Daily News

Claudia Pazmany

SPRINGFIELD — Following an eight-month search and interview process, Martin Luther King Jr. Family Services (MLKFS) named Claudia DeVito Pazmany as its new chief Development officer. She will be responsible for developing a sustainable institutional development effort to both support existing programs and expand them to serve the emergent needs of the organization’s clients. Pazmany had served as a volunteer member of the MLKFS development committee before being appointed to her new position.

“Claudia’s dedication to building the beloved community is evident, not only because of her volunteer service to our organization, but also based on her entire career of helping others succeed,” said Shannon Rudder, president and CEO of MLKFS. “She has a long history of social-change fund development mixed with a proven track record of rebuilding and repositioning organizations and nonprofits for success.”

Pazmany comes to MLKFS with 23 years of relationship building, strategic planning, innovative leadership, financial acumen, and visionary critical thinking, most recently serving as executive director of the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce. Her experience includes a history of professional fundraising with a career total of raising more than $15 million in a development capacity for other location organizations, including the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts and Providence Ministries. She also serves as volunteer, advisory board member, and former board president of CHD’s Big Brothers Big Sisters of Hampshire County, a development committee member of the United Way of Franklin & Hampshire Region, and as a 2020 and 2021 EforAll Pioneer Valley mentor.

In October 2021, Pazmany received a citation from the Massachusetts House of Representatives for her leadership role in supporting Amherst’s small businesses throughout COVID, leveraging more than $2 million in small-business assistance. She was honored with the Family 2022 Outreach Center’s Helen Mitchell Community Service Award for conceptualizing and implementing a program that provided restaurant relief while feeding families who were disproportionately impacted by COVID. She was also honored as a 2023 BusinessWest Difference Maker along with Amherst Business Improvement District Executive Director Gabrielle Gould for their partnership and leadership to build a stronger community throughout COVID.

“I am deeply honored to step into this inaugural role at MLKFS,” Pazmany said. “I am eager to develop relationships and engage the community to further the inspired vision of its newest president and CEO, Shannon M. Rudder, whilst connecting its rich history to a strengthened role it can play in ensuring MLKFS for our future generations.”

Pazmany earned a bachelor’s degree with concentrations in French and business from UMass Amherst, and an MBA from Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst. She earned a program leadership certificate from the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts’ Leadership Institute for Political and Public Impact.

Daily News

Hector Suarez

EASTHAMPTON — bankESB recently hired Hector Suarez as assistant vice president, branch officer of its Sargeant Street office in Holyoke.

Suarez grew up in Holyoke and Puerto Rico and has nearly 30 years of banking experience. He says he is passionate about providing a customer-first experience and brings an extensive background to his new role, where he will manage the Holyoke office team while fostering relationships within the community.

Prior to joining bankESB, he was a vice president, branch manager at M&T Bank, People’s United Bank, and United Bank. Before that, he was a branch manager at Key Bank and First Niagara Bank, as well as a personal banker with Baybank, BankBoston, FleetBoston, and Bank of America.

Daily News

HOLYOKE — Holyoke Mall will host its spring job fair on Wednesday, April 17 from 2 to 5 p.m. on the lower level near Macy’s. The Get Hired Job Fair is a convenient opportunity for Western Mass. employers to interview and hire workers, and to help job seekers connect with businesses who need their skills.

Employers from a variety of industries will be in attendance, looking for candidates at all skill levels. The event is free to attend for all job seekers. Employers that have already signed up to staff a table include Baystate Health, PeoplesBank, Holyoke Community College, YMCA Greater Springfield, and more. Last year, the September job fair drew more than 40 employers, representing more than 10 industries, and nearly 400 candidates.

Employers interested in participating in the upcoming job fair should contact Jim Geraghty, advertising representative for Holyoke Mall, at (617) 840-2998 or [email protected]. Click here for full details regarding the event.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — The annual 94.7 WMAS Children’s Miracle Network Radiothon, held on March 5-6, transformed the 94.7 WMAS studios at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame into a bustling hub of generosity and compassion. This year, the Radiothon raised $289,355 in support of Baystate Children’s Hospital.

Throughout the two-day event, the Kellogg Krew, alongside other 94.7 WMAS personalities, spearheaded fundraising efforts, rallying listeners and supporters to contribute to this vital cause. The response underscored the compassion and generosity prevalent in Western Mass. to make a difference in the lives of children facing medical challenges.

“We can’t believe the support Radiothon receives from the local community,” Audacy Senior Vice President Craig Swimm said. “We are so lucky to have a hospital like Baystate in our backyard.”

The impact of the 94.7 WMAS Radiothon extends far beyond monetary donations, embodying a collective dedication to nurturing and safeguarding the well-being of the youngest members of the community, while also spotlighting the tireless efforts of Baystate Children’s Hospital’s doctors, nurses, and staff. Since its inception, the Radiothon raised more than $5,000,000 for local children.

Donations are still being accepted. Visit wmaskids.com for more information.


Getting Revved Up

Zach Schwartz (left) and Jason Tsitso

Zach Schwartz (left) and Jason Tsitso have One Way Brewing on the fast track to continued growth.


As with every brewery operation in Western Mass., there’s a story behind the name of this venture, one Jason Tsitso has told many times.

