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In September, BusinessWest presented its 2014-15 Resource Guide. What follows are needed additions and corrections to the charts that appeared in that issue:

• Changes to Accounting Firms
:
Meyers Brothers Kalicka, P.C.
Services: Management-advisory services; audit and accounting services; multi-state and international taxation; tax planning and return preparation; employee benefit-plan audits; family and independent business services; business valuations; financial planning and wealth management; cost-segregation studies; certified fraud examiners; construction; healthcare; education; not-for-profit; real estate; manufacturing, wholesale, and distribution
Bova, Harrington & Associates, P.C.
Number of CPAs: 7
Number of Partners: 2

• Addition to Audio-Visual/Multi-Media Companies:
Kirby Productions
1 Doane Ave., Agawam, MA 01001
(413) 388-5714; www.kirbyproductions.com
Employees: 1
Services: Full-service HD video production company specializing in writing, videography, and motion design; TV commercials; promotional videos; viral videos; event videos; video blogs; production studio with green screen available
Contact: Al Liptak

• Changes to Auto Dealers:
Balise Chevrolet Buick GMC
General Manager: John Perez
Balise Ford of Wilbraham
General Manager: Charles Dansby

• Addition to Banks in Western Mass.:
Farmington Bank
www.farmingtonbankct.com
Assets: $2,110,028,000
Deposits: $1,513,501,000
Net Income: $3,704,000
Total Equity Capital: $232,209,000
Total Loans and Leases: $1,822,487,000
Commercial Loan Volume: $253,406,000
Secured by Real Estate: $546,350,000
(Figures are year-end 2013. Farmington Bank, based in Connecticut, entered the Massachusetts market in 2014.)

• Change to Colleges with MBA Programs:
Elms College
Contact: Donna Graziano

• Addition to Computer Network/IT Services:
Network Advantage Associates
2098 Roaring Brook Road, Conway, MA 01341
(413) 223-9007; www.net-vantage.com
Contact: Roy Cohen
Service Area: Pioneer Valley
Services: Integrates advanced strategic technologies in small businesses, professional practices, and nonprofits; business continuity/disaster recovery; on- and off-site backup and recovery; information-technology management; systems and network administration; virtualization solutions; custom VoIP solutions; server upgrades and migrations; Enterprise wireless; Google/Oracle solutions

• Addition to Day Spas:
Elements Hot Tub Spa
373 Main St., Amherst, MA 01002
(413) 256-8827; www.elementshottubspa.com
Owners: Jeff and Diana Krauth
Services: State-of-the-art private hot tubs; infrared saunas; aromatherapy steam room; individual and couples massage; advanced therapeutic bodywork modalities; natural facials; spa services
Preferred Product Line: France Laure Natural Care

• Change to Dental Services:
Florence Dental Care
Head of Practice: Benjamin Falk, DDS
Specialties: General and cosmetic dentistry for all ages including  tooth-colored fillings, porcelain veneers, and crowns; smile makeovers and ZOOM whitening; preventive care including all phases of gum (periodontal) treatment; comprehensive dental care including root-canal therapy, oral surgery and extractions, dental implants, and bone grafting; digital X-rays and photographs; emergency care

• Addition to Financial Services/Brokerage Firms:
Gage-Wiley & Co. Inc.
120 King St., Northampton, MA 01060
(413) 584-9121; www.gagewiley.com
Licensed Brokers in Western Mass.: 8
Total Licensed Brokers Nationally: 9
Branch Manager: Christopher Milne
Services: Comprehensive wealth management; independent brokerage and investment-advisory services; retirement, estate, and financial planning; life and long-term-care insurance.
 
• Additions to Home Care Options:
Porchlight VNA/Home Care
32 Park St., Lee, MA 01238
2024 Westover Road, Chicopee, MA 01022
(413) 243-1212; www.porchlighthomecare.org
Director: Holly Chaffee
RN/LPN Care: Yes
Services: Skilled nursing; wound care; infusion therapy; telemonitoring; physical, occupational, and speech therapies; mother/baby care; nutritional counseling; mental-health services; psychiatric nursing; home health aide services; CHF disease management; community health programs
Porchlight Home Care
21 High St., Lee, MA 01238
2024 Westover Road, Chicopee, MA 01022
(413) 243-1122; www.porchlighthomecare.org
Director: Dawn Dewkett 
RN/LPN Care: Yes
Services: Care management; personal care attendants; home health aides; certified nursing assistants; homemakers; companionship; live-in services; transportation/door-to-door program; medication reminders; 24-hour care; complimentary assessments; long-term-care planning; 24-hour nurse oversight; home visiting nurse practitioner

• Addition to Insurance Agencies:
John M. Glover Agency
4 Open Square Way, Suite 213, Holyoke, MA 01040
(413) 534-1500; www.johnmglover.com
Full-time Agents: 2
Full-time Employees: 2
Local Offices: 1
Type of Insurance: Property/casualty, auto, home, business, life, health, workers’ comp
Top Local Officials: Kyle Sullivan, John Sullivan
 
• Change to Insurance Agencies:
The Dowd Insurance Agencies
Type of Insurance: Commercial, personal, life, employee benefits, surety

• Change to Law Firms:
Gove Law Office
Second address: 358 Sewall St., Ludlow, MA 01056
(413) 583-5196; www.govelawoffice.com
Lawyers: 2
Areas of Practice: Business representation; commercial and banking matters; residential and commercial real estate; estate planning and probate administration; landlord/tenant; bankruptcy; personal injury

• Addition to Physical Therapy Outpatient Facilities:
Active Physical Therapy & Wellness, LLC
2301 Boston Road, Wilbraham, MA 01095
(413) 596-5362; www.activeptw.com
Administrator: Patricia O’Brien
Services: Outpatient clinic offering individualized manual therapy treatment for neck and back pain, sports injuries, post-surgery, arthritis, shoulder and knee problems; private treatment rooms; fitness center

• Change to Physical Therapy Outpatient Facilities:
HealthSouth Hospital of Western Massachusetts
Administrator: Victoria Healy

• Addition to Skilled Nursing/PT Facilities:
Life Care Center of Wilbraham
2399 Boston Road, Wilbraham, MA 01095
(413) 596-3111; www.lcca.com/182
Administrator: Dennis Lopata
Services: Subacute and rehabilitation programs provide a bridge between hospital and home; physical, occupational, and speech therapy; orthopedic recovery program; VitalStim therapy for swallowing or dysphagia difficulty; CPI wound care; aquatic-therapy program; long-term and respite care

• Addition to Telecom/Voice/Data Providers:
Network Advantage Associates
2098 Roaring Brook Road, Conway, MA 01341
(413) 223-9007; www.net-vantage.com
Contact: Roy Cohen
Service Area: Pioneer Valley
Services: Integrates advanced strategic technologies in small businesses, professional practices, and nonprofits; business continuity/disaster recovery; on- and off-site backup and recovery; information-technology management; systems and network administration; virtualization solutions; custom VoIP solutions; server upgrades and migrations; Enterprise wireless; Google/Oracle solutions

• Change to Web Development Companies:
Last Call Media
136 West St., Suite 01, Northampton, MA 01060

• Addition to Western Mass. Area Computer Retailers:
Northeast IT Systems Inc.
777B Riverdale St., West Springfield, MA 01089
(413) 527-8090; www.northeastit.net
Employees: 8
Owner/Manager: Joel Mollison
Products/Services: Computer and network equipment sales and service; hardware and software; computer network and IT consulting services for small to midsized businesses and municipalities; firewalls; network security; remote access/VPN; servers; virtualization; VoIP phone systems; backup and disaster recovery; spam filtering

Sections Supplements
Forget Time Management … Are You Managing Your Energy?

Phrases like ‘manage your time’ and ‘do more with less’ have become buzzwords for this decade. The idea is that, if you can manage your time well, you’ll be more productive in all areas of life.
The only flaw in this thinking is that time is finite. In other words, you can manage time all you want and continually push yourself to get more done. But all this managing and pushing tires your brain, drains your spirit, and disengages your soul. That’s when mistakes occur and burnout ensues. The key, then, is not simply to manage your time, but also to manage your energy.
Unlike time, energy is restorable. And when you manage your energy well, you’ll have more energy for your priorities, whether they are personal or professional in nature. If you don’t manage your energy, you can’t manage your time. Sure, you can think about all the things you need to do, and you can even schedule them, but if you don’t have the energy to do the tasks, you won’t be able to accomplish them appropriately.
Realize, too, that managing your energy goes beyond work/life balance. While many people talk about work/life balance (devoting ample time to all areas of your life), few address those things that make life rich and fun.
With so many things competing for your attention daily, you need to give attention to energy replenishment so you can devote time your life’s priorities demand. This is why it’s important to manage your energy before you manage your time.
Keeping your energy in check means giving attention to your brain, your spirit, and your soul. Think of it like a three-legged stool. For the stool to be useful, you need all three legs. Remove one leg from the equation, and the stool topples over and is useless. The same is true for your energy. Therefore, to keep your energy replenished, implement the following suggestions into your daily life.

Stimulate Your Brain
The human brain likes control and certainty, and it’s very good at predicting the next thing that is likely to happen based on the information it has. That’s why you often feel better when you perceive you have control over a situation and feel stressed if you think you have no control over events.
Additionally, the brain is programmed to fear. This is a good thing, though, because the inborn fear is what has allowed our species to evolve. The only drawback to this natural fear is that the brain will take three pieces of information and make a story out of it — usually a negative one. This negative story becomes your reality until you get another piece of data. Talk about an energy drain on your brain!
In order to replenish your brain’s energy, do the following:
• Since your brain is part of your body, it needs to be fed the right food for optimum health. Eat three nutritious meals a day, exercise to increase the oxygen flow to your brain, and drink plenty of water to keep hydrated.
• Reconstruct your stories. You have to purposefully stop the story and seek out the missing pieces of information. For example, if you get an e-mail from your boss telling you not to take part in a task you volunteered for, with no explanation why, you would likely think your boss doesn’t believe you’re capable of the task. In reality, your boss may need you for another task, he or she may think the task is not challenging enough for you, or your boss may simply not need any assistance on the task any longer. But you’ll never know (and never stop the negative story) until you ask.
• Analyze what helps and hurts your thinking ability. For instance, do 200 e-mails staring at you first thing in the morning make you exhausted before you even start the day? If so, then don’t do that task first thing. Do the most important things when you’re alert and at your best, as those tasks will actually energize you so you’re able to handle the stressful tasks later.
• Give yourself two hours a day for focused attention on a key project — the earlier in the day, the better. No multi-tasking during this time! Whether you are a night person or a morning person, the fact is that your brain is rested after you sleep, so this is the key time for focused attention and productivity.

