Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — At Thursday evening’s 18th annual 40 Under Forty event at the MassMutual Center, BusinessWest announced that Meghan Rothschild, president and owner of Chikmedia, is this year’s Alumni Achievement Award (AAA) winner. 

Rothschild broke through on her fourth time as a finalist for the AAA, which, since 2015, has been awarded annually to the past 40 Under Forty winner who, in the minds of an independent panel of judges, has most impressively built on his or her record of professional achievement and service to the community since being named a 40 Under Forty honoree.  

Rothschild was voted to the 40 Under Forty class of 2011 while serving as Development and Marketing manager for the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts. As a survivor of melanoma, she was also a well-known advocate for skin safety and cancer prevention. 

Since then, she has founded and significantly grown the marketing and public-relations business known as Chikmedia, a full-service, boutique firm that provides clients nationwide with graphic design, social-media management, public relations, expert positioning, event management, and more. 

Meanwhile, her involvement within the community takes many forms, from a Girls & Racism town hall created in collaboration with Girls Inc. to a Campaign for Healthy Kids PSA designed to help raise funds for the children and families that rely on Square One and were severely impacted by COVID, to her creation of the Chiks of the Future Scholarship, designated for a young woman of color pursuing a degree in a marketing-related field. 

Rothschild is also increasingly in demand as a public speaker, having addressed subjects ranging from skin cancer to social media to leadership skills and how to build them. She has also become a sought-after presenter and media host, including red-carpet coverage on behalf of Explore Western Mass. (the Greater Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau) for Basketball Hall of Fame enshrinement, as a panelist for the RISE Women’s Leadership Conference, and regular media-outlet contributions including The Rhode Show, Mass Appeal on WWLP, iHeart Radio, and more. Her first keynote address, called “Living Authentically Unleashed,” came this spring at the Pioneer Valley Women’s Conference in Springfield. 

The other three finalists for this year’s AAA award were Andrew Melendez, founder of the Latino Economic Development Corp.; Payton Shubrick, founder and CEO of 6 Brick’s LLC; and Craig Swimm, senior vice president of Audacy Springfield. 

The Alumni Achievement Award is presented by Health New England. 

Daily News

HOLYOKE — The Taber Art Gallery at Holyoke Community College (HCC), in partnership with the college’s Thrive Student Resource Center, is seeking submissions from area artists for an exhibit titled “THRIVE: Beyond Surviving.” The exhibit will run from Oct. 31 to Dec. 20. 

Artists are encouraged to enter work that considers the systemic, communal, and/or individual obstacles and barriers to survival; what surviving means; how we as humans can continue to dream, push, and hope for more than the minimum; and the struggle of exhaustion versus the ability to rest. Submissions are due by Aug. 31. 

Gallery director Rachel Rushing said the theme of the exhibit stems from conversation she’s had with Ben Ostiguy, Special Programs director for the HCC Thrive Center, which operates the college’s food pantry and provides other support services. 

“Thrive supports HCC students struggling to meet basic needs by focusing primarily on three areas: housing, hunger, and healthcare,” Rushing said. “One of the Taber gallery’s values is collaboration, and working with Thrive is a great way to amplify their program while featuring work from artists who have concerns in these same areas.” 

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — In May, Junior Achievement of Western Massachusetts (JAWM) honored its 18 Under 18 class of 2024, sponsored by Teddy Bear Pools and Spas, at Tower Square in Springfield. The event, which was also sponsored by the UPS Store and Holyoke Community College, provided the opportunity to spotlight outstanding young people throughout Western Mass. and surrounding areas who exemplify innovative spirit, leadership, and community involvement. 

“This is our third year honoring students in this special way, and we were pleased with the outstanding caliber of the nominations we received,” said Amie Miarecki, president of JAWM. “We feel so inspired by the amazing young people in our community and are delighted to highlight the impact they are making. We hope the whole community joins us in applauding them for their achievements and community contributions.” 

The following students comprise the 18 Under 18 class of 2024: 

  • Aarav Trehan, Grade 12, Longmeadow High School
  • Aiden Kane, Grade 12, Agawam High School
  • A’jahna Johnson, Grade 12, Chicopee Comprehensive High School
  • Haileigh Swistak, Grade 12, Quaboag Regional High School
  • Isabella Oliveira, Grade 11, Agawam High School
  • Jasmine Griffin, Grade 12, East Longmeadow High School
  • Jayden Lopez, Grade 12, Holyoke High School
  • Jordan Wetherell, Grade 11, Pathfinder Regional Vocational Technical High School
  • Lila Broadley, Grade 11, Quaboag Regional Middle-High School
  • Lucy Hildreth, Grade 11, Agawam High School
  • Mah’dee Naylor Jr., Grade 10, Roger L. Putnam Vocational Technical Academy
  • Martha Brannstrom, Grade 12, Longmeadow High School
  • Mychal Connolly Jr., Grade 12, Roger L. Putnam Vocational Technical Academy
  • Nicholas Kendra, Grade 12, Chicopee High School
  • Qua’Nae Golston Thomas, Grade 12, Holyoke High School
  • Nicholas Rodriguez, Grade 11, Holyoke High School
  • Siobhan Armstrong, Grade 11, Holyoke High School
  • Zainab Sheikh, Grade 11, Longmeadow High School

