Daily News

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

“The Thunderbirds organization is proud of the incredible impact we have had on businesses, employees, and communities throughout the Pioneer Valley,” said Nathan Costa, president of the Springfield Thunderbirds. “Our local ownership group joined forces in 2016 not just to save professional hockey in Springfield, but to ensure our organization became a driving force for the region’s civic and economic life. Since that time, we have enjoyed success both on and off the ice: record attendance, a Calder Cup Final appearance, memorable celebrity appearances, community events, and even the AHL All-Star Game. This report by the UMass Donahue Institute utilizes economic data to quantify this impact and bring the T-Birds success story to life.”

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

“As the Thunderbirds’ presenting sponsor, and as the manager of the MassMutual Center, we witness firsthand the impact the team has on our local economy,” MGM Springfield President Chris Kelley said. “For over 30 nights each season, the T-Birds draw thousands of hockey fans to downtown Springfield, filling the bars and restaurants along Main Street and MGM. The success of the Thunderbirds — both on and off the ice — is a story that should be celebrated. In just seven years, we have gone from nearly losing professional hockey to having one of the AHL’s most admired franchises.”

The study paints a picture of a franchise whose on- and off-ice success is having a ripple effect far beyond the MassMutual Center. The impact on downtown Springfield businesses is especially profound. Seventy-eight percent of T-Birds fans spend money on something other than hockey when they go to a game, including 68% who are patronizing a bar, restaurant, or MGM Springfield. The study also found that median spending by fans outside the arena is $40 per person on game nights and that every dollar of T-Birds’ revenue is estimated to yield $4.09 of additional economic activity in the Pioneer Valley.

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno noted that downtown establishments like Red Rose, White Lion, and Theodores’ are packed before and after games. “The foot traffic is tremendous when they’re in town.”

The T-Birds’ economic impact also translates into jobs throughout the region. Since the team’s inaugural season, it has doubled the number of jobs created from 112 in 2017 to 236 in 2023. The study estimates that income per job created by the T-Birds is approximately $76,000 for the Pioneer Valley and that each job at the Thunderbirds creates or supports 3.28 other jobs elsewhere in the Pioneer Valley.

In addition to supporting local businesses, the Thunderbirds have been dedicated to making a difference in the community. In 2018, the team established the T-Birds Foundation, a 501(c)(3) public charity, to support local initiatives in the areas of health and wellness, youth enrichment, and civil service. To date, the foundation has made more than $300,000 in contributions to organizations and charitable events throughout the Pioneer Valley. Team players, personnel, and mascot Boomer have also been at the forefront of this community-first ideology, combining for more than 1,500 appearances since 2016, including more than 350 during the 2022-23 season alone.
“Their involvement in the community is at many different levels,” said Michelle Grout, executive director of the Springfield Business Improvement District. “Every single game night, they’re doing something to support, promote, and contribute to a local nonprofit, business, community effort. They are contributing partners on every level; it’s just not one note.”

In addition to measuring the team’s impact, the Donahue Institute study also analyzed the T-Birds’ fan demographics. Average attendance has skyrocketed from last in the league under the previous franchise to 6,162 per game last season, a Springfield hockey record. That growth has been mirrored in fan social-media engagement, which includes 32,000 Facebook followers and a reach of 1.1 million, 24,600 Instagram followers and a reach of 600,000, and 15,200 X/Twitter followers and 8 million impressions.

The study found that these fans are coming from all backgrounds and walks of life, with a relatively even split of fans by age and gender. While attendees hail from across the country, the vast majority come from the Pioneer Valley. The study found the top five fan communities to be Springfield, Chicopee, Westfield, West Springfield, and Ludlow.

“They’re including the community in their events, and the community has embraced it,” noted Stacey Gravanis, general manager of the Sheraton Springfield. “I don’t recall our AHL teams ever having so many sold-out events.

“It’s more than just hockey,” she added. “It’s been wonderful for the city of Springfield.”

The study also identified the top five reasons these fans come to T-Birds games. Eighty percent of respondents indicated that the number-one reason they come to games is the hockey. This was followed by fans seeking affordable entertainment. Family-friendly activities came in third place, with theme nights and celebrity appearances rounding out the top five.