Awaken Your Spirit
The human spirit yearns to soar. The spirit enjoys lofty goals and challenging tasks to accomplish. How spirited someone is often relates to how purposeful he or she is. In fact, it’s common that, when people lose their purpose in life, they feel deflated and even depressed. Hence the phrase ‘her spirit was broken.’
An energized spirit is what catapults you out of the mundane and into a new and exciting endeavor. In order to replenish your spirit’s energy, do the following:
• Do one thing every day that makes your spirit soar. Whether it’s reading poetry or listening to music, if you feel your spirit is fed by that, do it.
• Think about what you want to do in your life. Dream big! Give planned time to your future in order to nurture your spirit.
• Read things that stretch your mind. Your spirit wants to reach for the next best thing. Unleash the power of your spirit by exposing your mind to new things — even things that you feel are impossible to accomplish right now.
• Take time each day to think and concentrate. Many people are in knowledge-oriented jobs and need some degree of quiet time. So even though a particular task must get done, that task often requires planning and thinking. Your spirit can’t gain energy to tackle big goals unless it has some quiet time to prepare. So let people know that you require quiet thinking time, and actually put this time in your schedule. If others know your needs and intentions, they will respect them.

Feed Your Soul
The human soul likes the familiar, the deep, and the poignant. The soul likes ritual, doing the same thing at the same time every day. It also enjoys the simple things in life, beauty, and nature. The soul is what connects you to life and to what is deeply meaningful to you.
In order to replenish your soul’s energy, do the following:
• Clarify your intentions and plan what you want your tomorrow to be like before you go to bed. This allows your subconscious to work on your challenges and big decisions while you sleep.
• Take time for enchantment. Linger through a museum. Enjoy preparing a simple, elegant meal. Go outside regularly and really look at nature. Your soul loves beauty and wants a connection with the earth.
• Experience the present fully. Focus on the things around you — the colors and textures. Be mindful of your current surroundings and activities rather than always trying to multi-task. Really engage in life in the moment. Feel yourself breathe.
• Build rituals for yourself and your family. Even something as simple as eating dinner at the same time every day is a ritual. Both your soul and your brain crave ritual and gain energy from it.

Energize!
By focusing on these three areas of your life — your brain, your spirit, and your soul — you’ll gain the much-needed energy to tackle life with enthusiasm and zest. With your energy fully replenished, time will no longer be an issue. You’ll feel ready to handle anything that comes your way with ease … and you’ll do it much faster.
So make it a habit to stimulate your brain, awaken your spirit, and feed your soul. It’s one investment in yourself you can’t afford not to make.

Jean Kelley, industrial sociologist and founder of Jean Kelley Leadership Consulting, has personally interviewed more than 20,000 people.  She is the author of Get a Job; Keep a Job and Dear Jean: What They Don’t Teach You at the Water Cooler; www.jeankelley.com.

Sections Supplements
New Initiative Strives to Identify and Develop Regional Leaders

Lora Wondolowski

Lora Wondolowski

Recognizing the need to identify and cultivate young leaders, area civic and economic development leaders have created an initiative called Leadership Pioneer Valley. As the name suggests, this is a regional program — covering Franklin, Hampden, and Hampshire counties — crafted to take emerging and existing leaders from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors, immerse them in a program to build leadership skills and educate them on the Valley, and then provide them with opportunities to put what they’re learned to work. This is a program, said its recently appointed director, that will have benefits for participants and the region as a whole.

In 2004, the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission’s Plan for Progress, initially created a decade earlier, was overhauled, with 13 new strategic goals identified as “critical for growing the people, companies, and communities that grow the region.”
Lora Wondolowski is now working out of a small office just down the hall from PVPC Executive Director Timothy Brennan because of what’s known colloquially as Action Item 7: “Recruit and train a new generation of regional leaders.”
Indeed, Wondoloski, hired in April, is program director of an initiative known as Leadership Pioneer Valley, which operates with a simple core mission: “To identify, develop, and connect diverse leaders to strengthen the Pioneer Valley.” As she talked with BusinessWest about her new assignment, she conveyed the message that each word in that mission statement was chosen carefully, and it’s her job to sharply define each one.
That starts with ‘identify.’ Wondoloski is now in the process of recruiting the first class of 40 to 50 emerging and existing leaders (ages 25-45) from the private, public, and nonprofit sectors to participate. “These are mid-career professionals, people who have been identified as having potential for leadership within their own company or organization,” she explained, “or people who have gotten involved locally somehow; we’re not looking for recent college graduates, and we’re not looking for CEOs ready to retire next year. For employers, these are people they want to keep around, people they want to root in the community.”
‘Develop’ is the next key word in the mission statement, and it will be addressed through a 10-month curriculum (one day per month) that will include a balanced combination of retreats, day-long seminars, and small-group activity, and is still a work in progress, with several weeks remaining before the start of the first planned program in October.
Which brings us to ‘connect’ — once the leaders have been identified and developed, they will be connected to the communities in ways designed to utilize the skills and knowledge they have acquired to benefit the region and specific communities and agencies as program alumni — and ‘diverse.’ Wondoloski said those chosen will, as a group, accurately reflect this region’s changing demographics and, in the process, develop leaders from several different ethnic groups. But it will be diverse in other respects as well, including industry representation.
As for Pioneer Valley, this is a truly regional concept, involving all of Franklin, Hampden, and Hampshire counties, she explained, which separates LPV, as it’s called, from some other leadership programs created in Springfield and Northampton. Meanwhile, one of the goals of the curriculum is to familiarize participants with the whole of the Valley and the specific challenges and assets of specific areas and communities.
“We want participants to get a deep understanding of the Valley and the communities that make up this region,” she explained. “A lot of people don’t leave their communities — people from Springfield don’t often get up to Franklin County, and vice versa; we want to get people out of their silos.”
For this issue, BusinessWest talked at length with Wondolowski to gain some perspective on Leadership Pioneer Valley, it’s goals and emerging strategies for meeting them, and the reasons why it has become the embodiment of Action Item 7.

A Leadership Position
Since starting her new assignment, Wondolowski, formerly the founding executive director of the Mass. League of Environmental Voters, has been working with a 27-member steering committee on several components of that aforementioned mission statement, from curriculum development to the multi-faceted task of recruitment.
For example, she was in attendance at BusinessWest’s 40 Under Forty gala on June 23 at the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House, meeting with several potential members of the first class of leaders. She’s also been finalizing the application form for those desiring to be members of the first class — it now appears on the recently launched Web site www.leadershippv.org — and meeting with area business and civic leaders to gauge what they want and need to see result from this initiative.
The broad yet simple goal is developing leadership, she continued, adding that this has been identified as one of the more critical economic-development priorities in the region for some time. And to achieve that goal, the PVPC, the Community Foundation of Western Mass., and several area businesses are collaborating to create a program modeled after several local, regional, and national initiatives, said Wondolowski.
As examples, she cited a one-year pilot program created six years ago by the Northampton Chamber of Commerce and the United Way called Leadership County, an effort launched nearly 30 years ago called Leadership Greater Hartford — administrators there have served as consultants for LPV — and an initiative in the nation’s capital called Leadership Greater Washington.
LGW, as the Washington-area program is called, was created in 1986, put together by six area chambers of commerce and three economic-development-related organizations — the Greater Washington Board of Trade, the Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation, and the Junior League. The linchpin of the program is its so-called Effective Leadership Institute, which provides one-day-per-month coursework focusing on communication, team building, emotional intelligence, and diversity.
“We’re taking the lessons learned from Hampshire County and applying them to a region-wide leadership program, and the Hartford team has helped put together a business plan for us,” said Wondoloski. “We’re taking best practices from a number of different models.”
Hiring a director and assembling a steering committee were the first real steps in the process of getting LPV off the ground, said Wondolowski, adding that recruitment and curriculum development are the next matters in the to-do list, and there has been significant progress with both.
The recruiting process will be highly competitive, she told BusinessWest, adding that she expects the volume of applications to far exceed the number of seats in the classroom. But more important than the quantity of applicants is the quality, she went on, noting that is why she’s working hard to get the word out to individuals and constituencies like the 40 Under Forty Class of 2011 and those that preceded it, as well as the area’s young-professionals organizations.
Meanwhile, she’s reaching out to LPV sponsors, which include MassMutual, Baystate Health, PeoplesBank, United Bank, Westfield Bank, and others — who are each contributing $5,000 to $10,000 toward the program’s $257,000 annual budget — to help recruit candidates.
Diversity is also a key factor in finalization of the first class, she said, adding that there will be targets established for specific ethnic groups, and to reach them, organizers will reach out to groups like the Latino Chamber of Commerce and others like it that serve a specific constituency.

Course of Action
While recruitment work continues, Wondoloski and the steering committee are also finalizing the curriculum for the 10-month program, the cost of which will vary according to a sliding scale. For participants from large companies, the price tag will be roughly $2,500, while those from the smallest nonprofits will pay $850. Participants will be asked to contribute $300 themselves, and scholarships will be available.
Most of the components are in place, she told BusinessWest, adding that they include:
• A retreat, to be staged in September, which will focus on self-assessment of leadership skills, an introduction to the region, and selection of group projects;
• Challenge days, or day-long seminars, held monthly, that will focus on leadership skills and significant challenges facing the region such as education, sustainability, transportation, and the regional economy;
• Field experience in the shape of day-long workshops, also held monthly, at locations around the region to introduce participants to local leaders, the diversity of the region, and an area’s challenges, assets, and potential; and
• Leadership learning labs. Each class will work in small teams to devise strategies to address one of the themes or challenges identified in the PVPC’s Plan for Progress. The teams will have time to meet on training days, but will also meet independently between the monthly sessions.
The seminars will be held at venues across the region, said Wondoloski, listing the Springfield Museums, Greenfield Community College, and Yankee Candle as examples of potential sites chosen to connect participants with the businesses and institutions that shape the Valley.
Meanwhile, to provide what she called a 360-degree view of the region, the field experiences will be staged at locations chosen to broaden participants’ knowledge of the entire Valley. Details have not been finalized, she said, but there will likely be a Springfield Day; a Five College Day to familiarize the class with the Amherst-Northampton area; a day in Holyoke, Chicopee, and perhaps South Hadley to gain perspective on that area; and a Hilltowns and Franklin County Day.
The sum of these curriculum elements will provide participants with opportunities to refine their personal and public leadership skills, said Wondolowski, while also developing diverse contacts and an effective communication network, receiving recognition for themselves and their organization, and gaining opportunities for taking an active and effective role in addressing community needs.
In short, participants will be gaining and honing leadership skills, while also getting a comprehensive education in the region as a whole, but also its specific areas and communities — and then opportunities to apply what they’ve learned.
Looking down the road, Wondoloski said that some of the programs that LPV is modeled after have developed some measures for quantifying the success of their initiatives. These include everything from the percentage of participants gaining promotions in their firms to the number of nonprofit board seats filled by individuals who have taken part in the training regimens.
Ultimately, though, success will more likely be qualified, and the indicators will be quality of life, overall vibrancy, and greater diversity in the business sector, government, and other realms.

Class Act
Graduates of the LPV program will receive a certificate of some sort identifying them as a participant and perhaps some course credits, said Wondoloski, adding that these are some of the details still being worked out.
But they’ll get much more than a piece of paper, she told BusinessWest, adding that they’ll gain not only additional leadership skills, a new network, and a broad education on the Valley, but also, and more importantly, motivation and opportunities to put what they’ve learned to work.
In that respect, they will be helping to address Action Item 7, but also address the critical need for leadership across the region.