Nominations for 18 Under 18 were open to anyone 18 years or younger who attends school in Hampden, Hampshire, Franklin, or Berkshire counties, as well as the Quaboag and Tantasqua regional school districts and the state of Vermont. Judging criteria were divided into three categories: innovative spirit, leadership, and community involvement. 

Community Spotlight

Community Spotlight

The new ownership group at Shaker Bowl

The new ownership group at Shaker Bowl (from left, Paul Thompson, Brendan Greeley, Amy Greeley, Marc Murphy, General Manager Justin Godfrey, Adam Oliveri, Kim Oliveri, Jordan Healy, and Andrew Robb) is making changes to make the facility even more family-friendly.

Gordon Smith became superintendent of schools in East Longmeadow in 2010.

Not long after, the ‘journey,’ as he called it, to build a replacement for the high school built in 1960 began.

It’s a been a long, difficult, often frustrating road, said Smith, who summed up the early years of the long fight and approval process by saying, “we would get close, but we were never invited in.”

Finally, the last of myriad hurdles — a vote of town residents to approve the $180 million school project and another $19 million for the accompanying natatorium — was cleared last November, and Smith’s already busy schedule became even more so, but in a fulfilling, even exhilarating way.

Indeed, he’s part of the building committee that has been finalizing plans for the school, and as he talked with BusinessWest, he was working with the construction company Fontaine Bros. and other parties on plans for the ceremonial start of preparation of the ground for construction of the new high school (that took place on June 17).

While doing all that, Smith has been reflecting on how the project will impact this town of roughly 16,500, starting with a likely rise in that number because of what a new high school means to a community that has all the other ingredients for growth — land; a strong, diverse business community; vibrant neighborhoods; and high quality of life.

“It’s exciting to really shape the future for a number of years,” he said. “This moves the community as a whole forward, and we’ll have a building that’s current in terms of how it not only engages students, but how it engages the community.”

The long-awaited start of work on the new high school is one of many developing stories in East Longmeadow. Plans to construct a large warehouse on the former Package Machinery complex on Shaker Road have been turned down by the Planning Board and are now in litigation. Meanwhile, town leaders are in early-stage work to address concerns about affordable housing stock in the community.

Town Manager Tom Christensen said town leaders are exploring creation of a Center Town District featuring mixed-use development including housing options, such as apartments or townhouses, that would enable more people to come to East Longmeadow, or continue living there, at a time when most new homes being built there come with price tags approaching $1 million.

“This is a desirable community, but most of the housing stock is detached single-family,” Christensen explained. “With the new high school, and thinking about the cost of living, we’re trying to see if an affordable-housing component makes sense in the downtown area, with some kind of density housing.”

Timm Marini, seen here with staff members

Timm Marini, seen here with staff members during a recent employee-appreciation day at HUB, says East Longmeadow has always been desirable, and a new high school will make it even more so.

Several new businesses have opened in the community as well, including a Chase Bank branch in the center of town; a lingerie, bra-fitting, and swimsuit store called Gazebo Too; and Raspberry Records.

There are also new owners (a large group, in fact) of one the town’s older and perhaps better- known institutions, Shaker Bowl, located, as that name suggests, on Shaker Road.

Brendan Greeley, one of those new owners, said the group saw an opportunity to not only continue a more than 60-year-old tradition, but make some needed improvements and additions to make the facility even more family-friendly and more of a destination.

“We came at it like entrepreneurs; we wanted to make the facility better and more accommodating for families and more accommodating for businesses to come in and have their corporate events.”

“We came at it like entrepreneurs; we wanted to make the facility better and more accommodating for families and more accommodating for businesses to come in and have their corporate events,” he said, adding that improvements have included renovations to the party room, new lighting, new bowling software that allows young people to knock down a castle instead of pins, and more. “For kids coming in for a party, there are a lot more options now.”

For this, the latest installment of its Community Spotlight series, BusinessWest turns its lens on East Longmeadow, where many forms of progress and momentum are evident.


Classroom for Improvement

As he talked about the high-school project and all that goes into it, Smith said this is more than a generational undertaking. We’re talking about several generations.

“The goal is for this building to last equally as long as the last one,” he said, adding that the facility will be state-of-the-art in every way, especially with regard to technology.

