Home Articles posted by Joseph Bednar
Travel and Tourism

Taking Flight

When the Connecticut Airport Authority (CAA) launched nonstop flights on Frontier Airlines from Bradley International Airport to Miami on Nov. 14, it marked yet another success in the airport’s goal of expanding destinations for customers, particularly budget, non-stop flights.

“We are excited to launch Frontier Airlines’ non-stop to Miami from Bradley International Airport,” said Kevin Dillon, executive director of the CAA.  “Frontier Airlines’ low-cost model is a key addition to our route structure. We are pleased to offer our passengers this additional travel option along with the high level of customer service that Frontier offers to its customers.”

The non-stop service will operate seasonally starting through April 2020 on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays, aboard an A320 Neo aircraft. The outbound flight departs from Bradley at 8 p.m. and arrives at Miami International Airport at 11:23 p.m. The inbound flight leaves Miami at 3:55 p.m. and arrives at Bradley at 7:04 p.m. 

Frontier Airlines also operates non-stop flights from Bradley to Denver, Orlando, and Raleigh-Durham. Non-stop flights to Orlando operate year-round, and the non-stop flights to Denver and Raleigh-Durham operate seasonally.

“We’re happy to expand our service at Bradley International Airport with non-stop flights to Miami,” said Daniel Shurz, senior vice president of Commercial for Frontier Airlines. “These new flights are an affordable and convenient option for travel to South Florida to explore the unique dining, sunny beaches, and endless activities. We appreciate the support of the community and look forward to continuing our outstanding partnership with the airport where we now offer four non-stop destinations.”

When the CAA took over operations at Bradley in 2013, it was handling roughly 5.5 million passengers a year. Now, that figure is more than 6.6 million.

Recent years have seen Bradley launch low-cost, non-stop service to Pittsburgh on Via Airlines, and to St. Louis on Southwest Airlines. Meanwhile, internationally, the daily Aer Lingus flight to Dublin introduced in 2016 has becoming increasingly popular with business and leisure flyers, and last year the airline committed to another four years at Bradley.

Passenger Experience

These developments, among others, have contributed to six straight years of passenger growth since the CAA began managing the airport in Windsor Locks in 2013. When the CAA took over operations at Bradley in 2013, it was handling roughly 5.5 million passengers a year. Now, that figure is more than 6.6 million.

And it’s not just flight expansion, but improvement in amenities as well. Bradley has added new eateries in recent years, such as Phillips Seafood and Two Roads Brewery. It also saw the opening earlier this month of Natalie’s Candy Jar, a self-serve candy store with more than 400 different sweet treats, beverages, and candy-related gift items.

“Natalie’s Candy Jar is a popular brand with a national footprint, making it a key addition to Bradley’s customer experience,” Dillon said. “The store’s unique and fun atmosphere, coupled with the high quality of candy, sugar-free treats, and gifts, will be well-received by travelers of all ages.”

Meanwhile, Travelers Aid International has begun serving Bradley’s passengers with a guest-service volunteer program. Travelers Aid currently operates similar guest-service volunteer programs at four other airports: New York JFK, Newark Liberty, Washington Dulles, and Washington Reagan.

These service-focused improvements have all helped Bradley International Airport earn a spot in the prestigious ranking of five best airports in the U.S. by Condé Nast Traveler three years in a row.

Dillon hopes readers keep the accolades coming for Bradley’s planned, $210 million ground transportation center, which recently broke ground for construction. When it’s open, passengers will be able to fly into Bradley and connect to the transportation center via a walkway from the terminal. All the rental-car companies serving Bradley will be located there, as well as 830 spaces of public parking.

The transportation facility will also serve as a transit hub for the various bus services into and out of Bradley, as a connecting point to the rail line that now connects New Haven with Springfield.

—Joseph Bednar

Workforce Development

Life’s Work

Fern Selesnick says ageism does exist in the work world, but sometimes people also fall prey to harmful self-stereotypes.

Fern Selesnick says older job seekers have clear advantages over younger applicants — most notably, a lifetime of experience.

“You can say, ‘I have experience in this field, and I pretty much know what’s coming around the bend and can solve problems, and nothing can throw me,’” she told attendees of a recent workshop for mature workers at the MassHire Springfield Career Center.

“The people out there who are younger than you cannot say that,” she went on. “And the only reason you can say you know the problems that come up and you know how to solve them and you are unflappable is your age. That translates to an employer saying, ‘this person is going to save me time, money, and headaches. I won’t have to work so hard.’”

It’s a message she’s shared many times with clients of Fern Selesnick Consulting in Hatfield, which specializes in career decisions and job-search skills like interviewing and résumé writing for clients ranging from students to, yes, mature workers and career changers.

But she’s also realistic about the attitudes older job seekers will face during their search, and noted that ‘old’ means different things in different fields. For example, professional athletes are considered old by their 30s, airline pilots by their 50s, and Supreme Court justices not until their 80s. But anyone, in any field, can encounter ageism.

“The interesting thing about ageism is that it’s the only form of discrimination that people can practice on others when they’re young and become a victim of when they’re old. It’s a very weird ‘ism’ in that way.”

“It can also vary by industry,” she said. “In the United States today, there is ageism, and there is age discrimination — not across the board, but it is a strong enough force to be aware of.

“The interesting thing about ageism is that it’s the only form of discrimination that people can practice on others when they’re young and become a victim of when they’re old. It’s a very weird ‘ism’ in that way,” she added. “But there are laws that protect mature workers.”

Among these is the 1967 Age Discrimination in Employment Act, which protects workers and job applicants above age 40 from discrimination based on age. States have incorporated their own laws — but none of these guarantees that older job seekers won’t run into outdated attitudes, whether blatant or subtle, Selesnick said.

“But there are also opportunities,” she went on, noting that it’s important for mature workers to understand their worth, while doing what they can to boost their skills and readiness for a new job or career change. “It’s critically important to not believe the myths about ageism. Those myths impact finances and health, as well as quality of life.”

Why Not Retire?

There are many reasons why someone chooses to remain in the job market past traditional retirement age. Finances are a major factor: 40% of Americans, including a large swath of older workers, have amassed retirement savings of less than $10,000.

But older workers bring plenty of adaptability to the table, Selesnick added, as they seek to extend their working years. Many are self-employed; in fact, according to the AARP, more than half of all new businesses are started by people over age 50. Meanwhile, people over age 75 have the highest rate of self-employment of any age group.

Being one’s own boss, of course, means not losing a job to age discrimination. But it can also mean long hours, and it’s risky — half of small businesses fail in the first five years. She recommended accessing resources like the Senior Corps of Retired Executives and the UMass Small Business Development Center for free advising on self-employment matters.

For those seeking to work well into retirement, whether for themselves or a boss, she listed a number of essential tasks, including learning how Social Security works, updating one’s résumé, researching occupational requirements, and even taking care of one’s health and managing chronic conditions. She was quick to add, however, that even people dealing with chronic illness can bring much to a job, from intelligence and wisdom to interpersonal skills and a keen sense of humor.

“Remember, a person is not their illness, even though it can be traumatic when a person is diagnosed with a chronic illness,” she added. “It’s important to remember that’s not all of who a person is, and a person can still have tremendous functioning with a chronic illness.”

Selesnick encouraged workshop attendees to avoid ‘internalized ageism,’ which are self-stereotypes often developed at a young age, and instead focus on positive qualities of aging, such as good judgment and impulse control developed over a lifetime.

“It’s important to consider what’s been gained rather than what’s been lost,” she said. “A lot of things my friends would do in their 20s, they would never do now. Which is not to say something negative about youth, because I don’t want to reverse age discriminate. But the judgment and ability to evaluate situations is something that develops with age. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.”

And it’s something employers value, she added. But more important is the ability to do the job, and it when it comes to changing careers, people need to consider what kind of retraining that might entail — a certificate that can be earned in a few months, perhaps online, or a full degree program they may not have the time or money to pursue.

“So, if you’re going to need to be retrained, is it a retraining you can take on? Or do you have transferrable skills, so you can just switch gears?”

Sometimes all it takes is an upgrade in technology skills, and MassHire Springfield is one of many agencies offering classes in computer use and specific programs. She said one positive stereotype of Baby Boomers is their work ethic, and that often manifests as a willingness to learn new technology if it’s needed for work.

But it’s equally important, she added, to be enthusiastic and confident with that technology, because those who seem hesitant or reluctant may be screened out by recruiters without a second thought.

Selesnick also went over the basics of résumé preparation with workshop attendees, noting that applicant-tracking software will filter out applications without certain keywords before they ever make it to an HR manager’s desk. In effect, applicants are writing a résumé for two audiences — the software and an actual human being.

OK, Boomer (No, Really, It’s OK)

From there, hopefully, it’s on to the interview, which allows applicants to showcase their skills, confidence, and, yes, wisdom and good judgment collected through the years.

But it also helps to know someone, which is why Selesnick encouraged her audience to network as much as possible. “Research has shown that, if an employer receives a tip from someone they trust about a potential candidate, they’re going to trust that more than the résumé.”

Still, if the playing field is even — and it sometimes isn’t, because ageism is still a fact of life — an interview should provide an opportunity to connect on a personal level and to prove that age is no liability.

“Remember, when you’re walking into that interview, that’s your ace in the hole,” she concluded. “Your age is not your downfall — it’s your plus.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Workforce Development

Meeting the Need

Dawn Creighton says she’s excited about finding solutions to area employers’ needs.

