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Kate Phelon and Stefan Czaporowski

Kate Phelon and Stefan Czaporowski say the Westfield Education to Business Alliance benefits both current employers in the city and some of their future workforce.

Kate Phelon has long appreciated the spirit of collaboration between Westfield’s municipal, business, and educational leaders — and points to the Westfield Education to Business Alliance, which just wrapped up its third year, as a good example.

The alliance, WE2BA for short, connects the city’s schools, where students are beginning to contemplate their career paths, with companies that are eager to mine local talent. Last year, it launched an adopt-a-classroom program — Mestek, Forum House, and PeoplesBank were the initial adopters, and more are expected to come on board next year — while Westfield High School’s annual career fair drew a record 61 vendors.

“We want to get more people involved — more businesses adopting more classrooms,” said Phelon, executive director of the Greater Westfield Chamber of Commerce. “The principals are engaged in this.”

Stefan Czaporowski, the city’s Superintendent of Schools, said those efforts can have long-term economic-development impacts.

“Whether our students go on to college or work, we realize they might not be in Westfield as soon as they graduate,” he told BusinessWest. “But we want them to come back here, live here, work here, and help grow Westfield. I think the best way to do that is to show them what Westfield has to offer — and it offers a ton.”

It’s not just WE2BA (much more on that later) that’s showcasing the city’s strengths. Take, for example, Go Westfield, a collaboration among municipal officials, Westfield Gas + Electric, Whip City Fiber, the Greater Westfield Chamber of Commerce, and corporate sponsor Westfield Bank to encapsulate what makes this city a desirable landing spot, and, more importantly, tell people about it.

“The city had never really taken on the task of marketing itself until just recently,” Mayor Brian Sullivan said. “It’s a work in progress, but we’ve gotten much better at touting what we have. We’ve got a lot of things here. We have an airport, a college, a hospital. We’ve got an exit off the Mass Pike. We’ve got transportation potential, between I-91 and the Pike. We’re literally two hours away from six different state capitals; geographically, we’re situated nicely. And we have more developable land than most.”

But Go Westfield is about more than marketing; it’s also a means to continual self-improvement. Phelon cited three recent focus groups — targeting the retail, manufacturing, and nonprofit sectors — as a notable example.

“Whether our students go on to college or work, we realize they might not be in Westfield as soon as they graduate. But we want them to come back here, live here, work here, and help grow Westfield. I think the best way to do that is to show them what Westfield has to offer — and it offers a ton.”

“These are the businesses that are here, and we wanted to find out from them what’s working really well, and what keeps them up at night,” she told BusinessWest. “That helps us better market ourselves as we address concerns and find out if other businesses have the same concerns. We want to make our existing businesses happy and address their issues — and if we don’t know what those issues are, we can’t help them.”

Sullivan agreed. “We’ve gotten much better at listening to stakeholders. It used to be that the city would have an idea, and we would go after that idea. Now, it’s more reaching out to the companies in town and saying, ‘what’s working? What’s not working? What do you need?’ We’re making the companies already here a little better, and by listening to their needs, it’s helping out other companies who are saying, ‘yeah, we needed that too.’”

Sullivan hears those needs at the Mayor’s Coffee Hour, sponsored by the chamber and hosted by a different business each month.

“Those companies get to show off what they do, and we get to talk about things like construction projects, road projects, what’s coming down the pike for the City Council,” Sullivan said, adding that he often brings along other city department heads to enrich the discussions. “I don’t want to just stand in front of the room and talk; it’s got to be a two-way conversation. And an hour can fly by.”

That’s partly because there’s a lot to talk about these days in the Whip City — and the collaborations driving that progress are becoming more robust.

Welcoming Party

When someone contacts one of the Go Westfield member organizations, Sullivan explained, other members are quickly roped in, whether that’s a municipal department, Westfield Gas + Electric, or the chamber. “If some company is interested in coming here and calls the chamber, Kate’s been really good at giving me a heads-up that, ‘hey, these people are looking to come.’”

Companies like Wright-Pierce, a 72-year-old environmental/civil infrastructure engineering firm, which recently announced it will open an office in Westfield.

Or Myers Information Systems, which is relocating downtown from its previous location in Northampton, bringing 20 software-development professionals and renovating 110 Elm St., which used to be a restaurant with industrial space above it. The firm expects to hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony in the coming months.

Westfield at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1669
Population: 41,552
Area: 47.4 square miles
County: Hampden
Residential Tax Rate: $19.70
Commercial Tax Rate: $38.00
Median Household Income: $45,240
Median Family Income: $55,327
Type of Government: Mayor, City Council
Largest Employers: Westfield State University, Baystate Noble Hospital, Mestek Inc., Savage Arms Inc., Advance Manufacturing Co.
* Latest information available

“Some of the reasons Myers chose here were the chamber, a bike trail, access to downtown, and fiber coming from the Gas + Electric,” the mayor said. “We reached out, wooing them to come to us. They were pretty impressed with how solidified we were as a group.”

He was referring specifically to Whip City Fiber, a division of Westfield Gas + Electric that continues to expand gigabyte-speed internet to residences and businesses across the city.

“Having access to that is huge for an awful lot of companies that are looking for bandwidth and a central location for their employees,” he explained. “Companies aren’t 9 to 5 anymore, where people come in and do their work and leave. It’s all hours of the day, it’s weekends, and if you can have access to high-speed internet, you can thrive as a company.”

The Elm Street Urban Renewal Plan, approved in 2013, continues to focus on revitalizing a two-block area in the heart of downtown Westfield running along both sides of Elm Street, the city’s main commercial thoroughfare. One recent success story is the $6.6 million Olver Transit Pavilion, which opened in April 2017.

The same year, the Westfield Redevelopment Authority demolished a former bowling alley near the transit center, with plans to create a multi-story, mixed-use building with retail, restaurants, office space, and market-rate apartments. The WRA plans to issue a request for proposals for the site — much of which used to house J.J. Newberry’s five-and-dime store — within the next month.

The mixed-use concept, Sullivan said, is an important one for a wide swath of Millennial professionals who crave city living with walkable amenities.

“They want to live downtown and don’t want cars; they want to walk or bike anywhere they want to go — a total urban lifestyle,” he told BusinessWest. “With Millennials, it’s not ‘build your house somewhere and have your two cars and go to your job.’ They want to be downtown, walk to the coffee shop, bring their laptop, do some of their work there, and go for a bike ride.

“The trend is all about internet access, getting to and from places without using a car, and downtown visibility,” he went on. “That’s what drove Myers to Elm Street, access to all these things.”

Another economic trend in Massachusetts involves the cannabis industry, and Westfield has embraced such businesses, with four available licenses for retail, cultivation, or other uses; two are currently going through the permitting process. With Southwick and West Springfield currently not in the marijuana game, Sullivan noted that Westfield is in a good spot when it comes to cornering market share, particularly from across the Connecticut border.

Brian Sullivan says city officials have become more adept

Brian Sullivan says city officials have become more adept at “opening up our ears” and being responsive to the needs of the business community.

“The City Council is figuring out whether we want one in downtown core district or keep them on the outskirts,” Sullivan said. “It’s such a new industry that nobody really knows what’s going to shake down. Everything is on the table right now.”

Meanwhile, initiatives like Go Westfield continue to dig into what the business community wants and how to bring new companies into the fold, with the goal of boosting economic development not only downtown, but across this sprawling city of more than 47 square miles.

“You have to adapt, and we’re getting better at adapting and opening up our ears,” he added. “And that’s what these focus groups are doing. We’re sitting there and listening to what’s lacking or what’s not working, or maybe what is working, and doing more of that.”

Back to School

Phelon and Czaporowski are excited about the potential of expanding the reach of the Westfield Education to Business Alliance, enlisting graduate students from Westfield State University to help out with programs moving forward. At a focus group in the spring, about 20 professors from various degree programs expressed an interest in working with different organizations in town, getting students into the weeds of local businesses.

“We hope they go away to college — that’s great — but come back. We have a great community. It’s pretty cool what’s happening here.”

The existing connections work on multiple levels. For instance, the students who worked with Mestek in the adopt-a-classroom program improved their presentation skills and performed, on average, markedly better than their peers in the school’s science fair. Meanwhile, Westfield teachers went to Mestek to help employees with limited English proficiency boost those skills.

“We want to expand adopt-a-classroom because getting the business community in front of the kids and sharing their expertise and their work experiences is huge,” Czaporowski said. “And we want to keep promoting what some call soft skills and we call essential skills — speaking with eye contact, how to interview, résumés, but also how to be a productive employee — things like punctuality and attendance. We call them essential skills because these are skills you’re going to need throughout life.”

Meanwhile, businesses visited elementary schools for career-day events toward the end of the school year, getting kids thinking early about career pathways and even what high school to attend to best serve those interests.

“We’re exposing kids to relevant life learning,” the superintendent said. “And it’s beneficial to the businesses too. The experience is eye-opening for them.”

That’s partly because students learn differently today — in a more interactive, collaborative style, with different tools — than they used to, Sullivan said, and it’s helpful for employers to understand that.

“It’s all about workforce development,” he said. “A lot of these companies will need their talents someday. They need those kids to walk into their business and start working. That training is now happening in the schools. And it’s a two-way street. A lot of the best companies in town are sending a representative to some of these meetings with the students because they want the students to know their product when they get out.”

Whether it’s through the career fair, adopt-a-classroom, or other efforts, Phelon noted, there are many ways to engage with students and show them what career and lifestyle opportunities exist in their own backyard — just as Go Westfield broadcasts that message to a much wider audience.

“We hope they go away to college — that’s great — but come back,” she said. “We have a great community. It’s pretty cool what’s happening here.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Features

Grade Expectations

Trisha Canavan tells the story often, and for a reason — it resonates with everyone who hears it.