It harkens back to the days when he was a motocross racer, he said, adding that one of his good friends at the time worked for Ryder truck rentals. Tsitso said he and another friend would often help out at the Ryder facility, and one day he discovered his bike covered with the ‘one-way’ stickers that were affixed to the company’s vehicles.

“The next day, I was racing in a moto, and I was doing well, and the announcer said, ‘296 from One Way Racing,’” he went on, adding that, soon thereafter, he actually created a racing team with that name, complete with jerseys and other apparel with a ‘one-way’ logo.

And when he started home brewing with one of those friends from his racing days, they started tossing around ideas for a name and settled on something from the past. And it has stuck.

But there are other meanings behind this brand that Tsitso has established and grown with partner Zach Schwartz.

“There’s only one way to brew beer, and that’s fresh and local,” he told BusinessWest, adding that this way has helped give their brand a following, one that has enabled it to become one of the many emerging craft-beer labels in the 413 and a developing success story.

The two partners now have a taproom on Maple Street in Longmeadow, across from the plaza that was destroyed by fire just after they opened (more on that later), and a growing portfolio of craft beers, a few of them with racing-related names, such as Brraaap! (that’s the sound motorcycles make when their drivers hit the throttle), a New England IPA; and Kick Starter, another New England IPA, with which the partners got things started.

But there’s also the Betty, a Scottish export ale, One Rustic Cranberry Stout (no explanation needed for that one), One Hard Lime Seltzer (ditto), and others.

“Home brewers will come in and ask, ‘what’s your favorite? It’s very hard to be objective when all of these beers are your babies.”

The business plan is rather simple and direct, Schwartz said — to continue developing more of these beers and continue building on the solid foundation they’re created.

For Tsitso, vice president of Operations for a commercial construction company, and Schwartz, owner of Manchester, Conn.-based Fusion Cross Media, a printing company, this is still a part-time pursuit, or “passion,” as they call it, but one that is absorbing ever-larger amounts of the time not spent at their day jobs.

“This is more of our passion project,” said Tsitso, who also takes the title of head brewer. “Zack and I both like to build things, and this was our project when we started out. We wanted to see where we could take it and build it from grassroots; we expand as we have the bandwidth to do so.”

For this issue and its focus on breweries, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at One Way Brewing and how its fast start has it on track for a high-octane brand of success in this sector where there’s friendly competition — or, as Tsitso described it, a “community” where customers are shared.


Lager Than Life

As he and Tsitso talked one recent Saturday morning about One Way Brewing, the route traveled to date, and where the road might take them from here, Schwartz first went about describing what they’ve created on Maple Street, and how it is different from a bar.

One Way’s portfolio of craft beers

One Way’s portfolio of craft beers continues to grow and now includes a wide spectrum of offerings.

“At a bar, you eat food, you have a drink, and maybe you watch TV,” he told BusinessWest. “Here at the brewery, Jason and I talk business with you. I don’t want to say that we’re entertaining, but we are engaged. And people are always asking questions — ‘how did you come up with that?’ and ‘what are your ingredients?’ or ‘what malts did you use?’

“Home brewers will come in and ask, ‘what’s your favorite?’” he went on. “It’s very hard to be objective when all of these beers are your babies.”

And that’s essentially how this venture started — two guys, Tsitso and Schwartz, talking about brewing, then doing it, and never stopping when it comes to asking questions, perfecting their craft, and creating more of these ‘babies.’

Elaborating, the two partners said they’ve known each other a long time and that their daughters hung out together. They both developed a thirst for craft beer — Tsitso has always had one, and Schwartz’s developed over time.

“I would say we got him into craft beer four ounces at a time,” Tsitso said of Schwartz, adding that they and other friends would do a lot of tasting over the years, activity that would eventually lead them down that stimulating but challenging path that would take them from tasters to brewers.

“We got tired of waiting in line,” Tsitso said with a laugh, adding that, rather than queuing up for other brewers’ offerings (although they still did some of that, too), they decided to brew their own.

They started attending brew fests, which back then drew both professional and home brewers, and found themselves often mistaken for the former.

“At our first brew fest, we had a logo, we had a brand, we looked like pro brewers,” Schwartz recalled. “We were at a beer fest in Vermont, and people kept asking, ‘where’s your brewery? We want to check out your brewery.’ And we said, ‘we brew out of our garage.’

“And at every brew fest after that, people would enjoy and ask the same thing — ‘where’s your brewery?’” he went on, noting that with those comments as inspiration — and as the pandemic forced brew fests to take a lengthy pause — they eventually went about creating one.

They began with cans and eventually opened their taproom after COVID restrictions were fully lifted in the spring of 2021.

As for beers, they started with … Kick Starter, a beer that would in many ways set the tone for this venture.

“It came about as West Coast IPAs were really popular and New Englands were just getting started,” Tsitso recalled. “Our whole concept with that beer was to create something that was really approachable for non-IPA drinkers, was well-balanced, and really got them into enjoying IPAs and broadening their beer drinking.”


Draught Choice

This same thought process has gone into subsequent additions to the portfolio, including Brraaap!, which was created to mark the two-year anniversary of the opening of the taproom; One Hard Lime Seltzer; One Rustic Cranberry Stout; and Spilled Milk Mango, a mango milkshake IPA and another popular seller.

