Cover Story

Shining Examples

CEO Maroun Hannoush

CEO Maroun Hannoush


“Ebb and flow.”

It was with those three words that Maroun Hannoush succinctly and quite effectively summed up the 34-year history of his family’s business, Hannoush Jewelers.

They don’t tell the whole story, obviously, but they get the main point across. This enterprise has seen near-constant change in many different forms: stores being opened, stores being closed or consolidated, stores changing locations, stores moving into malls, stores moving out of malls into standalone locations, new family members joining the business, new product lines being added, new features added to the digital experience … the list goes on.

Change. That is the one word that best defines a venture that was launched by eight brothers — in order, Elie, Joseph, Tony, Norman (Maroun’s father), Peter, George, Camile, and Nabile — who came to this country from Lebanon in the early ’70s, and now involves six of those brothers and many of the three dozen members of the next generation, said Maroun, CEO of Hannoush Jewelers, who represented the family for this article

“I have a cousin in almost every store in Western Mass. and another five in Connecticut,” he said, adding that several members of the second generation have chosen other fields, ranging from commercial and residential real estate to salons to ownership of a gun and ammunition shop, providing more evidence of how one of the region’s more intriguing — and most successful — family business ventures continues to write new chapters of entrepreneurship.

Indeed, a family that has always been entrepreneurial continues to exude that quality, moving into ventures ranging from other jewelry chains, such as the Michaels chain, to a bar and grill in Westfield; from a chain of gift stores (Giftology) to a private golf course (Springfield Country Club), now owned by several of the eight brothers.

“Each brother is focused on their grouping of stores, and some are finding opportunities outside of the malls, while some are finding opportunities inside new malls, strip centers, and free-standing locations like this one, but everyone is looking for new opportunities.”

But it is the family of jewelry stores that is still the main focus — and still the source of a good deal of ebb and flow and also relationship building, the foundation on which this venture was built, said Maroun, adding that these patterns will certainly continue into the future.

Indeed, the family continues to look for new opportunities to grow, both organically and through acquisition, he said, adding that there are solid prospects in both categories (more on that later).

In his current role, Maroun essentially oversees 11 Hannoush locations owned by his father. He sat down with BusinessWest in one of them, the company’s new location on Boston Road, directly across the street from the Eastfield Mall — or what’s left of it — where the company had a location for more than 30 years.

The Hannoush chain, or this segment of it, anyway, wanted to stay in the Boston Road area, said Maroun, and it was fortunate to secure, with the help of one of his brothers, Daniel, who works in commercial real estate, what was an M&T Bank branch for its latest location and open in that site just days after that mall officially closed its doors.

Maroun Hannoush, right, with his father, Norman, at the new location on Boston Road.

Maroun Hannoush, right, with his father, Norman, at the new location on Boston Road.

For this issue, BusinessWest talked at length with Maroun to bring some clarity — yes, that’s an industry term — on the state of the Hannoush family’s growing portfolio of businesses, especially the jewelry chain that is at the heart of it all, and what the future might bring to a venture with such a rich past and present.


Diamonds in the Rough

Hannoush told BusinessWest that, like many of the sons and daughters of the eight brothers who started this venture, he grew up in the jewelry business, starting with cleaning jewelry before moving on to buying diamonds and working the sales floor while attending Cathedral High School and then American International College.

“This is the only business I’ve worked in, and it has captivated me from a very early age, since I started working in my father’s and my uncles’ shop in West Springfield,” he said, referring to the operation’s hub on Capital Drive. “I did a little bit of everything; from age 13 to now — I’m 31 — I’ve been learning every aspect of the business, and that continues. The learning never stops; I call myself a student for life.

“My Uncle Peter taught me how to look at diamonds, what to look for,” he went on. “My Uncle Camile taught me about customer relations and making sure the customers were happy and how to keep them satisfied. Many of my uncles had different responsibilities, and I tried to learn from each of them.”

In many ways, he’s building on the work of his father and uncles, who, as noted, came to this country from Lebanon in 1971. They originally settled in Lawrence, where an aunt lived, and then moved to the Springfield area in the mid-’70s. Several of the brothers were apprentice jewelry makers in Lebanon, and they started doing jewelry repair in Lawrence and eventually for Kay Jewelers. They continued doing repairs for Kay at its Eastfield Mall location before deciding to go into the manufacturing and retail business for themselves.

They opened their first retail location in 1980 in the former Fairfield Mall in Chicopee, which met its demise in the late ’90s, and from there, they expanded across this region — opening new stores in Springfield, Holyoke, Hadley, and several communities in Connecticut — and then well beyond. Indeed, the Hannoush footprint, which at its height included 75 stores, now numbers roughly 50 locations in 12 states — most operated by the family, but there are few franchises, said Maroun, who counted the states in his head and with his fingers to make sure he got the number right.

That’s an indication of how change remains a constant, he said, adding that there are many manifestations of this quality, as we’ll see.

Another constant through all of this is the Hannoush family itself, he said, but even within it, there has been steady change as members of the second generation settle into different roles, much as the eight brothers did — and still do.

Indeed, early on, and even today, the eight brothers have, as Maroun mentioned earlier, assumed specific responsibilitiesv within the company, with Peter handling the diamond importing, George handling the watch department, his father serving as treasurer, and so on.

“We want to see them not for one occasion, but many joyous occasions. The gift for a boyfriend or girlfriend … that can lead to an engagement ring, and that engagement ring can lead to a wedding band, and that wedding band leads to anniversary gifts and birthday gifts. We want to create relationships that can last a lifetime.”

Today, the work of operating the broad chain of stores is now spread out over more than 20 family members serving in a variety of different roles.

In 2018, a comprehensive estate plan was drawn up that essentially divides the portfolio of Hannoush stores into six spheres, one for each of the six brothers still active with the jewelry business. Overall, this is a venture with what Maroun called “10 companies operating under the same banner,” one for each of the brothers and four franchises.

Maroun manages the 11 stores under his father Norman’s ownership — the two in Springfield (Boston Road and a location inside MGM Springfield), four in New Hampshire, one in Maine, two on the North Shore of Massachusetts, one in Newburgh, N.Y., and another in St. Peters, Mo.

One of the North Shore locations was opened last year, the Newburgh store was acquired from a franchisee, while the MGM stores and two others in Florida were acquired from his Uncle Camile, with those Florida locations to be sold later, Maroun said, adding that these transactions provide still more evidence of the movement, or change, within the company.

The eight Hannoush brothers who started it all.

The eight Hannoush brothers who started it all.

That wide footprint — indicative of how the stores were apportioned through the estate plan — adds up to quite a bit of travel, he noted, adding that he visits each store regularly, meaning more regularly for the ones in the 413 than the one in Missouri, which he visits three or four times a year.

Within each territory, and across the company as a whole, there are ongoing searches for new opportunities and strategies to achieve continued growth at existing locations, such as the decision to find a standalone location on Boston Road to replace the Eastfield Mall store.

“We’ve consolidated some locations that were in line with our growth plans, and we’ve opened new locations in new markets,” he said. “Each brother is focused on their grouping of stores, and some are finding opportunities outside of the malls, while some are finding opportunities inside new malls, strip centers, and free-standing locations like this one, but everyone is looking for new opportunities.”


