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While significant progress has been made in downtown Springfield in recent years, several issues and challenges remain, and many of them come together at the corner of State and Main streets and other properties near that intersection.

Indeed, this is the site of several mostly vacant and underutilized buildings in the shadow of MGM Springfield that were a big part of the city’s past, but have become an eyesore in the present and a huge question mark for the future.

Last week, that future became much brighter when the city named a preferred developer for a project to redevelop the so-called Clock Tower Building at State and Main, the Colonial Block just south on Main Street, and a smaller office building on Stockbridge Street.

McCaffery Interests Inc. plans to create more than 90 market-rate apartments in the three buildings, a $68 million project that, if it comes to fruition, could go a long way toward addressing some of those issues alluded to earlier.

One of them is housing.

At the local, state, and federal levels, this is the word you hear most often, and with good reason. There is a huge need for housing, and especially market-rate housing, in almost every community in Western Mass., especially Springfield. And while an additional 90 units won’t solve the problem, they will certainly be a huge step in the right direction.

Meanwhile, this project will bring new life to properties that stand in stark contrast to the gleaming casino across Main Street and to the progress seen at other addresses, especially Court Square, where another huge mixed-use project focused on housing is taking shape.

As mentioned earlier, these properties have played a big role in the city’s past, as home to both residents and businesses of all kinds, but they have been left behind, if you will, by neglect and huge changes in the office market.

Indeed, there is a now what amounts to a glut of office space in Springfield and questions about what will become of that space. McCaffery Interests has put some ambitious plans on the table to answer that question for at least three properties.

While helping to address the housing crisis and bring new life to these once-proud properties, this project will also bring additional momentum to the efforts to revitalize downtown Springfield and likely trigger efforts to redevelop many other vacant or underutilized properties in that area.

As we’ve written many times, there are several ingredients to the success of any downtown. The first is people. The second is businesses to support and serve those people. And one brings more of the other. More people means more restaurants, retail, and other service businesses, and these businesses, in turn, attract more people.

The ambitious project to redevelop these three properties should help generate this kind of chain reaction of progress.

It’s another big step forward for Springfield.


They Help Define ‘Hero’


In 2015, BusinessWest and its sister publication, the Healthcare News, established a new recognition program called Healthcare Heroes. It was created to bring much-needed recognition to individuals, groups, and organizations working within the large and vitally important healthcare sector in our region.

There was much discussion then, and it continues today, about just what makes one a ‘hero.’ Clearly, there is not one overriding definition of that word. If we had to try, we would say a hero is someone who inspires us with their actions and their words, compels others to excel, and makes a real difference in the lives of others.

And this year’s class of honorees certainly lives up that definition, as the stories that begin on Page H6 clearly show. Individually and collectively, they stand out for the way that they have dedicated their careers and their lives to helping others and setting an example that others should follow.

Let’s start with Jody O’Brien, a nurse with the Urology Group of Western New England. She’s 87 and still working two days a week and volunteering the other three. But her desire to work well past full retirement age only begins to explain why she is the hero in the Lifetime Achievement category. Through nearly 70 years in nursing, she has been a provider of care, hope, and especially inspiration.

Dr. Mark Kenton, chief of Emergency Medicine at Mercy Medical Center, has been making a difference on many levels — in his ER, on the national stage by bringing to light the staggering cost of EpiPens and the need to do something about it, and, perhaps most importantly, in the lives of individual patients, by utilizing perhaps his best talent: listening.

Cindy Senk, personal trainer and owner of Movement for All, enables individuals to discover the many benefits of yoga. But more importantly, she inspires them to improve their mobility — and their quality of life while doing so. Her philosophy is to not only educate her clients, but empower them.

Gabriel Mokwuah and Joel Brito are patient safety associates (PSAs) at Holyoke Medical Center, and each one has been credited with saving a life in recent months through their quick actions. And while doing so, these heroes have turned a spotlight on the PSA position at HMC, one that takes the traditional ‘sitter’ or ‘patient observer’ position to new dimensions.

Ashley LeBlanc, practice manager of Thoracic Surgery and nursing director of the Lung Screening Program at Mercy Medical Center, is a nurse and administrator with a strong track record for getting things done, especially a program that now screens 250 people for lung cancer each month, and then setting more ambitious goals.

Ellen Ingraham-Shaw, pediatric emergency nurse at Baystate Medical Center, has brought her passions for behavioral healthcare and compassion for children and their families to her work in a busy ER, enhancing care delivery and inspiring others to look at problems as opportunities, not roadblocks.

Julie Lefer Quick, nurse manager of the VA Central Western Massachusetts Healthcare System, was looking for a career change and found one at the VA, where she devotes herself to the needs of veterans and finding new and innovative ways to care for them.

Finally, Kristina Hallett, a clinical psychologist and associate professor of Graduate Psychology at Bay Path University, has not only helped myriad clients overcome trauma, anxiety, and countless other challenges, but she’s inspiring and helping to cultivate the next generation of behavioral-health professionals.

They’re heroes, every one. We hope you enjoy their stories.




It’s a significant investment: more than $20 million just for the first year. But it’s an investment that could bring a significant return.

That’s the hope, anyway, of Gov. Maura Healey and other state officials, who officially launched the initiative called MassReconnect with a press conference on Sept. 24 at MassBay Community College in Wellsley.

The program, quite simply, establishes free community college — covering not just tuition and fees, but books and supplies — for academically qualifying students age 25 and older.

The governor laid out the compelling rationale for the program at the event. “MassReconnect will be transformative for thousands of students, for our amazing community colleges, and for our economy,” she said. “It will bolster the role of community colleges as economic drivers in our state and help us better meet the needs of businesses to find qualified, well-trained workers. We can also make progress in breaking cycles of intergenerational poverty by helping residents complete their higher-education credentials so they can attain good jobs and build a career path.”

Let’s consider those points one at a time.

Western Mass., where four of the state’s 15 community colleges — Berkshire Community College, Greenfield Community College, Holyoke Community College, and Springfield Technical Community College — are located, needs them to be strong and vibrant to generate, and maintain, a strong pipeline of workers coming into myriad fields.

Meanwhile, at a time when businesses of all kinds are struggling to attract and retain talent, making it easier for non-traditional students — those who haven’t started in college, or who have started but haven’t completed, for one reason or another — to enter career pipelines could make a real difference in those companies’ growth, and even survival.

Meanwhile, Healey is right: there’s no doubt that education is a key factor in overcoming barriers to economic success; it isn’t hard to imagine that many students taking advantage of this program will represent the first generation of their family to attend college.

Holyoke Community College President George Timmons believes that “MassReconnect will enable our community colleges to do more of what we do best, which is serve students from all ages and all backgrounds and provide them with an exceptional education that leads to employment and, ultimately, a stronger economy and thriving region.”

MassReconnect is expected to support up to 8,000 community-college students in the first year, which could grow to closer to 10,000 students by FY 2025, depending on how many students take advantage of the new opportunity. There are approximately 700,000 Massachusetts residents who have some college credit but no degree. MassReconnect could help bring back these students to finish their degrees, with the additional funding and support they may have lacked the first time around.

Meanwhile, the Commonwealth’s 15 community colleges are a ticket to economic mobility for many residents. Nationally, employees who have earned their associate degree are paid 18% more than workers with only a high-school diploma, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. As for those jobs, in July, there were more than 26,000 job postings in Massachusetts that specifically required an associate degree.

The hope is that MassReconnect will harness the power of community colleges by allowing workers to earn the training and education necessary to jump-start their career growth and reinforce a pipeline of skilled professionals entering the workforce. That’s what this is about, and why Healey and other proponents and believe the state’s investment will be more than justified by its return.

“MassReconnect will be a game changer for residents 25 and over in the Pioneer Valley and throughout the Commonwealth,” Greenfield Community College President Michelle Schutt said.

Let’s hope it changes the equation for employers — and the state’s entire economy — as well.



By Philip Korman


The widespread flooding that hit our region in mid-July illuminates many truths: the vulnerability of many local farms, the hard reality of climate change, and the amazing response that is possible when the community, nonprofit and foundation partners, and government all step up and work together.

Current estimates are that more than 100 local farms were affected by the floods and that they lost a combined $15 million in crops — but long-term effects are still being counted. The flooding came on the heels of two freezes that damaged peach, blueberry, and apple crops, and was followed by continued heavy rains that deluged even non-flooded fields. As our climate changes, these extreme weather events will become more common.

The response — from the generosity of individual donors to the speed with which our state government has acted — has been stunning. The governor signed a supplemental budget that includes $20 million in disaster relief to cover crop losses. The Emergency Farm Fund at Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) is offering no-interest loans up to $25,000 to affected farms, and a recent disaster declaration will make low-interest federal loans available too.

What is missing is money to cover all the other losses that farms have suffered, including the destruction of property and equipment. The new Massachusetts Farm Resiliency Fund can help fill this gap, and it has set an ambitious fundraising goal of $5 million to quickly get grants to farms.

Farmers are resilient, and they are adapting to their new reality — but they will need continued support and a robust emergency-response system as the climate changes. You can support them, as always, by buying local, and you can help build up the Massachusetts Farm Resiliency Fund now so it’s there in the future. Learn more at buylocalfood.org/helpfloodedfarms.


Philip Korman is executive director of Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture.




It’s been five years since MGM Springfield opened its doors amid considerable pomp, circumstance, and rides in a Rolls-Royce down Main Street.

There are times when it seems like those five years have flown by. Most of the time, though, it seems like it’s been much more than five years; a global pandemic that reached this region only 18 months after the casino opened its doors and closed the facility for several agonizing weeks will do that.

In any case, five years is a good time to take stock and assess what the casino era has brought to Springfield and the surrounding region — and what it hasn’t — and to gauge what we can and should expect moving forward.

Starting just a few hours after it opened, when it was clear that opening-day crowds simply were not going to be what officials at MGM had hoped and expected they would be, the casino era has been about adjusting expectations. And they needed adjusting because they were unrealistic to begin with — when it comes to everything from visitation to gaming revenues (although they have been better of late); from employment numbers to the manner in which we thought MGM was going to provide a real boost to the tourism industry.

Why those expectations were so high is a matter of conjecture. In part, it’s because of what we were told. But another part is what we wanted to believe. In short, we thought MGM was going to be … here comes that phrase: a game changer.

Five years later, it’s clear that the nearly $1 billion development has not been a game changer and probably won’t be. But it has been, and will continue to be, we believe, a solid and important addition to the region’s business community and its tourism and hospitality sector.

MGM simply hasn’t brought a lot more people to Western Mass. — except to visit the casino for several hours, get back in the car, and then go back to where they came from. In that respect, there hasn’t been much of the trickle-down effect that most of us expected.

The notable exception, as we’ve seen this spring and summer, has been the music and comedy shows that have brought good crowds and become a real boon for restaurants and clubs in the downtown area.

Beyond this, the casino has not had much of an impact on downtown or the tourism industry and individual attractions such as the Basketball Hall of Fame. Nor has it had much, if any, impact on economic development in the area around the casino. Indeed, beyond a new CVS and a Wahlburger’s on Main Street, there hasn’t been any new development that can be tied to the casino.

That’s not to say the casino hasn’t contributed to progress in Springfield; it has pumped money into Union Station, for example, and been a key player in the long-awaited revitalization of the former Court Square Hotel as well.

Moving forward, we expect that MGM will continue to be what it has been: a key contributor to the local economy and an important part of the proverbial big picture. But not a real game changer.




By Jeff Liguori


Is Washington, D.C. broken?

The global rating agency, Fitch, certainly believes so. On Aug. 1, the company downgraded the credit of the United States one notch, from AAA to AA+. It is only the second time in history that our nation’s credit has been downgraded, the first in August 2011 by S&P. In its explanation, Fitch stated that the downgrade “reflects the expected fiscal deterioration over the next three years, a high and growing general government debt burden, and the erosion of governance relative to AA- and AAA-rated peers over the last two decades that has manifested in repeated debt-limit standoffs and last-minute resolutions.”