While Tsitso is the head brewer and recipe developer, the two will work together on potential additions to the roster, looking at what might be missing from the lineup and what the next logical new label should be.

The same is essentially true of the broad business plan, said the partners, adding that the goal is sustainable growth and building on the solid base they’ve created.

“One thing we’ve always tried to do is not overextend ourselves and get to the point where we can’t manage it, either from the stress level or it just doesn’t become fun anymore,” Tsitso said. “As we get the bandwidth to expand, we expand.”

Possible avenues for expansion include a larger footprint in the plaza where they’re currently operating, and enhanced distribution, with most of it coming currently at the taproom, with beers on tap in only a few area restaurants.

Moving forward, the partners say they’re looking forward to operating with the nearby shopping plaza rebuilt. Former anchor Armata’s grocery store will not be part of the new mix, as it was destroyed by fire just a few months after they opened in the spring of 2021, but they could already see that it helped drive traffic to their business, and they long for the day when that busy intersection can turn back the clock and become a true destination.

“We’re excited that they’re rebuilding across the street, because that will really enhance traffic,” said Schwartz, adding that the taproom has a solid working relationship with a pizza shop next door and other businesses at that intersection.

Meanwhile, the partners are already drawing visitors from Longmeadow, East Longmeadow, Springfield, Enfield, and well beyond, he went on, noting that craft-beer enthusiasts travel well and are willing to put some miles on the odometer to experience something new and different.

Still, the taproom’s bread and butter is a cadre of regulars who come, as Schwartz noted earlier, not simply to drink beer, but to talk beer and experience beer.

“In the beginning, we bartended Thursday and Friday nights; we alternated every week,” he went on. “And those regulars … we developed relationships with them, talked beer with them, and shared our passion and dream with them. A lot of them come here to drink beer and visit — it’s that kind of atmosphere here.”

All this has made One Way not just a business, although it is certainly that, but also a passion, one that has taken the high road to success and is certainly revved up about what might come next.

Community Spotlight

Community Spotlight

Chris Dunne

Chris Dunne says one of the town’s priorities is to create more housing.



That’s the one word Jessye Deane kept coming back to as she talked about Deerfield and its business community.

And with good reason.

Indeed, while this community of just over 5,000 is home to Yankee Candle Village, Historic Deerfield, the Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory, and other tourist attractions, its economy is quite broad, covering sectors ranging from agriculture to craft brewing (which doubles as a tourist attraction, as we’ll see); manufacturing to retail; restaurants to the arts.

They all come together in a picturesque community that is a true destination, said Deane, executive director of the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce, which also calls Deerfield home. And this diversity is certainly an asset, she added, especially as manufacturing declines in many other communities.

“This diversity is the real strength of the economy of Deerfield,” she told BusinessWest, noting that, while large employers like Yankee Candle are always important, the backbone of the community’s economy is small businesses.

And, as noted, they cover all sectors, from restaurants like Leo’s Table in the community’s small but vibrant downtown to Ames Electrical Consulting, a growing business, soon to move to Greenfield, that specializes in helping manufacturers and even municipalities with efforts to automate facilities and processes.

That list also includes manufacturers like Worthington Assembly, which has become noteworthy not only for the circuit boards it produces for a wide range of clients but for a decidedly different culture, one it describes as ‘humanizing manufacturing’.

The obvious goal moving forward is to continue adding more pieces to this diverse business puzzle, said Chris Dunne, Deerfield’s Planning & Economic Development coordinator, while also making the town even more livable and, well, simply providing more places to live.

Indeed, like most other communities in this region — although not all those in Franklin County, where population loss is a pressing issue  — Deerfield needs more housing, said Dunne, adding that creating more is part of a larger effort to repurpose land and property in what he called the town campus.

“Approximately 45% of Deerfield residents are over age 55, so there is a definite need for senior housing.”

This is a collection of buildings, many of them currently or soon to be town-owned, including the current Town Hall, two churches, and a former elementary school, some of which could likely be converted to senior housing, said Denise Mason, chair of the town’s Planning Board, adding that there is real need in this category, and if it is met, other homes could become available to younger families.

“Approximately 45% of Deerfield residents are over age 55, so there is a definite need for senior housing,” Mason said. “And there is a housing issue across our region, and especially in Deerfield. We’re hoping that by building senior housing — and we’re looking to add approximately 32 units — that would free up some of the other homes, because we do have some older seniors who would like to downsize, but they have no place to move to.”

For this, the latest installment of its Community Spotlight series, BusinessWest turns the lens on Deerfield, where an increasingly vibrant community and ever-changing destination comes into focus.


Developing Stories

They are referred to as the ‘1821 Building’ and the ‘1888 Building,’ respectively, because that’s when they opened their doors.

The former is a long-closed church, and the latter is the aforementioned former elementary school that, with the help of a $4 million federal earmark, is being eyed as a replacement for the current town offices, built in the ’50s and now outdated and energy-inefficient.

Wade Bassett

Wade Bassett says Yankee Candle is one of many intriguing draws that have helped transform Deerfield into a true destination.

Transformation of those two historic properties tops the list of municipal initiatives in Deerfield, Dunne and Mason said.

And if town offices can be moved to the renovated school, new uses, perhaps senior housing, could be found for the current Town Hall, which, as noted, is an aging, inefficient structure.

