FutureCity 2026 Presents Development Strategy
SPRINGFIELD — An executive summary of the FutureCity 2026 economic-development strategy was presented to about 120 business and community leaders and stakeholders at CityStage last week. FutureCity is a joint initiative by DevelopSpringfield, the Springfield Regional Chamber of Commerce, and the city of Springfield’s Office of Planning and Economic Development. Its purpose is to build on the strategies identified in earlier studies such at the Urban Land Institute study of 2006 and the Rebuild Springfield Plan of 2012 — both of which identified tangible goals that continue to be the focus of public and private economic-development strategy in Springfield. Both plans recommended the importance of developing a long-term strategy for economic growth in the city that would ultimately benefit the entire region. “The goal of this project was to pinpoint and leverage the city’s attributes, including geographic location, infrastructure, workforce, and industries, and align these existing characteristics, assets, and conditions with pillars of realistic current and prospective market opportunities,” said Jeff Fialky, an attorney with Bacon Wilson and co-chair of the FutureCity initiative. “The objective was to develop an approach based upon realistic market opportunities that is obtainable rather than merely aspirational.” The FutureCity strategy was prepared by the nationally recognized real-estate and economic-development consulting firm Newmark Grubb Knight Frank, guided by a steering committee representing a broad spectrum of businesses and organizations over the course of a nine-month period. The consultants were charged with an ambitious scope of work which took place over nine months to include the following: assess existing conditions, analyze target industries, assess logistics and supply-chain capabilities, assess talent-development strategies, develop a list of recruitment opportunities for target industries, and identify strategic initiatives and an implementation plan with measurable deliverables. Newmark conducted over 100 interviews, which included city and state leaders, economic-development agencies, large employers, young professionals, elected officials, nonprofits, workforce-development organizations, real-estate and creative-economy experts, and more, in addition to deep dives into relevant data, peer-city comparisons, and several site visits to Springfield. Major themes emerging from the study include site and space readiness, centralization of small-business resources, development of a multi-generational workforce plan, development of a unified marketing and messaging plan, fostering collaboration and connectivity, strategically unifying economic-development efforts, collaboration, and a focus on Springfield’s unique strengths. “This was a very pragmatic exercise that shows there are many more pros than cons as we continue to market Springfield,” said Mayor Domenic Sarno. “As we have done with the Urban Land Institute and our Rebuild Springfield plans, we will follow through with this one, too. Now is our time. We will continue to capitalize on the synergy of our public and private collaborations and keep the momentum going as the ‘can-do city.’” Added Jay Minkarah, DevelopSpringfield president and CEO and co-chair of the FutureCity initiative, “the FutureCity economic-development strategy is designed to be a guide to action, not simply a plan to sit on a shelf. The plan includes over 170 specific recommendations along with metrics for measuring success, estimated costs, potential impact, and priorities, and identifies the parties responsible for implementation.” Funding was provided by the Irene E. and George A. Davis Foundation, the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts, the U.S. Economic Development Agency, the Springfield Regional Chamber, Smith and Wesson, and DevelopSpringfield. A link to the presentation can be found at www.developspringfield.com. Over the next few weeks, an executive summary and detailed report will be made available through DevelopSpringfield, the Springfield Regional Chamber, and the city of Springfield’s Office of Planning and Economic Development.
