Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — It’s been a few years in the making, but the Springfield Museums are getting closer to having a Dr. Seuss specialty license plate on the road in the near future.

“We are just 91 orders away from hitting the 750-order minimum that the Registry of Motor Vehicles requires before it can begin production,” said Emilie Czupryna, director of Development at the Springfield Museums. “We are so close.”

Launched in 2019, the Museums’ specialty plate campaign has two key goals: celebrate Dr. Seuss’s legacy of inspiration, curiosity, and whimsy, while creating a revenue stream that will support the Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum on the Quadrangle in downtown Springfield.

The plate features the beloved Cat in the Hat, arguably the most famous character created by Springfield native Ted Geisel (Dr. Seuss).

“This plate is an opportunity to celebrate all that makes learning fun,” said Kay Simpson, president and CEO of the Springfield Museums.

The specialty plates cost $40 (in addition to standard vehicle-registration fees), and a portion of that $40 goes to the Dr. Seuss Museum. The RMV requires 750 pre-orders of specialty plate designs before it can begin production. Visit springfieldmuseums.org/seuss-plate to order a Dr. Seuss plate.

“Who doesn’t smile when they see the Cat in the Hat?” state Rep. Carlos Gonzalez asked. “This iconic plate would not only celebrate Dr. Seuss’s literary contributions, but also remind us of the joy, imagination, and inspiration he continues to bring to generations. Let’s proudly display this plate on our vehicles, spreading the magic of Dr. Seuss’s world wherever we go.”

Once the 750-order minimum is reached, the Springfield Museums will contact those who have already placed orders to thank them for their patience and to explain the next steps.

“Millions of people have found true joy in reading and learning, thanks to Dr. Seuss,” state Sen. Adam Gomez said. “These license plates are a wonderful and very visible tribute to his genius — and a reminder of his roots right here in Springfield.”

Anyone with questions about the Dr. Seuss license-plate campaign should contact Czupryna at (413) 314-6458 or [email protected].

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Local law firm Shatz, Schwartz and Fentin announced that eight of its lawyers have been awarded in the 2024 editions of The Best Lawyers in America and Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America.

The following attorneys received special designations from Best Lawyers, including Lawyer of the Year and Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America:

• Attorney Steven Schwartz was named a Lawyer of the Year in the field of business organizations (including LLCs and partnerships). He was also chosen for The Best Lawyers in America in the fields of business organizations (including LLCs and partnerships), closely held companies and corporate law.

• Attorney Gary Fentin was named a Lawyer of the Year in the fields of banking and finance law and commercial transactions/uniform commercial code (UCC) law.

• Attorney Carol Cioe Klyman was named a Lawyer of the Year in the fields of elder law and trusts and estates.

• Managing Partner Timothy Mulhern was named a Lawyer of the Year in the fields of corporate law and tax law.

• Attorney Steven Weiss was named a Lawyer of the Year in the fields of bankruptcy and creditor debtor rights/insolvency and reorganization law.

• Attorney Mark Esposito was named to Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America in the fields of commercial litigation and litigation ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­– labor and employment.

The following attorneys were selected by their peers for inclusion in the 2024 edition of The Best Lawyers in America:

• Attorney Michele Feinstein was recognized in the fields of trusts and estates litigation, elder law, and trusts and estates.

• Attorney James Sheils was recognized in the field of commercial transactions/ uniform commercial code (UCC) law.

Daily News

NORTH AMHERST — The Cars & Coffee auto-show series returns to the Mill District’s North Square with another free collectible and classic vehicle exhibition on Sunday, Aug. 20 from 8:30 a.m. to noon. And also returning is the chance for spectators to test-drive a Mercedes-Benz electric vehicle (EV).

“We’re expecting two vehicles, a Mercedes-Benz EQS and GLB, to be on hand Sunday,” said Tim O’Brien of the Mill District. “Folks who’ve never experienced the unique driving experience of an EV will especially enjoy this opportunity.”

The Cars & Coffee concept has grown explosively across the U.S. as a car-collector and spectator phenomenon. By emphasizing a laid-back, everyone-welcome format, the shows typically attract a widely different mix of vehicles — and car-curious onlookers — each time they’re held.

The June edition of the series set a record with more than 70 vehicles on display, plus a new record model-year span. The cars arriving that day ranged from a 1923 Ford Model T to a 2023 Chevy Corvette.

“A century’s worth of motoring diversity in one show really demonstrates the wide appeal of the Cars & Coffee format,” O’Brien added. “One hundred years is definitely the biggest difference we’ve seen so far, but that could change with the next show.”

Trophies will be awarded at 11:45 a.m. for the crowd’s favorite domestic, import, exotic, and best overall. Everyone submitting a ballot will be entered into a free drawing for one of three Mill District General Store gift cards.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Greater Springfield Habitat for Humanity (GSHFH) homeowner and local veteran Max needed help. The colonial home he purchased in the McKnight neighborhood in 2002 had become a hindrance. Max suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and rheumatoid arthritis, which makes climbing stairs to the second-floor bedrooms challenging. He expressed his concerns to Habitat, and together, they discovered a solution. Habitat, through its Veterans Build Home Preservation program, is building a downstairs bedroom and bathroom for the veteran and his wife, Gloria.

Veterans Build is a national Habitat for Humanity initiative that provides housing solutions and volunteer and employment opportunities for U.S. veterans, military service members, and their families. The program serves limited-income homeowners who are affected by age, disability, or family circumstances and struggle to maintain the condition and utility of their homes.

The home-preservation program provides affordable micro-loans to qualifying homeowners who need help with accessibility modifications, home weatherization, general home repairs, yard cleanup, and landscaping. GSHFH works alongside volunteers and homeowners to make repairs.

“Massachusetts has some of the oldest housing stock in the country, and many aging homeowners are unable to make needed repairs on their own,” said Aimee Giroux, GSHFH’s executive director. “We are happy to be able to help them through the repair process so they can continue to stay in their homes.”

Max, a former Marines corporal, qualified for the Veterans Build Home Preservation program and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Veterans Housing Rehabilitation and Modification Pilot Program. The pilot project gives competitive grants to nonprofits that serve veterans or low-income individuals. The grants can be used to rehabilitate eligible veterans’ primary residences. Purple Heart Homes is donating $15,000 while raising additional funds toward the project. Purple Heart Homes, a nonprofit charity, provides housing solutions for former military members who are disabled and/or have decided to age in place.

“Every act of generosity toward our veterans echoes a resounding commitment to honor their service and sacrifice. With deep gratitude, Purple Heart Homes is proud to contribute $15,000 to the Greater Springfield Habitat Humanity home-preservation project, ensuring veteran Maxwell finds solace and security in a place he can call home,” said John Gallina, CEO and co-founder of PHH. “Our mission extends beyond this gift, as we embark on a dedicated fundraising campaign to reach a goal of an additional $10,000. We believe we’re better together. In collaboration with Habitat for Humanity, we hope to build a legacy of compassion and support for those who have bravely defended our freedom.”


Getting a Refresh

Diana Szynal

Diana Szynal says the Springfield Regional Chamber is refreshing many of its events, including Super 60 and its Rise & Shine breakfasts.


That’s how many ‘engagements’ Diana Szynal estimates she had during her first year as president and CEO of the Springfield Regional Chamber of Commerce (SRC).

By this, she means in-person meetings, Zoom sessions, phone calls, emails, talks at networking events, and more. These engagements were with a number of different constituencies — chamber members, elected officials, economic-development leaders, directors of others chambers, and more.

And while she believes that’s an accurate number, it’s really just an estimate.