During her decade-long tenure as regional director for Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM), Dawn Creighton’s role was basically to support member businesses in the 413.

“I went out and met with member companies, with their executive directors, and they would tell me what their biggest business challenges are, and I would try to find them a solution,” she told BusinessWest. “Sure enough, every single one of them said, ‘Dawn, if you could get me the bodies, I could double my workforce.’ No matter what the industry was, I’d meet with the HR person, and she’d say, ‘oh my God, Dawn, help me find somebody.’”

In those years, she formed connections between companies and resources like the region’s colleges and universities, but she wanted to be more than a connector.

And now she is. In her new position, as chief Workforce Development officer for Greenfield Community College (GCC), she can actually help build the programs that create that worker pipeline — and she’s excited about the possibilities.

“This opportunity became available, and I was like, ‘wait — I actually get to do something about this.’ It’s really exciting.”

Creighton, who works at GCC’s Downtown Center at 270 Main St. in Greenfield, had been on the job only three weeks when she sat down with BusinessWest to share that excitement, although she described her job in vague terms for a reason: at the moment, she’s mostly listening — and learning.

“What’s the purpose of higher education if we’re not building the student for the workforce they’re entering? We get it, and want to be able to do that.”

“My first 30 days have been really meeting with the employees at GCC and what they’re doing in the community. Then I’m spending the next 30 days meeting with the employers in the community, finding out what their needs are to make sure we’re building the programs they need. Then the next 30 days will be spent with our community partners, finding out how we can build programs together,” she explained.

“Once all that comes together, we’ll be figuring out what we’re already doing and doing well, and building new programs,” she went on. “What does that look like? Do we need to add more technology training? What are the needs of the community?”

Creighton is no stranger to GCC — she’s a 2005 graduate of the college who began her career as an employment specialist at MassLive before becoming AIM’s regional director for Western Mass. in 2009. During her tenure at AIM, she served thousands of employer members, uniting them around issues ranging from healthcare and employment law to sustainability, budgeting, and hiring.

In doing so, she developed an understanding of the diverse needs of employers across the region, including manufacturing, but she is also invested in furthering innovation and bolstering the creative economy. Thus, she’s in a good position to help GCC integrate the liberal arts and technical education it offers, said college President Yves Salomon-Fernandez.

“As an alumna, we are especially proud of Dawn’s professional achievements and are delighted that she wants to serve her alma mater and community this way,” Salomon-Fernandez said. “She rose to the top in the search process. There is much anticipation for her to lead us to new heights.”

Growth Potential

Among her responsibilities, Creighton oversees the college’s non-credit programs, from manufacturing to personal enrichment — “you’d be amazed how many people are interested in taking ukulele lessons and salsa dancing and tango.”

But when it comes to crafting programs that better train students for fertile career opportunities — thus helping companies grow — “there’s always more potential, and that’s why I’m here,” she said.

“Many, many moons ago, the impression [of community colleges] from the business world was, ‘here’s our student, take it.’ Now the business community has a chance to be the model for the student,” she went on. “What’s the purpose of higher education if we’re not building the student for the workforce they’re entering? We get it, and want to be able to do that.”

The college is currently crafting a strategic plan, seeking input from the community and companies of all types and sizes, to better hone and respond to those workforce needs, she explained. “It’s an exciting time, and the vision for what people want to see from the community college is huge. We’re reaching out to people and asking for their time to help us build the product they need — the student.

“They’re so excited to have their voice heard,” she added. “They’re calling me and telling me what they need, and they want to be a part of it — ‘how can I help?’ It’s this contagious vibe of getting involved. I’ve had people say, ‘if you build this program or do this training, I’ll even send some of my people in to talk about it in a real-world context. I’ll even do apprenticeships; I’ll do internships.’ They’re not interested in a handoff; they want to be hands-on.”

The goal, Creighton noted, is to get those ‘bodies’ in positions of need — actually, not just any bodies, but well-trained individuals — and help companies grow, at the same time establishing Western Mass. as a strong job market, attracting still more talent, which helps companies grow more, and it becomes a snowball effect.

“Every industry has a shortage of people,” she said, but specifically people with essential life skills — what some call soft skills, though she doesn’t like that term. “It sounds fluffy — but it’s real.”

For example, many employees and job seekers simply don’t understand the need to be punctual, or to stay off their smartphone during work hours, or that a 9-to-5 job means actually working 9 to 5. “To some people, it’s common sense; to others, it’s not. It’s just not an environment they’ve been in.”

And while Millennials have gotten a bad rap, this soft-skills gap spans the generations, Creighton said. In fact, in many ways, Millennials are a positive force, forcing companies to rethink old ways of doing business.

“With all this new leadership in the community, it’s just a fun, exciting buzz and vibe in Franklin County.”

She recalled participating on a panel with a banker who told her about a job he had early in his career. He was so savvy with technology, he’d get a day’s work done in five hours, but his boss wouldn’t give him additional duties, as not to show up his co-workers, so once his day’s work was complete, he’d sit at his desk, buried in his phone.

“Everyone looks at him like he’s this slacker,” she said. “He ended up leaving — no surprise there. And how many other people are leaving because they’re underutilized?”

The bottom line is that companies and their employees can learn from each other to help each other succeed, she explained — and that’s another way organizations can grow.

New Blood

As the former board president of Dress for Success, Creighton also built Foot in the Door, a workforce-readiness program dedicated to helping women develop critical skills for entering and re-entering the workforce. So she’s no stranger to these issues.

And she’s energized by all the new blood in regional leadership. For example, Salomon-Fernandez has been on the job just a year, and so has Diana Szynal, executive director of the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce.

“With all this new leadership in the community, it’s just a fun, exciting buzz and vibe in Franklin County,” Creighton said. “Everyone’s saying, ‘let’s try it this way,’ and nobody’s saying, ‘no, we did that before.’ And we’re working collaboratively together.”

While touring manufacturers and other businesses to determine what they need to grow, she added, it’s important to understand that many tools and programs are already in place. “We just need to package them differently. I’m excited when I hear the things people want and realize we’re already doing it and we could just do it in a more robust way.”

Finally, Creighton wants to celebrate the region’s economic successes while striving to add to them — and make sure GCC has a key role in doing so.

“So many people talk about how many people leave the region. OK, people leave — we get that,” she said. “But let’s focus on how many people stay, and what their economic impact is on our community. That’s where our focus should be.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Architecture

Living with the Land

At Eaglebrook School in Deerfield, Berkshire Design Group employed geothermal and solar power and repurposed stormwater as a site amenity.

Environmentally friendly ideas are nothing new in the architecture and design world, but advances have come at a rapid pace — not just in how green a project can be, but how effectively the long-term cost savings justify the upfront expense. Clients want to do the right thing, design professionals say, but they’re much more willing if they can see an economic justification. Increasingly, they’re able to achieve both goals.

Sometimes design decisions bring unexpected benefits, Rachel Loeffler says.

Take a project her firm, Berkshire Design Group, designed for East Meadow School in Granby.

“Cost was a big factor, so we looked at using a meadow feed mix instead of traditional bluegrass, which saves the school 100 gallons of gasoline in mowing, as well as the labor,” said Loeffler, a principal and landscape architect with the firm.

“But then, what happened was, some birds moved in almost instantly, including some orioles.”

Orioles, by the way, are among the hundreds of bird species most at risk from climate change and destruction of meadow lands due to development, so creating a healthy habitat for them is significant, she said. “Sometimes, delightful surprises happen.”

When Northampton-based Berkshire Design Group, one of the region’s leading firms in the realm of sustainable design, opened its doors in 1984, its founders might have been equally surprised to see how common green ideas would become a few decades later.

“Back then, we were experimenting with stormwater standards, alternatives that then became state standards,” Loeffler said. “That creative approach is something that was part of us from the beginning.”

C&H Architects, headquartered in Amherst, can track a similar trajectory, emphasizing green and sustainable architecture since its launch in 1989.

“Nobody was trying to do that 30 years ago — it wasn’t even part of the lexicon,” said Thomas Hartman, partner and principal architect. “Over the years, it’s really been interesting to see how what might have been an odd-duck type of client become the norm.”

In those early years, he said, forward-thinking clients would seek out C&H specifically for this expertise, while today, green design isn’t surprising at all. “It’s gone from the occasional project to where, if this isn’t part of the conversation, you’re not really practicing in the mainstream anymore.”

In fact, he noted, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) has basically shifted its organizational philosophy to suggest that, if a project isn’t environmentally conscious, if it’s not sustainable, then it’s just not good design.

“Climate change requires a holistic approach, addressing the interdependencies among people, buildings, infrastructure, and the environment,” AIA President William Bates said recently. “Our training allows us to look for solutions and ways to mitigate climate change comprehensively and creatively, which we do every day.”

At their most basic level, Hartman explained, buildings protect individuals from the elements and provide texture to people’s lives. Buildings, however, are also one of the largest contributors to global warming, accounting for nearly 40% of all greenhouse-gas emissions worldwide — a statistic expected to double by 2050. In an effort to mitigate these impacts, there has been a steady increase in sustainable architecture — the design of buildings that work in harmony with the environment.

Installing a meadow instead of grass at East Meadow School in Granby reduces gasoline use and provides a habitat for endangered birds.