“We think it’s going to be a building that firmly puts East Longmeadow into the 21st century,” he told BusinessWest. “This will be a building that students can come into and use the most current technology available — classrooms designed for how the 21st century student learns, a setting that’s much more interactive. It’s not about a teacher standing in the front of the room and presenting all day; it’s a setting that’s much more conducive to hands-on learning, no matter what the subject matter might be.

“And from a safety standpoint, we won’t have to worry about leaking roofs and power outages and things of that nature,” he went on, adding that there have been many of both during this long fight for a new school.

Plans call for the new school to open its doors for the start of the 2026-27 school year, said Smith, who, like others we spoke with, said the impact of the new facility should be felt long before that.

Indeed, in many respects, a modern high school has been the one ingredient missing from a community that has a lot of other things going for it, including land on which to build new homes and businesses and a large commercial base that has helped keep residential tax rates lower than in surrounding communities like Longmeadow and Wilbraham.

“With that investment in a new high school, I think you’re going to see more families moving into town,” said Timm Marini, president of Personal Lines Insurance at HUB International New England, which has an office on Shaker Road near the center of town. “The new schools really draw people — young people — which is what we need.

“We’ve seen several other area communities make investments in new high schools,” he said, listing Longmeadow, Wilbraham, West Springfield, and others. “East Longmeadow is a little behind the times in that respect, but now, town residents are putting their money where their mouth is, and it will benefit the community.”

Christensen, who grew up in town, returned to it several years ago, and then took an intriguing route to his current post — moving from deputy director of the Department of Public Works to deputy town manager to town manager — noted that the strong vote in favor of the debt exclusion (nearly 70%) spoke volumes about the need for the project and its importance to the community.

“The ‘yes’ votes were an indication that this could really jump-start our community,” he said, adding that while the town has recorded both residential and commercial growth over the past few decades, there is certainly room for more.

Indeed, there are two subdivisions (one with 23 lots, the other with 15) now in development, and there is ample land for more, he said.

But there are other needs in the community, he went on, noting that, like many communities in this region, there is a growing need for housing options, especially inventory that would fall into the ‘affordable’ category.

This need has led to ongoing efforts to create that aforementioned Center Town District, a mixed-use development with an affordable-housing component.

Christensen said the goal will be to create this district in the downtown area — not the surrounding residential neighborhoods — on commercially zoned property and parcels in need of redevelopment.

“We have some people in town who may not be able to afford to stay in their home, but want to stay in town, so it’s incumbent on us to provide an option,” he explained, adding that town leaders have engaged the public in the process, asking them what they want and don’t want from such an initiative.


Enthusiasm to Spare

Greeley told BusinessWest that, while he didn’t grow up in East Longmeadow, he spent plenty of time at the bowling alley on Shaker Road.

“I remember Thanksgiving and Easter … my family would get together, and we would always go bowling,” he said, adding that he has many fond memories from what can only be called a landmark.

And it is a desire to create memories for some new generations of area residents that prompted a group of investors (including Greeley’s wife, Amy) to acquire the bowling alley when it came on the market roughly a year ago.

Tom Christensen

Tom Christensen says a desire for housing options in the community has inspired efforts to create a Town Center District with an affordable-housing option.

Retelling the story, Greeley said he and Adam Oliveri, a close friend and over-30 hockey teammate, were looking for businesses to buy and, while driving by Shaker Bowl one day, brought it to the top of their list of prospectives. The owner wasn’t interested in selling, however, so they started looking in other directions, only to return to their original target when it eventually came on the market in early 2023.

They added partners to the group and closed that summer. Since then, they’ve been making improvements aimed at taking advantage of steady — and, by most estimates, growing — interest in bowling, while also making the facility a destination for all kinds of functions.

From September through April, leagues bowl there every day of the week, he explained, adding that league bowlers don’t take all 28 lanes, but they do provide a strong, steady source of revenue. Meanwhile, beyond the leagues, interest is strong among all age groups.

Shaker Bowl is part of a business community that is, as noted earlier, large and diverse, featuring everything from a solid mix of restaurants to a full roster of banks, with Chase being only the latest; from service businesses like HUB to a large number of distribution and manufacturing facilities in the town’s large industrial park.

There are many intriguing stories of entrepreneurship, including the Coating House, a 44-year-old business owned in recent years by Kim Casineau, who has written an inspiring story of growth, diversification, and giving back.

The company manufactures specialized coated and uncoated fasteners and fittings for several sectors, including industrial, medical devices, aerospace, automotive, and the military. But that’s just part of the story.

Indeed, Casineau, who benefited from services provided by the YWCA of Western Massachusetts earlier in her life, has committed herself to giving back not only to that agency (she currently serves as its board president), but also the young women it serves.