Whatever the total might be, it adds up to a lot of talking — and especially a lot of listening. Through all that listening, Szynal has determined a least a few things. The first is that there is a good deal of momentum concerning the chamber and many of its programs and events, as evidenced by the addition of 45 new members over the past fiscal year. The second is that there is room for change and, in some cases, improvement to better serve members as well as the region and its business community.

So, as Szynal begins her second year at the helm, changes are coming to everything from the chamber’s logo to its nearly 40-year-old Super 60 program; from its slate of breakfasts to its website.

Let’s start with Super 60, since it’s almost that time of year. Actually, it is that time of year, with nominations being sought for a revamped program that will honor businesses and institutions across five categories, not merely the traditional ‘Revenue Growth’ and ‘Total Revenue.’

The new categories are ‘Nonprofits,’ ‘Startups,’ and ‘Givebacks,’ a measure of how much a business gives back to the community. These additions, said Szynal, should provide new layers of intrigue and excitement for a program that hasn’t seem much change over its existence, while also bringing some new businesses to the podium for the awards ceremony.

“What we want to accomplish with these new categories is recognition that there are different measures of success,” she explained. “And it’s a way to award more members across various sectors for their success.”

Beyond Super 60, the chamber will be changing its look with a new logo and tagline, retiring ‘Connect2Commerce,’ she said, adding that this initiative is a work in progress, as is work on the website to make it more user-friendly. Meanwhile, the slate of events for the 2023-24 calendar year has been finalized, and there will be something of note each month, including themed Rise & Shine breakfasts to highlight different sectors of the business community, including sports-related ventures, hospitals, nonprofits, and manufacturers.

“Housing is really a challenge here in the Commonwealth, and particularly in Western Mass. When you think about the barriers to success, oftentimes, the roads lead back to a lack of housing.”

On the legislative side, the chamber will continue its strong track record of advocacy with its legislative steering committee, she said, adding that a housing subcommittee has been added to address an issue identified as a priority by the governor, state legislators, and all of the region’s mayors.

“Housing is really a challenge here in the Commonwealth, and particularly in Western Mass.,” she said. “When you think about the barriers to success, oftentimes, the roads lead back to a lack of housing.”

Overall, Szynal said, the chamber is focused on working to better serve, promote, and connect members, while also forging new and stronger partnerships with other area chambers and economic-development agencies, especially the Western Massachusetts Economic Development Council (EDC).

For this issue and its focus on Springfield, we take an in-depth look at the many ways the SRC is getting a refresh, and what these changes mean for the agency and the region’s business community.


Progress Report

When she talked with BusinessWest just after taking the helm at the chamber last summer, Szynal said her first year in that position would be a time to listen and learn.

And is has been exactly that.

The listening, as noted earlier, has been a constant, involving voices with many different constituencies. The learning, meanwhile, has been about Greater Springfield — Szynal, while from this region, has lived and worked mostly in Franklin and Hampshire counties — but also about chambers, this chamber in particular, and what it should be doing to better serve both its members and the region.

What has emerged from this listening and learning is a strategic plan of sorts, one with many components, starting with a focus on collaboration and building partnerships, especially with other chambers in this region, but also other agencies focused on business and economic development.

Szynal said the leaders of the Hampden County chambers now meet every other month. Collectively, they’re piecing together plans for a multi-chamber event — details to come — to take place next March.

“We’re forming really good relationships and seeing how we can work together to each provide better value to our members,” she said, adding that SRC is also working more closely with the EDC on several fronts, especially legislation and advocacy, with Szynal now chairing the EDC’s legislative committee.

“The chamber really hangs its hat on its legislative advocacy and the structure we’ve built around that,” she noted. “But then, forming a bond with the EDC and working together with them on some things will be really great for both of our memberships.”

Meanwhile, the SRC and the EDC are both involved with the recently launched Massachusetts Chambers of Commerce Policy Network, comprised of 10 members from across the state, with plans to expand to include other chambers in 2024.

“The chamber really hangs its hat on its legislative advocacy and the structure we’ve built around that. But then, forming a bond with the EDC and working together with them on some things will be really great for both of our memberships.”

The network is designed to leverage the existing impact and on-the-ground knowledge of these local chambers to provide solutions to policy challenges that hinder the success of the state’s residents, employees, and businesses, Szynal said, adding that one recent issue it addressed was the need to rebuild trust in the state’s unemployment-insurance system after an audit found that $2.5 billion in federal money had been wrongly used by the Department of Unemployment Assistance.

Changes will also be coming to the SRC’s calendar of events, aimed at freshening some traditional programs and gatherings while also boosting participation. And the full slate has been finalized at a relatively early date, giving businesses more opportunity to plan.

The Rise & Shine breakfasts, which have seen a surge in attendance over the past year, have been expanded from four to five and, as noted, will now spotlight different sectors of the economy, starting with the one in September, which will put the focus on what Szynal called the ‘business of sports,’ which is becoming a steadily growing force in the reginal economy.

“We have a quite a few sports-related members, so we’re going to really paint a picture of the impact that sports have on a city,” she said, adding that other breakfasts will turn the spotlight on Springfield-area hospitals and their wide-ranging economic impact (October), nonprofits (January), business focused on the aging of the population (February), and Hampden County manufacturers, with a focus on how things are made (April).

Overall, there will be something every month, Szynal said, listing traditional events such as Super 60 (November), the annual Government Reception (December), the Outlook lunch (March), and a bulked-up Mayors Forum, with nine individuals taking part (May), as well as the annual Fire and Ice cocktail event in May and the annual meeting in June.

Getting back to Super 60, a program with a great deal of history and tradition (it started as the Fabulous 50 and was later expanded), Szynal said that, after more than three decades, it was certainly time for a refresh.

This year’s program will still feature 60 honorees, but, as noted, they will be in five categories, not the traditional two, with the additions designed to identify different ways to recognize excellence and “performance,” she said.

The Startups category will recognize newer, growing businesses, she noted, adding that revenue growth will be the yardstick. The Nonprofits category will be based on the percentage of an agency’s budget spent on programs.

The third addition, Givebacks, will be the most subjective of the five categories, she told BusinessWest, adding that a committee of three will weigh several factors — from the estimated value of what was donated (products, services, and more) to employee engagement — and assign a score.

There will be 12 winners in each category, she said, adding that the changes, which include a streamlined nomination process that allows the work to be done electronically, should breathe some new life into the program and bring new companies and nonprofits into the spotlight.

“We’re excited about these changes and think the business community will be excited as well,” she said, adding that nominations are due Sept. 8, and the annual recognition lunch will take place on Nov. 9 at the MassMutual Center.


Bottom Line

Returning to the matter of those estimated 349 engagements from her first year at the helm of the SRC, Szynal said the number is surely higher than that.

Whatever the total is, it represents a great deal of talking and listening, conversations that have translated into a number of action steps designed to make the chamber even more visible, impactful, and responsive to the needs of its members and the community, she said, adding these initiatives are a work in progress, in every sense of that phrase.


Community Spotlight

Community Spotlight


Natasha Dymnicki, assistant manager of Big Y’s Tower Square location, shows off the new facility, which is off to a solid start, according to company officials.

As he reflected on 16 years in office and his intention to serve another four, Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno said that, while much has been accomplished during his tenure in the corner office — the longest in the city’s history — “there is still considerable work to be done.”

And that assessment covers many different fronts — from public safety to revitalization of the city’s downtown; from working with the state to design and build a replacement for the troubled Roderick Ireland Courthouse to continuing efforts to improve neighborhoods; from schools to hospitality and tourism.