C&H Architects has been at the forefront of this effort for three decades. For example, it designed the fifth-ever certified Living Building Challenge project in the world (and the first in New England) for Smith College’s MacLeish Field Station, the most rigorous performance standard for buildings available.

“It’s the most difficult standard — net-zero water, net-zero energy, avoiding certain materials and chemicals,” he said, noting that net zero means producing as much of that resource as one takes from the environment.

The firm has followed similar standards with other commercial and academic projects, and has designed more than 10 homes that boast net-zero energy, the most recent of which won the top honor at AIA Rhode Island in 2018, and includes a solar array that powers both the house and the car of its occupants.

That’s an especially cutting-edge standard, Hartman said, but it may become mainstream as well in the coming years, just as many sustainable practices in building and landscape design have become the norm, not the exception.

Holistic Approach

Loeffler said there are two ways to craft a sustainable philosophy for a project. One is to simply create a checklist of energy-saving or environmentally conscious features.

The other way of thinking actually takes cues from ecological thinking and the way all organisms are interrelated. On the simplest level, she cited the example of humans and trees — plants give off oxygen, while we breathe it in and give off carbon dioxide.

“There’s an understanding that each entity has a need for resources to consume, and has a waste product,” she said. “What sustainable thinking allows us to do is look at a project and look at ways to tie resources and waste together in a project or adjacent use somewhere else.”

Tom Hartman takes meter readings at a mill renovation in Lawrence — part of his goal to make sure energy-saving projects are performing as they are designed to.

One example is a dog park she recently worked on, during which time she approached a company that specializes in taking dog waste and turning it into energy. “Farms are taking waste from grocery stores, and any sort of organic waste products, and generating electricity. These are waste products that are being taken out of the waste stream instead of being shifted to a landfill somewhere.”

Hartman said architects, including those at his firm, are also starting to think about reductions in embodied carbon, which are the emissions associated with building construction, including extracting, transporting, and manufacturing materials.

“What that means is that we’ll be making low-carbon buildings, so we’re not adding to the carbon issue,” he said, adding quickly that this, like all new initiatives, comes with a learning curve. “In the evolution of our practice over 30 years, as soon as we get competent in one thing, we’re going to the next thing.”

Clients in the education sector have been particularly receptive to innovative ideas around sustainability, he noted, but those projects often come with time barriers.

“When you’re doing academic work, doing renovations on an existing building, they’re occupied, so you may have just a couple of weeks to do your job and have a limited budget, so how do you address environmental design and sustainable design on these types of projects?” he asked. “It comes down to the materials you’re choosing and what opportunities are available. For example, if you’re renovating a dormitory, you may only have 12 weeks, so you probably won’t renovate the exterior envelope of the building.”

“Nobody was trying to do that 30 years ago — it wasn’t even part of the lexicon. Over the years, it’s really been interesting to see how what might have been an odd-duck type of client become the norm.”

But all projects must consider their long-term impact on users, said Leon Drachmann, a principal at Payette Associates in Boston, who recently talked about sustainability on the U.S. Green Building Council website.

“The green-building initiative will have a deeper impact by expanding its scope — by shifting its focus to areas outside of building design, such as real-estate economics, zoning regulations and land use, while concentrating on the human experience and societal well-being,” he noted, adding that “sustainability should be considered not as an independent, separate process, but as an integral part of design itself.”

Dollars and Sense

One impact that can never be overlooked is the financial one, Hartman said. After all, while clients want to do the right thing, they’re still focused on the bottom line.

“I’ve never met a client where, if we could provide the economic case for doing good in sustainable design, they wouldn’t do it,” he told BusinessWest. “It’s rarer to find a client who will do the feel-good of sustainable design if it doesn’t pass the economic test.”

So part of his service to clients is actually visiting the site after completion, monitoring elements like energy use, waste production, and the overall costs to make sure the promised efficiencies have come to fruition.

“It has been really important for us to do that,” he said. “Most of the time, we want to maintain a relationship with the client in the future anyway. We will ask for energy bills. We’ve never met a client who doesn’t want us to follow up. That’s probably the most important thing for the profession — to make sure it all works, and if it doesn’t work, figure out why. Otherwise, you’re just waving your arms.”

Loeffler noted that clients that have a long-term vision are much easier to convince of the benefits of green design.

“If an organization’s economic-benefit analysis focuses on a one-year plan, they’re going to make a decision based on that — and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that,” she said. “But if their vision centers around a 20- or 50-year plan, they might be inclined to make different decisions.

“In a homeowner’s situation, with solar panels, there are upfront costs in that initial year. Over a certain amount of time, you’ll recoup those costs, but if you’re only looking at one year, you’re not going to budget for solar panels. If you’re looking at the long term, the cost makes more sense.”

The tipping point for much sustainable design and technology will come when those costs approach those of traditional methods across the board — and many in the industry say those days are getting closer. “When green materials become cheaper to acquire than previous materials, we project there will be a huge increase in the desire for this type of technology,” Loeffler said.

Until then, “we try not to push the issue too hard. We engage every client in the discussion, but they have different comfort levels. At the end of the day, we’re there to meet their needs and goals, and we work with them.”

Hartman is happy he works in a state which saw the value of renewable-energy credits and green standards well before most other states did.

“Massachusetts has been progressive, and they did those things so we wouldn’t be so reliant on fossil fuels from other countries,” he said. “It’s really exciting nowadays.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Manufacturing

Tight Squeeze

President Trump has made no secret of his hope that a series of tariffs on goods from China and other countries will eventually force a more favorable balance of trade for the U.S. But in the meantime, the escalating trade war has posed very real, often negative impacts for manufacturers, particularly in the form of higher costs and a general sense of uncertainty that makes it difficult to pursue growth. And no one seems to have any idea when the situation will ease up.

A trade war can hurt business in more ways than one, Kristin Carlson says.

For example, as a contractor for the U.S. Department of Defense, her manufacturing company, Westfield-based Peerless Precision, doesn’t buy a lot of foreign materials, like steel and aluminum — in fact, she buys about 95% domestic — so she hasn’t been subject to the direct cost increases on imported goods resulting from the volley of back-and-forth tariffs posed by President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

“As a result of tariffs and increased pressure on domestic supply, we’ve had supply and demand issues. We’ve been seeing pricing going up 25% to 40% from what we have historically paid.”

But those increased costs of Chinese products have pressured the domestic supply chain, so she is, indeed, paying more.

“As a result of tariffs and increased pressure on domestic supply, we’ve had supply and demand issues. We’ve been seeing pricing going up 25% to 40% from what we have historically paid,” she said. “Costs are a big issue.”

Peerless Precision, which makes parts for the aerospace and defense industries, employs 32 people and has generated strong revenue in recent years, but profits are being squeezed by the trade war.

Kristin Carlson says manufacturers are dealing with price increases and supply-chain disruptions due to the recent tariffs.

Lead times are also affected, she added. “Because of this supply and demand issue on the domestic supply chain, companies are stocking up to make sure they’re getting the prices they need. When times are normal, we’ll get material in one to three business days, and that’s turned into one to four weeks.”

Trump’s trade war, now about 18 months old, has had a ripple effect on the global supply chain of many products, driving up the price of imported raw materials and finished goods. It’s not just manufacturers feeling the heat — for example, farmers have lost lucrative markets as well.

NPR recently reported that cranberry growers worked for years to develop a market in China, and sales of dried cranberries to China increased by more than 1,000% between 2013 and 2018. But after the White House approved tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese goods in July, China immediately retaliated with tariffs on dozens of U.S. goods, including dried cranberries, and now growers — many of them in Massachusetts — are faced with a serious glut of product.

That’s just one example of the impact of tariffs, but for manufacturers, the equation can have even more moving parts (pun intended). Many shop owners say the uncertainty of the situation is causing them to hold off on hiring and expansion because they’re not sure how or when a deal will take shape.

“The imposition of 15% tariffs on $112 billion worth of Chinese goods on Sept. 1 underscores the uncertainty facing employers, particularly manufacturers, who do business in overseas markets,” Raymond Torto, chair of the Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Board of Economic Advisors, wrote last month. “At the same time, employers are beginning to see evidence from both customers and suppliers of a slowdown in the U.S. economy.”

Stirring the Pot

Robert Lawrence, professor of International Trade and Investment at the Harvard Kennedy School and a former member of President Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers, recently told the Boston Globe that, while U.S. strategy over the past century has been to use protectionist measures like tariffs sparingly, Trump has a more aggressive outlook.

“This is at odds with the entire thrust of our policies over the post-war period,” he said. “We’re acting unilaterally. We’re bullying the Chinese by putting these tariffs on them.”

The Trump administration has taken aim at China for a variety of economic reasons, from the nations’ trade imbalance to accusations that Chinese companies steal intellectual property from American companies. But, as Carlson noted, China isn’t the only affected supplier.

“When we submit a quote for a customer purchase, we’re locked into the price we quote them. If our cost changes, we have to suck it up. We can’t go back to the customer and say, ‘oops, materials went up 50%, so we have to raise the price.’ We don’t do that.”

“Tariffs weren’t just slapped onto China, but onto Canada, Mexico … maybe three to five countries in the entire world don’t have tariffs on them.”

