Daily News

Claudia Pazmany

AMHERST — The Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce announced the resignation of Executive Director Claudia Pazmany, effective Feb. 28. Pazmany has led the chamber for the past five and a half years, growing it to over 400 members while leading it through the pandemic. The chamber will launch a search for its next executive director immediately.

“I believe in the power of a chamber, its ability and power to connect, collaborate, and be a true catalyst for change and growth in the business community. I especially believe in our Amherst Area Chamber and all its capacity to connect the communities it serves,” Pazmany wrote in announcing her resignation. “I arrived to this position with a commitment to bringing the chamber to its full potential. Together, we have accomplished that while redefining what true partnership looks like. I look forward to seeing its next stages of growth while I return to the field of philanthropy, to which I am steadily drawn.”

With Pazmany’s help, the Amherst Area Chamber has built a strong foundation with deeply rooted partnerships year after year and a dedicated staff focused on meeting the needs of its members and the business community. The chamber has hosted valuable events for members and the broader community to network, enjoy locations in the Greater Amherst area, and meet new people. Events such as Margarita Madness, the annual golf tournament, and the A+ Awards have all grown in recent years.

Under her leadership, the chamber also established a diversity, equity, and inclusion task force and has advocated with local town governments on items of interest to its members. The chamber has continued its outreach to members in an effort to promote their businesses through workshops and monthly Arrive at 5 networking events.

In 2023, Pazmany and Gabrielle Gould from the Amherst Business Improvement District were recognized by BusinessWest as Difference Makers for their joint work on pandemic relief for small businesses. Pazmany brought in critical funding to support the chamber and area tourism, launching the “What’s Next Greater Amherst” marketing campaign.

Heidi Flanders, president of the chamber’s board of directors, assured members and the community that the chamber remains dedicated to its mission throughout this leadership change.

“As the chamber works through the transition, the office will be fully staffed, and we expect all programs and events to continue as scheduled,” Flanders noted. “The chamber board and our robust committees will be assisting the chamber staff to ensure continuity. We want to wish Claudia the best as she pursues the next chapter in her journey and returns to her roots in philanthropy.”

Anyone interested in applying for the executive director position should inquire at [email protected].

Daily News

HOLYOKE — Local businessman Cesar Ruiz, leader of the USA International Sport Complex Group, and Holyoke Mayor Joshua Garcia will host a press conference on Tuesday, Feb. 6 at 9 a.m. at the International Volleyball Hall of Fame to announce a major initiative to build a sports complex in the city of Holyoke.

Garcia will also announce a plan to explore moving the Volleyball Hall of Fame to the complex, building on Holyoke’s renown as the birthplace of volleyball and the sport’s worldwide growth.

Details of the plan and possible location, size, and scope of the project will be shared at the press conference.

Daily News

WEST SPRINGFIELD — Registration for Hooplandia, the second annual 3×3 basketball tournament and festival, opens Thursday, Feb. 15 at www.hooplandia.com. The event, slated for June 21-23, includes levels of play for all ages and divisions.

Hooplandia launched in 2023 and was a resounding success. Taking place in the heart of Greater Springfield, the birthplace of basketball, the event is hosted by Eastern States Exposition (ESE) in West Springfield and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield. Most games will be played on the ESE grounds, with special games held at the Hall of Fame. Seventy-five basketball courts will be set up to accommodate more than 650 games played by approximately 2,100 participants of all ages.

Divisions of play have been created to provide an all-inclusive environment for players of all ages and playing abilities. The diverse divisions include young girls, boys, women, men, high-school-level, college-level, OGs, veterans, and more.

Players are invited to build teams of four, create their own unique team name and uniforms, and register at www.hooplandia.com. Team fees range according to age, and children in the under-8 category are free of charge.

Hooplandia will once again partner with Boys and Girls Clubs throughout the region as its designated philanthropic partner, providing $10 from every paid team registration to support the mission and programs of the clubs.

“The Exposition is a longtime supporter of Boys and Girls Clubs, and we are pleased to continue that support through this sports-based environment for youngsters,” ESE President and CEO Eugene Cassidy said. “We are committed to building Hooplandia into a cornerstone of the community.”

Sponsorship opportunities are available. For inquiries, email [email protected].

Daily News

HOLYOKE — Feroza Sherzai holds the distinction of being the first Holyoke Community College (HCC) student to apply for a scholarship through the school’s new Scholarship Resource Center.

Sherzai arrived at the center on Jan. 31, just as the open house celebrating its grand opening got underway, and sat down at one of the center’s three computer workstations.

“This is a very good opportunity for students,” said Sherzai, a student in HCC’s academic English as a second language program. “I came here to fill out the application. I had a lot of questions.”

On hand to answer those questions was Laura Freeman, manager of Stewardship and Donor Relations for HCC and coordinator of the center. “She was very good,” Sherzai said. “She was very patient with me.”

