, performances, food, vendors, kids’ activities, and more. The festival is an ideal event for businesses and organizations looking for a team-building opportunity, and provides financial support for the Riverfront Club.


Brew at the Zoo

The Zoo in Forest Park, Springfield


Admission: $50-$75; designated drivers $25-$35

Aug. 5: Brew at The Zoo is a fundraiser at the Zoo in Forest Park, featuring unlimited craft-beer samples from local breweries, a home-brew competition, live music, food trucks, games, and, of course, animal interactions. The fundraiser supports the general operating costs of the more than 225 animals that call the zoo home, many of which have been deemed non-releasable by a wildlife rehabilitator for reasons relating to injury, illness, permanent disability, habituation to humans, and other factors.


Agricultural Fairs

Admission: Varies; check websites

August and September: As regional fairs go, the Big E (thebige.com), slated for Sept 15 to Oct. 1, is still the region’s main draw, and there’s something for everyone, whether it’s the copious fair food, livestock shows, Avenue of States houses, parades, local vendors and crafters, or live music. But the Big E isn’t the only agricultural fair on the block. The Middlefield Fair (middlefieldfair.org) kicks off the fair season on Aug. 11-13, followed by the Westfield Fair (thewestfieldfair.com) on Aug. 18-20, the Cummington Fair (cummingtonfair.com) on Aug. 24-27; the Three County Fair in Northampton (3countyfair.com) on Sept. 1-4, the Franklin County Fair in Greenfield (fcas.com) on Sept. 7-10, and the Belchertown Fair (belchertownfair.com) on Sept. 22-24, to name some of the larger gatherings.



22 St. George Road, Springfield


Admission: Free

Sept. 8-10: Every year, St. George Cathedral offers thousands of visitors the best in traditional Greek foods, pastries, music, dancing, and old-fashioned Greek hospitality. In addition, the festival offers activities for children, tours of the historic St. George Cathedral and Byzantine Chapel, vendors from across the East Coast, icon workshops, movies in the Glendi Theatre, cooking demonstrations, and more.


Mattoon Street Arts Festival

Mattoon Street, Springfield


Admission: Free

Sept. 9-10: Now celebrating its 50th year, the Mattoon Street Arts Festival is the longest-running arts festival in the Pioneer Valley, featuring about 100 exhibitors, including artists that work in ceramics, fibers, glass, jewelry, painting and printmaking, photography, wood, metal, and mixed media. Food vendors and strolling musicians help to make the event a true late-summer destination.


FreshGrass Festival

1040 MASS MoCA Way, North Adams


Admission: three-day pass, $64-$184; age 6 and under free

Sept. 22-24: The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art is known for its musical events, and the FreshGrass festival is among the highlights, showcasing dozens of bluegrass artists and bands on four stages over three days. This year, the lineup includes Dropkick Murphys Acoustic, Lukas Nelson + POTR, Sierra Ferrell, Rhiannon Giddens, the Devil Makes Three, and many more.


Old Deerfield Craft Fair

8 Memorial St., Deerfield


Admission: $7, age 12 and under free

Sep. 23-24: This award-winning show that closes out the summer tourism season has been recognized for its traditional crafts and fine-arts categories and offers a great variety of items, from furniture to pottery. And while in town, check out all of Historic Deerfield, featuring restored, 18th-century museum houses with period furnishings, demonstrations of Colonial-era trades, and a collection of Early American crafts, ceramics, furniture, textiles, and metalwork.


Alumni Achievement Award

Owner, RMC Strategies

Ryan McCollum

Ryan McCollum has grown not only his business but his civic impact since being honored by 40 Under Forty in 2012 (below).

Ryan McCollum 2012

Ryan McCollum 2012

When he became a member of the 40 Under Forty class of 2012, Ryan McCollum had already established an impressive track record of entrepreneurship, community involvement, and simply being an advocate for, and supporter of, the Western Mass. region and its business community.

Indeed, at that time, he had established RMC Strategies, a full-service consulting and government-relations firm, as a force in the region. Meanwhile, he was involved in civic work — and helping to promote and strengthen the 413 — on many levels, from his work to help launch the Young Professional Society of Greater Springfield to his service on the board of Best Buddies.

To say that, over the past 11 years, he has only built on this deep and impressive résumé would be a huge understatement.