Not all manufacturers see the impact the same way. Eric Hagopian, who owns Pilot Precision Products in South Deerfield, told the Globe that, while the price of domestic steel he buys has gone up 43% this year, the tariffs are boosting American industry as many companies are moving to American products as a result of tariffs on products from Pilot Precision’s Chinese competitors. “It actually helps our business,” he said.

Rick Sullivan, president and CEO of the Economic Development Council of Western Mass., said he has heard from members with differing perspectives on the impact of the trade war.

“Some people, I think, are really impacted; they feel there are some pretty serious impacts on cost and competitiveness,” he told BusinessWest. “Then, if you go to someone like Eric Hagopian, he’s a little less adamant that it’s a big issue.”

MassBenchmarks, an initiative of the UMass Donahue Institute and the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, reported on economic trends in Massachusetts this week, pointing out that the economy is doing well overall, with low unemployment, but employment and output growth are decelerating.

“Growth in the global economy is slowing, and labor-supply constraints, softening demand, and rising international geopolitical uncertainty all signal concerns for the economy going forward,” the report notes.

Rick Sullivan says manufacturers — and other businesses — have differing takes on the pros and cons of a trade war, but no one likes the uncertainty it generates.

Board members focused on a number of broad sources of uncertainty in the economic and geopolitical environment and what they could mean for the Massachusetts economy. One board member said the current environment is characterized by “considerable internal and external disharmony,” which includes ongoing trade conflicts, as well as continued tension around Brexit, the apparent impacts of climate change, particularly as it relates to agricultural production in various places around the world, and increasing instability in global markets among advanced economies. Against that backdrop, Trump’s ongoing impeachment inquiry is yet another wild card.

But there’s a reason MassBenchmarks placed trade conflicts at the top of that list.

“I think they create an uncertainty, and they increase costs,” Sullivan said. “Certainly, costs are a concern, and competitiveness is a concern.”

Cost and Effect

Those costs aren’t easily passed on to customers, Carlson said, and manufacturers, by and large, would rather not do that.

“When we submit a quote for a customer purchase, we’re locked into the price we quote them,” she explained. “If our cost changes, we have to suck it up. We can’t go back to the customer and say, ‘oops, materials went up 50%, so we have to raise the price.’ We don’t do that.”

AIM releases its Business Confidence Index every month, gauging exactly that — how member businesses are feeling about the economic outlook of the state and their own businesses. The overall Index, which is scored on a 100-point scale, has lost 3.7 points since a year ago but remains within optimistic territory.

“For a long time, a lot of us have been eating the material cost increases. Everything I hear is there’s not really an end date. We’ll see what happens.”

However, September’s reading was weighed down by weakening sentiment among Bay State manufacturers. The Index’s manufacturing component dropped 2.4 points in September and has lost 7.9 points for the year. Non-manufacturers were more confident than manufacturers by a 6.5-point margin.

The results mirrored the national Institute for Supply Management’s manufacturing index, which fell to its lowest level since 2009 last month. A separate report by IHS Markit showed that the manufacturing sector suffered its worst quarter since 2009, though activity increased during September.

“Manufacturers are bearing the brunt of both actual and threatened tariffs against goods imported from China,” Torto wrote. “Many Massachusetts companies have also become caught in retaliatory tariffs and are seeing significant weakening of their overseas business.”

Michael Tyler, chief investment officer at Eastern Bank Wealth Management and a BEA member, noted that the gaps in confidence between manufacturing companies and other businesses appear to be growing.

“Manufacturing has been hit by the steady increase in tariffs imposed by the United States, China, and other nations since 2018,” he noted. “The World Trade Organization estimates that the flow of goods across borders will increase by just 1.2% this year, and manufacturing companies are feeling that downdraft.”

Carlson is feeling it, for sure, and as president of the Western Mass. chapter of the National Tooling and Machining Assoc., she knows others are, too.

“For a long time, a lot of us have been eating the material cost increases,” she told BusinessWest, conceding that the uncertainty around the trade war has been equally vexing. “Everything I hear is there’s not really an end date. We’ll see what happens.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Technology

High-tech Harvest

Vice President Paul Whalley

From its humble beginnings in a Southwick basement 40 years ago, Whalley Computer Associates has become a technology company with remarkable reach, providing a host of services to more than 3,000 business clients, ranking WCA in the top one-tenth of 1% of all computer resellers by sales volume. That growth has come through constant evolution in response to industry needs and trends, but also simply by making life easier for clients, who increasingly demand no-fuss solutions to their network needs.

Paul Whalley knows his company might have a larger brand presence in a larger city.

“Our biggest challenge, marketing-wise, is being in Western Mass. — because you know what they think of us in Eastern Mass.,” he said. “And then we’re in a town called Southwick, and if you look up Southwick, you see a farming community, and the name of the company is a family name. So I think people have an image of my brother and me with pitchforks, milking the cows in the morning and feeding the chickens when we get home, and maybe selling one or two computers.

“But that perception isn’t what people get when they walk through here,” he quickly added, and for good reason.

Out of its 62,500-square-foot headquarters in Southwick — it also maintains facilities in Westfield, Milford, and Providence, R.I. — Whalley Computer Associates (WCA) has grown to be the 175th-largest computer solution provider in North America. That’s among more than 200,000 such companies, placing Whalley squarely in the top one-tenth of 1%.

What started as a software-consulting firm is now an original equipment manufacturer (OEM), building computers and other devices for 25 brands, a few of them major national names. In so doing, WCA is the largest reseller of Lenovo products in the U.S. and has been the top reseller for Dell in the Northeast many years.

“I think people have an image of my brother and me with pitchforks, milking the cows in the morning and feeding the chickens when we get home, and maybe selling one or two computers. But that perception isn’t what people get when they walk through here.”

Initially, the firm served customers mostly based in Massachusetts and Connecticut. However, in the past decade, it has expanded its range, providing technology products and services across all of New England and Upstate New York.

It’s not easy to pin down what WCA does in a few words. Early in its history, it focused on imaging and configuration, delivery and deployment, and maintenance and repair. But today, services include pre-sales consultation, system design and implementation, infrastructure, data storage and management, client and server virtualization, disaster recovery and business continuance, VoIP, wireless cloud computing and cloud infrastructure services, server, storage, and network health checks — and more.

The company provides services to more than 250 school systems, 50 colleges, and 3,000 businesses, while continually expanding its range of offerings as the technology world continually evolves.

“It’s the full life cycle,” said Whalley, WCA’s vice president. “We’re consulting on what they should buy, selling them what they should buy, preparing what they bought, delivering what they bought, taking care of what they bought, managing what they bought — perhaps even remotely — and then, at the end of its life, gathering it back and disposing of it or returning it to the leasing company or giving it to a school, whatever the customer wants.”

Up from the Basement

Like many high-tech success stories, WCA grew from humble beginnings. As a part-time programming consultant in the Agawam school system in the 1970’s, math teacher John Whalley — Paul’s brother — purchased a small software-consulting firm. Working after school and during the summer from his Southwick basement, he built a small customer base.

Then, in 1979, incorporating his experience teaching his students programming on the school’s new computer, he started Whalley Computer Associates. He moved to new quarters in Southwick twice, all the while trying to convince his brother to come on board.

Paul started helping out part-time, and in 1985, they both dove in full-time, with John (still the company’s president) leaving his teaching job and Paul resigning from his position as a programmer at MassMutual, in the process becoming WCA’s fourth employee. The acquisition of customers such as Northeast Utilities, United Technologies, General Electric, and Cigna helped drive the company’s rapid growth.

Dean LeClerc says WCA’s engineering training lab helps keep the team on top of current technology.

That growth necessitated several moves in Southwick, from John Whalley’s cellar to a former hair salon, to a 1,500-square-foot office, to an 18,000-square-foot building on Route 202, to the current headquarters on Whalley Way, in the industrial-park section of town, built in 1999.

Through all that growth, Whalley said, the idea has always been to make life easier for customers. For example, the Southwick facility has hundreds of linear feet of ‘bench space’ where computers and other devices are not only built, but tested by connecting directly with the client’s network.

“The benefit for the customer is they can just walk to the desk, unplug the old one, plug in the new one, and walk away. Otherwise, they’d have to go the desk and spend 15 minutes with the product and get it fully configured on their network. It’s much more efficient and cost-effective, and allows them to work on more strategic things. Their IT staff doesn’t really want to be doing this. They’re certified at a pretty high level and want to be doing more challenging things.”

Dean LeClerc, director of Engineering, pointed out one bench that was being used to test Chromebooks headed to a Holyoke school.

“They leave here as if it had already been brought to Holyoke and connected with their network and tested,” he explained. “So they’re opening a box they already know works on their network.”

LeClerc added that Whalley can even set up each device for the individual student who will be using it, and a WCA representative will often visit sites to hand them out to specific users.

Early in BusinessWest’s recent visit, LeClerc showed off one of the facility’s newer features, an engineering training lab outfitted with WCA’s most commonly sold storage devices, switches, and servers — a half-million-dollar investment in making sure the engineering team stays on top of technology.

“Our engineers are doing it for the second, third, or fourth time before they’re getting to a customer’s environment,” he explained. “They’re not doing it for the first time at a customer’s live environment.”

In addition, if a customer is in a bind with equipment going down that could affect the flow of business, the lab might loan a piece of equipment for a day or a week to get the customer up and running again immediately instead of having to wait for shipment of a new product.

