Daily News

HOLYOKE — Girl Scouts of Central and Western Massachusetts (GSCWM) announced that the nonprofit organization’s long-time CEO, Pattie Hallberg, is stepping down at the end of 2023, after 16 years of service to GSCWM.

“Pattie’s legacy at Girl Scouts of Central and Western Massachusetts is nothing short of extraordinary,” said Nicole Messier, GSCWM board president. “Her leadership has been instrumental in shaping the organization into what it is today. We are profoundly grateful for her unwavering dedication, expertise, and vision, which have empowered countless girls and women to embrace their potential. As we embark on this transition, we remain steadfast to upholding the values and mission that Pattie has championed throughout her tenure. The GSCWM board is committed to finding a worthy successor who will carry on Pattie’s legacy and uphold our mission to nurture the future female leaders of tomorrow.”

The GSCWM board will oversee the process to choose Hallberg’s successor, and has engaged the search firm Find Good People to assist with the transition.

“It has been my honor and a sincere privilege to lead Girl Scouts of Central and Western Massachusetts, an organization dedicated to the development of a girl’s personal leadership journey,” said Hallberg, who was named by BusinessWest to its Women of Impact class of 2020.

“I am proud of the organization we are today and the impact we’ve made, working with thousands of fabulous girls and adults to further the Girl Scout mission to build girls of courage, confidence, and character who make the world a better place,” she added. “Our sustainability through a global pandemic and our current growth both in membership and revenue represent the collective effort of an incredibly talented staff, a dedicated board of directors, generous funding partners, and an innovative and dedicated membership. I couldn’t be more excited about what’s next for this important organization.”

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Since 1935, the Student Prince and the Fort Restaurant have celebrated German tradition on Fort Street in Springfield. The city landmark, known for German foods and beer, rolls out the barrel for the Mighty Oktoberfest on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 6-7.

The Mighty Oktoberfest kicks off for two nights on Oct. 6 at 5:30 p.m. with the Berkshire Mountain Wanderers on stage and Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno on site to tap the ceremonial keg. Oktoberfest food will include bratwurst, knockwurst, and burgers, with a full menu indoors that includes German fare such as sauerbraten, braised lamb, and pork shanks.

Other live music includes Trailer Trash at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, followed by Saturday’s lineup of Berkshire Mountain Wanderers at 5 p.m., American Badass (Kid Rock tribute) at 6 p.m., Jagged Little Pam (Alanis Morissette tribute) at 7:15 p.m., and a Foo Fighters tribute at 8:30 p.m.

“There’s nothing like Oktoberfest to welcome the fall season, and we are proud to keep the tradition alive in 2023 with one of the most authentic Oktoberfest celebrations around,” said Peter Picknelly, co-owner of the Student Prince and the Fort. “Join us for non-stop live music, good times, food and drink, and a barrel of fun in downtown Springfield.”

Single-night and two-night passes are available at the gate and in advance by clicking here. Passes include one complimentary ‘haus beer’ from a list for those who are 21 or older.

Daily News

MONSON — Monson Savings Bank’s Wilbraham Branch will be hosting a free community shred day on Saturday, Oct. 14 from 9 a.m. to noon. As in past years, the bank is partnering with PROSHRED of Wilbraham for this event. The bank welcomes the public to dispose of their private documents at the branch, located at 100 Post Office Park.

Storing documents that contain personal information in one’s home can pose a major security risk. Monson Savings Bank is encouraging residents to shred any documents they no longer need, especially those that contain private information. This shred day is an ideal opportunity to properly discard unwanted documents, such as tax returns, bank or credit-card statements, bills, medical records, and more.

“One of our top priorities is protecting the personal information of our customers and community members,” said Carolyn Balicki, Wilbraham branch manager. “Our team is very diligent; we work hard every day to keep personal information from falling into the wrong hands. Our community shred day gives us the opportunity to help everyone dispose of their sensitive documents in a secure way, while also gathering together safely as a community for a fun event.”

Prepackaged refreshments and giveaways will be available, while supplies last.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Max Tavern at the Basketball Hall of Fame will host the fifth Max on Monday networking event on Monday, Oct. 16 from 4 to 6 p.m., offering attendees the opportunity to connect with other professionals while enjoying complimentary hors d’oeuvres. A cash bar will be available for beverages.

At each event, Max on Monday will feature a selection of local businesses. In October, the sponsored businesses will include Borawski Insurance, New Valley Bank, Pascoe Workforce, Meyers Brothers Kalicka, and NRG Real Estate. Representatives from these businesses will be able to network with one another and share information about their organizations.

In addition, each event features a local charity. On Oct. 16, the featured organization will be Men Wear Pink of Hartford and Springfield, an American Cancer Society initiative that raises awareness and funds to fight breast cancer. Max on Monday also showcases a local artist.

For more information about Max on Monday or to register to attend, RSVP to AnnMarie Harding at (413) 244-4055 or [email protected].

Community Spotlight

Community Spotlight

renovated chapel

An architect’s rendering of the renovated chapel at Wilbraham & Monson Academy, what students are calling the ‘Harry Potter dining hall.’

The students have started calling it the “Harry Potter dining hall,” and with good reason.