“They’ve turned hockey into family fun,” said Mary Kay Wydra, president of the Greater Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau. “And as a result of that, I think they have gained a number of new fans along the way.”

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — The Springfield Museums have been awarded a three-year, $800,000 grant from the Art Bridges Foundation as part of a new Access for All initiative meant to help increase access to museums across the country.

Thanks to this funding, the Springfield Museums will introduce Free First Wednesdays beginning in January 2024. All visitors will receive free admission on the first Wednesday of every month for the next three years.

The Springfield Museums are one of just 64 museums in 36 states — and one of only seven in New England — to be awarded one of these prestigious grants. There are 33,000 museums in the U.S., according to the American Alliance of Museums.

“The remarkable and unprecedented $800,000 grant from this private foundation will enable our museums to realize our vision to be an accessible and intergenerational center of community learning and creativity,” said Kay Simpson, president and CEO of the Springfield Museums. “Our museums are committed to making art accessible through innovative interpretation and exciting and experiential exhibitions. This historic funding will help us be museums where everyone feels welcome.”

Based in Bentonville, Ark., the Art Bridges Foundation is a national arts nonprofit founded by philanthropist Alice Walton. With its $40 million investment in the Access for All initiative, the foundation hopes to eliminate barriers and encourage more people to visit and engage in more museums across the country.

“We are thrilled to launch Access for All, a historic partnership with cultural institutions across the country to make it easier for people in every U.S. region to see and experience art,” Walton said. “In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are confident Access for All will not only help to rebuild museum attendance, but also bring more people than ever into museum galleries and reshape the arts world as one that is open to all.”

With many museums struggling to reach their pre-pandemic attendance, the new initiative aims to restore pre-pandemic levels and open opportunities for all people to enjoy American art by reducing barriers to access and strengthening community relationships.

Attendance at the Springfield Museums has been rising steadily over the past two years, and especially in 2023. From July through September of this year, attendance is just 4% below the same period in 2018.

“Our ever-increasing attendance numbers reflect our pledge to be visitor-centric and our institutional values to be museums without walls, where people come to engage, connect, and be inspired,” Simpson said. “Art Bridges funding will support and elevate this all-important work in ways never before possible.”

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — American International College (AIC) has introduced an online master of science in forensic psychology program. This new offering, complementing the college’s established in-person program, is tailored for those with a bachelor’s degree interested in psychology, criminal minds and behavior, and the workings of the criminal-justice system. Applications are now being accepted for the inaugural program for the spring 2024 semester, set to begin in January.

According to Susanne Swanker, dean of AIC’s School of Business, Arts, and Sciences, the program is designed to meet the evolving needs of today’s students. “We are excited to offer this program in an online, asynchronous modality. This move reflects AIC’s commitment to adapting to the changing educational landscape, allowing us to reach a broader audience of aspiring forensic psychologists, empowering them with the skills and knowledge needed to excel in this critical field.”

Director of Graduate Psychology Lina Racicot, distinguishes AIC’s online forensic psychology program as a unique opportunity to study the psychopathology of criminal minds and behavior, from serial killers to individuals with co-morbid mental-health and addiction issues.

She added that students will delve into various subjects, including policing, evidence practices, victimization, risk assessment, and other specialized topics. “This program presents an exciting prospect for those aspiring to work as case managers, victim advocates, court and corrections personnel, or pursue doctoral programs with a forensic specialization to become psychologists.”

After earning their degree, many forensic psychology students embark on careers in public and private settings, including prisons, youth facilities, social services, and mental-health agencies. Some even explore careers as forensic researchers or positions with federal and state agencies.

To assist students in building the necessary technical and learning skills, AIC offers a free orientation course for online learners. Click here to learn more about the program.

Daily News

CHICOPEE — MicroTek Inc., a not-for-profit manufacturer of custom wire harnesses and cable assemblies, received the inaugural National Disabilities Awareness Month award for small to medium-sized Massachusetts companies, presented at the Massachusetts State House.