These properties and others sit on what is called the campus, a slice of land, most of it town-owned, between North Main Street and Conway Street that includes several structures, including Town Hall, the 1821 and 1888 buildings, the town’s senior center, a ballfield, and a second church, St. James Roman Catholic Church, and its rectory, which the town may acquire with an eye toward preservation and reuse, perhaps for more senior housing, said Mason, adding that a request for proposals will soon be issued for that property.

As noted, there is real need for this type of housing, said Mason, noting that, if it is created, homes will come on the market, opening the door for more families to move to the community.

Meanwhile, new senior housing on the campus and more young families would provide a boost for the nearby downtown, said Dunne, adding that, while that area is vibrant, there are some ‘infill projects,’ as he called them, to contend with, including a long-vacant Cumberland Farms (a new, much larger one was opened on Route 5).

Other initiatives include ongoing development of a municipal parking lot with EV chargers, one complete with a large amount of green space to counter all the paved surfaces downtown — and a Complete Streets project that include improvements to sidewalks and adding a tree belt to downtown streets.

While there’s a concerted effort to create more housing inventory for those who want to live in Deerfield, there’s already a deep portfolio of attractions for those who want to visit.

“Tree House is driving a lot of traffic to this area, with their beer and with their concerts.”

Yankee Candle has long been the mainstay, and it continues to evolve in this anchor role, said Wade Bassett, director of Sales and Operations at Yankee Candle Village.

But the tourist sector, like the overall economy, is diverse, boasting everything from butterflies to history lessons at Historic Deerfield to the latest draw — craft beer and accompanying events, especially at Tree House Brewery, now occupying the large campus that was once home to publisher Channing Bete.

That campus incudes a concert venue that brings thousands of people to Deerfield for shows, said Dunne, adding that the brewery is working with town officials to increase the limit for attendance so it can bring larger acts to that campus and thus increase the ripple effect.

19th-century building

This 19th-century building is among the properties in the town ‘campus’ being eyed for renovation.

And that effect is already considerable, said Jen Howard, owner of Leo’s Table, a breakfast and lunch restaurant on North Main Street, named after her grandfather, who owned and operated a similar establishment in Fitchburg after returning from military service.

Howard said she explains the name on a regular basis, adding that many guests will ask her male kitchen employee if he is Leo.

Those guests run the gamut, she said, noting that there is a solid core of locals, many of them senior citizens, but many diners are coming on their way to attractions like Yankee Candle, the butterfly conservatory, and, increasingly, Tree House.

“We even see some from the parking lot — people charging their vehicles will come in,” she told BusinessWest, adding that a much larger boost comes from the tourist attractions, which fuel many other hospitality-related businesses.


Staying Power

At Yankee Candle, they call it the “golden key.”

That’s the name of a long-standing program, a tradition, really, at the company, whereby one family, or an individual guest, is chosen to receive an actual, and quite large, golden key, which they are required to wear, and which entitles them to enjoy all the many experiences at the Village for free.

Deerfield at a Glance

Year Incorporated: 1677
Population: 5,090
Area: 33.4 square miles
County: Franklin
Residential Tax Rate: $13.85
Commercial Tax Rate: $13.85
Median Household Income: $74,853
Median Family Income: $83,859
Type of Government: Open Town Meeting
Largest Employers: Yankee Candle Co., Pelican Products Inc.
* Latest information available

“They can enjoy Wax Works, they can fill a candy jar, they can get some ice cream at Ben & Jerry’s — it gives a next-level experience to the guest,” said Bassett, adding quickly that the program was designed to engage not only guests, but employees at the Village as well. Indeed, each day a different team member is assigned the task of deciding who, if anyone, is worthy of the golden key, which is awarded for many good reasons, from a 100th birthday to a wedding anniversary to marking one’s final round of chemotherapy.

“Recently, we had two people get engaged in our Black Forest, and one of our employees came back and said, ‘we just had an engagement in our store — why don’t we give them the golden key?” Bassett went on, adding that the program is just one way the Village strives to heighten what is still in most respects a retail experience and take it to the next level.

That level has been raised continuously over the more than 30 years that the Village has been operating, he said, adding that the facility, which is in seemingly constant motion and changing with the holidays and seasons — Easter and April school vacation are next on the schedule, and programs are already being developed — is now part of a broad effort to make Deerfield and all of Franklin County a true destination.

Indeed, like others we spoke with, Bassett said Deerfield has become a regional tourism hub, with a variety of attractions that can broaden a visit from a few hours to an entire day — or even longer.

Tree House has been an important addition to the mix, he told BusinessWest, adding that it is part of a craft-beer trail, if you will, along with Berkshire Brewing nearby in the center of Deerfield. But Tree House has become a much bigger draw with its concerts and other types of events.

“Tree House is driving a lot of traffic to this area, with their beer and with their concerts,” Bassett said, adding that this traffic is finding its way to different stops in the area, including Yankee Candle.

Deane agreed, and said that the goal in Deerfield, and across Franklin County, is to simply “extend the stay.” Elaborating, she said the community has Yankee Candle to bring visitors in, but it also has Tree House, Berkshire Brewing, Historic Deerfield, and other attractions to keep them there for an extended stay — and bring them back again.