That’s the look that will be created by an ambitious initiative to transform the ornate but very much underused chapel at Wilbraham & Monson Academy (WMA) into a next-generation dining commons.

The undertaking, the second phase of a much larger strategic initiative that comes with an $18 million price tag, will enable the school to make far better use of not only the chapel, but the current dining hall, which will be converted into an auditorium and event space.

“This is going to be stunning,” Head of School Brian Easler said. “Because the music department is under the current dining hall, it will be a much more efficient use of space. Right now, we use the chapel once a week for 20 minutes for school meeting; other than that, it stays vacant, which is a shame because it’s the most beautiful building on the campus. So we’ll use the most beautiful building as the heart of the school.”

Perhaps the best part about all this, Easler said, is that the idea for converting the chapel into a dining hall came from a student, who was looking at a 3D scale model of the campus created by the architectural firm handing the project and put forth a powerful ‘what if?’ (more on that later).

Transformation of the chapel, the timing of which is dependent on fundraising — which is off to a solid start, according to Easler — is not the only landscape-altering development taking shape on or just off Main Street in Wilbraham.

Indeed, there’s also new construction just down the road from WMA, where, on the site of three demolished buildings, a mixed-use facility is taking shape, one that will house a brewery, an Italian restaurant, additional commercial businesses, and seven apartments.

This development, called the Center Village project — on top of other emerging and established success stories across town — is expected to spur new development in what is considered the town, or village, center, although it still doesn’t look much like a center, said Mike Mazzuca, chair of Wilbraham’s resurrected Economic Development Committee.

“We want to look at how we can create a true downtown for Wilbraham,” he said, noting that there is real potential for business to thrive beyond the Boston Road corridor.

Jeff Smith, another member of the committee and co-owner, with his wife, Amy, of one of those Wilbraham-based businesses, New England Promotional Marketing (NEPM), agreed.

“Back in the ’80s, there was a lot more going on in the town center, and it was used more,” he explained, noting, for example, that the post office was there before it was relocated to Boston Road. “Things changed, a couple of the buildings became vacant, and there was less and less activity there. Now that there will be more activity, we believe that will spur more development.”

Mazzuca added that, while one of the committee’s primary goals is to bring new commerce, vibrancy, businesses, and especially people to the town center, its larger mission is to send a message, loud and clear, that Wilbraham is ‘open for business.’

It always has been, he said, but it has also always been a mostly residential community and among the region’s unofficial ‘best places to live.’ It can still be that, he went on, while also building on a somewhat impressive portfolio of businesses — most of them small, most of them retail or service in nature, and most of them on Boston Road.

As it goes about its work, the Economic Development Committee will promote all that Wilbraham has to offer, said both Mazzuca and Smith, adding that there are many amenities on that list, starting with a single tax rate and continuing with available tax-increment financing; a vibrant business corridor (Boston Road) that boasts traffic counts of 12,000 cars a day; proximity to Springfield, Ludlow, Hampden, Palmer, and Monson; a diverse existing business base; high-speed internet; and more.

“We want to help out and be a liaison between the municipality, the permitting authorities, and the actual businesses, with the ultimate goal of getting that message across that we are open for business.”

Smith said the committee is working to parlay these assets and the current momentum in the town on Main Street, Boston Road, and beyond into new business opportunities.

For this, the latest installment of its Community Spotlight series, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at Wilbraham and all that goes into that phrase ‘open for business.’


Food for Thought

As he recounted that now-famous session where students and the architects were discussing what should come next — and where — on WMA’s campus, Easler could hardly contain his sense of pride in the fact that one of his students had masterminded what will be the signature component of the largest building initiative at this private school in anyone’s memory.

“The architect was leading them through a brainstorming exercise, focusing on three primary questions: what do we need? Where should it go? And what should happen first?” he recalled. “We were at that part where he was asking them where things should go, and the specific question was ‘is the dining hall in the right place?’

“The kids were chatting and moving blocks around, when one of the boys said, ‘what if we made the chapel into a dining hall?’” Easler continued. “There was a nervous chuckle around the table for about five seconds, and then there was a 10-second pause where you could see the wheels turning in everyone’s head. And then there was just this ‘a-ha’ moment where everyone went, ‘that is an awesome idea.’”

And an idea that will become reality … soon, when enough money is raised to commence construction, said Easler, noting that fundraising, which involves almost exclusively alumni of the school, is progressing well, but there is a good amount still to be raised.

mixed-use facility taking shape on Main Street in Wilbraham

The mixed-use facility taking shape on Main Street in Wilbraham is expected to spur new development in the town center.

As noted earlier, renovation of the chapel is just part of a much larger undertaking designed to enable WMA to make better, more effective use of existing facilities, said Easler, noting that the chapel itself has served the school as a meeting place, and there simply haven’t been many meetings there.

The project also calls for the existing dining commons, on the other side of Main Street from the chapel and most classroom facilities, to be converted into an auditorium with stadium seating, with the existing kitchen to be used for back-of-house functions for that facility.

“This will have a really remarkable impact on the campus, and the town, actually — it will reduce pedestrian traffic on Main Street by about 70%,” Easler told BusinessWest, noting that dining facilities will now be on the same side of the street as classes, dramatically reducing the number of times students will have to cross the street each day.

