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Editorial

With MGM Springfield dominating the 24-hour news cycle like nothing that came before it in local business history, it’s sometimes easy to momentarily forget about all the other positive, even transformational things going on within the local economy.

We said ‘momentarily,’ because this issue should help readers put the new casino aside for just a moment and appreciate, again, the depth and diversity of the region’s economy and all it takes to make this region as special as it is.

Specifically, we’re talking about the Healthcare Heroes for 2018. And there’s plenty to talk about.

Healthcare Heroes is a recognition program created by BusinessWest and its sister publication, the Healthcare News, and launched last year to shine a bright spotlight on a sector that is sometimes overlooked. Indeed, BusinessWest has other recognition programs — Forty Under 40 and Difference Makers — but, historically, those working within the broad realm of health and wellness have not been well-represented by those programs, making it clear that something distinct for that sector was needed.

One of the goals with Healthcare Heroes was to create a vehicle for relaying some of the many amazing stories taking place within this industry, stories that convey energy, compassion, innovation, forward thinking, and, above all, passion — for finding ways to improve quality of life for those that these people and agencies touch every day.

It was that way in 2017 with the inaugural class of Heroes, and it’s the same this year with the winners of seven carefully crafted categories. The stories are many things, but most of all, they’re inspiring, which was yet another goal of this program. Each story is different, but the common denominator is the passion brought to what they do.

That’s what Mary Paquette brings to her role as director of Health Services at American International College. She has completely transformed that service, once one of the lowest-rated in surveys of students, into one of the highest.

It’s also what Celeste Surreira, winner in the ‘administration’ category, brings to the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke every day. She’s spent most of her long career in healthcare working the emergency room, but made this dramatic career shift because it represented a chance to be on the front lines dealing with the larger issues emerging in healthcare today.

And it’s what Dr. Matthew Sadof has brought to his pediatric practice for decades now. A passionate advocate for the underserved and the marginalized, he has dedicated his career to healing patients and — through his work with the Community Asthma Coalition and other initiatives — making the Springfield community a better, healthier one.

Peter DePergola II is the Hero in the Emerging Leader category, and fittingly so. He has emerged as not only a leader but a true pioneer in the field of bioethics. There are many facets to his work, especially those incredibly hard talks he must have with patients, families, and healthcare providers about end-of-life issues.

Speaking of pioneers, that term also applies to Robert Fazzi. He likes to say he’s spent his entire career — nearly a half-century of work — in the ‘helping professions,’ culminating in his work with company, which, for 40 years, has been on the cutting edge of developments in the home-care and hospice sectors.

That phrase cutting-edge also applies to the winner in the Innovation category, TechSpring. Launched more than three years ago, this venture, in the words of its co-founder Christian Lagier, exists at the intersection of healthcare and technology, and has forged unique collaborative efforts between innovators, healthcare providers, and even patients to bring new developments to the market.

Lastly, in the category called Collaboration in Health/Wellness, a large, powerful collaboration led by the Western Mass. Training Consortium and the Opioid Task Force of Franklin County and the North Quabbin Region has been changing — and saving — lives through a host of innovative initiatives.

Together, and also individually, these stories are powerful — powerful enough to take your eyes off the new casino for a minute and understand just some of the many other awesome things taking place in this region.

Opinion

Editorial

‘Palpable.’

That’s an adjective that means, among other things, that something is noticeable, perceptible, or tangible.

People all over the region have been using that word in reference to what’s happening in downtown Springfield as the buildup to MGM Springfield’s opening reaches its climax. They’re deploying the term with regard to the excitement level, the energy, and the anticipation for what is to come.

They’re right to do so, because all of those things are clearly noticeable and tangible. And while it’s more so in the downtown area, there are similar feelings in neighboring cities and across the region for that matter.

This is a good feeling, one we haven’t felt around here in a long time — or ever, really. People don’t know what’s going to happen on August 24 and the days to follow, but the sense is that something transformational will occur. And, like we said, when have we seen that lately?