Springfield, Pittsfield Each Given $475,000 in Working Cities Challenge
BOSTON — The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston announced that Springfield, Pittsfield, Haverhill, Lowell, and Worcester will each receive $475,000 in the second round of the Working Cities Challenge, a competition for smaller cities in New England focused on building collaborative leadership, which is shown to be a critical element in economic growth for struggling post-industrial cities. The five communities put forward initiatives focused on neighborhood revitalization, workforce development, and improving access to economic opportunity. The cities will work on these initiatives over a three-year period, accompanied by technical assistance and a learning community for best-practice sharing. “I want to congratulate the winners of the Working Cities Challenge. Collaborative leadership is at the heart of this competition, and these five cities demonstrated significant capacity to reach across sectors and advance efforts on behalf of low-income residents in their communities,” said Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren. “I look forward to following the progress in the communities in the coming months and years.” Added Gov. Charlie Baker, “together with our partners in the private, philanthropic, and nonprofit sectors, we are proud to leverage greater resources to support and prepare communities for success. The Working Cities Challenge elevates local leadership, amplifying solutions from the community level to increase cross-sector collaboration and improve economic outcomes for low-income residents.” Last fall, 10 Massachusetts communities were each awarded $15,000 design grants through the Working Cities Challenge to strengthen their bids to the competition. The five winning cities were selected after a six-month design-grant period, which saw the cities refining proposals and adding partners from across their community. The Springfield Works Initiative will advance the city’s economy by enhancing and strengthening the connectivity between employers who need qualified workers and low- income Springfield residents who need meaningful employment. It aims to achieve this goal through an innovative collaboration between employers, educational institutions, service providers, community leaders, community-based organizations, government, and residents. The Springfield Works Initiative core team includes the Western Mass. Economic Development Council, the Springfield Office of Planning and Economic Development, the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County, MGM Springfield, Partners for Community Action, HAPHousing, Springfield Technical Community College, Western MA National Machine and Tooling Assoc., the Community Foundation of Western Mass., Tech Foundry, United Personnel Services, United Way of Pioneer Valley, and DevelopSpringfield. The Pittsfield Bridges: Transformative Movement (PBTM) initiative will support the journey from poverty to sustainability by collaboratively building community resources and removing barriers. The effort’s vision is for all people in Pittsfield to experience a just, thriving, and safe community. The PBTM’s goal is to improve individual, institutional, and social fairness and respect in the community and thus support individuals moving out of poverty. The PBTM’s core team includes Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity, the city of Pittsfield, the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, Berkshire Community College, BerkshireWorks Career Center, Berkshire United Way, Goodwill Industries, Berkshire Children and Families, Berkshire Health Systems, Berkshire Community Action Council, Downtown Pittsfield Inc., Pittsfield public schools, the local NAACP chapter, Pittsfield Community Connection, West Side Neighborhood Initiative, First United Methodist Church, Heart 2 Heart Ministry, Manos Unidas, Brien Center for Mental Health, Multi-Cultural Bridge, and Girls Inc. For more information on the Working Cities Challenge, visit www.bostonfed.org/workingcities.
Celia Grace Wins $50,000 at VVM Accelerator Awards
SPRINGFIELD — Twelve area startups won a total of $252,000 at the Valley Venture Mentors (VVM) Accelerator Awards on May 26, led by Celia Grace, whose founder, Marcelia Muehlke, calls her company a fair-trade, ethical wedding-dress seller that gives back and empowers women around the world. Muehlke, who won $50,000 at the ceremony at the MassMutual Center, launched the company several years ago after searching, fruitlessly, for a maker of fair-trade wedding dresses. Sensing both a need and an opportunity, she set about creating such a company. She traveled to Asia and set up a supply chain that could create high-quality garments that she and her clients could feel good about. She then began working with a group of women in a sewing group in Cambodia, contracted with a designer in New York, and got her business — and her dream — up and running. Today, Celia Grace sells dresses across the country and in Europe. The VVM award is just one in a long line of accolades, including a Grinspoon Entrepreneurial Success Spirit Award in 2011, a finish in the money at the UMass Pitch Competition in 2012, and a second-place finish at Valley Venture Mentors’ pitch contest during the Western Mass. Business Expo in 2012. About 500 people attended the May 26 ceremony. The other 11 winners of VVM Accelerator Awards, and their prize money, include:
• Homebody Holistics ($45,000), a maker of all-natural, hand-crafted, herbal cleaning solutions using no harsh chemicals or additives;
• Scout Curated Wears ($32,000), a designer, curator, and producer of thoughtful women’s accessories;
• DaVinci Arms ($21,000), a designer and manufacturer of firearms suppressors and accessories for mission-critical applications;
• Treaty ($21,000), a nanotechnology company whose flagship product is FogKicker, a biodegradable anti-fog solution made from nanocellulose;
• Prophit Insight ($19,000), a software company that helps healthcare providers identify and acquire unique sources of physician referrals;
• Livingua ($18,000), an app that connects travelers to locals who know the language and culture wherever and whenever they want;
• Name Net Worth ($15,000), a connective platform that leverages trusted relationships to measure and strengthen a user’s personal and professional networks;
• iRollie ($9,000), a niche-market phone-case manufacturer and online retailer featuring the rolling tray phone case;
• Need/Done Inc. ($9,000), instant help for kids at home from people their parents trust;
• Sumu ($7,000), which works with property managers and landlords to post fee-free apartments to help users find their next home; and
• AnyCafé ($6,000), a developer of hot beverage solutions for the future, including the Travel Brewer.