The Scholarship Resource Center is the first of its kind among community colleges in Massachusetts. Its purpose is to make it easier for students to apply for scholarships available through the HCC Foundation.

“We’re here 9 to 5, Monday through Friday, to help with all things scholarship-related,” Freeman said. “It’s great to have this very warm, inviting, and inclusive space where students can come and get the assistance they need.”

Scholarship season for the 2024-25 academic year opened on Jan. 29 and continues through March 3. Each year, the HCC Foundation awards hundreds of scholarships worth about $350,000 to more than 300 incoming, current, and transferring HCC students. Students must be currently enrolled at HCC or have been accepted for the upcoming academic year to be eligible.

The center saw a steady stream of students throughout the four-hour open house, which culminated with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at noon led by President George Timmons.

“This is such an exciting time for HCC, and we’re excited to continue to provide services that remove barriers to education,” he said. “What a great way to start your academic career and journey than here in this wonderful, new, lovely space. Not only is it functional, but it’s also social.”

Among the other students who came to the open house to apply for a scholarship was first-year student Sunrise Iaim Smith.

“I read that HCC had created a new facility where we can get support in applying and be able to ask questions during the application process,” Smith said. “I figured that’s a nice support to have. It’s not always easy navigating financial aid or understanding expectations when you’re filling out an application. Just having people who know the process there to support you makes it feel a little better, especially since it’s my first time.”

The Scholarship Resource Center is located on the first floor of the Donahue Building. The center is open Mondays through Fridays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Students in need of assistance can drop in any time during office hours or schedule an appointment to meet with center staff.

Applicants need to fill out only one online form to be automatically matched with the scholarships they are most qualified to receive. There are scholarships for new students, current students, and students transferring to other institutions; scholarships based on financial need; scholarships for students in specific majors; scholarships for residents of certain communities; and scholarships that recognize academic achievement.

For more information or for assistance, email [email protected] or visit the center in Donahue 158. To view scholarship opportunities and begin the application process, visit www.hcc.edu/scholarships.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Market Mentors, LLC, a fully integrated marketing, advertising, and public-relations agency, recently added two new specialists to its multi-disciplinary team. Jack Antkowiak joined the agency as a digital marketing specialist, and Paige Auger started her role as a financial administrator.

Jack Antkowiak

“We are excited to add to the depth and breadth of our in-house talent with the expertise Jack and Paige offer,” said Michelle Abdow, president and CEO of Market Mentors. “They both hit the ground running and are already making notable contributions.”

As a digital marketing specialist, Antkowiak manages, reports on, and optimizes paid digital ads and SEO campaigns. This involves taking deep dives into ad performance and website analytics data to uncover actionable insights and trends that can be used to improve both campaign performance and the overall user/customer journey. A graduate of the University of Connecticut, Antkowiak combines tried-and-true best practices with a deep understanding of the target audience to build engaging and impactful campaigns.

Paige Auger

With a degree in business administration as well as management experience in accounting, Auger joined the Market Mentors finance team to handle accounts payable, accounts receivable, billing, reconciliation, and 1099 reporting. She collaborates across departments to ensure accuracy in data input and is skilled at summarizing large amounts of data and presenting meaningful information for review. A graduate of Western New England University, she received the 2017 Lawrence H. Nath Management Award.

Market Mentors continues to expand and currently has opportunities for an account director, media director, and college interns.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — The Zoo in Forest Park & Education Center has received a $3,000 community grant from the Springfield Rotary Club to upgrade its website.

While the new website will include advanced booking capabilities, more intuitive registration forms, and the addition of an online store, the upgrade is also designed to enhance the guest experience at the zoo.

With the money awarded through the community grant, the zoo plans to expand the educational material available on its website through the addition of interactive webpages for each animal. QR codes will be available at each exhibit, linking guests to a corresponding page for the animal they are viewing. Visitors will have access to photos and videos as well as more in-depth information about the species, including its conservation status, threats in the wild, and coexistence efforts.

“Education is a key part of our mission,” said Sarah Tsitso, executive director of the Zoo in Forest Park. “This upgraded website, made possible by the Springfield Rotary Club, will provide access to a wide range of information on the native wildlife species in our care.”

The Zoo in Forest Park has been a part of the Springfield community for 130 years. With 225 animals in its care, it is dedicated to inspiring the community to respect and value the natural world through education, conservation, and rehabilitation.

Community Spotlight

Community Spotlight

Facemate property

An architect’s rendering of the mixed-use facility planned for the last remaining parcel on the Facemate property, one that will bring more than 100 units of affordable housing to the city.

Like most other cities and towns, Lee Pouliot says, Chicopee has a housing shortage.

It’s evidenced by everything from lengthy waiting lists at apartment complexes and skyrocketing rents to rising prices for single-family homes, said Pouliot, the city’s planner, adding that there are several projects in various stages of development that may bring some relief.

One is long-anticipated new construction at the last remaining parcel from the former Facemate complex, a project that will add an anticipated 106 units of affordable (workforce) housing to the city’s inventory.