BusinessWest attempts to capture these sentiments — and this palpable energy and excitement — in a special section. In it, we talk to area business and civic leaders, business owners who have become MGM vendors, area residents who will now put on an MGM nametag every day, and other constituencies. The common denominator in each case is genuine excitement about what is already happening and what will happen in the weeks, months, and years to come.

At BusinessWest, we share the excitement because we’ve not only been recording this all-important development for the past seven years or so, but we’ve talked directly with people who have, well, seen their lives changed because of this.

A few months back, we talked with many young people who were all looking for some kind of opportunity, job-wise or career-wise, several years ago, and came to MGM, either by walking in the door of their small office at 1441 Main St. or wandering to the MGM booth at a job fair. One thing led to another, and they wound up joining the company and playing important roles in bringing MGM Springfield to this day.

We’ve talked with more young people, and some who are not so young, who have joined the MGM workforce as dealers, cashiers, and chefs. And for some, the job represents much more than a job.

And we’ve talked with people like Dennis King, president of King Ward Coach lines who have seen the trajectory of their company changed in a profound way by earning a contract with MGM.

In each case, the emotions are real and the excitement (here comes that word again) is palpable.

But beyond individuals and companies, we’re excited for the region. In a few days, people will be getting into cars, buses, vans, and limos and telling people they’re heading to Springfield, Massachusetts. That’s not something they were likely to say 20, 10, five, or even two years ago.

Yes, it took a casino to get them here, but once here, they’ll have a chance (hopefully) to maybe see all the other great things we have in this region. Before, unless they were coming to the Big E (and in most cases, they were just coming for the Big E) they never had a chance to do that. Springfield has always been on the map in a literal sense, but now, it’s really on the map, and, more importantly, people will find it.

In a few days, people will be getting into cars, buses, vans, and limos and telling people they’re heading to Springfield, Massachusetts. That’s not something they were likely to say 20, 10, five, or even two years ago.

There’s talk that a few businesses in downtown Springfield will actually be closed on August 24. The thinking is that traffic will be heavy, parking spaces will be hard to come by, and it might just be easier to give everyone the day off. The fact that it’s a Friday in late August probably made the decision a little easier.

But still, businesses closing for a day because their employees would likely have a hard time getting to work and then finding a place to park? That should tell you something.

It tells us that something special is happening. And everyone can sense it; the word, again, is palpable.

Opinion

Editorial

Talk about a good problem to have.

There are so many women running for the Merrimack-Valley-based congressional seat being vacated by the retiring Niki Tsongas that women’s advocacy groups don’t really know what to do.

In the past, they would know exactly what to do — endorse the one woman who might be running for the post amid a crowded field of men.

This year, though, they have to choose which woman to endorse, and there were five of them at one point. Like we said, that’s a good problem to have. Actually, it’s a great problem to have, and women’s advocacy groups across the region, the state, and the country, are now facing it.

Indeed, women are running for political offices of all kinds, and at all levels, in record numbers, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. In fact, people are calling this the ‘year of the woman,’ and with very good reason.

It’s a stunning development in some ways and a very positive one on many levels. Sparked by the #MeToo movement as well as by the ineffectiveness of leaders in Washington to accomplish much of anything, women are stepping off the sidelines and into the political fray, if you will.

And it’s about time.

Indeed, while one can argue the degree to which women have broken through the glass ceiling in business — some would say they have; others would contend that they still have a ways to go, especially when it comes to seats on corporate boards — there is no debating that when it comes to politics, the ceiling remains.

There has been some progress over the years, but the governing bodies in this country are still dominated by men — white men to be more specific.

And while many of them represent their constituents well, it just makes sense that governing bodies are more effective — and address the wants and needs of all people — when they are truly diverse.

And that means more women.

Throughout history, women have been involved in politics, but in most cases, that meant working on behalf of men seeking office. There’s nothing wrong with that, but in many cases, these women were selling themselves short. They were working for someone they thought could listen, act on what they were hearing, and lead effectively. And if they wanted to find someone who could do all that, all they need do was look in the mirror.