Beyond that, it will give the arts program a functioning theater (the current dining hall), a dramatic improvement over existing ‘black box’ facilities, and the students will have the ‘Harry Potter dining hall.’

Wilbraham at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1763
Population: 14,613
Area: 22.4 square miles
County: Hampden
Residential Tax Rate: $18.70
Commercial Tax Rate: $18.70
Median Household Income: $65,014
Median Family Income: $73,825
Type of government: Board of Selectmen, Open Town Meeting
Largest Employers: Baystate Wing Wilbraham Medical Center; Friendly Ice Cream Corp.; Big Y; Home Depot; Wilbraham & Monson Academy
*Latest information available

And the school, which is currently at full enrollment, will be in an even better position to recruit young people to the campus, he said.

“Boarding school, and private school in general, is about the experience,” Easler said. “We have top-notch education, rigorous and supportive programs, lots of things people can do outside of academics … but a big reason people choose to invest in us is because it’s an experience they can’t get in a public school or a day school. And a big part of experience is having facilities like these to support it — like that dining room.”


Progress Report

There has been considerable momentum at WMA generated by several projects in recent years, including the building of a new athenaeum and conversion of the basement of the science building into a 5,000-square-foot innovation lab, and these advances constitute just some of the positive developments on Main Street and beyond in this community of around 14,600.

Michelle Buck, Wilbraham’s Planning and Community Development director, cited several signs of growth and progress across town.

That list includes several new developments on Boston Road, including a new Starbucks now under construction in front of Home Depot, once the site of a bank branch that was demolished; parking-lot expansion of the Lia Toyota dealership; a new Golden Nozzle car wash; a new fitness center called Cycle & Praise; and an outdoor dining facility for Route 20 Bar & Grille, as well as a large solar farm soon to be under construction on Three Rivers Road.

But the most visible — and most impactful — development, she said, is the emerging home for Scantic River Brewery, the ‘new’ Parfumi’s Pizza (the current version is right next door), seven apartments, and, hopefully, other small businesses. Center Village is an important development for the community, said all those we spoke with, not only because of what is planned for the site, but because of how it might make the town’s center more of a destination and spur additional development.

“It’s an exciting project that could bring more people to Main Street,” Buck said, adding that, while town leaders want to cluster most commercial activity on Boston Road, there is certainly opportunity for development in other areas of town.

Mazzuca agreed, and said bringing new businesses to Wilbraham is overarching mission of what would be called the ‘new’ Economic Development Committee, which has been working on a number of fronts simultaneously.

One has been bringing some of the businesses displaced by the closing and demolition of the nearby Eastfield Mall to the town. The committee helped secure Boston Road addresses for two of them — Mall Barbers and School of Fish — through the use of ARPA funds to help with relocation expenses.

The other major front has been ongoing work to bring more businesses and vibrancy to the downtown area, which, as Smith noted, was more of a destination 30 or 40 years ago, and can be again through developments like the Center Village project and others that might come to the drawing board because of it.

The broad goal, he said, is to create a walkable downtown and an attractive mix of businesses that will effectively serve those living in Wilbraham and surrounding communities.

“Looking north and south on Main Street, we have a farmers’ market now at the church once a week, and some activity at WMA,” he said. “So we want to look at the whole picture of the way vehicles and pedestrians interface, and revamp that. The first concern would be safety, and the second would be convenience — and it’s convenience that attracts people. There’s a snowball effect.”
He said similar efforts to revitalize town centers and downtowns are taking place in communities across the country, and those on the committee are looking at what communities of similar size and demographics are undertaking to do some benchmarking and adopt best practices.

“The ultimate goal of the Economic Development Committee is to be a liaison for businesses locating in Wilbraham,” Smith explained. “We want to help out and be a liaison between the municipality, the permitting authorities, and the actual businesses, with the ultimate goal of getting that message across that we are open for business.”



After the Fire

The top of Courniotes Hall is covered with plastic

The top of Courniotes Hall is covered with plastic now while AIC leaders discuss both short-term winter preparations and a long-term strategy for the building.

When a lightning strike set fire to Courniotes Hall at American International College (AIC) on July 27, the safety of everyone in the building was the paramount concern; fortunately, no one was hurt.

The longer-term concern is for the future of the heavily damaged building, and that process has only begun.

In between was one key question: what to do with all the health programs based at Courniotes and all the students and faculty who typically work and learn there — and do it before the fall semester, which was only a few weeks away.

That process has not been easy, and it’s far from over, said Karen Rousseau, dean of the School of Health Sciences at AIC. But with no programs or classes curtailed (though many have been relocated), the experience has been a valuable lesson in pivoting — and may pose opportunities to “reimagine” the design of the building once it’s repaired and renovated.

“The night of the fire was pretty devastating, but immediately the next morning, we got to work trying to figure out where to put classes that were housed in that building and how we would function,” Rousseau told BusinessWest, listing challenges from replacing the nursing program’s simulation-lab equipment to relocating cadavers and identifying new space for physical and occupational therapy labs and a large number of classrooms.

Part of the solution was finding temporary space in the Colaccino Center for Health Sciences, across State Street from Courniotes Hall, as well as other buildings on campus. Meanwhile, most of the nearby colleges and universities (and some from across Massachusetts) reached out offering space.