“Housing is a huge issue here and around the Commonwealth, so to get construction of 106 new units is very significant for us,” he said, referring specifically to the Facemate project. “And this is new construction from the ground up, so it will be a fairly significant change to that area; we’re pretty excited.”

There’s also progress on the remaining buildings at the former Uniroyal complex, which has been closed and mostly vacant for more than 40 years. Pouliot said the city is close to naming a preferred developer for a project that will make housing the focal point of redevelopment of the former manufacturing buildings.

“Chicopee is really the crossroads of the region. It’s easy to get here from anywhere, which attracts many different kinds of businesses.”

Then there’s the massive — as in nearly 1 million square feet — Cabotville complex in the center of the city. Now vacant for more than four years, the property will likely be going to auction again shortly, said Pouliot, adding that the city is hoping that a buyer experienced with mill conversions will obtain the property and make housing its primary new use.

But momentum on the housing front is just one of the developing stories in this city of more than 55,000 people, the second-largest city in the region.

Indeed, Melissa Breor, director of the Chicopee Chamber of Commerce, cited everything from some new businesses, all minority-owned, in the city’s center — including Island Spice restaurant, specializing in Sri Lankan cuisine, and a new location for Hot Oven Cookies — to renovation of the former city library into space for community events, to progress with her own chamber, which, like most all others in the region, has had to downsize and battle back from the difficult COVID years.

“There’s many exciting things happening here,” said Breor, who grew up in the city, left, and returned to get more involved in the community. Overall, she noted, Chicopee continues to take full advantage of its many assets, and especially its location and accessibility; there’s not one, but two Mass Pike exits funneling traffic into the city, which also has I-91 and Routes 291, 391, and 33 running through it.

“Chicopee is really the crossroads of the region,” she said. “It’s easy to get here from anywhere, which attracts many different kinds of businesses.”

Other assets include Westover Metropolitan Airport and several industrial parks created on surplus land at the massive Air Reserve base, both now overseen by Andy Widor, president and CEO of Westover Metropolitan Development Corp. (WMDC), which operates the airport.

Melissa Breor

Melissa Breor says Chicopee has many tangible assets, especially its location along several major highways.

He said the airport is somewhat of a hidden gem, and one of its priorities is to make it less hidden. The facility is home to maybe 20 aircraft of various sizes. Meanwhile, many chartered flights, such as those for area sporting events, and private jet flights, including many for the Basketball Hall of Fame induction ceremonies each fall, will use Westover as an entryway to the region. It also hosts public charters to Atlantic City operated through Sun Country Airlines, service that started last August.

“We like to say that the airport connects Chicopee to the world,” said Widor, adding that a recent study undertaken by the UMass Donohue Institute shows that the airport and airparks operated by the WMDC are an “economic-development engine for the region,” contributing more than $2.2 billion in economic output and roughly 8,500 jobs around Massachusetts annually.

For this, the latest installment of its Community Spotlight series, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at Chicopee and the many forms of momentum in evidence there.


Progress Report

Pouliot told BusinessWest that redevelopment of the Uniroyal complex, once one of the city’s largest employers, has been a story with many twists and turns, with its first chapters written when Ronald Reagan was patrolling the White House.

The latest chapter holds enormous promise for helping alleviate Chicopee’s housing crisis while bringing new vibrancy to the Chicopee Falls section of the city, he said, adding that the city issued a request for proposals for the four remaining buildings on the site last year, received proposals from two different groups, and has seen one of them recommended by an evaluation team.

Negotiations continue with that group on a land-disposition agreement, he went on, noting that, by spring, the city should be in a position to announce both a plan for the property and the group that will carry it out.

“The city’s hope is that a developer gets control of this property that has experience with mill conversion from the ground up. These are challenging projects, and experience is critical in navigating everything from building codes to financing strategies.”

“We’re anticipating mixed use, with a significant housing component,” he said, adding that negotiations continue on the number of units that will be created in what will be a massive undertaking that will likely take several years to complete.

The timeline is much shorter for redevelopment of what’s known as the Baskin parcel at the Facemate complex, a project being undertaken by Brooklyn-based Brisa Development.

Plans call for a mixed-use development which, in addition to the 102 units of workforce housing, will also include a restaurant and a sports complex that will include indoor and outdoor athletic fields, batting cages, elevated running tracks, climbing walls, and outdoor spaces “encouraging community engagement,” according to the Brisa website.

The residential portion of the project, new construction, will commence first, said Pouliot, adding that ground will likely be broken this spring or summer.

As for Cabotville, the property that casts a huge shadow over the city’s center, literally and figuratively, Pouliot said the property has had several owners over the past few decades, with none of them able to advance projects to create housing or other uses. The property is vacant — the last remaining commercial tenants were evicted as the building was closed due to code violations in 2022 — and secure, but the clock is certainly ticking.