United Personnel, the staffing agency she serves as president and CEO, used to make candidates for jobs in warehousing and manufacturing, two of the company’s strongest niches, take and pass what she called a “basic math test” before they could be considered for placement with a client.

That’s ‘used to.’

United stopped the practice some time back, said Canavan, because no one — and she was only slightly exaggerating when she says ‘no one’ — passed the test.

“This was a very, very basic math-skills test, fourth- or fifth-grade level if I had to guess,” said Canavan, a former educator herself (she taught at Berkshire Community College and Cambridge Rindge & Latin School). “We’re talking about basic measurements with a ruler or tape measure, addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, and pretty much everybody, I would say 95% of those who took it, was unable to get a passing grade.

“We had used it as a screening tool but stopped doing that — otherwise, we wouldn’t have any employees,” she went on. “This wasn’t just people from Springfield, but because our headquarters are in Springfield, we’re seeing a lot of Springfield residents who really don’t have the basic knowledge to be successful.”

With these experiences concerning the math test ringing in her head — and filling her with frustration — Canavan offered a resounding ‘yes’ when asked a few years ago if she would like to join a group called Springfield Business Leaders for Education, or SBLE, as it has come to be called, a name that certainly tells all or most of the story.

This is a group of Springfield-area business leaders focused on education in the community and, more specifically, strategies for improving it. John Davis, president of the Irene E. and George A. Davis Foundation, which helped lead efforts to create the SBLE and now co-chairs it with Canavan, called it “a critical friend of the Springfield public school system.” And by critical, he meant both important and judicious in its assessment of what’s happening — and not happening.

The group’s unofficial mission is to ensure that students not only receive a diploma signifying they have fulfilled the requirements needed to graduate from high school, but that they have the skills needed to succeed in the workplace. One is clearly not the same as the other, said those we spoke with, using one loud, resounding voice.

“This was a very, very basic math-skills test, fourth- or fifth-grade level if I had to guess. We’re taking about basic measurements with a ruler or tape measure, addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, and pretty much everybody, I would say 95% of those who took it, was unable to get a passing grade.”

Put another way — not that Canavan actually said this — the group exists to perhaps create a day when United Personnel can dust off the basic math test it put on the shelf, once again give it to candidates, and see the vast majority of them pass.

That day, unfortunately, seems far off, she said, adding that SBLE is obviously working to bring it closer. It does this through advocacy, enlightenng its members about the issues in education — it recently hosted a well-attended talk by Gov. Charlie Baker on the subject of education reform at the Basketball Hall of Fame — and, most importantly, through partnerships with other advocacy groups.

These include Massachusetts Parents United (MPU), a statewide group comprised of concerned parents, and the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education (MBAE), which has a mission similar to SBLE, but is also statewide.

Trisha Canavan

Trisha Canavan says too many students are graduating from high school without the basic skills needed to succeed in the workplace.

Keri Rodrigues, founder of Mass. Parents United, now headquartered on Maple Street in Springfield, said the group started as three women meeting in a public library. Today, it has more than 7,000 members and is the largest urban parent-advocacy organization in the Commonwealth.

The work of these groups, individually and collectively, comes at what many describe as a watershed moment for education reform in Massachusetts — when dueling education bills (more than $1 billion apart in overall funding) are being debated in the State House and when those in Gateway cities such as Springfield say students of color are disadvantaged by what they call systemic educational inequity.

Collectively, these groups intend to use this critical moment to press for real and lasting change, adequate funding, far greater accountability when it comes to how education dollars are spent, and, overall, an end to those inequities they cited.

For this issue, BusinessWest talked with those involved with SBLE and other advocacy groups about just what is at stake when it comes to education reform in the Commonwealth, but also the broad work of making students workforce-ready when their days in school are over.

School of Thought

It’s called “Defining Our Path: A Strategic Plan for Education in Worcester 2018-2023.”

It’s a 40-plus-page document that, as the name suggests, is a strategic plan for the school system for the next five years. Sections in the document have titles ranging from “Culture of Innovation” to “Investing in Educators” to “Academic Excellence.”

Davis presented BusinessWest with a copy for the sole purpose of pointing out that Springfield doesn’t have such a plan — and it desperately needs one.

“There are three things that have to happen in Springfield, three questions to be asked and answered, and it’s an open discussion among all the players — the parents, the educators, the political establishment, and others,” he said. “First, where are we? We need a real, open, and honest discussion about that, because it’s never really happened. Two, where are we going, and where do we want to go? What skills will our kids need?’ And, three, how do we get there? We have to come up with a plan.”

Work to create such a plan has become a priority for the SBLE, said Davis, adding that, as it goes about such work, it knows it needs to partner with other groups, and especially those that involve parents.

Which brings us to the MPU. Rodrigues said she started the organization out of frustration born from how the system was failing her three children, especially one with special needs.

Keri Rodrigues

Keri Rodrigues says Massachusetts Parents United was formed to give a voice to an important, and often overlooked, constituency.

“I saw that my child was already falling through the cracks in kindergarten,” she told BusinessWest, adding that she knew there were others and that it was time to advocate on their behalf. “I saw all these inequities with my kids and could actually fight a little bit. I decided to use my skills as an organizer to help those who were underserved. But I was also looking around and seeing how parents were being left out of the conversation completely.

“Parents are kind of pushed in when it’s convenient and we want to hear them and their little anecdotes, and then we push them along,” she continued. “But we’re prime stakeholders; we have to be advocates for our kids, who are supposed to be the center of the education conversation. So many of us are survivors of our public education system — I was a foster kid myself and got expelled from a public high school and was lucky to get to college — and then to watch my children, from kindergarten on, be underserved, is really frustrating.”

Not wanting to see that cycle perpetuated, she started MPU, which has steadily grown both its membership and its influence, said Rodrigues, and has been especially visible during the ongoing debate over education reform and school funding.

“A few weeks ago, we had more than 150 parents get on buses and go directly to Beacon Hill and advocate for education funding,” she said, “and making sure there’s some accountability with how this money is spent.”

But as large and powerful a constituency as parents may be, MPU knew early on it needed allies in this ongoing fight, said Rodrigues, adding that MBAE has become such an ally.

“Parents are an important constituency, and so is the business community,” she explained. “We’re both invested in these outcomes in our children because it’s not just about getting them to graduation day and handing them a diploma; we want our kids to have access to these wonderful jobs.”

Ed Lambert, executive director of the MBAE, which has been in existence for nearly 30 years, agreed, and noted that, while significant progress has been achieved since the Education Reform Act was passed in 1993, there are still significant achievement gaps — and opportunity gaps — that exist in this state.

“Our achievement gaps are among the largest in the country,” he told BusinessWest. “Students are passing MCAS and graduating, but many are inadequately prepared for college and a career.”

Thus, MBAE, working in partnership with other groups, has been examining and using data to question and “critically, but diplomatically” challenge the establishment.

“We think that, with this next iteration of education reform, with the new funding that is going to come, particularly to the Gateway cities like Springfield, there is an opportunity to close those achievement gaps,” he said. “But only if there’s continued emphasis on improvement and reform.

“Money alone is not is not going to move the needle for a lot of students,” he went on. “We have data and information showing that, statewide, some school systems, with the same or comparable demographics, are spending much more, sometimes twice as much, per student, and not getting the results.”

Subjects Matter

Returning to the state of public education in Springfield, Davis and others said the city needs a strategic plan — and the state needs to further reform education — because inequities persist, and there are serious ramifications stemming from these inequities.

“I was very, very struck by the inequities that exist,” said Canavan, again speaking from experience as an educator and screener of potential employees. “Kids who are living in the surrounding suburbs have different experiences, different opportunities, and different outcomes than their peers in Springfield and other Gateway cities, and we should all be outraged, frankly.

“There have been improvements in the school system,” she went on. “But they’re too incremental for our kids to get where they need to be fast enough. And this is an economic-development issue; employers will not locate here, and they will not stay here, if they do not have the workers they need.”

Rodrigues agreed, noting that her group was inspired by, and outraged by, recent comments she attributed to Springfield’s school superintendent to the effect that the main problem with the city’s schools wasn’t one of performance or results, but merely one of “public relations.”

“That presentation wasn’t based in reality,” she said. “When you take a look at the numbers, the outcomes we’re getting for children … they show something much different. They were talking about growth percentiles, not proficiency.”

John Davis

John Davis says Springfield lacks a strategic plan for its public school system and needs one moving forward.

Indeed, hard data suggests there are problems, and the numbers come to life in a document prepared for SBLE as it goes about its mission of education and advocacy.

Titled “A Call to Action: Building a 21st-century Education System,” the report uses numbers and words to paint a disturbing picture. Here are some examples:

• “Only 33% of third graders meet expectations for grade-level reading, which means that two-thirds of Springfield’s third-graders don’t read at grade level. Children who are not proficient readers are more likely to drop out, not attend college, and are more likely to be incarcerated.”

• “By eighth grade, only 22% are reading at grade level; only 19% are at grade level in math. That means nearly 80% of Springfield’s eighth-graders are not at grade level for math or reading.”

• “The graduation rate for Springfield’s Latino population is only 74%, and only 9% of Latinos have a bachelor’s degree.”

• “Springfield’s dropout rate is more than two times higher than the state average.”

• “While 72% of jobs will require a career certificate or college degree by 2020, only 17% of Springfield ninth-graders go on to earn a college degree or certificate within six years of leaving high school.”

The numbers are followed by that call to action, and for formation of a plan that will, among other things, improve the quality of education in Springfield by ensuring the attraction of talented, high-quality teachers; establish universal pre-K; introduce acceleration academies for immediate intervention in schools in critical condition; and lengthen school days for extended learning time with high-quality teachers.

And with that plan, those with SBLE and MPU want more transparency from school leaders and, overall, more accountability.