The move came as a surprise despite the agency hinting in May that the inability of Congress to effectively deal with the debt ceiling could lead to a downgrade. Once legislation was passed to raise the U.S. government debt limit, Fitch Ratings said the United States’ AAA credit rating would remain on negative watch. President Biden, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, and others in the administration have criticized the move as bizarre and arbitrary, careful to point out that the timing made no sense given the bipartisan effort to avoid a default in June.

The reaction by financial markets was somewhat mild considering the nearly unprecedented — and alarming — nature of the downgrade by Fitch. Bond prices went lower as yields continued higher, and the S&P 500 sold off about 1.3% — overall, a negative response. But 2023 has been a healthy year for investors thus far, with stocks up nearly 20% prior to the Fitch downgrade and a bond market about flat on the year, a stark contrast to 2022, when both markets were down double digits, an historical anomaly. So, what is the impact of a AA+ versus AAA rating for our government’s debt?

When S&P downgraded the U.S. government debt rating in 2011, global stock markets plunged and bonds rallied, driving interest rates lower. Typically, a downgrade in credit equates to higher — not lower — interest rates. But the uncertainty surrounding that downgrade pushed investors into safe-haven assets, namely U.S. treasuries, which illustrates that the move by S&P had no real implications for buyers of U.S. debt. It was a slap on the wrist, a consequence of massive accommodative fiscal measures intended to shore up a weak economy as the nation emerged from the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression.

The rating agency was signaling that the U.S. had to get its fiscal house in order and Congress needed to come together to address the burgeoning debt. Like today, S&P had signaled to the Obama administration and U.S. Treasury that there was a risk of a downgrade about a month prior to the move. Stock markets lost roughly 10% of their value in the 30 days preceding the downgrade.

Fitch’s recent actions are consistent with its close competitor, S&P, in 2011. The U.S. debt, as a percent of gross domestic product (GDP), rose from 65% at the end of 2007 to 92% prior to the downgrade then. Before COVID locked down the economy, debt to GDP was just above 100%, ballooning to 135% by the middle of 2020. Currently, our debt is running at nearly 120% of GDP. And as interest rates rise, the situation worsens. (Growth in GDP can ameliorate this ratio, but the economy is not keeping pace with inflation presently.)

Similarities from the first downgrade to today are limited. Yes, the nation was emerging from crisis in 2011, the economy was flooded with stimulus spending, and Washington, D.C. was also unable to address our long-term fiscal issues. But the similarities end there.

Economically, global bond yields were falling prior to the downgrade in 2011, and central banks were still easing, dealing with the aftermath of the Great Recession. The unemployment rate was around 9%, high from a historical standpoint, but trending lower as the number of job openings were on the upswing. Debt to GDP was still under 100%, with most economists optimistic that further economic growth would remedy that dynamic. U.S. household debt had decreased about 8% and was also trending lower. The interest rate on a 30-year mortgage was about 4.5% and, again, trending lower.

Today, central bankers continue to fight persistent inflation, aggressively raising interest rates and tightening monetary conditions. The job picture remains sanguine, with the unemployment rate at 3.5%. Job openings, however, are now on the decline after sharply increasing from COVID lows. Household debt is on the rise, with total credit-card debt projected to hit $1 trillion for the first time ever. And housing affordability is at its worst level since the late 1980, according to the National Assoc. of Realtors, as the rate on a 30-year mortgage bumps up against 7%, an increase of 114% since the beginning of 2022.

There may be no economic adjustment to the rating downgrade by financial markets. Stocks have been incredibly resilient this year. The message by the Fitch agency is more about the United States having the willingness to pass legislation to deal with our debt burden, and less about the ability to pay our borrowers.

It is not an issue solely for the U.S.; after the Federal Reserve and U.S. government accounts, the largest holders of our debt are Japan, China, and the UK (in that order). The snowball effect of a default would be catastrophic. Almost every analyst and economist voicing an opinion on the downgrade, however, knows that an actual default is such a remote possibility for the largest economy in the world that it isn’t worth mentioning. And there’s no new information that brought on the downgrade.

It is a warning, nonetheless, and emblematic of our long-term political issues, which continue to hamper constructive fiscal progress.


Jeff Liguori is the co-founder and chief Investment officer of Napatree Capital, an investment boutique with offices in Longmeadow as well as Providence and Westerly, R.I.; (401) 437-4730.




Western Mass. is well-known for quality higher education. Which means it should have a leg up in the competition for professional talent.

But that’s not necessarily the case, and talent drain is a real thing, as graduates — especially those who didn’t grow up here and have no roots in the region beyond their college years — procure their degrees and make their way to Boston, New York, or myriad points south and west.

Which is why it’s encouraging to hear about the types of initiatives featured in two of this issue’s articles. On page 53, we learn about an MBA program at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts that takes place partly at the Berkshire Innovation Center, just down Route 7 in Pittsfield. Through that partnership, students are exposed to experts, resources, and growing, innovative companies with which they can collaborate and make connections — potentially long-term connections.

Meanwhile, the story on page 58 details an initiative through which UMass students in the iCons certificate program are matched with area companies through internships that promote mutual growth and, again, connections that may develop roots.

“We are dedicated to supporting next-generation talent … and fostering professional development in our region,” a leader of one of those companies said, and that’s really the best way to think about these partnerships. For Massachusetts to thrive in the coming decades, it needs to attract — and retain — the best next-generation talent, and part of the strategy must include robust professional-development efforts that introduce young people to successful, inspiring companies early.

We’ve mentioned before some of the issues causing the highest outmigration numbers in Massachusetts in decades, from a housing crisis to transportation challenges to high taxes and cost of living. The Bay State needs to address those, of course, but it also needs to give people positive reasons to stay. An innovative economic ecosystem is one of those reasons, and the more young people are exposed to that, on a personal, experiential level, the more they will want to stay here.

And the better the future will look.



By Claire Morenon, Margaret Christie, and Phil Korman


On July 10, heavy rains led to widespread flooding alongside small rivers and creeks throughout our region. The next day, the Connecticut River overflowed its banks to levels not seen since Hurricane Irene in 2011.

This flooding event was fast in some ways — the fields at Natural Roots Farm in Conway, along the South River, filled with water as farmers and their draft horses worked to save their deluged chickens and equipment. And it was slow in others, as farmers watched and waited more than 24 hours to see how high the Connecticut River would rise.

Heavy rain has continued to fall, making some fields that didn’t flood too wet to access for farmwork and increasing the likelihood of plant diseases that thrive in wet conditions.

Flooding is catastrophic for farms in many ways, and the timing of this flood is especially damaging. Floodwaters sweep away plants, livestock, equipment, and topsoil. Plants that survive generally can’t be harvested and eaten because floodwater is often contaminated with road runoff, sewage overflow, and other contaminants. Any edible part of a plant that contacts flood water or flooded soil can’t be sold or donated.

A flood in early July has huge financial implications for the farms that were flooded: they have devoted immense time and money to growing and maintaining crops which are now unsalable, and they may not be able to plant and harvest new crops before the growing season is over.

Flooding impacted farms of all kinds: small startups, some of them operated by immigrant and refugee farmers; long-standing, diverse vegetable operations that sell directly to consumers through farm stands and CSAs; and large wholesale operations that supply supermarkets and corner stores across the state. Farms of all sizes donate produce, too, so food pantries and food banks are also impacted.

The response to this disaster has been swift. Farmers have donated produce and young plants to flooded farms. Community members have contributed generously, and volunteers have turned out to help clean up mud and debris. State and federal elected leaders came to see the damage and hear directly from farmers. Local legislators, the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources, UMass Cooperative Extension, and nonprofits that focus on food and farms worked quickly and cooperatively to tally losses, address immediate needs, and plan for a more comprehensive response to this and future climate-related disasters.

Gov. Maura Healey also announced the launch of the Massachusetts Farm Resiliency Fund (see story on page 64), a public/private initiative that offers a place to donate, a source of grants for impacted farms statewide, and the beginnings of a safety net for future climate-change events. In addition, advocates are hopeful that state legislators will include a farm disaster fund in their supplemental budget.

Farmers are resilient and adaptable. Farming has always been a weather-dependent, narrow-margin occupation. But the weather extremes of our changing climate are bigger and more damaging than the everyday unpredictability of New England weather.

This flood is the third weather event this year to bring widespread losses to local farms: peach buds were killed in February in a weekend cold snap during an otherwise warm winter, and a late frost in May greatly reduced blueberry and apple harvests. These events match climate-change predictions for our region, which include wild temperature fluctuations, increased precipitation, and higher summer temperatures.

Local farmers have already begun to adjust their growing practices to increase resilience in the face of these changes. But to survive, they need more help. This must include more funding for research into climate-adapted farming practices, more financial support for farmers in making those changes, and a more robust emergency-response system.

Climate change will make extreme weather events more frequent. Recent flooding and freezes show the devastation these events can cause — and the response that’s possible. Farms saw an outpouring of community support, and Massachusetts has begun to build the capacity for the larger response that will get us through this disaster and the ones to come.

Right now, funds are desperately needed. Go to buylocalfood.org to donate to the new Massachusetts Farm Resiliency Fund, individual farm fundraisers, and CISA’s Emergency Farm Fund, which provides no-interest farm loans. And don’t forget that using your grocery dollars to buy local food offers a two-part benefit: investing in local farms while enjoying summer’s bounty.


Claire Morenon is communications manager, Margaret Christie special projects manager, and Philip Korman executive director of CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture).





The Eastfield Mall has officially passed into history.

And this passing certainly prompts some reflection — on what has been and what is to come at the sprawling site on Wilbraham Road.

As for what has been … well, the mall was something of a marvel when it opened back in 1968. This region hadn’t seen anything quite like it. The indoor mall was new and totally captivating.

Someone could park the car once and go shopping, get a meal at one of several restaurants (including the famous Flaming Pit), get a haircut, watch a movie, take a walk, do some people watching … all of that and more.

Before Eastfield, people went downtown to shop, be it in Springfield, Holyoke, Westfield, Chicopee, Amherst, or Northampton, visiting a host of different stores and buildings as they did so. This was a completely different kind of experience, and the mall drew people from all across the region.

Eastfield ceased being a wonder in relatively short order. Other malls, which collectively doomed the region’s downtowns, save for Northampton’s (and even it struggled until the early ’80s) were built in downtown Springfield (Tower Square, then known as Baystate West, was a center for retail), Chicopee, Hadley, and Holyoke. It was the Holyoke Mall, which was much bigger and featured many more stores, that pushed Eastfield to second-tier status.

Still, Eastfield persevered on the strength of its anchors and an eclectic mix of national and local stores and remained a destination.

Until … the retail world started to change dramatically, especially with the advent of online shopping. One by one, the anchors, including Sears and JCPenney, disappeared from Eastfield — and many other sites as well. Then, the theaters closed, and some of the smaller shops did as well. While other malls found new uses for their retail spaces — everything from trampoline parks to bowling alleys — Eastfield struggled to do so.

Eventually, its massive, all-but-empty parking lot became a symbol of a changing retail landscape.

For years, there has been talk about what will come next at the site — a 21st-century facility that will be mixed-use, blending a residential component with retail, hospitality, and support businesses. Work on demolition will begin soon, and construction on what is expected to be a $65 million to $85 million facility will commence soon after.

Meanwhile, most of the 40 or so businesses and nonprofits that were in the mall have found new homes. Many have relocated to other sites in Springfield, but others have put down roots in surrounding communities, including Wilbraham, Ludlow, and Holyoke.

This is a developing story, and an intriguing chapter in the Eastfield story, one in which the businesses that gave the mall its character and charm will live on.

As for the mall itself, it will live on in memories. Like old ballparks, malls (most of them anyway) can’t become something else. They have to be destroyed because their useful life is over.

This was a sad but predictable, and inevitable, end for what had been, and still is in some ways, a landmark.

Rest in peace, Eastfield Mall.





While it might be considered dangerous to get into a discussion concerning the quality and relative merits of a particular piece of art, when it comes to the new mural taking shape at the former Skyplex building off Stearns Square in downtown Springfield, we’ll make an exception.

This is an intriguing and masterful work (and it’s not even done yet) that celebrates the city, its history, its personalities, its landmarks … all of that.