The Cutting Edge

As part of that ebb and flow mentioned at the top, the Hannoush chain has evolved and adjusted through changing times, including the rise of online shopping and the decline of many large shopping malls, including Eastfield and Fairfield.

The chain has an online presence — — to serve those who want to research, buy, or do both online, Maroun said, noting that many will at least start the buying process in that fashion by researching what they’re interested in. That site is in a seemingly constant state of change as well, he said, in order to better meet customer needs.

But jewelry is a very personal purchase, he noted, adding that many customers prefer to at least complete the process in person in one of the stores.

“We want to see them not for one occasion, but many joyous occasions. The gift for a boyfriend or girlfriend … that can lead to an engagement ring, and that engagement ring can lead to a wedding band, and that wedding band leads to anniversary gifts and birthday gifts. We want to create relationships that can last a lifetime.”

“Talking to the person face to face and understanding what their interests are and what they like and what they don’t like helps us to better put together the ideal piece of jewelry for them,” he said, adding that, whether it’s online or in-store, the ultimate goal is to create a relationship, one that could, and very often does, last for decades.

“We want to see them not for one occasion, but many joyous occasions,” he told BusinessWest. “The gift for a boyfriend or girlfriend … that can lead to an engagement ring, and that engagement ring can lead to a wedding band, and that wedding band leads to anniversary gifts and birthday gifts. We want to create relationships that can last a lifetime.”

Company employees and area dignitaries cut the ribbon

Company employees and area dignitaries cut the ribbon at Hannoush’s new location on Boston Road.

While forging such relationships is a big part of his job description — as it is for all those in the Hannoush family — there are many other elements to that informal document, especially the continued search for new opportunities and efforts to maximize existing locations, Maroun said.

Overall, there are many opportunities for continued growth and expansion, he noted, as the industry continues to experience consolidation at every level, from the large regional and national chains to smaller, independent stores, many of them owned and operated by Baby Boomers looking for an exit strategy.

“Our plan is to continue to organize, strategize, and grow organically as well as through acquisition,” he told BusinessWest. “There are many people preparing for retirement who present opportunities for acquisition. There are people who are expanding their stores into new locations and some smaller retailers who haven’t transformed or changed their approach with digital strategies. So there are many opportunities to grow, and we will certainly consider them.”

As for movement to and from malls, Maroun said there is movement in both directions.

Indeed, he said he opened a location last year in a North Shore mall that is thriving, growing, and adding new stores and restaurants.

“We saw an opportunity to re-enter the market where we had a store 15 years ago that we closed after the mall and my dad and uncles didn’t come to terms,” he explained. “So we re-entered the mall with better terms and a brand-new-looking store.

“There’s an ebb and flow that’s continued over the years,” he went on, using that phrase again. “Some stores close, some stores open, and some reopen, depending on the economic climate, the location, and other factors.”

It is that ebb and flow, as well as traditions of excellence and relationship building, that Maroun and the rest of the Hannoush family expect to continue long into the future.

Giving Guide Special Coverage Special Publications

Regional Philanthropic Opportunities

When importance of giving to those in need — and to the organizations who help others secure their basic needs — doesn’t take a holiday, and there’s no season of the year when their work is not critical, especially at a time when the pandemic is barely in the rear-view mirror and an uncertain economy continues to pose challenges to so many individuals and nonprofits.

Still, there’s no doubt that people think about giving more around the year-end holidays, and that’s why BusinessWest and the Healthcare News publishes its annual Giving Guide around this time: to shine a spotlight on specific community needs and show you not only how to support them, but exactly what your money and time can accomplish.

The 18 profiles below of area nonprofit organizations, are just a sampling of the region’s thousands of nonprofits. These profiles are intended to educate readers about what these groups are doing to improve quality of life for the people living and working in the 413, but also to inspire them to provide the critical support (which comes in many different forms) that these organizations and so many others so desperately need.

These profiles within the Giving Guide list not only giving opportunities — everything from online donations to corporate sponsorships — but also volunteer opportunities. And it is through volunteering, as much as with a cash donation, that individuals can help a nonprofit carry out its important mission within our community.

BusinessWest and HCN launched the Giving Guide to 2011 to harness this region’s incredibly strong track record of philanthropy and support of the organizations dedicated to helping those in need. The publication is designed to inform, but also to encourage individuals and organizations to find new and imaginative ways to give back. We are confident it will succeed with both of those assignments.

Joseph Bednar, Editor
John Gormally, Publisher
Kate Campiti, Sales Manager and Associate Publisher

Education Special Coverage Workforce Development

Striking Results

Jasmine Kerrissey acknowledged that, when it comes to labor and business management, it’s difficult, but not impossible, to chart who’s winning and losing the various types of skirmishes between the two sides and post standings, as they do in sports.

But if they did … labor would be enjoying a sizable lead in the standings as this year comes to a close.

Indeed, there have been some recent — and significant — wins for the labor movement in this country, said Kerrissey, associate professor of Sociology and director of the UMass Labor Center, and co-author of the recently released book Union Booms and Busts: The Ongoing Fight Over the U.S. Labor Movement. She cited recent strikes involving United Auto Workers (UAW), who won 25% wage gains from Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis; employees at UPS; and TV and film actors and writers, among others, as well as union campaigns at large employers such as Amazon, Starbucks, REI, and Trader Joe’s.

In a word, labor is enjoying a large dose of momentum and one of the most pronounced ‘booms’ in recent times, she said.

“The number of strikes, and the number of new types of elections and new union organizing, is much higher than it’s been in the last several decades,” Kerrissey noted. “And many of those elections and strikes are being won by workers.

“Momentum is really important,” she went on. “And we should never underestimate momentum; when other workers see other workers winning, it’s really powerful, and it inspires others to think that they might be able to do the same.”

“Momentum is really important. And we should never underestimate momentum; when other workers see other workers winning, it’s really powerful, and it inspires others to think that they might be able to do the same.”

This momentum was perhaps best exemplified in early September when President Biden joined the UAW picket line at a General Motors plant in Michigan — the first time in U.S. history that a sitting president had done so. (Presidents have traditionally worked to broker deals, not take sides in labor disputes.)

Wearing a UAW cap and toting a bullhorn, Biden said of automakers’ profits after receiving federal assistance, “now they’re doing incredibly well. And guess what — you should be doing incredibly well, too.”

Such sentiments, the notion that workers should be doing as well as the CEOs running these large corporations, are at the heart of labor’s recent surge, said Tanzania Cannon-Eckerle, a labor attorney at the Springfield-based Royal Law Firm, who represents businesses in such matters.

Jasmine Kerrissey says labor is enjoying some real momentum in 2023

Jasmine Kerrissey says labor is enjoying some real momentum in 2023, especially though victories in several recent, high-profile strikes.

Elaborating, she said that, while the 25% wage hikes won by the auto workers during their month-long strike are certainly an aberration, such a figure emboldens workers in other industries and instills what she called “overexaggerated fear” among employers, including those in the 413.

“Those numbers are extraordinary,” she said. “Usually, when you see these union pay increases, we’re talking 3% to 8%, with 8% being the max. These 25% increases … I honestly don’t think we have that to fear locally, but … there is that public sentiment.”

Indeed, workers are further emboldened by seemingly endless headlines concerning the salaries of CEOs — and by the ongoing workforce crunch that is impacting virtually every sector of the economy, putting a premium on retention of talent.