“We’re not getting the information, and we can’t even agree to the fact there’s a problem,” said Rodrigues. “If we’re lucky enough to get our kids to graduation day, we hand them a piece of paper that says, ‘you have a foundation, and you’re ready to access all of this opportunity in your future.’ And then we find out that the paper means nothing — they have to take two years of remedial courses before they can take a college-level course.”

Canavan agreed, and stressed, again, that lack of proficiency in school translates into both employment issues and economic-development issues.

“We continue to see a persistent skills gap, a persistent gap in work behaviors that would torpedo people’s efforts to be in the workforce,” she said in reference to what she’s observed in her business. “It’s creating more and more challenges for us as a company, but also for employers — we hear over and over again that they don’t have the qualified employees that they need to meet production needs and to meet operational needs.

“We need to look at not just whether people are qualified to get a job,” she went on, “but are they qualified, and do they have the persistence and problem-solving skills to keep a job?”

Doing the Math

Returning to the matter of that very basic math test that United Personnel once gave to candidates, Canavan said the exam had become, toward the end, what she called a “waste of paper.”

“If we used it as a screening tool, we literally would have been unable to run our business,” she said. “But what that means is that, when people go to work, they need much more training and support, and sometimes they can’t even be successful with that support and training.”

But if those tests can, indeed, become part of a movement that brings about real change and an end to the persistent inequities in education that still exist in this state, then they won’t be a waste at all.

That is Canavan’s hope, and the hope of all those in SBLE, MPU, and MBAE, who, as critical friends of the school system, have decided to take on a larger, more impactful role in trying to bring about change.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Community Spotlight

Community Spotlight

Woodlawn Shopping Plaza

An architect’s rendering of the housing project planned for the Woodlawn Shopping Plaza.

Rocco Falcone acknowledged that, when he and fellow partners Andy Yee and Peter Picknelly acquired the Woodlawn Shopping Plaza on Newton Street in South Hadley in 2016, they were making that sizable investment at a time when the world of retail was changing — and shrinking.

And they knew then that the plaza, dominated by a closed Big Y supermarket, might not look like it did years down the road — not that they didn’t try to find a strong retail anchor to fill the role that Big Y played.

“We knew there was going to be an unlikelihood that we’d be able to get another supermarket, although we tried like heck to — we talked to a number of chains, local, national, and international,” said Falcone, manager of South Hadley Plaza LLC, the entity created to acquire the property, and perhaps better known as president and CEO of the Rocky’s Ace Hardware chain. “When we bought it, we kept it in our minds that it might not be a supermarket — or even retail.”

And the Woodlawn Shopping Plaza will, indeed, take on a new look — and role that goes beyond shopping — with the announcement of plans to build 72 mixed-income apartments on a three-acre portion of the plaza where the Big Y once stood; a public hearing is slated on the proposal for June 26 at the South Hadley library.

Town Administrator Mike Sullivan, former mayor of Holyoke, sees the proposed housing project as an opportunity for the community, one that could change the face of an underperforming property (the plaza), perhaps spur new business development at the site and elsewhere, and even boost enrollment at the town’s schools, which have seen their numbers declining in recent years.

“We knew there was going to be an unlikelihood that we’d be able to get another supermarket, although we tried like heck to — we talked to a number of chains, local, national, and international. When we bought it, we kept it in our minds that it might not be a supermarket — or even retail.”

The announced plans for the plaza comprise one of a number of intriguing developments in South Hadley, a community of nearly 18,000 people that has always been an attractive place to live and has been working for decades to balance its strong neighborhoods with new business opportunities.

Others include progress toward an update of the community’s master plan; introduction of a new option for ultra-high-speed internet service, called FiberSonic, to town residents; efforts to work with neighboring Granby to bring more order to a hodgepodge of zoning on the Route 202 corridor; apparent progress in bringing the town’s long-underperforming municipal golf course, the Ledges, to self-sustainability; and even a new dog park on the Ledges property.

“Dog parks have become somewhat of a recreational amenity in many communities, including Northampton, Granby, and many other cities and towns,” said Sullivan. “It’s surprising how many people are really into their dogs; this is a quality-of-life issue, and at least this will put another 100 to 200 South Hadley residents onto property that they’re paying for. They don’t golf, but they have a dog.”

For the latest installment of its Community Spotlight series, BusinessWest looks at these various developments in South Hadley and how they are part of ongoing efforts to make the community a better place to work, live, and start a business.

Getting out of the Rough

Golf courses, especially municipal golf courses, usually don’t generate many headlines.

The Ledges has been a notable exception to that rule. Since it opened at the start of this century, it has been in the news often — and for all the wrong reasons. Indeed, conceived and built as Tiger Woods was rocketing to stardom and golf was booming as a sport and a business, the picturesque Ledges, with breathtaking views of the Holyoke Range, was projected to a be a strong revenue generator for the community.

Suffice it to say things haven’t worked out that way. In fact, the course has been a financial drain, racking up deficits of more than $1 million some years, and into six figures most years.

Town Administrator Mike Sullivan

Town Administrator Mike Sullivan says new high-speed Internet service, called FiberSonic might spur more young professionals to move to South Hadley.

Sullivan, who inherited this problem, took the aggressive step of outsourcing not only maintenance of the course, but overall management of the facility, with the goal of turning things around and making the Ledges self-sustaining.

Mike Fontaine, the course’s general manager and an employee of Lakeland, Fla.-based International Golf Maintenance (IGM), which manages more than 30 courses across the country, is optimistic that some kind of corner has been turned at the Ledges. He noted that the shortfall was smaller last year (Sullivan pegged it at roughly $35,000) — despite unrelenting rains that made 2018 a difficult year for every golf course — and that, even with more rain early this year, the course is on track to improve on last year’s numbers and continue on an upward trajectory.

He said IGM’s efforts comprise work in progress, but added that a number of steps have been taken to improve the visitor experience and, thus, generate more revenue for the town. Work has been done to build a management team, place more emphasis on customer service, and give the 19th hole, an important revenue stream for all golf operations, a new look and feel. And even a new name.

“We gave the whole place a facelift, especially the restaurant,” he explained. “It was time for a fresh coat of paint, work behind the bar, new pictures of the golf course on the walls, moving the TVs, changing the name from Valley View restaurant to the Sunset Grille, and going with a whole new brand and marketing campaign.”

The new name highlights one of the course’s hallmarks — dramatic sunsets — and attempts to capitalize on that asset, said Fontaine, who said was inspired by what he saw in Key West, which is famous for its sunsets and people turning out to watch them.

He said the course has generally done well with visitation — 25,000 rounds last year — but needs a break from Mother Nature as well as a break from the negative publicity that hasn’t been good for business.

South Hadley at a Glance

Year Incorporated: 1775
Population: 17,791
Area: 18.4 square miles
County: Hampshire
Residential and commercial tax rate: $20.15 (Fire District 1); $20.55 (Fire District 2)
Median Household Income: $46,678
Median Family Income: $58,693
Type of government: Town meeting
Largest Employers: Mount Holyoke College; the Loomis Communities; Coveris Advanced Coatings; Big Y
* Latest information available

“We’re beating the numbers from last year, and we’re hitting our revenue goals despite losing three weekends in a row, including Mother’s Day weekend, due to rain — money we’ll never get back,” he said. “We’ll have a much better understanding of where we’re at when this year is over.”

While the picture seems to be improving at the Ledges, the picture is changing on Newton Street, especially at the Woodlawn Shopping Plaza.

While there is still significant retail there — the plaza is home to a Rocky’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, Dollar General, the Egg & I restaurant (a recent addition), the Parthenon restaurant, Mandarin Gourmet, and more — the former Big Y site was proving difficult to redevelop, said Falcone, noting that, after efforts to find a replacement supermarket were exhausted, the building was razed in 2018 with the goal of bringing more options to the fore, including residential.

The proposed 72-unit apartment complex will fill a need within the community for both affordable and market-rate housing, said Falcone, adding that this reuse is consistent with how many malls and shopping plazas are being repurposed at a time when stores are closing at an alarming rate and malls — and communities — are forced to be imaginative in a changing retail landscape.

“We looked at options to possibly subdivide the Big Y property, but we couldn’t get any junior anchors,” said Falcone, adding that the owners spent roughly the past year and half looking for smaller tenants, but to no avail.

“Retail is changing — people are getting away from retail and putting more focus on service and entertainment,” he said, adding that the town created an overlay district within the Newton Street area that allows for mixed-use development and residential space, which brings us to the plans currently on the table.

“We thought this would be a good option and a good opportunity,” said Falcone, adding that research revealed demand for such housing. “If you look at Village Commons, those apartments are always full, and my understanding is there’s a waiting list to get in there. So we think South Hadley is a great community for some additional housing.”

Sullivan agreed. “We’re a vibrant community for condominium development, and there’s considerable demand for them — we have condominiums on the riverfront selling for more than $400,000,” he noted. “But we think this proposed development balances things out; it provides another option for housing.”

The Gig-speed Economy

They’re called ‘fiberhoods.’

That’s the name the South Hadley Electric Light Department (SHELD) has given to areas, or neighborhoods, in the community that will be provided with FiberSonic, which will make gigabit-speed internet available to residential homes; the service is already available to South Hadley businesses.

SHELD is starting in the Ridge Road area — the service will be available there in July — and will proceed to the Old Lyman Road fiberhood in August, and the Hollywood Street area in September. By year’s end, 700 homes should be covered by the project, and the 32 identified fiberhoods will be added in phases over the next five years, said Sean Fitzgerald, SHELD’s general manager.

“Establishing fiber-optic internet service throughout the town will bring added convenience and, more importantly, will accommodate the ever-growing bandwidth need for South Hadley customers,” said Fitzgerald, who described FiberSonic as “home-grown, gig-speed Internet.”