Banking and Financial Services

Branching Out — Again

Matt Sosik

Matt Sosik says Hometown’s latest acquisition is part of an ongoing initiative to gain needed size and extend the institution’s footprint.


Matt Sosik referred to it as a “mutual admiration society.”

That’s how he chose to describe the respect that he developed for the manner in which Kevin Tierney had grown North Shore Bank into a force in that region of the Commonwealth and, likewise, how Tierney respected what Sosik had done with Easthampton-based Hometown Financial Group, using acquisition and organic growth to transform it into a $4.7 billion multi-bank holding company with a reach that extends across Western and Central Mass., the South Shore, and into Northeastern Conn.

This mutual admiration eventually became the catalyst for talks to bring the institutions together, said Sosik, chairman and CEO of Hometown Financial, adding that North Shore will become part of the Hometown family of banks through a merger of Abington Bank, acquired by Hometown in 2019, into North Shore.

The combined bank will have more than $3 billion in assets and 25 full-service retail locations across the Bay State’s North and South Shore regions and Southern New Hampshire. Meanwhile, Hometown will become, with more than $6 billion in assets, one of the largest mutual banks in the country, said Sosik, adding that the merger gives the group more of what banks need in this challenging day and age — size.

“Margins have been falling steadily, and the only way to beat that back and try to win that battle is drive down costs, at least on the average.”

Indeed, when asked what greater size — $6.4 billion in assets compared to $4.7 billion — provides, Sosik started by saying simply, “survival.”

“Margins have been falling steadily, and the only way to beat that back and try to win that battle is drive down costs, at least on the average,” he explained. “So scale is the way to achieve that; when you put more assets under one roof and achieve more efficiencies, you’re driving down per-asset costs, and that’s what this business model tries to attain.

“We want to use that $6.5 billion chassis that’s headquartered in Easthampton to run the back offices of all of our three subsidiary banks,” he went on, listing bankESB, bankHometown in Central Mass., and the soon-to-be-much-larger North Shore Bank. “We can liberate those banks to do what they do best, which is use the power of their local brand in their communities they’re serving and let the shared service model of the holding company do the grungy stuff to produce efficiencies.”

That business model he mentioned has been an aggressive course of acquisitions that makes sense on every level, but especially those involving new opportunities for achieving growth and diversity when it comes to markets and regional vibrancy.

For this issue and its focus on banking & financial services, we take an in-depth look at the latest of these acquisitions for Hometown Financial and what it means for the institution moving forward.


Another Transaction of Note

As he talked about Hometown’s latest expansion effort, Sosik broke it down into two parts, essentially.

The first is the merger of North Shore into Hometown Financial Group, and then the merger of two of its subsidiary banks, North Shore and Abington, under the North Shore banner — although the Abington name will live on.

Putting those two institutions together under one roof, if you will, gives Hometown a dynamic presence in the eastern part of the state, which, like Western Mass. — and all corners of the state, for that matter — is a highly competitive region charactized by a strong mix of local, regional, and national banks, Sosik said.

Elaborating, he noted that the joining of Abington and North Shore brings a number of benefits, everything from resolution of succession issues at Abington — long-time President and CEO Andrew Raczka is entering retirement — to needed size and scale for North Shore.

“For North Shore, this makes a lot of sense strategically because they’re going to expand their footprint around Boston, gain market share … all the important things,” Sosik told BusinessWest. “But they’re also sliding underneath this $6.5 million company. They’re going to get to run their bank, and yet they can have their cake and eat it too in the sense that they’ll have access to our shared services and gain the efficiences of a much larger company. The benefits are the same for us — ensuring long-term viability and relevance in a very slim-margin industry.”

Rewinding the tape, Sosik said the talks between him and Tierney began just over a year ago and accelerated over the past few months. The merger was announced early last month, and the transaction is anticipated to close in the second half of this year.

It is the latest of seven strategic mergers for Hometown Financial Group over the past nine years, an aggressive pattern of acquisition that has taken the institition well beyond the 413. Indeed, its reach now extends across most of the state into neighboring Connecticut and New Hampshire.

Recounting those acquisitions, Sosik said they started in June 2015, when Citizens National Bancorp and its subsidiary, Citizens National Bank, merged into bankESB, which was operating at the time under the name Easthampton Savings Bank. In April 2016, Hometown Community Bancorp and its subsidiary, Hometown Community Bank, joined Hometown Financial Group to become the second subsidiary of the holding company; Hometown Community Bank has since changed its name to bankHometown. And in January 2019, Pilgrim Bancorp and its subsidiary, Pilgrim Bank, joined Hometown Financial Group.

Later that year, Abington Bank merged into Pilgrim Bank, with the name of the combined bank changed to Abington Bank, and Millbury Savings Bank merged into bankHometown. In October 2022, Randolph Bancorp and its subsidiary, Envision Bank, merged into Abington Bank, and last month, North Shore Bancorp and its subsidiary, North Shore Bank, announced plans to merge with Abington Bank; at transaction closing, Abington Bank will operate as a division of North Shore Bank.


Moves of Interest

This latest merger transforms North Shore into a $3.1 billion powerhouse, one of the largest mutuals in that part of the state, with reach across Eastern Mass., where, again, there are many competitors, size is an all-important asset, and meaningful, organic growth is far more attainable than it is Western Mass., which is typically described as a slow- or no-growth area.