But, quite obviously, they needed to do more than that. They needed to find the courage — because that’s what’s required — to put themselves out there, defend their views, and be willing to handle the personal attacks and all the other forms of mud that are part and parcel to running for office.

This year, thousands of women are finding that courage, and it is certainly the most positive development — politically speaking — that we have seen in some time.

Not all these women will win office, obviously. But that’s a secondary consideration at this point. They are winners simply because they are running, and the country wins as well.

Opinion

Editorial

As the final countdown to the Aug. 24 opening of MGM continues, many in this region are circling that date and wondering just what life in downtown Springfield and beyond will be like.

And much of the speculation is somewhat negative in tone, focusing on such things as increased traffic, difficulty with finding parking spaces, longer and more difficult commutes, and how all of the above might keep people from coming into Springfield to do business.

Maybe some of that will happen — to one degree or another — especially in the first days and weeks that the casino is open for business. But even if it does, we choose to view these as only positive developments for this region.

Positive because these are all signs of vibrancy, indicators that a community or region is on the rise, qualities of a very healthy economy.

We’ll take them over the alternative any day of week.

And around here, we’ve had the alternative every day of the week — except when the I-91 viaduct was being rebuilt or the Big E is open for its annual 17-day run — pretty much for the past 40 or 50 years or so.

So this will be a welcome change. Sort of.

Again, people around here are used to breezy commutes. With rare exceptions, they don’t know what traffic jams are. They can’t relate to what their friends in Boston, New York, Chicago, or Atlanta are talking about. And unless Northampton is the destination, people around here have no problems whatsoever with finding cheap (often free) and very plentiful parking.

And they like it that way. It’s one of the reasons people come to live here. It’s quieter, there’s less traffic, and you don’t have to leave home an hour before work starts to commute 20 miles or even 10 miles, as some people do in Greater Boston.

But none of those things we like are indicative of a healthy, vibrant region, at least from an economic standpoint. Being able to breeze through Springfield at almost any hour other than 5-6 p.m. — which we can all do most weeks — is just not a good thing.

Ask anyone who lives in Boston, Cambridge, New York, or even Northampton, and they will tell you that traffic on your streets, parking shortages, and people complaining about how hard it is to get in and out of your city are all good problems to have. Really good problems to have.

They’re all signs that your community is relevant, which, for a long time, this region hasn’t been.

Think about it. Whenever there’s something happening in downtown Springfield, be it a college commencement at the MassMutual Center, induction ceremonies for the Basketball Hall of Fame, or a random Friday night when there’s something going at all the venues downtown — the MassMutual Center, Symphony Hall, and CityStage — people will complain about the traffic and congestion, but they don’t really regret it.

In fact, they’ll usually say something like ‘it’s good to see that many people downtown,’ or ‘Springfield was really hopping tonight … it took me a half-hour to get out of downtown.’ They’re not exactly happy, but they know there’s a good reason for their unhappiness.

People in the Northampton, Amherst, and Hadley area know this feeling well. Traffic on Route 9 can be very heavy at times (most times, in fact), but the businesses along that route and the communities themselves wouldn’t have it any other way. People know when it’s going to take forever to get over the Coolidge Bridge; it’s part of life there.

Will such traffic become part of life in downtown Springfield? Maybe. We might be in the minority here, but we hope so, especially if it’s traffic that will spread the wealth well beyond the casino, which it is likely to do.

We don’t have a crystal ball, certainly, and there has never been a resort casino in this region, so we don’t know exactly what’s going to happen here. But we think the expected changes will be for the better.

Again, they beat the alternative, which is all many of us have ever known.

Opinion

Opinion

By Robyn Alie

This summer, the Massachusetts Medical Society (MMS) will launch a multi-year campaign to promote public awareness of the link between the health of the environment and the health of our patients. 

Recent polls have shown stark differences between the public’s understanding and scientists’ understanding of the relationship between humans and the environment. They also show that the public’s understanding is heavily influenced by politics. 

