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Opinion

Editorial

Most would agree that Springfield has come a long way over the past decade or so and especially since the 2011 tornado touched down on Main Street.

But most would also agree there is still considerable work to be done in the City of Homes to bring it back to the prominence it enjoyed decades ago. And while no one would dare suggest that what has accomplished to date has been easy — although MGM Springfield might have been the easiest $1 billion project anyone has ever seen — the work to be done falls into the ‘much harder’ category.

Indeed, over the past decade, city officials, working in collaboration with a host of public and private partners, have succeeded in giving people more reasons to come to Springfield — to work, play, and, yes, live — and they’ve also made it somewhat easier to get here through new rail service and extensive work on I-91.

Collectively, the city has made progress and created momentum, but hard work remains to build on what could be called a foundation, while also making sure that MGM Springfield, Union Station, and other developments are put in a position to succeed.

Tim Sheehan, Springfield’s recently appointed chief Development officer, touched on some of these points in an extensive interview with BusinessWest (see story, page 6). Slicing through his comments, he notes that, while Springfield is now a more attractive place to visit, in many respects, it must focus even harder on creating more opportunities for people to live here, launch businesses, and see them succeed.

Most recently employed by the city of Norwalk, Conn. and its Redevelopment Agency, he said he saw first-hand what can happen when a city succeeds in attracting a larger population of professionals through new market-rate housing initiatives.

Norwalk, roughly an hour’s commute to New York city via train, benefited from its location and developed more housing that in turn brought energy, disposable income, and, yes, business opportunities to the city.

Springfield, doesn’t have the same advantage of geography — although hopes remain for east-west rail that would certainly change that equation — but there is still vast potential to create more market-rate housing in its downtown and the neighborhoods beyond. And tapping this potential is perhaps the number-one priority for the city moving forward.

That’s because, while the city can certainly benefit from people coming to gamble or see an Aerosmith concert or visit the Basketball Hall of Fame or take in the Dr. Seuss museum, true vibrancy comes when people live in your community. Brooklyn, N.Y. is perhaps the best example of this, but there are many others.

The assignment, then, becomes giving people a reason (or a good number of reasons) to live in your community.

Springfield is making progress there, but it has to do more to entice private investors to build here. And this brings us to another priority on Sheehan’s to-do list — the city’s many fine neighborhoods. We can still use that adjective, although all of them have seen better days, especially when it comes to their commercial districts.

Sheehan mentioned Boston Road, which is still a vibrant commercial artery but not what it was decades ago, especially at the Eastfield Mall end of the street. The ongoing demise of traditional retail certainly plays a part in what’s happening along these stretches, but Sheehan is right when he says the city needs to develop new plans for these areas, create buy-in from neighborhood institutions, and, overall, inspire investors to what to be part of something.

All this falls into the category of taking Springfield to the next stage. As we said, this is in many ways harder work than what has been undertaken to date, but it’s work that has to be done if Springfield is to enjoy a real renaissance.

Opinion

Opinion

By Alex Zlatin

A company’s intention in a job interview is to find the person who best fits a particular position. But quite often, the candidate who is hired fails, and usually their exit is related to attitude issues that weren’t revealed in the interview.

That raises the question: are interviewers asking the wrong questions — and consequently hiring the wrong people? Some traditional styles of interviewing are outdated, thus wasting time and resources while letting better candidates slip away.

It still astounds me to meet HR professionals who lack the basic skills of interviewing. In 2019, ‘tell me about yourself’ is still a way to start an interview, and that’s absurd. The only thing you get is people who describe the outline of their résumé, which you already know.

Here are some interview approaches to help HR leaders, recruiters, and executives find the right candidate:

• Make it a two-way conversation. Traditional interviewing focuses too much on the candidate’s skills and experience rather than on their motivation, problem-solving ability, and willingness to collaborate. Rather than making most of the interview a rigid, constant question-and-answer format that can be limiting to both sides, have a two-way conversation and invite them to ask plenty of questions.

• Flip their résumé upside down. Surprise them by going outside the box and asking them something about themselves that isn’t on their résumé or in their cover letter. See how creatively they think and whether they stay calm. You want to see how a candidate thinks on their feet — a trait all companies value.