“From an engineering perspective, it’s structurally sound, but the longer a building sits vacant, the greater the risk of its condition deteriorating,” he said, adding that, while there has been discussion of the city potentially acquiring the property, as it did with the Uniroyal complex in 2009, officials are leery about taking on another huge development project until the Uniroyal project advances.

Andy Widor

Andy Widor is working to build out all aspects of Westover Airport.

“The city’s hope is that a developer gets control of this property that has experience with mill conversion from the ground up,” Pouliot told BusinessWest. “These are challenging projects, and experience is critical in navigating everything from building codes to financing strategies.”

While those initiatives unfold, some municipal projects are moving forward as well, he said, referencing long-awaited work to renovate the former library, closed since 2004.

Bids have been received for the project, estimated at $18 million, with the goal of transforming it into programming space to host everything from Chamber of Commerce business training events to programs staged by nearby Elms College. It will also be the permanent home of the Center Fresh Market, a farmer’s market that traditionally sets up in the plaza outside the building.

The city is also close to bidding the next phrase of City Hall renovations, he said, adding that this phase involves renovation and modernization of office suites.


Changing Landscape

As she talked with BusinessWest in the chamber’s tiny office on Center Street, just a few hundred yards from City Hall, the library, and Cabotville, Breor said Chicopee is a community seemingly in a constant state of change.

Whether it’s new businesses, many of them national chains, on Memorial Drive, the city’s main commercial throughfare, or new or growing local entrepreneurial ventures, such as the new tenants just a block away on Center Street in property redeveloped by the Valley Opportunity Council — Hot Oven Cookies and Island Spice — the business landscape is always changing, she said.

Chicopee at a Glance

Year Incorporated: 1848
Population: 55,560
Area: 23.9 square miles
County: Hampden
Residential Tax Rate: $14.76
Commercial Tax Rate: $31.78
Median Household Income: $35,672
Median Family Income: $44,136
Type of Government: Mayor; City Council
Largest Employers: Westover Air Reserve Base; J. Polep Distribution Services; Callaway Golf Ball Operations; Dielectrics; MicroTek
* Latest information available

Breor came to the chamber in the summer of 2022 after working at UMass and, before that, with the Greater Northampton Chamber of Commerce as Hampshire County tourism coordinator. Desiring to return home — she grew up in Chicopee Falls — she originally applied for an open position at the chamber handling marketing. But while interviewing for that job, the director’s position became open, and she adjusted her sights.

She now presides over a chamber, that, like most all others in the region, has become smaller in just about every way, from the size of its office to the number of members (currently about 250) to the size of its staff — at present, it’s just Breor and a one-day-a-week staffer focused on marketing and social media.

But the chamber remains a powerful force for a business community that is diverse in every sense, she said, whether it’s providing technical assistance, staging networking events, or collaborating with other area chambers on larger projects.

One such event, slated for March, will benefit the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts (recently named BusinessWest’s Top Entrepreneur for 2023). The rice-and-beans drive and fundraiser will also involve the Springfield, Holyoke, Westfield, ERC5, and West of the River chambers, said Breor, adding that there are other collaborative efforts on the calendar or in the planning stages, including legislative events and a softball tournament to be undertaken with the Holyoke chamber to be called the Battle of the Bridge.

At Westover Airport, meanwhile, Widor is working to build out all aspects of that operation, from planes based there to flights in and out, and he believes there is great potential to do so.

Renovation of several hangars on the property, an ongoing initiative, presents the opportunity to house more planes of all sizes, including the largest private jets, at the airport, he noted.

Meanwhile, the airport’s location — close to Springfield and Hartford as well as the many colleges in the region — is an asset, as is the relatively new pilot-controlled lighting at the facility, which enables it to remain open for landings 24 hours a day.

Widor said the airport, which shares runways with the Air Reserve base, serves a number of businesses and institutions — bringing guests for Hall of Fame induction week and headliners for performances at MGM Springfield facilities to the region, for example, as well as organs for transplant at Baystate Medical Center — and there is considerable room for growth.

Chicopee’s leaders believe the same is true for the city — and its diverse business community — as a whole.


Professional Development

Professional Development

Jennifer Law

Jennifer Law says the class in effective business writing has been a benefit to employees across the O’Connell Companies.

Jennifer Law recalls that, when she scheduled a course in effective writing for employees at the O’Connell Companies, there was some skepticism and a few moans and groans.

“I think many of them went into this thinking, ‘this is going to suck,’ or ‘I have to sit through this for a day,’” she said, adding that, as the course unfolded, and certainly when it was over, the responses were much different.

“They were all very thankful, and we got some great emails on how much they learned and how much they enjoyed the class,” said Law, controller for the company, adding that many of these emails were certainly better-written than those in the weeks, months, and years before this class, which was titled “Business Writing Excellence.”

And that was the point of the exercise.

Indeed, Law, who remembers emails and other correspondences being red-inked (literally) by a supervisor at a previous employer who spent years as a teacher, said she certainly became a better, more effective communicator because of those experiences.