Working with board member Dawn Rodgers and YWCA staff, Casineau is part of an effort to implement a new educational program with high-school students called Healthy Empowering Relationships and Education. She’s also working to provide women served by the YWCA with mentoring and, eventually, job opportunities.

“I purchased this company with the intention of growing it and offering job opportunities to the women who are residents at, and receive services from, the YWCA, because I thought I could offer them entry-level jobs and mentorship at a safe place that is welcoming,” she said, adding that the mentoring initiatives and job opportunities remain a work in progress. “I want to offer them a place to learn and grow and feel safe.”

Overall, East Longmeadow is business-friendly, said Grace Barone, executive director of the East of the River Five Town Chamber of Commerce, which counts East Longmeadow among the five communities it represents.

She noted that, with the arrival of Christensen and Rebecca Lisi, deputy town manager, there are now stronger lines of communication between Town Hall and the business community, which brings benefits for both sides.

“They’re fantastic, they’re out in the community, they’re listening to what the members need, and they’re engaging with them,” she told BusinessWest. “It’s very refreshing, and it’s great to work with them.”

Like Marini and others we spoke with, Barone said East Longmeadow boasts a strong location, near Springfield, but also Connecticut, Longmeadow, Wilbraham, and other vibrant communities, making it an attractive address for restaurants and certainly banks, but also retail outlets.

“We’ve had several ribbon cuttings,” she said, listing Gazebo Too, on North Main Street, and Raspberry Records, on Shaker Road, among them. “A business might go out, but you see new businesses coming in right away to fill those spots, and that’s very exciting.”

Features Travel and Tourism

Funding Drive

Regional public transit plays a vital role in communities across Massachusetts, but the current funding approach is fragmented, unfair to those living in rural areas, and unable to fully meet the needs of residents statewide, according to a report released by the Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts and the Quaboag Connector.

Research support was provided by the Center for State Policy Analysis at Tufts University, which examined the operational funding landscape for regional transportation providers, including the “patchwork” of 15 regional transit authorities (RTAs) that offer fixed-route and on-demand bus and shuttle service to millions of residents living outside of Greater Boston, which is served by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA).

Regional public transit connects people to jobs, healthcare, education and many other daily activities and is a lifeline to those who cannot afford a car, choose not to own one, or cannot drive.

“Where residents live in Massachusetts should not determine their mobility or access to opportunity.”

The report found that the funding mechanism for RTAs lacks transparency, is overly reliant on local contributions relative to the MBTA, and does not adequately account for issues of regional, rural, or economic equity. It argues that a sustainable funding model is necessary to improve the efficacy and fairness of the transit system as a whole and to fill gaps in the current system.

“We must do more to eliminate transportation deserts and to ensure that urban and rural regions alike have access to public transit, not only within each region, but across a more connected system across the state,” said Dr. Amie Shei, president and CEO of the Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts. “Transportation is a public good, and we must invest in it today so we can achieve the Commonwealth’s climate, economic-development, health, and housing goals of tomorrow.”

RTAs are more reliant on local contributions from the communities they serve than the MBTA system — about 20% versus just 8% to cover operating expenses. Setting aside any federal dollars, the gap is even wider, with 32% of the RTA system funded by local contributions versus 12% of the MBTA. In rural parts of the state, where the tax base is limited, these contributions amount to a significant financial burden for local municipalities and taxpayers.

The study was commissioned by the Quaboag Connector, a micro-transit initiative serving 10 rural communities west of Worcester and funded through a Synergy Initiative grant from the Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts. The Quaboag Connector, led by the Quaboag Valley Community Development Corp. and the town of Ware, has provided more than 66,000 rides over the past several years, serving as a lifeline for local residents.

“Where residents live in Massachusetts should not determine their mobility or access to opportunity,” said Melissa Fales, executive director of the Quaboag Valley Community Development Corp. “This report underscores the critical need to incentivize connectivity across RTA service areas, particularly in rural areas, and to identify dedicated funding streams to support independent micro-transit efforts that are working to fill gaps across the Commonwealth.”

Advocates for transportation equity have called for increased state funding to support RTA operating expenses. “Providing accessible, affordable transportation to rural communities can have transformative impacts on community health, but there is currently no funding mechanism that incentivizes large-scale development of these programs or supports them sustainably in the long run,” said Jen Healy, Quaboag Connector program manager.

The report notes that, in addition to more funding, which should be based on publicly shared principles and stable funding over time, the distribution of funding across the RTA network should be reassessed, along with the incentives to expand service by RTAs or independent transit providers to underserved populations.

“Given how important regional transit is for mobility and economic opportunity around the state, there’s tremendous value in thinking about how best to support RTAs and other innovative players,” said Evan Horowitz, executive director of the Center for State Policy Analysis.  “The funding-by-inertia process we’ve got really isn’t up to the task.”