AIC took up one offer: from UMass Medical School – Baystate, located in Tower Square in downtown Springfield, which offered not only classroom and faculty space, but also storage for equipment and free parking for students.

“The night of the fire, we had students come to watch it, and they were concerned and sad. But we said, ‘we’re going to make sure it’s business as usual. We don’t know what it is right now, but we will make sure it’s OK for you.”

“UMass fortunately had this space that they weren’t using a tremendous amount; they use it for their accelerated baccalaureate program, but they’re mostly out on clinical placement in the fall,” Rousseau said. “So it was serendipitous that we were able to work around their schedule; primarily, it’s our junior nursing class that needed labs in the fall.”

AIC also quickly rehabbed the basement of its Amaron Hall to use as classrooms and storage for occupational therapy and physical therapy, and it will begin renovating the Lissa Building, which is attached to Courniotes Hall and also sustained damage in the fire, with the goal of opening it to students this spring; meanwhile, a building next to Lissa will be renovated to become an occupational therapy lab and training room where OT students learn how to work with patients on activities of daily living.

In short, the entire health sciences curriculum felt the weight of the fire and its aftermath, but AIC’s leaders made sure all students were able to continue their education this fall.

“I don’t want to make it sound like it was easy,” Rousseau said. “And it’s not all perfect, but it’s good. I mean, the students are receiving their education, and the faculty are happy they all have their own offices. To be able to say that, when we lost all those offices, is a miracle. And a lot of equipment from the labs had to be replaced.”

Karen Rousseau

Karen Rousseau says it hasn’t been easy, but students have been able to continue their studies following the July 27 fire.

They got creative, Rousseau added, because … well, because they had to.

“All of our [health sciences] students flowed through there. The majority nof the faculty for physical therapy was over there, and occupational therapy, and all of the nursing faculty. So all the nursing, PT, and OT students walked through there all the time. A lot of people were affected.”


No Interruptions

The reason AIC had to act quickly, and the reason so many other institutions reached out, was a shared feeling that interrupting the students’ education was unthinkable.

“This was devastating to the students,” Rousseau said. “The night of the fire, we had students come to watch it, and they were concerned and sad. But we said, ‘we’re going to make sure it’s business as usual. We don’t know what it is right now, but we will make sure it’s OK for you.’ That’s what we keep telling students: ‘it’s been OK, and it’ll continue to be OK. It will get better and better as we have more time to roll out our plans.’ But they were really nervous.”

In the longer term, AIC has engaged the services of an experienced project manager to navigate the logistics of assessment and reconstruction of Courniotes Hall.

“We haven’t had a final ruling from insurance, but it’s sounding like we will renovate and restore, maybe not in the same exact configuration, but within that same footprint — but, again, that’s not official,” Rousseau said, noting that the top of Courniotes is now covered in plastic, but some kind of temporary roof will likely need to be erected before winter sets in.

AIC’s much-discussed strategic plan for 2022-27 is called “AIC Reimagined,” and AIC President Hubert Benitez has taken to calling the future of the fire-damaged structure “Courniotes Reimagined,” sensing an opportunity to determine if the building’s current design and layout best serve students and faculty, and making changes as needed.

“He wants to pull faculty together and plan what would be appropriate for the future for that building and whether that means more space, whether we’d look to expand, and address any needs we might have,” Rousseau said. “This was OK when it was built in the ’90s, but if we had to rebuild it, we wouldn’t build it the same way. So, what would it look like? Do we want to replace it exactly the same, or do we need to make some changes? This is an opportunity. You can always use more space than what you had.”

AIC leaders are seeking engagement from students and faculty about what the building should look like for the future, she said, but stressed that the long-term planning process has only begun.

“Our focus right now is on the interim piece for the nursing lab and the occupational therapy lab; that has to come first because we want to get our students back on campus as soon as we can — hopefully for spring. We need more space for OT than what we have right now. We’re making do right now, but we need more.

“And then, with nursing, we don’t want them to have to go downtown to do their simulation and their nursing-practice skills,” she added. “And that is a bigger need in the spring for students. There are a lot more students that have to go through the lab in the spring. It’s important to us that they’re back home.”

This unusual year in AIC’s health sciences programs comes at a time when the medical world is still experiencing staffing shortages in many fields, particularly nursing, Rousseau said, but colleges nationwide have weathered a dip in enrollments in those programs.

“But enrollment across colleges in general is down for all professions, so I think it’s a symptom of the times,” she added. “A lot of people are worried about college debt, and you can go to work right away and still make an OK living wage because unemployment has been so low. There’s also the fact that we’re at that cliff where the birth rate has dropped off, so we’ve just got less people coming out of high school.”

And while nursing opportunities are still soaring — the profession has seen many older entrants who are changing careers to take advantage — there’s also lingering burnout from the pandemic, she added.

“You heard a lot of negativity around anything in healthcare. So I think that’s impacted healthcare. But it’s starting to rebound again — because then people heard about how much travel nurses make.”


Grit and Gratitude

Benitez recently expressed gratitude for the outpouring of support from the community following the fire. “I want to acknowledge the remarkable resilience and unity displayed by our faculty, staff, and students. It is this collective effort from our community that gives me confidence that we will overcome this adversity together.”