This service should help make South Hadley a more attractive option for a growing number of professionals who essentially call the office home, even as they work for companies in Boston, New York, and Seattle, said Sullivan.

“When you can access a high-paying job in New York City, Boston, Montreal, or even Los Angeles, and you might have to only go to the home office once a month or once a week and the rest of the day work at home, your housing costs are lower and quality of life is higher in Western Mass.,” he explained. “We’re seeing more of this in South Hadley, and the new internet service will make this community even more attractive.”

As the overall pace of change accelerates, the town looks to anticipate what the future might bring — and be prepared for it — with an update to a master plan drafted roughly a decade ago.

That document, the town’s first master plan in more than three decades, included no less than 200 recommended actions, said Town Planner Richard Harris, noting that this represents an obviously unachievable number, although many have been implemented, especially in the realms of housing, recreation, and creation of growth districts.

He expects that the updated plan, to be completed by year’s end, will be more strategic in nature.

“While it will still be broad, because the nature of a master plan is broad, we’re expecting it to be more strategic in focus and more related to the current organizational structure and long-term needs of the community,” he told BusinessWest. “I wouldn’t expect as much focus on zoning and land use as the last plan, and instead more on how to capitalize on what we have done.”

There have been a number of community forums staged to solicit commentary and input about the plan and what it should include, as well as smaller, more informal sessions within neighborhoods called “meetings in a box,” said Harris, adding that a draft of a new plan should be ready for additional review by the fall and a final document in place by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, the town isn’t waiting for the new plan to address a long-term concern and probable hindrance to growth — the hodgepodge of zoning along the Route 202 corridor, roughly from Route 33 into Granby Town Commons.

“Both towns have the leftover remnants of a ’60s regional road,” he explained, noting that there are homes next to dinosaur-track stops next to other forms of business. “It’s not very well-organized; there’s a weird mix, and we think there is a real need for conformity.

“If we could get that conformity, there’s enough business traffic going into Belchertown, Ware, and, beyond that, Amherst — and we can harness that traffic,” he went on, adding there have been discussions with officials in Granby about zoning and also infrastructure and perhaps tying properties along that corridor into South Hadley’s sewer system, a development that would benefit both communities.

“We hope this will bring more investment to those commercial properties along 202 in South Hadley,” Harris explained. “That will result in more tax dollars — and it would be great to have more people to share the tax burden with.”

Bottom Line

Those last sentiments accurately reflect a goal, and an ongoing challenge, spanning decades: creating more opportunities to share the tax burden.

South Hadley has always been a great place to live — and now also play golf and walk your dog. Greater balance in the form of new businesses and better use of existing and potential commercial property has always been a goal and priority.

And between the proposed new housing project, faster internet service, and progress along the Route 202 corridor, the community is making more headway toward realizing that goal.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Features

Rethinking Safety

Joe Hileman of Blue-U Defense addresses the audience gathered at the recent seminar on workplace violence.

Joe Hileman of Blue-U Defense addresses the audience gathered at the recent seminar on workplace violence.

Sarah Corrigan thought the new security systems being implemented at OMG Inc.’s several locations would be sufficient to keep employers safe from any sort of outside danger.

But a recent workplace-violence training session convinced her that keeping an office or building safe at a time when active-shooter incidents occur almost weekly in the U.S. is far more about educating and training people than it is about technology — although technology is certainly important.

Corrigan, vice president of Human Resources and Environmental Health and Safety for Agawam-based OMG, said she went into the session, hosted by the Employers Assoc. of the NorthEast (EANE) and presented by Blue-U Defense, expecting to receive some type of plan for how to deal with these types of tragic incidents.

Instead, she came out knowing it was up to her to talk with her employees about how they can each help themselves survive such a situation.

“I expected them to give us a process where there would be something set that we follow, so that was different to me, but it made a lot of sense,” she said, adding that she was surprised to hear the instructors actually warn against making a detailed plan.

Blue-U President and CEO Terry Choate Jr. told his audience of 150 business owners, managers, and rank-and-file employees that active-shooter training can oftentimes be too descriptive, putting the lives of those in the path of danger at even higher risk.

“As alarming as some of those videos are to watch, it is truly a reality. We’re really at a point where we need to take matters into our own hands; we have to be proactive at this point. It’s almost like, if we don’t do anything, we can’t expect any change.”

“Most of the active-shooter training across the country is ‘run, hide, and fight’ based. The problem with run, hide, fight is we already know that,” Choate said. “In the end, it means nothing. The key becomes how, when, and where do we run? How, when, and where do we hide? How, when, and where do we fight?”

This was the key takeaway from the three-hour session, hosted by EANE twice earlier this month — on June 12 at the Log Cabin in Springfield and on June 13 at at the Mandell Jewish Community Center in West Hartford.

The sessions were prompted by recent events — all too many of them, including the May 30 mass shooting at a municipal building in Virginia Beach, Va. — and alarming statistics. Indeed, according to the Gun Violence Archive, there were 340 mass shootings in 2018, compared to 269 in 2014. Meanwhile, during the presentation, Choate said the number-one cause of death for women in the workplace is workplace violence.

More than 140 area business owners, managers, and employees attended the event.

More than 140 area business owners, managers, and employees attended the event.

Those numbers help explain why the MassHire Springfield Career Center office, located in the Springfield Technology Park across from Springfield Technical Community College, was uninhabited on the afternoon of June 12, with all 28 employees attending the session at the Log Cabin.

Executive Director Kevin Lynn said his staff had been asking to do a training like the one put on by EANE, and he jumped at the opportunity.

“I think the issue really is that, every time we turn on the news and hear about one of these shootings, you think, ‘do you know what to do? What’s the right thing to do?’ he told BusinessWest. “You’re always sort of guessing.”

And guessing isn’t what he wants to be doing, or wants anyone else on his staff doing, he said, adding that this was a big motivator for sending his team to the training.

The audience at the Log Cabin was attentive and responsive as Choate and his colleague, Joe Hileman, went through their presentation, and the crowd fell silent when listening to the disturbing audio of the Columbine High School shooting in 1999.

Using that tape and videos of other mass shootings, the two explained that, although it may be a difficult thing to think and talk about such incidents and the steps needed to prevent one, such discussions are necessary in this day and age.

Pam Thornton, director of Strategic HR services at EANE, agreed, and said part of the agency’s role as an employer partner has become keeping the employees it serves safe, prompting such programs as the recent training sessions.

“As alarming as some of those videos are to watch, it is truly a reality,” she said. “We’re really at a point where we need to take matters into our own hands; we have to be proactive at this point. It’s almost like, if we don’t do anything, we can’t expect any change.”

Lynn added that the training session forced him to think about things differently, noting that being a company that regularly interacts with the public, serving 12,000 people annually, heightens the need for security.

“There’s really not a lot of room to operate; a building from the 1800s is not really built for this kind of reality,” he said, referring to the Tech Park, part of the Springfield Armory complex and later home to Digital Equipment Corp.

Like OMG, Lynn said he is looking into renovations that could potentially make the building safer, but for now, he said his employees were thankful for the training.

Whether working with organizations as large as OMG or nonprofits as small as MassHire, Blue-U focuses on giving people the tools to mentally deal with a life-threatening situation.

Choate told the audience at the Log Cabin that one of the biggest problems with active-shooter training in these times is that the mental aspect of the problem is not dealt with. Another huge problem comes with overpreparing for a workplace-violence situation.

“We cannot assume what a bad guy or threat is going to do when they come into the building,” he said.

OMG Inc. is in the process of upgrading its security systems, including the installation of cameras and using badges for all 300-plus employees in its Agawam facility, but the company’s leaders now know that a conversation needs to be started with its workers as well.

“There are a lot of doors, a lot of ways to get in,” said Corrigan. “You can’t protect all of those means of access, so you have to teach employees to think for themselves so that they have a plan.”

Kristen Pospolita, HR manager at OMG, said the training session aligned with what the company is currently focusing on.

“I thought that it goes in line with what we are trying to do at OMG, which is to empower our employees to take accountability and responsibility for their own safety in every aspect of the job,” she said, adding that being careful while operating machines and picking up spills on the floor are other ways to be self-aware. “This is just one more step in keeping us all safe. ‘See something, say something’ can be very helpful in lots of different types of situations.”

While a mass shooting or violent crime in the workplace is still not exactly a common occurrence, Choate said such matters are, unfortunately, something people are forced to think about in today’s world. Taking the necessary precautions and thinking about how one would respond in an active-shooter situation can be the difference between living and dying.

“No matter what we do, we will never be able to stop acts of mass violence entirely; it will not happen,” said Choate. “That doesn’t mean we can’t try.”

Kayla Ebner can be reached at [email protected]

Features

Striking a Chord

Donald Harrison and Zaccai Curtis perform on the Charles Neville Main Stage in 2017.  Photo by Ed Cohen

Donald Harrison and Zaccai Curtis perform on the Charles Neville Main Stage in 2017.
Photo by Ed Cohen

Evan Plotkin has always been a firm believer in the arts as an economic-development strategy and vehicle for “changing the conversation about Springfield,” as he likes to say.

And this belief has manifested itself in a number of ways, from the manner in which he has turned 1350 Main St. (the downtown Springfield office building he co-owns) into a type of art gallery to the sculptures he has helped bring to the central business district, to his long-time support of the Springfield Museums and other institutions.

But perhaps the most visible, and impactful, example of his work to use the arts to bring people — and energy — to the city and its downtown is the annual Springfield Jazz & Roots Festival, the sixth edition of which is slated for Aug. 10.

“We’re putting a light on Springfield that is very positive,” said Plotkin, one of the founders of the festival. “The reputation of the jazz festival has been very positively received throughout the music world, regionally and beyond. That has a lot of benefits to changing the conversation about Springfield; you can talk about a lot of things about Springfield, but now you can add the festival to those things.”