The report, titled “Regional Transit in Massachusetts: Where We Are and Where We Need to Go,” is available online at www.rideconnector.org/report.

“This report highlights the need for sustainable funding for regional transit and robust, coordinated planning to better provide transportation options for residents, particularly in rural areas,” said Pete Wilson, senior policy director of Transportation for Massachusetts, a statewide coalition focused on improving the Commonwealth’s transportation systems.  “Implementing the recommendations of this report will increase regional equity and sustainability for access to public transportation for all residents.”


Environment and Engineering

Solving a Sticky Situation

UMass Amherst food scientist Lynne McLandsborough recently won the 2024 Mahoney Life Sciences Prize for her research that offers a solution to a sticky sanitation and food-safety dilemma hounding the peanut-butter and chocolate industries.

“I was really surprised and excited,” McLandsborough said of winning the prize. “I think our research is innovative, and there’s a need in the industry. It was a fun project.”

She is already in talks with Mars, the world’s largest chocolate manufacturer, and J.M. Smucker, owner of Jif peanut butter, to test her novel ‘dry’ sanitation method in peanut-butter and chocolate pilot plant facilities, and she has filed a patent application on the innovation.

The work of Lynne McLandsborough’s lab holds the promise of improving food safety and reducing bacterial illness outbreaks.

The work of Lynne McLandsborough’s lab holds the promise of improving food safety and reducing bacterial illness outbreaks.

One doesn’t have to be a commercial candy bar producer to know how tough it is to clean low-moisture foods like peanut butter and liquid chocolate off utensils, bowls, and kitchen equipment. The sticky mess happens because of the high-fat content of those foods and the chemical reality that water and oil don’t mix.

“Outbreaks of salmonellosis associated with low-moisture foods are a persistent problem,” said McLandsborough, who, in addition to her role as professor, also serves as interim associate vice chancellor for Research and Engagement and interim director of the Center for Agriculture, Food, and the Environment.

Her lab’s discovery holds promise to make sanitizing facilities processing low-moisture foods more efficient while improving food safety and reducing bacterial illness outbreaks.

Richard Mahoney, former CEO and chairman of Monsanto, expressed his enthusiasm for the Mahoney Life Sciences Prize and McLandsborough’s breakthrough.

“We are thrilled to champion the innovative research led by UMass researchers. It is crucial to bridge scientific discoveries with industrial applications to address pressing challenges and improve lives,” said Mahoney, who, along with his brothers, Robert and William, established the Mahoney Prize in 2018. “Dr. McLandsborough’s research exemplifies this mission and has the potential to revolutionize food safety nationally and globally. The extraordinary advancements at UMass Amherst continually position the university as a premier research institution on the world stage.”

The Mahoney brothers received their chemistry degrees from UMass Amherst and went on to become leaders in their own industries. They have served as high-level alumni advisers to UMass Amherst and as mentors to students.

The annual competition seeks scientists in the College of Natural Sciences (CNS) who are engaged in high-impact life-sciences research that addresses a significant challenge and advances collaboration between researchers and industry. Following a review by an expert panel of life-science industry scientists and executives, the $25,000 prize is awarded to one CNS faculty member who is the principal author of peer-reviewed research that meets the goals of the Mahoney Life Sciences Prize.

“The cool thing is that osmotic pressure is one of the first concepts you learn when you take basic microbiology, and it’s also one of the basic things you learn in food science. It’s simple, but it works.”

McLandsborough’s winning research paper was published in April 2023 in the journal Microbiology Spectrum. Facilities processing low-moisture foods ‘dry’ clean the equipment followed by hot-oil flushing, which removes residues in processing lines but doesn’t kill bacteria like salmonella. That bacteria exhibits higher heat resistance in high-fat and low-water environments.

“Low moisture sanitization products are formulated with flammable solvents, rather than water, requiring manufacturers to dry, clean, and cool equipment before application, resulting in days of downtime,” McLandsborough explained. “Therefore, routine cleaning and sanitization occur less frequently in low-moisture food-processing facilities.”

McLandsborough and her team initially developed a formulation of oil and acid to create an effective antimicrobial sanitizer that resulted in a bacteria kill rate of more than four log, or 99.99%. But the standard kill rate for a sanitizing agent needs to be five log, or a kill rate of 99.999%.

Then came the ‘a-ha’ moment, when the researchers discovered the missing ingredient needed in the formulation to kill more than 99.999% of salmonella bacteria: a few drops of water.

“We added a small, controlled amount of water as an emulsion,” McLandsborough said. “We mixed the acidified oil with a surfactant and water. Just a small amount of water — 1% to 3% — enhanced our kill, and now we’re getting a six-log bacterial reduction, or 99.9999% kill.”