“If you listen to anybody in technology, they’ll tell you the majority of problems come when people aren’t being vigilant and open e-mails they shouldn’t be opening.”

“So we try to balance it,” he said. “This is our lab for our engineers, but if we have a couple extra pieces of equipment that we know we can bring out to get a customer back up and running, we can do that.”

Safe and Secure

WCA has evolved in other ways as well, Whalley said, mostly in response to changing industry needs and trends. Take security, for example, in the form of building security, surveillance cameras, access-control cards, and other products and services.

“We weren’t even thinking about that stuff 10 years ago, but it’s becoming a bigger piece of our business now,” he said, adding that WCA has a contract with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as an ITC71 vendor for security systems.

Cybersecurity is another growing niche, he noted. “We’ll do assessments, look at the network, and help them prevent someone from attacking them. Even the biggest companies get attacked. We’ll build up a robust system with a lot of redundancy so if something does happen, whether it’s ransomware or malware or a virus, they experience no — or very little — downtime.”

He recalled two incidents, one involving a customer of WCA’s managed services, who had invested in a needs analysis and network cybersecurity protection and monitoring. “Within seconds of a ransom attack, we shut everything down, isolating the problem to one desktop, and brought the whole network back up, so they were down for only minutes, and then worked on clearing out that one bad desktop where the ransomware came in.”

Meanwhile, another local company, not a customer of those managed services, got attacked, and it took three weeks and 100 hours of engineering time to get it back up and running, Whalley noted.

“One computer down for an hour, versus the entire network down for three weeks. One did the preparation and the engineering ahead of time to have a robust defense of their system, and because it was monitored at the point, we immediately knew there was a problem and could quarantine it and get the rest of the company working again. That’s the power of having the combination of the managed-service group and Dean’s engineers.”

WCA also sends a trainer to conduct security-awareness trainings for clients, because so many breaches result from human mistakes, he noted.

“If you listen to anybody in technology, they’ll tell you the majority of problems come when people aren’t being vigilant and open e-mails they shouldn’t be opening. So we offer a very affordable service, coming into a company and going through a two-hour presentation on how to stay out of trouble and how not to make those mistakes that put your company in jeopardy.”

Staying atop such trends and others is critical, which is why WCA presents the annual Foxwoods Technology Show, the biggest technology event in the region solely for IT professionals. Every year, it attracts more than 1,000 attendees, including 300 representatives from 60 different manufacturers.

“We’re in an industry where you either change or you die,” Whalley told BusinessWest. “Everything’s moving so fast now. You either change and embrace the change — and try to lead the change — or you go out of business.”

Growth Pattern

In a business market where 80% of computer companies fail in less than five years, WCA employs more than 150 computer professionals and continues to grow its client base. It’s not exactly a small company, but tries to maintain a small-firm spirit, through events like monthly breakfasts, lunches, and birthday parties, as well as kickoffs of baseball and football season, where employees wear their favorite teams’ jerseys. Just this month, employees gathered to celebrate WCA’s best September ever.

“We pride ourselves on being a family business,” Whalley said, with the concept of family extending beyond the company’s founders, reflecting a general spirit of camaraderie in Southwick as well as the other sites.

At the same time, its work is serious business — and a long way from milking cows and feeding chickens.

“Our challenge is to stay as ahead of the curve as we can, but provide the stability and assurance to our customers that we’re not just jumping onto the new shiny penny and abandoning our core business,” LeClerc said. “We’re large enough that we can afford to do that. We have enough resources to stay ahead of the curve but still deliver traditional services to our customers until they’re ready for a change.”

Whalley agreed. “We try not to jump around from one thing to the other; we just try to add additional capabilities and continue to be exceptional at the legacy of services and products that we provide.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Community Spotlight

Community Spotlight

Mike Vezzola says the North Central Connecticut Chamber of Commerce’s new headquarters at Enfield Square has given the organization greater visibility.

If a long-discussed tribal casino takes shape in East Windsor, Conn., the town of Enfield would find itself in an intriguing geographic spot between two destination casinos — which could bring benefits in a number of ways, Mike Vezzola says.

“It’s still going through a large permitting process, but if the casino does wind up coming to East Windsor, we’re right smack dab in the middle of MGM Springfield and that proposed East Windsor site, so the hope here is that Enfield can become a little bit more of a destination,” said the executive director of the North Central Connecticut Chamber of Commerce during a recent conversation at the chamber’s office in the mall known as Enfield Square.

“It’ll certainly create a lot of runoff for hotels and restaurants,” he went on. “We have a plethora of great restaurants, stores, and activities right at our fingertips. We need to build on those things and make sure the right pieces are set in place, and certainly the town is doing its part to try and see that through. We’re excited for what’s on the horizon over the next five to 10 years.”

As a border town that may eventually be flanked by two casinos, Enfield is, in many ways, at a crossroads — one that town officials hope will be bolstered by a new train platform in the Thompsonville neighborhood.

Earlier this month, the Town Council unanimously voted to transfer $670,000 from the general fund into a separate fund for the development of a train platform in Thompsonville, a project that has been 15 years in the making and is expected to attract traffic to town and give residents and businesses more reason to relocate or stay there.

Other financial hurdles need to be cleared, as the total cost of a platform would be around $2.5 million. A full train station could follow down the road, at a cost of tens of millions; Enfield is just one of several train-stop communities in the Nutmeg State waiting for DOT action on such projects. In Enfield, town officials say any upgrade will bring a number of economic benefits, particularly for Thompsonville itself, which has been the focus of a planned revitalization project for some time.

The town implemented a tax increment financing (TIF) plan in Thompsonville and the Enfield Square area earlier this year. TIF is an economic-development tool that allows municipalities to use tax revenues generated from new capital investment to assist in a project’s financing.

“We have a plethora of great restaurants, stores, and activities right at our fingertips. We need to build on those things and make sure the right pieces are set in place, and certainly the town is doing its part to try and see that through.”

Patrick McMahon, CEO of the nonprofit Connecticut Main Street Center, who was hired by the town as a consultant in January to help revitalize Thompsonville, told legislative and business leaders at a recent economic-development breakfast that Enfield leaders envision significant private investment in new business ventures, redevelopment of historic properties, and new public infrastructure.

“Hopefully, the new TIF project will bring some revitalization to that specific area, especially with the commuter rail between New Haven and Springfield,” Vezzola told BusinessWest. “We’re one of the primary stops on that rail, and they’re hoping to get the platform built in the next couple of years.”

Pipeline to Progress

At the same time, Enfield has seen growth in recent years in its manufacturing, distribution, and warehousing sectors, while Asnuntuck Community College (ACC) — which hosted the recent breakfast — has built a reputation as a manufacturing-education leader through its Advanced Manufacturing Technology Center (AMTC).

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont and other guests toured the space, speaking to students and taking in the 11,000-square-foot machining lab with its 90 CNC and manual machines, the state-of-the-art additive manufacturing lab, and other high-tech training areas.

Enfield at a Glance

Year Incorporated: 1683
Population: 44,654
Area: 34.2 square miles
County: Hartford
Residential Tax Rate: $34.23
Commercial Tax Rate: $34.23
Median Household Income: $67,402
Median Family Income: $77,554
Type of Government: Town Council, Town Manager
Largest Employers: Lego Systems Inc., MassMutual, Retail Brand Alliance, Enfield Distribution Center
* Latest information available

With programs that get students working at good-paying manufacturing jobs in two years or even one in many cases, ACC — and, by extension, its town — has become a promising answer to workforce needs at area plants, which have long lamented persistent skills gaps.

Asnuntuck has forged partnerships and talent pipelines with area manufacturers and businesses including Pratt & Whitney, Sikorsky, Eppendorf, and Stanley Black & Decker, among others, contributing to a 98% job-placement rate for AMCT graduates.

“With more than 25,000 skilled workers needed in the next two decades, the advanced manufacturing technology centers at Connecticut community colleges offer the opportunity for people of all ages and backgrounds to find a rewarding career in our state,” said Connecticut State Colleges and Universities President Mark Ojakian, who participated in the tour.

The rise in Enfield’s manufacturing reputation coincides with retail struggles, particularly in Enfield Square, where the only remaining anchor is Target. However, numerous small stores still call the property home, and Party City made a major investment there two years ago.

“The mall is very open to interpretive ways of using their retail space,” Vezzola said, the chamber’s presence there being just one example. “We get a lot of foot traffic in here, community members looking for referrals to some of our members or just information about who we are and what we do and how that benefits the community. Certainly, we’re here and excited to help facilitate any potential new clientele the mall might see in the future.”

While Enfield hasn’t attracted many new large retail establishments over the past year, the community continues to be a haven for sole proprietors, he noted.

“With more than 25,000 skilled workers needed in the next two decades, the advanced manufacturing technology centers at Connecticut community colleges offer the opportunity for people of all ages and backgrounds to find a rewarding career in our state.”

“These are folks who have their own businesses and work from home, whether it’s social-media development or graphic design, things of that nature,” he said. “A lot of young people are starting these businesses — and we’re excited that they want to put their talents and work skills to use right here.”

So excited, in fact, that the chamber is hoping to launch a young professional networking group next year as a subsidiary of the chamber.

“We want to encourage other younger folks who might not necessarily know how to navigate creating their own business or are looking for a new opportunity to learn and develop, so it’ll be a bit of an educational piece as well as a networking piece,” Vezzola explained. “That’s a big focus of what we do; we’re continuing to encourage our businesses to help each other, utilize each other, and benefit each other the best way they can.