“With the tight labor market, people can’t find workers — people don’t want to do the traditional jobs anymore,” Cannon-Eckerle said. “Employers need employees, so they do have that leverage, that bargaining power. And with this crunch being in the public, workers know it, and they feel it.”

Meanwhile, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) recently announced new union election rules and issued six significant union- and employee-favorable decisions that, among other things, make it easier for unions to gain the right to represent employees, redefine the standard for what constitutes concerted activity subject to protection under the NLRB, and substantially heighten employers’ collective-bargaining obligations.

“The NLRB has also shortened the period from election time to when to when it actually happens, so it can come hard, and it can come fast. You have one upset employee that you’re tiptoeing around, and before you know it, you have someone who’s asked for there to be a union election, and within 14 days, it’s happening. That’s scary for employers, and it should be.”

“The NLRB has also shortened the period from election time to when to when it actually happens, so it can come hard, and it can come fast,” Cannon-Eckerle added. “You have one upset employee that you’re tiptoeing around, and before you know it, you have someone who’s asked for there to be a union election, and within 14 days, it’s happening. That’s scary for employers, and it should be.”

For this issue and its focus on workforce and education, BusinessWest looks at the momentum that labor is enjoying at present, what it means, and what might come next.


Labor Gains

What labor is enjoying now would certainly qualify as a boom, said Kerrissey, who told BusinessWest there have been a number of upsurges and periods of retraction since 1900, the period studied for her book, co-written with Judith Stephan-Norris, professor emerita in the Department of Sociology at the University of California Irvine.

That book was essentially finished before the pandemic, she said, adding that the scene has changed dramatically since it was sent it to the printer.

“When we were writing this book, it was hard to imagine that we would be in a boom period like this, but here we are,” she said. “It has been great timing for this book, and it’s been really exciting to apply some of the historical lessons to the present day.”

Tanzania Cannon-Eckerle

Tanzania Cannon-Eckerle says that, in the current labor climate, the best quality employers can display is transparency.

Kerrissey said booms are defined by momentum on several different fronts. Successful strikes — with success meaning that workers were able to win all or most of what they were asking for when they went to the picket lines — are easily the most visible.

And there have been many of those over this past year and in many different industries, said Kerrissey, citing the UAW strike, the averted UPS strike — a settlement that was reached gave more than 300,000 workers represented by the Teamsters significant wage hikes and new minimums — and the new contracts won by actors and screenwriters. But there have also been “successful” strikes in healthcare — In October, Kaiser Permanente struck a deal with a coalition of unions granting them 21% wage increases over the next four years — and many teacher strikes, including several in Massachusetts, that have garnered higher wages, especially for paraprofessionals.

But momentum is visible in other fronts as well, Kerrissey said, including what she called a “wave” of new union organizing over the past few years, elections that go through the National Labor Relations Board.

“These have stood out, both because it’s more workers doing these elections, but it’s also in industries that have typically not had a lot of union presence,” she said, listing the action at Starbucks as both the most visible and impactful example of such movement, with more than 300 locations across the country now unionized and the total of represented workers approaching 10,000.

But there have been others as well, including Trader Joe’s, Amazon, Chipotle, and REI, the camping and outdoor sports equipment retailer.

“That’s a real shift to have those types of elections in industries that have long been non-union,” Kerrissey told BusinessWest, adding quickly that workers in those industries, while now unionized, have mostly had a difficult time bringing companies to the table to negotiate.

“The bottom line is … if workers are happy, they’re not going to strike. If your employees are happy, they don’t feel like they need to organize. Usually, it’s one or two people that are upset about something and start to gather their forces, and they start nodding their heads and say, ‘yeah, you’re right, we do deserve more.’”

And while some numbers are trending upward, she went on, overall union representation is relatively flat, if not actually declining.

Indeed, according to the NLRB, union petitions increased 3% in fiscal 2023 compared to 2022, with 2022 seeing a 53% increase in union election petitions from the previous year. However, U.S. union membership declined to 10.1% in 2022 from 10.3% in 2021, the lowest on record, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Although the number of workers belonging to unions increased by 273,000 workers to 14.3 million in 2022, the total number of workers in the U.S. workforce grew by 5.3 million, resulting in the drop in union density.

Those numbers show that, while labor is enjoying momentum, there is still room for more improvement, Kerrissey said.

“The next big hurdle is making the playing field more even for working people, and that comes down to labor policy,” she said. “The labor policy we have in this country is antiquated, and it’s been hard to change; the basic structure is still from the 1930s. But work has changed a lot since then.”

“It’s been quite difficult to make an updated, 21st-century labor policy,” she went on. “And I think some of the strikes are in reaction to that — there are few alternatives.”

Meanwhile, it’s difficult to project what will happen short- and long-term.

“It’s hard to make predictions,” she said. “Historically, when workers are striking and winning, union membership also surges — those two things are correlated. But it’s really hard to look too far into the future.”


Labor Pains

While long-term projections may be cloudy, Cannon-Eckerle said it’s rather easy to look short-term and see a time (it’s already here, actually) when it is much easier for unions to gain the right to represent employees, and for an election to come much more quickly.

Indeed, as she recapped the changes made by the NLRB in September, she said they have the potential to be as impactful as any of the recent strikes and could cause some real anxiety among employers.

The NLRB decisions, which came down in one hectic week in late August, bring significant changes to the landscape and essentially enable unions to get faster elections, make it easier to show that individual employee comments or actions constitute concerted activity, and limit past practice as a justification for unilateral changes, she explained, adding that these are all clear wins for employees and unions.

Summing them all up, Cannon-Eckerle said, “my clients are afraid — and they should be. They don’t know what they’re allowed to say or not allowed to say; there’s a gray line about whether you can actually say something to somebody, even if they’re being disruptive to the workplace.

“The fear is, ‘am I not going to be able to police the conduct of my employees, because they’re essentially allowed to say and do whatever they want?’” she went on. “And it just takes that one really upset or really vocal employee to create that pre-storm, if you will.”

That pre-storm is the series of events that can lead to a union election, she said, adding that the NLRB decisions can bring one about faster and more easily than perhaps ever before. In essence, the new rule resurrects what was known as the ‘ambush election’ process, which inhibits employers’ ability to educate their workforces about union representation and adequately prepare for union elections — hence the term.

In such a climate, businesses large and small should be focused on transparency, she said, adding quickly that this doesn’t necessarily mean wide-open books but does mean being open and honest about the financial big picture and a detailed explanation of revenues and expenses.

“If you explain to your workforce, ‘here’s what our budget is, and here’s the cost of each employee,’” she began, noting that this means the full cost of each employee, meaning salary, benefits, training, and more. “Most employees don’t know that; they understand budgets, and they understand what it costs to run their households, most likely, but they don’t fully understand everything that goes into charging $7 for a cup of coffee.”

Overall, Cannon-Eckerle said, business owners and managers should do what they can to impress upon workers that they are valued and heard when it comes to the issues that impact them, meaning everything from wages to working conditions to flexibility around where people work.

“The bottom line is … if workers are happy, they’re not going to strike,” she noted. “If your employees are happy, they don’t feel like they need to organize. Usually, it’s one or two people that are upset about something and start to gather their forces, and they start nodding their heads and say, ‘yeah, you’re right, we do deserve more.’

“The way to control that, first of all, is to right your ship; you have to make sure that your house is in order at your company,” she went on. “If it’s not, maybe there’s justification for the union cozying up to the workforce.”