• Ask open-ended questions. Can this candidate make a difference in your company? Answering that question should be a big aim of the interview. Ask questions that allude to how they made a difference in certain situations at their past company. Then present a hypothetical situation and ask how they would respond.

• Don’t ask cliched questions. Some traditional interview questions only lead to candidates telling interviewers what the candidate thinks the company wants to hear. Interviewers should stop asking pointless questions like, ‘where do you see yourself in five years?’ or ‘why do you want to work for this company?’ Candidates rehearse these answers, and many of them are similar, so that doesn’t allow them to stand apart.

• Learn from the candidate’s questions. The questions candidates ask can indicate how deeply they’ve studied the company and how interested they really are. A good candidate uses questions to learn about the role, the company, and the boss to assess whether it’s the right job for them.

• Don’t take copious notes. The tendency by interviewers to write down the candidate’s answers and other observations is a huge obstacle to building a solid two-way conversation because it removes the crucial element of eye contact.

 

Alex Zlatin is CEO of dental practice-management company Maxim Software Systems.

Opinion

They call it ‘employee ghosting.’

By now, just about everyone has heard the phrase, and most employers have actually experienced it. While definitions vary, the most common form of ghosting occurs when an individual is offered a job, accepts it, and then, on what would be their first day on the job, doesn’t show up, because between the time when they accepted the job and when they were supposed to start, something better came along.

But it also happens with interviews — a candidate will agree to one and just not show up for it — and with already-hired employees — they’re in the office one day, and the next day they’re not, usually without explanation.

Ghosting is a byproduct of a tight unemployment market, immense competition for good talent, and, maybe (according to some) a desire for payback among individuals who applied for a job, interviewed for it (maybe a few times, even) and then never heard from the potential employer again.

In any case, while ghosting is a fairly recent phenomenon and a sign of the current times, it is also part of what we believe will be a new norm for employers, and not a temporary inconvenience. That’s because demographics certainly favor employees; Baby Boomers are retiring, and the generations following them are considerably smaller.

Yes, we know that advancing technology will eventually reduce or eliminate certain types of employment opportunities — depending on whom one talks with, we won’t have much need for truck drivers or even lawyers soon — those days are a ways off. For now, employers must cope with this new norm. And that’s why BusinessWest partnered with Garvey Communication Associates Inc. (GCAi) this month to present a morning-long series of workshops called “Attracting the Best Candidates in Possibly the Worst of Times”.

Whey these are, indeed, the worst of times — for employers, anyway; for candidates, it’s the best of times — things are probably not going to change much moving forward. Yes, the economy will eventually decline, and yes, the unemployment rate will climb, but for a host of reasons, including demographics, employers shouldn’t expect to be in the driver’s seat anytime soon.

In this environment, they have to do things differently than they have for decades. In short, they have to create an attractive culture — one people want to be part of — and then sell that culture.

Sarah McCarthy, senior Human Resources business partner for Commonwealth Care Alliance and member of a panel at the Sept. 20 event, probably summed things up best when she said, “it’s not an environment where people are coming to you; you have to do some mining and find these individuals and encourage them to come work for you, and in doing that, you need to provide context for them — why should they want to come work for you?”

Indeed, why should they? Employers will have to come armed with reasons, and they must involve more than a number on the paycheck — although that’s always important. And it will have to involve more than flex time and casual Fridays.

As John Garvey, president of GCAi, put it, “people want to be a part of something they’re passionate about. That’s important. And that requires us to talk to them in different ways and develop talent in different ways — and also to reach out in different ways.”

Note that word ‘different.’ That’s the key. Companies can’t do things the way they used to, they can’t talk to candidates like they used to, and they can’t sell themselves like they used to.

These are different times, and in most ways, they represent what is a new norm. And if companies don’t understand this, they will soon come to understand what employee ghosting is all about.

Opinion

Opinion

By John Regan

Massachusetts is about to undertake the most sweeping restructuring of public-education funding since 1993. What does it mean for employers?

The 3,500 member companies of Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) who depend upon the public schools to prepare the workforce of the future support education reform that contains specific and measurable performance objectives. Anyone who owns or manages a business tracks return on investment, and the investment we make in our public schools and students should be no different.