“We peg ourselves on changing with the times, and certainly the scope of what a chamber does is completely different now than it was 20 years ago,” he added. “We’re just trying to stay relevant and active and evolve with the times.”

Life on the Border

Vezzola understands, too, the potential for his chamber and its members to make connections across the state line as well.

“Being a border town, I think it helps us get some exposure over the border in Massachusetts for our businesses and vice versa, and we’re considering some partnerships with chambers in Western Massachusetts to maybe do some cross-border development with each other, with networking groups,” he said. “Again, it’s about always evolving and just trying to do the best we can with what we’ve got here.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Women of Impact 2019

President, United Personnel

By Connecting People with Opportunities, She Impacts the Economy — and Many Lives

Tricia Canavan spent much of her early career as an educator. Today, in a much different role, education is never far from her mind.

“As I’ve done this job for the last eight years, I’ve learned how education is tied to workforce development and people being successful. It’s not just about being able to write well or have the fundamentals of math — can you support yourself?”

She’s been helping people support themselves for much of the last decade as president of United Personnel Services, but also as a voice for the importance of education and workforce development in giving people the skills they need to access job opportunities. At the same time, by helping connect employers with talent, she’s helping companies grow, which boosts the region’s economy.

“When we have good jobs and we have thriving businesses, that’s good for everybody,” she told BusinessWest. “The health of the economy in Western Mass. is absolutely critical to every single person who works here and lives here.”

That’s real impact — which is why it’s no surprise Canavan is being honored with this award. But she’s not one to seek out accolades, said Jennifer Brown, United’s vice president of Business Development, who nominated Canavan as a Woman of Impact.

“Tricia is incredibly humble,” Brown said. “In spite of her success, she never considers any task to be beneath her. On any given day in the office, you can find her sitting beside her staff, fielding phone calls, or greeting clients and candidates. When understaffed, she jumps in to help and consistently proves that she is not just a leader, but also a partner to her team.”

Canavan similarly deflects praise to her team. “I’ve been really fortunate to have the opportunity to run this company and be able to combine my interests with an amazing team of colleagues,” she said. “I’m so lucky in that regard. I would not be able to do everything I’m able to do without them behind me. No, not behind me — with me.”

Knowledge Is Power

Back to that role as an educator, though. “I’ve always been very driven to give back, and I really thought my career was going to be in education or nonprofit management of some sort, and that’s a lot of where my career has taken me,” she explained.

As a freshman at Trinity College in Hartford, Canavan volunteered teaching English as a second language, and later worked as a tutor-counselor with Upward Bound, a federally funded program that helps high-school students become first-generation college students.

“It’s not just about being able to write well or have the fundamentals of math — can you support yourself?”

“I really fell in love with these kids and their families. It became very clear to me that education is the key to so much,” she said. “I could see the impact that we can have working in partnership with them, helping them achieve their goals. I loved that opportunity.”

Prior to taking over her family’s business — her parents, Jay Canavan and Mary Ellen Scott, launched United Personnel in 1984 — Tricia ran the venerable lecture series known as the Springfield Public Forum. Prior to that, she worked in myriad teaching roles, including a stint at Berkshire Community College.

So her original career path wasn’t focused on following her parents’ path. Still, “when you’re part of a family business, it’s always part of you. I’ve worked here at various times as a younger person and have always been involved. My sister, my mother, and I are the board of directors. United has never been too far from my mind or my heart.”

After her father passed away about 20 years ago, Scott continued to run the company, and when she was getting ready to retire eight years ago, she was unsure what the best pathway forward was, Canavan said.

“So we hired some consultants to work with us and talk to me and my sister and the members of the senior management team at that time. At the end, they came to me and said, ‘we think you’re best suited to run this organization.’”

At the time, she was happy running the Springfield Public Forum, an organization she loved and remains involved with today.

However, “I had a mentor who knew I was considering this great opportunity — and how lucky am I to have had this opportunity? — anyway, she said to me, ‘you know, I think you want to make a difference in the world. And I think you will be able to make more of a difference running United Personnel than you will running the Public Forum. As great an organization as that is, you’ll have a different voice than you have now. And you’ll be able to make a difference and perhaps a bigger impact in your community than you currently can.’”

United Personnel moved its downtown Springfield headquarters to a larger space a few years ago.

That turned out to be a critical conversation as she considered how to move forward, she said. “I sometimes say I have a nonprofit heart, and I’ve tried to bring that sense of responsibility to the community and to my employees and my clients in this job.”

Clearing a Path

Many well-paying careers, Canavan noted, are in reach without a college education for those who are willing to access training, start small, and work their way up. Part of United Personnel’s mission is to dismantle as many roadblocks to employment as it can.

For example, employers typically prefer to hire someone with at least six months of recent, steady work without gaps. But, realizing there are reasons those gaps exist, United offers myriad short-term jobs to help people build a portfolio and references and prove they can handle something more permanent. Meanwhile, it helps connect job seekers with the myriad workforce-training resources available in the community.

There are institutional barriers as well, such as the so-called ‘cliff effect,’ which throws up financial disincentives to people on public benefits who want to work. She said a bill currently making its way through the state Legislature would address that scenario through a pilot program that would help low-income Springfield residents access jobs while reducing the need for public benefits.

Her advocacy for people seeking work starts where she believes it needs to start — in the schools, by making sure students are learning at an age-appropriate rate. Only 7% of Springfield children are considered kindergarten-ready when they enter school, and if they don’t hit reading proficiency by third grade, it sets them on a never-ending pattern of playing catchup.

“That’s my nonprofit heart, asking what does social justice look like for our kids and our families, and what role does education play in that, and then how does that feed into workforce development and a strong economy? It’s all tied together, for sure,” she told BusinessWest.

“How do we help our students and our families get to the point where they are at a living wage and they can support themselves and thrive?” she went on. “One of the social determinants of health, when we look at population health, is economic stability. So it even drives health outcomes. It’s critical.”

For that reason, making sure kids have the same educational opportunities no matter their address or family circumstance is nothing less than a social-justice issue, she said.

“I sometimes say I have a nonprofit heart, and I’ve tried to bring that sense of responsibility to the community and to my employees and my clients in this job.”

“I believe everyone is aware of these inequities, and we’re all working on them, but the reality is, if you live on the Springfield side of Forest Park as opposed to the Longmeadow side of Forest Park, you’re likely having a very different education experience.”

At the end of the day, helping people — from childhood through life — access the education and skills they need to live the life they want is a critical element of Canavan’s impact, and one she takes seriously.

“I feel like it’s a little bit glib to say the best way out of poverty is a job. But we need to help everybody achieve the educational background they need — and that can mean different things for different people,” she said, whether that’s a certificate or degree from college or vocational training in a trade. “What is the pathway to a living wage?”

Growth Pattern

And that brings her to the second pillar of United’s business, helping companies access the talent they need to grow.

“It’s all tied to economic development,” she said. “I see so clearly the importance of education to a strong economy. If our employers don’t have the qualified candidates they need, they’re not going to stay, and if they do stay, they’re going to struggle.”

United has grown significantly since Canavan’s parents opened their first office in Hartford, specializing in professional, administrative, and finance services. A few years later, they opened a second office in Springfield, focusing on support to the light industrial sector. Today, the firm also boasts offices in Northampton, Pittsfield, Chelmsford, and New Haven.

Meanwhile, its roster of specialties has grown to include manufacturing, hospitality, information technology, nonprofits, medical offices, and even a dental-services division, which has proven to be a significant growth area.

Cavanan said she enjoys working in partnership with clients because it allows United to become a part of their business and operational strategy and provide real value. Whether it’s helping clients with continuous improvement, staff-retention strategies, joint recruiting events, or simply serving as subject-matter experts in matters like HR compliance, she said United does its best work when it’s able to take on that level of partnership.

That said, she noted that legislative mandates from Boston, such as increased minimum wage and broadened leave laws, continue to burden employers and make it more difficult than ever to do business in Massachusetts.

“I’m interested in educational policy, but also regulatory policy as it affects businesses,” she said. “As a younger person, I would’ve said, ‘she’s sold out, she’s gone to the dark side, she’s become conservative.’ But being in this role has given me a much more nuanced picture of all the different elements that make up a thriving region. Businesses can look at competing, surrounding states and see a more favorable regulatory environment. So I think we in Massachusetts really need to make sure we’re balancing the needs of our residents with the burden on businesses. I don’t think we, as a state, have figured that out yet.”

After providing staffing and HR support to its clients, and career opportunities to its candidates, United’s third pillar has long been giving back to the communities it serves, Canavan said, and she encourages her staff to volunteer and serve on boards — both on work and personal time — while the company supports area nonprofits financially.

“I’m really fortunate to work in an organization I love where we’re doing work to help our candidates and help our clients, but also gives us a platform to do things in the community, whether it’s policy or volunteerism or being able to endow a scholarship. I feel very, very lucky to be able to do that,” she said.

Several years ago, Brown noted, United launched an annual Academic Merit Award. This program identifies one contract employee, or the child of a contract employee, currently enrolled in college or a recent graduate, as the winner of a $1,000 award to recognize hard work both inside and outside the classroom.