The festival strives to connect people of all ages, races, and backgrounds through music and the arts, said Plotkin, and also connect people to Springfield, a city clearly on the rise.

The festival is known for bringing both established and up-and-coming artists together to perform on the same stage — actually, several stages. The 2019 festival headliner is Elan Trotman, who will perform on a stage in the plaza at MGM Springfield at 10 p.m., kicking off the festival’s after-party.

Other performers of the day are split between two stages of equal importance in or near Court Square; the Charles Neville Main Stage and the Urban Roots Stage will offer performances simultaneously.

Artists for the 2019 lineup include Cory Henry and the Funk Apostles, Elio Villafranca & the Jass Syncopators, Tia Fuller, Samite, Firey String Sistas!, Kotoko Brass, Molly Tigre, Convergence Project Trio, Tap Roots, and the Holyoke Community Jazz Ensemble. Local artists from the Springfield area include the Billy Arnold Trio, Bomba De Aqui, and Ryan Hollander.

Evan Plotkin believes the jazz festival helps bring people to Springfield and present the city in a positive light.  Leah Martin Photography

Evan Plotkin believes the jazz festival helps bring people to Springfield and present the city in a positive light.
Leah Martin Photography

This year marks the festival’s second without Charles Neville, member of the Neville Brothers and beloved performer at the event, who died in April 2018. Neville’s wife, Kristin, co-founded the event with Plotkin and Blues to Green, a nonprofit organization that uses music to bring people together through performances, and hopes to unite people from many different communities in Springfield that share a common love for art and music.

The organization also works to create a more positive image for Springfield and help erase negative perceptions about the City of Homes. Plotkin told BusinessWest that Charles Neville’s impact on the festival lives on through the performances at the annual event.

“I think he really believed in the healing power of music and its ability to bring people together as one people,” said Plotkin, adding that Neville acted as a guiding light for the festival. “His presence spoke more than almost anything.”

The free outdoor festival has drawn thousands of people to Court Square, giving people the opportunity to meet other music lovers. The $200,000 budget for the event comes completely from sponsors and volunteers.

Plotkin said support for the event has been tremendously helpful, and the positive reactions from attendees are what drive the producers to make it bigger and better each year.

“I love the fact that people are so animated and excited about the music,” said Plotkin, adding that the music ranges from Latino bands to blues artists to gospel singers. “The audience embraces the variety of different genres and feels like this is something that belongs to them.”

Hollander, one of the local artists set to perform at the 2019 festival, agreed that jazz music has the ability to bring people together. “I think jazz music is intended to be the music of the people,” he said.

City on the Rise

The Springfield Jazz & Roots Festival comes at a time where the arts are playing a significant, and growing, role in the revitalization of Springfield and also in creating a better vibe in the city. Examples abound, including everything from high-profile, MGM-organized concerts at the MassMutual Center (Stevie Wonder and Cher have performed, and Aerosmith is booked for this summer) to Fresh Paint, a mural project downtown that has changed the face of many buildings and structures .

“I think this festival coming off of the mural festival is going to push us forward in terms of really positive impressions that people will have about the city,” Plotkin said.

Hollander agreed, noting that the opening of MGM and other initiatives have created more vibrancy and more nightlife, complemented by a greater police presence and, overall, fewer concerns about crime and safety.

“I think that Springfield is definitely on the rise,” he told BusinessWest. “The general downtown just feels safer in most parts. I think any time we find other things to occupy ourselves with, we’re less likely to resort to crime or violence. The festival is an opportunity to do something non-violent and be entertained.”

In 2016, Jazz Times magazine named the Springfield Jazz & Roots Festival one of the best jazz festivals to attend, and Plotkin hopes the event can continue to grow in both size and stature.

“The jazz festival helps to define the downtown from its walkability,” he said, adding that his goal would be to model the festival after other famous ones in the region, like the Newport Jazz Festival, and set up several different stages and venues around the downtown area.

“Ultimately, a really cool concept to grasp is how walkable the city is, because that implies that it’s safe,” he said. “A walkable city is a safe city. The more people who are walking the streets, the less worries you have about crime and safety.”

As an example of this phenomenon, he cited the underpass that connects the downtown with Riverfront Park, which has been painted into a Dr. Seuss mural by John Simpson. This connector, Plotkin said, used to be a place where people did not want to go because they were afraid to cross the highway to go to the riverfront.

“Now, by painting that underpass and creating activities on that side of the river as well as downtown, you’re creating this connector,” he explained, adding that the jazz festival acts similarly, showing how possible it is to bring all communities in Springfield together as one. “We haven’t reached that ultimate goal of having this festival throughout the downtown, but by doing the jazz festival, you can see the potential of what can happen if we carry this throughout downtown.”

Plotkin remembers a time in his early 20s where he was able to walk to bars and restaurants downtown and feel completely safe, and feels that Springfield is making its way there once again.

“I think, today, it’s the safest the city has ever been downtown,” he said. “And it can only get better as we finish construction on several parks and as we start to program them with music.

“That,” he added, “is where a wall becomes a bridge.”

Kayla Ebner can be reached at [email protected]

Features

Fabulous Five

With a whopping 480 past 40 Under Forty winners, it’s no easy task to choose the one who has accomplished the most since his or her selection. But, for the fifth straight year, our judges are giving it a try.

“So many 40 Under Forty honorees have refused to rest on their laurels,” said Kate Campiti, associate publisher of BusinessWest. “Once again, we want to honor those who continue to build upon their strong records of service in business, within the community, and as regional leaders. And, like previous years’ finalists, these five individuals have certainly done that.”

This year’s crop of finalists were chosen from a field of 60 nominations by three independent judges: Elizabeth Cardona, executive director of Multicultural Affairs and International Student Life at Bay Path University; Scott Foster, partner with Bulkley, Richardson and Gelinas; and Susan O’Connor, vice president and general counsel at Health New England.

Four years ago, BusinessWest inaugurated the award to recognize past 40 Under Forty honorees who had significantly built on their achievements since they were honored.

The first two winners were Delcie Bean, president of Paragus Strategic IT, and Dr. Jonathan Bayuk, president of Allergy and Immunology Associates of Western Mass. and chief of Allergy and Immunology at Baystate Medical Center. Both were originally named to the 40 Under Forty class of 2008. The judges chose two winners in 2017: Foster (class of 2011); and Nicole Griffin, owner of Griffin Staffing Network (class of 2014). Last year, Samalid Hogan, regional director of the Massachusetts Small Business Development Center (class of 2013), took home the honor.

The winner of the fifth annual Continued Excellence Award will be announced at this year’s 40 Under Forty Gala, slated for Thursday, June 20 at the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House in Holyoke. The nominees are:

Michael Fenton

Michael Fenton

Michael Fenton

When Fenton was named to the 40 Under Forty in 2012, he was serving his second term on Springfield’s City Council and preparing to graduate from law school. He was also a trustee at his alma mater, Cathedral High School, where he dedicated countless hours to help rebuild the school following the 2011 tornado.

Since then, Fenton continues to serve on the City Council — including as its president from 2014 to 2016 — and is a shareholder at Shatz, Schwartz & Fentin, P.C., practicing in the areas of business planning, commercial real estate, commercial finance, and estate planning. He received an Excellence in the Law honor from Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly and was named a Super Lawyers Rising Star from 2014 through 2017.

Meanwhile, in the community, he is a founding member of Suit Up Springfield; a corporator with Mason Wright Foundation; a volunteer teacher at Junior Achievement; a member of the Hungry Hill, Atwater Park, and East Springfield civic associations; and an advisory board member at Roca Inc., which helps high-risk young people transform their lives.

Anthony Gleason II

Anthony Gleason II

Anthony Gleason II

Gleason was just 24 when he earned the 40 Under Forty designation in 2010. At the time, he was commercial sales manager at Roger Sitterly and Son, overseeing about 20 people, while also managing the operations of his own company, Gleason Landscaping, which at the time was bringing in $500,000 in annual revenues.

Today, he’s no longer affiliated with Sitterly, as his landscaping and snow-removal outfit now services all of New England, employing more than 100 people during the landscaping season and 300 during the winter. The firm grosses more than $10 million annually and is the 32nd-largest snow-removal company in the country. He also co-owns Gleason Johndrow Rentals, which has a portfolio of properties valued at $10 million. He’s also a co-owner of MAPAM-1, LLC and a director of Gleason Brothers Inc.

Meanwhile, Gleason is active with Spirit of Springfield, leading the largest cadre of volunteers for the annual World’s Largest Pancake Breakfast, serving on the organization’s golf committee, and sponsoring Bright Nights and the Bright Nights Ball. He has also donated landscaping services to a number of municipal and nonprofit projects.

Cinda Jones

Cinda Jones

Cinda Jones

Jones was a member of the inaugural 40 Under Forty class of 2007, chosen not just for her role as president of the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce board of directors, but for her ninth-generation leadership of WD Cowls Inc., which managed timberland in 31 communities. At the time, she managed the company’s real-estate division and oversaw its sawmill and planing mill.

Since then, Jones has grown Cowls’ timberland base by more than 1,000 acres, closed the unprofitable sawmill, and built nothing short of a new town center, called North Square, in its place. She also hosts two major solar farms and is planning more, and sold the largest conservation restriction in state history; the 3,486-acre Paul C. Jones Working Forest raised $8.8 million and was named for her father. This year, she will add 2,000 more across to her conservation legacy.

Jones also stays active in the community with the Amherst Survival Center, donating her contractors’ time to mow and plow for this food bank and sponsoring community food-collection programs.