But it does more than that. It activates a space, and it gets people talking. Overall, it takes a nondescript wall on an underutilized building and turns it into a conversation piece and part of a larger effort to bring more vibrancy to that part, and other parts, of Springfield.

It’s a small piece, but an important piece nonetheless.

If there’s anything to complain about with the mural, it’s that there’s too much going on. The entire wall is covered, and with many, if not most, of the ‘characters,’ one needs to ask, ‘who’s that?’ and ‘why is that person on this wall?’

That’s true of Abraham Lincoln and Muhammed Ali (you know who they are), but also Ted Shawn, the dancer and choreographer who created Jacob’s Pillow in Becket (and lived in Springfield for a time), and also June Foray, a Springfield native who became the voice of Rocky the Flying Squirrel, among other notable characters. You might not know who they are.

That’s the beauty of this mural. People get to take in something creative and learn about a city and its history at the same time.

It takes quite some time to take in the entirety of this mural, and another one like it just around the corner on Worthington Street, one that recreates advertising images put on the wall of a former camera store more than 50 years ago. But it’s worth taking the time, because these works tell a story, and they really do link the past, present, and future.

And at the same time, they bring new life to buildings, and an area, that needed a spark.

It is said that art can be captivating, powerful, and, yes, inspirational. This mural is a good example of how it can be all that and more.




Late last month, Gov. Maura Healey announced that that the state will commit an initial $106 million toward the replacement of the Roderick Ireland Courthouse in Springfield, known to many as the ‘sick courthouse,’ and for obvious reasons.

The funding, represented in the next four years of capital-improvement plans, embodies the state’s first real commitment to replacing the tired, unhealthy structure, and is the next big step in a project that might ultimately cost a half-billion dollars.

The announcement came a few weeks after the state’s Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance (DCAMM) issued a report identifying 11 properties in Springfield, one in West Springfield, and one in East Longmeadow, as potential sites for a new courthouse.

One of those sites is 50 State St., the location of the 47-year-old courthouse, where many illnesses, including Lou Gehrig’s disease, have stricken an inordinate number of courthouse employees.

It’s unclear whether the inclusion of 50 State St. on the list means the state is leaning toward rehabilitating the current structure — a massive and expensive undertaking, to be sure — or simply tearing it down and building a new courthouse on that site.

Either way, we hope the state will ultimately look in a different direction for a solution, but not too far.

Indeed, the courthouse project, while defined by, and instigated by, tragedy in the form of the number of people who have become sick while working in it, represents a huge opportunity for the city of Springfield.

Actually, two of them.

The first would be building a new courthouse and thereby revitalizing some vacant or underutilized property, preferably in the city’s downtown (more on why in a minute), while the second would be to redevelop the site of the current courthouse, a property across State Street from MGM Springfield in the heart of downtown.

The huge site, just a few hundred feet from I-91, holds enormous promise, with potential uses ranging from housing, which the city still desperately needs, to office to retail and hospitality. The development community would have no trouble finding some creative and impactful uses for the property.

As for a new courthouse, while the proposed sites in West Springfield (Riverdale Street) and East Longmeadow (Shaker Road) and some of those in Springfield (Allen and Cooley streets and Hendee Street, for example) hold promise, this courthouse really needs to be in downtown Springfield, and for several reasons.

For starters, downtown would directly benefit from the still-considerable foot traffic to the courthouse every day, far more than those other locations. Also, where courthouses go, lawyers follow — it’s a simple matter of logistics; lawyers and law firms need to be close (as in walking distance, preferably) to the place where they still conduct large amounts of business.

Each of the large office buildings in downtown Springfield (and many of the smaller ones) are home to law firms and individual lawyers. If the courthouse were to move to West Springfield or East Longmeadow or even Allen and Cooley streets, some of these lawyers would go with it. We say some, because the need to be in close proximity to the courthouse is not as crucial as it once was.

But moving the courthouse more than a few blocks from downtown would be a blow to the central business district at a time when it has already been negatively impacted by the pandemic and the trend toward remote work and hybrid schedules.

A new courthouse is still several years away, and much has to happen before it becomes reality, including further commitments from the state. As the process unfolds, we hope the state realizes not only the need to replace the ‘sick courthouse,’ but the need for Springfield to make the very most of its opportunity — or opportunities.




By Iván Espinoza-Madrigal


On June 29, while raising the bar on universities’ ability to consider race in admissions, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected calls to overrule its affirmative-action precedents. Most importantly, the court left the door open for admissions offices to consider how race may have shaped an applicant’s life, affirming that “nothing in this opinion should be construed as prohibiting universities from considering an applicant’s discussion of how race affected his or her life, be it through discrimination, inspiration, or otherwise.” 

In finding that Harvard’s and UNC’s admissions processes lacked “sufficiently focused and measurable objectives warranting the use of race,” the court’s ruling will undoubtedly require schools to reconfigure their policies. But the decision cannot be construed as an outright bar on race-conscious admissions. Key elements of the holistic admissions process for higher-education institutions remain in place. 

Throughout this challenge to Harvard’s policies, Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR) has represented Harvard alumni and students of color as friends of the court (amici), emphasizing how Harvard’s holistic admissions process has led to a diverse campus that benefits all students. 

LCR is unequivocally committed to eliminating systemic barriers that harm communities of color. Far too many colleges and universities offer preferential treatment in the admissions process to the family members of alumni (so-called ‘legacies’) and donors, which typically results in an unearned and unfair advantage for white applicants and takes away admissions slots that could otherwise go to highly qualified and deserving students of color. 

As institutions assess how the college admissions process will work moving forward, it is important to continue to invest in pipeline projects designed to dramatically expand access to higher education for students of color.

The Supreme Court’s ruling leaves open the door for colleges to use race-neutral alternatives to achieve diversity on campus, including recruiting based on income and socioeconomic background, utilizing criteria such as home and school zip codes, investing heavily in efforts to admit first-generation college students and to make them feel at home on campus, and guaranteeing admission to graduates with the best grade-point averages from each high school within the state where the college or university is located, as schools such as the University of Texas have already successfully implemented.

These programs provide a concrete and lawful path forward.


Iván Espinoza-Madrigal is executive director of Boston-based Lawyers for Civil Rights.




Earlier this month, Trulieve Cannabis Corp. announced it will be exiting the Massachusetts market by the end of the year, a move that includes the closure of its massive growing and processing facility in Holyoke.

The company, which is also scaling back in California and exiting the Nevada wholesale market, cited changing conditions and slumping business for the moves, which are the latest to signal that the cannabis sector in the Bay State is losing some of its luster amid growing competition from other states.

Indeed, some dispensaries have closed within the 413, and other companies have announced layoffs. Meanwhile, several proposed cannabis facilities, including one planned for the former Chez Josef banquet house in Agawam, have been scrapped due to an inability to secure financing amid dramatically changing market conditions.

Cannabis got off to a fast and quite solid start in this region, with facilities opening in most area cities and towns, absorbing vacant or underutilized real estate — ranging from former mill buildings to the Springfield Newspapers headquarters facility in downtown Springfield — in the process.

This has been especially true in Holyoke, a city that has aggressively courted the industry, with many former mills, some of which had been vacant for years, being retrofitted for growing operations and dispensaries. Trulieve’s Holyoke facility, formerly home to Conklin Office Furniture, will soon be on the market, and given the current downward trends in the sector, there are certainly question marks about whether another large-scale operation will be taking over that space.

It’s been a time of change and turbulence for the region’s cannabis sector as prices continue to fall and competition in Massachusetts and surrounding states continues to mount. This business was never as easy as it looked, given the hurdles that need to be cleared to simply open the doors and the high taxes that operations must pay. But now, it’s much more difficult to be profitable.

It is our hope that those that can survive this whitewater can stay in the game for the long term, because cannabis has become an important part of the region’s economy, one that has provided a real boost to communities like Holyoke, Easthampton, Northampton, and others.

The ‘green rush’ is losing some of its steam, but it is still a potent force within this market.



By Joseph Kietner and Randal Brown


Through stormwater-management improvements to large parking areas, business owners can improve drainage, enhance the appeal and look of properties, and help to reduce contaminated storm flows to local rivers, streams, and lakes in the Pioneer Valley.

We, along with our colleagues in the Connecticut River Stormwater Committee, a regional coalition of 19 municipalities and UMass Amherst that is staffed by the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, recommend that business and commercial property owners with large parking areas consider making improvements and retrofits to improve how storm flows are collected and treated.

There are two primary options for consideration when thinking about parking-lot stormwater improvements:

1. Retrofit or replace existing catch basins with deep sump hooded catch basins. In most parking lots, a curb and gutter system directs rainfall into catch basins, which are essentially boxes below ground that connect to the storm sewer system. Deep sump hooded catch basins are designed to capture sand and other sediment, litter, and floatables, including oil and grease. The four- to six-foot-deep sump provides an area for sediments to settle.

By capturing sediment and other pollutants, deep sump hooded catch basins can improve stormwater quality compared to older catch basins that do not have sumps or hoods. A study conducted in New York City demonstrated that deep sump hooded catch basins increased the capture of floatables (trash and oil and grease) by 70% to 80% over regular catch basins without hoods, and greatly extended the cleaning interval without a decrease in performance.

2. Retrofit the parking lot with vegetated areas where soil and plants can soak up rainfall. Vegetated areas in parking lots can be designed to receive and soak up flows. Any overflow from these areas can then be directed to existing parking-lot catch basins. Not only do such retrofits improve water quality, but trees and other plants along with soils can help reduce the superheating effects of large paved areas during summer months. Such facilities also make properties more visually attractive.

If your property is located in a municipality with a stormwater enterprise fund or stormwater utility fee, improvements may also be eligible for stormwater fee credits. Check with your local public works department.

To make stormwater improvements easier, the Connecticut River Stormwater Committee, along with the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission and Waterstone Engineering, have developed a library of green infrastructure stormwater-control design templates that can be sized to specific drainage areas. This library of design templates serves as an important tool. In addition to maintenance guidance, it includes key information on sizing, estimated cost, and pollutant loading reduction for each type of facility. See www.thinkblueconnecticutriver.org for more information.


Joseph Kietner is chair of the Connecticut River Stormwater Committee and Stormwater coordinator for the city of Westfield, and Randal Brown is vice chair of the Connecticut River Stormwater Committee and Public Works director for the town of Southwick.




In retrospect, it makes perfect sense — to the point that it should have happened 33 years ago, or more.

We’re talking about Hooplandia, the 3-on-3 basketball tournament taking place at the Big E fairgrounds and the Basketball Hall of Fame on June 23-25.

The 33 years is a reference to Hoopfest, a 3-on-3 tournament in Spokane, Wash. that has grown over those three-plus decades to encompass about 7,000 teams per year, a staggering figure. It’s a success story worth praise, even though some local leaders don’t love that Spokane refers to itself as Hooptown USA.

Because Springfield is the real Hooptown, right?

No one here is truly mad at Spokane for that, though. Instead, the organizers of Hooplandia are grateful that Hoopfest inspired the 413’s very own tournament, one they feel will only grow each year, maybe to the same level as Washington’s event (see story on page 40).

“Some of our earliest registrations were from far away,” said Gene Cassidy, president and CEO of the Eastern States Exposition. “We’ve got a couple from New Jersey and Maryland … and we’ve got a lot of Connecticut players; Connecticut obviously is a big basketball state. So it’s starting with a pretty broad footprint already, and I expect that to grow as well.”

It’s an example of taking an obvious regional asset — that being the birthplace of basketball and home of its Hall of Fame — and investing in that asset in a new way, while take advantage of another existing asset, the space afforded by the Big E fairgrounds.

If all goes as planned, that investment will bring immediate economic dividends (think hotels, restaurants, and other tourist attractions), and may multiply those dividends in future years, as the tournament expands its reach not only through the Northeast, but across the entire U.S., drawing even more people to Western Mass., who might just want to explore more of what the region has to offer during their multi-day stay.

It wasn’t too many years ago that the Springfield Museums leveraged the city’s fame as the birthplace of Ted Geisel into the Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum and accompanying sculpture garden, which have been key to attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors to the Museums from all 50 states and more than 30 countries.