“It’s a very competitive market, but also a very vibrant market,” said Sosik. “When you look at our demographics in the Pioneer Valley, they’re not very impressive; we love that market, and it’s very stable, but it’s not high-growth.

“It’s different in the eastern part of the state,” he went on. “In spite of the depth of the competition, it’s still a great market to be in; there are opportunites for growth.”

From a bigger-picture perspective, this latest merger provides an opportunity to take the stability of Western Mass. and juxtapose it against the “higher highs and lower lows” that define the far more dynamic eastern part of the state, he continued, adding that this diversity of regions and markets is another solid asset for Hometown Financial Group.

It’s an asset most other banks in the region are seeking as well, he said, noting that several banks in Western Mass. are pushing into Connecticut and other regions, and some Connecticut-based banks are moving north.

It’s all a function of gaining access to higher-growth areas and, overall, much-needed size, said Sosik, as he returned once again to the topics of margins — and how they became even smaller in the wake of repeated interest-rate hikes last year — and scale and the importance of attaining it.

“Banks are not built to withstand that kind of pressure,” he said in reference to climbing deposit rates and an inability to increase yields on existing loan portfolios beyond a certain point. “So you’re seeing banks in various degrees of duress becase of that predicament.”

The pace of interest-rate increases has certainly slowed, and rates may even decline somewhat this year, but this will remain a challenging climate for banks of all sizes, he went on, adding that the only course of action is to achieve greater size.

“In a low-margin business of any kind, and banking is certainly right at the top of that list, you have got to grow, or you’re going backward,” he went on. “That’s the nature of the beast. How do you acomplish that growth? We’ve chosen one model, and there are other successful pathways.”

Thus far, this model has chosen to be successful at achieving its various goals — from territorial expansion and regional diversity to much-needed scale.

And Sosik expects this pattern to continue with the acquisition of North Shore Bank.

Franklin County

Blueprinting a Unique Culture

Rafal Dybacki (left) and Neil Scanlon

Rafal Dybacki (left) and Neil Scanlon are focused on continued growth and something they call ‘humanizing manufacturing.’

It’s called “The Pick, Place, Podcast.”

It’s co-produced by Worthington Assembly Inc. (WAi) and a collaborator — and tenant within its space in Deerfield’s industrial park — called CircuitHub, and it’s billed as an electronics show where representatives from the companies, which specialize in circuit-board design and assembly (contract manufacturing), discuss the printed circuit board (PCB) assembly process, offer design tips, and talk to industry guests.

“It’s a unique show — no one else is doing anything quite like this,” WAi principal Neil Scanlon said. “And we have a lot of fun doing it.”

But while proud of their own podcast, Scanlon and Worthington co-owner Rafal Dybacki preferred to talk about a different podcast, called “Uncover the Human,” featuring consultants who talk with guests about … well, how to make the workplace more human.

This has been one of the overriding goals for the two partners since they acquired the company, originally based in Worthington (hence the name) and moved it to Deerfield, and, long story short, they were featured on an episode of “Uncover the Human” just over a year ago.

“It’s a couple of consultants out of Colorado, and they’re trying to find … one way to say it is to peel back the layers and find the good in work and try to make workplaces more human and be not what they are today,” Scanlon said.

“One of our employees is good friends with one of the employees at this consulting company, and they were on a trip together, and our employee was telling her about our culture and how we make decisions. And she kept asking her questions and saying, ‘this doesn’t make any sense,’ and ‘let me try to understand this more.’ She became so fascinated, she said she had to get us on their podcast.”

They told the host what they told BusinessWest — that they take a different approach to hiring and developing employees. It’s an approach hinted at broadly in the headline over the company’s posting on jobsinthevalley.com, which features the two words ‘humanizing manufacturing.’

The two explained what that means.

“We have a flat, decentralized organization,” Scanlon said. “We don’t have supervisors, and everyone works in teams, and the teams work together to deliver quality product to our customers.

“We’re focused on people who are interested in problem solving, learning, and growing,” he went on, adding that part of the team’s culture, as we’ll see, is involving all employees in the work to find people who will make good fits.

Elaborating, Dybacki explained that, after inititial interviews, job candidates will then take what he called a “self-guided tour” of the factory and its various departments, seeing what’s done and asking any questions they might have. By doing this — something that very few, if any, other manufacturers would allow — the applicant gets a sense of not only of the work, but the people he or she will be working alongside.

“We have a flat, decentralized organization. We don’t have supervisors, and everyone works in teams, and the teams work together to deliver quality product to our customers.”

If that candidate is still interested, they begin what Scanlon described as a “three-day working interview,” during which the individual is assigned to work with specific teams. And if they’re still interested, things get taken to the next level — a 30-day working interview.

Overall, this process was blueprinted — there’s that word again — to get the right people on the company’s teams, and a workforce where members are both focused and happy.

For this issue and its focus on Franklin County, BusinessWest talked at length with Scanlon and Dybacki about Worthington Assembly and what’s in their business plan moving forward, but also about humanizing manufacturing and the unique culture they’ve created.


Making It Here

The consultants behind the “Uncover the Human” podcast aren’t the only ones interested in talking with these two entrepreneurs lately.