“It is opportunities like this that show her employees that she’s invested in their futures,” Brown said. “Tricia stands behind everything that her employees stand for — drive, determination, heart, and community involvement.”

Bottom Line

Again, that’s real impact on real lives — something Canavan wondered whether she’d have when she left a career she loved eight years ago.

“As my mentor said, ‘you can have a voice. You can have impact,’” she recalled, quickly noting that scores of other women in the region are just as worthy of being called Women of Impact, and she hopes more of them are publicly recognized as such. “I’m always struck by how lucky I am that a handful of people brought me to the table. It’s a privilege to be able do all this.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Women of Impact 2019

President, CEO, and General Manager, Cutting Edge Broadcasting

This Radio Pioneer Has Overcome Obstacles to Better Her Community

“Success,” Booker T. Washington once said, “is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome.”

By both standards, Carol Moore Cutting is certainly a woman of impact.

It’s a quote she has long loved, not only because she admires Washington — who established Tuskegee University in Alabama, where she earned a degree and met her husband — but because of the truth it reflects about her own life, and the lives of others with a passion or dream that encounters stress, hardship, and opposition.

“Booker was very much an entrepreneurial person who built Tuskegee from nothing,” said Cutting, who grew up in a rural, segregated area of Alabama and came to Massachusetts with some entrepreneurial dreams of her own.

It was her husband’s first job that led them to settle in Longmeadow; Dr. Gerald Cutting, now retired, is a Boston native who eventually opened his own veterinary practice in Chicopee. Carol was initially struck by how difficult it was to connect with places where communities of color gathered — in particular, how little community information was available on the radio at the dawn of the ’70s.

“I grew up believing, when you come into a situation, you ask, ‘what can I do to improve it?’ As naïve as I was — I was very young — I began to do research at the library.” That research, on what was required to launch a career in broadcasting, led to a license from the Federal Communications Commission in 1971.

But that’s just the start of the story that saw the birth, 28 years later, of WEIB 106.3 FM in 1999 — currently the only locally owned commercial FM radio station in the Greater Springfield market, the only female-owned FM radio station in Massachusetts, and the only station — AM or FM — in New England owned by a person of color, and now celebrating its 20th anniversary of eclectic programming, community awareness, and, yes, impact.

“As an innovative thinker who believes that, more often or not, ‘no’ is a possible ‘maybe,’ Carol Moore Cutting has not allowed obstacles stand in her way of progress,” said Irene Thornton, who is both an on-air host and a member of the administrative, operations, and sales team at WEIB, in nominating Cutting for this award.

“In a world dominated by men, she has made bold decisions to command an on-air staff that is overwhelming female,” Thornton added. “She has broken the well-established industry stereotype that women are to be relegated as a second voice, a two-dimensional entity on the radio, and has placed women in her prime-time programing schedule. These women, most without formal training in radio communication, were mentored by Mrs. Cutting to become recognized and award-winning on-air hosts. These voices, with her support, are setting a standard for the next generation of female broadcasters who want to pursue the airways as themselves.”

“I grew up believing, when you come into a situation, you ask, ‘what can I do to improve it?”

That sort of pass-it-on influence is gratifying to Cutting, who has drawn inspiration from a strong role model in her mother and a series of pioneers who came before her.

“We had no resources, no money, and we were young,” she said of her idea to create the radio station. “Looking back, you might say, ‘the nerve of you, how did you think you could do that?’ Well, Booker T. Washington built Tuskegee University from nothing, so why not?”

Heading North

Cutting traces much of her ambition, in broadcasting and in life, to high expectations placed on her by her educational mentors, but more importantly her mother.

“I was told I didn’t have to let where I came from dictate where I was going in life — because where I came from, as I said, was this very segregated, southern environment,” she recalled. “But I also came from a family where my mom was an excellent role model in terms of pushing yourself and striving toward your goal.”

Her mother, a teacher, was a role model in several ways, she explained — as a kind, giving person who embraced people, but also a determined, hard-working woman who would teach all day, then drive from Livingston to Montgomery for night school — a 120-mile trek each way — then go back to school the next day to teach.

“That was the kind of environment I grew up in,” Cutting said. So, when she caught the itch to build a radio station, she drew on the same sort of determination her mother had displayed. “We just believed, ‘why not? It’s a long shot, but why not?’ Fortunately, I had a supportive husband.”

Others were less supportive. Cutting applied for a construction license to build the station in 1984, but she had a long fight ahead, particularly with a competitor who fought her in various courts for a decade and a half.

“It wasn’t easy. It was a tough 15 years. To be honest, it was a lot of prayer and being patient because it did not happen as quickly as one would think,” she recalled. “But even if you’re discouraged and people challenge you, that doesn’t mean you should just stop because you’re afraid of them. Knowing he had more resources and he was already in broadcasting made it even more difficult. But I prevailed at every level, all the way to the D.C. Court of Appeals.”

Carol Moore Cutting with T.J. Williams, who has been able to combine his twin passions for music and marketing at the station.

At least the long fight gave her time to hone her vision of what the station should offer. By the time the WEIB started broadcasting in 1999, she had been part of civic life in Greater Springfield for almost three decades, developing an understanding of what would draw in listeners and, crucially, advertisers.

“Because of my learned experiences and growing up the way I did, I’m more focused on the community, so I wanted to incorporate community things as well as broaden the scope of listening opportunities with programming that didn’t exist in this area,” she explained, adding that music that stirred her spiritually was one consideration.

“As much as I like gospel music, this is a commercial radio station, and even though it was a deep part of my faith and upbringing, I wanted something that brought everyone into the mix,” she went on. “So I decided on smooth, contemporary jazz, but I didn’t want to say ‘smooth jazz.’”

In the end, the mix that emerged is what WEIB calls “cool jazz, smooth sounds, and a touch of soul, with a cutting-edge blend.”

“But it took me a while to commit to that,” she added, with the process entailing copious research, attending broadcasting conferences, and plenty of soul searching. “I wanted something anyone can listen to.”

That mix has drawn a loyal core of advertisers who appreciate the station’s blend of a rich musical experience with community-focused information. Cutting’s mission, Thornton said, “is about getting a message out to her dedicated and loyal listeners, who she sees as family. In her eyes, it is vital that they are aware that there is someone right here in their own backyard who can support their needs. By tying this together, she effectively affirms the concept that we are one community, which promotes businesses and individuals growing together.”

And because she’s so rooted and invested in the Greater Springfield community, it’s important to stay here — and stay independent — at a time when most stations are owned by large conglomerates, Cutting said.

“It’s been difficult at times. It’s challenging because of the consolidation in the industry. Other stations have told advertisers, ‘well, we can cover everything, the entire market. You don’t have to deal with this little, independent radio station.’ But that isn’t true because our listeners are loyal, and [larger entities] don’t reach the audience we reach.”

That reach isn’t just local, she noted, but regional and even global through WEIB’s website, from which anyone can listen live.

“We get people writing us from all over the world saying, ‘we wish your terrestrial radio station could reach us,’” she told BusinessWest. “ So, we have listeners, but it’s something we’ve had to build. It hasn’t come easy.”

Voices Raised

Cutting’s commitment to the community includes the arts, as she has sponsored myriad cultural organizations and jazz festivals in the Pioneer Valley and beyond. Meanwhile, the station’s “WEIB After Work Cool Down” program has offered a platform for up-and-coming musicians to showcase their talent.

The station has also supported non-arts-related nonprofits over the years through announcements and coverage, some with media sponsorships, but some of it under the radar. For example, Cutting was personally moved by TommyCar Auto Group’s annual Tom Cosenzi Driving for the Cure Golf Tournament, which raises money for brain-cancer research, because she had a friend with the same condition.

“We didn’t approach them as a sponsor, but we promoted the event because of its impact. We ran commercials about how people could get involved and put in on the website because it was creating awareness of something important,” she explained. “You don’t always have to get a pat on the back to do what’s right and use the resources you have.”

“As an innovative thinker who believes that, more often or not, ‘no’ is a possible ‘maybe,’ Carol Moore Cutting has not allowed obstacles stand in her way of progress.”

Of course, “we also do things in conjunction with organizations,” she was quick to add. “You can’t give away everything. I have to be careful because I have a soft heart and I empathize and I’m touched by so many needs in the community. If I was rich and had the resources, I’d be a force to be reckoned with. But we do have the radio station to get messages out.”

While striking that balance between lending community support and paying the bills, it helps that the station, unlike so many in America today, is locally owned.

“Because it’s local, we don’t have to go to corporate to decide what can we support. If we want to do something for breast-cancer awareness and there’s an event going on, or something for prostate cancer, we can do it. That’s what we strive for.”

Paying those bills is still a challenge, she said, because some potential advertisers will never see the value in partnering with a station with roots that are deeper than they are geographically broad. “They don’t get what we have to offer them, which is unique, and something they’re not going to find anywhere else in this market.”

The mother of two and grandmother of eight, Cutting has also taken on a caregiver role these days to her ailing husband — but says it’s a role she appreciates, cherishing the whole of their life together.

“My faith has seen me through some very challenging times, and I would say it continues. My strength doesn’t come from me,” she noted. “I tell people, ‘have faith and maintain and hang in there,’ and that’s what I’m doing with this radio station. It hasn’t always been the easiest time, to be honest with you, because of the fear of those who would minimize the impact we have the community.”