But it’s especially true when it comes to the broad issue of housing, which has been identified as a both a pressing need and a key ingredient in a formula to revitalize neighborhoods, including the downtown, and spur economic development.

Indeed, housing is at the heart of a number of projects at various stages of development in the city, from the long-awaited restoration of the former Court Square Hotel to the reimagining of the former Knox manufacturing building in the Mason Square neighborhood to the redevelopment of the former Gemini site in the South End.

“It will probably take a full year to really get settled in and fully understand all the nuances of this. It’s a different model, and we’ve been working through a lot of things like staffing and logistics.”

And housing will be at least part of the equation with several other initiatives, from the redevelopment of the Eastfield Mall on Wilbraham Road, which closed its doors last month, 55 years after it opened, to Sarno’s preferred resolution of the question of how best to replace the courthouse (more on that later).

“When you listen to Governor Healey and Lieutenant Governor Driscoll, every other word out of their mouth is housing,” the mayor said. “So, a lot of projects we’re pitching, including Eastfield Mall, have a housing component.”

Beyond housing, though, there are a number of intriguing and mostly positive developments in the city, said Sarno and Chief Development Officer Tim Sheehan, offering a list that includes:

• New restaurants in the Worthington Street/Bridge Street corridor;

• The new Big Y market in Tower Square, a unique addition to the landscape made possible by ARPA money;

• New additions to the outdoor marketing menu, also made possible by ARPA money;

• Some real momentum at MGM Springfield almost five years to the day since it opened; the past three quarters have been the best recorded by the facility when it comes to gross gaming revenue;

• An ambitious infrastructure project involving the ‘X’ in the Forest Park neighborhood, one that is designed to improve traffic flow in that area but also spur business development;

• A project to replace the Civic Center parking garage, a state-funded project that will not only provide needed parking, but also activate neighboring space and create an area outside the MassMutual Center similar to Lansdowne Street outside Fenway Park;

• Considerable response from the development community to a request for proposals to redevelop the vacant or underutilized properties across Main Street from MGM Springfield; and

• Vibrancy downtown, highlighted by a weekend in June when the IRONMAN competition coupled with performances by Bruno Mars and Tina Fey and Amy Poehler brought 50,000 people to MGM Springfield facilities.

“Downtown was alive, it was electric … you had to wait to get a seat at restaurants; this is the kind of vibrancy we want downtown,” Sarno said, adding that there have been many weekends like this over the past several years, and more to come.

The former Knox automobile manufacturing plant in Mason Square

The former Knox automobile manufacturing plant in Mason Square is one of many properties in the city being converted to housing, or to feature a housing component.

As for MGM, the mayor said the casino, the city’s largest taxpayer, has become a partner on many levels — with the city and state on projects like Court Square, and with area nonprofits on several different initiatives — and a key contributor to the vibrancy downtown. “They’ve been critically important to the nightlife of the city, and they’ve been a good corporate citizen.”

For this, the latest installment of its Community Spotlight, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at the latest developments in the City of Homes, which is focused on many initiatives, but especially creating … well, more homes.


What’s in Store?

Reflecting on the few first months the Big Y Market has been open in Tower Square, Clair D’Amour-Daley, the company’s vice president of Corporate Affairs, said it’s going to take more than a few months for this picture to come fully into focus and this unique model to fully develop.

By that, she meant this concept is something totally new, not just for Big Y, but in the broad grocery-store realm itself — at least as far as she and others at the company can determine.

“We have nothing like it, and I’m not sure we’ve been able to model anything quite like it,” she said, adding that this is, in many respects, a scaled-down version of a Big Y supermarket, maybe one-fifth the size of a traditional store, offering many but certainly not all of the items available in one of the larger markets. It was conceptualized to address the food desert that exists downtown, and also meet the identified needs of downtown office workers, as well as people coming into the city for various events and gatherings.

“There are three basic constituents for customers,” she said. “There’s the downtown workers, and there is obviously some ebb and flow there, but we’re coming to understand that market. The second part is the tourism piece, and it has its own cadence. And then, we’re still really learning to tap into the residential community downtown, and that’s significant; we have a lot of customers tell us that they no longer have to walk or otherwise get to our store on Memorial Avenue in West Springfield.

“We want to continue to create market-rate housing, but we’ve also been successful in doing workforce-development housing.”

“We’re learning all those things and learning what types of products to put in, although we’re trying not to make radical changes just yet,” D’Amour-Daley went on. “It will probably take a full year to really get settled in and fully understand all the nuances of this. It’s a different model, and we’ve been working through a lot of things like staffing and logistics.”

Thus far, the store is off to a solid start, she said, adding quickly that, because the model is so different, Big Y is still trying to figure out how to accurately gauge results.

“There are so many variables, and we didn’t want to jump to conclusions right away,” she said. “But it’s been steady; we’re happy with where we are, and we’re just in a wait-and-see mode, waiting for things to settle.”

The Big Y project is one of many ARPA-funded initiatives aimed at helping businesses and, in this case, spurring economic development and improvements within specific neighborhoods, Sarno said, adding that, while most cities have dedicated the bulk of their ARPA funds to infrastructure work (and Springfield has done some of that), certainly, most of the more than $123 million has gone to help small businesses and individuals.

“More than 80% of the ARPA funds we’ve put out have gone to minority- and women-owned businesses,” he said. “We moved very quickly to help prime the pump and help businesses that wanted to stay open at the start of the pandemic and, in many cases, reinvent themselves.”


At Home with the Idea

As noted earlier, perhaps the biggest priority for the city moving forward, from the standpoint of both neighborhood improvements and economic development, is housing, the mayor said.

Tim Sheehan, the city’s chief Development officer, agreed, noting that housing is either being planned for, or at least contemplated, at a wide range of sites. That list includes the former School Department building on State Street as well as another project at 310 State St.; the Mardi Gras property on Worthington Street, recently sold by its owner, James Santaniello, for $2.3 million, and other properties on Worthington; the Eastfield Mall site; the properties across Main Street from MGM Springfield, including the Clocktower Building and the Fuller Block; the former Gemini Corp. factory site on Central Street in the South End; a former warehouse building on Lyman Street; and others.

This is in addition to the 90 units being built at the former Knox Automobile factory at 53 Wilbraham Road, a project being undertaken by First Resource Development Corp., which has developed a number of properties in the city, including the former Indian Motocycle manufacturing facility across Wilbraham Road from the Knox property, as well as the Court Square development (75 units), a project at 169 Maple St., and the completed redevelopment of the former Willys-Overland building on Chestnut Street as the Overland Lofts.

This housing comes in many different forms, from ownership housing at the Eastfield Mall site to various types of apartments, including affordable units and another category that is called “workforce-development housing,” Sarno explained.

“We want to continue to create market-rate housing, but we’ve also been successful in doing workforce-development housing,” he noted, referencing housing that, in the case of the Court Square project, is limited to tenants making 80% of the region’s median income. “That’s an important component of what we’re doing, and we need to do this because there’s a housing crisis in the Commonwealth and across the country.”

The mayor went on to say that these housing projects and other types of developments, including new restaurants in the downtown area, convey confidence in the city, its leadership, and its future.

“When I first came into office, people weren’t interested in Springfield — we were second, maybe third on their list,” he recalled. “People would say, ‘what can you expect from Springfield?’ Now, people say, ‘why not Springfield?’”

Sheehan concurred, noting that housing is the preferred reuse for those vacant or underutilized properties across Main Street from the casino.

The city recently issued a request for proposals for redevelopment of those properties and received what he categorized as a very solid response from the development community.

“There were five companies responding — two locals and three nationals,” he said, adding that the city expects to name a preferred developer by the end of this month.