Healthcare News Special Coverage

Building Blocks for the Future

Dr. Lynnette Watkins

Dr. Lynnette Watkins called 2023 a rebuilding year and a time for “getting back to basics.”


As she talked about the relative fiscal health of hospitals, and especially Cooley Dickinson Hospital (CDH) in Northampton, which she serves as president and CEO, and the outlook for the coming year, Dr. Lynnette Watkins looked back on 2023 and described it with phrases often reserved for struggling sports teams — yes, like the one in Foxboro.

“It’s been a very challenging year,” she told BusinessWest. “It was definitely a rebuilding year, with a lot of focus on getting back to basics, and getting to what I would call a new normal.”

While we’re used to hearing those terms in sports, they work in healthcare, and especially when it comes to hospitals, said Watkins and others we spoke with.

Indeed, hospitals are rebuilding from several years of turmoil, falling revenues, rising costs, and struggles with recruiting and retaining a workforce. Many of these issues predate the pandemic, to one extent or another, but COVID certainly exacerbated the problems.

Dr. Mark Keroack, president and CEO of the Baystate Health system, which includes four hospitals — Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Baystate Noble Hospital in Westfield, Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield, and Baystate Wing Hospital in Palmer — put things in perspective with some eye-opening numbers.

“It’s been a very challenging year. It was definitely a rebuilding year, with a lot of focus on getting back to basics, and getting to what I would call a new normal.”

He said the Baystate system, which also includes the health insurer Health New England, a range of physician practices, and a home-health agency (a $3 billion organization), essentially lost $61 million in the fiscal year that ended on Sept. 30 — $44 million from health delivery and $17 million from the health plan, which “had a bad year.”

And that’s a significant improvement over the previous fiscal year, when it lost $177 million.

And when it comes to workforce, the Baystate system has roughly 1,400 openings across several different departments, he said, noting that, again, this is an improvement from the peak of more than 2,000 in 2022.

Spiros Hatiras

Spiros Hatiras says HMC has taken aggressive steps on the workforce front, such as large sign-on bonuses and staffing ratios for nurses.

“It’s still more than double what it used to be before the pandemic,” said Keroack, who will be retiring next summer, adding that the system has nonetheless seen progress when it comes vacancy rates, turnover rates, and overall retention through strategies including flex scheduling, workforce-safety initiatives, upward movement on salaries and benefits, wellness programs, career counseling, and more — progress he expects will continue on these and other fronts in 2024.

Dr. Robert Roose, president of Mercy Medical Center in Springfield, agreed there was some improvement in 2023 on several of the fronts on which hospitals are battling, from overall volumes in the ER and with hospital stays (sometimes for the wrong reasons) to decreased use of travel nurses and their sky-high costs.

But there are still formidable challenges in the form of higher costs for everything from labor to equipment to medication; inadequate reimbursements for care (a problem hospitals have been dealing with for decades now); and, most recently, backlogs on the patient floors and the ER resulting from a shortage of nursing-home beds.

Overall, there are still many “mismatches,” as he called them, when it comes to demand in various settings and with specific needs, such as behavioral health.

“Hospitals are at a crossroads,” Roose said, noting that the pressures currently facing them will not likely abate in the years to come. “We have to think about how we focus on three main areas — health equity, system redesign and how we can do things differently, and workforce development.”

When it comes to getting back to basics, that phrase applies to everything to improving access, through initiatives such as an expansion of the ER at CDH (more on that later), to different strategies for recruiting and retaining employees — everything from greater flexibility with hours to a concert to celebrate nurses.

In that latter realm, there is certainly room for innovation and even what amounts to risk taking, said Spiros Hatiras, president and CEO of Holyoke Medical Center and Valley Health Systems, who said he and his team have certainly done so with some aggressive initiatives with bonuses for nurses, staffing ratios, and taking on nursing students right out of college.

“Hospitals are at a crossroads. We have to think about how we focus on three main areas — health equity, system redesign and how we can do things differently, and workforce development.”

Elaborating, he said HMC took some of the federal and state money funneled to hospitals in the wake of the pandemic and “invested” in programs to bolster the workforce through initiatives such as rising pay scales and benefits, ratios, and especially bonuses for nurses, both recent graduates and those with years of experience — initiatives that have generated strong results and eliminated the need for travel nurses, as we’ll see later.

For this issue, BusinessWest talked with these hospital administrators about the various forms of progress made in 2023 — and there were several — as well as the stern challenges that remain and the expectations for the year ahead.


Working in Concert

They called it Nurses Rock.

That was the name attached to a concert last spring featuring the local cover band Trailer Trash, staged in the former Colony Club space in Tower Square and orchestrated by Holyoke Medical Center. And that name speaks volumes about what this different kind of event was all about.

Indeed, this was a celebration of nurses, said Hatiras, noting that nurses from across the region, not just HMC, were invited. And more than 400 turned out.

Nurses Rock II is well into the planning stage, he went on, adding that the band Aquanett has been secured, and the event has been scheduled to coincide with National Nurses Week in early May.

Dr. Mark Keroack says 2023 was another difficult year

Dr. Mark Keroack says 2023 was another difficult year for hospitals, on several fronts, but it was a vast improvement over 2022.

Nurses Rock is just one example of rebuilding, going back to basics, being innovative, and, yes, thinking outside the box when it comes to the many challenges that are still confronting hospitals, which are, in many ways, still digging out from the fiscal turmoil created by, or exacerbated by, the pandemic.

With that, Keroack returned to those numbers he referenced earlier, such as the posted losses of $61 million system-wide in FY 2023, and put them into historical perspective.

“To really understand this, you need to turn the clock back to before the pandemic,” he said. “Before the pandemic, we would routinely generate margins of 2% to 3%, and we were generally stable; we were rated A+ by Standard & Poor’s, which put us roughly in the top quartile of health systems in New England.

“In 2020 and 2021, we were propped up by some generous federal subsidies from the CARES Act,” he went on, adding that these amounted to roughly $180 million. “They papered over some serious financial problems and enabled us to post 1% to 2% margins those two years.”

But that relief went away in 2022, and the system was still left with a huge bill for contract labor and overtime pay, he continued, adding that, when it comes to that $177 million loss in FY 2022, more than 70% of that came from higher labor costs.

In 2023, Baystate was able to make about $170 million worth of margin improvement, Keroack said, adding that much of this resulted from one-time grants from FEMA and ARPA monies, as well as some revenue-enhancement initiatives, efforts to improve supply-chain expenses, and a reduction of roughly 60 positions from the executive leadership ranks.

“We’re running an extraordinarily lean organization right now,” he told BusinessWest. For example, I used to have six direct reports, and now I have 12.”

What’s more, the system “turned the tide,” as he put it, when it comes to the use of contract labor, while also embarking on a number of joint ventures, such as the new behavioral-health hospital that opened recently in Holyoke, that help avoid capital expenditures, and exiting some small lines of business such as in-vitro fertilization and urgent care, areas where Baystate either couldn’t recruit talent or determined that these areas were not the core mission and were better left to others to handle.

Overall, volumes returned in 2023 across the board, Keroack said, meaning in the ER, surgeries, and discharges. But hospital stays or ‘days’ were considerably over budget because length of stay has increased, often because it’s more difficult to discharge a patient to a nursing home or home care.