Twenty years of listeners, and organizations that have heard their voices amplified on the airwaves, would agree. So would the young African-American women who see Cutting as a role model and trailblazer.

They want to be inspired, she said — “and not just women of color, but any woman — and, I would venture to say, any person, because there’s no gender line, no racial line. People need to be encouraged.”

After all, you don’t need to be a national media giant to have an outsized influence.

“Don’t judge us by our size, but by the impact we have on this community,” she said. “We’re not corporately run — we are community-focused, yet with a broader regional and international flavor because we can be heard throughout the world.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Banking and Financial Services

Going for the Green

One of the more challenging aspects of running a cannabis business is the inability to access banking services because banks are federally regulated, and cannabis is illegal on the federal level. However, change could be coming after the U.S. House of Representatives voted to pass legislation that would legalize cannabis banking. If the Senate agrees, proponents of the effort say, cannabis operations will become easier, less costly, more transparent, and accessible to a wider range of investors.

Want to start a cannabis business? You’d better have a lot of cash on hand.

However, that equation could be changing after the U.S. House of Representatives voted to pass legislation that would allow the cannabis industry to access banking and financial services, even as the substance remains illegal under federal law.

The Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act passed the House by a vote of 321 to 103, with nearly half of Republicans joining all Democrats but one in voting in favor of the bill.

Now the bill will move to the U.S. Senate and, eventually, to the president’s desk. Proponents are confident in their chances of passage.

“It would be great for the cannabis industry and great for the banking industry,” said Peter Gallagher, chief financial officer at INSA, a cannabis dispensary in Easthampton. “A lot of banks we’ve talked to are very interested in getting into it, but don’t want the risks associated with it, so they’ve steered clear of it.”

Banks providing services to state-approved cannabis businesses could, in theory, face criminal and civil liability under federal statutes. In fact, only two financial institutions in Massachusetts have taken on the risk, both of them located in the eastern part of the state. So most cannabis companies operate as cash-only businesses.

“The implications of having to handle a lot of cash are pretty profound,” Gallagher told BusinessWest. “A lot of effort goes into counting and transporting it. To the extent that we can move some of this to credit, it would make our operations a lot easier.”

Momentum to legalize cannabis has made the banking issue impossible to ignore at the federal level. Currently, 33 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, and Puerto Rico have all legalized the use of marijuana to some degree. Yet the possession, distribution, or sale of marijuana remains illegal under federal law, which means any contact with money that can be traced back to state marijuana operations could be considered money laundering and expose a bank to significant legal, operational, and regulatory risk, notes the American Banking Assoc. (ABA).

“The rift between federal and state law has left banks trapped between their mission to serve the financial needs of their local communities and the threat of federal enforcement action,” the association wrote recently. “ABA believes the time has come for Congress and the regulatory agencies to provide greater legal clarity to banks operating in states where marijuana has been legalized for medical or adult use. Those banks, including institutions that have no interest in directly banking marijuana-related businesses, face rising legal and regulatory risks as the marijuana industry grows.”

Gallagher said legalizing cannabis banking across the board makes sense on many levels.

“From a business perspective, it would make banking more accessible and less costly, and it would eliminate the risk of enforcement and regulatory action that banks are worried about, which is what’s leading them to abandon the market.”

Most think they would gladly jump in — making the cannabis industry more accessible to a wider range of entrepreneurs, while bringing down costs — if the SAFE Banking Act becomes law. And that’s what the Senate will have to consider as it begins its review.

Dollars and Sense

Scott Foster, a partner with the law firm Bulkley Richardson who helped establish its cannabis practice, said the law, if passed, would open up the ability of cannabis businesses to use local branches of local banks essentially overnight — if the banks decide to get involved, which seems likely, given the ABA’s advocacy on the issue.

“This is driven not by the cannabis industry, but by the banking industry,” Foster said. “We need clarity in this issue, considering all the non-cannabis businesses affected by this.”

“A lot of banks we’ve talked to are very interested in getting into it, but don’t want the risks associated with it, so they’ve steered clear of it.”

Indeed, in addition to growers and retailers, there are plenty of vendors and suppliers, landlords, and employees indirectly tied to the cannabis industry, thus posing legal risks for banks serving those individuals.

Rob Nichols, ABA president, recently wrote about two such examples: a bank in Ohio was forced to turn down a loan to a fencing company hired to build a fence around a marijuana growing facility, and a bank in Washington had to close an account when a law firm took on a marijuana business as a client.

“If either of these banks looked the other way, they risked violating federal law and facing criminal prosecution,” Nichols said, noting that these examples are far from isolated. An ABA survey found that 75% of banks have had to close an account, terminate a client relationship, or turn away a customer because there was some connection to cannabis.

“What we’re seeing is employees of cannabis companies being turned down for mortgages, and checking accounts closed down because they’re being paid by cannabis companies. That’s the biggest impact that’s actually driving the law,” Foster told BusinessWest. “Senators in states where it’s legal are saying, ‘time out.’ This isn’t about cannabis companies, it’s about the people selling stuff to them, landlords, even W.B. Mason delivering supplies. They’re getting caught up because they’re being paid by cannabis companies, and banks are saying they can’t accept the money. It’s an unintended ripple effect that’s causing a shift in thinking in Congress.”

Furthermore, reconciling the legal divide between state and federal laws would bring benefits to the communities banks serve, Nichols argues.

“The estimated $24 billion in cannabis sales by 2025 in states where marijuana has been legalized could be deposited safely with federally regulated financial institutions, enhancing transparency, public safety, and tax revenue,” he said.

And it’s not just banks asking for lawmakers to take action, he noted. A bipartisan group of 19 state attorneys general last year wrote a letter to lawmakers, arguing that bringing cannabis businesses into the banking system would improve accountability and increase public safety.

“This isn’t about cannabis companies, it’s about the people selling stuff to them, landlords, even W.B. Mason delivering supplies. They’re getting caught up because they’re being paid by cannabis companies, and banks are saying they can’t accept the money. It’s an unintended ripple effect that’s causing a shift in thinking in Congress.”

“Without relief from Congress, even banks that have decided not to serve cannabis businesses will find themselves caught in the financial web created by this booming industry,” Nichols said. “The money from cannabis businesses often goes to vendors, landlords, and employees, while the federal criminal association follows that cash.”

Gallagher agreed, and said it shouldn’t be difficult to build consensus around the need to bring clarity to cannabis finances through the well-regulated banking system.

“If, at the end of the day, what we’re worried about is diversion, or being able to track all that money, it’s easier to do that with electronic payments rather than having people carry large cash balances,” he said. “It’s easier for regulators and everyone else to make sure the industry is healthy and operating compliantly.”

Indeed, that very argument became part of the House debate. Colorado state Rep. Ed Perlmutter argued that keeping cannabis banking illegal is “an invitation to theft, it’s an invitation to money-laundering, it’s an invitation to tax evasion, and it stifles the opportunities of this business.”

Joint Resolutions

Foster said the immediate impact of the SAFE Banking Act would be significant on current cannabis businesses, which would now be able to access local branches of local banks, instead of running a ponderous all-cash operation — and requiring the security that entails — or seeking services from an institution across the state.

“We can’t apply for loans — working capital, construction loans, any lending right now,” Gallagher noted, adding that the handful of banks nationwide that are currently risking the cannabis business are passing on exorbitant costs to customers to do so.

“You’ve had some companies that have been willing to shoulder the risk associated with servicing an operation that’s federally illegal,” he told BusinessWest. “They’ve been able to charge excessive rates for that. As [legalization] happens in this industry, the fees will come down and start to normalize.”

Nichols expects that competition to emerge quickly, saying banks typically respect the decisions made by voters in the states where they operate. “Those voters had weighed the societal and cultural issues that come with legalization, and they made their decision. Instead, the industry is focused on the impact of the gap between state and federal laws on banks and their ability to serve those in their communities.”

The other major impact of a change in the law, Foster said, has to do with the concept of social equity. Massachusetts’ Cannabis Control Commission launched what it calls its Social Equity Program to expedite business applications and provide technical assistance, mentoring, and other resources for individuals from communities that have been disproportionately harmed by marijuana prohibition — typically poverty-stricken areas.

“Even though Massachusetts law has a social-equity component to it, giving expedited processing to social-equity candidates, the practical reality is, most of the investors are still wealthy, white gentlemen who have disposable income invested in cannabis,” he noted.

By allowing entrepreneurs to finance these operations instead of needing all the money up front, Foster explained, “you’ll have more players at the table, and be able to leverage smaller sums into larger companies. I haven’t heard a lot of talk about the social-equity piece, but to me, that’s a big piece, to help more people be able to engage in this business and apply for a loan if they qualify. That, to me, is a potential game changer.”

A companion bill in the U.S. Senate has yet to be voted on by the Senate Banking Committee, which held a hearing in late July on the issue. While that debate is coming, some lawmakers believe it’s only the start. For instance, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said he doesn’t believe the SAFE Banking Act goes far enough.

“This must be a first step toward the decriminalization of marijuana, which has led to the prosecution and incarceration of far too many of our fellow Americans for possession,” he argued.

For now, people like Gallagher are happy the banking issue may finally be resolved.

“We’ve been following this, so it’s not a surprise,” he said. “It’s something that makes a lot of sense from an operations and compliance perspective. We weren’t sure of the timing of it in terms of the evolution of the industry, but it’s something we expected to happen.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]