The even better news, he said, is that the nationals were “looking for more” — as in more properties around that area to develop. And there are plenty of them.

“There is a significant amount of underutilization of property in that area,” Sheehan told BusinessWest. “There are portfolios of properties that haven’t been fully utilized for quite some time. The owners have put out pieces of their portfolios to their market, but there is much more to be developed.”


A Developing Story

Beyond housing, one of the more pressing issues confronting the city is the fate of the Roderick Ireland Courthouse, the 47-year-old structure that has taken on the name the ‘sick courthouse,’ by employees and others, because of intense breakouts of mold and other issues.

The state has vowed to address these issues, and in June, Gov. Maura Healey announced that the state will commit an initial $106 million toward replacement of the courthouse, a project that will carry a price tag of $400 million to $500 million and could take several years to resolve.

At present, there is no clear path forward, Sheehan said, noting that, also in June, the state Division of Capital Asset Management and Management issued a report identifying 13 properties (11 of them in Springfield and most of them in the downtown area) as potential sites where a new courthouse may land.

The sites were ranked according to factors like proximity to downtown Springfield, access to public transportation, and the physical capacity to accommodate the operations of several courts, and the address topping the list is 50 State St., where the courthouse currently stands. That ranking would appear to favor a plan to move the court to a temporary facility, spend whatever is necessary to renovate the existing structure (or, more likely, build a new one its place), and then move the court back to that address.

Sarno told BusinessWest that considerable time, expense, and aggravation could be saved if the state would embrace a site owned by developer — and Peter Pan Bus Chairman — Peter Picknelly, who has forwarded a proposal for a multi-use development along the riverfront that would include the courthouse, office space, housing, and a marina. The site, which combines property on East Columbus and West Columbus avenues and Clinton and Avocado streets, is on the state’s list of ranked properties, but quite far down: ninth, in fact.

“That’s a game changer,” Sarno said of the Picknelly proposal, which he believes will not only simplify the process of creating a new courthouse, but also spur new development in the city’s North Blocks area. “When I talk to the people at the court, they want to move once, not two or three times. We think we have a very viable proposal in the Picknelly site, and we’re going to continue to pursue it.”

Sheehan said the Picknelly site — or any other site other 50 State St. — would afford the city the opportunity to also redevelop the current courthouse property, which sits across State Street from MGM Springfield and is just a few hundred feet from I-91.

“You would want to have development on that site that is directly related to the anchors around it,” Sheehan said, referring to not only MGM Springfield and the MassMutual Center, but also the housing being built at Court Square and other locations, as well as the Old First Church at 50 Elm St. Built in 1810, the historic structure was sold to the city in 2008 and is currently rented out for weddings and other events.

As Springfield waits for the state to make up its mind on the courthouse, other intriguing projects are moving forward, including the redevelopment of the Eastfield Mall.

The last tenants in the facility moved out in early July, and demolition of the complex is set to begin as early as later this month, Sheehan said, adding that a mix of retail, housing, and support businesses are planned for the site.


X Marks the Spot

Meanwhile, in Forest Park, plans have emerged for major infrastructure work at the ‘X,’ the intersection of Belmont Avenue, Sumner Avenue, and Dickinson Street. This is another historic area, and a dangerous intersection, said Sheehan, noting that it has been the site of numerous accidents over the years.

The planned improvements will include modification of traffic patterns, updates to signal equipment, updates to signal coordination, the addition of five-foot bicycle lanes, reconstruction and reconfiguration of sidewalks and pedestrian facilities, accessibility upgrades, the conversion of the Belmont Avenue and Commonwealth Avenue intersection into a roundabout, and more.

“Ultimately, we’re creating a better pedestrian environment, while also looking at how those infrastructure improvements can spur more commercial activity in the area,” Sheehan said, adding that, while there are already a significant number of retail, service, and hospitality-related businesses in that area, there are obvious opportunities for more in each category.

As there are throughout the City of Homes, which stands at its own crossroads of challenge and promise.


Beyond a Living Wage

This is the second article in a monthly series examining how area colleges and universities are partnering with local businesses, workforce-development bodies, and other organizations to address professional-development needs in the region. One college will be featured each month.

In explaining why Greenfield Community College is an ideal fit for the Community College Workforce Transformation & Implementation cohort, Kristin Cole, vice president of Workforce Development at GCC, pointed to a series of criteria that New America — the national public-policy think tank that launched the program — considers in judging an effective workforce program.

“Number one is labor-market outcome. Programs should link to high-quality jobs that provide at least a living wage,” she told BusinessWest. “And that’s what we ask, too. Is this preparing someone for a job that builds into a career with a sustaining wage? If the answer is no, that’s not the kind of program we want to build here. We’re creating programs to be a bridge to financial stability.”

GCC is one of just 15 community colleges in the U.S. — and the only institution in New England — chosen to participate in the cohort by New America. The selection gives GCC’s Workforce Development office unique access to best practices, tools, research, and experts to implement innovations in workforce equity.

Kristin Cole

Kristin Cole

“Is this preparing someone for a job that builds into a career with a sustaining wage? If the answer is no, that’s not the kind of program we want to build here.”

“We’re honored to have been selected to join this impressive cohort. Our inclusion means a lot to our own equity efforts at GCC but means even more to the region, as GCC can become a leader in building a more equitable workforce throughout Franklin and Hampshire counties,” Cole explained. “Working closely with regional employers and community partners like the MassHire Franklin Hampshire Workforce Board, GCC is laser-focused on accelerating the development of high-quality and affordable workforce-training programs with credentials that will lead to quality jobs and careers for all members of our community.”

The work, which will take place over the next 18 months, will assist GCC in implementing policies to better align workforce and economic development, modernize college-wide data infrastructure, and diversify the financing of workforce programs to better serve the residents and employers of Franklin and Hampshire counties, Cole noted — goals that line up with New America’s own intentions for the program.


Capacity, Data, and Funding

According to the think tank, the cohort’s first focus area is about building the capacity of colleges to meet the current economic demand in their communities while also contributing to economic development and emerging jobs in their regions. At many colleges, it notes, workforce programs are distributed across the college, and not all colleges have a senior leader with oversight over all those programs who can develop a strategic vision for economic development and align workforce programs with the needs of the community.

Some colleges, therefore, need to build out staffing models and structures, including workforce advisory boards, for broader engagement with community partners. Many colleges cite a need to grow partnerships with employers, local and federal government agencies, community-based organizations, and other entities that can provide work-based learning opportunities and job placements for students and/or funding to develop and expand in-demand programs.

Many colleges, New America notes, are focused on how their programs can better serve the economic needs of their students and communities. Some want to create new-short term credentials, and others want to expand apprenticeships and pre-apprenticeships. Others want to create more seamlessness across programs, especially allowing students to ‘stack’ programs so students who complete non-credit programs can continue in for-credit programs without starting from square one.

“We really engage our employer partners up here,” Cole said, also praising the connecting work of the MassHire Franklin Hampshire Workforce Board. “We want our learners to know that the first credential is a launching pad; it’s not the final destination. We’ll continue to help them add licensures to their résumé so their income levels will rise. New America has been focused on this work for a long time. How do we plan and deliver high-quality workforce-development programs at community colleges across the nation?”

New America’s second focus area is data — specifically, what data colleges need to understand the labor market and program outcomes, how colleges can collect this data, and how they can use it to launch programs and evaluate existing ones.

Some colleges still need to update their data systems and employ more sophisticated tools to better store and analyze their data, the organization notes. Most colleges need to gather more labor-market information, like what training is needed by employers, and they have questions about what data sources are accurate and up-to-date. They also need to better track program completion rates and information about graduates’ job placements and salaries.