“Hospitals are at a crossroads. We have to think about how we focus on three main areas — health equity, system redesign and how we can do things differently, and workforce development.”

“It’s causing a traffic jam,” he explained. “And it results in dozens and dozens of patients being stuck, waiting for a discharge to happen; that jams up the in-patient unit, causes backup in the emergency room, long waits, etc. It’s been stressful, but we’re beginning to get some progress on that.”

Watkins agreed, noting that more progress is needed in 2024 and beyond because there are many consequences as hospital stays lengthen, everything from greater potential for hospital-acquired infections and patient falls to further financial hardship for hospitals because insurers will not reimburse for those longer stays.

Much of the problem results from workforce issues, she went on, noting that “workforce drives access — access to our acute-care facilities, access to our ambulatory clinics, access to our VNA and hospice — and it really drives the value and quality of service that we offer.”


Work in Progress

Overall, there has been even more progress on the workforce front, although considerable challenges remain, said all those we spoke with.

Due to a heightened focus on various strategies regarding recruitment and retention, hospitals have greatly reduced their dependence on travel, or contract, nurses, who are paid at rates at least double what staff nurses receive, Watkins said.

At HMC, use of travel nurses has been eliminated altogether, said Hatiras, with a discernable dose of pride in his voice, noting that this was achieved through some rather aggressive risk-taking.

And, overall, the hospital has made itself a good place to work, he said, making it easier to recruit not only nurses but also doctors and other providers as well.

“The main theme in 2023 for us was to really leverage many, many years of work to create a great culture here,” he said. “That work, that culture, enabled us to attract physicians here where otherwise, we would have no shot. And it has essentially enabled us to solve our staffing problem. We have solved it for now — knock on wood.”

The most significant progress has come with attracting and retaining nurses and thus eliminating dependence on travel nurses, he went on, adding this has been accomplished through creation of that culture, but also through large bonuses and staffing ratios, initiatives launched in the early stages of the pandemic that are paying real dividends now.

“We gave the nurses something that no one else wanted to give them — something they really wanted, and something we fought for years not to give them: ratios,” he said. “None of my colleagues like my answer, but it has worked for us.”

Elaborating, Hatiras said that, pre-pandemic, his hospital, and all hospitals, fought hard against ratios demanded by nurses unions, primarily because there was no flexibility built into the equation, and penalties were imposed upon those who did not comply. HMC has injected some flexibility, keeping a 5-to-1 ratio whenever possible.

Meanwhile, rather than spend pandemic-related state and federal assistance on the “middleman,” meaning agency nurses for which the hospital paid $200 per hour, the hospital opted to put it toward retention bonuses and other initiatives for nurses and other providers of care.

“We basically said, ‘you’re here, and you work for us; we don’t want you to leave — so we’re going to pay you $20,000 over the next four years as a bonus, just to stay,’” he said, adding that very few nurses who accepted those terms have left.

Meanwhile, more recently, the hospital decided to make some additional investments, this time in recent college graduates, at a time when fewer hospitals were taking on such inexperienced individuals because of the high cost of training them. HMC offered them the chance to join the staff in May, after graduating, but not take on a full patient load until October.

On top of that, it offered something most “couldn’t say no to” — a $50,000 sign-on bonus for a commitment to stay five years.

“We said, ‘listen, we’ll cut you a check so long as you sign a note that says you’ll come and work for us,’” he said, adding that these bonuses were larger than most being offered and upfront in nature.

And they have worked, with many recent graduates signing on. And while many of his colleagues have questioned his math, Hatiras has told them, as he told BusinessWest, that, in the long run, it’s more cost-effective to incentivize nurses to stay in this aggressive fashion than it is to replace them when they leave. And that same guiding philosophy prompted him to put in place a similar program for experienced nurses, one that offers them $40,000 bonuses if they stay three years.


Reality Check

While there has been progress on workforce issues and other fronts, there are still a large number of pain points for hospitals, said Roose, adding that these will certainly continue in 2024.

“The pressures on hospitals have been increasing; they’ve been changing, and the needs of our community have been changing over the past several years, but the pressures have not relented,” he said, noting that the pandemic exacerbated the workforce crisis and compounded a financial crisis for hospitals across the country.

“Those various elements lead to pressures on everything from access to care for patients through traditional models that we’ve had for the past several decades, to having enough colleagues to provide care to meet the demands in different kinds of settings, to how to continue to invest in resources to innovate and grow to where healthcare is going.”

Moving forward, he said the healthcare system must continue to evolve to meet the changing needs of the public and continue to provide access to care, especially amid an ongoing shift toward more care being provided in outpatient settings.

“Hospitals and healthcare systems are evolving, but perhaps not quick enough to best meet those needs,” he went on. “We need to provide access points of care that are the most convenient, that are readily available, at the right level of care when needed, and with a high level of excellence.”

Watkins agreed, but noted that, while 2023 was certainly a time of ongoing challenge and duress for hospitals, it was also a period for rebuilding and, at CDH, celebrating such things as the 10th anniversary of the hospital’s partnership with Mass General Brigham, an expansion and renovation of the hospital’s labor and delivery suites, and the advancement of plans for expanding the ER, a project that will greatly enhance the delivery of care in that unit.

Ground will be broken on the new facility shortly, she said, adding that work to enlarge and redesign the ER brings into focus many of the pressing issues in healthcare today — everything from access to care to workplace conditions to retention of talent.

All are addressed in a design that adds 7,000 square feet of space but also improves safety through an overall configuration that enhances lines of sight while also improving staff satisfaction.

“They want to be in an environment that is pleasing to them, that they can move around in, because we spend a lot of the day at work,” Watkins said. “All of these things come back to workforce, which is going to be the key driver as we move into 2024.”


Bottom Line

As he talked briefly about his pending retirement and tenure at Baystate, Keroack joked that it has “never been dull.”

That’s an understatement and a rather polite way of summing up the past few years in particular.

It’s been a time of extreme challenge, but also intriguing and sometimes even exhilarating work to confront those challenges and find solutions.

As for what is to come and the outlook for 2024, hospitals will continue to rebuild and stress the basics. And, like any struggling sports team, they’ll look forward to the new year with optimism.

That’s the best you can do when you’re at a crossroads.

Special Coverage Women in Businesss

Promising Pipeline

Tricia Canavan (far left) and HCC President George Timmons (far right) in the Tech Hub digital classroom with Tech Foundry graduates (and current Tech Hub fellows) Lasharie Weems, Shanice McKenzie, and Anelson Delacruz.

Tricia Canavan (far left) and HCC President George Timmons (far right) in the Tech Hub digital classroom with Tech Foundry graduates (and current Tech Hub fellows) Lasharie Weems, Shanice McKenzie, and Anelson Delacruz.


Tech Foundry was launched in 2014 with a specific goal: to increase the technology workforce in Western Mass. at a time when employers were struggling to attract and retain talent.

“Since then, we’ve grown and really have focused on working with low- to moderate-income people and also people from non-traditional backgrounds who may be underrepresented in the tech sector,” said Tricia Canavan, who came on board as Tech Foundry’s CEO last year.

The nonprofit does so by offering professional development, technical career training, career coaching and internships, and job placement in order to connect people to existing IT opportunities, she added. “We’re very proud of the fact that our alums access living-wage jobs and are on these great career pathways.”