As an entrepreneur, he has established two new ventures — Shoe Leather, a text-messaging marketing company, and Goldilox, an online payment platform for candidates and nonprofits — and he is also part-owner of a cannabis dispensary set to open this fall in Monson, part of the growing portfolio of Holyoke-based DAZE, one of his clients at RMC.

Speaking of RMC, McCollum continues to grow that venture and take it in different directions. Indeed, while he still handles political campaigns — he served as consultant to Joshua Garcia in his successful bid to become the first Latino Mayor of Holyoke in 2021, for example — he continues to build his client list and, recently, his portfolio of work as a lobbyist. When he spoke with BusinessWest, McCollum was driving to Boston to lobby for the Coalition for an Equitable Economy. He’s also done some lobbying for a company looking to enable small businesses — bars, restaurants, and private clubs — to be a part of the burgeoning sports-betting scene across the state.

But it’s his ongoing efforts to expand his volunteer work within the community that is perhaps most impressive.

Indeed, the current list of agencies and causes he’s involved with includes Suit Up Springfield and Square One, which he serves as a board member; Roca, which he serves as an advisory board member; the Springfield Museums, where he has been a member of the marketing and communications committee; the Children’s Museum in Holyoke, for which he was a celebrity dancer for its Fancy Steps fundraiser this year; and many others. He’s even involved in work to help bring others into the game of golf, a sport he discovered years ago and is now somewhat passionate about.

“If ever Ryan leaves a board, he immediately joins two more,” wrote Timothy Allen, principal at Birchland Park Middle School in East Longmeadow and a 40 Under Forty winner himself (class of 2013), who nominated McCollum for the AAA. “Despite the success of his personal business, it is still the community side of his work that drives his daily motivation.”

Increasingly, this work in the community has involved efforts to combat racism and level the playing field for all residents of the 413 — and beyond.

McCollum is now a board member for the Healing Racism Institute of Pioneer Valley as well as the National Conference for Community and Justice, and he recently became a member of the Longmeadow Coalition for Racial Justice Task Force. And then, there’s the recently formed nonprofit he founded (with 15 friends and colleagues, many of them involved in education) called 16 Lyrics.

“We fight to conquer and dismantle systemic racism through education, community outreach, and intensive support of those in the same battles.”

“We fight to conquer and dismantle systemic racism through education, community outreach, and intensive support of those in the same battles,” he said of the agency’s mission statement. “Our first initiative has been to provide kids with books that have diverse characters, diverse authors, diverse storylines — and we do that all over the country; we’ve given out books that we’ve purchased from Black-owned bookstores to places in New Jersey, Chicago, and, of course, Massachusetts. It’s been fun, and I think we’re already making a difference.”

While his work in the community and as a business owner and lobbyist are all impressive, perhaps McCollum’s most important work, Allen said, is as a connector — connecting residents, political candidates and office holders, and organizations with resources and opportunities for growth and advancement.

“He is the person to call to connect people and form other lasting bonds, which further creates great energy and outcomes here in Western Mass.,” Allen wrote. “Instead of sitting on each board he is asked to sit on, he’s working on setting up a talent bank of young and diverse leaders to sit on boards and fill other roles he’s often asked himself to take on.

“While clearly becoming an even more of a behind-the-scenes and sometimes out-front leader in the community, it’s Ryan’s ability to push for others that sets him apart,” Allen continued. “He consistently extends opportunities to those who may not have the connections or relationships to be thought of, but have the talent and love of the community to serve as well as anyone.”

When he became a 40 Under Forty honoree in 2012, McCollum summed up his work — and his overall mindset — this way: “I want to leave the world a better place than I found it … this is the driving force behind everything I do.”

That is still the force that drives him, and 11 years later, there is much more to talk about when it comes to ‘everything I do.’

And that’s why he is one of the finalists for the Alumni Achievement Award in 2023.


—George O’Brien

Alumni Achievement Award

State Representative, 9th District

Orlando Ramos

Orlando Ramos’ 40 Under Forty photo in 2012 (below) emphasized he’s a fighter in more ways than one — and that hasn’t changed.

For his studio photograph when he became a member of the 40 Under Forty class of 2014, Orlando Ramos chose to put on his blue boxing gloves and robe — he trained under legend Duke Belton and fought for several years — with a dress shirt and tie underneath.