The last focus area is financing: how to pay for the startup and operation of high-quality workforce programs.

“The colleges in our cohort are very interested in finding new funding streams, including state and federal funds, to diversify the financing of their workforce programs,” New America notes. “Many colleges across the country knit together many funding sources, from grant funding to state operational funding to student fees, to make these programs work, and they are very interested in finding new sources of revenue to improve their capacity and support services for students.”

It notes that the 15 cohort colleges would also like additional help to explain the value and return on investment of these programs to external audiences so they are more likely to invest in workforce programs. “Communicating how these programs have a substantial impact on the lives of graduates and the communities where they live is a vital part of creating sustainable funding models. Our colleges are particularly interested in communicating to state and federal policymakers and foundations or individuals who might donate to the college. We will also cover how to communicate the ROI to employers to leverage both in-kind and financial donations to the programs they benefit from.”

Cole said GCC has been committed to helping students succeed in ways that will lead to sustainable wages and promising careers, not just a degree or certificate, and part of that has been recognizing barriers to success.

Fifteen months ago, the college received a $735,000 state grant allowing it to offer free workforce-training programs, but also provide critical wraparound supports to learners dealing with barriers like transportation, clothing, and other basic needs.

“Our resource navigators meet with students to identify barriers that threaten their ability to persist and proceed and learn. Now we’re able to provide resources directly to students — gift cards, groceries, gas, laptops from the lending library, hotspots for homework, work clothing, like scrubs, when appropriate. We have a really strong relationship with our community partners for additional support needs.

“This direct support has been a game changer for building trust and confidence with learners,” she went on. “They know GCC is here to support them through finding sustainable employment and beyond.”


Regional Benefits

In introducing the Community College Workforce Transformation & Implementation program, New America points out that artificial intelligence is poised to disrupt work as we know it, with many jobs expected to be automated over the coming years. At the same time, the American labor market is slowing, particularly for Black Americans, with rising interest rates meant to rein in inflation.

“American workers face an uncertain future,” it notes. “To address these challenges, we need a system that supports people retraining for the jobs that are available and can sustain a family. That’s where community-college workforce programs come in.”

The 15 colleges in the initial cohort represent 12 states and a mix of rural, suburban, and urban communities. They collectively educate over 181,000 students, with the smallest (like GCC) serving around 2,000 students and the largest more than 34,000. Four of the colleges are Hispanic-serving institutions.

“The innovations that these colleges want to implement provide a window into how community colleges across the country are looking to strengthen workforce programs,” New America notes.

GCC President Michelle Schutt added that “being selected into the Community College Workforce Transformation & Implementation cohort with New America is a momentous accomplishment for Greenfield Community College. Intentional focus on workforce equitability will benefit the entire Pioneer Valley.”


Testing, Testing

Megan Dobro

Megan Dobro turned a passion for cannabis testing, and a clear market opportunity, into a successful lab.

When Megan Dobro earned a degree in molecular biology from Caltech, she wasn’t thinking about a career in cannabis, which wasn’t even legal in Massachusetts back then.

But life has a way of posing challenges — and opportunities. Often in quick succession.

“I was on the faculty at Hampshire College. And then, shortly after getting tenure, they announced major financial trouble, and everyone scrambled and tried to figure out what to do,” Dobro recalled. “By then, the cannabis market was legal in Massachusetts, but there were only two labs, and that was the real bottleneck of the industry. So I started consulting for labs and then got really passionate about cannabis testing.”

So much that she took what she calls “a big leap of faith” to start her own company, SafeTiva Labs, in Westfield. She founded the enterprise in 2020 and opened last fall — an indication that the licensing process for cannabis testing moves as slowly as it does for dispensaries and cultivators.

“I just had a vision. There were no labs in Western Mass.,” she said. “But there were tons of big grow facilities because building square footage out here is cheaper than in Boston. Everyone was growing cannabis here and then having to drive it across the state to get it tested every week. So Western Mass. needed something. All of that, combined with my eagerness for a new career adventure, led to this.”

Dobro raised funds, purchased a former manufacturing facility, and converted it into a laboratory with not only cutting-edge equipment, but the safety and security measures required by the Cannabis Control Commission.

That was the challenge; the opportunity was the fact that labs weren’t proliferating around the state like dispensaries were, and she believed she could stand out in a limited field — and do the job more efficiently than existing labs, especially considering the proliferation of cannabis sales.

“The labs were really jammed, and it was taking eight weeks for licensed cultivators to get their results back. And in that eight weeks, they can’t do anything with their products. They don’t know the process. They can’t start packaging it. So it was really halting the industry,” she explained. “So I built this with turnaround time in mind. Everything was built for efficiency, for automation and advanced technology.”

By the time Dobro opened SafeTiva, there were more labs in the region, but she still aims for quick response, whether her client is a large grower, a manufacturer, or even a home grower, consumer, or concerned parent looking to test a small sample.

“Everyone was growing cannabis here and then having to drive it across the state to get it tested every week. So Western Mass. needed something.”

“Turnaround times across the state have come down, but they’re still longer than they need to be,” she said. “So that’s our big badge of honor and our point of differentiation: our turnaround time is under two days. And we’re pretty consistent about that.”


Great Chemistry

Testing is a necessary facet of the cannabis trade, Dobro said. “Every 15 pounds of flower or every batch of manufactured product has to go through a third-party, licensed testing lab,” she said. “We test for pesticides, solvents, the potency of the products, that it’s labeled accurately, and for contamination, heavy metals, and other safety requirements. It’s a required step in the process.”

To show how this is done, she gave BusinessWest a tour of the SafeTiva facility, starting with a traditional chemistry lab where team members extract the specific components being tested for. “There’s a pesticide method; there’s a solvent method. We test terpenes, which affect the flavor and smells of the cannabis. So everything has its own prescribed method that our lab team will conduct here in the sample lab.”

Across the hall is a small room where samples are tested for heavy metals, like lead, mercury, cadmium, and arsenic. “Metals will survive almost anything. They’re really hard to break down,” she said. “So the goal is to get everything else out of the sample so all that’s left are the metals. We digest it at really high heat.”

Up front, samples come in through the window and have to be logged with the state’s tracking system to make sure product isn’t being diverted anywhere. “Security is very tight with this,” she said.

After the tour, Dobro sat down to talk about other challenges in the cannabis-testing realm.

“There isn’t standardization across the labs because the regulations are really vague, so every lab is doing it differently. So results are different,” she explained. “And that leads to lab shopping, where growers can send their products to the lab they choose based on the results they like. That leads to lots of complaints about things not being labeled accurately, things passing that shouldn’t have passed.

“So, for us, we always emphasize honesty and ethics in what we do, and we make sure we’re telling all of our clients, ‘these are all the ways we do our quality checks and this is how our staff are trained,’ and we’re checking all the time to make sure things are accurate,” she went on. “But the state isn’t checking on that. So there’s a range of accuracy among the labs.”

Amid those inconsistencies across the industry, Dobro wants to be known as not only an accurate and ethical lab, but a valued partner to other businesses.

“We pride ourselves on delivering a really great service and giving our clients valuable data that informs their practices,” she explained. “So we hope that our clients don’t view us just as a necessary hurdle they have to jump through to get their product to market, but that we’re a valuable part of the process that provides data for them.”

“We hope that our clients don’t view us just as a necessary hurdle they have to jump through to get their product to market, but that we’re a valuable part of the process that provides data for them.”