Indeed, Yvonne Hao, secretary of the state’s Executive Office of Economic Development, got them on the phone late last month as part of a larger effort to assess the climate for small businesses in the Commonwealth, especially those in advanced manufacturing, and better understand their issues and concerns.

Scanlon and Dybacki said they talked about a number of things with her, from the millionaire’s tax and how they feel it penalizes S corporations, like Worthington Assembly, to the gross-receipts tax and how it also it also hamstrings small-business owners. They also talked about the company’s culture, said Dybacki, speculating that Hao may have heard the “Uncover the Human” episode.

Whether she did or not, the call is an indication of how the company and how it operates have gained traction and visibility as it continues to grow and evolve — and mark a half-century of working on the cutting edge of circuit-board contract manufacturing.

Indeed, it was back in 1974 when Tom Quinn, the company’s founder, set up shop in his bedroom and soon developed processes for assembling circuit boards, first for a Boston-based client called Cyborg Inc.

The company moved from Quinn’s bedroom to a small barn in Worthington, where it continued a pattern of steady growth. Quinn and his wife, Barbara, sold the operation to Scanlon and Dybacki in 2008 and, seeking larger quarters, more reliable power, and faster internet, moved it to the industrial park in Deerfield a year later.

There, they’ve continued and enhanced the company’s reputation as a contract manufacturer, amassing a deep portfolio of clients, most of them in New England, in sectors ranging from medical-device manufacturing to industrial controls; from HVAC to segments of the automobile industry.

“We essentially build to a blueprint, much like a machine shop builds to a blueprint,” Scanlon explained. “A customer will come to us with a blueprint, and we will build that product for them precisely as that blueprint states.”

WAi does a considerable amount of work with CircuitHub, a designer of circuit boards for customers around the globe, and ships directly to its clients, Dybacki said.

It is one of the few circuit board assemblers in Western Mass., and a relatively small player in a large and extremely competitive sector, where, in this case, the smaller size is a competitive advantage because it comes with flexibility and the ability to handle the smaller orders that the larger players would not even consider, Scanlon explained.

“We handle things at lower volumes, where it’s too much work to send it off the China because the volume isn’t there, and other competitors simply don’t want to get involved with a $4,000 or $5,000 order,” he said, adding that the company can handle orders of a few dozen of an item to several thousand.


True Grit

WAi has enjoyed steady growth over the past several years, growing its workforce to 35, said Dybacki, adding that the focus has always been on “finding the right person and getting them in the right seat, and making sure they stay here.”

And this is where we return to the company’s culture and that notion of humanizing manufacturing.

Finding the right people is crucial, Scanlon said, because of the custom nature of the work being done.

“We do so many unique assemblies,” he explained. “On a given day, with this team of 35 people, we might be shipping 10 different assemblies that have in some cases never been built by anyone else. In order to do that, you need really good people that have a thorough understanding of how this works.

“You can’t have memorizers, you can’t have button pushers … our people that work here do the same thing over and over again for an hour, and then they move on to something totally different,” he went on. “They need a unique skill set.”

To find the right people — and then keep them — the company has created a comprehensive hiring, training, and onboarding process, one that secures input not only from those doing the interviewing and hiring, but those who will be working alongside the candidate in question.

It begins with that headline over the job placement and accompanying job description — ‘humanizing manufacturing.’

“This catches their eye, and they read about it, and then a lot of times they’ll reach out to us,” Scanlon said. “The type of person you get doesn’t necessarily have the exact skills you’re looking for, but they have the right attitude and a willingness to learn.

Dybacki concurred, adding, “in a lot of cases, that’s more important than having the needed skills.”

That aforementioned process, including the three-day and 30-day working interviews, includes something called a ‘360 form,’ whereby team members are evaluated by colleagues using core values and successful habits. These are listed with accompanying phraseology, so employees know just what they’re looking for, and ‘scores,’ if you will, ranging from ‘excellent’ to ‘average’ to ‘poor.’

These core values and descriptions provide some real insight into the degree to which the company wants people who are good fits, and how everyone at WAi is involved in finding those fits.

Under the core value ‘humility,’ we find “puts the team first; works well with others; open to change; open to learning; check any arrogance at the door; listens to others. No, really listens.”

Under the core value ‘honesty’ (described as “to be candid, straightforward, and fair”) is written, “our ability to be candid with our teammates is essential for our success; we cannot continuously improve if we aren’t talking about opportunities for improvement.”

Other core values and successful habits include ‘have fun,’ ‘contribute,’ ‘work well with everyone,’ and even ‘grit’ — “we need to always stay focused and push through the hard tasks all day, every day without becoming bored or complacent, and take pride in the simple yet at times difficult tasks.”

“Our teammates here will let you know if you have grit, if you’re able to do this work or not,” Scanlon said. “They’ll know just by the sound of the screwdriver.”

Using tools like the 360 form and a rigorous interviewing and onboarding process — which includes listening to that episode of “Uncover the Human” — the company has managed to successfully hire and maintain a workforce when many in manufacturing, and other sectors as well, are struggling to do so.

And much of it comes down to getting everyone at the company involved in this process.

“People here can’t complain about who they’re working with because they helped choose them and they have the ability to put feedback into a person’s 360,” said Scanlon, adding that, overall, these processes have created an environment where everyone is happy with who they’re working with, and they work together to take the company to the next level.