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

Sections Supplements
Why Your Retirement Plan Is Still One of the Best Ways to Build Wealth

Charlie Epstein

Charlie Epstein


While there are unlimited approaches to accumulating wealth, your company’s ERISA-qualified retirement plan still provides one of the best ways for you as the owner and your employees to create sustainable wealth, all on a tax-favorable basis.
Let’s examine some of the unique features of this timeless mechanism that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Convenience
Establishing a qualified retirement plan, either a profit-sharing, 401(k), or, yes, even a pension plan (cash balance), has never been simpler and less costly. Today, most major retirement-plan providers or independent third-party plan administrators can establish, design, and administer your plan for minimal cost. And if total assets in your plan are large enough, i.e., in excess if $5 million, the cost will be picked up or reimbursed by the carrier.

Capital Creation
When I ask business owners what their retirement plan is, they unanimously say, “Charlie, you’re sitting in it!” Yes, your business and your ability to turn a profit each year and eventually sell that business and sail off into the sunset will always be your greatest wealth-accumulation vehicle.
But what if the best-laid plans don’t come true? What if continued globalization and commoditization reduce your margins until you have no business to sell? Or if your kids eliminate that option for you by coming into the business? While your business will always be your ‘first economy,’ paying for your current lifestyle, your retirement plan can become your ‘second economy’ for creating wealth on a tax-favorable basis. With a properly designed plan, you can begin to capitalize your company by transferring taxable income or corporate earnings today into to tax-deferred dollars for tomorrow’s future paychecks.
A standard 401(k) plan affords anyone the ability to invest a maximum of $16,500 per year, $22,000 if you are over 50. This is a sizable amount for the average income earner and, invested over a long term, would allow them to create enough wealth to replace their income in retirement. But for the owner of the company (or a professional service corporation), depending on your company demographics, a properly designed combo profit-sharing/cash-balance pension plan will allow you to shift $100,000 to 300,000 a year from your corporate earnings to your retirement-plan economy, all on a tax-favorable basis.
Over a 20-year period, this would create a significant amount of wealth outside of your company and enable you to generate an income for life, in the event that you are unable to sell your business.

Asset Protection
Real wealth accumulation should also be protected from unforeseen forces, and I don’t just mean a prolonged bear market. Accumulating wealth inside your qualified plan affords you the asset protection of an offshore island trust without the expense or the travel. Qualified assets are creditor-proof, and in today’s litigious society, that is a valuable attribute for securing and creating real long-term capital creation and wealth.
OPM
As Danny Devito taught us in the funny movie Other People’s Money, the best way to accumulate wealth is with someone else’s money. A qualified plan allows you, the business owner, access to tax dollars you would have otherwise given to Uncle Sam each year on your taxable wages or corporate dollars. Inside your qualified plan, you are afforded the luxury of investing and maximizing the government’s money for your future benefit.
This can accomplished with either Uncle Sam’s pre-tax basis dollars or with after-tax Roth contributions. Both offer the power of OPM. Best of all, your employees will enjoy the investing power of Uncle Sam’s money, and your OPM as well, should you provide a company match or profit-share contribution.

Fiduciary Care
The investment options available in today’s high-tech retirement plans are almost limitless, from mutual funds to ETFs, stock-brokerage windows, managed money, etc.
More importantly for you and especially participating employees of your company-sponsored plan, an ERISA-qualified plan offers the highest ‘standard of care’ in the investment world. That is a fiduciary standard of care.
Simply stated, you, as the plan fiduciary-sponsor, must operate the plan and manage its assets for the exclusive benefit of the plan’s participants and their beneficiaries. Achieving this standard is always a slippery slope. However, today’s major retirement platforms offer both limited and full-scope (section 3(21) and 3(38)) investment fiduciaries and managers who can take on these prudent roles and responsibilities for you. (Most businesses today outsource; you can do the same inside your retirement plan.) These providers take on the fiduciary liability and ensure that the quality of investment options for you and your employees is rigorously monitored and managed. Past performance is never guaranteed, but a superior investment lineup can be.
In summary, your company’s retirement plan, properly designed, managed, and administered, is an ideal mechanism for wealth creation. Don’t underestimate this time-tested approach for capitalizing your business and creating greater financial peace of mind for you and your employees.

Charlie Epstein is president of Holyoke-based Epstein Financial; (413) 932-6236.

Sections Supplements
Some Basic Steps for Taking Control of Your Money

Doug Wheat

Doug Wheat


If you are like most people, you are anxious and concerned about the economy, your job, and the future. While we may have a limited impact on the world around us, we can each take control of our own financial situation to ease our concerns. Whether you are wealthy or not, having specific financial goals and a plan for achieving them will help you be more in control of your financial life.
If you have a financial plan in place, make sure you review it on a regular basis. Life can take unexpected turns, and your financial planning may need to be appropriately altered. If you started implementing some changes to your finances but ran into a roadblock, got bogged down in the details, or your life got too busy, now is a great time to pick up where you left off.
Here is a challenge for you to complete this summer. Read through this article detailing nine basics of financial planning. Pick two action items that would be helpful to you, and implement them in June. In July, read a personal-finance book and pick two more action items to implement. You will be on your way to taking control of your finances for the next decade.
• Spend Less Than You Earn: While there are many different strategies for financial planning, no strategy will work unless you spend less than you earn. It doesn’t matter if you make $30,000, $100,000, or $250,000 per year; spending more than you take home each month will make all of your plans collapse. The amount you spend in a year is the result of hundreds of independent decisions. How are you making these decisions? Do you know the difference between your wants and your needs? If you have trouble spending less than you earn, it’s time for you to do some research and some experimentation to find a system that helps you have some money left at the end of every week. One alternative to a traditional budget is the ‘first-step cash management’ system that suggests dividing your money into separate bank accounts, each with a different purpose.
• Have a Cash Reserve: Having cash in the bank is a type of insurance against the unexpected. At some point everyone will face an unexpected large bill, possibly a car-repair bill or a hole in the roof. If you have cash on hand, you can pay the bill without going into debt. Should you lose your job, it is doubly important to have resources available until you can secure new employment. A good goal is to have three months of expenses available in cash; six months would be even better. It is helpful to put your cash reserve in a place that makes it difficult to spend, such as a separate bank.

• Pay Off Debt: Debt can be useful and sometimes unavoidable whether you are paying for college, a medical bill, or a new refrigerator. The average American household with credit-card debt owes $14,743 and pays nearly $2,000 in interest expense per year, according to creditcards.com. It is no surprise that 69% of people with credit-card debt find it difficult to save, according to a 2011 America Saves survey. Whatever the source, you will be better served by paying it off as quickly as possible. You might try the ‘snowball’ method of debt repayment. With this strategy, after you pay off one debt, you add its monthly payment to the next debt on your list until all debts are paid off. Unless you have no other choice, don’t use credit to make additional purchases.
• Establish Specific Goals: Too many people live on a day-to-day basis without thinking about their priorities and developing plans to reach them. The more specific you can make your goal, the easier it becomes to measure your progress. For example, instead of simply having a goal of paying off your credit-card debt, add a date by which you want to have a zero balance and figure out your monthly payment to make it happen.
• Multiply Your Money: We all know the best time to start saving is early, and the second-best time is now. There are lots of competing uses for our money, but the power of compounding is not available to us until our money is invested and earning money. When our money is earning money, then our wealth can build much more rapidly. A 25-year old who saves $1,000 per year for 40 years and earns 5% interest will have $133,880 at age 65. A 35-year-old who saves $1,000 per year for 30 years and earns 5% interest will have $74,083 at age 65. Starting to save early can give you a big jump on meeting a long-term goal.
• Understand Account Types: Tax-advantaged accounts are available to help all of us meet some of our most important goals. Understanding the difference between these accounts will help you minimize the taxes you pay and maximize the money you have available to reach your goals. There are essentially three types of accounts: tax-free, tax-deferred, and taxable. With tax-free accounts, both the money you put in the account and the money earned in the account can be taken out tax-free. Retirement Roth IRAs and 529 Educational Savings Accounts are two examples of tax-free accounts.  If you make a contribution to a tax-deferred account, it will reduce your taxable income this year, but withdrawals of both your contributions and earnings in the future are considered income, and you will owe income tax on it. Traditional IRA accounts, 401(k) accounts, and 403(b) accounts are examples of tax-deferred accounts. For a taxable account, you owe income tax and capital-gains tax each year based on your earnings. Taxable accounts include savings accounts and brokerage accounts.
• Invest in a Diversified Portfolio: Since we cannot predict the future, investing in a diversified mix of assets will help you weather economic storms or drops in the market while also having better growth potential than a savings account alone. Being diversified becomes more important as you get older and have accumulated money that you do not want to lose. There are many strategies for building a diversified portfolio. If you don’t have the opportunity to research the subject, a default choice can be either a retirement fund based on your age or an educational fund based on the age of your child. Try to find investment products with low fees.
• Prepare for Pitfalls: It is important to be prepared for unexpected events. Having a cash reserve is one way to be prepared. Having insurance and wills in place is another. Most people have health, automobile, and homeowners insurance because they are often mandatory and it is easier to see a relationship between risk and benefits. However, people often don’t realize their vulnerability to misfortune in other areas of their lives. According to the Social Security Benefit Administration, approximately 30% of 20-year olds entering work today will become disabled before they retire, and 1 in 6 Americans will die before reaching age 67. Finding cost-effective means to insure against the risks we all face will provide you and your family financial security if the unexpected happens.
• Expand Your Learning: Personal finance is a complicated subject with a number of different facets. There is a wealth of information available on the Internet as well as in publications such as Money, Kiplinger Personal Finance, and Smart Money. Basic books on financial planning include Personal Finance for Dummies by Eric Tyson, The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas Stanley and William Danko, and The 9 Steps to Financial Freedom by Suzy Orman. Even if you don’t like dealing with money, reading a few personal-finance items every year will help keep you up-to-date and better-able to plan for your future.

Early-Career (approx. age 23-35) Action Items:
• Establish a cash reserve equal to 3-6 months of expenses.
• Make a plan to pay off non-mortgage debt by a specific date.
• Invest in a 401(k) retirement account at least up to your employer’s match but hopefully 10% of your salary or more.
• Utilize a Roth IRA retirement account if you don’t have a retirement plan at work.
• Pay yourself first by setting up automatic transfers into a long-term savings or investment account.
• Watch your expenses. It is easy to burn through money on nights out or daily coffee. Make sure you are spending less than you are taking home.

Mid-Career (approx. age 36-50) Action Items:
• Make specific mid- and long-range goals and develop a plan to meet them.
• Pay off non-mortgage debt and kick the debt cycle by building up your savings.
• Step up your retirement savings in your 401(k) to 10% or 15% of your salary if you are not already doing so. The default investment option can be a target date fund based on your age.
• Review your insurance needs, including term life insurance and disability insurance.
• Establish a will, health care proxy, and power of attorney.
• Start saving for your kids’ college in a 529 account. The default investment option can be a target date fund based on your son or daughter’s age.

Pre-retiree (approx. age 51-64) Action Items:
• Review your long-range goals and adjust your spending and savings to meet them.
• Develop a realistic budget.
• Consider fully funding your 401(k) with $16,500 per year plus $5,500 per year in step-up contributions for people over age 55.
• Make sure your investments are diversified.
• Review your Social Security benefit information.
• Consider paying off your mortgage before you retire to increase your cash flow when you don’t have a job.
• Don’t sacrifice your retirement to pay for your kid’s college.
• Consider how you will pay for future health care costs, including long-term care.