The juxtaposition of those clothing items was well-thought-out, and quite poignant.

Indeed, at that time, when Ramos was 31 and serving as a Springfield city councilor (Ward 8) and district director for state Sen. James Welch, he was essentially sending a message — that he was still fighting … just not in the ring. Instead, he was fighting for Springfield, the city where he grew up (the Pine Point neighborhood, to be more specific), and its residents.

That fight took him to the presidency of the City Council, a role he carried out for two years, 2017 and 2018.

Today, the fight continues, but in a different setting. Sort of. Instead of City Hall in Springfield, Ramos’ professional mailing address is now the State House in Boston, where he serves as representative for the 9th District, which represents Pine Point and other neighborhoods in the northern part of the city.

But Ramos is looking to come back to City Hall, in this case the corner office. Indeed, he is a candidate for mayor in what promises to be a heated fight (there’s that word again) that will play out over the several months. We’ll get back to that in a minute.

First, there’s Ramos’s ongoing fight for the city and how it has evolved over the past several years, a progression, and an escalation, if one chooses to call it that, which impressed the panel of judges weighing nominations for the Alumni Achievement Award and made him a finalist for that coveted award.

His story of service to the community starts more than 15 years ago, when Ramos, who began his professional career as a carpenter and later was appointed union steward of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters Local 108, was offered an internship in the governor’s Western Mass. office, whetting his appetite for public service.

He was later offered a full-time position as Welch’s district director, and successfully ran for City Council in 2013.

Ramos said he chose to take his work to fight for Springfield to the State House to essentially broaden his impact.

“I saw an opportunity to bring more resources back to the community,” he told BusinessWest, adding that he was first elected during the COVID pandemic, a time that “highlighted so many inequalities and so many needs in Springfield.”

He added that “we needed a leader with experience to navigate the Legislature, and that’s why I decided to run.”

He said his freshman term was a productive one, with three bills that he authored passing the House. Elaborating, he said the sports-betting bill that eventually passed was the version that included diversity, equity, and inclusion language that he wrote. Another bill he steered through concerned biomass plants and essentially removed state subsidies for such facilities, a measure he believes was the “final dagger” for a controversial biomass plant proposed for Springfield.

“I love my job as a state representative, but I feel there is a need in the city, and I feel that I am the right person for the job.”

The third bill concerned regulation of facial-surveillance technology. It passed both the House and Senate, but was vetoed by then-Gov. Charlie Baker. He is hopeful that it will pass this year.

As for his decision to run for mayor, Ramos said he believes it’s time for a change in Springfield, and a time to seize more opportunities, especially within the broad realm of economic development.

“I see that there is a need in the city for a new vision,” he told BusinessWest. “I love my job as a state representative, but I feel there is a need in the city, and I feel that I am the right person for the job. We’ve had a lot of missed opportunities, and I feel that people are ready for a new mayor.”

He said he was the first person on the ballot and has hit the ground running when it comes to his campaign. “I’ve been knocking on doors ever since. And I’m going to continue knocking on doors until election day.”

Areliz Barboza, coordinator of the nonprofit agency known as Listening with Love, who nominated Ramos for the AAA honor, summed up Ramos’s work, and his passion for Springfield and its residents, this way:

“I believe he is an ambassador for our community. He is not only an elected official, but he is also a mentor to our young people,” she wrote. “He has the heart to serve our seniors. He has devoted himself to be the change within his family and in our community. Even with his busy schedule, he still manages to always make time to go above and beyond for our community. I believe his integrity and passion to serve our community speaks volumes and brings inspiration that creates the change we need in Springfield.”

Those sentiments explain why he has been elected city councilor and state representative, why he became a 40 Under Forty honoree in 2014, and now, why is a finalist for the Alumni Achievement Award.


—George O’Brien

Alumni Achievement Award

Founder and CEO, the Royal Law Firm

Amy Royal

Amy Royal had only recently launched her law firm in 2009 (the photo highlights an early client), and now the firm has a physical presence in four states.

Amy Royal is in pretty much the same place she was last year at this time … well, at least when it comes to BusinessWest’s Alumni Achievement Award competition.

Indeed, her scores from a different panel of judges have again made her a finalist for the coveted honor, which is why she is now clearing her schedule for the third Thursday in June to enable her to be at the Log Cabin to see if it is her name being announced as the AAA winner for 2023.