“I learned so much from his doing that; it got ingrained in my brain,” she explained. “And when I read something from someone else that’s not right, that’s bouncing back and forth from tense to tense, isn’t cohesive, that doesn’t answer all the questions — that frustrates me.”

Enough for her schedule “Business Writing Excellence,” offered by the Employers Assoc. of the NorthEast (EANE), last summer. The class drew 20 employees from all levels of the company, including Matt Flink, president of Appleton Corp., one of the O’Connell Companies, as well as accountants, site managers, and others.

“When I read something from someone else that’s not right, that’s bouncing back and forth from tense to tense, isn’t cohesive, that doesn’t answer all the questions — that frustrates me.”

The common denominator was that each wanted to understand how to communicate better and more effectively, said Law, adding that this need crosses generations, but is perhaps more apparent with younger generations that have grown up texting and, quite often, taking shortcuts when trying to get their message across.

And in the business world, shortcuts can lead to poor communication, misinterpreted messages, lost time, lost productivity, and more, she noted.

That’s why EANE offers this course, said John Henderson, director of Learning and Development for the agency, as well as another titled “Emails: That’s Not What I Meant,” an aptly named, increasingly popular course on a subject of growing importance to companies of all sizes — helping employees craft better, more effective emails.

“That class gets into not just content, but also the tone of the email and understanding who your audience is,” Henderson explained. “We all know that emails are often misread or misinterpreted by the reader, so we have a specific course on email writing.

John Henderson

John Henderson says the biggest mistake most make with email is hitting the ‘send’ button too soon.

“With any kind of communication, whether it’s email, writing, a phone call, face-to-face,” he went on, “to be an effective communicator, it helps to know who your audience is and be able to create the message in a way that will effectively work with as many people as possible.”

For this, the latest installment in its series on professional development, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at this specific need, but also at the broader issue of communication in the workplace and why employees at all levels need to find the ‘write’ stuff.


The Latest Word

Law said the O’Connell Companies invest a considerable amount of time and energy hiring the right individuals for positions at all levels of the organization.

But the investments don’t stop there, she said, adding that the company is focused on ongoing training and education aimed at giving employees the tools and the means to do their work — and serve its many different kinds of clients — effectively.

This training covers many areas, including communication and the EANE course in business writing, she said, adding that the class dealt not in the abstract, but rather with actual emails and other correspondences sent by participants, which were reviewed and critiqued, with an eye on grammar, but also on tone and simply getting the intended message across.

As noted earlier, problems with all of the above are common with employees of all ages, said Law, but especially the younger generations that grew up texting.

“These are people who always lived in that world of technology and texting and short, cut-off responses,” she said. “When you come into the business world, that doesn’t work anymore, and you see that this is how they’re communicating — very short, unclear, not thorough … and then the receiving person gets that message, and they’re confused, and it spirals into miscommunication.”

Elaborating, she said tone can be lost not only in texts, but also in emails, and improper tone can lead to a number of problems.

“These are people who always lived in that world of technology and texting and short, cut-off responses. When you come into the business world, that doesn’t work anymore.”

Henderson agreed, which is why EANE offers both the “Business Writing Excellence” class, one that more than 20 area companies have presented to employees, and “Emails: That’s Not What I Meant.”

The latter was created prior to COVID, but it became more timely, and even more important, during the pandemic, when face-to-face meetings became all but impossible and email became the chosen way to communicate — and often do business.

Henderson told BusinessWest that people make many mistakes with email, but perhaps the biggest is hitting the ‘send’ button too soon. By that, he was referencing everything from checks on grammar to a review of content to making sure the email is going only to its intended recipients.

“People rely on email as a rapid response, and they don’t put as much thought into writing an email as they would a letter,” he explained. “People hit the send button too soon rather than go back and reread what they’ve written.”

And when they do go back and reread, email senders should certainly focus on grammar — typos are embarrassing and do not convey professionalism — but they should also look hard to make sure the proper tone is set and that words and phrases cannot be misinterpreted by the recipient.

“If I’m writing an email, before I send it, I should think, ‘the person I’m sending this to, or the people I’m sending this to … how they are going to read this, and are there nuances in there that someone might take to a different interpretation?’” Henderson said. “Or they might look at it as me being rude because I didn’t start the email with ‘good morning.’”

Indeed, one of the bigger mistakes people make is simply not knowing the intended recipient for an email, he noted, adding that understanding the audience is critical to getting the message across and conveying the proper tone.

Elaborating, he said some recipients will like a reference to the weather or a question about how one’s day is going — ‘fluff,’ as he called it — while others are all business and don’t want or need pleasantries.

“Do they want something direct, or do they want something that’s more personable?” he asked rhetorically, adding that the sender should try to know the answer to that question. “We need to think about the recipient and how they want to receive that message; it’s an interesting dynamic when you’re trying to communicate through email.”

When in doubt — and there is a good deal of doubt with many in business who sends dozens of emails a day, often to people they don’t know well — it’s best to be pleasant and throw in a little of that fluff, he told BusinessWest, because not doing so might set the wrong tone.