Steven Lynch, director of Sales and Marketing at SafeTiva, agreed. “One of our goals is to take a transactional element out of the testing process,” he said. “In the time I’ve been with the lab, I don’t want to say we’re looked at in an adversarial fashion, but I think we’re looked at as a positive resource, so they can learn how to do things better on their end from a cultivation standpoint.”

Meanwhile, testing labs feel the ongoing financial squeeze across the industry that has some dispensaries closing and others wondering if they’ll stay afloat as profits tumble (see story on page 18).

“We’re a required service, so what we do is very expensive. Between our equipment, our staff, and reagents, it’s really expensive to run a lab,” Dobro told BusinessWest. “But it’s very difficult for producers to pay for services like this when their margins are already so tight. But then, it’s necessary for consumer safety. And we don’t want to cut any corners on this end, because that’s when bad things happen.”

That said, while cannabis testing labs aren’t technically recognized as legal federally, they’re also not subject to the burdensome tax requirements of growers, manufacturers, and retailers.

“While we are plant touching, we’re not buying or selling cannabis,” she noted. “We’re in a gray area because we’re here for consumer safety. We’re a necessary part of the legal market. Without us, it’s the free for all that the black market was. So I think they want us to stay put; they don’t want to give us too much trouble.”


Confidence Boost

Dobro’s life is busy these days; she is also the owner of an event-rental and design company, the Borrowed Teacup, and is still an associate professor of Biology at Hampshire College.

But SafeTiva has occupied more of her time this past year, which has been an interesting one, to say the least, in a sector that is still rapidly evolving and, in some cases, may be starting to contract.

“I think this year is going to be very interesting. I’m hopeful that we’re going in the right direction, where the shakeout is going to benefit those who are really passionate about what they do, the local growers who make really great product and don’t cut corners. If that happens, then I think the products consumers see in dispensaries will be that much better. Those who had no business being in this industry in the first place will leave and not be here anymore.”

Despite the competition, she also senses a certain camaraderie and shared experience among Massachusetts’ cannabis pioneers. “All the time, we tour facilities and hear the passion these growers have for their product. That’s the excitement that I’m hoping sticks around for Massachusetts.”

The day of BusinessWest’s tour, Dobro was getting ready for a visit by members of the Cannabis Control Commission; she invited them for a tour because she believes in the importance of open dialogue between the commission and businesses of all kinds, including labs.

“We should all be on the same side,” she said. “We’re testing for public safety. So I’m hoping they’re listening to the labs, trying to standardize the labs, so consumers can ultimately have confidence in what’s on the label.”

Architecture Environment and Engineering

Thinking Outside the Bridge

By Daniel Holmes and Andrea Lacasse

The new modular, prefabricated truss bridge

The new modular, prefabricated truss bridge rests on the existing abutments and is secured to the reconstructed bridge seat.
Photo by Tighe & Bond

The Town of Great Barrington was faced with a substantial challenge: one of its main bridges, the Division Street bridge, connecting two state routes, had to be shut down due to deterioration and safety concerns. This created a significant detour for local traffic as well as upsetting an important truck route, causing congestion in the downtown area. The town acted quickly to find a solution that would not only be cost-effective and work within an expedited schedule, but would benefit the local communities and all who use the bridge.

The town engaged Tighe & Bond to review the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s (MassDOT) inspection reports for all town-owned bridges crossing the Housatonic River. It soon became clear that the bridge on Division Street over the Housatonic River needed rehabilitation and potentially a complete structure replacement.

The original, 138-foot, single-span, through-truss bridge was constructed in 1950 and carried two 10-foot traffic lanes with no sidewalks or breakdown lanes. The bridge has always been a popular area for hiking, biking, walking, and fishing, as well as an important truck route connecting Route 7 to Route 41, keeping truck traffic out of downtown Great Barrington. In addition, Division Street is an important artery for local traffic and the agricultural community.

With the potential for the bridge to be closed entirely, Tighe & Bond got to work developing cost estimates for varying levels of rehabilitation and/or complete replacement of the bridge to provide the town with the most cost-effective design solutions for the bridge.

In 2019, a town meeting voted to appropriate funding to replace the bridge. Soon after, Tighe & Bond began data collection and preliminary engineering as well as a bridge-replacement alternatives analysis. However, while the replacement bridge was being designed, the due diligence of a MassDOT special member inspection and subsequent load rating report found that three structural elements were rated at zero capacity, and the bridge was closed immediately. This created a five-mile detour, causing additional congestion for Great Barrington’s downtown area.

With the bridge closed, the town requested Tighe & Bond refocus on emergency repairs to reopen the bridge as quickly as possible. Tighe & Bond and the town reached out to MassDOT to switch gears and begin the design of emergency repairs for the three zero-rated elements to reopen the bridge to local traffic as quickly and safely as possible.

“To avoid a prolonged closure of the Division Street bridge, Tighe & Bond proposed to the town a temporary superstructure replacement, which would allow the critical crossing to reopen until the permanent bridge replacement was installed.”

Through further examination of the inspection and load rating results, MassDOT indicated that the bridge deterioration had advanced to a point where rehabilitation would not be possible, and a complete replacement would be required. MassDOT then informed the town it would be able to get the bridge on the State Transportation Improvement Plan and the state would replace the bridge, but it would effectively delay the reopening of the new bridge for several years until the necessary funds could be allocated, design completed, and construction executed. The estimated reopening date was sometime in 2027.

To avoid a prolonged closure of the Division Street bridge, Tighe & Bond proposed to the town a temporary superstructure replacement, which would allow the critical crossing to reopen until the permanent bridge replacement was installed.

The town reallocated funds from the town-funded bridge replacement into an accelerated reopening of the bridge with a temporary superstructure replacement. Tighe & Bond evaluated the existing abutments for reuse to determine if they were sufficient to continue to support the same load. The team of engineers determined that the existing abutments could support the same load and could be reused for the project.

aerial view

This aerial view shows the old truss being removed by cranes.
Photo by Tighe & Bond

To accommodate the town’s request of eliminating the previous load restriction while reusing the existing abutments, Tighe & Bond engineers proposed a single-lane modular truss with a cantilevered pedestrian walkway. The single-lane traffic could be controlled with new traffic signals, effectively reopening traffic flow along this important corridor while the town awaited the permanent bridge replacement.


Logistical and Environmental Challenges

With consensus on the design approach, time was of the essence, and the design team put the agreed-upon plan into action immediately. While Tighe & Bond mobilized the design team, the town continued its public outreach effort, keeping the local community informed through Select Board meetings, social-media posts, and press releases. Tighe & Bond participated in several town meetings to provide answers to technical questions and support the town’s effort.

There were a few unique challenges the team had to work around in order to make this project a success. For one thing, the permits would need to consider the potential impacts the superstructure replacement would have on rare and endangered species. The permitting process included a proactive conversation with the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program to discuss the potential impacts construction methods could have on three identified endangered species — creeper mussels, brook snaketail dragonflies, and longnose suckers — as well as potential actions that could be taken to minimize impacts.

Tighe & Bond adapted the solution of keeping all construction work out of the limits of the Housatonic riverbank, removing potential impacts to the river habitat below. Although this approach created challenges during construction, it reduced the overall project schedule by one year.

Another design challenge included working around energized overhead power lines encroaching onto the job site. Tighe & Bond coordinated with National Grid to relocate the power lines to provide contractors with space to execute their demolition and erection plans while adhering to OSHA guidelines, providing at least 10 feet of clearance.

“They were able to quickly pivot design plans to meet the needs of our community in a way that allowed us to ensure safe traffic flow, save the town money, and not disrupt habitats around the Housatonic River.”