In fact, so much tourism in Western Mass. springs from what already existed, whether it’s the homes of Emily Dickinson in Amherst and Edith Wharton in Lenox being turned into popular museums, or the historical structures in Deerfield and Sturbridge giving rise to living-history experiences, or the region’s abundant natural resources offering robust opportunities for skiing, whitewater rafting and paddling, rail-trail bicycling, ziplining, and so much more.

“Tourism in general has come back in varying ways,” said John Doleva, president and CEO of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. “What we’re finding is that people want to get out. They want to do stuff.”

Well, Western Mass. is home to endless cultural, historical, and recreational ‘stuff.’ That’s one of its greatest assets. What Hooplandia proves — and hopefully keeps proving with exponential growth in the future — is that there’s always room for another great idea.



By Dawn Forbes DiStefano

The Bermuda Triangle. Yawning. Dark matter. Pyramid alignment. These are just a few of the many unexplained mysteries that have perplexed experts for centuries.

Here in Western Mass., early-education and care providers have our very own unsolved mystery: how is it that our region, which is among the poorest in the Commonwealth, receives a fraction of what our peers in other parts of the state receive to provide programs and services to our highest-need populations, even when the costs are relatively the same?

According to the CDC Social Vulnerability Index (SVI), Hampden County has the highest SVI rate in the entire Commonwealth. Oddly enough, we have sustained the lowest subsidy rate for decades.

For example, providers who care for income-eligible toddlers in Boston are reimbursed at a rate of $85.90 per day. That same level of care in Springfield receives a reimbursement of $61.16.

At the root of the mystery is the system upon which the rates are set. For years, we have relied on a flawed market-rate study that does not account for regional nuances that impact the actual cost of care in our region, causing huge disparities from one region to another.

But that is not where the mystery lies. The real enigma is, how have we allowed this to go on for so long, even after realizing the indisputable flaws in our system? This is the question we have been asking for years.

Let me say, I truly believe we are heading in the direction of adjusting our reimbursement system in a way that will better reflect the needs of all children and families. Our current administration is aware and ready to implement change. Last fall, we witnessed for the first time the collection and dissemination of regional data on the true cost of providing care. For some regions, this exposed a staggering difference between today’s rate and a more accurate account of expenses.

However, there remains a great deal of work to do, even though our most recent rate increases reflected an approximate 10% increase. While I’m grateful for the additional funding, it is not enough, and it’s far from equitable. Some regions would stand to earn a rate that exceeds the current estimated cost of providing care and early learning, while Square One and providers throughout Western Mass. fall short, yet again.

Our most recent rate changes maintain the same inequitable rate structure, with our region still receiving the lowest rate in the Commonwealth and only 88% of true cost. Other regions would exceed the estimated cost of care by more than 130%. How can we continue to ignore the cries for help in the most vulnerable area of our state?

The solution is not complicated. We need a rate increase that allows for higher investment in our state’s most vulnerable areas. Standard percentage increases without sufficient additional investment in your most vulnerable regions is the definition of inequitable. The regions with children with the highest needs for food, early learning, and high-quality mental health supports should receive a rate that, at minimum, meets the estimated cost of care.

Mystery solved.


Dawn Forbes DiStefano is president and CEO of Square One.




Girls on the Run isn’t about running.

Sure, running is a big part of this program for girls in grades 3-8; participants learn to enjoy running and build endurance so they can keep at it longer — and become healthier in the process.

But the heart of this organization (see story on page 30) isn’t physical endurance; it’s emotional resilience. It’s about social-emotional health, developing confidence, and finding joy.

And those can be challenges for young people today.

“We’ve definitely tapped into a need,” Alison Berman, council director of Girls on the Run Western Massachusetts, told us. “There’s a huge child mental-health crisis right now. And whatever’s going on with them, Girls on the Run is giving them this extra layer of skills to support them.”

Interestingly, we spoke with Berman and her team members during Mental Health Awareness Month, just a few days after we visited Springfield Central Library for another program aimed at young people and their emotional wellness.

Specifically, MiraVista Behavioral Health Center partnered with the Holyoke Public Library and Springfield’s city libraries to encourage awareness and conversations on the topic of mental wellness. Displays of books and other materials have been prominently set up to promote understanding around mental health and to encourage such collaborations for libraries to become better resources on the topic — for visitors of all ages, including (and, perhaps, especially) youth.

María Pagán, Holyoke Public Library director, said she hopes that, by making educational materials about mental health and substance use more accessible, the effort will eventually encourage people to learn about these conditions, recognize them, and seek any needed assistance.

Jean Canosa Albano, assistant director for Public Services at Springfield Central Library, said librarians don’t judge what people read. “The same thing goes for if you were to come into a library and ask a question that concerns mental health or emotional wellness. We don’t judge that. We’re here to help you no matter what.”

The displays, she said, might help visitors find something they need, and realize that “this is a safe place to ask questions, including about your emotional wellness.”

Meanwhile, just a few months ago, the Springfield Youth Mental Health Coalition, convened by the Public Health Institute of Western Massachusetts, launched “I Am More Than My Mood,” a new awareness campaign that aims to normalize healthy conversations about mental health and encourage youth and their caregivers in Greater Springfield to discuss stress, anxiety, and depression as common challenges that everyone goes through.

These are just a few examples, but the message is clear: mental-health issues are common — and were certainly exacerbated during the pandemic, especially for young people — and the time is always right to talk about them (as in the case of the library partnership and the coalition campaign) and give kids healthy alternatives to achieve personal wellness (as Girls on the Run and other youth-serving nonprofits do).

Pagán, for her part, agrees with Canosa. “No judgment. You might read something because you want to, you’re curious, or because you know somebody that might benefit, and you could help if you learn about it. Information is power.”

So is talking about mental health. So let’s keep talking.



By Rick Sullivan


The Western Massachusetts Anchor Collaborative (WMAC), founded by the Western Massachusetts Economic Development Council (EDC) in partnership with Baystate Health, provides comprehensive, systemic, and locally led solutions to regional women- and minority- owned businesses and workforce challenges. The WMAC was initiated to propel hiring and career pathways for BIPOC and marginalized populations.

The WMAC has successfully established multi-year targets to increase local procurement opportunities for women- and minority-owned businesses, and are developing an ‘Anchor-ready accelerator’ that will cultivate a resilient local supplier pipeline for targeted goods and services. The accelerator will provide wrap-around services and resources to prepare and scale vendors for contracts with Anchor institutions.

WMAC institutions seek to address inequities that have resulted from historic patterns of disinvestment and bias related to neighborhood, race, ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic status in Western Mass. These institutions have more than 18,000 employees, with nearly 3,000 residing in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods in Western Mass.

Collectively, Anchor Collaborative institutions currently spend more than $2 billion in goods and services and have committed to annually increasing the percentage of spending toward local and diverse businesses. Bridging the gap between Anchor institutions and the local community is a key ingredient to successful and positive economic impact.

The Anchor Collaborative aims to foster equitable communities and strong local economies, pilot career-pathway programs, align support for entry-level and low-wage employees from disadvantaged neighborhoods, cultivate jobs and promote healthier employees and residents, and leverage each institution’s purchasing and hiring power

The WMAC chooses smaller businesses that have historically not had the opportunity to enter supply chains, or get capitalized, underwritten, etc. It coordinates workforce-development strategies with Springfield WORKS, an EDC community initiative, to create training opportunities for career pathways to living-wage jobs. WMAC institutions provide a mentorship role to smaller businesses to allow them to scale up and help them grow. Big Y has been an influential leader in this initiative, supporting local greenhouses and farmers. It even offers a reusable food-wrap product, Z-Wrap, on its shelves.

Data will be regularly collected and analyzed to set effective targets and monitor progress. The goal is to design an internal process that allows for accessible professional development and growth, leading to promotions and careers within each institution. We aim to enhance our impact and drive regional economic equity and financial vitality for our communities.


Rick Sullivan is president and CEO of the Western Massachusetts Economic Development Council;




Last week’s announcement of a new, two-year labor agreement between Springfield Symphony Orchestra and Local 171 of the American Federation of Musicians is, undoubtedly, good news. And the press conference at which it was announced, attended by SSO board members, union musicians, Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, and others, was all warmth — and a palpable sense of relief.

That’s because it ended an awkward period, starting during the pandemic and extending well beyond, in which an expired contract turned into a divorce of sorts, with the union musicians forming a separate organization, Musicians of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra (MOSSO), and scheduling smaller-scale concerts throughout the region.

As part of the agreement, MOSSO will live on as the renamed Springfield Chamber Players, ensuring that the SSO continues to produce full symphony concerts, while transitioning chamber concerts to the new entity.

So, maybe divorce is the wrong word. Maybe separation is more appropriate, because no one involved — not the SSO’s leadership, board, or the musicians themselves — thought a permanent dissolution was a good idea. That’s why the atmosphere at the May 4 announcement was so festive, and why SSO President and CEO Paul Lambert and Local 171 President Beth Welty repeatedly expressed their admiration for each other and for the way the other handled the long negotiation process — which, let’s not forget, included an unfair labor practice complaint by the musicians’ union registered with the National Labor Relations Board (which has, of course, been dropped).

So, labor peace has been achieved, and everyone’s ready to make beautiful music together.

For now.

As noted, the labor agreement — which guarantees musicians annual raises and a minimum of eight concerts per year — applies only to the next two seasons 2023-24 and 2024-25. The hope is that it will serve as a framework for future negotiations, because, again, no one wants the SSO imperiled.

After all, the Springfield Symphony is one part of a downtown renaissance in Springfield that relies on a number of drivers — from the Thunderbirds to MGM to the club district — as well as a plan for more housing and mixed-use development, to continue an era of revitalization. And the SSO is also a critical element in the arts and culture scene in Western Mass. as a whole, one of its more attractive tourism drivers and quality-of-life elements.

In addition to the agreement between the SSO and Local 171, the city of Springfield has pledged $280,000 over two years in financial support for SSO youth educational programming, underscoring the organization’s generational importance.

Now, it’s up to the business and philanthropic communities, as well as area residents, to support these performances and the SSO itself. But it’s also up to the organization and its musicians to guard against another messy separation — or worse.


Joe Bednar, long-time senior writer at BusinessWest magazine, has been named editor of the publication, succeeding long-time Editor George O’Brien, who is retiring after nearly 30 years in that role.

Bednar, who joined BusinessWest 22 years ago, said he is looking forward to continuing its long history of being the region’s go-to source for business news and information and building on a solid foundation of excellence.

“BusinessWest has established itself as the clear leader when it comes to being a voice for the region’s business community and keeping it informed of the latest news, trends, challenges, and opportunities,” Bednar said. “I’m excited about the challenge of continuing this track record of excellence and building on everything we’ve accomplished since 1984.

“As the magazine prepares to celebrate 40 years of carrying out its important mission,” he went on, “I want to raise the bar higher and then clear that bar when it comes to the quality of what we do and how we meet the changing needs of the region’s business community.”

Bednar has been a journalist in the region for almost 30 years. A 1991 graduate of Evangel College in Springfield, Mo., where he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism and English, he broke into the newspaper business with the Waterbury Republican-American in Connecticut, and later worked as a reporter for the Westfield Evening News.

He was recruited to BusinessWest in 2001 and used his writing and editing skills to help the magazine expand its coverage of area businesses, trends, and issues. He played key roles in the growth and development of BusinessWest’s sister publication, the Healthcare News, and the expansion of BusinessWest from a monthly to a twice-monthly publication in 2005.

Later, as BusinessWest expanded into events, such as Forty Under 40, Difference Makers, Healthcare Heroes, and Women of Impact, he became known for his poignant profiles of honorees and his work behind the microphone at events, especially as one of the emcees for Forty Under 40 each June.

“I grew up believing I’d one day write the great American novel, but eventually accepted that wasn’t in the cards,” Bednar said. “Instead, I’ve developed a passion for telling other people’s stories — several thousand of them, in fact, over the past three decades. I’m so grateful that so many people have taken the time to share their stories with me — how they got into business, their struggles and victories, how they contend with the challenges facing all businesses today.