For example, while studies show that 97% of scientists believe global warming is occurring and related to human activity, a Gallup poll conducted in March found that only 64% of the public believes this. Among Democrats polled, 89% agreed with scientists, compared to 35% of Republicans. Overall, however, a record-high percentage of Americans — 45% — think global warming will pose a serious threat in their lifetime, and 43% — including 91% of Democrats — report being fairly or greatly worried. 

The upcoming campaign is a directive of the MMS house of delegates, which adopted policy recognizing the “inextricable link between environmental health, animal health, and human health, and the importance of scientific research in informing policies that protect human health from environmental toxins.” Delegates directed the society to initiate a public-health campaign promoting public awareness of pollutants and their impact on human health.

The MMS committee on public health recommended the policy, noting recent federal actions. These actions included heavy cuts to the federal programs that study and monitor potential environmental toxins, and legislation that would promote industry representation on environmental advisory boards and limit the types of scientific research, including epidemiologic studies, that could guide EPA policy.

The campaign is an opportunity for physicians to help clarify the issues and promote safer policy and behaviors, said Dr. Louis Fazen, a member of the MMS committee on public health. It will primarily use the MMS Facebook and Twitter channels and website as a cost-effective means of disseminating simple information designed to raise awareness of the links between environmental health and human health. Physicians and others can find more information and a link to the campaign at massmed.org/environment. u

Robyn Alie is manager of Health Policy and Public Health for the Massachusetts Medical Society. This article first appeared in Vital Signs, an MMS publication.

Opinion

Editorial

Normally in this space, we have nothing but high praise for Gov. Charlie Baker and his administration.

Indeed, since taking office in 2015, he has proven to be an effective, entrepreneurial governor, a good friend to the business community (for the most part), and a great friend of Springfield and the surrounding region.

The governor is fond of saying — and we mean fond, because he tells this story every chance he gets — that, while Mayor Domenic Sarno didn’t support him in that 2014 race for governor, one of his first visits after winning that election was to Springfield City Hall to find out what he could do to help.

And help he has, on fronts ranging from economic development to workforce development; from promoting entrepreneurship (his administration is very fond of Valley Venture Mentors and its efforts, for example), to simply helping to promote this region and some of its businesses (he likes the Student Prince so much they named a burger after him).

And it’s not just Springfield. Last week, the governor and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito were both on hand to announce a $21 million award to Westfield State University to bring its Parenzo Hall into the 21st century and make it a true resource for the school and the region.

Albano’s appointment to the Board of Review … is a real slap in the face to everyone who has worked so hard to pull Springfield out of its decline. The governor, who may or may not have been directly involved in this appointment, probably doesn’t realize that, but he should understand that rewarding the former mayor — and that’s what he’s doing, make no mistake about it — represents really bad optics and equally bad policy.

Like we said, the governor has been a good friend to this region.

Which makes his administration’s recent appointment of former Springfield Mayor Michael Albano to a six-figure job as a member of the Board of Review at the Department of Unemployment Assistance a real head-scratcher.

Albano, as most everyone knows, was essentially the architect of Springfield’s precipitous decline into finance-control-board management more than a decade ago. His administration was defined by incompetence and corruption, with several of his appointees being sent to prison.

Springfield’s brand suffered a terrible hit, and it has taken years of hard work, considerable assistance from two governors (Deval Patrick being the other), and a good amount of luck in the form of MGM Springfield, CRRC, and other recent arrivals, to pull the city back from the depths and to a point where optimism prevails and the sky is the proverbial limit.

Albano’s appointment to the Board of Review won’t impact any of that, obviously, but it is a real slap in the face to everyone who has worked so hard to pull Springfield out of its decline. The governor, who may or may not have been directly involved in this appointment, probably doesn’t realize that, but he should understand that rewarding the former mayor — and that’s what he’s doing, make no mistake about it — represents really bad optics and equally bad policy.