Once the design phase was complete, the demolition and construction of the replacement bridge required all hands on deck in order to reopen the bridge before the winter of 2022. Every member of the project team was integral to the success of this project. This included the town of Great Barrington, Tighe & Bond (engineer of record), and Rifenburg Contracting Corp. (contractor), along with subcontractors Seifert Associates (construction engineer), Atlantic Coast Dismantling (demolition), Acrow (truss manufacturer), and Lapinski Electric (traffic signal).

Innovative demolition techniques were put into action to avoid work within the riverbank and the energized power lines encroaching on the job site. Using cranes on either approach, Seifert worked with Atlantic Dismantling to split the truss into two pieces using thermal lancing rods, then lifting the two halves and swinging them to a temporary location outside the riverbank for disassembly before being trucked off-site. This method resulted in the removal of the bridge without impacting the endangered species’ habitats in any way.

With the existing bridge removed, it was time to install the new modular, prefabricated truss bridge. Reuse of the existing abutments not only reduced cost and time, but also kept to the team’s commitment to protect the local endangered-species habitat. The abutments were modified to receive the new truss.

The new modular bridge was then constructed on the east side of the project area and ‘launched’ toward the west abutment as it was counterweighted to allow the bridge to extend approximately halfway across the span. Once safely at rest, the crane positioned behind the west abutment connected to the end of the bridge and lifted it while an excavator on the east aided in the remaining launch by pushing the bridge the remainder of the span, where it finally rested on both abutments and was secured to the reconstructed bridge seat.

With substantial efforts by all parties, the construction project was completed on time and on budget with no change orders issued.


Future Opportunities

The collaborative partnership between the project team resulted in Division Street being open to traffic once again. In addition, the new modular, prefabricated truss bridge will remain a resource to Great Barrington going forward. Not only can the town use the new truss bridge for Division Street, once the bridge is permanently replaced by MassDOT, the town can either sell the truss bridge to help fund future projects or reuse the bridge for any future needs that may arise, saving time and money.

“Tighe & Bond and the entire team did a great job with this project. They were able to quickly pivot design plans to meet the needs of our community in a way that allowed us to ensure safe traffic flow, save the town money, and not disrupt habitats around the Housatonic River,” Great Barrington Town Manager Mark Pruhenski said. “We look forward to driving over the bridge every day.”


Daniel Holmes is a senior project manager, and Andrea Lacasse is a structural engineer, at Tighe & Bond. Contributing to this article are Emily White, proposal and content management specialist, and Regina Sibilia, marketing and communications specialist.

Women in Businesss

A Leap Well-taken

Meghan Rothschild

Meghan Rothschild says she wanted her firm to inspire and empower women business owners to find their voice.


As her boutique marketing firm celebrates 10 years in business this year, Meghan Rothschild can’t help but recall the doubts that crept in before she made the leap as an entrepreneur.

“I remember as if it were yesterday, the night I had decided to go full-time with the company, lying in bed next to my husband, just in sheer panic,” she recalled. “‘What if it fails? What if I fail?’ I just kept asking him over and over again. And he was like, ‘if you fail, we’ll figure it out, but you have to leap for the net to appear.’”

Even after creating Chikmedia, Rothschild wasn’t sure whether it would remain a side gig alongside her other pursuits. “I never wanted to be a business owner. I remember people asking me, ‘will you ever go full-time with that company you started?’ And I’d be like, ‘no way. I want nothing to do with being responsible for other people’s income, for being responsible for my own revenue. I don’t want the stress of that.’ So … I am amazed.”

To mark the occasion, on Aug. 9, Rothschild and her team celebrated the 10-year anniversary at a party at TAP Sports Bar at MGM Springfield alongside clients, friends, and supporters — a milestone for which she’s grateful.

“I’ve always been a very driven person. I started working when I was 14 years old. I got my own bank account. I paid for my own stuff throughout high school, not because my parents made me, but because I just wanted to be responsible for myself,” she explained. “I put myself through undergrad and graduate school and got my master’s so that I could become a professor because I’m passionate about teaching. So I know I have the drive — but the fact that I’ve been able to successfully run a business for 10 years is still something I’m a little bit in awe of.”

Rothschild had been in marketing for eight years — with stints as Marketing and Promotions manager at Six Flags, Development and Marketing manager at the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, and director of Marketing and Communications at Wilbraham and Monson Academy — when she teamed up in 2013 with Emily Gaylord, who brought a strong design skillset to the partnership they called Chikmedia.

“ I know I have the drive — but the fact that I’ve been able to successfully run a business for 10 years is still something I’m a little bit in awe of.”

Gaylord eventually left the company to pour more of her time and passion into the Center for EcoTechnology, where she works as director of Communications and Relationship Development. Meanwhile, Rothschild was balancing ownership of Chikmedia with a full-time gig at IMPACT Melanoma. A skin-cancer survivor who had built a national platform for skin-safety advocacy (more on that later), she was working for IMPACT as Marketing and Public Relations manager when she realized she had to make a choice. Today, she knows she made the right one.

At its inception, Chikmedia focused mostly on social media, graphic design, and public relations, but has expanded since. “We’re a full-service, boutique firm. So we do everything,” she said. “We do graphic design, social-media management, PR, expert positioning, media pitching, grand openings, press events. We also do influencer marketing, which is what makes us really unique.”

The firm is sponsored by certain brands in the Western Mass. area and helps produce content to endorse their product lines, she added. “So we’re pretty comprehensive, but we are a small firm.”

In doing so, Chikmedia has won awards from the Telly Awards, the Advertising Club of Western Massachusetts, and Cosmopolitan. Its mission has always been to help small, women-led businesses thrive through “badass marketing” (Rothschild’s term), public relations, branding, and more.

From left, Chikmedia’s Jax Nash, Liza Kelly, Meghan Rothschild, and Jill Monson

From left, Chikmedia’s Jax Nash, Liza Kelly, Meghan Rothschild, and Jill Monson at the firm’s anniversary party on Aug. 9 at MGM Springfield.

The firm has also helped hundreds of women-owned businesses across the country; provided an annual scholarship called Chiks of the Future for women of color pursuing marketing, PR, and communication degrees; and hosted dozens of networking events over the years to connect female entrepreneurs with one another.

And, clearly, Rothschild isn’t done.


Women Helping Women

While not all Chikmedia clients are female-run companies, the company’s focus on women was important to Rothschild from the outset.

“I wanted to help inspire and empower women business owners to find their voice, learn how to market themselves, learn how to be in front of the camera, and really advance their own business. So that has been a core mission of Chikmedia since its inception.”

As a boutique firm, she explained, clients don’t get one dedicated account manager. “You’re going to get the full team, and you’re going to get customized work. You’re not going to get cookie-cutter templates. Everything we do is very strategic and customized based on who the client is.”

“You might be really good at what you do, but if you’re not good at leading, managing, communicating, setting strategy, and finding vision for your company, the other stuff is going to fall apart.”

In an era when many young entrepreneurs feel they can do their own marketing, Rothschild says it’s more complicated than they may realize.

“Why do you think you can do your own marketing? Because you have an Instagram page? That doesn’t mean anything,” she said. “You need to understand marketing strategy, you need to understand how to craft messages that are going to resonate with your intended audience, you need to understand how to analyze your Google Analytics and your website hits.

“And all of this plays together,” she went on. “You have to really assess your audience, where they are, how to find them, how to communicate effectively to them. So I always say to people, ‘you can try, but I’ll see you in a year.’ And that’s inevitably what ends up happening.”

Part of the challenge is keeping up with the evolution of modern marketing, especially in the realm of social media. A professor of social-media marketing at Springfield College, she said she has to reinvent her syllabus on a regular basis.