“And I enjoy going beyond what they do for a living, writing about who they are, what they value, and what their passions are, both at work and outside of it,” he went on. “Their stories inspire me, and I’m beyond proud to keep bringing them to our readers in this new role.”

Kate Campiti, associate publisher of BusinessWest, said that, given his vast experience with the publication, knowledge of the area and its business community, and commitment to taking BusinessWest to the next level, Bednar was the logical choice to become its next editor.

“Joe isn’t just a writer and editor — he’s a trusted source,” she said. “He’s a resource for this region and its business community.”

When he’s not working, Bednar enjoys live music, cryptic crosswords, and spending time with his wife, Jennifer, compliance director at Appleton Corp. in Holyoke; his college-bound son, Nathan; and their three dogs.

He added, “I want to thank George O’Brien, who has been a mentor, example, and constant support in my career for more than two decades. I appreciate him more than he knows. And I told him I’ll start wearing ties, but we’ll see.”





There are many adjectives one can use to describe the members of the 40 Under Forty class of 2023 and their many — and varied — accomplishments. But ‘inspiring’ probably works best, and for a reason.

This was one of the main motivations for BusinessWest to start this recognition program in 2007. The goal was not to simply identify 40 rising stars each spring, but to inspire others by telling their stories, which are all different, but similar in that they chronicle success in the honorees’ chosen fields, but also strong involvement in the community.

These stories are impressive, but it is our hope, and our expectation, that they will inspire others to want to follow suit.

Let’s look at a few of these stories so you can see what we mean:

There’s Ashley LeBlanc, who told BusinessWest that it seems strange to be happy when someone is diagnosed with lung cancer. But she is, in some ways, because that diagnosis, especially if it comes early, can be one that saves a life. And helping to save and prolong life has become a kind of unofficial job description for her as nurse practice manager of Thoracic Surgery and nursing director of the Lung Cancer Screening Program at Mercy Medical Center in Springfield.

There’s Dave Fontaine Jr., who has not only taken his family’s business, the construction firm Fontaine Bros. Inc., to new and much higher levels in terms of sales, staff, and even a ranking as one of the Boston Globe’s “Top Places to Work.” He has also become a serial entrepreneur of note as president of F2 Ventures, and taken his company and his family to a new level of involvement in the community. Indeed, collectively, they support everything from Link to Libraries to the Forest Park Zoo to the Sr. Mary Caritas Cancer Center.

There’s also Chelsea Russell, manager and CPA at Meyers Brothers Kalicka. She has quickly become a leader and mentor at the company, and has also developed its Community Outreach program, which coordinates drives, awareness campaigns, and services for organizations that include Square One, the United Way of Pioneer Valley, Christina’s House, Rachel’s Table, and many others.

There’s Andrew Brow, the restaurateur who has grown his portfolio to three eateries in Western Mass. — HighBrow Woodfired Kitchen and Bar, the Kitchen by HighBrow at White Lion Brewing Co., and Jackalope Restaurant — while also becoming quite active in the community, serving on boards at Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School and Holyoke Community College, and using his talents in the kitchen to support a number of area nonprofits.

Then there’s Delmarina Lopez, who started a career in law and still uses her legal talents to help small business owners as a consultant. But she wanted to do something more meaningful with her time and energy, so she ran for, and won, a seat on Chicopee’s City Council as its Ward 3 representative.

There are 35 more stories like this, starting on page A8. Each is one is different, inspiring, and uplifting.

This is what we had in mind 16 years ago when we took an idea — to shine a bright light on the young talent in this region — and made it reality.

Like the 680 stories we’ve told, including the 40 this year, this program, and the way it has inspired others, is something worth celebrating.





Amid some very concerning trends on outmigration — more than 110,000 people have left the Bay State for … well, somewhere else since early 2020 — Massachusetts House leaders have unveiled a tax-relief plan they believe will improve the state’s overall competitiveness.

The plan, which echoes much of what Gov. Maura Healey proposed in her own tax plan, would, among other things:

• Raise the estate-tax threshold from $1 million to $2 million and tax only the value of an estate that exceeds $2 million, and not the entire estate, as the law currently requires;

• Cut the rate on short-term capital gains from 12% to 5% in two years. During the first year, short-term capital gains would be taxed at 8%;

• Change how state corporate taxes are calculated to what is known as the ‘single sales factor,’ to line up with how most states tax companies now;

• Expand tax credits for seniors and renters; and

• Combine two existing tax credits — childcare and dependent care — to create one $600 credit per dependent, while eliminating the current cap.

The Senate has yet to release its tax plan, and there will be considerable debate before one plan — if there is one — eventually emerges.

But the House plan is cause for optimism in the Bay State. It shows that the chamber’s leaders get it when it comes to outmigration and the many ways in which this ongoing exodus is impacting the state and its business community.

This plan recognizes the need for Massachusetts to be able to compete for talent and then retain it, whether the employer is MassMutual, the University of Massachusetts, or even the New England Patriots.

The outmigration, as we’ve noted many times before, is a strong indicator that this state has become too expensive, both for individuals and the corporations that hire them.

There are many factors that go into this equation, including the skyrocketing cost of living, especiallly when it comes to housing. This is a problem that was many years in the making, and it will take many more years, and strong efforts to create more housing worthy of that adjective ‘affordable,’ before we can see any kind of relief.

But there are things this state can and should do now, such as raising the estate-tax threshold and cutting the rates on short-term capital gains, that can have more immediate results when it comes to making the state more competitive.

It is time to stem the tide, and this proposal is a step in that direction.


Some Big Shoes to Fill


Javier Reyes, the incoming chancellor of UMass Amherst, was introduced to the local media — and took a few questions — at a session on the campus earlier this month.

On subjects ranging from the Blarney Blowout to his management style; from why he pursued this particular job to his thoughts on the relative worth of college rankings today, he said … well, mostly what you would expect.

That was especially true when he was asked by BusinessWest what it would be like to follow in the very large footsteps of Kumble Subbaswamy, who has served as chancellor for the past 11 years and is credited with taking the university to a higher plane when it comes to everything from prestige (and those rankings; the school is now 26th among American public universities, according to U.S. News & World Report) to research dollars.

So much so that UMass President Marty Meehan opined at the same media session that the UMass chancellor’s job is now far more attractive than it was years ago, one able to draw the top candidates.

That includes Reyes, who has most recently served as interim chancellor at the University of Illinois Chicago. He told those assembled that, when it comes to following Subbaswamy, he understands there is perhaps more pressure than if this was a turnaround assignment, as many schools are providing these days, but he welcomes that pressure.

“You’re not coming in to repair something, but to build on the shoulders of giants — and that is a very attractive opportunity,” he said of his decision to come to UMass Amherst and work to keep the school on its current pace and angle of ascent. “You’re not trying to catch up; you’re really trying to move and set the direction and be a forward leader … It comes with more pressure, but it’s more exciting.”

‘Exciting’ would be just one of the words we could use to describe this assignment. ‘Daunting’ also comes to mind. That’s because, while it isn’t easy to put a major university on a higher trajectory, it is certainly more difficult to maintain such a course.

To do that requires real leadership and both a desire to continually set the bar higher and the will to clear that higher bar.

We hope that Reyes, the university’s first Hispanic chancellor, can meet this stern challenge because, as we’ve said on many, many occasions, UMass Amherst is an extremely important economic engine for this region and a source of innovation and entrepreneurial energy. Meanwhile, its graduates — at least those that we can keep in this market — are a key ingredient in the success formula of businesses all across the 413, and across the state as well.

Using every measuring stick but the football team (a sore subject to be sure), UMass took critical steps forward during Subbaswamy’s tenure in terms of new building and expansion of the campus; enrollment; research dollars; diversity, equity, and inclusion; rankings for the university and specific schools, such as the Isenberg School of Business; and the institution’s ability to attract top talent, meaning students, faculty, and staff.

Swamy, as most everyone called him, has taken the university to a place it hadn’t been before. It will be Reyes’ assignment to not merely maintain the status quo, but take it further still.

He sounds like he’s up for a challenge, and that’s good, because this will be one.



By Pam Thornton


The way that we work has changed over the past several years, and as a result of that shift, our mindset around rewards and recognition for employees also needs to change. We are facing a major rebalancing resulting from the severe economic and social shifts that have emerged.

Gartner reports that one of the top five priorities for 2023 is prioritizing the ‘employee experience, with almost 50% of HR leaders making this a major focus. A well-thought-out ‘total rewards’ strategy can have a big impact on attracting and retaining talent and overall employee experience.

Being a human-resources professional is a harder job than it ever has been before. Developing and using skills to influence how organizations shape their employee experience and human-capital strategies is a critical leadership role and one that cannot be done in the HR department alone. The answer is a holistic approach to total rewards that truly engages employees and includes every member of the organization.

There are five critical components in a total rewards strategy to consider when creating better employee engagement: compensation, benefits, recognition, well-being, and development.

It’s important to evaluate the compensation system you have in place. Do you have a system that is linked to organizational goals and individual competencies? Is your incentive and rewards system doing what it is designed to do? Do the benefits you offer resonate with your employees? Are they using them? An evaluation of the effectiveness of the overall strategy is critical, and the only way to really get the answers to these questions is to ask your employees and include them in the assessment and development of a truly effective total rewards program.

Well-being is all-encompassing and means something different to every individual, which makes this one of the hardest things for us to wrap our arms around. Flexible work practices, mental-health resources, financial-wellness solutions, and expanded caregiver-support options are just some of the building blocks that should be explored when creating your strategy. Offer solutions that give employees what they need and balance the business priorities of the organization. Thinking creatively to achieve the right mix is the ultimate goal.

The final and probably the most important component of a total rewards strategy is development. Developing your own skills and the skills of your workforce should be an ongoing journey that everyone participates in.

If we don’t put our life mask on first, we may not be able to help others. “Average leaders raise the bar on themselves; good leaders raise the bar for others; great leaders inspire others to raise their own bar,” author and leadership expert Orrin Woodward said. Leaders, please be students and use what you’ve learned to inspire, model, and teach.

We have an opportunity to re-engineer the traditional employment experience. Not all organizations are created equal, and we don’t have an endless fountain of resources, but we all collectively need to put the effort in to assess and adjust our total rewards strategy to leverage what we’ve got.


Pam Thornton is director of Strategic HR Services at the Employers Assoc. of the Northeast. This article first appeared on the EANE blog; eane.org


East-west Rail a Worthwhile Goal


“This is an easy fix. Please fix it. Make it easy for us. Make it easy for me to get to work.”

Those were the words of Gina Nortonsmith, who lives in Northampton but works in Boston, as reported by the Berkshire Eagle.

The occasion was a pair of hearings on east-west passenger rail service in Massachusetts, the latest in a series of meetings being held by the Western Massachusetts Passenger Rail Commission.

Nortonsmith’s sentiments are no doubt shared by many in Western Mass. who work in the eastern part of the state, or travel there often for other reasons, from medical appointments to ballgames and concerts.

What many state officials and lawmakers no doubt take issue with is the word ‘easy,’ at least when it comes to bringing such rail service into existence. Because it certainly won’t be easy — or inexpensive.

But our feeling has long been that the price tag — an initial outlay of $2.4 billion to $4.6 billion, according to MassDOT, plus ongoing maintenance costs — is worth it.

The reasons are myriad. In an age of remote and hybrid work models — which don’t seem to be going away — rail service could be a boon for those who need to work in or near Boston but want the lower cost of living and what they see as a higher quality of life in the Valley or the Berkshires. Conversely, it would open up job opportunities out east for those already living here.

“Key passenger rail stops along the east-west passenger line would provide a catalyst for economic growth throughout the area,” Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno said in written testimony at the Springfield hearing. “The iron is hot, and now is the time to strike. This project would open up myriad positive possibilities, including opportunities for economic development, jobs, and housing.”

Enhanced rail could also bring more tourism dollars to Western Mass. — which is rich in cultural and recreational destinations — by making it easier for Eastern Mass. denizens to spend some time here.