However, employers do not support the sort of reform being promoted by some advocates who have been calling at rallies for a ‘blank check’ of billions of dollars of state aid with no accountability.

While the National Assessment of Education Progress indicates that Massachusetts has the best public schools in the nation, that same assessment shows significant achievement gaps between white students and black and Latino students. Massachusetts finds itself in the bottom half of states with respect to black-white achievement gaps across almost all grades in reading and math and in the bottom third of states with respect to Latino-white achievement gaps across all grades in both reading and math. The achievement gap matters to employers confronting a persistent shortage of qualified workers in an economy running at 2.9% unemployment.

Reforming the school funding formula will probably cost taxpayers around $1 billion. Employers understand better than anyone the importance of making strategic investments, but they also know that pouring money into a broken system is not the answer. Employer support for education reform hinges on the establishment of clear and measurable standards that will allow everyone to determine whether changes are working for students, teachers, and the Commonwealth.

The evidence is clear that more money does not equal better educational performance. AIM insists the following accountability measures be part of any education funding reform:

• Fully implement the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission through a multi-year, fully funded revision to the Chapter 70 formula that will achieve adequacy and equity for all students.

• Maintain and enhance the state accountability system to ensure new funds go to those students who need them the most and are used effectively to close achievement gaps, set statewide and district targets for closing those gaps with annual reporting on progress, and collect and report on data related to college and career readiness.

• Add a new Chapter 70 enrollment category for Early College and Career Pathways to enable replication and expansion of these high-school reform strategies.

• Provide significant and supplemental funding for innovation and the implementation of best practices in underperforming schools.

• Enact Innovation Partnership Zone legislation to provide communities with a new tool for empowering schools and educators to address persistent low performance and encourage innovation.

John Regan is president and CEO of Associated Industries of Massachusetts.

Opinion

Editorial

In the U.S., 150,000 tons of food is wasted every day.

This equals about a pound of food per person, or about a third of the daily calories that each American consumes. What may not be totally obvious when we throw out that banana with a brown spot on it, or the slightly mushy red pepper, is that all this food waste contributes to a much bigger problem in America — the waste of about 40% of country’s food production.

This shocking fact shared by the Center for EcoTechnology is a testament for just how serious the food-waste epidemic is.

In addition, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, wasted food is the single biggest occupant in American landfills. The food we throw out affects our lives in more ways than one, including our own financial resources and a bigger carbon footprint.

Thankfully, while food waste remains a huge problem in America and the world, more and more awareness is being brought to this subject, and more action is being taken to significantly reduce this problem. This includes organizations like Lovin’ Spoonfuls, a nonprofit dedicated solely to food rescue and distribution in Massachusetts.

Lovin’ Spoonfuls picks up food from more than 75 vendor partners in refrigerated trucks and serves more than 40 cities and towns across Massachusetts. It focuses primarily on perishable foods like fruits, vegetables, and dairy, which are the most likely to be wasted, and provides meals to more than 30,000 people a week.

Aside from organizations like this, there are simple ways families can do their part to significantly reduce food waste — everything from planning meals for the week before going to the grocery store to freezing foods that won’t be eaten right away. Looking in the refrigerator and cabinets and cooking food already on hand — and saving leftovers for lunch or dinner the next day — are other habits that add up over 128 million American households.

Businesses are increasingly implementing food-waste reduction strategies as well — spurred in many cases by state regulation. The bottom line is, if everyone tries a little each day to help, significantly less food will be wasted and dumped into landfills.

While Massachusetts in general has been a national leader in addressing food waste, it is important that individuals do their part by implementing their own strategies. With the help of organizations like the Center for EcoTechnology and Lovin’ Spoonfuls, we can only hope those shocking food-waste numbers begin to go down in the next several decades.

Opinion

Opinion

By Christine Palmieri

September is National Recovery Month. ‘Recovery’ is a word that gets used a lot in the world of mental health and addiction services, sometimes so much so that I think we can easily lose sight of what it represents. In my role with the Mental Health Assoc. (MHA), I often have the opportunity to talk to newly hired staff about the idea of recovery. We discuss what it means and what it can look like in the context of working with people who have experienced trauma, homelessness, psychiatric diagnosis, and substance problems.