“My course content changes every year because some of what I was teaching five years ago is not relevant,” she noted. “I would say social media and digital marketing are probably the biggest ways in which the field has changed.”

But Rothschild brings more than expertise; she brings an attitude that’s unapologetically edgy and even “sassy,” she said, but also one that’s protective of work-life balance.

“We’re really good about setting boundaries and making sure our clients know you can’t text me at 9 o’clock at night and start talking about business,” she explained. “And you can’t make me wait three weeks for content and then expect me to turn something around the next day if I’ve been asking you for stuff. I’ve had a lot of clients say to me, ‘I really appreciate the boundaries that you’ve set and the clear communication that you’ve set.’ And they really like our sassy, creative energy that we bring to the table.”

She said her fight with melanoma age 20 was a factor in her philosophy about balancing work and life, and it’s something she instills in her employees as well.

“When I graduated from college, I immediately didn’t want to work crazy, crazy hours and miss family activities and miss out on milestones of my nieces and nephews. So I really had to find that work-life balance kind of immediately,” she said.

“So that’s another thing that I brought to the table when I started Chikmedia: we’re going to try really hard to be done by noon on Fridays so that people can unplug for the weekend and get ample time to recover. Because, in my opinion, a two-day weekend just doesn’t cut it.”

That policy extends to week-long company shutdowns around July 4 and between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

“We’re not allowed to email one another. We’re not allowed to email clients. And clients have learned, we’re unavailable that week — because you have to unplug; you have to give yourself space to recover.”


More Than Skin Deep

Rothschild’s own recovery from skin cancer changed her life going forward in many ways. She spent more than a decade as a melanoma-awareness advocate and became a national spokesperson for the American Academy of Dermatology and the Skin Cancer Foundation before working for IMPACT Melanoma.

“That really shaped a lot of my work and my ability to do PR effectively and be on camera,” she told BusinessWest. “I used to do tons of media interviews with Cosmopolitan and Marie Claire and Inside Edition — these huge, national outlets. So I had to learn really quickly how to be concise, how to get to the point, how to give good sound clips, which are now skills that I get to help my clients hone.”

She still works in skin awareness, including a partnership with TIZO, a national skincare brand with an SPF line. “We do something every year around Melanoma Awareness Month, which is in May. They actually just brought me to a beauty show in Dallas, Texas to give a lecture on my story and how to protect your skin.”

Rothschild is also working with the Melanoma Research Foundation, and one of Chikmedia’s clients is BrightGuard, a sunscreen-dispenser company that provides access to free sunscreen across the country. “So it’s been wonderful to be able to take that work that was so important to me and transition it into the work I do at Chikmedia.”

For aspiring entrepreneurs she meets at colleges, looking for advice in making the jump, Rothschild has some blunt advice.

“It’s not that I discourage them, but I look at them and say, ‘you need to understand that a lot of what is involved in running a business is stuff that you’re not going learn here. You need a few years of real-world work experience in order to be able to do it.’

“That’s the biggest thing that I try to express to my students: ‘I fully support your goals of wanting to be an entrepreneur, but you’re going to do it faster and better if you spend your first two or three years out of college in a full-time job setting, learning what it’s like to work with people, to manage people, to be a leader, learning what’s a P&L, what’s a budget, what’s a fiscal year?’

“You might be really good at what you do, but if you’re not good at leading, managing, communicating, setting strategy, and finding vision for your company, the other stuff is going to fall apart,” she went on. “I can’t tell you how many entrepreneurs I see who are so skilled at the craft and the service they provide. And then they decided to start their own company, and their team’s a mess, they have high turnover, and everybody is disgruntled because they don’t know how to effectively lead.”

Rothschild values her own education in that realm, which includes a master’s degree in corporate communication with a focus on leadership. But even that didn’t prepare her for the emotional weight of running a company and not only generating revenue for herself, but keeping women she cares about employed as well.

“I say to people all the time that you need to be ready to be strapped into a roller coaster full-time. Entrepreneurship is no joke; it is not for the faint of heart. There are extreme highs, and there are some low lows.”

“I say to people all the time that you need to be ready to be strapped into a roller coaster full-time. Entrepreneurship is no joke; it is not for the faint of heart. There are extreme highs, and there are some low lows.”

But the highs keep her going.

“I genuinely love marketing and PR. I don’t know what it is. I mean, there are days where I don’t, and I think to myself, ‘man, I should have gone with marine biology,’” Rothschild said with a laugh. “But I love content creation. I love my team. I love being out in the field … I really do enjoy it, and my team has made it so much fun.”


Back on the Job

The construction industry added 19,000 jobs in July even as the sector’s unemployment rate increased, according to an analysis of new government data by Associated General Contractors of America. Officials with the association noted that tight labor conditions are bringing more previously employed construction workers back into the job market as firms continue to boost pay levels.

“The construction industry continues to add workers at a steady clip as demand for many types of construction remains strong,” said Stephen Sandherr, the association’s CEO. “Firms are boosting pay to cope with tight labor-market conditions, which is bringing more former workers back into the job market.”

Construction employment in July totaled 7,971,000, seasonally adjusted, an addition of 19,000 compared to June. The sector has added 198,000 jobs, or 2.5%, during the past 12 months. Non-residential construction firms — non-residential building and specialty trade contractors along with heavy and civil-engineering construction firms — added 10,600 employees (3.1%) in July. Meanwhile, employment at residential building and specialty trade contractors grew by 7,800 (1.8%).

The unemployment rate among job seekers with construction experience rose from 3.5% in July 2022 to a still-low 3.9%. A separate government release reported there were 378,000 openings at construction firms on the last day of June, close to the record high for June set in 2022, indicating that demand for workers remains strong.

Average hourly earnings for production and non-supervisory employees in construction — covering most on-site craft workers as well as many office workers — jumped by 5.8% over the year to $34.24 per hour. Construction firms in July provided a wage ‘premium’ of just over 18% compared to the average hourly earnings for all private-sector production employees.

“The good news is that there remain private construction segments associated with rosier prospects, including manufacturing, data centers, and healthcare.”

Officials at Associated General Contractors of America noted that labor shortages in construction threaten to undermine new federal investments in infrastructure, semiconductor chip plants, and green-energy construction. They urged federal officials to boost funding for construction education and training programs, noting that the federal government currently spends five times as much encouraging students to go to college as it does on career and technical education programs.

“Unless federal officials begin to narrow the funding gap between college prep and career training, the construction industry will continue to struggle to find workers,” Sandherr said. “It is great that federal officials want to invest in construction projects; they also need to invest in construction workforce development.”

The report followed an Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) analysis of data published by the U.S. Census Bureau noting that national non-residential construction spending increased 0.1% in June. Spending is up 18% over the past 12 months. On a seasonally adjusted annualized basis, non-residential spending totaled $1.07 trillion in June.

Spending increased on a monthly basis in 12 of the 16 non-residential subcategories. Private non-residential spending was virtually unchanged, while public non-residential construction spending rose 0.3% in June.

“Non-residential construction spending growth downshifted over the past two months,” ABC Chief Economist Anirban Basu said. “While stakeholders can expect ongoing spending growth in public non-residential construction segments as more Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act monies flow into the economy, private, developer-driven activity appears to be drying up in the context of higher costs of capital and tighter credit conditions.

“Among other things, these dynamics will translate into larger spreads in performance among contractors,” Basu added. “While those that focus on public work stand to remain busy for years to come, those who specialize in meeting the needs of developers of office buildings, hotels, and shopping centers are likely to struggle to support backlog going forward. The good news is that there remain private construction segments associated with rosier prospects, including manufacturing, data centers, and healthcare.”