We think it’s great that Albano wants to continue working and has been energetic in his pursuit of employment that will bolster the sizable pension he already receives. Indeed, he ran for sheriff of Hampden County, and thankfully lost, and has applied for a host of jobs, including director of the Cannabis Control Commission.

However, that doesn’t mean the governor and his staff have to skip over the dark paragraphs on Albano’s employment history and reward incompetence.

Overall, the governor just doesn’t seem to take appointments of this nature as seriously as he does other matters. Remember, soon after he was elected, he decided that the best, and apparently only, qualification needed to assume one of the jobs with the Mass. Office of Business Development was to be a Republican who fought hard but lost a race for the state Senate or House of Representatives.

He should take these matters more seriously. And that’s especially the case here.

Springfield would like to put Albano and his corruption-riddled administration behind it. This appointment certainly doesn’t help it do that.

When it comes to appointments like this, it’s not just whether a candidate is qualified that matters. Sometimes, there’s a message being sent when someone gets a job like this. In this case, it’s the wrong message.

Opinion

Editorial

Westfield city officials and leaders with Westfield Gas & Electric, the city’s municipal utility, unveiled a new marketing campaign recently called ‘Go Westfield.’

The slogan might not fall into the categories of ‘highly imaginative’ or ‘cutting-edge,’ but the campaign itself is a worthy initiative and an example of what more cities and towns in this region need to be doing — building their brands.

This is a tricky subject for some industry sectors and especially municipalities — ‘why are they spending money to hype the city when there are roads that need paving and sidewalks to be fixed?’ is an often-heard refrain.

Westfield’s story is a very good one. It has ample land on which to build, a turnpike exit of its very own, an airport, a municipal utility offering attractive rates and high-speed Internet service, a downtown that’s coming back after years of decline, Stanley Park, a great ice rink, a state university, and much more.

But brand building is as important an exercise for municipalities as it is for businesses in every sector. If you have a good story to tell and you want to grow your business — or if you want to bring more businesses and residents to your city, as is the case here — you need to tell that story.

And Westfield’s story is a very good one. It has ample land on which to build, a turnpike exit of its very own, an airport, a municipal utility offering attractive rates and high-speed Internet service, a downtown that’s coming back after years of decline, Stanley Park, a great ice rink, a state university, and much more.

‘Go Westfield’ will tell that story through a new website, a promotional video, and some advertisements in regional outlets and industry journals. As with any branding campaign, one never knows what the results will be, but it’s safe to say that this proactive step is far better than trying to let the city sell itself.

Meanwhile, the campaign provides another example of the important role played by the region’s utilities, and especially the municipal utilities, in economic development.

Energy costs are among the many important items to be considered when a business looks to relocate — or expand within its current location — and the Westfield G&E, like its counterpart in Holyoke, continues to play a key role in helping the community attract and retain companies and jobs.

There’s a reason why Coke continues to pound the airwaves with ads even though everyone knows that brand. The same with McDonald’s, Ford, and Geico. If you want to grow your brand, you have to promote it and keep it in the public eye.

“It’s critical that we communicate our strengths,” Westfield’s mayor, Brian Sullivan, said at the unveiling.

He’s right about that, and there are lessons there for all area cities and towns.

Opinion

Editorial

As you read this, the countdown clock at MGM Springfield is inside 50 days.

Which means that, in essence, the nearly $1 billion project that has dominated the local landscape, literally and figuratively, for the better part of seven years, is essentially done. Just as Union Station is done and the massive I-91 reconstruction project is done.

And soon, there will be a number of other initiatives in the proverbial ‘done’ pile, including Stearns Square, the innovation center, Riverfront Park, an extensive renovation of the Basketball Hall of Fame, and others, with the acknowledgement that ‘soon’ is a relative term.

That’s a lot of things to get done, and the city should be proud of all that has been accomplished and how the landscape has been dramatically altered for the better — much better.

The question of ‘what now?’ has been tossed around for a while now, and while such talk might be a little premature — after all, it will take some time for MGM Springfield, Union Station, and other initiatives to really be done and have those facilities fully assimilated — but in most ways, it isn’t.