Chalk up the improved kill rate to osmotic pressure, which accelerated the antimicrobial action of the water-in-oil emulsion. “The cool thing is that osmotic pressure is one of the first concepts you learn when you take basic microbiology, and it’s also one of the basic things you learn in food science,” she said. “It’s simple, but it works.”

Monica Tan, senior vice president of Product & Engineering at Science Exchange and a member of the panel of external experts who reviewed the Mahoney nominations, selected McLandsborough’s research for the prize.

“Dr. Lynne McLandsborough begins her research essay with a beautifully crafted opening paragraph that clearly presents the problem statement. She concisely outlines her approach, making it easy to understand,” Tan said. “Her research appears solid, but what truly stands out is the industry acceptance she has already received from major food companies like M&M Mars and Barry Callebaut. Her submission this year is notable for being the most advanced in bringing academic research to market.”

In addition to Tan, the other reviewers who ranked McLandsborough’s research as their top choice for the prize included Stefan Baier, chief science officer for Aqua Cultured Foods; Leslie Dierauf, retired wildlife veterinarian and conservation biologist; David Mazzo, president and CEO of Lisata Therapeutics Inc.; and Diane Stengle, retired associate professor of STEM at Holyoke Community College.

Workforce Development

Certified Diverse Businesses

By Julie A. Dialessi-Lafley, Esq. and Britaney N. Guzman-Bailey, Esq.

It is no secret that running a profitable business can be difficult. It can be even more difficult, however, for women, minorities, veterans, persons with disabilities, and members of the LGBTQ+ community, who often face systemic obstacles to achieving sustainable economic status for their businesses.

Julie Dialessi-Lafley

Julie Dialessi-Lafley

Massachusetts has created various public programs for certain diverse business enterprises to address this issue, such as the state’s certification program through the Supplier Diversity Office (SDO).

The SDO currently certifies the following business categories: Minority (MBE), Women (WBE), Portuguese (PBE), and Veteran (VBE). The SDO also has agreements with third-party organizations to certify additional business categories: Service-disabled Veteran (SDVOBE), Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBTBE), and Disability-owned (DOBE).

The qualifications and requirements for each are easily found on the Commonwealth’s website. For a quick list, an interested business may review the SDO certification program at www.mass.gov/certification-program-for-sdo.

In addition to certifying businesses, the SDO also provides certified diverse businesses with networking opportunities to market their goods and services to potential buyers. The SDO certification may give business enterprises a competitive edge when seeking contracts with the government because the SDO sets benchmark spending goals for state-agency buyers to purchase goods and services from certified business.

Additionally, applica nts enjoy the marketing benefit of being listed in the SDO’s directory of certified businesses. A complete list of SDO-certified businesses can be found again at the Commonwealth’s website.

For certification, a business entity must be both owned and controlled by eligible persons and or principals, be free of any conversion rights, be independent, and be ongoing. An eligible person is an adult permanent resident of the U.S. who is a minority, veteran, person of Portuguese origin, LGBT individual, person with a disability, and/or a woman. An eligible principal must own at least 51% of the business enterprise or, if a nonprofit organization, must be in control of the organization.

Clarification of the categories is helpful and may result in being eligible based on more than one criteria. For example, in order to qualify as a minority, one is defined as an Indian or Indigenous, Asian, Black, Hispanic, or Portuguese person.


Careful Consideration

The Commonwealth looks carefully at all requirements. In order to meet the requirement of being free from conversion rights, neither the applicant nor the eligible principals may be subject to a scheme that, if exercised, could result in diluting the ownership of the eligible principals below 51% or cause the entity to not be independent or not controlled by eligible principals.

Under the independence requirement, the applicant cannot be dependent or affiliated with, or influenced by, legally or in practice, any other business enterprise or organization regarding its day-to-day or long-term affairs. The applicant cannot rely on or regularly utilize employees or workforce who, while performing work for the applicant, are in the course of employment with or under the direct control of another person or business entity other than the applicant. The SDO will deem an applicant not independent if the applicant presents insufficient evidence of having the capability to perform, with its own workforce, equipment, and facilities, the work it contracts to perform.

As to the ongoing requirement, the applicant must show that it was not formed for the of taking advantage of the certification program. Reorganization and/or ownership changes that subsequently render an applicant eligible for the SDO certification that occurred within the 12 months prior to application will create a rebuttable presumption that the changes were made to take advantage of the program. In order to rebut the presumption, the applicant must show that it has available resources that are appropriate for a business of its type and that it actively seeks out contracts for services. Essentially, demonstrating ongoing business and having financial resources will demonstrate the legitimacy of the business seeking certification.

Part of the application process includes attendance at a mandatory, two-hour workshop before applying for the SDO certification. It is only after attending the workshop that an applicant may gain access to the application portal. The certification process may take up to 60 days following the submission of an application.