MicroTek, founded in 1983, was established to provide employment opportunities and support to individuals with developmental disabilities. MicroTek is led by an all-women volunteer board of directors. Inclusivity and diversity efforts are administrated under the guidance of Executive Vice President Erin Weinman.

“This award highlights that businesses are successful and benefit when we invest in creating a more inclusive workforce,” Weinman said. “We hope that this award and the commission’s celebration of National Disability Employment Awareness Month shines a light on a valuable pool of potential employees who are ready and motivated to put their talents to work.”

Also speaking at the award ceremony were MicroTek employees Jared Baillargeon and Michael Green, both assemblers at the Chicopee manufacturing facility.

“It makes me feel good that we are recognized as an employer that hires people with disabilities,” Baillargeon said. “It’s been 15 years since I started working at MicroTek, and I like the people and the safe facility.”

Added Green “MicroTek is not just a job. I’ve always felt a family atmosphere since day one. I consider all of us family. Some of us have more disability than others, but we all get treated the same.”

Secretary of Health and Human Services Kate Walsh presented the keynote and spoke about the state’s support for employing people with disabilities.

“When we prioritize hiring people with disabilities, everyone wins. We can address the ongoing workforce crisis, foster independence, and become a stronger workforce with a better understanding of the lived experience of people with disabilities,” Walsh said. “We need to take this opportunity to break down stigma and become more inclusive. I’m grateful to the commission for their efforts, as well as to our own staff at the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission and other agencies who provide opportunities for people every day to find paths to employment for people with disabilities across the state.”


Greener Pastures


Greenfield Community College (GCC) will develop a new HVAC training program that’s focused on improving equity in the green workforce thanks to a grant from the Healey-Driscoll administration.

GCC’s Workforce Development division is developing the HVAC training program with funding from an $18 million grant designed to drive equitable clean-energy workforce development. The awards are being provided by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC), a state agency dedicated to accelerating the growth of the clean-energy sector to meet the Commonwealth’s clean-energy, climate, and economic-development goals.

“We’re thrilled to partner with MassCEC to bring this high-demand workforce-training program to Greenfield,” said Kristin Cole, vice president of Workforce Development at GCC. “This grant award, rooted in equity, will allow GCC to train unemployed and underemployed individuals for a family-sustaining career in a growing industry. HVAC technicians will become increasingly more in-demand over the next few years to help meet the state’s climate targets for 2030 and 2050.”

michelle Schutt

Michelle Schutt

“Clean-energy jobs are good for the environment and good for family incomes. This is a win-win situation for GCC and our region.”

GCC is receiving $1.1 million to develop and deliver a HVAC training program that includes paid on-the-job training with employers. Trainees will be provided technical skills and career-readiness training, as well as professional certifications, comprehensive student support, and a two-month paid internship.

These efforts aim to provide career-ready individuals for an industry that will need to increase the number of professionals by 17% between now and 2030, according to a recently released needs assessment for the Massachusetts clean-energy workforce.

“Clean-energy jobs are good for the environment and good for family incomes. This is a win-win situation for GCC and our region,” GCC President Michelle Schutt said.

The college and its partners at MassHire Franklin Hampshire Career Center will specifically focus recruitment efforts on historically underrepresented individuals.

“Building and expanding our workforce is a foundational element of the clean-energy transition,” MassCEC CEO Jennifer Daloisio said. “The evolution of MassCEC’s programming in workforce development shows our commitment to inclusive and intentional growth that delivers good-paying jobs to families and clean energy to residents across the Commonwealth. We are grateful for the Healey-Driscoll administration’s continued support, and we look forward to seeing these organizations carry out their promising work.”

Sue Surner, CEO of Surner Heating Co. and a GCC employer partner, added that “this program will be a critical resource to prepare students for an excellent career path in the HVAC industry. We are excited to not only support GCC’s efforts to design a valuable training program with industry-recognized credentials as outcomes, but also to partner with GCC to provide paid internships to the participants coming out of this extensive training program.