Legislation Filed to Cap Sick-time Accrual
BOSTON — Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito recently introduced “An Act to Reform Sick Time,” aimed at limiting sick-time accruals that have led to exorbitant payouts upon retirement from state government. The legislation would cap accrual of sick time for state employees in the Executive Department at no more than 1,000 hours, equivalent to six months of work. The bill grandfathers in approximately 5,800 current state employees who already have more than 1,000 hours accrued. Those employees would be capped at their current earned amount as of the date of enactment. Once the legislation is passed, the policy will take effect immediately. “Sick leave is a benefit designed to offer employees a way to deal with health and family issues, not a retirement bonus,” Baker said. “Bringing the Commonwealth’s sick-leave-accrual policy in line with other private- and public-sector employers just makes sense and is the fiscally responsible thing to do.” Added Polito, “this legislation ensures the use of sick time remains consistent with its intended purpose. Benefits for Executive Department employees will remain competitive while we implement an accrual policy that is fair to Massachusetts taxpayers.” Under current law, employees can accrue a maximum of 15 sick days per year, and those employees who retire are permitted to cash out 20% of unused sick time. In FY 2015, 378 employees had an accrual of more than 1,000 hours upon retirement. While this represents only about one-third the number of retiring employees, the cashouts for these employees accounted for nearly 80% of the total cashout cost. Based on the last three fiscal years, if fully implemented, a 1,000-hour cap on accruals would have saved an average of $3.5 million in cashouts per year. “Sick days serve an important purpose, but they must be used in an appropriate and accountable way for our compensation system to have the integrity and transparency taxpayers deserve,” said Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr. Added House Minority Leader Bradley Jones Jr., “recent media reports highlighting excessive sick-leave payouts in the public higher-education system clearly demonstrate the need to crack down on these types of abuses. The reforms proposed by the Baker-Polito administration will help to provide greater transparency and accountability to the state’s taxpayers.”
Habitat for Humanity Partners with Faith Organizations
SPRINGFIELD — Greater Springfield Habitat for Humanity (GSHFH) announced an upcoming Circle of Faith build on 479 Allen St. in Springfield. This project is a partnership between GSHFH and 11 local faith communities who have come together to raise the funds for a Habitat home, and who will also contribute volunteers, in-kind materials, and amenities for the project. As an intentionally interfaith project, this build incorporates Christian, Islamic, and Jewish communities. These 11 faith communities include First Church of Christ in Longmeadow, Sinai Temple in Springfield, St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in East Longmeadow, St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Longmeadow, the Islamic Society of Western Mass. in West Springfield, Christ the King Lutheran Church in Wilbraham, East Longmeadow United Methodist Church, Mercy Medical Center and the Sisters of Providence Health System in Springfield, St. Cecilia’s Parish in Wilbraham, and Foster Memorial Church in Springfield. Ellen Tougias, the point person for First Church of Christ in Longmeadow, says her church is “proud to be a part of the Circle of Faith Build for Habitat. We have committed to this project as part of our 30th-year celebration. It is one way that we have chosen to give back to our community in honor of this special year.” Mohammad Bajwa of the Islamic Society of Western Mass. referenced a piece of Scripture in relation to the project: “cooperate with one another, for doing good deeds and righteousness … surely God’s mercy is upon the good doers.” To kick off this partnership, the Circle of Faith communities and GSHFH hosted a “House Wrapped in Love” event at the Islamic Society of Western Mass. on June 1. The family-friendly event invited kids to paint what home, family, and love means to them on sheets of plywood that will then be used to build the walls of the new habitat house at 479 Allen St. Following this event will be several days of building on the job site, where the exterior walls of the home will start to take shape.