In order to determine if a business may qualify before undergoing the rigor of the workshop and application process, the SDO offers a self-assessment tool for anyone unsure if their business may qualify for a SDO certification. The assessment can be found at www.mass.gov/forms/take-the-certification-self-assessment.

SDO certification typically lasts for three years, at which point the certification will automatically expire. Companies are removed from the SDO directory after expiration unless certification is renewed in a timely manner.

If there have been no material changes regarding the business, the applicant should submit a renewal affidavit attesting to the same and comply with any requests for information from the SDO certification specialist. Changes in ownership, control, or independence are some of the circumstances identified as a material change; naturally, if there have been material changes, the applicant must notify the SDO. The applicant has within 30 days of the change to notify the SDO or risk decertification.


Opportunity Knocks

As of June 5, 1,924 Massachusetts businesses are registered as WBE, 1,442 MBE, 576 DBE, 111 VBE, 74 SDVOBE, 60 PBE, 44 LGBTBE, and 20 DOBE.

Of these registered businesses, 154 of them are nonprofits, and the major business industries include service, construction, goods, technology, transportation, and manufacturing. Although 3,050 Massachusetts businesses are certified, only 223 of those businesses are registered from Hampden County, 69 from Hampshire County, 52 from Berkshire County, and 16 from Franklin County.

There is a lot of opportunity for a registered business, and the numbers indicate there are numerous businesses in the local footprint that would likely qualify but have not registered yet. In addition to the publicity around the certification, the certification also provides the business access to exclusive contracts and subcontract opportunities to help its bottom line. Clearly, well-positioned businesses and entrepreneurs understand getting an edge on the competition may help secure their foothold in the marketplace, and being a certified diverse business in the Commonwealth may be one such way to stand out.

Becoming a certified diverse business may also result in new networking and marketing opportunities and expanded opportunities to contract with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. As the requirements for certification may differ based on the location of the business and business type, it is important that you obtain legal advice for your business on its potential eligibility and to assist through the certification and/or recertification process.


Julie Dialessi-Lafley is a shareholder and Britaney Guzman-Bailey is an associate at Bacon Wilson, P.C.

Accounting and Tax Planning

Thinking Outside the Firm

By John Trusler, CPA


Small-business owners often wear many hats, juggling various roles across their operations. But let’s face it: doing it all is not feasible in the long term.

One often-overlooked yet game-changing tool is outsourced accounting. Outsourcing your business’s accounting function provides considerable benefits beyond number crunching. It allows owners to devote more time and resources to core business functions like strategic growth and nurturing customer relationships, which are crucial for long-term success. Continue reading to explore more ways small businesses can thrive through outsourced accounting.

“Outsourcing your business’s accounting function provides considerable benefits beyond number crunching. It allows owners to devote more time and resources to core business functions like strategic growth and nurturing customer relationships, which are crucial for long-term success.”


Scalable Solutions for Growing Businesses

As your business grows, its financial needs become more complex. Outsourced accounting services can seamlessly adjust to the size and needs of your organization. This scalability ensures that, as your operations grow, your financial oversight and capabilities expand alongside them, eliminating the need to hire additional in-house staff.

Additionally, outsourced accounting teams help streamline your annual tax preparation and compliance processes. It also offers comprehensive advisory services, including forecasting, IT support, and HR services.


Expertise and Professional Oversight

An outsourced accounting team provides businesses with the expertise of certified public accountants (CPAs) who have both private and public experience and a background working with multiple clientele within your industry. These experts deliver insight into financial reporting, automating transaction recording and account reconciliations, plus strategic planning often unattainable for small businesses.

Also, with in-house accounting staff, turnover can be a significant disruption. Outsourcing your team ensures continuity, mitigating the impact of such transitions.


Cloud-based Advantage

Outsourced accounting offers businesses a cloud-based advantage that enhances efficiency and transparency. Cloud-based technologies enable companies to access their financial records anytime, allowing for real-time, informed decision making. This approach enhances internal controls by improving bill-payment approval functions and overseeing the account reconciliation processes.



Outsourced accounting is much more than a cost-saving measure for small businesses. It’s a strategic choice that brings expertise, efficiency, technological advancement, and focused business growth.

By embracing outsourced accounting, small businesses can streamline their financial processes and gain valuable insights and stability, allowing them to concentrate on what they do best: growing their business and nurturing their customer base.


John Trusler is a tax director in the Hartford, Conn. office of Whittlesey. He has more than 19 years of experience in public accounting and four years in the private sector serving as the chief financial officer for one of the largest multi-specialty, for-profit medical groups in the Northeast. He is a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and the Connecticut Society of Certified Public Accountants.



Summer is officially here. For college students, it started more than a month ago. And for high-school students, it began just a few days ago.