Eric Lesser

Lesser was chosen for the 40 Under Forty class of 2015 following his election to the state Senate in November 2014. Elected at just 29 years old, he represents nine communities in the First Hampden & Hampshire District. His legislative agenda focuses on the fight for greater economic opportunity and quality of life for Western Mass., with initiatives around high-speed rail, a high-tech economy, job training, and innovation in government. He also spearheads the Senate’s agenda on millennial issues, including technology policy, student debt, and greater youth engagement in public affairs.

Since 2015, in addition to securing several leadership positions in the Legislature, Lesser has been overwhelmingly re-elected senator twice, and has authored several pieces of successful legislation, including lowering the cost of Narcan for first responders, which has contributed to a decrease in the Commonwealth’s overall opioid deaths for two straight years.

Lesser has also supported economic programs that bridge the gap between Boston and Springfield and has secured hundreds of thousands of dollars for area organizations, including Valley Venture Mentors, the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts, Greentown Labs, and more.

Meghan Rothschild

Rothschild, then development and marketing manager for the Food Bank of Western Mass., was named to the 40 Under Forty class of 2011 mainly for her tireless work in melanoma awareness. A survivor herself, she began organizing local events to raise funds for the fight against this common killer, and launched a website, SurvivingSkin.org, and TV show, Skin Talk, that brought wider attention to her work.

Since then, Rothschild has stayed busy, increasing her profile with the Melanoma Foundation of New England and IMPACT Melanoma, and hosting a community talk show on 94.3 FM. Most notably, however, she has grown Chikmedia, a woman-focused marketing firm, into a true regional force. The firm recently marked its fifth anniversary and continues to expand its roster of clients, community workshops, branded events, and social-media impact.

Rothschild also teaches at Springfield College and is a board member at the Zoo at Forest Park, donating her time to its marketing and PR initiatives. She has also participated in events benefiting the Holyoke Children’s Museum, Junior Achievement, and a host of other groups.

Features

This Isn’t Your Grandparents’ HR Department

By Michael Klein

Michael Klein

Michael Klein

When Showtime network’s Wall Street drama Billions launched its fourth season this year, most viewers did not realize one of its main characters is modeled after a job that exists in the real world — a role that is quite familiar to business coaches and HR directors who have specialized training in mental health.

In fact, in companies similar to the fictitious Axe Capital on Billions, the role of the in-house performance coach and psychiatrist Wendy Rhoades is not new. Wall Street traders have used psychologists and psychiatrists for years to make sure that they maximize their confidence, optimism, performance, and earning potential in stressful and highly demanding situations.

It’s impossible to work effectively in any job without running into roadblocks periodically. The character of Wendy Rhoades has had an important educational impact. We know that one of the biggest differentiators regarding success at work is managing internal roadblocks and reacting thoughtfully to external ones. While a few industries understand the benefit to the bottom line in having highly trained, in-house advisors and coaches for employees and managers, most haven’t caught on yet.

This is not personal therapy or counseling at work like employee-assistance programs (EAPs). It is helping employees perform at peak capacity in their jobs based on their own drive to do well and manage barriers at work.

On Wall Street, the work of Ari Kiev is often referenced as the first clear example of this unique in-house role in businesses. Kiev, a psychiatrist, focused early in his career on depression and suicide, leading ultimately to a career helping athletes and Wall Street traders achieve peak performance.

By studying their behavior patterns and subconscious fears, he helped traders gain insight into their tendencies toward denial and rationalization that could subvert their investment goals. He helped traders develop visualization and relaxation techniques to escape their fear of failure and achieve their performance goals.

It is critical that companies and their employees know these are not medical or psychiatric interventions. Referrals to local therapists can be made when the conversations steer toward personal issues and history.

Many people confuse this with therapy because it does involve conversations about personality, behavioral habits, and self-awareness. But this work at small companies with managers and employees is not about mental health; we don’t discuss parenting, family, substance-abuse, or any other personal issues. It is exclusively about work performance and professional development.

Chicago-based management psychologist Gail Golden believes the psychologist’s toolkit is relevant and tremendously useful in this role.

“Reframing, confrontation, changing perspectives — all of these can rapidly accelerate performance when used by a professional,” she said. “A large part of performance coaching is about managing energy — teaching leaders to utilize their physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual energy for maximum stamina and effectiveness.”

Unlike the Billions coach’s focus on maximizing performance in service of profitable stock trades and income potential, in-house psychologist-advisors work with a much broader variety of issues, including:

• Staff supervision;

• Interpersonal communication;

• Career development;

• Organizational change;

• Team effectiveness;

• Employee conflict;

• Role clarity;

• Transition management;

• Working with new leaders; and

• Other topics related to work roles, responsibilites, and performance.

While these types of ‘soft skills’ are often addressed via training workshops and seminars, data shows that, without one-on-one coaching, these skills typically do not transfer from the classroom to the job. And even when they do, they are quickly lost without ongoing attention and energy.

While these topics often overlap with the responsibilities and tasks of human-resource professionals, a key difference lies in the (part-time) on-site coach’s objectivity, ‘outsider’ status, and not being part of the organization’s HR department or management processes.

When managers and employees consult with an in-house psychologist or performance coach, they know the insight, advice, and challenges they are confronting are designed to help them be more productive, advance their career, or minimize some difficulty they are having at work. They share information and concerns they would never share with HR, or any other employee, for fear of it hurting their career, getting back to their manager, or, often, just causing painful embarrassment.

What many companies haven’t realized is that having a highly trained and experienced professional in this role can benefit the organization, whether it results in a better manager, higher-performing employees, less workplace conflict and drama, or simply greater employee-driven professional development.

Michael A. Klein, Psy.D. is a Northampton-based performance advisor and business coach. Klein, who holds a doctorate in clinical psychology, has worked with small and mid-size businesses in the Pioneer Valley in an on-site capacity since 2008, including Paragus Strategic IT, American Benefits Group, and Westside Finishing, among others; (413) 320-4664; [email protected]

Features

Striking a Chord

By Kayla Ebner

Evan Plotkin has always been a firm believer in the arts as an economic-development strategy and vehicle for “changing the conversation about Springfield,” as he likes to say.

And this belief has manifested itself in a number of ways, from the manner in which he has turned 1350 Main St. (the downtown Springfield office building he co-owns) into a type of art gallery to the sculptures he has helped bring to the central business district, to his long-time support of the Springfield Museums and other institutions.

But perhaps the most visible, and impactful, example of his work to use the arts to bring people — and energy — to the city and its downtown is the annual Springfield Jazz & Roots Festival, the sixth edition of which is slated for Aug. 10.

“We’re putting a light on Springfield that is very positive,” said Plotkin, one of the founders of the festival. “The reputation of the jazz festival has been very positively received throughout the music world, regionally and beyond. That has a lot of benefits to changing the conversation about Springfield; you can talk about a lot of things about Springfield, but now you can add the festival to those things.”

The festival strives to connect people of all ages, races, and backgrounds through music and the arts, said Plotkin, and also connect people to Springfield, a city clearly on the rise.

The festival is known for bringing both established and up-and-coming artists together to perform on the same stage — actually, several stages. The 2019 festival headliner is Elan Trotman, who will perform on a stage in the plaza at MGM Springfield at 10 p.m., kicking off the festival’s after-party.

Other performers of the day are split between two stages of equal importance in or near Court Square; the Charles Neville Main Stage and the Urban Roots Stage will offer performances simultaneously.

Artists for the 2019 lineup include Cory Henry and the Funk Apostles, Elio Villafranca & the Jass Syncopators, Tia Fuller, Samite, Firey String Sistas!, Kotoko Brass, Molly Tigre, Convergence Project Trio, Tap Roots, and the Holyoke Community Jazz Ensemble. Local artists from the Springfield area include the Billy Arnold Trio, Bomba De Aqui, and Ryan Hollander.

This year marks the festival’s second without Charles Neville, member of the Neville Brothers and beloved performer at the event, who died in April 2018. Neville’s wife, Kristin, co-founded the event with Plotkin and Blues to Green, a nonprofit organization that uses music to bring people together through performances, and hopes to unite people from many different communities in Springfield that share a common love for art and music.

The organization also works to create a more positive image for Springfield and help erase negative perceptions about the City of Homes. Plotkin told BusinessWest that Charles Neville’s impact on the festival lives on through the performances at the annual event.

“I think he really believed in the healing power of music and its ability to bring people together as one people,” said Plotkin, adding that Neville acted as a guiding light for the festival. “His presence spoke more than almost anything.”

The free outdoor festival has drawn thousands of people to Court Square, giving people the opportunity to meet other music lovers. The $200,000 budget for the event comes completely from sponsors and volunteers.

Plotkin said support for the event has been tremendously helpful, and the positive reactions from attendees are what drive the producers to make it bigger and better each year.

“I love the fact that people are so animated and excited about the music,” said Plotkin, adding that the music ranges from Latino bands to blues artists to gospel singers. “The audience embraces the variety of different genres and feels like this is something that belongs to them.”

Hollander, one of the local artists set to perform at the 2019 festival, agreed that jazz music has the ability to bring people together. “I think jazz music is intended to be the music of the people,” he said.

City on the Rise

The Springfield Jazz & Roots Festival comes at a time where the arts are playing a significant, and growing, role in the revitalization of Springfield and also in creating a better vibe in the city. Examples abound, including everything from high-profile, MGM-organized concerts at the MassMutual Center (Stevie Wonder and Cher have performed, and Aerosmith is booked for this summer) to Fresh Paint Springfield, a mural project downtown that has changed the face of many buildings and structures.

“I think this festival coming off of the mural festival is going to push us forward in terms of really positive impressions that people will have about the city,” Plotkin said.

Hollander agreed, noting that the opening of MGM and other initiatives have created more vibrancy and more nightlife, complemented by a greater police presence and, overall, fewer concerns about crime and safety.

“I think that Springfield is definitely on the rise,” he told BusinessWest. “The general downtown just feels safer in most parts. I think any time we find other things to occupy ourselves with, we’re less likely to resort to crime or violence. The festival is an opportunity to do something non-violent and be entertained.”