Getting It Write

Flashing back to the class last summer and a group review of writing samples sent by company employees, Law said it was a tremendous learning experience.

“Everyone was able to reflect back, get those ‘a-ha’ moments, and say, ‘oh, yes, if I only had I said it this way, maybe I would have gotten my point across better.’”

Getting the point across clearly and concisely is one of the more important, if still underappreciated, aspects of doing business, she added.

And it should be an critical component of any employee’s overall professional development.



It’s Not Going Away

By Linn Foster Freedman

Consumers have embraced the use of artificial intelligence (AI) tools in their everyday lives since ChatGPT was introduced into the economy last year. Employees are using AI technology in their workplaces, which causes risks to companies. In addition, third-party vendors are embedding AI technology into their products and services, often without companies’ knowledge, and are using company data to teach AI tools.

This article provides practical tips to evaluate the use of AI tools within an organization and by third-party vendors, how to minimize that risk, and how to approach the use of AI tools as technology advances.

Although AI technology has been in existence for decades, it has become mainstream over the past year with the arrival and novelty of ChatGPT’s use by consumers. When consumers embrace technology before companies, it is only a matter of time before consumers start to migrate that use into the workplace, whether it is approved or not.

Companies are struggling with how to introduce AI tools into their environment, as the risks associated with AI tools have been well-documented. These include copyright infringement, use and disclosure of personal information and company confidential data, bias and discrimination, hallucinations and misinformation, security risks, and legal and regulatory compliance risks.

These risks are real and compelling, especially when employees are sharing company data with AI tools. Once employees upload company data to an AI tool, that data may be used by the AI tool developer to teach its AI model, and the company’s confidential data may now be publicly available. Further, many companies are embedding AI into their products or services, and if you are disclosing confidential company data to vendors, they may be using your data to teach their AI tools or feeding your confidential data to other third-party AI tools.

Linn Foster Freedman

Linn Foster Freedman

“Companies are struggling with how to introduce AI tools into their environment, as the risks associated with AI tools have been well-documented.”

The risk is daunting, but manageable with strategy and planning. Here are some tips on how to wrap your arms around your employees’ use of AI tools in your organization. Tips to manage the risk of vendors using AI tools will be addressed later on.


Tips for Evaluating Your Organization’s Use of AI Tools

1. Don’t put your head in the sand. AI is here to stay, and your employees are already using it. They don’t understand the risk, but it seems cool, so they are and will continue using it. They will use any tool that will make their jobs easier — that’s human nature. Embrace this fact and commit to addressing the risk sooner rather than later. Ignoring the issue will only make it worse.

2. Don’t prohibit the use of AI tools in your organization. AI tools can be used to increase efficiencies in the workplace and increase business output and profits. Prohibiting its use will put you behind your competition and be a failed strategy. Your employees will use AI tools to make their work lives more efficient, so getting ahead of the risk and communicating with your employees is essential to evaluate and develop the use of AI in your organization.

3. Find out who the entrepreneurs and AI users are in your organization. Encourage the entrepreneurs in your organization to bring use cases to your attention and evaluate whether they are safe and appropriate. There are many uses of AI tools that do not present risks. The use cases should be evaluated, and proper governance and guardrails should be implemented to minimize risks.

4. Develop and implement an AI governance program. While AI tools are developing rapidly, it is essential to have a central program that will govern its use, internally and externally. Gather an AI governance team from different areas in the organization that will be responsible for keeping a tab on where and when AI is used; a process for evaluating uses, tools, and risks; putting guardrails and contractual measures in place to reduce the risk; and processes to minimize the risk of bias, discrimination, regulatory compliance, and confidentiality. The team will start slow, but once processes are in place, they will mature and pivot as technology develops.

5. Communicate with your employees often about the risks of using AI tools, the company’s AI governance program, and the guardrails you have put in place. Companies are better now than ever at communicating with employees about security risks, particularly email phishing schemes. Use the same techniques to educate your employees about the risks of using AI tools. They are using ChatGPT because they saw it on the news or one of their friends told them about it. Use your corporate communications to continually educate your employees using AI tools in the company and why it is important that they follow the governance program you have put in place. Many employees have no idea how AI tools work or that they could inadvertently disclose confidential company information when they use them. Help them understand the risks, make them part of the team, and guide them on how to use AI tools to improve their efficiency.

6. Keep the governance program flexible and nimble. No one likes another committee meeting or extra work to implement another process. Nonetheless, this one is important, so don’t let it get too bogged down or mired in bureaucracy. Start by mapping the uses of AI in the organization, evaluating those uses, and learning from that evaluation to become more efficient in the evaluation process going forward. Put processes in place that can be replicated and eventually automated. The hardest and most important work will be setting up the program, but it will get more efficient as you learn from each evaluation. The governance program is like a mini-AI tool in and of itself.