The service would likely connect Pittsfield to Boston via a high-speed train with proposed stops in Chester, Springfield, Palmer, and Worcester. From an environmental perspective, fewer cars on the Mass Pike and other roads means fewer emissions, and that’s a plus for the health of the entire corridor.

While talk of east-west service had been frustratingly fruitless for rail advocates in recent years, their dream got some concrete encouragement last summer when an $11.4 billion infrastructure bond bill backed by former Gov. Charlie Baker authorized $275 million toward expansion of passenger rail and created the Western Massachusetts Passenger Rail Commission to gather information about the feasibility of such a project.

U.S. Rep. Richard Neal and many influential local lawmakers have been stalwart supporters of such a plan. And in her FY 2024 state budget, Gov. Maura Healey proposed directing $12.5 toward the project, including the hiring of a project director, design of a station in Palmer, and track improvements in Pittsfield — all of which points to continued support from the governor’s office to make east-west rail a reality.

The plan still has many hurdles to clear; it’s far from a done deal, and may never happen — because, as we noted, it’s not easy.

But the payoff would go far beyond making commuters’ lives a little easier. From the perspectives of economic growth, tourism dollars, and even climate and health, we hope this theoretical train keeps chugging toward an actual, feasible plan.



By Negar Beheshti, MD


The emergency declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic may end on May 11, depending on the specific policies and guidelines of each country or region. However, the mental-health needs of individuals affected by the pandemic are likely to continue long after the official declaration ends.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant stress and uncertainty for many people, including social isolation, financial difficulties, and concerns about health and safety. These stressors can take a toll on mental health, leading to symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other mental-health issues.

While the end of the pandemic may bring some relief, it is important to recognize that the mental-health impacts of the pandemic may be long-lasting. Therefore, it is essential to continue to prioritize mental healthcare and support, both for those who have been directly affected by the pandemic and for the general population.

This can include accessing mental-health services, practicing self-care strategies such as mindfulness and exercise, and seeking support from friends, family, or mental-health professionals as needed. By taking steps to address their mental health, individuals can promote their overall well-being and resilience in the face of ongoing challenges.

Mental Health America’s 2023 ranking of states in terms of higher access to mental healthcare shows Massachusetts continues in a top position. The Commonwealth, which has made access a priority through its recent creation of Community Behavioral Health Centers, ranks second, as it did in 2022, in terms of such markers as access to insurance, treatment, and quality and cost of insurance.

Lack of affordability and lack of access are consistently among the barriers cited in seeking mental healthcare, so it is good to see the state maintain its ranking on access in comparison to other states. Massachusetts, through its Roadmap for Behavioral Health Reform, is working to reduce these barriers, and we here at MiraVista are proud that our opening nearly two years ago in the middle of the pandemic created additional inpatient psychiatric beds in the state for both adults and youth, as well as expanded inpatient treatment for substance use.

Still, the need for increased mental-health services — and the funding to support them — to meet demand continues both in the state and nationally.

The pandemic brought attention to the existing gaps in mental-health services and has spurred efforts to address them. It is crucial to recognize that the need for mental-health support and resources continues to exist post-pandemic, and individuals should be encouraged to seek help and support whenever necessary.

Our experienced clinicians deliver patient-centered and evidence-based care, helping those with mental-health and substance-use conditions to find their road to recovery in order to live a fulfilling life.


Dr. Negar Beheshti is the chief medical officer for MiraVista Behavioral Health Center in Holyoke and its sister hospital, TaraVista Behavioral Health Center, in Devens. For more information on MiraVista’s psychiatric services, visit www.miravistabhc.care.




Three years.

It seems like much longer than that, obviously. That’s because the pandemic years, at least the first two, seemed like dog years, each of them four or five years rolled into one.

That’s why so many people who were on the fence decided to retire, including a large percentage of the region’s college presidents and a good number of its nurses. Who could blame them? It was a difficult and, in many ways, exhausting time.

But as we’re set to mark the three-year anniversary of the day when everyone packed up their computer and went home (March 24 seems to be the consensus day), we have to say there is certainly some credence to that old saying — the one about how what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

We’ve said that before in regard to the pandemic and its aftermath, but it bears repeating.

First, though, we need to note that this pandemic did kill a lot of businesses in this region, many, if not most of them, in the retail and hospitality fields — businesses that saw people stop coming to their door and simply couldn’t adjust to that changing landscape.

Which brings us back to those that could adopt and did survive. They are better are off for it, and they are now even better able to withstand change, even rapid, profound change that alters how business is done forever. These businesses have learned to communicate better, to find new and often better ways of doing things, to work together to solve real problems.

Over the past three years, we’ve told countless stories about companies and nonprofits and how they battled through COVID. They are all different, but there are many similarities. Mostly, they involve people looking at a very difficult situation and simply getting creative.

They couldn’t do things the way they always did them, so they had to find other ways. They had to dig deep, overcome adversity, and create solutions. That’s what being in crisis mode — which is what colleges, hospitals, and, yes, many other kinds of businesses were in for at least two full years — is all about.

The challenge, and the opportunity, for businesses now is to continue to apply those lessons and maintain that spirit of problem solving and finding new ways of doing things even when the pandemic is essentially over. And from what we’ve observed, there seems to be a good bit of this going on.

Companies are not going back to the way they did things, because that doesn’t make sense anymore — be it with regard to technology, remote work, hours of doing business, recruiting talent from outside the 413 … all of these things and more. Instead, they are shedding that ‘this is how we’ve done it, so this is how we’ll continue to do it’ mentality.

And they are certainly the better for it.

Looking back, this is what the most successful businesses came away with from the pandemic — an understanding of not just how imaginative and resourceful they can be, but of how imaginative and resourceful they must continue to be moving forward.





Gov. Maura Healey presented her first budget a few weeks back, and it contains some proposals that could help the state navigate its way out of an ongoing workforce crisis.

Chief among them is something called MassReconnect, which would fund free community-college certificates and degrees to Commonwealth residents who are 25 years and older and have not yet earned a college degree.

Based on initiatives in Michigan and Tennessee, MassReconnect actually goes further than those programs by covering more than just tuition; it also covers mandatory fees, books, and various support services. It is designed to remove barriers to getting the college degree that is needed to succeed in most jobs today, and it holds significant promise to do just that.

So do some of Healey’s other proposed investments in higher education, including a 3% increase in public college and university base spending, as well as $59 million to stabilize tuition and fees at the University of Massachusetts and other public institutions.

But it is free community college that is getting the most attention, and rightfully so. In fact, Senate President Karen Spilka has been working on legislation to achieve just that, saying that reducing the cost of getting a degree will help close equity gaps and build a more educated workforce to meet the needs of important industries in Massachusetts..

Indeed, while the bottom-line cost of a community-college education is much lower than at four-year schools, it is still a burden to many and a roadblock when it comes to attaining not just a job, but a career. In that sense, this proposal could open doors to individuals who have seen them closed for one reason or another, while holding considerable potential to bolster the state’s 15 community colleges and the state’s economy as a whole.

Indeed, the Commonwealth’s community colleges, long considered a key component in any region’s economic-development strategy, and especially here in Western Mass., have been struggling of late, and for many reasons.

Smaller high-school graduating classes are just one of them. A strong job market has traditionally had the effect of impacting enrollment at community colleges — they thrived during the Great Recession, for example — and that pattern has held for roughly the past decade or so. Meanwhile, the pandemic certainly hasn’t helped.

This region needs its four community colleges — Berkshire Community College, Greenfield Community College, Holyoke Community College, and Springfield Technical Community College — and it needs them to be strong and vibrant if it is to create, and maintain, a strong pipeline of workers coming into fields ranging from healthcare to cannabis to hospitality.

Meanwhile, community college serves as a place to start one’s secondary education. Many graduates of these schools move on to four-year colleges and degrees that lead to a wider range of job, and career, possibilities. But first, students need to begin.

That’s why this proposal holds such potential. It is designed for non-traditional students, those who haven’t started in college, or who have started but haven’t completed, for one reason or another. These are the individuals who hold the most promise for bringing some real relief to the region’s ongoing workforce crisis, one that is impacting businesses in every sector of the economy.

The concept of free community college has its skeptics, and some will wonder where the money will come from and whether the state can afford to do this.

Looking at matters from an economic-development lens, however, one could argue that the state can’t afford not to do it.





The numbers are alarming — on many levels.

From July 2021 to July 2022, more than 57,000 more people moved out of the state than into it, one of the highest rates of what is being called ‘domestic outmigration’ in the country. And if you go back to April 2020, the number soars beyond 110,000.

That’s a lot of people who decided they couldn’t make it in Massachusetts anymore, or didn’t want to try. And these numbers should get everyone’s attention, because these departures are not good for individual cities and towns, or for the Commonwealth’s technology-driven economy.

It’s enough of a problem that Gov. Maura Healey made it one of the focal points of her inaugural address last month, stating “this is greatest state in the union, but people are leaving at some of the highest rates in the country — giving up on the Massachusetts story.”

It’s possible that some people are giving up because of the cold (and we don’t even have as much of that as we used to), or the traffic (in the Boston area), or the decidedly liberal nature of the State House, or even the ‘millionare’s tax.’ This might explain why more than 20,000 of those who have left have moved to New Hampshire, where taxes are much lower and elected leaders are much more conservative.

But it seems clear that most are leaving because they simply can’t afford to live here anymore.

That’s especially true in the eastern part of the state, where taxes are sky-high, home prices are through the roof, and other costs, including childcare, are becoming increasingly prohibitive.

“Affordability in Massachusetts has dropped dramatically,” Nadia Evangelou, senior economist for the National Assoc. of Realtors, told the Boston Globe recently.

We have a few thoughts on this problem. First, state leaders need to do something to address the housing problem here. The term ‘affordable housing’ has a shifting definition in Massachusetts and other states where there are plentiful, attractive jobs, but however it is defined, the state simply needs to create more of it. If it doesn’t, more people will leave or, in the case of graduating college students, settle somewhere else.

In the meantime, economic-development leaders in Western Mass. should double down on their efforts to try to convince people that if they want to escape the high prices (if not the cold), they don’t have to leave the state; they just have to look west of Worcester.

Indeed, while some communities in this part of the state are expensive, most are quite reasonable. And there isn’t nearly as much traffic. And the costs of childcare are considerably lower. And with the advent of remote work, you can have all of this and still work for IT and financial-services companies based in Boston or Cambridge.

Those of us Western Mass. know all this, and most people living in Newton, Wellesley, or Lexington know as well, but it wouldn’t hurt for this region to market itself more aggressively, especially in the eastern part of the state.

Doing so would benefit not only the Western Mass. region, where many communities have lost population and professionals of all kinds are needed, but the state as well.

Indeed, until ways can be found to somehow make this state, and especially the Boston area, more affordable, we need to focus on ways to inspire people to move from one end of the state to the other, instead of out of it altogether.



By Meredith Wise

DEI Initiatives are very much in our conversations. However, the HR Trends 2023 survey by McLean & Co. show that actions on these initiatives have stalled for the second year in a row.

This study highlights human-resources priorities and challenges, comparing current-year results to prior years. In 2021, DEI efforts jumped from eighth place in 2020 to fourth place largely due to national and global conversations and actions around equity and social justice. In 2022, these efforts fell to fifth place, and this year they have dropped to sixth on the HR priority list.

In our work helping companies develop roadmaps for DEI, a handful of key areas are lacking: dedicated time to focus on DEI, leadership support, training, and resources.

According to the study, governance, leadership buy-in, strategic discussions, and data collection are the common roadblocks to moving DEI efforts forward. Actions and planning can refocus your organization’s initiatives.

Leadership: Senior leaders should model DEI behaviors in all their interactions and communications. Training alone will not move your goals along. Moving beyond awareness training to competency learning opportunities will help elevate the support from leadership. The data in the study demonstrated that the 40% of organizations that leverage competency-based training are more likely to be high-performing in DEI compared to those leveraging awareness-based training.

Communications: DEI-related topics and performance should be woven into regular communication cadences from leaders and HR functions. Active communication and discussions about initiatives, actions, and challenges need to happen.