Rousseau agreed. “We wanted to reassure our students that we’re still open for business. We’re going to figure it out. And we’re trying to listen to them when there are issues.

“There are some things we can’t control, you know,” she added. “They don’t really want to be in class in a different building and not having their usual space. And the nursing faculty are farther across campus. The biggest struggle is that we’ve lost a large parking lot, so we’ve got some growing pains around figuring that out, making sure it’s OK before we start having snowbanks to deal with, too.”

But all those issues pale in comparion to the main one: ensuring that life continues at AIC, and so do the college careers of its nursing, PT, and OT students.

“We’ve tried to be thoughtful, to make sure this had the least amount of impact on students,” Rousseau said. “We’ve tried to reassure students that AIC is still here, and that we’re an equal partner in their success.”

Accounting and Tax Planning

What Does It Mean for Estate-tax Liability in Massachusetts?

By Elizabeth Dougal, Esq.


Massachusetts estate-planning clients frequently ask whether they should transfer their vacation property, typically located in Florida or New Hampshire, to a limited liability company. The answer is almost always ‘no.’

Why? Because Massachusetts does not tax out-of-state real estate held individually. However, it does tax out-of-state intangible assets. The transfer of the real estate to a limited liability company would convert that real estate to an intangible asset for purposes of the application of the Massachusetts estate tax.

Elizabeth Dougal

Elizabeth Dougal

Let’s say you are a Massachusetts resident with a vacation condominium in Florida valued at $300,000. You die with $800,000 of other assets in Massachusetts. Massachusetts imposes an estate tax up to 16% on a Massachusetts taxable estate of more than $1 million. Massachusetts does not impose its estate tax on real property held individually outside of Massachusetts. Hence, in this scenario, you would owe no Massachusetts estate tax.

What if you transferred that $300,000 Florida condominium to a limited liability company? You sometimes rent it out and want the limited liability company to decrease any liability exposure. Now, when you die, your Massachusetts estate is $1.1 million, thus subject to Massachusetts estate tax. The transfer of the condominium to the limited liability company converted it to an intangible asset includable for Massachusetts estate tax purposes. You could have managed your risk to limit potential liability through the acquisition of appropriate liability insurance instead of transferring it to a limited liability company.

You might also consider transferring your out-of-state property to an entity for probate avoidance, privacy, or ease of future transferability. For these purposes, the use of a simple ‘living’ or revocable trust might accomplish your goal. Massachusetts cannot impose Massachusetts estate tax on real property located outside of Massachusetts, whether held individually or within an arrangement that is the equivalent of individual ownership. A revocable trust is such an arrangement.

One last caveat on the example involving the Florida condominium mentioned above: Florida has no estate tax. Neither does New Hampshire. You may experience a different outcome in states with an estate tax. You will want to consult an estate tax advisor to determine if the state where the property is located has a higher estate tax rate than Massachusetts. If so, use of a limited liability company or other entity may be warranted.

Still, in general, you want to avoid dying as a Massachusetts resident with an estate over $1 million that includes real estate in a limited liability company, unless the real estate is located in Massachusetts or a state with at least an equivalent estate tax.


Elizabeth Dougal is an attorney with Bulkley Richardson and a member of the firm’s Trusts & Estates department.

Healthcare News

Critical Catch

Dr. A. Daniyal Siddiqui

Dr. A. Daniyal Siddiqui says screening is the most important factor in preventing deaths from colorectal cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, the incidence of young-onset colorectal cancer is rising globally, with about 10% of patients with a new colon-cancer diagnosis, and 25% of patients with a new rectal-cancer diagnosis, being diagnosed under age 50.

Experts are still debating what that means, but there’s broad agreement that people need to start thinking about colonoscopies earlier than ever.

“One should not get to where cancer is diagnosed by symptoms. At that point, it’s a much more advanced stage; you want to get it when the cancer is not causing any symptoms,” said Dr. A. Daniyal Siddiqui, medical director of the Mass General Cancer Center at Cooley Dickinson Hospital and associate professor of Medicine at UMass Chan Medical School.

The statistics bear him out. While treatment of cancer has improved markedly over the decades, so has awareness of the importance of catching it at the earliest stages. In 1975, Siddiqui said, the five-year survival rate for colorectal cancer, across all stages, was 40% to 45%; today, it’s close to 70%.

And the increased incidence in younger people has caused the oncology community to further rethink screening recommendations, pushing them even younger.

The good news, Siddiqui noted, is that colorectal cancer (around 70% of which is colon cancer, 30% rectal) has been declining since the 1980s and declining even faster — between 1% and 1.8% a year — since 2009.

But at the same time, there has been an increase in incidence for younger people. In 1995, 11% of all colorectal cancer diagnoses were in patients 54 or younger; in 2019, it was 20%. For that reason, doctors now recommend starting screening at age 45, instead of the long-recognized guideline of age 50.

Siddiqui says wider adherence to screening recommendations has been impactful over the decades. “If cancers are picked up in the earliest stages, they’re more curable. So the death rate has been going down regardless of age because of better screenings. But the important thing is that incidence is increasing 1% to 1.5% per year in people under age 50. That’s why we should start screening at age 45.”