In 2016, Jazz Times magazine named the Springfield Jazz & Roots Festival one of the best jazz festivals to attend, and Plotkin hopes the event can continue to grow in both size and stature.

“The jazz festival helps to define the downtown from its walkability,” he said, adding that his goal would be to model the festival after other famous ones in the region, like the Newport Jazz Festival, and set up several different stages and venues around the downtown area.

“Ultimately, a really cool concept to grasp is how walkable the city is, because that implies that it’s safe,” he said. “A walkable city is a safe city. The more people who are walking the streets, the less worries you have about crime and safety.”

As an example of this phenomenon, he cited the underpass that connects the downtown with Riverfront Park, which has been painted into a Dr. Seuss mural by John Simpson. This connector, Plotkin said, used to be a place where people did not want to go because they were afraid to cross the highway to go to the riverfront.

“Now, by painting that underpass and creating activities on that side of the river as well as downtown, you’re creating this connector,” he explained, adding that the jazz festival acts similarly, showing how possible it is to bring all communities in Springfield together as one. “We haven’t reached that ultimate goal of having this festival throughout the downtown, but by doing the jazz festival, you can see the potential of what can happen if we carry this throughout downtown.”

Plotkin remembers a time in his early 20s where he was able to walk to bars and restaurants downtown and feel completely safe, and feels that Springfield is making its way there once again.

“I think, today, it’s the safest the city has ever been downtown,” he said. “And it can only get better as we finish construction on several parks and as we start to program them with music. That’s where a wall becomes a bridge.”

Features

A Different Time

Jessica Roncariti-Howe, here displaying one of her own paintings

Jessica Roncariti-Howe, here displaying one of her own paintings, says efforts to shine a spotlight on the arts and culture is just one of the ways the Greater Chicopee Chamber is working to build a stronger community.

Years ago, joining the local chamber of commerce was a knee-jerk reaction for a new business or a venture moving to a new community. Today, it’s far less a given, especially with the budgetary and time constraints facing all business members. To attract and properly serve members — and their communities — chambers must focus on creativity and collaboration, as we learned from several chamber leaders relatively new to their roles.

They call it ‘Run the Runway.’

Because that’s what you do.

Indeed, participants in this reincarnated version of the Greater Chicopee Chamber’s fundraising 5K road race actually run down the runway at Westover Air Reserve Base on part of the course. They traverse roughly three-quarters of the main runway’s length, turn off along one of the aprons, pass under the wing of one of the giant C-5s, and then back again.

The second edition of the event will be staged June 8, and while the inaugural run was hugely successful, this year’s version will raise the bar much higher — and probably raise considerably more money. That’s because organizers have added a large ampersand to the event logo, as well as the words ‘Festival’ and ‘Car Show.’

“This used to be a minor fundraiser, but now it’s probably our biggest,” said Jessica Roncariti-Howe, president of the Greater Chicopee Chamber of Commerce. “And having our major fundraiser be an event that is signature to Chicopee and highlights some things are very unique to our city is really heartening to us; it’s very exciting.”

“We try very hard to stay away from the ‘mingle around the bar with a glass of wine’ model; our goal is to bring some fun to everything we do.”

Thus, Run the Runway is in many ways a solid example of changing times for area chambers of commerce and the need to adapt to these changes. In this climate, chambers are being more creative, finding ways to bring more value to members and the communities they serve, and doing far more partnering and collaborating — with other chambers, different business- and economic-development-related agencies, and civic groups.

In the case of Run the Runway, these partnerships are with Westover itself, Westover Metropolitan Airport, and the Galaxy Community Council, said Roncariti-Howe, who is one of several area chamber leaders relatively new to their assignment — she’s been at the helm for roughly two years.

For this issue, BusinessWest talked to several of the region’s new chamber leaders about their work, how it is changing in many ways, and what chambers must do to remain relevant and maintain strong membership at a time when joining such an organization is far from the given it was a generation ago.

Claudia Pazmany is another of these new chamber leaders. She took the helm at the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce roughly a year ago, at a critical time in the history of the agency.

Indeed, the Amherst chamber had gone through several directors over the previous decade and had become a volunteer organization for a short time before the board handed the reins to Pazmany, a veteran development strategist and consultant — she’s worked for agencies ranging from Providence Ministries for the Needy to CHD’s Big Brothers Big Sisters of Hampshire County — with the goal of putting the chamber on far more solid footing.

She told BusinessWest her basic strategy has been to raise the chamber’s profile, inject some energy, and establish the chamber as a valuable resource for members, and she believes she’s achieving results. Those efforts are summed up nicely in the name she chose for the newsletter she distributes weekly: “In Your Corner.”

Claudia Pazmany

Claudia Pazmany says signing on with a chamber is the easy part for a business. Leveraging membership and getting the most of it takes some work.

“I’ve been reintroducing the chamber to people and sending a consistent message — we’ve really upped our game with our e-contacts and e-newsletter,” she said, describing these efforts as ‘Marketing 101,’ but something that wasn’t being done at the chamber.

She added quickly that there are many challenges facing chambers today, and, more than ever, these agencies must be focused on those three letters so well-known to everyone who sells a product or service: ROI.

Diana Szynal, executive director of the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce (FCCC) since late last fall, agreed.

Szynal was looking for a challenge — and a job, really — after coming up short in her bid to succeed the late Peter Kocut, the state representative she served for many years as district representative.

She said the chamber job is in many ways a natural for her because she can easily find a number of similarities between serving constituents and serving business owners — and the communities of Franklin County.

“This was a natural progression, to trade constituents for businesses. In both cases, there’s a lot of listening and responding to what you hear,” said Szynal, adding that the FCCC will be celebrating its centennial this year, a milestone that will be marked in a number of ways.

As it looks toward the next hundred years — or even the next few years — the goal will be to continuously find new and different ways to make membership not a cost, but an investment — a challenge shared by all the area chambers.

Mission Statements

As Roncariti-Howe talked with BusinessWest in the Greater Chicopee Chamber’s conference room, the office was noticeably quiet.

She was the only one in that moment — and in a few weeks, she noted, that would be the situation for some time to come.

Her two staff members are both leaving the agency (one is going to work in the mayor’s office), leaving Roncariti-Howe alone — and also with a chance to take a hard look at the organization and perhaps do some restructuring and reorganizing.

Again.

Indeed, she went through this same scenario roughly a year ago, she noted, adding quickly that finding, retaining, and ultimately replacing talent is just one of the challenges she’s taken on since coming to the chamber after several years spent in nonprofit management, most recently with the AIDS Foundation. And she acknowledged that she’s certainly not alone.

“I tell people I’m in their corner. I want people to know that we’re reliable, we’re consistent, and our marketing is here to support them; we’re here to highlight our members.”

Other challenges include membership — numbers are way down from years ago, when chambers were able to include health insurance to members as part of their package, and maintaining current levels is always a struggle — as well as finding new and creative ways to engage members and bring value to their participation.

Roncariti-Howe explained her work this way: “Working for a nonprofit, I always served one mission. This job gave me the opportunity to serve 300 — to figure out what helped the local business community, what made all these individual organizations tick, and how to build relationships among them and bring them together.”

To explain how she goes about all that, she summoned two words that provide some alliteration — ‘creativity’ and ‘collaboration’ — and offered a quick explanation.

“Creativity manifests in the form of creating events that are either in unique or attractive venues or have some sort of draw that’s different than what other people would typically get,” she said. “We try very hard to stay away from the ‘mingle around the bar with a glass of wine’ model; our goal is to bring some fun to everything we do.”

Diana Szynal

Diana Szynal, who recently took the helm at the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce, says collaboration is the key to getting things done in that rural region.

A few decades ago, chamber leaders didn’t have to worry much about providing fun — or about membership in general. Pazmany, like the others we spoke with, noted that, in the past, chamber membership was in many ways a knee-jerk reaction for new business ventures or those moving into a community. Today, it is anything but, especially with the time and budget constraints facing small-business owners today.

So the chamber has to make membership worth the time and expense, said those we spoke with, adding that this is being done in a number of ways, from offering resources to providing valuable content in newsletters, and creating networking opportunities that, as Roncariti-Howe noted, go well beyond a glass of wine at the bar.

“I tell people I’m in their corner,” said Pazmany, adding that her chamber lives up to the name on its publication. “I want people to know that we’re reliable, we’re consistent, and our marketing is here to support them; we’re here to highlight our members.”

Working with graduate research students at UMass Amherst, the Amherst Area Chamber, which also represents Hadley, Pelham, and other communities, has worked to fill holes on its website and update Google Analytics to provide optimal exposure for members on that website.

“Some people’s member listings are coming up higher than their own,” said Pazmany, with a large dose of pride in her voice, adding that this is one of the ways the chamber is providing value and ROI. “We want to remind people that a chamber membership can be part of their marketing plan, and if they do it well — meaning they’re networking, they’re showing up at events, they’re sponsoring an event or speaking at an event — they can really benefit.

“But they need to take full advantage of it — it’s a partnership,” she said of chamber membership. “Signing on is the easy part; it’s how you show up. You get out what you put in.”

Concepts That Are Taking Off

That’s especially true with the FCCC, which, as that acronym denotes, represents not a city or a few communities but an entire county, one populated by small and very small communities, some with fewer than 100 residents.

“We try to focus on things that can help county-wide,” said Szynal. “We focus on supporting businesses and social-service agencies — we have many of them in this region — but we also focus on tourism and especially outdoor recreation, and in doing that, we’re able to help communities across the entire county. We’re unique — most chambers are much more focused in terms of the number of communities they serve — and we have our hands full, but we’re doing it.”

And doing it largely through a focus on collaborative efforts with other agencies — because that’s how things get done in such a rural setting, she went on.