Retiree (age 65 and up) Action Items:
• Determine your income, including pensions and Social Security.
• Set up your investments to transfer money to your checking account on a monthly basis. Starting with a 4% withdrawal rate can help make your money last.
• Finalize a realistic budget based on your income and asset withdrawals.
• Consider part-time work or delaying retirement if your numbers do not add up.
• Review your will, health care proxy, and power of attorney.

Doug Wheat, CFP is director of Family Wealth Management Inc. in Holyoke; www.fwmgt.com

Sections Supplements
Remember That People Work with You, Not for You

It’s been said that it’s lonely at the top. But it doesn’t have to be. Even the Lone Ranger wasn’t alone. He had Tonto. Alexander Graham Bell had Watson. And Thomas Edison had William Hammer. So why is it that so many executives today feel so alone and disengaged?
According to a recent Gallup Management Journal survey of U.S. workers, there are three types of employees: engaged, not engaged, and actively disengaged. The survey reported that 29% of the respondents are engaged, working with a passion and feeling a profound connection to their company. The not-engaged group, those who have mentally ‘checked out’ of their jobs, made up 56% of the respondents. The remaining 15% are actively disengaged, not only unhappy at work but acting out their unhappiness and undermining what their more engaged co-workers are trying to accomplish.
Maybe even more surprising, the study found that the actively disengaged group includes as much as 10% of executive-level employees. The Gallup study showed further that engaged employees are both more productive and more profitable. They tend to stay with their companies longer, are safer, and develop better relationships with the company’s customers. It follows, then, that actively disengaged employees are the ‘one bad apple’ effectively spoiling the whole bunch. And the effects are even more devastating if that bad apple is the person sitting in the executive suite.
What has happened here? Why are so many executives unhappy at work? Experience with unhappy people tells us that, very often, their unhappiness is a result of feeling as if something in their lives is out of control. While each individual case will vary, finding the part of your life that is not in control, not in balance, will help you to become more comfortable with your entire life.
Will Rogers once said that, “if you’re riding ahead of the herd, take a look back every now and then and make sure it’s still there.” Most top-level executives recognize that they didn’t get to the top by themselves. They’re like the turtle on the fencepost. He doesn’t know how he got there; he just knows he had help. Here are some tips to find a little more peace in the corner office.

• Recognize that no one works ‘for’ you. They may work for themselves, they may work for their family, or they may work for your customers, but they don’t work for you. They work with you. Developing a sense of team, shared responsibility for success, and shared accountability for non-success will go a long way toward making you a trusted part of the team again.

• Develop a culture of caring. Make friends at work. Find your ‘Tonto.’ The Gallup survey showed that fully 76% of engaged employees strongly agreed with the statement “I have a friend at work with whom I share new ideas.” It doesn’t matter what your position is in your company. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Ask them about themselves. Then shut up and listen to the answers.

• Create a controlled sense of urgency. Athletes understand this concept beautifully. Football players respond to the snap of the ball with a controlled sense of urgency. Basketball players, hockey players, and baseball players all understand the urgency that must accompany the missed shot, the face-off, or the crack of the bat. A controlled sense of urgency will energize both you and your team.

• Persist. In his book, Half Time — Changing Your Game Plan from Success to Significance, Bob Buford says that there is nothing in life less important than the score at halftime. No matter what your age, your position, your success, or lack thereof, you have the opportunity to do new and exciting things with your life in the second half. Re-evaluate, reinvent, reposition, and go for it.

• Have fun. Join the ‘Compliment of the Day Club.’ Find somebody doing something right, every day, and celebrate it publicly. It’s easy to find people doing things wrong. Change the lenses through which you view your company. Look for the good, not the bad. Change your perspective — and celebrate!

Bottom Line
For anyone who has been there, the top spot in a company can be a lonely place. Typically they have worked hard, made sacrifices, and dedicated themselves to their job and their company. Then they get there and wonder, is this all there is? Now what?
Both personally and professionally, senior-level executives need to repeatedly take stock of where they are. You must recognize and remember that you didn’t get there alone. You must re-engage yourself in your life, both at work and at home. You must remember that your purpose lies in your service to others, to your family, to your employees, and to your customers.
You must care. Do that, and it won’t be so lonely at the top.
Good luck.

James S. Bain, MBA, is an author, speaker, consultant, and coach. He is the founder of Focus on the 5, a division of Falcon Performance Institute, a consulting and corporate-training firm focused on productive performance; www.falconadv.com

Sections Supplements
Construction Industry Benefits from Manufacturing Deduction

Cheryl Fitzgerald

Cheryl Fitzgerald

What was once an incentive for manufacturers who exported now benefits many more taxpayers. Better yet, you don’t even need to export to benefit.
A tax incentive enacted to help offset the repeal of a tax break for U.S. exporters actually benefits many contractors and engineers as well. This tax incentive provides a deduction for many U.S. businesses that’s allowed for both regular tax and alternative minimum tax (AMT) purposes. The deduction has become known by many different names. It’s been called, among other things, the ‘U.S. production activities deduction,’ the ‘domestic production activities deduction’ (DPAD), and the ‘domestic manufacturing deduction’. For simplicity’s sake, we’re calling it the DPAD deduction.
The DPAD deduction equals a percentage of the net income from eligible activities — 9% after 2009. However, the amount of the deduction for any tax year may not exceed the taxpayer’s taxable income or, in the case of individuals, the taxpayer’s adjusted gross income.
As noted above, the DPAD deduction equals a percentage of the net income from eligible activities. Among the more common eligible activities are:
• The manufacture, production, or growth of tangible personal property, in whole or in significant part within the U.S.;
• The construction of real property in the U.S.; and
• The performance of engineering or architectural services in the U.S. in connection with real property construction projects in the U.S.
Purely sales activities aren’t eligible for the deduction, nor are purely service activities, except for construction, engineering, and architectural services.
Construction activities are eligible for the DPAD deduction, but only if the construction is of real property performed in the U.S. The real property may consist of residential or commercial buildings; permanent structures (like docks and wharves); permanent land improvements (like swimming pools and parking lots); oil and gas wells, platforms, and pipelines; and infrastructure (like roads, sewers, sidewalks, and power lines). Real property doesn’t include machinery unless it’s a “structural component” — for example, an elevator.
Examples of businesses conducting eligible construction activities are residential remodelers; commercial and institutional building construction contractors; foundation, structure, and building exterior contractors; structural steel and pre-cast concrete contractors; and electrical, plumbing, heating, and air-conditioning contractors.
Eligible construction activities don’t include tangential services such as hauling trash and debris, and delivering materials, even if the tangential services are essential for construction.
Construction includes ‘substantial renovation,’ but not decoration (or redecoration).
Substantial renovation does not include mere cosmetic changes, such as painting. However, painting is an activity constituting construction if it’s performed in connection with other activities (whether or not by the same taxpayer) that constitute the erection or substantial renovation of real property.
For purposes of the rules allowing the DPAD deduction for U.S. real property construction activities, real property construction includes substantial renovation of real property. Substantial renovation means the renovation of a major component or substantial structural part of real property that materially increases the value of the property, substantially prolongs the useful life of the property, or adapts the property to a new or different use.
For example, a plumbing contractor’s installation of a plumbing system in a new building may qualify as a construction activity eligible for the DPAD deduction. However, replacing the fixtures in the bathroom of an existing house won’t qualify because the job isn’t connected with a construction activity — unless the work is performed as part of a substantial renovation.
The DPAD deduction is allowed to all taxpayers — individuals, C corporations, farming cooperatives, estates, trusts, and their beneficiaries. The deduction is passed through to the partners of partnerships and the owners of S corporations (not to partnerships or the S corporations themselves), and may be passed through by farming cooperatives to their patrons. And, despite the deduction’s history, it’s fully available to taxpayers who don’t export.
In addition to taxable income limitations, the amount of the DPAD deduction can’t exceed 50% of the business’s ‘W-2 wages’ paid to employees working in the qualified activity. This means that businesses operated as sole proprietorships or partnerships with no employees aren’t eligible for the deduction.
There’s a lot more to the DPAD deduction — for example, determining whether your particular business construction activities are eligible for the deduction, how to compute the net income from activities that are eligible, and how to determine the amount of the deduction when you’ve got income from both eligible and ineligible activities. The statutory rules are complicated, and the IRS has issued voluminous — and equally complicated — guidance on those rules. You should contact your accountant if you think that your constructing business activities may fall into a category that would allow for this deduction.

Cheryl Fitzgerald is a senior tax manager with the public accounting firm Meyers Brothers Kalicka, P.C., in Holyoke; (413) 536-8510.

Sections Supplements
Amherst Construction Company Has a Solid Foundation

Donald Teagno, left, and Louis Gallinaro

Donald Teagno, left, and Louis Gallinaro say the majority of the work handled by Teagno Construction is in residential settings.

When Donald Teagno was young, he never dreamed he would preside over an award-winning construction firm that would weather three recessions, employ 20 people, and specialize in historic renovations, museum work, and other niche services.
In fact, when the founder and president of Teagno Construction Inc. (TCI) in Amherst graduated from the UMass School of Education in the early ’70s, his plan was to teach English.
“I taught for six months at the junior-high-school level,” he recalled. “But I was in a fairly conservative school district, and I couldn’t use the creative techniques I had been taught at UMass.”
After that experience, he decided to embark upon an entirely different pathway that would allow him to utilize his natural talents. “I had always been pretty handy, and I started working as a carpenter for a developer in Amherst,” he said.
While doing so, Teagno became acquainted with a few local architects who needed work done on their own homes. He accepted one job at a time that included making custom furniture for some of his clients. By 1974, word of mouth had spread, and he began operating under the business name ‘Donald Teagno Building Contractor.’
“I was a lone carpenter and a sole proprietor,” he told BusinessWest. “When I became busier, I took on a partner. And little by little, the jobs got larger until I had three or four people working for me. But I had no preconceived notions that I would end up where I am today.”
However, by 1985, the company had grown substantially, and he incorporated under the name Teagno Construction. But he continued working in the field alongside his employees until it became necessary for him to remain in the office to give estimates and keep up with up with his payroll and other paperwork.
Leaving the construction sites to do office work was not an easy transition for the craftsman. “There are certain times during our company’s history when we made major leaps, and his was one of them,” Teagno explained. “But it was very difficult for me to delegate work to other people; I wanted things done in a certain way with a certain quality. Little by little, I was able to relax, once I was sure my reputation was being supported by my employees. But it was a slow process.”
In the early years, he worked almost exclusively with homeowners, putting on additions and doing interior renovations. “It was almost all negotiated work, but in 1985 I started doing larger jobs and branched out into multi-family work and the competitive market. And after about 10 or 15 years, I had built a reputation by doing unique projects,” he said. “We are not famous for it, but we have jacked up buildings to replace foundations, which we started doing in the ’80s.”
One of those jobs resulted in some recognition. TCI is certified by the state as a historical contractor, and its work on an 18-unit row house on South Street in Northampton won an award for historic preservation.
“We did a total renovation and extensive structural repairs there,” he explained. “The building was sliding down, and we had to pick up the foundation, level it, then pour a new foundation underneath it, which can cause some of the plaster inside to crack. These jobs are especially challenging, as it is really hard to figure out their cost. In the process of picking up a house, you find its weak points, so you have to look at it carefully to determine any problems that may arise. In the worst-case scenario, a project will become cost-prohibitive.”