“One should not get to where cancer is diagnosed by symptoms. At that point, it’s a much more advanced stage; you want to get it when the cancer is not causing any symptoms.”

Why is a colonoscopy so critical? The answer begins with how the disease develops.

Colorectal cancer involves malignant cells that grow in the colon or the rectum, explained Dr. Aparna Parikh, medical director for the Center for Young Adult Colorectal Cancer at the Mass General Cancer Center. Often, colorectal cancers start as polyps, which are non-cancerous, but can turn into cancer over time.

According to the American Cancer Society, when a polyp — a non-cancerous growth in the lining of the colon or rectum — progresses to cancer, it usually grows into the wall of the colon or rectum, where it may invade blood or lymph vessels.

The extent to which cancer has spread at the time of diagnosis is described as its stage. The stages are described as localized (grown into the wall of the colon or rectum but not into nearby tissues), regional (spread through the wall of the colon or rectum and invading nearby tissues or lymph nodes), and distant (spread to other parts of the body, such as the liver or lung).

“Early on, when a polyp is benign, before it becomes cancer, at that point you’re talking a 100% cure,” Siddiqui said. “When you’re in stage 1, localized to the colon or rectum, you’re talking a 90% cure. The rate changes to 70% when the cancer has moved to local lymph nodes.”

And by later stages, the outlook is even worse. In fact, while it’s the fourth-most-common cancer after breast, prostate, and lung cancers, he noted, colorectal cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S. So it can be critical to undergo regular colonoscopies after 45 — typically once every 10 years.

“There are other screening options, including stool-based tests, but it is important to talk to your primary-care doctor about the advantages and disadvantages of different types of screenings,” Parikh said.

That said, “it’s important to note that these other screening methods are only for patients without symptoms. If you are having any symptoms, it’s important to get a colonoscopy.”


Determining the Risk

Siddiqui stressed that the new age recommendations apply only to average-risk individuals. The higher-risk group includes those with a personal history of colorectal cancer or polyp removal, family history of the disease, a history of seed radiation to the abdomen, or personal or family history of endocrine syndromes or inflammatory bowel diseases like colitis or Crohn’s.

Dr. Aparna Parikh

Dr. Aparna Parikh

“To help reduce your risk of getting colorectal cancer, eat healthy foods, including plenty of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Exercise regularly, limit or avoid alcohol, and maintain a healthy weight. Finally, quit smoking, or better yet, don’t even start.”

“For those individuals, there’s no black-and-white answer,” he said, explaining that recommendations of when to start screening and how often to go back are determined on a case-by-case basis: what kind of polyp was found, which hereditary factors are present, and so on.

But in general, for the average person, the guidelines start at age 45 and continue until 75, at which time it becomes a more individualized decision between a doctor and patient based on a number of lifestyle factors.

“Screening is the most important thing,” Siddiqui emphasized. “We know now, from prostate cancer and colon cancer and lung cancer, that screening works. That’s the main driving force behind death rates going down.”

The second key factor is improvement in the treatments available after colorectal cancer (CRC) is detected. Options include colorectal surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, immunotherapy, and access to clinical trials, Parikh noted, adding that “colorectal cancer is largely preventable and, in most cases, curable, especially if it’s detected early.”

As far as prevention strategies are concerned, some risk factors are more easily altered than others. The American Cancer Society reports that 55% of all CRCs are attributable to lifestyle factors, such as an unhealthy diet, insufficient physical activity, high alcohol consumption, and smoking.

“People have been more aware of risk factors of various cancers, and if they’re proactive in terms of reducing them through lifestyle changes, that’s the important thing,” Siddiqui said. “Age is an important risk factor, and so is family history. You can’t change those, but you can change your diet. If you’re obese, you can modify that. If you’re a smoker, you can quit smoking.”

Physical activity is an important factor as well, he added. “We know that from multiple studies with thousands of patients. I’m not saying you should start running a marathon, but simply a 25- to 30-minute walk, three to five times a week, significantly reduces the risk of colon cancer, or any kind of cancer.”

However, the strongest risk factor is a family history of the disease; people with a first-degree relative (parent, sibling, or child) who has been diagnosed with CRC have two to four times the risk of developing the disease compared to people without this family history, with a higher risk when diagnosis is before age 50 and when multiple relatives are affected, the American Cancer Society reports.

Meanwhile, up to 30% of people diagnosed with colorectal cancer have a family history of the disease, which is why these individuals should begin screening early, the organization notes. Young people with a family history should have a conversation with their healthcare provider about when to start screening.

“Everyone should know their family history, and not just colon cancer, but any cancer, especially at a young age,” Siddiqui said. “And that should be brought to a doctor’s attention because that may change the screening guidelines about when to start and how frequently.”


Changes for the Better

Dr. Xavier Lor, medical director of the Colorectal Cancer Prevention Program at Yale Cancer Center and Smilow Cancer Hospital, said recently that certain lifestyle habits associated with colorectal cancer (CRC) aren’t by themselves causing the worrisome trend of higher incidence in younger people.

“Some factors have been identified, and these increase risk, especially at older ages. Obesity, sedentary lifestyle, the western diet, and high sugar intake would only explain a fraction of these cases,” he noted.