This is a true blueprint for success and a reason why this company is getting some attention — not just for the circuit boards it produces, but for the culture it has created.


Keep Moving Forward

Peter Reinhart

Peter Reinhart calls the grant “an unprecedented opportunity to build a sustainable innovation engine.”


A team from UMass Amherst recently won a $5.5 million Accelerating Research Translation (ART) award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support and expand faculty and student researchers’ efforts to translate research conducted in campus laboratories into tangible solutions to real-world problems.

The UMass team, which includes the Institute for Applied Life Sciences (IALS), the Technology Transfer Office, the Office of Research & Engagement, and the Office of the Provost, is one of only 18 nationwide announced in the program’s inaugural year. It is the only award made in New England, and one of just three in the Northeast.

“NSF endeavors to empower academic institutions to build the pathways and structures needed to speed and scale their research into products and services that benefit the nation,” NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan said, adding that the ART program “identifies and champions institutions positioned to expand their research-translation capacity by investing in activities essential to move results to practice.”

UMass Amherst Chancellor Javier Reyes noted that “the resources and nationwide network that this award brings to the campus will open new opportunities for our researchers to make a positive impact on society and will strengthen their ability to contribute to economic development in the region and beyond.”

Provost Mike Malone added that “receiving ART funding from NSF is a vote of confidence in the excellence of campus researchers and the potential for their work to translate into products, spinout ventures, and social enterprises that solve important real-world problems.”

Each ART awardee will benefit from a partnership with a mentoring institution of higher education that already has a robust ecosystem for translational research. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) will serve in that role for UMass. As such, the UMass Amherst team will be able to take advantage of MIT’s research-translation prowess to develop individual faculty, postdoctoral fellows, and graduate-student researchers, as well as its knowhow in the development of new startup companies.

“The project will equip diverse groups of scientists and engineers, from undergraduates to senior faculty, with skills to extend research excellence toward impactful translational outcomes.”

Roman Lubynsky, executive director of the New England Regional Innovation Node at MIT, has already begun to work with the UMass team as lead mentor, noting that “the IHE mentor role provides an ideal opportunity for us to build upon and expand our ongoing relationship with UMass Amherst, including facilitating access to and adaptation of best practices from across MIT’s translational enterprise.”


Seeking Impact

The four-year award will fund seed translational research projects, training to prepare postdoctoral fellows and graduate students for careers related to translational research, and a network of ART ambassadors, who will serve as role models, peer mentors, and advocates for societally impactful translational research.

In addition, UMass Amherst’s ART ambassadors will be part of a nationwide network of ART ambassadors from all funded institutions. Diverse, equitable, and inclusive efforts will prioritize and champion the involvement of members of traditionally underrepresented groups in every aspect of the project.

“This award provides the campus with an unprecedented opportunity to build a sustainable innovation engine that will prepare students and faculty to contribute to the innovation economy, shorten timelines between ideation and de-risked technologies, and result in enterprises that include diverse leaders in the development of technologies to address important societal needs,” said Peter Reinhart, founding director of IALS. “The project will equip diverse groups of scientists and engineers, from undergraduates to senior faculty, with skills to extend research excellence toward impactful translational outcomes.”

Reinhart will serve as the grant’s principal investigator. Co-principal investigators include Provost Mike Malone; Burnley Jaklevic, director of the UMass Amherst Technology Transfer Office; and Karen Utgoff, director of IALS Venture Development. Partner organizations include MassVentures, the Berkshire Innovation Center, Massachusetts Biomedical Initiatives, and Somerville-based innovation accelerator FORGE.

According to the National Science Foundation, more than $100 million was awarded to the 18 teams. Each awardee will receive up to $6 million over four years to identify and build upon academic research with the potential for technology transfer and societal and economic impacts, to ensure availability of staff with technology-transfer expertise, and to support the education and training of entrepreneurial faculty and students.

“Congratulations to the IALS team and the UMass Amherst campus on this significant award,” said Jeanne LeClair, vice president of Economic Development & Partnerships for the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center. “The center is incredibly proud of its significant investments in IALS as an anchor institution of our burgeoning Western Massachusetts life-sciences cluster. This award will only further spur innovation, translational research, and entrepreneurship for the region and our Commonwealth.”

Massachusetts Secretary for Economic Development Yvonne Hao added that “this ART award will help to grow the innovation economy in Western Massachusetts. The region has a lot to offer talented people who want to create new businesses, expand them, and to really succeed and thrive here.”


More Successes for IALS

The ART announcement came on the heels of two IALS core facilities receiving sophisticated microscopy instruments — the first such instruments to be located in Western Mass. — through grants totaling more than $3.2 million from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center (MLSC).

The UMass Amherst grants are included in a funding package of more than $30.5 million to support life-sciences innovation, workforce, and STEM education across Massachusetts.

The first award of $1,655,774 will fund the IALS Electron Microscope facility’s purchase of a cryo-transmission electron microscope, technology that the microscopy facility did not possess, and which will be the first to be located in Western Mass., according to facility director Alexander Ribbe.

The second award, $1,555,276, will allow the Light Microscopy facility, under the direction of James Chambers, to purchase technology that was missing from its imaging portfolio, expanding light microscopy offerings for biomedical training and research at UMass Amherst and beyond.