When I ask new staff the question, “what does it mean to recover?” I frequently hear things like “getting better” or “getting back to where you were” or “having a better quality of life.” Although I tell staff there are no wrong answers to this question, secretly I think there are. They’re common and easy, but insufficient.

As with many things, I think it’s easier to talk about what recovery is by defining what it isn’t. For me, recovery isn’t a cure. It isn’t a finish line or a place people get to. It isn’t a goal that can be neatly summarized in a treatment plan. I believe recovery is a process that is unique and intimately personal to the individual going through it. Ultimately, though, I think the answer to the question “what does it mean to recover?” should be “it isn’t for me to say.”

I believe recovery is a process that is unique and intimately personal to the individual going through it.

As providers of services, or as loved ones, community members, and policy makers, I don’t believe it’s up to us to define what recovery means or looks like for people going through it. Each person needs to examine and define what it means to them. For the rest of us, I think the more important question is “what makes recovery possible?” When the question is posed this way, we are able to engage this idea of recovery in a much different and more productive way. This question offers the opportunity to share the responsibility and partner with those we support.

The analogy of a seedling is often used when describing this process of recovery, and one I use when I talk to our new hires about their roles and responsibilities as providers of service. Seeds are remarkable little things. For me, they represent unlimited potential. A seed no bigger than a grain of rice contains within it everything it needs to grow into a giant sequoia. But no seed can grow without the right environmental conditions. No amount of force or assertion of control can make a seed grow. It needs the right soil, the right amount of water, and the right amount of light.

In the same way, within each person who has experienced trauma, homelessness, psychiatric diagnosis, or problems with substances, I believe there lies unlimited potential for growth, and each person needs the right environment for the process of recovery to take place. As providers, loved ones, community members, and policy makers, we very often control that environment. Metaphorically, we provide the soil, the water and the light.

Soil is the place where recovery begins. It offers a place for the seed to grow roots, to gather strength, security, and safety. Soil is what keeps trees rooted tightly to the ground through storms. It is our responsibility to offer environments where people in recovery feel safe and secure, to try out new ways of coping and new ways of managing the difficulties and challenges that life presents to all of us.

Water provides a seedling with essential nourishment. We need to find ways to support people in recovery to discover what truly nourishes them. The work of recovery is hard. It requires taking risks and feeling uncomfortable. We cannot do the work of recovery for anyone else, but we can and should work to help people in recovery find the supportive relationships, meaningful roles, and reasons to do that hard work.

Light provides the energy necessary for growth. In recovery, I believe light is offered through the hope and understanding that every person has within them the potential to live a full and active life in the community, whatever that means for them. As providers, loved ones, community members, and policy makers, it is our role to shine the light of hope for people who have experienced discrimination, loss of power and control, and in many cases a loss of their identity. We hold this hope and offer this light because we know, without question, that recovery, however it is defined, is not only possible, but is happening, right now, all around us.

Christine Palmieri is vice president of the Division of Recovery and Housing at MHA.

Opinion

Editorial

There’s no set timeframe to be a hero. It’s more about taking advantage of opportunities that emerge. And that can happen quickly, or over a lifetime.

One of the goals of the Healthcare Heroes recognition program, now in its third year, was to create a vehicle for relaying some of the many amazing stories taking place within the region’s healthcare industry, stories that convey energy, compassion, innovation, forward thinking, and, above all, passion — for finding ways to improve quality of life for those that these people and organizations touch every day.

And, as noted, this heroism takes a lot of different forms.

Take Katherine Wilson, who has spent the past three decades building and shaping Behavioral Health Network into a $115 million network that continues to expand and find new ways to provide care and support to those in need. This honor goes far beyond the vast portfolio of programs her agency offers. It’s also about a lifetime spent advocating for those with mental illness, substance-abuse issues, or development disabilities, anticipating and then meeting their needs.