But in many other respects, Royal is in a different place — literally and figuratively.

She is now living in Eastern New York, where she is hard at work opening the newest office for the law firm she started in 2008 (and which earned her 40 Under Forty honors the following year), now known as the Royal Law Firm. That new office is in Albany, the state’s capital, giving the firm a presence now in the Empire State and most of New England.

“I’ve been working really hard to expand our footprint here,” she said from New York, “and obviously continue to build in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire…”

As for the Massachusetts office, it is located in the historic Alexander House, just a few hundred feet down Elliot Street in Springfield from the federal courthouse. For Royal, acquisition and subsequent renovation of the stately mansion has become a passion, one we’ll get back to later.

For now, know that this new home for the Springfield office, and Royal’s affection for it, is enough to prompt her to commute from just outside Albany to Springfield several days a week; travel time is about an hour, she said, just a little longer than it took her to get to Springfield from from her former residence in Deerfield.

Getting back to that notion of Royal being back where she was this same time last year, she is — and then again, she isn’t.

Which helps explain why she is again a finalist for the AAA award.

Indeed, many of the same accomplishments that impressed the judges in 2022 impressed them again this year. These include her ongoing work to grow the firm, take it to new markets, and add to an already-impressive client list that includes Google, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Macy’s, Panasonic of North America, and KeyBank.

“For our clients that are national and international corporations, having a presence in the state of New York is huge to them. It’s an important piece to our continued growth; we had most of the New England states covered, and this was the next logical step.”

The latest expansion effort, as noted, is in Eastern New York, a new office that Royal believes will open some doors for the firm, which once focused exclusively on representing employers in labor and employment-law matters, but in recent years has pushed into other areas of the law, especially the broad realm of commercial litigation.

“For our clients that are national and international corporations, having a presence in the state of New York is huge to them,” she explained. “It’s an important piece to our continued growth; we had most of the New England states covered, and this was the next logical step.”

Royal said she is closing on some real estate for the New York office while also recruiting lawyers to staff it, work that has become increasingly challenging given the ongoing workforce crisis that has touched seemingly every sector of the economy, including the legal community.

Beyond the law firm, Royal has always been entrepreneurial, and that trend continues as well. In New York, she and a partner are closing on an ambitious project that will bring an indoor sports facility and childcare center together in one complex.

Meanwhile, what has also impressed the judges, last year and again this year, is her work in the community, which includes a long track record of service to the Center for Human Development, which recently marked its 50th anniversary; she is currently board president. She is also heavily involved with the Springfield Ballers, a nonprofit that provides opportunities for young people to take part in sports and which won its own honor from BusinessWest this year — the Difference Makers award. Royal is an active board member with the agency, and in the past has served as a coach.

But since being named a finalist last year, Royal has continued to build on this track record of involvement — in Western Mass., and now in New York as well. Locally, she has played a lead role in the creation of another nonprofit agency focused on young people and sports. It’s called Northeast Revolt, and it will feature multiple basketball teams that will involve young people, girls and boys, in grades 3 through high school, in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York.

As for the Alexander House, the Royal Law Firm has settled in there, but renovation work continues, she said, adding that the work has become a labor of love.

Interior renovations are essentially complete, she said, adding that work there has included rewiring; installing central air; remodeling of bathrooms, the kitchen, and office spaces; and much more.

Now, the focus shifts to the exterior and work on the historic pillars, painting the building, and restoration of the fence surrounding the property.

“We’re giving a facelift to the entire building,” Royal said, adding that the work on Elliott Street mirrors what she is doing with the law firm — and youth sports, for that matter — in many respects; she’s setting the stage for decades of growth and continued success.

And that’s why, at least when it comes to the Alumni Achievement Award, she is in the same, good place she was last year.


—George O’Brien

Alumni Achievement Award

Executive Director, Berkshire Hills Music Academy

Michelle Theroux

Michelle Theroux was one of the inaugural 40 Under Forty honorees in 2007 (below), and has made some significant impacts since.

Michelle Theroux was a member of BusinessWest’s first class of 40 Under Forty honorees. That was back in 2007, for those who don’t know the history of this program.