“Genetic syndromes are also more commonly the cause for younger CRC patients than older ones, but these remain quite stable over the years and can’t explain a sudden raise in cases as we have seen in the last two decades,” he added. “It will likely boil down to environmental and dietary factors that we have not quite identified yet to explain many of these cases.”

Even absent the cancer risk, there’s nothing wrong with some healthy habits, however.

“To help reduce your risk of getting colorectal cancer, eat healthy foods, including plenty of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains,” Parikh said. “Exercise regularly, limit or avoid alcohol, and maintain a healthy weight. Finally, quit smoking, or better yet, don’t even start.”

When a CRC does develop, the symptoms can vary, she noted.

“Different people may have different symptoms of colorectal cancer, and some people may not have any signs or symptoms at all,” she said, adding that symptoms may include abdominal discomfort or cramping; bleeding from the rectum or finding blood in one’s stool; changes in how the stool looks or frequency of bowel movement; diarrhea, constipation, or increased gas; or unexplained weight loss.

“It is important to remember that these symptoms can be attributed to things that are not related to colorectal cancer,” she added, so it’s important to consult a primary-care doctor with any concerns.

But, as Siddiqui noted up top, the key is catching problems before symptoms arise at all.

“Colonoscopies can detect cancer before you have symptoms or have advanced disease. Early detection is critical,” Parikh said. “But it’s important to advocate for your own health and well-being if you have any concerning symptoms.”


Strengthening the Lines of Defense

Peter Sherlock says the numbers certainly help tell the story.

There are roughly 26,000 employed in Massachusetts today in what would be called the cybersecurity sector. And there were, at the precise moment we talked with him, exactly 18,263 openings in that realm, a number that goes up seemingly every day.

That means this sector has about two-thirds the number of qualified individuals it needs, said Sherlock, adding that the dire need to close that gap was one of the motivations behind the creation of CyberTrust Massachusetts, which he now serves as CEO.

Another motivation was to make the state’s businesses, institutions, and municipalities more cyber-secure at a time when the number of victims of cyber and ransomware attacks — like the number of job openings in this sector — keeps going up.

Peter Sherlock

Peter Sherlock

“As we put these students into these SOCs, they’re going to be working under the supervision of cyber professionals. We’re going to put them to work making cities and towns more cybersecure.”

How CyberTrust is going about these assignments, which overlap in many different ways, as we’ll see, will be among the focal points of Sherlock’s presentation at the 11th annual Cybersecurity Summit at Bay Path University, set for Friday, Oct. 13 at the Mills Theatre in Carr Hall on the school’s Longmeadow campus.

Registration for the event, which has been drawing steadily larger audiences because of the importance of the subject matter, is required. Individuals can register at baypath.edu/summit, and attend either in-person or remotely.

The working title for the program is “Who’s Next? How a Stronger Cyber Ecosystem is the First Line of Defense.” And Sherlock told BusinessWest that there are many elements that comprise this ecosystem, including the business sector, government, and education (the state’s colleges and universities, and even its high schools and middle schools). Together, they work on those twin assignments of building the workforce and making entities more cyber-secure.

At the forefront of these efforts is CyberTrust Massachusetts, a nonprofit committed to building both opportunity and security through a consortium of statewide businesses and colleges.

“CyberTrust arose out of a long-running dialogue among business and academic leaders, with some folks in government; these were discussions centered around workforce,” he said, adding that he understands first-hand the challenges of hiring — and retaining — within this sector.

Indeed, he previously served as chief operating officer of MITRE, as well as senior vice president responsible for MITRE’s defense and intelligence business.

“In my roles there, I had to worry about our annual hiring programs; trying to hire 1,000 STEM professionals every year was quite a challenge, as was retaining them,” he explained. “I would talk a lot with other executives in the Massachusetts area about the challenges of growing the pipelines in some of these technologies to keep up with the demand.

“And as the pandemic disrupted the workforce a bit more, those problems have become even more urgent,” he went on, adding that this urgency helped bring business and education together in the CyberTrust Massachusetts consortium to “move the needle,” as Sherlock put it, on not only these workforce issues, but the growing threat — in the form of cyber and ransomware attacks — to businesses of all sizes, nonprofits, institutions, and municipalities.

In his presentation at the Cybersecurity Summit, which will followed by what is expected to be a robust question-and-answer period, Sherlock said he will address a number of issues and initiatives, including the workforce challenges, efforts to activate new pathways for the talent pipeline in order to both grow and diversify and workforce, and cybersecurity approaches for municipalities across the Commonwealth.

While doing so, he will discuss how these problems intersect, and also about efforts to address them jointly, such as the security operation center, or SOC (pronounced ‘sock’ by those within this sector) that is taking shape at Springfield’s Union Station. This SOC, to be established by Springfield Technical Community College, will provide threat monitoring and other cybersecurity services for the state’s municipalities, small businesses, and nonprofits, while also creating learning opportunities for those in or seeking to join this sector at a ‘cyber range,’ a new testing lab that will mirror real-world IT environments to provide hands-on training opportunities to local companies, universities, and other cyber-focused organizations.

“We need to introduce new people to the cyber career field, whether it’s recruiting them from high school or getting adult career changers, and making non-cyber majors credentialed in cyber.”