Linda Uguccioni, on the other hand, has been with executive director at Linda Manor Assisted Living in Northampton for only four years. But in that time, she’s put it on the fast track when it comes to growth, vibrancy, and recognition, doubling occupancy from 40 to more than 80, with a waiting list. She does so with a lead-by-example style and an ability to make each and every team member feel not only valued but a key contributor to the health and well-being of all residents.

Frank Robinson, like Wilson, has been working for a healthier community for much of the past four decades, developing and growing initiatives in realms ranging from children’s oral health to asthma; from food insecurity to sexual health; from health education to overall population health. As he turns 70 this month, he has no plans to slow down, citing both a passion for his work and the fact that so much of that work remains to be done.

Meanwhile, it’s been less than two years since Tara Ferrante, director of the Holyoke Outpatient Clinic at ServiceNet, launched the agency’s OCD and Hoarding Disorder Program, leading a team of clinicians who are seeing progress every day in helping people escape the shackles of these often-debilitating conditions — and overcoming the social stigma that accompanies them.

The fact is, a Healthcare Hero can emerge quickly, or he or she can become part of the fabric of the community for a very long time. The common thread is how they make a positive, palpable impact on lives in Western Mass.

BusinessWest has other recognition programs — 40 Under Forty, Difference Makers, and Women of Impact — but it became clear through the years that something distinct for the healthcare sector was needed, and that there was no shortage of stories to tell — stories that are just beginning, or gaining mid-career momentum, or starting to wind down after setting the stage for others to continue the fight for this region’s health and well-being.

We were right — as this year’s class of Healthcare Heroes continues to make clear. Enjoy their stories, be inspired, and realize that we could honor far, far more heroes if we had the time and space. They’re all around you — and we have a lot more stories to write in the coming years.

Opinion

Opinion

By John Regan

A so-called ‘beach party’ set up recently outside the State House by education funding advocates was a disrespectful and frivolous stunt carried out by people who should instead be focused on the well-being and economic futures of Massachusetts schoolchildren.

The point of the beach party, complete with beach balls and shaved ice with flavors such as ‘accountability slime lime,’ was to excoriate the Legislature for going on summer recess without passing a massive restructuring of the funding formula for public schools.

The fiscal 2020 budget Gov. Charlie Baker signed last month includes a $268 million increase in state assistance for K-12 education, but activists want a multi-year commitment to ramp up education spending and address gaps in the quality of education from one community to another. The beach party was the latest in a series of questionable antics perpetrated by the Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance and allies who want billions of dollars in additional education spending with no accountability for results.

In May, Massachusetts Teachers Assoc. President Merrie Najimy posted a photo to Facebook of herself and three other women smiling and clutching fake pearl necklaces with a caption that read, “Alice Peisch, let go of the wealth and #FundOurFuture.”

Rep. Alice Peisch, co-chair of the Joint Committee on Education, often wears pearls, and the prop suggested she could not understand the circumstances of poorer students because she lives in the wealthy suburb of Wellesley.

Members of the teachers union have also been observed at public meetings carrying blank checks to signal their distaste for any measurements to accompany additional spending.

The 3,500 member companies of Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) who depend upon the public schools to prepare the workforce of the future support education reform that contains specific and measurable performance objectives. Anyone who owns or manages a business tracks return on investment, and the investment we make in our public schools and students should be no different.

The stakes in the debate are enormous, beginning with an estimated price tag in the neighborhood of $1 billion. The governor and the Massachusetts Legislature deserve credit for proceeding cautiously on education reform. u

John Regan is president and CEO of Associated Industries of Massachusetts.

Opinion

Editorial 1

A year ago — and, actually, long before that — this region was awash in speculation about what the gaming industry might bring to the region and what its broad impact might be.

The industry was new to the state, and there were questions. There was also excitement, some anxiety, no shortage of opinions, and plenty of hope. A year later, most of those emotions are still in evidence, and there remain many questions.

But in the meantime, another industry has emerged that apparently has the potential to have far more reach and far more impact: cannabis.

As several different stories in this issue reveal, the cannabis industry has certainly put down roots in the four counties of Western Mass., and while it’s still too early to know for sure, it appears to have far more potential to change the landscape — in all kinds of ways — than gaming.