There are certainly things the city has to do to as part of that assimilation process and as part of building off the momentum that’s been generated. That list includes everything from creation of new market-rate housing in the downtown to a remaking of Tower Square into something much more vibrant and relevant, to some aggressive marketing of the city and its comeback story.

And in some ways, work on all those initiatives is already underway.

But Springfield has another big and important challenge facing it, and that is to revitalize many of its proud neighborhoods — to take the progress beyond downtown, if you will.

This is, in many ways, more difficult than any of the projects undertaken thus far, and that’s with the acknowledgement that it took 40 years or more to revitalize Union Station and for the largest development project in the city’s history (MGM) to revitalize the South End.

That’s because rejuvenating neighborhoods like Old Hill, Mason Square, the North End, and the South End are difficult undertakings, especially in these changing times and continued rough going for most old manufacturing centers, like Springfield.

There has been some progress made, though the efforts of local, state, and national initiatives and the of work nonprofit agencies ranging from DevelopSpringfield to Wayfinders, from Revitalize CDC to ROCA. But many of Springfield’s neighborhoods still rank among the poorest in the state, and progress has come very, very slowly.

This isn’t exactly a news flash, but Springfield’s neighborhoods are truly the city’s next big challenge. If this community is to make a real comeback, the good news has to extend beyond Main and State streets.

For the comeback to spread to those neighborhoods, there must be opportunites — or more opportunities, as the case may be — for employment, home ownership, and new-business development. As we said, there has already been some progress made on these fronts, but more extensive efforts are required in order to keep these neighborhoods from being left behind.

A few paragraphs ago, we referred to Springfield’s proud neighborhoods. You almost always see that adjective used in that context, and for a reason. Residents of these areas are proud of their neighborhood, although in many cases, they’re proud of what they once were, not what they are now.

Creating far greater use of the present tense when it comes to these neighborhoods and ‘good times’ is clearly the next big challenge for Springfield.

Opinion

Despite the occasional major project landing in the region — that casino opening is only two months away — the Pioneer Valley’s economy is still driven far more by the myriad small businesses that dot the landscape.

That’s why it’s important to give entrepreneurs the tools, inspiration, and resources they need to make the risks they take in launching their enterprises worthwhile.

Our story on page 40 is always a fun assignment — our annual writeup on the winners of the Valley Venture Mentors Accelerator Awards. This year, we sat down with the entrepreneurs behind the three top winners, who received, through this program, significant funding for their projects, but, just as important, key guidance and support in taking their businesses to the next level.

Because those enterprises deal in such critical matters as clean water, continuing medical education, and equipping low-income youth to write their own entrepreneurial stories, that next level, as you’ll see by reading these accounts, may turn out to be life-changing for many — and even world-changing,

Then there’s our page 26 story on Click Workshop — perhaps a less splashy story, because no one is handing out giant checks. Rather, they’re handing over monthly payments (rather reasonable ones, at that) to participate in a community of 98 small (mostly solo) businesses that share resources and network in a refurbished former warehouse in downtown Northampton.

One of the region’s growing number of co-working spaces, Click is supporting economic energy in its city while also boosting the profile of another type of entrepreneur: the local artists and musicians to whom it offers exposure and a place to promote their creations.

These two articles may seem unrelated at first, but they both speak to the importance of creating a supportive community of entrepreneurs who understand that the success of each contributes to the success of all, by establishing Western Mass. as a place where ideas can turn into viable businesses.

“You have a lot of ups and downs. The wins are big wins — they’re really high highs,” said Barrett Mully, one of the VVM Accelerator Award winners. However, “it’s just so intangible at times, it’s like you’re feeling your way through the dark a little bit.”

Programs and organizations that support the region’s startup culture are making that journey a little bit brighter.

After all, countless entrepreneurs are taking calculated gambles every day that have nothing to do with a casino. When those risks pay off, everyone benefits.