On the Home Front
TCI’s portfolio is diverse and includes work in museums and local colleges. “We even built a ski lodge — the Swift River Inn in Cummington — which is now a school,” said general manager Louis Gallinaro. “And our marquee project on the industrial side was building All Saints Church in South Hadley.”
But the majority of the company’s projects have always been in the residential setting. It is in this realm where the business began and the reason TCI remains so sensitive to its customers’ ideas, thoughts, and feelings.
“Our residential work all started with my reputation for quality work and attention to people’s needs,” Teagno said.
In fact, almost 90% of his work comes from customer referrals. He does little advertising and relies mainly on word of mouth.
Teagno says he has been able to weather three recessions, two of them quite severe in nature, due to his company’s diversity, his commitment to listen closely to what customers say they want, and his quality work. In fact, these are core values that are adhered to during every project, although, on commercial jobs such as restaurant renovations, timing sometimes takes precedence.
“When you listen to people closely, you are able to do what they want in the way they want it,” Gallinaro explained.  “Most homeowners have never done this type of work before, and they want to be educated about the entire process.”
Teagno says his employees take the time to inform and explain exactly what they are doing each step of the way, which helps clients feel comfortable.
“Each customer is a whole new experience. We don’t just build things, we have relationships with our customers. And you can’t put a price on a relationship,” he said.
“We want them to have a good experience, so we do the absolute best job we can. Listening to our customers is not lip service for us, and it’s not always in our best financial interest. It would be easier to cut corners to save money, but we don’t do that.”
He says most homeowners are more concerned about quality workmanship than the length of time a project will take to complete.  Working in the industrial/commercial arena is a different story, however, as venues such as restaurants have opening dates and tight timelines.
Competitive bidding for such jobs makes up about 25% of TCI’s portfolio, and results in added benefits for residential customers. “It keeps our pencils sharp and allows us to give more value when we negotiate work with homeowners,” Teagno said.

Making History
TCI Inc. has done a considerable amount of work in local museums. Its most noteworthy project was a renovation made to the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst.
It was built as a private residence around 1856 and is the site where Dickinson composed the majority of her 1,800 poems. “We helped create the visitor’s room within the structure. One section was renovated extensively, but we left portholes in some of the wall sections so people could see how the building was initially constructed,” Gallinaro said.
He told BusinessWest that it was a privilege to work in such a historic setting. “We got to walk on hallowed ground in a building that is on the state and federal register.”
However, working on such old structures presents a stern set of challenges.
“Historic buildings were not built to the same standards we have today; in order to do the work, you need a good foundation, which is how the whole thing started,” Teagno explained, alluding to his firm’s diverse specialty work and the first time he had to raise a building to lay a new foundation. “I was brought in to make some repairs when I was on my own, and the jobs I got after that became increasingly challenging.”
The company is also responsible for renovating the Words and Pictures Museum in Northampton, which has since closed its doors. “The building had all kinds of structural issues. It had been renovated many times and was compromised over the years,” Teagno said.
TCI has also done work at local colleges, which runs the gamut from dormitory renovations to building new science labs and structures, such as an 18,000-square-foot classroom and administration building for the Bement School in Deerfield. Another noteworthy project was the construction of a 10,000-square-foot day-care center for Mount Holyoke College.
“We have also done a number of renovations for medical and dental facilities,” Gallerino said. “Nine years ago, we converted the gas station across the street into a successful practice. The building had been closed for years before we started the work.”
In addition, the company has built and renovated many area eateries, sometimes working in the same building more than once. “Restaurants are usually complicated because they involve a lot of equipment along with special heating and plumbing requirements and fire-safety issues,” Gallinaro said. “And the people we work with all have different needs.”

Plane Speaking
But no matter who their client is, their approach remains the same.
Teagno’s employees go in with an ear to the ground, making sure they understand the meaning behind a customer’s words so they can transform their dreams into reality.
It’s an interesting way to do business and perhaps not that far afield from the creative teaching methods Teagno wanted to employ long before he started his unique construction company.

Sections Supplements
The B-G Companies Continue to Make Degrees of Progress

James Reidy, operations manager of B-G Mechanical Services

James Reidy, operations manager of B-G Mechanical Services

The B-G Companies, launched as a small plumbing outfit more than 80 years ago by a German immigrant, remained a small family shop for decades afterward. But the past 30 years have seen significant expansion of the HVAC venture, which now boasts an impressive footprint across New England. Today, it’s making a name for itself in energy-efficiency projects, being sure to stay on the cutting edge of an industry that remains highly competitive.

It may no longer be a family business, but B-G Mechanical Services still feels like family to James Reidy.
“There are a lot of long-time people here,” said Reidy, the Chicopee-based company’s operations manager. “I’m one of the newer people, and I’ve been here 11 years.”
That stability speaks to the long-term success of an HVAC firm launched more than eight decades ago which boasts an impressive footprint in New England. Today, the B-G name — which includes sister company B-G Mechanical Contractors — is backed by the clout of its parent company, Pennsylvania Power & Light Corp. (PPL), one of the largest energy conglomerates in the U.S., which bought the outfit in 2000.
B-G is comprised of several divisions that handle very different types of work, Reidy explained.
“Here in the service division, we do smaller projects, and the crux of our business is contract maintenance,” he explained. “We’ll go to your building, change your filter, check your belts, and do whatever else is needed for your equipment to maintain it. When we see something wrong, we’ll let you know, and can hopefully repair that for you.”
A second division handles special projects, including design-build work for existing customers and smaller projects up for bid, up to around $1 million, Reidy explained. “They have engineering expertise and guys who are equipped to go out and do smaller projects.”
Meanwhile, B-G Mechanical Contractors performs mainly bid and spec work for larger projects, he explained, for both private companies and municipal properties.
“Our business contracting does a lot of school work; that seems to be a good niche for us,” Reidy said. “Plastics is very big around here, and we have a lot of customers involved in that, and we have a lot of customers in the printing industry, too.
In addition, “if a town needs a contractor, we’re big enough to handle just about any need from any town around here,” he added. “We’re unionized; if we really need extra manpower, we can call the hall, and hopefully they’ll have a few guys on the bench, ready to come to work.”
Just as B-G has been ready to answer the call for the past 80-plus years.

Steady Growth
B-G was started as a family business in the 1920s by German immigrant Bruno Goeldner. In 1956, he passed it on to his son, William, who incorporated the company in 1957. William’s son, Robert, joined the company in 1960 and became CEO upon William’s retirement in 1969. That was when what had been a small outfit began to grow and expand.
In 1970, Pioneer Plumbing and Heating was formed, prospering until the late ’70s, when it was merged with what had long been known as Bruno Goeldner Plumbing and Heating. The new entity was incorporated as B-G Mechanical Contractors Inc.
“Bob built B-G from a little plumbing shop into one of the premier mechanical firms in all of New England,” Reidy said. “In addition to B-G Mechanical Contractors, he started B-G Service, Titan Mechanical in Hartford, and Millennium Builders in Rocky Hill. Those were his four basic companies. He really built it from a mom-and-pop plumbing shop to a real contracting firm. He turned it into what it is today.”
In 2000, Robert Goeldner sold his companies to PPL. “Pennsylvania Power and Light owns 13 contracting companies from Virginia to Boston,” said Reidy, noting that the conglomerate recently bought Tennessee Electric Co. and Louisiana Power & Light Co.
Locally, B-G’s focus is mainly on commercial and industrial work, he emphasized, “but we have occasionally been involved in homes — bigger homes that have commercial systems in them.” Larger customers range from UMass and Holyoke Community College to Hartford’s post offices and the city of Springfield.
We’re fortunate that we have UMass; there are a lot of projects up there,” Reidy said.
“We also do a lot of work at Yale, which has a big endowment and is always doing projects. They’re a good customer, and we like dealing with them.”
These days, in the wake of the recession, “we find that municipalities are strapped; budgets are cut because tax revenue is down, and towns don’t have the money to spend on infrastructure.” But having a wide range of services and a broad client base helps shelter the company somewhat.
“We’re fortunate that, even with the downturn in the economy, we’re diversified enough to survive,” he said. “If people don’t want to replace a system, they’ll service parts of it. So it’s one end of what we do, or another. It’s busy.”

Lean and Green
He’s especially excited about the company’s forays into alternative-energy projects, such as the recent installation of new boilers and and other equipment for Springfield’s municipal buildings after the city undertook what is known as an ‘energy makeover.’
“There are companies that will come into a facility, or a city like Springfield, and do an energy audit on all the buildings, and come up with recommendations on how to save a certain amount of money,” Reidy said. “Then they’ll turn around and give you guarantees on that. Then a contractor — in this case, B-G — will come in and install these energy improvements.” The company has also completed similar work for the Worcester Housing Authority.
In addition, “we recently completed a geothermal project right here in Springfield, for the Local 7 electrical union,” Reidy said. “We installed a geothermal refrigeration system that heats and cools their building, and they’re receiving good savings from that installation.”
B-G has also begun taking on more photovoltaic work, such as the installation of 100 rooftop solar panels at the Hampshire County Jail.
“That’s a fast-growing industry,” Reidy said. “I think people are starting to pay attention to efficiency all the way down the line, from large projects to small pieces of equipment for homes.
“We’ve done quite a few green-building projects,” he continued. “Its time has come, as people keep looking for ways to save money. It’s a perfect storm, if you think about it: fuel costs are up, people are more aware of the environment now, and conservation is kicking in.”
That economic consideration is key, though, to getting many people to move toward energy-efficient solutions. “In my own experience, I converted from oil to gas in my home this year and saved 50% on the fuel bill,” Reidy said. “That’s a quick payback, and that’s what people want, a quick payback. They want to know, ‘how many years will it take for this investment to pay me back?’ Energy efficiency today is huge.”

Up to Speed
Even as B-G embraces these trends, it has seen the HVAC field in general become more challenging on many levels, but more exciting as well.
“The speed at which jobs get done has increased dramatically; everything is faster, faster, faster,” Reidy said. “And the computer has changed the building automation controls amazingly. Every piece of equipment today has some kind of plug-in computer board. It makes troubleshooting the equipment so much easier. It reminds you of when service is due, reminds you of filter changes … all that is done through the computer today; it’s all automated. That’s probably the biggest change in the industry.”
In addition, he said, “there have been a lot of changes in the way pipes are put together — quicker, faster, better — that saves labor in projects.”
Being faster also means staying nimble against what has become stiffer competition in recent years, he told BusinessWest.
“We’re finding that competition keeps you moving faster because, if you’re not out knocking on doors, someone’s going to be out there in front of you,” he said. “We’re finding, when we bid on projects here in Springfield, guys from Rhode Island, Boston, and New York are here to bid on the work, because they know the work is here.”
In other words, even a struggling economy hasn’t cooled off business too much for this ‘little plumbing shop’ that has become much more.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

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Gas Prices Shroud Summer Travel Season with Question Marks

Mary Kay Wydra, left, and Michele Goldberg

Mary Kay Wydra, left, and Michele Goldberg show off some of the advertising aimed at drawing people from the Boston area to Western Mass.