7. Be forward-thinking. Technology develops rapidly, and business organizations can hardly keep up. This is an area on which to stay focused and forward-thinking. Start by having someone responsible for staying abreast of articles, research, laws, and regulations that will be important in developing the governance program. Right now, a great place to start is with the White House’s Executive Order on the Safe, Secure, and Trustworthy Development and Use of Artificial Intelligence. It gives a forward-thinking view of the development of regulations and compliance around AI that can be used as a prediction of what’s to come for your governance program.

8. Evaluate the risk of the use of AI tools by vendors. The AI governance team should be intimately involved with evaluating vendors’ use of AI tools, which is discussed in more detail below.


Tips for Evaluating the Risk of Use of AI Tools by Vendors

1. Carefully map which vendors are using AI tools. It might not be readily apparent which of your vendors use AI tools in their products or services. Team up with your business units to question which vendors are or may be using AI tools to process company data. Then, evaluate what data is disclosed and used by those vendors and determine whether any guardrails need to be put in place with the vendor.

2. Implement a process with business units to question vendors upfront about using AI tools. Business units are closest to the relationship with vendors, providing services to the business unit. Provide questions for the business units to ask when pursuing a business relationship with a vendor so you can evaluate the risk of using AI tools at the start. The AI governance team can then evaluate the use before contract negotiations begin.

3. Insert contractual language around the disclosure and use of company data and using AI tools. Companies may wish to consider developing an information security addendum (ISA) for any vendor with access to the company’s confidential data if they do not have one in place already. As the AI governance team evaluates the disclosure and use of company data to new vendors and the use of AI tools when processing company data, vendors should be questioned on the tools used, security measures used to protect company data (including from unauthorized use or disclosure of AI tools), and contractual provisions on the use of AI. Contractual language should be clear and concise about the vendor’s obligations and the remedies for a breach of the obligations, including indemnification. This language can be inserted in the ISA or the main contract.

4. Evaluate and map existing vendors’ use of AI tools. There may be some vendors you have already contracted with that are using AI tools to process confidential company information of which you are not aware. Prioritize which vendors have the highest risk of processing confidential company data with AI tools and review the existing contract. If applicable, request an amendment with the vendor to put appropriate contractual language in place addressing the processing of company confidential information with AI tools.

5. Add the evaluation of AI tools to your existing vendor-management program. If you have an existing vendor-management program in place, add the use of AI tools into the program going forward. If you don’t have an existing vendor-management program in place, it’s time to develop one.



Now is the time to implement a strategy and plan around the use of AI tools within your organization and externally by your vendors. It seems daunting, but the risk is clear and will be present until you address it. Hopefully, the tips in this article will help you start taking control of AI use in your organization and by your vendors and minimize the risk, so you can use AI to make your business more efficient and profitable.


Linn F. Freedman is a partner and chair of the Data Privacy + Cybersecurity Team at Robinson+Cole.

Health Care Healthcare News

Off on the Right Foot


Did you include better health in your New Year’s resolutions?

Health experts at Baystate Health suggest setting realistic goals and prioritizing what is most important to you, taking small steps, and remembering not to beat yourself up if you encounter a setback in your health goals for 2024. Here are three goals to consider as you continue on your journey:


Improve Your Blood Sugars

From Dr. Cecilia Lozier, chief of the Division of Endocrinology and Diabetes, Baystate Health:

There are three important approaches to improve your blood-sugar numbers as we start the new year. First, moderate your carbohydrate intake. No dramatic approach is needed. If before you would take two scoops of potatoes, now consistently take one and fill the empty space with non-starchy vegetables.

Dr. Cecilia Lozier

Dr. Cecilia Lozier

“Moderate your carbohydrate intake. No dramatic approach is needed. If before you would take two scoops of potatoes, now consistently take one and fill the empty space with non-starchy vegetables.”

Second, increase your physical activity. Using your muscles will push sugar into your cells and out of your bloodstream. The more you move and are physically active, the better your numbers will look. Third, modest weight loss. Losing between 5% and 10% of your body weight will have a dramatic impact on how you metabolize sugar. Speak with your healthcare provider to personalize this approach for you.


Address Sleep Problems

From Dr. Karin Johnson, medical director, Baystate Health Regional Sleep Program and Baystate Medical Center Sleep Laboratory, Baystate Health:

Stress levels are higher today in the world we live in. While stress can make sleeping well more challenging, it is important to prioritize sleep, which is necessary for health and well-being. Most adults function best with seven to eight hours of sleep, and teenagers need around nine hours.

Good-quality sleep is important for preventing infections and keeping your immune system working well. Studies have shown that sleep-deprived people don’t mount the same immune response after vaccinations as good sleepers, so it is important to make sure you get a good night’s sleep prior to getting a flu or COVID vaccine, for example.

Keeping a regular sleep schedule will allow your body’s internal clock to help you get the best night’s sleep. If you are having difficulty sleeping or show signs of poor-quality sleep with loud snoring, difficulty staying asleep, urinating frequently at night, or daytime sleepiness or tiredness, you may benefit from a sleep-medicine evaluation.