“This grant will allow GCC to add 45 newly qualified individuals to our regional HVAC workforce pipeline,” she added, “and with the work ahead of us to move residents across the state off of fossil fuels and into cleaner energy, this couldn’t come at a better time.”

Work/Life Balance

‘A Significant Step Forward’


Brianna Wales-Thaxton doesn’t see diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts in a vacuum. In fact, she likes to take a long view.

“We’re able to be a part of this work because of centuries of advocacy and justice seeking,” specifically from the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) community, she told BusinessWest. “All of us who are trying to work toward racial equity are building off of that work.

“We’re also at different places in that work, every single one of us, and until we’ve dismantled racism, everyone has a need to advance racial equity in their workplaces. It’s not just the right thing to do, but it’s what people are asking for in their workplaces in this generation.”

That’s why Wales-Thaxton, vice president for people and culture at the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts, is excited about Equity in the 413, an inaugural summit that aims to advance equity in workplaces across Western Mass.

The day-long event, to take place on Tuesday, Oct. 24 at the Sheraton Springfield, is being presented by an impressive alliance of regional organizations. In addition to the Community Foundation, they include Behavioral Health Network, Health New England, Hilltown Community Health Center, the Human Service Forum, the Public Health Institute of Western Massachusetts, the Springfield DHHS Office of Health and Racial Equity, the Western Massachusetts Economic Development Council, and the Women of Color Health Equity Collective.

“This event marks a significant step forward in the ongoing journey toward an equitable future,” said Megan Burke, president and CEO of the Community Foundation. “We are thrilled to be part of this transformative summit. It not only underscores our commitment to fostering actionable change, but also represents a pivotal moment in Western Mass.’s collective journey toward a more equitable region in which we can all thrive.”

Organizers will bring together dozens of industry leaders and hundreds of professionals across multiple sectors. Attendees can expect to gain insight as presenters from an array of businesses and organizations delve into lessons learned from their own implementations of racial-equity policies and practices. Sessions will offer opportunities for dialogue, relationship building, self-care exercises, and providing tools and resources to assist business leaders in implementing racial-equity practices in their workplaces.

Gaining specific tools and strategies is key to “demystifying” equity work, Wales-Thaxton said, adding that, while many argue that there’s a bottom-line benefit for companies that prioritize DEI, that shouldn’t be the main rationale. “There’s also a societal need for every single one of us, as individuals and as part of institutions and organizations, to advance racial equity because there’s a real crisis in our social conscience.”

The event’s organizers agree.

“Diversity, equity, and inclusion are an integral part of BHN’s mission and philosophy, and we have learned so much in our efforts to operationalize social-justice values in our workplace,” said Steve Winn, president and CEO of Behavioral Health Network. “We look forward to coming together with other organizations to share learnings and take meaningful, collective action advancing racial equity across Western Massachusetts.”

Jessica Collins, executive director of the Public Health Institute of Western Massachusetts, added that the nonprofit looks forward to the opportunity for mutual learning and is “eager to share insights from our own journey to advance racial equity within our organization and the region, including learnings from our collaboration with the Women of Color Health Equity Collective and other regional organizations to center racial equity to reduce tobacco use.”

An expanding list of session presenters includes Willful Change LLC, the National Conference for Community and Justice, Caring Health Center, the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, Arise for Social Justice, CORE XP Business Solutions, HUB International, Franklin County Community Development Corp., and Estoy Aqui LLC, to name a few.

Wales-Thaxton told BusinessWest the event connects back to the Community Foundation’s own strategic priorities.

“One is to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion at institutions and organizations, starting with our own. We’ve been doing a lot of that work in a really important way internally. This is an opportunity for us to share what we’ve learned with other employees and create a space for employers to begin to explore — or explore further — how to advance equity in their organizations.”

At the same time, “what else can we learn to advance this work internally through grants and making philanthropic efforts?” she added. “It ties up a lot of our strategic priorities and creates a space for us to have an intentional effort around racial equity.”

Tickets to Equity in the 413 — as well as the day’s agenda and a full rundown of presenters — are available at bit.ly/equity413.


—Joseph Bednar