There are a number of traditions that are part and parcel to summer in this region — fireworks on the Fourth of July, family getaways to the lake, and stops for ice cream at roadside soft-serve stands, to name just a few.
Two more have been added in recent years: high gas prices, and seemingly endless speculation about the impact they will have on the local tourism industry. And those traditions will continue in 2011. Gas prices are already at $4 per gallon, and most analysts say they will go much higher. This has many restaurateurs and tourist-attraction managers understandably nervous, but there is also the sentiment that the fuel prices will keep people closer to home for their summer fun.
“For Americans, taking a summer vacation is a birthright,” said Mary Kay Wydra, director of the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. “People are going to travel, but they will probably make different choices. Based on the fact that it costs $60 to $80 to fill a gas tank, they may visit two attractions instead of three, and may eat at less-expensive restaurants.
“It’s very important this year that destinations show value to the customer,” she continued, hitting on a point that she and others would stress repeatedly as they assessed the approaching summer season.
And to that end, the bureau is teaming up with area venues to offer vacation packages that include hotel stays combined with discounts to hot spots such as the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield and Six Flags in Agawam.
This year, another of the bureau’s goals is to capture the interest of people in the eastern part of the state. “Our feeder markets are Boston, Connecticut, and New York, and we are targeting our marketing efforts in the Boston area this summer,” Wydra said.
A number of marketing initiatives will kick off in June, including digital billboards, online advertising, and a free coupon book that will be distributed at Exit 6 and Exit 15 on the Mass. Turnpike for a weekend, with signs posted before the exit to alert drivers to the giveaway who might otherwise breeze through the fast lane.
“We are cautiously optimistic about the summer. Our visitor numbers are never as high as major metropolitan areas like Boston, but they are also never as low,” Wydra said. “We are a drive-to destination, so it is important that we do everything possible to respond to rising gas prices. Destinations that get creative and show value to consumers are the ones that are going to be successful.”
For this issue and its focus on tourism, BusinessWest talked with a number of people in this sector about what they expect this summer, and what factors will determine the volume of travel — and spending.

Current Events
Wydra said the area is fortunate to have upcoming events designed to draw large crowds, such as the enshrinement at the Basketball Hall of Fame on Aug. 12, not to mention the Hoop City Jazz & Art Festival (July 8-10), Indian Day at the Museum of Springfield History (July 17), a Mini-Grand Prix car race in downtown Springfield (July 23-24), and the Six Flags concert series. “And if you go farther north, there are outdoor attractions which include zip lines,” she said.
Michele Goldberg, director of marketing for the Visitor’s Bureau, agrees. “There are two zip lines and three whitewater-rafting businesses in Charlemont. Plus there is the Quinnetukut Riverboat cruise in Northfield, the Lady Bea cruise at Brunelle’s in South Hadley, and boating, hiking and fishing,” she said.
Wydra touts the views from the rivers as attractions in themselves. “They are incredible, and the rivers are a magnet that attracts people of all ages,” she said.
Cliff Stevens is cautiously optimistic about the upcoming season. He owns Moxie Outdoor Adventures in Charlemont, which offers white-water rafting, family float trips, and related river activities. He says weather is always a major factor in the business.
“But last year we had a good season and held our own. We are expecting to do about the same this year,” he said.
The downturn in the economy has affected his bottom line, but Stevens hasn’t raised prices in about five years because he knows it’s important to keep excursions affordable.
“I think it will be a good season for local tourism,” he told BusinessWest. “We are no more than a tank of gas away for many people, so I’m optimistic that families will get out and relax. The trips we offer include lunch and have held up during the recession because they are a good value. There are five campgrounds in Charlemont, and people can stay at them, take a hike, go rafting, and have a nice getaway weekend, which has helped us.”
However, the soaring cost of gas has affected his employees, who typically have full-time jobs and work as river guides on weekends because they enjoy challenging situations as well as being on the water. “Some come from Boston, and the first question they’re asking is if I will give them money for gas,” Stevens said. “They are more hesitant to work for a day even though that has been their tradition.”
He is honoring their request because it is difficult to find professionals with enough expertise to navigate waterways that can quickly become treacherous.

Tanks for the Memories
Kevin Kennedy says the geographic area that stretches from the Berkshires to Springfield is home to more than 700,000 residents. “That’s a good-sized audience of people who don’t have to drive more than an hour to get to us,” said Kennedy, staff liaison of Museums10, a collaboration of seven campus museums and three independent facilities that have joined forces to attract visitors. The consortium is facilitated by Five Colleges Inc., which provides administrative support from its Amherst office.
“Each one has a different audience and different strengths, but there is also a lot of overlap,” Kennedy said. He views times such as these when gas prices soar and travel becomes more expensive as an opportunity to reach out to local audiences.
The group conducts an annual survey based on zip codes to gauge the economic impact their visitors have on the economy. Most guests drive from locations less than 90 minutes away, with many coming from Boston, Albany, New Haven, and Brattleboro.
“Because it’s an easy drive, people don’t have to wince too hard when they fill their gas tanks,” Kennedy said. “We’re also seeing folks from Hampshire County who have lived here for years and have been to some of the museums, but not all of them. People are looking for opportunities in their own backyards, and I think it’s good to have an increase in local visitors.”
The license-plate survey, which began in 2007, shows the most notable shift in attendance is the percentage of people from Massachusetts. In 2007, 37.9% of visitors came from the Bay State. That number rose to 47.3% the following year, held fairly steady at 45.6% in 2009, and climbed to 51.9 % last year.
Museums10 is looking to add value to its visits, and although six of the 10 museums don’t charge admission, they do feature gift shops, so the consortium is thinking about creating a card that would offer people reduced admissions and/or gift-shop discounts.

Soar Subject

Mike Desrosiers

Mike Desrosiers says he’s optimistic about the year ahead at the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Meanwhile, things seem to be on the upswing at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. And Marketing and Media Representative Mike Desrosiers thinks this will be a good season.
“If the recent spring vacation was any indication of how the summer will play out, we are very hopeful,” he said, referring to April school-vacation week. “We had an attendance level that trumped what we’ve done in the past few years, and that is always encouraging.”
Officials at Yankee Candle Flagship in South Deerfield are also optimistic, but their confidence stems largely from measures they have taken to attract visitors.
“We typically see 1 million to 1.5  million people every year,” said Jim Ovitt, director of retail operations. Most guests are within a 2 ½-hour drive, and when gas prices rose in 2008, Yankee Candle Flagship saw more local traffic and fewer visitors from outlying areas.
Its strategy has been to implement a continuous stream of new offerings that keep the attraction fresh and provide more reasons for visits.
“Several years ago when gas prices rose, we looked at what we could do strategically around key events that would drive traffic to this location,” said Ovitt, adding that such efforts have kept the company’s numbers stable. “The fact that we have free admission and offerings for every age makes us very attractive to families of two or more.
“We try to change things to make newness part of the excitement,” he continued, “with events, entertainment, and attractions within the store such as our Wax Works, where people can create their own candles from wax beads with layers of fragrances. It has been so popular, we had to renovate the area twice to add more capacity.”
The candy shop is under renovation, and will reopen as Yankee Candy, while Santa’s Toy Shop is being expanded in line with its successful marketing strategy.
The New England Air Museum in Windsor Locks, Conn. has not experienced the same success. Although the facility is only about 20 minutes from downtown Springfield and a member of the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, the attraction has not been faring well, said Assistant Director Debbie Reed.
“The state line seems to scare people off,” she said. “It’s almost like a barrier, and we don’t know why.”
Museum officials hope to reverse this trend via a radio-advertising campaign aimed at the Springfield market. There is optimism, but administrators are adopting a wait-and-see attitude.
“January was terrible because of the weather; the last three months have been OK, but there is uncertainty because of the gas prices,” she said. “This season could be good, or it could be bad; we don’t know what to expect.”
However, a number of special events are also on their menu, including the annual Space Expo, which typically draws visitors from Rhode Island, Connecticut, Vermont, and parts of Western Mass.

The Bottom Line
Looking ahead to the summer season, the ever-optimistic but also realistic Wydra said there are a number of question marks hanging over the tourism sector — another tradition of sorts.
But while there is a good dose of concern about whether gas prices will temper visitation to area attractions and overall spending, there is widespread optimism that this sector will withstand that challenge and post solid numbers.
But as Wydra and others said many times, it all comes down to providing value.
“The term ‘new’ is so important, as new elements keep people coming back,” Wydra said. “And our attractions are always reinventing themselves.”

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Two Generations Build on Laplante Construction’s Solid Foundation
From left, Ray and Bill Laplante

From left, Ray and Bill Laplante say their family has built a strong reputation over five decades in business.

Ray Laplante says he’s always been more of a “hands-on guy.”
He told BusinessWest that he was following in his father’s footsteps by starting his own framing and carpentry company back in 1964, and that, while he would subcontract some work for his dad’s firm — called Albert Laplante Construction — his own namesake business went through the roof in the early 1970s.
“When he got out of the service, my older brother went to work for our father,” he remembered. “And when they hired a project manager, there wasn’t really room for me to be there all the time. Even though I was on my own, they did hire me a few times for sub jobs.”
It was a handful of spec houses that he put up 40 years ago, though, that paved the way for Laplante to find his niche in the home-construction market, and he went on to build many such properties in East Longmeadow, Longmeadow, and Wilbraham. “That’s when my business took off,” he said.
But even though his business, R.E. Laplante Construction Inc., started to develop a reputation for fine home craftsmanship that endures to this day, it was his desire to be out in the field that prompted one of his biggest decisions in the company’s almost-five-decade history.
His son, Bill, currently the company president, went to college to get an economics degree. “Basically, I started working here when I was 12 or 13,” Bill said. “I would come after school, during school vacations, and continued that throughout high school.
“During college,” he continued, “I was still in the field, framing or doing finish work, and continued that after I graduated. But in four or five years’ time, I made the transition into the office, doing a lot of the day-to-day functions, and then eventually sales.”
As Bill told the story, Ray smiled and added, “I’m a framer, a carpenter. I don’t have any kind of management education. Although the business was very successful, my plan always had been for him to come in, and bring the business up to that level.”
And that level, as the elder builder called it, was for his son to take over the behind-the-scenes (and front-of-house) operational aspect of Laplante Construction, while he himself builds on the foundation he created and nails down the strategy that continues to bring success to the family business.