“While focusing on workforce, we decided we could be serving another purpose at the same time,” he explained. “As we’re training our cyber learners with hands-on experiences, we could actually put them to work securing cities and towns, nonprofits, and small businesses. We put together this rather ambitious plan to set up security operations centers at a number of universities across the Commonwealth and to infuse new cyber-range technology into these colleges and universities and enlist cyber employers from across the state into this activity.

“As we put these students into these SOCs, they’re going to be working under the supervision of cyber professionals,” he went on. “We’re going to put them to work making cities and towns more cybersecure.”

Overall, Sherlock said the workforce issue requires creative, outside-the-box thinking and efforts to encourage individuals to consider this field while they are still in high school or even middle school.

“We need to introduce new people to the cyber career field, whether it’s recruiting them from high school or getting adult career changers, and making non-cyber majors credentialed in cyber,” he said. “There are a lot of different ways to get people into the field that we weren’t working at too much.”

Sherlock said he would go into much more detail at the summit, which grew out of the growing importance of cybersecurity in today’s society, the emergence of that sector, and the need to keep businesses and the community at large informed when it comes to new trends, new initiatives — and new threats, said Tom Loper, associate provost and dean in the School of Management and Technology at Bay Path.

Loper said he hopes, and expects, this year’s summit to be well-attended because of its focus on businesses and municipalities, the efforts to keep them safe from cyberattacks, and the role that they play within the emerging cyber ecosystem.


Wealth Management

Planning Is the Key

By Barbara Trombley, CPA

Does anyone like to pay taxes? Most of my clients tolerate paying taxes like eating their least-favorite vegetables. They are difficult to calculate and hard to understand, especially with a business generating uneven cash flow or an employed couple with disparate incomes.

But what if I told you there are ways to eliminate taxes in retirement or minimize federal taxes to a palliative 12% bracket?

Tax planning is an important part of retirement planning. When I ask clients what their target monthly spend in retirement is, they never consider the tax effect. For instance, a married couple may say they need to generate $6,000 per month to pay all their bills when they retire. Typically, this means the dollar amount that is deposited in their bank account.

But as a financial planner, I immediately think of the gross amount. How much do we need to generate on a gross level, before taxes, to net them $6,000? Depending on the source of funds, some of my clients may have a tax bill of zero, allowing them to draw only the $6,000 per month out of their investment account(s)!

Barbara Trombley

Barbara Trombley

“When I ask clients what their target monthly spend in retirement is, they never consider the tax effect.”

How can this be? Most retirees rely on Social Security to generate a large portion of their income. Some people pay tax on Social Security, and others do not. Whether you pay taxes or not depends upon your total combined taxable income. Combined income includes your adjusted gross income, any non-taxable interest you receive, and half of your Social Security benefits (adjusted gross income includes earnings, investment income, retirement-plan withdrawals, pension payments, and other taxable income.)

If a married couple has a combined income of less than $32,000, then none of their Social Security income is taxable on a federal level or in Massachusetts. For a single person, the limit is $25,000. Depending on the outcome of this formula, 85% of Social Security benefits could be taxable. The key to paying no federal taxes in retirement is to have other, non-taxable sources of funds.

How can you plan now to possibly pay zero taxes in retirement? A Roth 401(k) or Roth IRA is the best place to start. Most employer 401(k) plans now have a Roth option. This is when your contributions are made on an after-tax basis instead of pre-tax. If you are in a high tax bracket now, you would need to consider the tradeoffs of paying taxes now to not pay later.

In 2023, the limit for Roth 401(k) contributions is $22,500 with a $7,500 catch-up contribution for those over age 50. If you do not have a 401(k) plan at work, you can make a Roth IRA contribution of $6,500 per year, or $7,500 per year if you are over age 50. When you withdraw Roth funds after age 59½, the withdrawals are tax-free and do not impact taxable income.

Another great source of non-taxed income in retirement is investment accounts or savings outside of retirement accounts. If invested efficiently, where capital gains and interest income can be minimized, drawing from these accounts in retirement can have little effect on taxable income. Tax-efficient investing may involve putting interest-generating investments in a Roth IRA and keeping investments that generate long-term capital gains in a brokerage account.

For an example of efficient tax planning, consider client couple A versus client couple B. Both clients are married and file taxes jointly. Each of these couples would like to generate $6,000 per month in cash to spend in retirement. Each client couple generates $3,000 per month in Social Security after paying for Medicare. Client couple A each has a Roth IRA and draws the remaining $3,000 per month out of one of their accounts to meet spending needs. Since withdrawing from Roth accounts is non-taxable after age 59½, they would pay $0 in federal and $0 in Massachusetts state taxes.

Client couple B has only taxable retirement accounts. They draw the needed $3,000 from one of their taxable accounts. If there are no other factors, according to 2022 federal tax tables, they could owe approximately $4,500 in federal taxes and $1,600 in the state of Massachusetts, for a total of more than $6,000 in total income tax!

As a financial planner, I would need to generate an additional $500 per month to cover client couple B’s taxes. If client couple B withdraws a standard 4% from their retirement accounts in retirement, they would need to save another $150,000 during their working years compared to client couple A.

Proper tax planning should be a very important part of retirement planning. Many times, income taxes cannot be avoided, but they can be managed efficiently. Working with your CPA and financial planner is always a good place to start.


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