Formal DEI Strategy: Sixty-three percent of respondents indicated they did not have a formal or documented DEI strategy.This percentage has remained stable over the past three years. Policies and practices document how DEI programs will operate in the organization. These policies should address how DEI considerations are integrated, including the employee experience, performance management, recruiting, retention, advancement, compensation, and more.

Data: Understanding that time is at a premium for HR teams and professionals, initiatives in 2023 may best be focused on data collection and analysis. This data will shape strategy, demonstrate gaps and urgency to the organization, and allow for informed decisions on a formal strategy and governance.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution; however, with a combination of leadership support, resources, and a dedicated team, organizations will more likely become high performing versus those without this focus.

According to the study, recruiting is once again the number-one priority on HR professionals’ minds for the third year in a row. Although DEI has fallen further down the list, this work does not exist in a silo — maintaining momentum on DEI efforts will support other priorities, including talent attraction and retention.

It’s also good news that embedding DEI into organizational culture and processes does not require a degree in advanced physics. All that’s needed to operationalize DEI is the right commitment, planning, and structure.


Meredith Wise is president of the Employers Assoc. of the NorthEast. This article first appeared on the EANE blog; eane.org




In the fall of 2008, the decision makers at BusinessWest decided the region needed a new recognition program. The magazine had, just a year earlier, introduced the phrase ‘40 Under Forty’ to the local lexicon, a program to recognize the emerging leaders in the 413.

What was needed was a program to recognize … well, everyone.

What the concept really needed was a name, and the chosen brand, Difference Makers, encapsulated everything this was about. There are many ways to make a difference within the community we call home, and this new recognition program was designed to make that clear.

It has certainly done that. Over the years, it has recognized individuals (dozens of them), as well as nonprofits and institutions ranging from the Holyoke Merry-Go-Round to the region’s four community colleges. Each year, there are new stories to convey all the ways there are to make a difference — and inspire others to find their own way.

And the Difference Makers class of 2023 continues that tradition. These inspiring stories share similarities in that they involve individuals and nonprofits committed to helping others, but they are all different:

• Nate Costa, president of the Springfield Thunderbirds, is making a difference not just by making hockey part of the fabric of the region — again — but because of the way he has made this team an economic engine, a supporter of local nonprofits, and a pivotal component of ongoing efforts to revitalize downtown Springfield.

• Steve and Jean Graham make a difference on many levels — as employers, as philanthropists who turned the long-vacant train depot in the center of East Longmeadow into a destination where families can gather and enjoy ice cream and much more, and, in Steve’s case, as a wrestling coach and promoter of the sport who has helped young people across the region absorb the many lessons and benefits from getting on the mat.

• Helix Human Services, formerly the Children’s Study Home, is the oldest social-service agency in the region, tracing its roots back to 1865, when it was known as the Springfield Home for Friendless Women and Childrencaring for destitute women and children orphaned by the Civil War. The mission has changed over the years, and the name changed just last month. But its ability to make a difference in the lives of children and families remains a constant.

• Burns Maxey has long been a believer in the transformative power of the arts, and her volunteer efforts leading the board of CitySpace in Easthampton comprise the most recent, and most exciting, example. The rehabilitation of Old Town Hall into an arts and performance space not only renovates a historic building, but promises to spur economic development and create long-term affordability and accessibility for artists.

• Claudia Pazmany and Gabrielle Gould share an office in downtown Amherst, leading the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce and the Amherst Business Improvement District, respectively. Individually, but especially as a team, they have helped this college town find its way through the darkest of days during the pandemic, and continue to work together in many ways to put this community on the map as a place where businesses can thrive.

• Gary Rome was recently named Auto Dealer of the Year by TIME magazine. You don’t get to take home that hardware simply by selling a lot of cars — although that certainly helps. You earn that honor by selling a lot of cars and by being a force in the community. And he is certainly that, both as a philanthropist and by involving his dealerships and employees in causes ranging from the Ronald McDonald House to the Jimmy Fund to Rays of Hope.

• Sports are more than fun and games. They teach important lessons about teamwork and overcoming adversity. They also build character and give people young and old something to look forward to. In that spirit, the organization known as Springfield Ballers continues to make a difference in the way it helps young people get in the game — and get a leg up in life.

• Finally, Henry Thomas has racked up a half-century of difference-making efforts leading the Urban League of Springfield, from its many education and youth-development initiatives to programs ranging from workforce development to productive-aging outreaches to community support, in many forms. Thomas said he’s optimistic that the younger generations will continue to make a similarly powerful difference in their communities and beyond. So are we.




By John Henderson

Over the past three years, organizations have learned how to be more agile and nimble to survive the pandemic. With each passing phase of the pandemic, leaders needed to learn how to be ‘in the moment.’ Successful leaders are the ones who are very self-aware of their behaviors and actions in the workplace and how they impact those they lead and those they work for. Self-aware leaders understand their strengths, shortcomings, abilities, and limitations.

As I have read many lists of what skills and attributes a leader needs to be successful, the lists haven’t changed drastically from year to year:

• Great leaders help their employees grow. They are effective in developing, delegating, and directing their employees. They recognize what each individual needs to be successful and know how to adapt to help each person grow.

• They make their team feel valued. Leaders who include, not exclude, their direct reports in decision making when appropriate show they value and care for the employee. When employees feel valued, they have a sense that they belong on the team and in the organization. A sense of belonging is the ‘B’ in DEIB. Diversity is representation, equity is recognizing, inclusion is action, and belonging is a feeling.

• They are empathetic while holding people accountable. Leaders need to be skilled at finding the right balance between empathy and accountability. Learning to relate to others with understanding and empathy is crucial, and so is being able to maintain standards of accountability where business still gets done.

• They prioritize — every day. Great leaders get things done, and they get the most important things done first. Understanding the difference between what is urgent and what is merely important is a sign of a good leader. Managing your time and the time of your employees will make a more successful and enjoyable workplace.

I am always honored to be asked to help a team in their professional development. It’s an amazing feeling when you hear them sharing their own insights and challenges to leading people. I know that, when they return to their workplace, they will focus on being in the moment to lead people for success.


John Henderson is director of Learning & Development at the Employers Assoc. of the NorthEast. This article first appeared on the EANE blog; eane.org




To say that the still-emerging cannabis sector has had a profound impact on the local economy, and the local landscape, would be a huge understatement.

Indeed, this sector, now just over six years old in the Commonwealth, has brought much-needed revenue to area cities and towns, several hundred new jobs, and new life to dormant or underperforming properties ranging from old mills in Holyoke and Easthampton to the Springfield Newspapers building.

No one really knew just what to expect when this new business took off, but few could have expected this kind of impact.

And while nothing was easy for anyone getting into this sector — there are steep costs and a mountain of regulations to meet — it has been, for the most part, a ticket to success.

That’s has been.

As the stories make clear, the cannabis sector has already entered a new and exponentially more difficult phase of its existence. Competition is growing, both in this region and in neighboring states; prices are coming down; margins are becoming ever-more thin; and profitability is becoming more difficult.

To make a long story short, the laws of supply of demand are starting to catch up with this sector.

In the beginning, meaning just a few years ago, there was huge demand and not nearly as much supply as there is now. We can all recall the long lines of people around those first dispensaries that opened in this region.

It was these lines that hinted at just how lucrative this business could be, and they helped lead entrepreneurs with capital and a sense of adventure to stake a claim during what some came to call a ‘green rush.’

What these entrepreneurs are realizing, and most of them realized it long ago, is that there is a limit when it comes to just how big this pie can become. And as more people want a slice … well, the slices will get smaller and smaller.

In this environment, communities — smart ones, anyway — will take steps to limit the number of licenses, thus enabling those operating at least a fighting chance to succeed. Meanwhile, individual business owners will have to focus on quality, customer service, branding, and, overall, separating themselves from the competition and finding what it will take to survive in a changing, more competitive environment.

In that respect, they will have to be like business owners in every sector where the consumers have choices and exercise their right to choose.

History has shown that, in situations like this, it becomes a matter of survival of the fittest. And it will be the same with this sector, which has changed the landscape in all kinds of ways and continues to do so.

Cannabis has been a game changer for this region and this state, but now, the cannabis game itself is changing. It will be interesting to watch as the new chapter in this intriguing story unfolds.



By Valerie Harlow

We’re all facing many types of disruption from ongoing organizational transformation, new approaches on how work is done, economic uncertainty, and political discourse. Maybe, as an employer, you are seeing and hearing things like louder complaints about changes, indifference and disengagement with work and projects, burnout, resistance, negativity, etc.

Change fatigue is not something to discount or think it will just take care of itself. It has a huge impact on attrition, which will impact your bottom line. Gartner for HR lists in its “Top 5 Priorities for HR Leaders in 2023” that 43% of employees who experience above-average change fatigue intend on staying, compared to 74% who have low change fatigue.

That 31% difference could be a big cost to an organization — not just the bottom line, but also the impact on engagement, productivity, culture, and more.

What can leaders do about it? Focus on moving toward an open-source change strategy and away from the traditional top-down ‘cascading’ approach. Open-source change strategies involve employees throughout the process. It’s not about just telling employees what is happening or what will happen. Instead, it’s involving them from the beginning. They help co-create and are active participants in identifying, making, and crafting change decisions and outcomes.

In other words, employees own the change planning process. From there, they can develop individual or team change-implementation plans. Communication becomes an open conversation rather than a constant marketing message of the change and its benefits.

From an organizational perspective, it’s also important to have a pulse on the amount, size, and significance of change that is happening or being planned in the organization. This can help to ensure employees are able to participate early on, and it helps the overall organization mitigate any change overload or manage changes that really are not aligned strategically. This can also prevent change fatigue.

Change is constant and necessary to bring about innovation, creativity, and long-term growth and results. Ensuring that your employees don’t burn out or become change-fatigued is an important leadership responsibility.


Valerie Harlow is a learing advisor and facilitator at the Employers Assoc. of the NorthEast. This article first appeared on the EANE blog; eane.org




As he talked with BusinessWest recently about the prospects for the region in 2023 and beyond, Rick Sullivan, president and CEO of the Western Massachusetts Economic Development Council, stressed the need for creation of a growth strategy for Western Mass.

And he’s right. A region that has become notorious, if that’s the right word, for its lack of growth over the past several decades needs a strategy for bringing more jobs, more businesses, and more vibrancy to the 413.

What goes into such a strategy? Many different things, but it starts with identifying areas where a region can grow and then putting specific strategies in place for making it happen. After all, growth doesn’t occur in a vacuum — it happens where there are opportunities, be it through developable land, location, a large and talented workforce, comparatively lower costs of doing business, an existing infrastructure and critical mass of businesses in specific sectors, a high quality of life, and … did we mention a talented workforce?

These elements have led to profound growth in areas ranging from Silicon Valley to the Research Triangle in North Carolina; from Cambridge to countless towns in Mexico.

The region has several of these attributes, including quality of life, a comparatively lower cost of living (for now, anyway); some available land; a solid workforce trained for some specific sectors, especially manufacturing; a location that provides easy access to Boston, New York, and other major cities; and emerging sectors such as cybersecurity, green energy, and even so-called water technology.

But is this region ready to grow? Can it accommodate more businesses and provide them with the workers they need?

That is a harder question to answer. On the surface, it would seem that, based on the fact that almost every business in every sector, especially healthcare, is struggling to find good help, the answer is ‘no.’ But throughout history, regions have found that, if you create jobs, people will come to that area.

Moving forward, the region needs to take some steps to enable growth to happen. It needs to build its workforce by keeping more young people here and prompting more young people to come here. To do that, there must be jobs, as in good jobs, and places to live. Right now, the region doesn’t have enough of either, which is a problem.

But while creating jobs is important in this new age, the jobs don’t necessarily have to be in the 413. With the advent of remote work, the jobs can be in New York, Boston, or elsewhere, and people can live here.

Either way, this region will need more housing, specifically affordable housing. It will also need a larger and more skilled workforce, which means more training programs and better utilization of one of the region’s best and perhaps least-appreciated assets — its four community colleges.

Meanwhile — and we know you’ve heard this before — it needs to do a better job of telling its story and marketing itself to businesses in other regions of this state and well beyond.