Unemployment Drops Across State in April
BOSTON — Local unemployment rates dropped in all labor market areas in the state during the month of April, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development reported. All 15 areas added jobs over the month, with the largest gains in the Springfield, Boston-Cambridge-Newton, Barnstable, Worcester, and Lowell-Billerica-Chelmsford areas. From April 2015 to April 2016, 14 areas added jobs, with the largest percentage gains in the Haverhill-Newburyport-Amesbury, Brockton-Bridgewater-Easton, Taunton-Middleborough-Norton, and Barnstable areas. In order to compare the statewide rate to local unemployment rates, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the statewide unadjusted unemployment rate for April is 3.9%, down 0.7% from the March rate. Last week, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development reported the statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped to 4.2% for the month of April. The unemployment rate is down 0.8% over the year. The statewide seasonally adjusted jobs estimate showed a 13,900-job gain in April and an over-the-year gain of 73,500 jobs. The unadjusted unemployment rates and job estimates for the labor market areas reflect seasonal fluctuations and therefore may show different levels and trends than the statewide seasonally adjusted estimates. The estimates for labor force, unemployment rates, and jobs for Massachusetts are based on different statistical methodology specified by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Leadership Pioneer Valley, Women’s Fund Partner on Alumni Discount
SPRINGFIELD — Effective immediately, Leadership Pioneer Valley (LPV) and the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts will begin offering alumni of their programs a mutual 20% discount — just one part of a new effort between these organizations to strengthen and coordinate learning opportunities for emerging leaders in the region. Both LPV’s core program and the Women’s Fund’s Leadership Institute for Political and Public Impact (LIPPI) program seek to empower up-and-coming leaders and, ultimately, strengthen the region as a whole. However, each program has unique content and perspectives that, if taken subsequently, provide a comprehensive leadership experience. Graduates of the LPV program can apply for LIPPI at womensfund.net; graduates of LIPPI can apply for LPV at leadershippv.org. “The Women’s Fund is thrilled to participate in this collaborative effort with Leadership Pioneer Valley,” said Elizabeth Barajas-Román, CEO of the Women’s Fund. “We think this is a natural partnership for our organizations, as we both invest in creating strong communities through leadership development. Together, our participants will become the civic and business leaders of tomorrow who will help the region thrive.” Added Lora Wondolowski, executive director of Leadership Pioneer Valley, “this partnership makes so much sense as we feel our curriculums are complementary. Together, we are building a cadre of leaders who are making a difference in their careers and communities.” LPV is a nonprofit that works to identify, develop, and connect diverse leaders to strengthen the region. LPV’s core program challenges and engages emerging leaders from all sectors of the community from throughout the region. The curriculum consists of both classroom and hands-on, experiential learning that builds leadership skills, enhances regional understanding, and creates broader networks. The Women’s Fund is a public foundation that connects donors with the lives of local women and girls through strategic grant making and leadership development. Its signature, non-partisan program, LIPPI, is designed to address the need to provide women with the tools, mentors, and confidence they need to become powerful and effective civic leaders and elected officials. Further information on each program can be found at leadershippv.org and womensfund.net.
Local Farmers Receive Awards Totaling $117,500
AGAWAM — Recognizing that farming is essential to the region, the Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation and Big Y awarded 47 local farmers from the Berkshires to the Pioneer Valley $2,500 each to make physical infrastructure improvements to their farms. Along with the support of sponsors Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation and MGM Springfield, farmers have already put to use the awards for farm-improvement projects. This represents a 42% increase in awards from the 2015 inaugural year. With the collaboration of local agriculture advocacy organizations Berkshire Grown and CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture), the applications selected for the Local Farmer Awards were announced in December. More than 120 farmers submitted applications describing their improvement projects. The award recipients are diverse: 32% have been farming for more than 20 years, and 23% for five years or fewer; and more than 40% of the farms have sales of more than $100,000, while another 30% recorded sales of less than $49,000. A winner from 2015 and 2016, Julia Coffey of Mycoterra Farm in Westhampton said, “we are thrilled to be a Local Farmer Award recipient. The projects that these awards have helped fund are making our farm more viable.” This year, Coffey is purchasing equipment required for outfitting a commercial kitchen that will allow the farm to begin manufacturing value-added food products with unsold fresh mushrooms. Jennifer Salinetti, owner of Woven Roots Farm in Tyringham, will install a permanent vegetable wash station which will directly impact the farm’s productivity. Gideon Porth of Atlas Farm in Deerfield will install a pump system for a new well to increase the supply of potable water for the farm’s packing house and greenhouses, which will double its current watering abilities. Harold Grinspoon, founder of the Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation, who launched the Local Farmer Awards in 2015, noted that “farmers don’t typically ask for help. They are genuinely appreciative of these awards and use the money in creative ways for projects to help their businesses.” Charlie D’Amour, president & COO of Big Y, added, “through our partnership with the Grinspoon Foundation, we are providing one more way to help local growers thrive in our community.” The goal of the Local Farmer Awards is to strengthen farmers’ ability to compete in the marketplace so the region benefits from the environmental, health, and economic advantages of local farming. A farmer appreciation event is held yearly for all applicants and awardees to honor and recognize farmers and promote the importance of local farming.