That means a lot of people are looking for work, and that’s good, because companies across every sector of the economy are looking for help. This juxtaposition of demand and supply is a positive thing because, as we’ve noted many times in the past, summer jobs — often the first jobs for a great many teenagers — are critically important for these individuals, the companies that hire them, and the region’s economy as a whole.

In short, these jobs help introduce people to the world of work, to companies in this area large and small, and, perhaps, to relationships that can last years, decades, or even a lifetime.

Which is why businesses should create such opportunities, if they can. And, in this time of workforce challenges, most of them can — and they are.

No matter where you end up in life — professionally, geographically, or otherwise — you remember your first job. And your second. And your third. But especially your first.

In this market, it might be working the counter at Friendly’s making Fribbles. Or bagging groceries at Big Y. Or working one of the carny games at Six Flags. Or working at one of the farms in Hadley, Hatfield, or East Longmeadow.

In each case, skills are learned, and work habits are developed. Young employees learn about the need to be on time, work beside others, and operate as part of a team. These employees learn not only from their supervisors, but from everyone around them.

The work may not always be fun and exhilarating, but it puts money in one’s pocket and helps keep him or her out of trouble.

As for college students looking to earn some money between semesters, summer jobs can and often do provide more than that. In many cases, jobs or internships can introduce them to careers and companies they can work for in the years to come.

Time and again, we’ve read and heard stories about young people who were undecided about what they wanted to do career-wise and were put on a path — or a different path than the one they were on — because of a summer job or internship at an accounting firm, marketing firm, or even a law firm.

These stories relate the importance of summer jobs — be they first jobs or someone’s fifth or sixth — to creating real opportunities, for both employees and employers.

Summer jobs have always been important, but in this climate, when businesses of all kinds and sizes are often desperate for help, and when many young people are trying to enter the workforce and perhaps start down the path to a career, they are more important than ever.



By Kim Dunn


Many organizations face the challenge of creating and keeping their workplaces free from conflict and drama. Although drama comes from many places and in many forms, the only sure way to rid your organization of it is to get to its true source.

Identifying the cause or source is where you get to put your detective skills to work. Digging down to the root of the problem starts with asking deep and meaningful questions to draw out what the true issues are that are creating the conflict. To do this, you will need to become an expert fact finder, which is often easier said than done. In many instances, there is not just one issue, but many, and the path to identifying what has created the tension or conflict between employees is murky and blurred with emotions.

It is interesting that there are some organizational cultures that seem to breed drama and others where there is rarely an issue. My research and experience with managing conflict in the workplace has reinforced that failing to address the following items will almost always lead to workplace drama.

• Inauthentic Leadership. A lack of authenticity creates a belief that management is hypocritical and that they only talk the talk, but do not walk the walk. In this environment, employees lose enthusiasm for their jobs, passion for what the company represents, and, most dangerously, they lose trust.

• Lack of Transparency. Misguided attempts at confidentiality can create the sense that everything is a secret. In the face of lacking information, employees will write their own story, which is almost always dangerous. Remember, employees usually know more than you think they know. Old-fashioned though it may sound, it pays to be open with as much information as possible.

• Not Addressing Bad Behavior. Many leaders hope drama will just go away if they ignore it. We know all too well that bad behavior never goes away on its own. The fact that the drama exists must be acknowledged and accepted so that action can be taken to address it. Inconsistency in dealing with conflict not only leads to the erosion of trust, but also increases the chance that it will return for a second act.

What all of these causes have in common is that they lead to a lack of trust in leadership. When employees do not trust and respect leadership, they will quickly become disengaged.

Drama can be created from many sources, and once you have identified the ‘what’ and the ‘why,’ you can begin to take the action necessary to repair the damage or at least stop the bleeding.

If drama is alive and well in your organization, do not wait to take action to uncover and address the issues that are creating or feeding it. Drama impacts the bottom line because it takes up time, and time costs organizations money. That alone is reason enough to make it a top leadership priority.

In taking the steps to address workplace drama, it is important to remember that not all drama is created intentionally. It can be driven by insecurity, fear, or other emotional issues that have not been identified and dealt with. In many organizations, drama is created because people simply do not have the skills to manage conflict. Not many of us wake up in the morning looking forward to managing conflict; however, not having the skills to deal with it can lead to disastrous and expensive drama-filled workplaces.

The culture that you and the leaders are creating and cultivating in your organization must be a priority. By modeling the behaviors of collaboration, support, and customer focus, you will create a foundation where destructive behaviors are quickly identified and corrected. You can even take it a step further and build these behaviors into your performance-management system, which will help reward the best and address the rest.

The one thing we know for sure is that if conflict, aka drama, is not dealt with quickly, thoroughly, and consistently, it will never go away.


Kim Dunn is a Strategic Human Resources consultant at the Employers Assoc. of the Northeast. This article first appeared on the EANE blog; eane.org

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