If anything, she noted, the need for Tech Foundry is stronger than ever. Recent studies of the workforce environment in Massachusetts suggest up to 400,000 people need to be attracted, recruited, or reskilled in order to keep business in the Bay State humming at optimal levels — many of those in the broad realm of IT.

“There has been a talent shortage in the tech sector and in other sectors, even pre-pandemic, but since the pandemic, we’ve seen those trends accelerate.”

“We all know that the tech sector is on fire, and there are lots and lots of opportunities for growth, and you don’t always need a college degree to access those things,” Canavan said of Tech Foundry’s innovative model that lets students stack certifications to help them get their foot in the door in IT and then progress up the career ladder.

“There has been a talent shortage in the tech sector and in other sectors, even pre-pandemic, but since the pandemic, we’ve seen those trends accelerate,” she added.

The reasons are varied, from mass retirements of Baby Boomers — which means the departure of much senior and middle management, as well as rank-and-file IT workers, from the workforce — to fewer children in the K-12 pipeline.

“Just by sheer numbers, we have fewer kids that are going to be graduating from high school and entering the workforce and/or going to college — that’s fewer kids to engage as young professionals once they complete their education. Also, some of the forecasts that I’ve seen have upwards of 60,000 young professionals projected to move from Massachusetts,” she added, for reasons ranging from cost of living to a housing shortage.

“It’s sort of this perfect storm of economic conditions that are creating persistent needs in the workforce for workers of all types, but there is absolutely a need for more workers in the tech sector.”

Tricia Canavan says Tech Hub is a way to address the region’s digital divide.

Tricia Canavan says Tech Hub is a way to address the region’s digital divide.

The core, 18-week Tech Foundry program has helped produce more of those workers locally, but the nonprofit is equally excited about its newest initiative, called Tech Hub, a broad collaboration that also includes Holyoke Community College (HCC), the Western Massachusetts Alliance for Digital Equity, the Massachusetts Broadband Institute, the Accelerate the Future Foundation, Comcast, Google, Bulkley Richardson, and other partners.

“This has been created as part of the Western Mass. Alliance for Digital Equity’s efforts to address digital equity, and the digital divide here in Western Mass.,” Canavan explained. “We, as part of the consortium working on the digital divide in Western Mass., identified an opportunity to be able to support digital-equity efforts while also continuing professional-development training for our staff, students, and alums.”

Located at 206 Maple St. in downtown Holyoke, Tech Hub, which opened to the public on Oct. 26, offers basic and intermediate digital-literacy training, with an eye on enabling people to access jobs of all kinds, not just specifically in IT.

“It starts off as basic as, ‘do you know how to use a mouse? Do you know how to use a trackpad? This is how you get on the internet,’ all the way up to exposure to things like Google Sheets, Google Docs, Microsoft Word, Excel, that sort of thing. We want to help people access the basic digital literacy that they need to thrive at work, at school, in healthcare, and connecting to others in the community.”

That’s the first leg of the Tech Hub stool, she explained; the others are providing computers free of charge to eligible people, and providing technical support and one-on-one troubleshooting services to people in the community.

“Everybody probably has someone in their family that uses technology but maybe is not an expert. When they have a problem, where do they go? So we envision providing that support for the community through Tech Hub.”


Confidence Restored

As a single, stay-at-home mother with young boys, Lasharie Weems often felt overwhelmed — particularly when it came to technology.  “My 5-year old was probably more digitally literate than I was,” she said.

The remote instruction her children required during the pandemic proved even more baffling, she added. “My older two sons go to a science and technology school. I struggled to even help them with their homework.”

“We want to help people access the basic digital literacy that they need to thrive at work, at school, in healthcare, and connecting to others in the community.”

After enrolling in Tech Foundry’s free, 18-week program, she said her confidence was restored, and it actually brought her family closer together.

Weems now works for Tech Foundry. She told her story at the grand opening of Tech Hub, where she will be serving as an American Connection Corps fellow.

“Today is an exciting occasion for all of us,” Weems she told the crowd assembled outside Tech Hub’s digital classroom. “But for me, it’s a personal achievement as I celebrate the journey it took to get me here. Tech Hub is my opportunity to pay it forward, to help countless others identify and bridge the gap in digital equity.”

Canavan said connections like that are important.

“What was exciting to us about this project was the ability to expand the impact of Tech Foundry, but we’re also staffing Tech Hub in part with alums of Tech Foundry through a one-year professional digital fellowship program,” she explained. “They work under the guidance of Tech Foundry staff to provide the training and technical support services. In addition, we will have students who will be doing co-op and internship work while they’re in the program.”

From left: Tech Hub fellow Shanice McKenzie, Tech Hub manager Shannon Mumblo

From left: Tech Hub fellow Shanice McKenzie, Tech Hub manager Shannon Mumblo, and Tech Foundry deputy director Michelle Wilson in the Tech Hub digital classroom.

HCC President George Timmons said it was fitting for Tech Hub to be based at the Picknelly Adult & Family Education Center (PAFEC), one of the college’s satellite campuses in the heart of the city, which also houses HCC’s Adult Learning Center as well as other community programs, including the Holyoke High Opportunity Academy, an alternative public high-school program. 

“The mission of Holyoke Community College is to educate, inspire, and connect,” he said. “Through this initiative, we hope to promote access to technology and connectivity, digital literacy, and education, while giving individuals the tools they need to be successful.”

Holyoke Mayor Joshua Garcia agreed, noting that four students who attend the Holyoke High Opportunity Academy at PAFEC have already signed up to be part of the Tech Hub program. 

“I think we can all agree that digital literacy in 2023 is as vital as reading literacy was 50 years ago,” the mayor said. “Whether it’s filling out a job application, communicating with a customer, maintaining accessible records, or even booking a flight, digital fluency is a necessary life skill.

“But the Tech Hub mission recognizes something else: that there exists a digital divide that is the result of inequities in access, opportunity, housing, income, and schooling,” he went on. “The free training and support that will take place at this site and at community partner locations is going to be a liberating game changer.”


Opportunity Knocks

Meanwhile, important work continues at Tech Foundry, Canavan said, and applications for the next cohort of students are open at through December.

“We work very intentionally to engage with the community to get the word out about TechFoundry, and there are a lot of different strategies that we use to do that,” she noted, including social media, referrals from community organizations, and partnering with schools to make students aware that Tech Foundry can be a career-development option for them.

“I think it’s a really good option for people because the training is excellent,” she added. “It’s really an intensive training with a great track record of people accessing employment in the tech sector after they graduate, and it’s at no cost.”

Canavan, who has a deep background in nonprofit management and was also president of a staffing agency, United Personnel, said it’s gratifying to see people come through the Tech Foundry program and improve their lives, and she’s hoping for similar impact from Tech Hub.

“I was eager to return to the nonprofit world after selling my business a couple of years ago and felt very fortunate when this job was open at Tech Foundry. I think it’s a great opportunity for me to use my background in recruiting and staffing and also leverage the workforce and economic-development work that I was doing in that role in the nonprofit world, in partnership with residents and community partners and employers,” she told BusinessWest.

“I love this job because it’s pragmatic and solutions-focused,” she added. “There’s tons of opportunity right now, so how do we work together to help residents of Western Mass. access those opportunities? It’s exciting.”