At that time, she was executive director of Child and Family Services of Pioneer Valley, and as she talked with BusinessWest on that occasion, she noted that her background in dance — she began studying tap, jazz, and ballet at age 5; added dance instruction when she was just 16; and later toured nationally in a jazz-based children’s show — helped her generate the skills, including discipline, drive, and “balance,” needed to effectively lead a nonprofit.

In her 40 Under Forty picture, her ballet shoes are prominently displayed. In her profile piece, she noted, “now, dance is sort of my balancing piece. It evens out stress. Still, in my life, sleep is optional.”

Sixteen years later, as she was being interviewed as a finalist for the Alumni Achievement Award — the first time she has achieved that honor — the shoes were not visible, but the arts are still a big part of her life, personally and professionally. And between her day job, the arts, and her considerable work within the community, sleep … well, that remains optional.

Indeed, she still dances and teaches dance, and that day job, one she has held for the past decade, is executive director of the Berkshire Hills Music Academy. The South Hadley-based facility is a unique, college-like program for young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, such as autism and Down syndrome, who are looking to expand their social, vocational, and music skills in a music-infused environment.

“Our uniqueness comes from how we integrate music, dance, and other art forms into our programs so that individuals who are musically talented or art-minded can use that to scaffold to other skills, creating better opportunities for independence and developing their life skills such as money management, cooking, and more,” she explained.

Students at the school are provided with opportunities to perform locally, individually, and as part of groups, Theroux noted, and in settings ranging from local schools to Fenway Park, where students have sung the national anthem.

“It gives individuals who otherwise would not have had that opportunity the chance for their ability to be heard, not necessarily their disability,” she went on. “When you hear one of our performers playing, you hear their music; you don’t see their disability — and that’s the mission behind all that we have done.”

Theroux’s role there brings her passion for managing nonprofits and her passion for the arts together in a role she finds both challenging and, in many ways, invigorating.

“This place really blended my nonprofit-management skillset with my dance background,” she said, adding that, during her tenure, she has been able to put the agency on firmer financial ground while expanding its footprint and growing its client base.

“When you hear one of our performers playing, you hear their music; you don’t see their disability — and that’s the mission behind all that we have done.”

As she leads the organization, Theroux continues to lean on those skills she honed through dance — and an impressive track record of managing nonprofits; after spearheading a merger between Child & Family Services and the Center for Human Development, she remained with CHD, serving as vice president of its clinical division.

At Berkshire Hills, she has acted as a change agent for the nonprofit, stabilizing all facets of the operation, creating an operational budget surplus, doubling the operating budget over a two-year period, expanding contracts with the Department of Developmental Services, and exceeding set goals for a capital campaign.

While building on her impressive résumé of work leading nonprofits, Theroux has also built upon a strong track record of service to the community. Most notably, she currently chairs the board of trustees for Mercy Medical Center, and is also a regional board member for Trinity Health Of New England.

But her involvement in the community takes many forms, especially in South Hadley, where she lives and works. She has been a board member for the South Hadley/Granby Chamber of Commerce for nearly a decade now, and served as president of the board from 2018 to 2022. Within the community, she is a member of the Master Plan Implementation Committee and the Redevelopment Authority, and is also a town meeting member.

Other work within the region includes a decade of service to MicroTek Inc., a Chicopee-based manufacturer of custom cable and wire configurations that maintains a focus on employing people with disabilities and supporting these individuals. Theroux has served on its board of directors since 2014, currently as its vice president. Previously, she has been involved with the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts and the Human Service Forum.

At Mercy, Theroux has led the board during a time of extreme challenge — the pandemic tested the hospital and its staff in every way imaginable.

“It was awe-striking in a lot of ways,” she said, “starting with your admiration for the healthcare workers and the day-to-day challenges that they were facing, on all levels — those on the front lines, the administrators trying to make sure everyone was safe, everyone throughout the entire system.
“And then, you’re dealing with the reality of a pandemic and patients who were fighting in the ICUs and the COVID units,” she went on. “You were seeing both, while trying to manage and make sure that you could get as many resources into place as possible to support both ends of that paradigm.”

Her work to help lead the Mercy system through those dark and challenging times is just one example of how Theroux has continued to grow as a manager and a leader since she was first named a 40 Under Forty honoree, and why she is a finalist for the AAA Award.


—George O’Brien