Father Knows Best
As president, Bill said, his job is not just to make sure all the bills get paid — “all the day to day financials,” as he called it — but also to be the top-tier salesman for the company. Which is easy when his number-one selling tool happens to be the man who built the reputation he’s pitching.
With a history of building homes that he designed himself, Bill called his father’s expertise “invaluable.”
“He meets with the customer, listens to them, and has an incredible knack for design and for coming up with ideas,” Bill said. “He can take a look at something, especially in renovations, and come up with the ‘good idea’ for that specific project.”
Ray added that some 90% of his clients don’t in fact work with an outside architect. “So when people call us, they’re looking for ideas and for layouts,” he added. “And we have that capability here — we can put it on the computer and do layouts. My brother, Paul, does all the CAD drafting, which we do in-house. Which is great for our customers because we can take them from the design stage all the way through to completion.
“We’re not architects,” he clarified, “but both Paul and I are very knowledgeable with regard to framing, structural needs, and putting things where they need to be. When we run into situations where we need an engineer, we will hire one, but a lot of it we can do ourselves.
“And we do that design work for a fraction of what you would expect a professional architect or designer to do,” he added, emphatically.
As a result of the economic downturn, Bill did say that he’s noticed an overall shift in priority, from new construction back to renovations. “People are staying put, and putting money into their existing homes,” he explained.
But while other firms might have historically shied away from smaller-profile jobs, focusing on bigger budgets and entire houses, Laplante has always made it an unofficial policy to take on all work that met its criteria for a job well done, no matter the size.
“This has always been the case,” Bill said. “We never let go of renovation, remodeling, and new-addition projects.
“Through the years,” he went on, “you get a dip in the economy, or a recession, and renovations pick up. Some builders, when they get busy, might not want to have to deal with the $20,000 remodel job; we always did, no matter how busy we were — just for that reason, to keep the company diverse. And this has served us well.”
Just because a project might be termed a renovation, Ray noted, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a small-scale project. “Some of these types of work can add up to $500,000 or $600,000.”
In addition, Bill said that a key facet to broadening the horizons for a building company is to always keep pace with developments in the industry. To that end, he has undertaken the necessary coursework through the National Assoc. of Home Builders to receive the designation as a certified green professional. What this means, he explained, is that his role as salesman for the firm now is fully compliant in all that a customer should and would want to know about available green technologies, processes, and products for their project.
“More and more people are looking for it these days,” he said. “But more than just using the word ‘green,’ I’d say that what they are after is energy efficiency. And they are looking for a payback on those investments.”
The key is to look at those technologies and discover what will give the payback that his clients expect, he said, whether that be spray-foam insulation, higher R-value windows, different construction techniques, or siting the house to take full advantage of the sun.
“There are a lot of ways to reduce the energy costs on a new home,” he added. “The nice thing is, we will give our customers that whole array of different products and technologies, and then help them make an informed decision, to decide if it works for them personally, or fits into their budget. That’s really why we tried to get out in front of the green-building process.”

The Family Way
“A lot of people that we work with aren’t price shopping,” Bill told BusinessWest. “They come to us through word-of-mouth referrals, and they trust that we’re going to give them a high-quality product at a fair price. We will bid against other contractors, but one thing we won’t do is compromise what goes into that house.
“I’d say that 75% of our business is just through word-of-mouth referral,” he continued. “That, and the reputation my father has built up over the years of being a high-quality and fair, responsible builder.”
To prosper in an industry that has suffered perhaps more than any other sector in this down economy, both men agreed that the best tack has been to proceed with business as usual. Provided, of course, that one has a track record like the Laplante company.
“It ultimately comes down to trust,” Bill stated. “In many cases this is the largest investment that someone will make in their lifetime. There are so many ways that builders can cut corners, to reduce price or increase their profit, and ultimately it comes down to being able to fully place your trust in the person you’re working with.”
To illustrate that point, Ray told of a recent meeting with a client, in this case someone with whom Laplante has worked in the past.
“We bid on this job; I think it was $80,000 or $90,000,” he said. “Now, they also had gotten a price of $20,000 less, and they wanted to know why. So they called me up and asked if I would go over the price bids. I put them both on the table. The other contractor hadn’t figured in painting, and hadn’t added a number of things — different materials. None of it was written into their contract. We try to be reasonable with our allowances, and because of that level of trust, we are doing that job now.”
Adding to their offerings as homebuilders, father and son have branched out both geographically and in their building envelope. Clients have asked them to build houses on Cape Cod, as well as light commercial structures.
But that doesn’t mean the pair are changing their direction at all. Rather, they’re just doing what their customers have asked of them. And when the conversation arrives at the next generation of Laplantes that might bring the company into the fourth generation of builders, the pair smiled. They aren’t ready to hang up their hammers yet.
Ray said he’d like to have the chance to play a bit more golf, but there’s plenty of time for that in the future.
“My main priority is to maintain the Laplante reputation,” he said. “That’s all I’m looking for.”
When the business of building homes can fall back on more than 40 years and multiple generations of service, that’s a pretty good sign this family is doing it the right way.

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Bay Path Women’s Leadership Conference Set for April 29

Women make many decisions throughout their lives that impact their present and future situations. Some are well-thought-out, while others are made quickly or without much deliberation.
But the attitude and the way women think about their choices can have a strong influence on how they feel, which is one of the reasons the theme for the 16th Annual Women’s Leadership Conference at Bay Path College is “The Power of Choice.”
The event will be held April 29 from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in the MassMutual Center in Springfield, and more than 1,000 women are expected to attend.
“Everyone takes something away at the end of the day they can use immediately because they are inspired by the speakers and the themes,” said Bay Path President Carol Leary, adding that past participants continue to tell her that the conference changed their lives.
“The day is a gift women give to themselves,” she told BusinessWest. “This conference will give people the opportunity to reflect on what the power of choice means to them and about the choices they are making in their personal and professional lives. By not making a choice, they may not have control over their own destiny.”
Critical life choices women make include whether they will seek higher education and, if so, in what field, as well as whether to have a family and stop their career to raise their children. “Women are at the center of families all their lives and make very critical choices about the paths people take, including their parents and in-laws,” said Leary. “So, at this conference, we have carefully selected speakers who made very important deicisions about how they were going to lead their lives.”
Victoria Kennedy is the keynote speaker for the afternoon. The accomplished attorney and wife of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy is a strong believer in women’s rights and has worked on issues ranging from domestic violence to education. Leary said Kennedy’s marriage was an active partnership, and she chose not to sit on the sidelines.
“When Ted Kennedy passed away, many people thought she would step into the race for the Senate,” Leary said, adding that she was disappointed Kennedy did not make that decision. “But I respected what she did. She made a very clear choice for herself.”
Leary noted that she served on the advisory board for the Western Mass. Women’s Fund with Kennedy, and was impressed that she traveled to the Pioneer Valley to attend the meetings. The goal of the fund is to empower women to reach their full potential through grants and strategic initiatives.
The morning keynote speaker is Wes Moore. He was a paratrooper and captain in the U.S. Army, serving a combat tour of duty in Afghanistan with the elite 1st Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division in 2005-06. His career has been illustrious; he is recognized as an authority on the rise and ramifications of radical Islamism in the Western Hemisphere, served as a special assistant to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, is passionate about supporting U.S. veterans, and formed the organization STAND!, which works with Baltimore youth in the criminal-justice system.
He is also the author of The Other Wes Moore, which he wrote after discovering another man from his city by the same name who was two years older than him and was arrested for the murder of an off-duty Baltimore police officer during an armed robbery.
Moore wrote to him, visited him in prison, and discovered that, although they shared difficult childhoods in the same neighborhood, they had made very different decisions in their lives.
“I am intrigued by his extraordinary story,” Leary said, adding that Bay Path’s entire freshman class read Moore’s tome, and the conference will span generations as college students and professionals mingle together.
“This conference transforms lives,” she told BusinessWest. “This one day can really make a difference in a woman’s life.”
The third keynote speaker is Alison Levine. Despite the fact that she was born with a life-threatening heart condition so severe she was not even allowed to climb stairs until she had surgery at age 13, she was team captain of the first American Women’s Everest Expedition and skied across the Arctic Circle to the geographic North Pole.
In January 2008, Levine made history as the first American to complete a 600-mile traverse from West Antarctica to the South Pole on skis while hauling 150 pounds of her gear and supplies in a sled harnessed to her waist.
“She is a courageous woman who pushed herself. She could have let her childhood heart problem define her,” Leary said.
Conference participants can also choose a morning and afternoon breakout session. The topics are: “Women, Stress, and Fatigue: Best Solutions” by medical journalist Dr. Dolly Atkinson; “True Grit: Can Conscience Be Taught?” by Angela Duckworth; “The Seven Wealthy Habits of Successful Women” by author Deborah Owens; and “Meaning: How Remarkable Women Lead” by Catherine Tweedle.
The conference has a new offering this year. There will be a Career Center in the Exhibit Hall, and in addition to purchasing books and other materials, women will have the chance to meet with speed coaches, have mock job interviews, and receive tips from the coaches, Leary said. They will also be able to have their résumés reviewed.
“The purpose of the conference is not only to inspire and motivate people and provide opportunities for women to use what they learn, but also to help them advance in their careers,” Leary explained. “The coaches will be very honest. The economy is improving, but women may still need or want to find jobs or change careers, and this is an opportunity for them to leave with valuable information.”
There will also be time for networking. In addition, human-resources professionals and recruiters from a number of local firms will be available to talk to women about their careers. Bay Path is undergoing accreditation for a new Physician’s Assistant program expected to open in June 2012, and the director will be there to speak about it.
Students will volunteer during the conference, and Leary said their participation in the past has yielded laudable results. “After Mia Farrow spoke about atrocities in Africa, students started a campus organization to raise money to help women in Sudan,” she noted. “There will be time during this conference for women to think, network, and sit back and absorb everything. The conference hits a chord and meets a need in a lot of women who return to it every year.”
The cost of the conference is $300. For more information, visit baypath.com.

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Montessori Method Gives Students Choices in Learning

Molly Reynolds

Molly Reynolds says many people still harbor misconceptions about a Montessori education.

A preschool-aged boy is spraying water on a full-length mirror and carefully pulling a squeegee up and down it. A few feet away, a group of girls wash and dry pint-sized plates while other children paint on easels, act out scenes from the children’s book Where the Wild Things Are with handheld puppets, or do miniature science experiments in a bowl of water.
It’s mid-morning in a preschool/kindergarten classroom at Pioneer Valley Montessori School, where children learn concentration and independence by choosing their own activities within a stimulating environment.
The educational facility is the only fully accredited Montessori school in Western Mass. And although it has been in Springfield for 30 years, many misconceptions still exist about what goes on inside its walls.
“People are very confused about what Montessori is,” said Head of School Molly Reynolds, adding that many institutions use the name Montessori but do not adhere to the practices and philosophy set forth by its founder. “Some people think we are a religious school, some think we are a school for special needs, and others think this a place where children can do anything they want. But none of that is true,” Reynolds said. “Our students are normal children who are busy learning through an approach that works well for most.”
The Montessori method of education was designed by Dr. Marie Montessori of Italy. She bucked tradition by attending a boy’s technical school at age 13, and was the first woman in her country to receive a medical degree. Her interests were psychiatry, education, and anthropology, and her beliefs were not in line with the times. Montessori professed that each child is born with a unique potential that needs to be individually nurtured and developed through child-centered education.
In 1907, she proved her theory in a little school she called a Children’s House, with a group of 50 children who lived in a poverty-stricken area of Rome. Their achievements were so remarkable that news spread quickly throughout the world, and her teaching principles were soon adopted internationally.
“The Montessori philosophy is based on the belief that children learn best when they are allowed to make choices about their activities,” Reynolds said. “By the time they have been here for several years, they can really concentrate. The teaching method encourages the development of an organized mind, and the classrooms are very organized to help that occur. We want the children to become independent, be sensitive to one other, have social awareness, and become active listeners.”
In order to keep children enthusiastic about learning, they are allowed to choose their own activities during a three-hour period each day. They are also taught to resolve their own problems by raising awareness of the effects of undesirable behavior. If there is a dispute, the children involved in it take turns stating what took place and how they felt as a result. “By age 4 or 5, they can often solve their problems themselves,” Reynolds said.
Peace education is also a key theme, and families are invited to share their cultural customs in the classroom. In addition, Montessori students are exposed to multicultural music, books, and other offerings.