Why? Because this is a far-reaching industry with myriad moving parts and potential business opportunities — from cultivation to retail to real estate to, yes, a new publication (see page 6). Also, it is seemingly far more democratic.

Indeed, while the gaming industry is reserved for large, as in very large, players investing $1 billion or more, the cannabis sector offers opportunities for individuals and small groups of investors — not that getting into this business, let alone succeeding in it, would be considered easy in any way, shape, or form.

And, as Michael Kusek, founder of that publication, A Different Leaf, points out, this is one of the few industries in this state where the opportunities are in Central and Western Mass., not Boston and within the Route 128 beltway. That’s because the majority of cities and towns in this region are welcoming of this industry, while most of those surrounding Boston are not.

When Easthampton Mayor Nicolle LaChapelle said her community was “head over heels in love, I would think, with cannabis, and I don’t think that’s overstating it,” she wasn’t just speaking for many of her colleagues — remember, Holyoke’s mayor, Alex Morse, joked to a television reporter that his goal was to rename the city the ‘Rolling Paper City’ — but she was speaking about how this sector can be a real game changer in terms of everything from jobs to tax revenue to foot traffic on Main Street.

The cannabis industry is not an easy one to follow. As noted, there are a lot of moving parts, and the scene changes every month, if not every week, as new locations open, more host-community agreements are forged, and more real estate is acquired for the purpose of establishing businesses in this sector.

But as hard as it is to keep track of all that is going on, it’s a worthy endeavor, because this industry certainly bears watching. No one really knows how things will shake out as more and more locations are opened and, eventually, more states decide to follow the Bay State’s lead.

But it seems almost certain that this sector will bring more impactful change, from a business perspective, than anything this region has seen in decades.

Opinion

Considering the Downside of #MeToo

As the #MeToo Movement was gaining traction back in late 2017, we wrote about how refreshing that moment was and that it had the potential to change the workplace in a very positive way.

But we also offered a word of caution, a reminder that this same movement might bring about negative change in the form of men becoming less willing to interact with women, mentor them, and take them on conferences and other learning experiences because of potentially bad optics and, far worse in their minds, potential litigation.

And now, it appears that those fears have possibly become reality.

Indeed, in an eye-opening piece, attorney Amelia Holstrom, an employment-law specialist with the firm Skoler Abbott, reveals that evidence is emerging that #MeToo may be prompting more men to err on what they would consider the side of caution.

Holstrom writes that a survey conducted by LeanIn.org — an organization dedicated to helping women come together and achieve their goals — and titled “Working Relationships in the #MeToo Era,” suggested that 60% of male managers reported they were not comfortable participating in common work activities — mentoring, working alone, or socializing — with women.

That’s compared to 32% in a survey conducted a year earlier. Further, the recent survey also noted that senior-level men were 12 times “more likely to hesitate to have one-on-one meetings” with junior female employees, nine times “more likely to hesitate to travel [with junior female employees] for work,” and six times “more likely to hesitate to have work dinners” with junior female employees. According to the survey results, 36% of men said they avoided mentoring or socializing with women because they were concerned about how it might look.

These are very disconcerting numbers, to be sure.

Holstrom went on to write about how this type of behavior can lead to litigation of a different kind — discrimination suits because women are being denied some of the same opportunities to advance and succeed as men — and this is a very important point.

But beyond the litigation factor, this hesitancy among men to travel with women or have dinner with them or avoid mentoring is simply not good for the business in question. And not good for society, and individual regions like this one.

That’s because the world is changing, and so is the world of work. What this region, and every region, needs is strong, effective leaders. And while it’s very possible that a woman can become a good, solid leader without interacting with men or being mentored by them, we would offer that it seems less likely that they could do so.

Workplaces are better, more productive spaces when individuals don’t have to think twice about the gender of the person they may be supervising or mentoring or thinking about taking to a professional-development conference in a city halfway across the country.

That’s a perfect world, and this is far from a perfect world. But with #MeToo, there was hope that we might be moving closer to a perfect world. Perhaps, but these survey results are unsettling.

We can only hope that, with time, these trends will reverse themselves and women can be not only free of sexual harassment, but in a position to access all the same opportunities as men.