“I’ve learned there’s a huge amount of collaboration up here, more so than I’ve ever witnessed anywhere,” she explained. “Businesses and organizations really want to work together to grow the economy in Franklin County and make this a place that’s great to live and work in, and it’s very encouraging to see that; by working together, we can do so much more than we could by ourselves.”

Those sentiments bring us back to Run the Runway.

Only a few years ago, the chamber was hosting a 5K run as one of many annual fundraisers, said Roncariti-Howe, adding that, by collaborating with the Galaxy Council and other entities, it has become a much larger community event.

As noted earlier, the run is a particularly poignant example of what all chambers must do today to effectively carry out their missions — collaborate, be creative, and focus on ways to not only serve members, but strengthen the communities they serve.

The Greater Chicopee Chamber is doing that in a number of ways, said Roncariti-Howe, who had only to gesture around the conference room to get that point across.

“They need to take full advantage of it — it’s a partnership. Signing on is the easy part; it’s how you show up. You get out what you put in.”

Indeed, that room — and the outside rooms as well — were crowded with works of art as part of the Lights on Art and Culture program, which, as the name suggests, puts a spotlight on the arts by engaging local businesses, and the chamber, in displaying the works of local artists, a constituency that now includes Roncariti-Howe, who showed off one of her paintings.

“We do this quarterly, and we do something different each time,” she said, adding that the most recent offering featured live music, tours of new living units in redeveloped mills, food trucks, and more. “It’s a collaboration among the chamber, Cultural Council, city, and downtown businesses, and it’s one of the ways we support our local businesses and our community, which is an important part of our mission.”

Szynal agreed, noting again that, with the FCCC, ‘community’ means one city (Greenfield) and 25 small towns with a total population of roughly 70,000 people.

“There are differences among the communities and what their focus points are,” she said. “But they’re all unique, and they all contribute to the rich fabric here in Franklin County in their own special way, and we work to support each one of them.”

Bottom Line

Pazmany told BusinessWest that some of her members had remarked that there weren’t enough pictures of her in “In Your Corner.”

“I told them that it’s not about me, it’s about them,” she said with a laugh. “It’s all about our members.”

It always has been, but today, that mantra is even more important than at any time in the past. And as these chamber leaders noted, it’s not about getting members, it’s about providing value to them, retaining them, and working with them to improve their community.

That’s why you can now run the runway — and many people are.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Features

Getting Creative

Kristin Leutz

Kristin Leutz says the inaugural Innovation Fest will provide a solid foundation on which to build.

HUBweek in Boston. Denver Startup Week. The Tom Tom Summit & Festival in Charlottesville, Va. South by Southwest in Austin, Texas.

These are just a few of the many highly successful and very well-attended entrepreneurship and innovation events now taking place across the country.

Some of them go on for a few days, others for a whole week, as their names make clear, said Kristen Leutz, executive director of Springfield-based Valley Venture Mentors (VVM), who has been to Startup Week and will likely attend some of those other gatherings in the months and years to come as she seeks to learn more about entrepreneurship ecosystems, how they work, and how they can be developed and expanded.

For right now, though, she’s busy putting together the latest addition to that list of summits. It will be called the Springfield Innovation Fest, or SIF for short, although its probably too early for an acronym to take hold.

Indeed, Leutz and her team at VVM are essentially starting from scratch and scrambling to pull things together for the June 12 event, to be staged at the Innovation Center on Bridge Street in Springfield. As she tells the story, those at VVM had been thinking about and talking about a summit — an event that would showcase this region’s burgeoning entrepreneurship ecosystem (and the many other things that are happening in and around Springfield) and take VVM’s Accelerator Awards banquet to a new and much higher plane. But they were initially focused on 2020, a round-number year with all kinds of meaning — until they decided not to wait that long to get the ball rolling.

“We decided to do this on a very short time frame,” she said. “Once we came up with the vision, we were all excited; we didn’t want to wait a another year. We said, ‘let’s lean into it and see what we can pull off.’”

Leutz told BusinessWest that the Springfield Innovation Fest certainly has a long way to go before it can be mentioned in the same sentence as those events in Boston, Denver, Central Texas, and Northern Virginia, but one has to start somewhere, create some buzz, and continually build on the foundation that’s been laid, and that is the very informal business plan for the festival.

“We decided to do this on a very short time frame. Once we came up with the vision, we were all excited; we didn’t want to wait a another year. We said, ‘let’s lean into it and see what we can pull off.’”

“Startup Week certainly wasn’t built in a day — or a week,” she said. “We want to see if we can gain some excitement and momentum for next year.”

The inaugural event, still very much in the planning stages, as noted, will feature a number of speakers, ample amounts of networking, and opportunities to get a taste of Springfield — figuratively and quite literally, with tours of the Springfield Museums and Fresh Paint mural art, as well as a visit to What’s on Tap Wednesday.

There are many goals for this year, said Leutz, listing everything from celebrating this region’s history of innovation and ‘firsts’ to recognizing the winners (and all the companies) in this year’s VVM Accelerator class, to moving the needle when it comes to putting Springfield and this region on the map as a startup and innovation hub.

“In the vein of these other festivals that showcase the startup and innovation economies, I thought that, given all that’s happening in Springfield, it was time for our own startup event,” she explained. “I want visibility for the work of entrepreneurship and innovation and how it affects our economy and how it affects traditional businesses as well as startups.

“The idea of being innovative goes beyond a startup company — it infiltrates everything that we do,” she went on. “Springfield is a city of firsts, and we really believe in that heritage and history, and we want people to see that it still is a city of innovation.”

For this issue and focus on business innovation, BusinessWest talked with Leutz about the launch of the SIF, what to expect this year, and where this summit can go in the years to come.

Summit Meeting

“How to Bootstrap the Bejeezus out of Your Startup.” “Think Like a Placemaker Transforming Neighborhoods.” “Future Forward: Live Better with Innovation in Healthcare.” “How to Help Female Founders Succeed (and Every Other Founder, Too).”

These are titles for just some of the presentations scheduled for the SIF, said Leutz, noting that they will cover two tracks — a startup track and an innovator track — and feature speakers that include both young entrepreneurs and leaders of several of the groups within that aforementioned entrepreneurship ecosystem.

And these presentations represent just one aspect of the festival, she went on, adding that there will be, as mentioned, several breaks for networking and collision-making, a showcase and lunch at which attendees can meet the VVM Accelerator and Summer Collegiate Accelerator startups as they showcase their businesses and compete for ‘VVM bucks,’ and also a pitch competition featuring the top five in the Accelerator and the awarding of prizes.

The full lineup is still very much a work in progress, even at this late date (remember, they started late), and the general ideas are to both call attention to the growing startup community and innovative energy in the region, and also give attendees something to take back home — whether that’s across the state or maybe cross-country (although that’s more likely to happen down the road).

This is the formula that those festivals mentioned at the top have followed, said Leutz, noting that many of them are works in progress as well.

That’s certainly the case with HUBweek, which was launched just three years ago, but now brings together attendees from 59 countries, 46 states, and 38 industries, according to the event’s website. Marketed as a gathering “where art, science, and technology collide,” HUBweek was founded by the Boston Globe, Harvard, MIT, and Massachusetts General Hospital, and its website describes it as “a giant petri dish welcoming impact-oriented artists, entrepreneurs, researchers, executives, makers, and up-and-comers. HUBweek brings together the curious, those building our future.”

Startup Week in Denver is in many ways similar, said Leutz, adding that she attended last fall’s festival and came away inspired to bring something with the same vibe, and energy, to the City of Homes.

“It was incredible,” she said, using that adjective to describe the scope of the show, the depth of the speakers, and the amount of planning and marketing that went into the event. “They had 1,000 applications for talks.”

While something to aspire to, these shows more importantly represent a model that can be replicated on a considerably smaller scale, she said, adding that, like the Boston show, she wants an event where worlds can collide, and, like Denver, she wants a “community-created event,” where people submit ideas for talks.

For this first show, organizers have put together a schedule of talks targeted toward entrepreneurs and would-be entrepreneurs, and ‘innovators,’ a broad constituency to be sure, said Leutz. Speakers, many of them still to be confirmed, include Christian Lagier, executive director of TechSpring; Mo Reed-McNally of the MassMutual Foundation, and Laura Masulis, transformative development fellow with MassDevelopment (they’re handling the talk on transforming neighborhoods); Bill Cole, leader of Living Local, and Tessa Murphy-Romboletti, director of SPARK EforAll Holyoke, who will lead a discussion titled “How to Revive Main Street”; and Daquan Oliver, president of WeThrive, the first-prize winner in last year’s VVM Accelerator Awards.

As for this year’s Accelerator class, it is smaller — by design (16 companies) — in order to provide more in-depth, customized support to the startups, said Leutz, adding that a smaller group enabled VVM to have a higher ratio of entrepreneurs in residence to startups.

Meanwhile, some of the cash traditionally handed out at the annual banquet as prizes has been awarded already in order to help the startups advance their ventures, said Leutz, adding that there is still plenty at stake at the June 12 showcase and final pitch.

All-day passes to the SIF are $50 each ($45 each for blocks of three or more), and potential attendees can buy an extra ticket so an entrepreneur can attend for free, said Leutz, adding that the admission charge is essentially to cover the cost of the event. Sponsorship opportunities are available, starting at $1,000. For more information, visit www.valleyventurementors.org.

Getting Started

Like the companies taking part in the VVM Accelerator, the SIF is essentially a startup venture, Leutz acknowledged, and one with considerable promise to grow well beyond its current size and scope.

It will likely never be on the same level as HUBweek or Denver Startup Week, but like those other events, it provides an opportunity to bring several worlds together and spark more innovation.

SIF is not part of the local lexicon yet, but Leutz and her team believe it soon will be.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]