None of this is new, really. The region has known it needs to take these steps and others for years, if not decades now. What would help would be to formalize all this, put a plan together, and take steps to implement it.

Because growth doesn’t happen by accident.



By MissionSquare Research Institute


State and local governments, along with other public-service organizations, faced yet another challenging year. Recent research by MissionSquare Research Institute highlights key strategies to become public-service employers of choice in 2023.

1. Communicate the full value of benefits. The wages advertised for a position represent only a small portion of the full value of a job’s financial and other benefits. Public-service jobs often include more than traditional benefits like health insurance, pensions, and deferred compensation. Benefits also can include paid leave, life insurance, flexible scheduling, and student loan or housing assistance, not to mention greater job stability in the public sector.

2. Customize recruitment appeals. Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs are important to many jurisdictions’ recruitment and retention efforts. Each position’s recruitment plan may include new audiences, active partnerships with outside agencies, and outreach that communicates in ways that best resonate with audiences. Tailor campaigns to appeal to candidates with different benefit focuses depending on their life stages or economic circumstances.

3. Maintain retirement plan funding. While 2021 data showed steady funding for retirement plans, 2022 brought significant economic volatility impacting individual finances and worker anxiety. The first mission for plan sponsors is to weather volatility and commit to maintaining actuarially determined contributions. Full funding of retirement plans supports the dual goals of long-term fiscal stability and leveraging retirement plans to serve as effective workforce recruitment and retention tools.

4. Restructure the workforce. The recession and Great Resignation have been significant disrupters to the public workforce status quo, offering opportunities to rethink future staffing models. Workforce restructurings anticipated in 2023 and beyond stem not only from the pandemic and economic changes; they are also tied to evolving technologies touching every field from customer service to accounting to transportation. And while automation may not fully replace certain jobs, it is certain to contribute to job restructurings, the need to update job descriptions, and the consideration of part-time or temporary staffing models.

5. Take a holistic view. The pandemic normalized the idea that it is okay for workers not to be OK. Now, there’s a focus on worker mental health and burnout as real concerns that employers must take seriously. And as persistent inflation leads to consideration of compensation changes, it will no longer be enough to point to cost-of-living adjustments. Rather, employers should lean into difficult conversations with team members about their financial stress, workload, health, or childcare issues.

6. Prioritize data-driven decision making. The Institute’s recent DEI survey found a majority of governments identified workforce DEI as a priority, yet about a quarter are not tracking DEI results. Institute research also found 85% of governments are performing exit interviews, but just 37% are performing employee-satisfaction surveys, while only 11% are conducting stay interviews. Public-service workforce management cannot be viewed as something that is only managed at budget time or at the end of a worker’s career. Instead, it requires timely analysis of recruitment results, regular check-ins with existing staff, and strategic action on the data collected to avoid preventable staffing or retention problems.



By Rick Sullivan

Over the past decade, the city of Springfield has made many advancements towards the goal of job formation and opportunity. We have continued the trend of job development, now with an added focus on technology. In an effort to bring the Pioneer Valley’s largest city into the forefront of the cyber realm, the Western Massachusetts Economic Development Council (EDC) has been facilitating the development of this industry over the years, which has successfully led to a new, on-the-ground investment project, now spearheaded by Springfield Technical Community College (STCC), with an emphasis on careers in technology.

Located at Union Station directly in downtown, this state-of-the-art technology center will offer education and hands-on job training to individuals looking to seek careers in the tech field. This initiative provides an opportunity to grow and develop a workforce that will ensure long-term job stability and meet the ever-growing cyber needs of community businesses.

Four components will drive this project and allow the community at large to not only benefit, but contribute to its success in meaningful ways:

• Educational offerings: Colleges and universities in the region such as STCC, Bay Path University, UMass Amherst, Western New England University, Elms College, and Springfield College will provide training opportunities to students, leading to jobs in the future.

• Municipality involvement: Technology experts are always in demand and rarely available within governmental sectors. This program will provide access to trained and skilled individuals, ready for hire.

• Military support: Westover and Barnes Air Force bases have already expressed interest in being able to train their workforce in the ever-growing field of technology. Both employers plan to support and hire from within the program.

• Small-business benefits: Manufacturing and other sectors are constantly seeking individuals with cyber certification. This new center will provide the much-needed resources to bring cutting-edge technologies to local businesses.

This project has significant state financial backing, having just received its first $1.5 million in grant funding. The design stage of the project has begun, and the center is slated to be open and accepting participants during the fall of 2023. This center is an essential economic-development strategy to modernize and innovate the business infrastructure. We expect to see substantial growth in the cyber-industry arena, benefiting the financial and economic vitality of the region.

For more information on this project and its progress, visit www.westernmassedc.com.


Rick Sullivan is president and CEO of the Western Massachusetts Economic Development Council.





As we turn the page on 2022 and look ahead to a year filled with question marks, those of us at BusinessWest offer up some thoughts on what we’d like to see in the year ahead.

Some wishes would fall in the category of ‘obvious’ — a slowing of inflation, fewer and less dramatic interest-rate hikes (how about none at all?), improvement on the workforce front, and some real movement on job growth — while others might be less obvious. Here’s a short list:


Less Whitewater

The past three years have been a long, grueling grind for area businesses, large and small. They have had to cope with COVID, a workforce crisis, supply-chain issues, dramatic price increases, recession fears, waning consumer confidence, a microchip shortage, incessant employment-law challenges, cybersecurity issues, the various challenges of remote work, early retirement among Baby Boomers … the list doesn’t seem to end, and we certainly forgot a few.

The region’s business community could use a break, a breather, some real ‘party like its 2019’ normalcy, not the new normal. Let’s hope some is coming in 2023.


A More Impactful MGM Springfield

Let’s start by saying the casino complex on Main Street has had to deal with everything on the list above, just like everyone else. So it has certainly not had an easy ride since the parade that marked its grand opening in late August 2018. That said, few if any would say that MGM Springfield has had anything close to the kind of economic impact we were all hoping for, if not expecting, when it was blueprinted and then built.

Yes, it has had a stake in several meaningful initiatives, like the project to revitalize the old Court Square Hotel. But, overall, gaming revenues are not what were projected, and the same can be said for vibrancy in the casino area, the list of things to do at the complex, meetings and conventions, and impact. We’ve said it before, and it bears repeating … there are many days when, if you didn’t know there was a casino on Main Street, you wouldn’t know there was a casino on Main Street. This needs to change, and hopefully we’ll see some progress in 2023. Maybe sports betting will help.


Continued Growth of the Entrepreneurship Ecosystem

This has been one of the better economic-development stories of the past several years, and the region needs to continue and build upon its efforts to encourage entrepreneurship. As the immense competition for manufacturers and other kinds of businesses, and the jobs they create, only increases, perhaps the most realistic opportunities for growth in this region are of the organic kind. Progress in this fashion comes slowly and, in most cases, undramatically. But we have to continue to plant seeds.


Relief on the Workforce Front

We’re not sure if or how it can happen, but the area’s employers need some relief from the crushing workforce crisis. As the stories that begin on page 13 clearly show, workforce is the issue that is keeping business owners and managers up at night. Worse, it’s keeping many businesses from reaching their full potential and realize some of the opportunities that are coming their way.

The region and the state cannot simply wave a wand and bring thousands of people into the workforce. But what they can do is continue and accelerate the work to make this state more attractive, not just for businesses, but for the people who will work at them, by creating more affordable housing and taking other steps to bring people here instead of compelling them to look or move elsewhere to find a job, start a career, or write the next chapter.




Springfield officials went public recently with their frustration with MGM and what they consider to be poor performance when it comes to everything that was promised to the city and the region by the gaming giant.

It is their hope that these calls will spur some action to bring the operation on Main Street much closer to what was promised in terms of hiring projections, restaurants and the hours they’re open, vacant facilities and storefronts, and more.

While we believe these calls — and they are both literal and figurative in nature — should have come months ago because the problems are not exactly recent, we’re glad they are finally being made.

Indeed, what we’re seeing on Main Street is certainly not what was first promised going back nearly eight years ago when MGM was in contention for the sole Western Mass. casino license. And while the pandemic and the ongoing workforce crisis has certainly made keeping those promises much more difficult, MGM has an obligation to Springfield and this region to do better and do more.

Let’s start with what was promised. And let’s put aside hiring projections for a moment because, like gaming revenues, these numbers were always overly optimistic and probably not to be believed anyway.

What was promised was a first-class, inside-out casino with slots, table games, restaurants, shops, and things to do — an experience for those who ventured to the complex on Main Street. Four years and five months after the doors opened to great fanfare, the experience is far from what was promised or anticipated.

Some of the shops, including the Kringle Candle Emporium located in a church that was famously moved to make way for the casino, have closed, and no replacements have been found. The Chandler Steakhouse is open only on weekends, as are the bowling alleys. Meanwhile, the Main Street entrance to the casino has been closed most of the time, making this far less the inside-out facility that was promised.

As for hiring, particularly the hiring of certain segments of the population, from women to minorities, MGM has been lagging behind what was promised here as well.

Granted, the landscape has changed considerably since MGM opened its doors in late August 2018. The pandemic forced the facility to close for several months, and when it did reopen, there were a host of new conditions that had to be met. Meanwhile, the workforce landscape has changed considerably as well, and the broad hospitality sector has been especially hard hit; there are many restaurants that are now closed a few days a week, and many have had to cut back on what they can offer.

Still, MGM can do better — and it must do better. City officials are a little late with their list of complaints and calls for improvements, but they are certainly right to demand improvement from the casino giant. MGM Springfield was supposed to be a game changer for the city and region, and thus far it has not lived up to those expectations.

The city must do more than demand meetings with MGM’s CEO. They need to demand accountability and stay on the casino operators until they bring this operation far closer to what was promised than what we can see — and not see — today.




As the look-back story reveals, there were many important and intriguing stories that unfolded in 2002 — everything from the maturation and continued evolution of the cannabis industry to the reopening of the hotel in the Tower Square complex; from the long-awaited start to work at Court Square in Springfield to the Thunderbirds’ exciting run to the playoffs.

And, of course, there was the economy and rising inflation and skyrocketing interest rates — more challenges for already-challenged businesses of all sizes and in every sector.

But easily the biggest story of 2022 — and it is almost certain to be the biggest story of 2023 — involves the workforce issues facing area employers.

It was in 2022 that it became crystal clear that this issue is not a temporary glitch, another side effect of COVID, a problem created by the federal government making it way too easy for people to collect unemployment and not have to work.

No, it was in 2022 that we came to accept, or should have come to accept, that this problem has very deep roots and needs the full attention of everyone involved — from employers to economic-development agencies to state officials who set tax rates and ultimately determine how expensive it is to do business in this state.

Indeed, this past year, we saw a continuation of the issues we saw in 2021: Baby Boomers retiring, in some cases well before they get to 65, let alone 67; others who are not so old simply staying on the sidelines (how, we’re not exactly sure) and opting not to work certain jobs, especially those at the lower end of the pay scale; employees showing far less loyalty than they have historically and instead displaying a willingness to move on to something they know or perceive to be better; and job candidates accepting a position and then simply not showing up on their start date because they found something else in in the interim.

All this had an impact in 2021, and in 2022 there was even more of the same: healthcare facilities with long lists of open positions; hospitals paying huge amounts for travel nurses because they can’t find enough people to take full-time positions; restaurants forced to close more days of the week because they don’t have enough help; banks unable to fill key positions, even after they widened the search beyond the 413, something they can do thanks to remote work; individual businesses and entire sectors responding by increasing pay rates and benefits, even as they struggle to make ends meet; and businesses of all kinds saying simply, ‘we can’t find the help we need.’

This was the story in 2022, and, from all we can gather, there are simply no signs of improvement on the horizon. What is clear is that, in the years to come, finding this help will be an ongoing challenge, one for which there are no easy answers. Stakeholders will simply have to do everything they can to make this state an attractive place in which to do business and work, and to attract and retain as much talent as we can.

Failure to do so will have real consequences on the local economy and our collective ability to simply do business.

This is why, as we said, this isn’t just a top news story. It’s a problem that requires our full attention.