Construction Special Coverage

Building Momentum

By Emily Thurlow

With the federal COVID-19 public-health declaration coming to an end this past May, the once-global pandemic may seem all but a distant memory. For many businesses, however, its impact certainly hasn’t vanished from sight.

Challenges in obtaining materials and equipment continue to vex general contractors in the construction industry in Western Mass. and across the nation. This extended period of uncertainty — in both duration and scope — has left many feeling uncertain about the future beyond 2023, but there are positive signs, too.

Rising building costs and higher interest rates have been of particular concern to Kevin Perrier, president and CEO of Five Star Building Corp. After work in the Easthampton company’s largest sector — aviation — was essentially grounded for the past two years, Perrier says he was expecting business to be on the slower side.

But to his pleasant surprise, he was wrong. Quite wrong.

“We really saw the aviation sector rebound this year. It makes up for essentially two years of no growth and no construction,” he said. “Honestly, this was one of our busiest years I can remember.”

And Five Star isn’t alone. In fact, despite ongoing resource constraints, construction firms like Laplante Construction Inc. in East Longmeadow and Sweitzer Construction LLC in Monson are reporting an increase in the volume of their work, while Fontaine Bros. Inc. in Springfield calls 2023 the firm’s best-ever year for revenue.

“We really saw the aviation sector rebound this year. It makes up for essentially two years of no growth and no construction. Honestly, this was one of our busiest years I can remember.”

“This year has been good. It’s been steady,” said David Fontaine Jr., CEO of Fontaine Bros. “I think our efforts to work really hard to deliver our projects on time and on budget have really strengthened our relationships with our clients because they’ve seen that we’re still getting things done, successfully, no matter how difficult the climate is.”

Reflecting back on those unprecedented times, BusinessWest spoke with several companies in the region who shared how they have been constantly rolling with the punches by being as strategic as possible when planning out projects and seeking alternatives in design, materials, or vendors when applicable, and, above all, maintaining the safety of everyone involved.


Gaining Altitude

Within two weeks of the national shutdowns to stop the spread of COVID-19 in March 2020, Perrier estimates that Five Star lost “millions upon millions of dollars worth of work.” Initially, projects were put on a temporary hold, but shortly thereafter, the majority of those projects were canceled, he said.

Laplante Construction recently completed this new home build in East Longmeadow.

Laplante Construction recently completed this new home build in East Longmeadow.

This year, the company, which has been working up and down the East Coast in the aviation sector for the past 13 years, has more than made up for that lost time working with clients like Delta Air Lines and HMSHost International, a U.S. highway and airport food and beverage service company that is a subsidiary of the Italian company Autogrill SpA.

Some of the projects Five Star has completed include the new Gachi Sushi House in Terminal C at Boston Logan International Airport, as well as a Hudson store, offering food, beverages, and travel amenities, in the Terminal B/C connector, and a Hudson Nonstop at Charleston International Airport in South Carolina.

More recent projects underway at Logan include a new hangar roof for Delta Air Lines, some infrastructure work in the lower levels of the airport, and building the new Fox & Flight Restaurant in Terminal A for travel retailer and restaurateur Paradies Lagardère. Perrier said the new restaurant is slated to be the largest restaurant at the airport.

“I think our efforts to work really hard to deliver our projects on time and on budget have really strengthened our relationships with our clients because they’ve seen that we’re still getting things done, successfully, no matter how difficult the climate is.”

“At any given time, we usually have six to 12 projects going in the aviation sector, primarily at Logan,” he said. “The new Terminal E expansion at Logan kept us very busy; it generated quite a bit of work for us to the point that we were actually turning down bids out there. We just kind of reached our capacity for the summer because it was such a push all at once.”

Combined with several mixed-use projects, Five Star had its hands full, he added.

Meanwhile, Laplante Construction and Fontaine Bros. also share glowing reports for their work in the residential and commercial sectors, respectively.

Since expanding his business three years ago to Cape Cod, specializing in mid- to high-end home building and remodeling, Bill Laplante, president of Laplante Construction, says he hasn’t seen any kind of slowdown as a result of increased interest rates. Approximately 80% of the company’s business involves residential projects.

“So the Cape market has been very, very good. There’s an awful lot of work out there,” he said. “I just think there are fewer people out there that are relying on mortgages and are self-financing, or they’re paying cash for work to be done out there.”

For Fontaine Bros., projects that have been publicly funded have remained more consistent than privately funded or developer-driven projects.

Recently, the company completed the three-story DeBerry-Swan Elementary School project on Union Street in Springfield, which opened in the fall. Fontaine is also currently working on school-building projects in Westfield, Worcester, Tyngsboro, Walpole, Fitchburg, and East Brookfield, as well as the UMass Amherst campus.

Pat Sweitzer, operations manager of Sweitzer Construction, also described 2023 as an especially good year. She said that she and her husband, Craig Sweitzer, who co-own and operate the company, attribute this year’s successes to their employees and partners.

Sweitzer Construction has developed an expertise in dental-office construction

Sweitzer Construction has developed an expertise in dental-office construction, including this project for Alliance Dental Care in East Longmeadow.

Pat also offered praise to her sons, Brian and Michael Sweitzer, as both have taken on leadership roles as the firm is in the process of transitioning into a second-generation company.

On the smaller end of projects, the company repaired some buildings at Smith College’s campus and built a new dental office at 265 Benton Dr. in East Longmeadow. One of the larger projects on the company’s docket this year was the conversion of a 19th-century mill building in Northampton into Cambium Analytica’s safety-compliance lab for cannabis products. The new sterile testing lab, which hasn’t opened yet, is located at 320 Riverside Dr., at the site of the former Northampton Cutlery Co.

“Taking a former very old factory building and turning it into a sterile testing lab … the outcome is just remarkable,” Sweitzer said.

Mark Sullivan, president and executive project manager for D.A. Sullivan & Sons Inc., called 2023 the Northampton company’s “first normal year” in several years, adding that things started to stabilize, in a post-COVID sense, during the second half of 2022, and that momentum has carried through 2023.


Strength Amid Challenges

While supply-chain issues have dramatically improved across the board since the middle of the pandemic, almost every contractor BusinessWest spoke to has highlighted challenges with electrical components and equipment like meter sockets, switch gears, generators, and transformers. The demand for transformers has been exacerbated by the lack of available domestic manufacturers to meet the increased need.

“Some of those electrical items still have ridiculously long lead times,” Laplante said. “We built a house — literally finished the house a year and a half ago — and there was supposed to be a ground-mounted transformer for the electric service to the house, and they didn’t have them.”

While waiting for the transformer to come in, he said the electric company has supplied the customer with temporary power. “That transformer has been on back order for a year and a half, and we probably won’t see it for another year. When it comes in, we’ll swap it out.”

For the most part, customers have remained understanding, he added. Other materials that continue to be difficult to source in a timely manner include mechanical equipment, like rooftop units for healing and cooling equipment.

“It seems like anything that has a manufacturing process that has a lot of little pieces and parts that are coming from all over continues to be difficult,” Fontaine said. “And for things like, say, a chiller or a piece of switchgear, they won’t start the manufacturing process until they have every little piece or part of what they need at the facility where they put it together.”

Highlighting a similar concern, Sweitzer said her company has made efforts to order products ahead of time. On Nov. 28, a groundbreaking ceremony was held for one of its projects, Embr Springfield, a $2 million dispensary on Boston Road. At nearly the same time, Sweitzer Construction was ordering the rooftop heating and cooling unit.