Control Your Weight

From Eliana Terry, registered dietitian, Baystate Noble Hospital:

Is your New Year’s resolution to eat healthier, exercise more, or achieve another health-related goal? The new year brings with it the opportunity to start on a path toward wellness or, if you’ve already done so, to maintain healthy habits. However, it can be difficult to make these goals stick with all the challenges the year throws our way. What is the best way to be successful in achieving your health resolutions? Consider the following.

• Be specific with your goals. Instead of ‘I will eat healthier,’ consider something like ‘I will replace four sodas per week with water.’ Setting a more specific goal can help you actually check whether you have completed the goal each day and, thus, be successful long-term.

• Make sure your goals are measurable. If your goal is weight loss, for example, set a measurable amount with a time frame to reach your goal by. For example, ‘I want to lose 10 pounds by April 2024’ and ‘exercise for 30 minutes, three times per week’ are more measurable goals than ‘lose weight this year.’

• Make your goals realistic for you. For example, if you travel daily for work, ‘no longer eat on the go’ as a resolution may be unrealistic for your lifestyle. You may find yourself giving up by February if you have purchased any meals out. This hinders any progress you could have made in a longer period. Instead, try a more realistic and flexible goal such as ‘pack a healthy lunch to keep in a cooler four times per week.’

Set yourself up for success this year with specific, measurable, realistic resolutions. Otherwise, you may find yourself quickly frustrated by your inability to stick to and achieve your goals.


Change at the Top

Manny Lopes

Manny Lopes

Fallon Health, a not-for-profit healthcare services organization with a focus on improving access, quality, and affordability in government markets, announced that its board of directors has appointed Manny Lopes as its next president and CEO, effective July 1, 2024. The selection of Lopes follows a comprehensive national search that began after the organization announced the planned retirement of President and CEO Richard Burke.

The board also appointed Chief Financial Officer Todd Bailey to serve as interim CEO from Burke’s retirement on Jan. 31 through June 30.

“I am honored and grateful to the Fallon Health board of directors for the opportunity to be the next president and CEO of this exceptional organization,” Lopes said. “I look forward to leading the organization and its dedicated, passionate, and caring employees in pursuit of its vision to be the leader in providing exceptional, coordinated care and coverage that meets the unique, diverse, and changing needs of its members.”

A seasoned executive with experience across the healthcare industry, Lopes is currently the interim CEO of Fenway Health, one of the first healthcare organizations in the country to specifically address the healthcare needs of the LGBTQ+ community. Prior to that, he was executive vice president of Public Markets and Government Relations for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts (BCBSMA), with responsibilities for the company’s Medicare division, achieving growth through innovation while also improving consumer experience and health outcomes.

“I look forward to leading the organization and its dedicated, passionate, and caring employees in pursuit of its vision to be the leader in providing exceptional, coordinated care and coverage that meets the unique, diverse, and changing needs of its members.”

Before joining BCBSMA, Lopes was president and CEO of East Boston Neighborhood Health Center, a large, nationally recognized primary-care provider and insurer that offers a Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly and a Senior Care Options plan, both core programs in Fallon Health’s portfolio.

“Manny’s extensive and highly relevant experience make him the ideal person to lead Fallon Health at this point in its history and in support of its strategy to predominantly focus on government markets,” said Frederick Misilo, Fallon Health board chair. “Throughout his career, he has developed a deep and empathetic understanding of the healthcare needs of the communities that Fallon Health serves today and in the future. Manny and Todd are committed to ensuring a seamless transition for Fallon Health’s employees, members, and provider, business, and community partners.”

Deborah Enos, Fallon Health board member and chair of the search committee, added that “the board’s search committee worked diligently to find the right person to lead Fallon Health and continue to move the organization forward in its strategy to be the leading healthcare-services organization committed to government-sponsored health-insurance programs. Manny has a deep understanding of and commitment to all that Fallon Health stands for: its mission, vision, values, and its strong support of the community. His proven track record and passion for innovation, equity, and improving health outcomes is unparalleled.”

Misilo added that Bailey’s leadership has put Fallon Health in a strong financial position and played a key role in the organization’s strategic decision to focus predominantly on government programs, and that his 30-plus years of experience in the health-insurance and healthcare fields, and his unique vantage point in the business, have helped drive strategic and critical decisions in support of members’ care, the workforce, and the community.

Following a 25-year career at Fallon Health, including the last eight as president and CEO, Burke will retire at the end of the month.

“Under Richard’s distinguished leadership, Fallon Health has successfully pivoted to a predominant focus on government programs, experiencing unprecedented growth in several products and historically strong financial results, and receiving continued exemplary national ratings for quality and service,” Misilo said. “The board congratulates him on his retirement, thanks him for all he has done to expand the impact of Fallon Health’s mission, and wishes Richard well as he embarks on this next journey.”