“We’re just digging the foundation now, and we already ordered the rooftop unit because it will take that long for it to come in,” she said. “The long lead times are a challenge.”

Sullivan noted that, because lead times for electrical components and mechanical equipment are still driving the overall work schedule for D.A. Sullivan & Sons, the firm’s focus has been on pre-construction services and identifying items they feel may trip up their plans.

Another niche facing long lead times is luxury appliance brands like Wolf and Sub-Zero, according to Laplante. Under current lead times, both brands are averaging roughly 12 months to arrive once ordered. Similar to the transformer problem, Laplante said both manufacturers are providing small, temporary refrigerators until the one that was ordered arrives.

“A lot of the appliance companies and the manufacturers are doing the best they can to provide a temporary fix until the final product is delivered,” he said.


View to the Future

As the end of the year beckons, many of the companies BusinessWest spoke to are feeling cautiously optimistic about 2024.

Sweitzer has a number of projects on the books, including a few with new partnerships with other contractors like Kleeberg Sheet Metal Inc. in Ludlow.

Sullivan said his firm is wrapping up some municipal work and starting some new projects at libraries, fire stations, and safety complexes, and even has a few projects at local universities and colleges in the queue for next year.

“Next year and beyond, we have the biggest backlog we’ve had in over 10 years,” he said.

Meanwhile, Fontaine Bros. has secured a healthy amount of public-education work for next year and is positioning itself to be ready for other projects on the horizon.

“I think, generally speaking, the industry is always changing. It’s always exciting,” Fontaine said. “It’s been a challenging couple of years, for sure, but it’s something new and exciting to wake up to every day, and we’re thankful that we’ve continued to be able to be successful through it. So hopefully, 2024 and on will get easier, but whatever happens, we’ll be ready to tackle it.”

Though the residential trend of smaller luxury homes looks to continue, Laplante said there are also a number of very large-scale luxury home builds on the books.

“We’ve seen people downsize and go from a large, two-story home to a high-end, smaller ranch with very, very nice amenities on one-floor living, but interestingly enough, we also have some very large homes in the pipeline for next year,” he said. “This is particularly interesting because, generally speaking, over the last five years, there’s been a trend to reduce the overall size of the homes that are being built to single-story living.”

As for Five Star, Perrier says the new year still holds a lot of question marks for him as the aviation sector tends to be a little more unpredictable. Though there are infrastructure and retail build-out projects on the books, higher fuel costs and tightening budgets can often bump jobs at the last second, he explained.

“What tomorrow brings, I don’t know. I guess I’m still going in with the same hesitation I had for 2023,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll be pleasantly surprised again.”

Daily News

SPRINGFIELDBusinessWest will honor its sixth annual Women of Impact tonight, Dec. 7, at Sheraton Springfield.

The sold-out event will celebrate nine members of the class of 2023, who were profiled in the Oct. 16 issue of BusinessWest and at They are: Fredrika Ballard, president, Aero Design Aircraft Services and Fly Lugu Flight Training; Carla Cosenzi, president, TommyCar Auto Group; Arlyana Dalce-Bowie, CEO, Moms in Power; Sandra Doran, president, Bay Path University; Dr. Khama Ennis, founder, Faces of Medicine and Intentional Health, LLC; Dawn Forbes DiStefano, president and CEO, Square One; Amy Jamrog, CEO, the Jamrog Group; Michelle Theroux, CEO, Berkshire Hills Music Academy; and Lisa Zarcone, author, speaker, and child and mental-health advocate.

The event is sponsored by Country Bank and TommyCar Auto Group (presenting sponsors) and Comcast Business (partner sponsor).

Daily News

HOLYOKE — OneHolyoke CDC will host its eighth annual Holyoke Community Dinner Celebration on Saturday, Dec. 9 from 4 to 7 p.m. at Kelly School, 216 West St. All Holyoke residents are invited to celebrate the season. The organization plans to serve 500 meals to community residents.

OneHolyoke has been hosting its free Community Dinner for the past seven years, bringing together hundreds of Holyoke residents. Residents also have the option to take meals to go. The evening will feature live performances and fun activities, including arts and crafts and a holiday tree contest with trees sponsored by local businesses and organizations. Sponsored trees are decorated by grades or teams at Kelly School, including staff and students in grades pre-K through 5, custodial staff, office staff, and more, totaling 15 trees. Those in attendance will be given a ticket to vote for their favorite tree, and the winning grade or team will get a pizza party.

A committee of Holyoke residents and staff from Holyoke Public Schools, Enlace de Familias, staff from the city of Holyoke, MassHire Holyoke, the Holyoke Safe Neighborhood Initiative, Nueva Esperanza, Blossom Flowers, Holyoke Medical Center, and City Sports Bar have worked with OneHolyoke to organize this event. The annual event is also supported by 42 community organizations and businesses.

Daily News

EASTHAMPTON — The Easthampton Learning Foundation is investing significantly in enhancing the STEAM program at Mountain View School. Priscilla Kane Hellweg, founder of the Arts Integration Studio, and Megan Kelley-Bagg, Easthampton Public Schools STEAM teacher, are collaborating to expand STEAM opportunities for K-5 students.

STEAM, an educational approach integrating science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics, fosters 21st-century skills like creative thinking and collaboration. Hellweg and Kelley-Bagg aim to strengthen interdisciplinary collaboration, elevate arts education within STEAM, and develop replicable content for teachers.

A dedicated STEAM cohort has been formed, starting with fifth-grade teachers engaging in collaborative professional development. The focus is on weather, climate, and earth systems, with two hands-on curriculum units created for fifth grade. New STEAM content units will be developed monthly during the pilot year.

With the success of the fifth-grade team, the program aims to inspire more teachers to embrace creative arts integration in the coming years. The STEAM program, launched last year, aims to promote collaboration among educators and introduce captivating, project-based learning opportunities into the academic day.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — In partnership with the city of Springfield, Springfield College was awarded $240,000 to help assist in combating the growing mental-health needs among college students and the local community. Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno and Chief Development Officer Tim Sheehan announced the partnership as part of the Sarno administration’s Higher Education ARPA Fund at City Hall on Dec. 6.

“Empowering our students through comprehensive counseling programs is not merely an investment in their well-being; it is a commitment to the resilience of our community,” Springfield College President Mary-Beth Cooper said. “Our phased program fosters Springfield College’s mission of providing leadership in service to others and creates the opportunity for us to shape the future of individuals and fortify the foundation upon which our society stands by addressing the mental-health crisis head-on.”

Sarno had previously announced the creation of the $750,000 Higher Education ARPA Fund as part of his 13th round of ARPA awards in July, as Springfield College was joined by American International College and Western New England University as recipients of the funding. The $240,000 allocation that Springfield College received will create additional opportunities to further support youth and families in the city of Springfield and provide collaboration between Springfield College students and Springfield Public Schools to enhance their learning and simultaneously support the community.

With the funding, Springfield College intends to hire case managers to provide support and advocacy for both college students and children and families in Springfield Public Schools who have difficulty navigating the often-complex web of available resources, hire a psychiatric nurse practitioner to support critical needs within area colleges and the community, and strengthen relationships between school counseling and clinical mental-health counseling student interns at Springfield College and Springfield Public Schools to provide additional community-based mental-health services and support.