Early Beginnings
The Springfield school was started as a nonprofit organization in 1963 by a group of physicians’ wives, and was incorporated in June 1964.
“One of them had heard about Montessori, and they hired a teacher from France,” Reynolds said.
During the school’s first few years, classes were held in rented space at American International College. However, Richard and Emma Wilder Anderson, former owners and operators of Camp Wilder, soon donated a plot of land to the group adjacent to their private day camp, and in 1966, a one-classroom building was constructed at the Parker Street site.
In 1971, a second classroom was added, and in 1981, a two-story addition was built so the children could advance from preschool and kindergarten classes to Montessori elementary school. “They added one grade at a time,” Reynolds said, explaining that the parents felt strongly about having their children continue with the Montessori educational model.
Today, the Parker Street facility houses three preschool classrooms. One is for children between 18 months and 3 years of age, and the other two cater to 3- to 6-year-olds. Kindergarten students mix with preschoolers in the morning, but are taught separately in the afternoon. An adjoining wing contains one classroom for children in first through third grade, and another is home to fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-graders.
Although some people might question the idea of having children in different grades learn together, teaching is geared to the individual rather than the group, so each child moves through the curriculum at his or her own pace, said Reynolds.
The children do math and English-language arts in the morning and, after completing their lessons, are free to choose more math or science, geography, art, or computer coursework. In the afternoon, they can take part in Spanish, art, and yoga sessions.
Students at Montessori have very little homework, and what there is usually takes the form of a long-term project.
“They work hard and progress quickly here, so they don’t need it,” Reynolds explained. “Homework is generally pretty tedious, and we want them to stay excited about learning. Plus, studies do not support that homework has any value.”
The third- and fifth-grade students take the Stanford Achievement Test each year to make sure they are doing well. “They usually average two years ahead of grade level,” Reynolds said. “We have kids here doing high-school grammar.”
It is rare to have a teacher stand in front of the entire class and teach. Instead, teachers give mini-lessons to individuals throughout the day. “The teachers are trained to be excellent observers and take the time to notice how each child is doing and interacting with others,” Reynolds said, adding that, in addition to being licensed by the state, Montessori teachers must undergo specialized training.
Upper-elementary teacher Pamela Kinn says the method of teaching is very different than what occurs in a traditional setting. “In a Montessori classroom, learning is an active experience. It doesn’t happen by teachers telling children something. Everything goes from the concrete to the abstract,” she said.
Special materials are used to accomplish this goal. For example, every part of speech is symbolized by a shape or color and has a little story associated with it to help children remember and understand its purpose.
Since the school is small — the current enrollment is 112 students — the teachers know their students well, and as they progress through the system, the educators share ideas and observation as to how to get them to excel. “We can meet the needs of gifted children as well as children who struggle. We are not a special-education program, but can also meet these students’ needs,” Reynolds said.

Grade Expectations
Susan Hershey has been teaching at the school since 1972, and thus has a great deal of experience — and perspective — when it comes to the Montessori methodology.
“I really like the freedom that children have within this structure,” she told BusinessWest. “The preschool foundation is based on practical life skills to help children develop coordination, concentration, a sense of independence, and order. The Montessori curriculum is very clearly delineated and taught.”
It’s an atmosphere where students are happy as they help to direct their own education.

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Area Colleges Report Heated Interest in Summer Classes

Debbie Bellucci

Debbie Bellucci says a number of factors have led to a surge in summer enrollment, including a still-uncertain economy.

Summer school is certainly not a new development at area colleges and universities, but interest in this educational option has been picking up in recent years, especially at community colleges. The economy has a lot to do with it, but there are other factors, including the increasing popularity of online offerings and a greater number of summer-month program options.

Summer used to be a time when college students took a break from classes and earned a little cash. But the downturn in the economy has changed that dynamic, especially at state schools where tuition is comparatively low.
Many students are trying to fast-track their education, while others who attend private schools are signing up for transferable summer courses at community colleges where tuition is inexpensive. The faltering economy has also led many adults back to school year-round to maintain or boost their marketability. They are often juggling myriad responsibilities, so the increasing demand for online courses, which are convenient and flexible, is changing the face of higher education.
The trend has also given birth to a variety of degree-completion options, as well as what are called hybrid classes, which combine online and face-to-face meetings, as the requirements for all courses can’t be completed online.
Bill McClure, executive director of the Continuing Education Department at UMass Amherst, said the university has seen an increase in demand for courses year-round. “It is generally accepted that, when the economy is down, the demand for education goes up,” he said.
Summer is no exception, and UMass students are taking summer classes in both undergraduate and graduate programs. “Last summer, online courses across the board were up by 30% overall,” he said. “However, face-to-face classes did see a decrease.”
Kimberly Tobin, dean of graduate and continuing education at Westfield State University, has also seen a pronounced demand for summer classes that began in 2008. “From 2008 to 2010, we had a 77% increase in the number of students taking summer courses online,” she said. “That’s huge for us. In addition, many faculty members have moved to hybrid courses, where they use the Web shell to post assignments, readings, supplemental materials, or PowerPoint presentations, and these numbers don’t include those classes.
“We are finding that more traditional students are also taking summer courses because they are less expensive here than at private schools,” she continued, referring to students who go to college after high school and have not spent much time in the workforce.
Greenfield Commun-ity College (GCC) is mirroring the trend. Last summer, 715 students took credit courses there, and 387 took non-credit courses. In 2009, there were 596 students taking credit courses and 342 taking non-credit summer courses.
“The increase has been substantial,” said Shane Hammond, dean of enrollment at GCC. “Historically, there has always been an increase in enrollment when the economy is struggling. People who are unemployed are interested in moving through their education as quickly as possible because they want to get back into the workforce. Many are looking to retrain, so they come to us for that education. We have also seen an increase in students with bachelor’s and master’s degrees taking courses in an effort to advance their education or change their field.”
For this edition and its focus on education, BusinessWest takes a look at the changing trends in summer sessions at local colleges and how they are responding to the growing demand.

Balancing the Budget
Tobin said books about college written for parents advise them to have children take core credit courses at less-expensive schools. Some do this at community colleges, while others turn to places like Westfield State.
The option offers a number of benefits, in addition to cost savings. It allows students to lighten their course load during the traditional school year and accelerates the time it takes to complete their education.
“Since 2008, we have seen a 25% increase in traditional students taking summer classes at Westfield,” said Tobin. “Students can take a course online here and get it transferred. This summer, we are offering 80 online courses. Last summer, we only had 64. We are trying to make sure they are the courses most in demand, and have also added an online bachelor’s completion program in business management. Plus, we are about to offer three more online degree-completion programs in sociology, history, and liberal studies.”
Tobin said the average age of students enrolled in these courses is 30. Many live in the eastern part of the state, and half of those are in the Business Management program. “It’s one of our largest growth programs in continuing education,” she explained. “People are asking, ‘what can I go to school for that will give me an edge in the workforce?’ and management is one of those areas.”
She added that today’s students want and need the flexibility that online courses offer. “At Westfield State, most of our students have to work to afford school. So we are giving them an option that allows them to do that.”
Summer courses concentrate a semester’s worth of learning into a few short weeks, which makes them rather intense. “They are not easy, but our students aren’t afraid of work; they just need balance and flexibility, which they get with online courses,” said Tobin, adding that many students take only one course per semester, which allows them to really focus on doing well, which can be difficult with more than one if they have families and other responsibilities.
Another increasing segment of the summer population is high-school students.
If their guidance counselors agree, they can take college courses during the summer and earn both high-school and college credits for them. “Most are taking basic core courses, but some are incredibly motivated and are taking advanced math and science classes,” Tobin explained, adding that classes that span generations offer different perspectives in learning. “Imagine being in a class online or in person with high-school students, traditional college students, and adult learners. To me, that is an amazing educational experience that you can only get in summer coursework.”
Springfield Technical Community College has also experienced an increase in demand for summer courses.
“In 2010, we had an 11% increase in students during the summer; that was a 25% increase in credits sold over the previous summer’s enrollment,” said Debbie Bellucci, dean of the School of Continuing Education and Distance Learning. “We attribute the increase to several things — the economy, our affordability, the wide range of summer courses that STCC offers, and the availability of summer Pell grants for returning students last year.”
STCC typically sees two types of students. The first group is composed of individuals who didn’t do as well as they wanted at their home institutions and want to lighten their loads for the upcoming semester with a cost-effective option. The second group is students who need health and nursing prerequisite courses required for entrance into many health or nursing programs.
The courses in greatest demand are Anatomy and Physiology I and II and Microbiology. General-education courses are also very popular, since they are required in every major, and include English Composition, Psychology, History, Math, Biology, Chemistry, and various business courses.
“STCC also offers several upper-level and unique courses, such as Organic Chemistry and Calculus I-IV, that attract students from other institutions who are home for the summer. They can transfer the course credits back to their home college or university,” Bellucci said, explaining that the school is continuously adding new courses.
This summer, new offerings include Physics of Green Energy, Fundamentals of CNC Machining, and Fundamentals of Acting, as well as online offerings such as Environmental Biology and Principles of Biology.

Private Offerings
McClure said all indications are that this summer will be a strong term at UMass at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. “Our registration staff is putting in overtime so folks aren’t delayed in signing up for classes,” he said.
However, students also want online courses, and enrollment in face-to-face classes has dropped. “Students find online classes more adaptive to their lifestyles, as they can take a class anywhere at any time. It is a national trend that online classes and degree programs are experiencing a lot of growth. So we are offering 30% more online courses this summer,” McClure said. “Frankly, we are astounded by the demand.”
About two-thirds of the university’s summer-school enrollees are traditional students. Some have double majors and want to ease their course loads in the spring and fall, but many work year-round and are able to take only 12 credit hours per semester. “So summer courses allow them to compensate for that; across the board, we are very pleased that we are getting this type of response,” said McClure, adding the university is holding three summer terms beginning in May. “We are highly motivated and continuously looking for new courses to meet people’s needs.”
Frank Bellizia, dean of Continuing Education at American International College, said AIC’s numbers have held steady during the past few summers. However, the school encourages adults thinking about returning to school to “test the waters” with a summer course. “Most of our continuing-education students are in degree-completion programs and are 45 to 50 years old,” he said.
This summer, AIC is launching a pilot program with about a dozen online courses. “We are probably among the last to get into this and want to see if it will make a difference in enrollment,” he said. “Not all courses can be offered online, but we are encouraging our instructors to try it out. We’ll see what happens.”
Bellizia isn’t surprised that state schools are reporting an increase in student population during the summer months. “Cost is a big factor, and we can’t compete with them, plus public schools are able to offer a wider range of summer courses. Holyoke Community College and STCC are our biggest competitors,” he said.
However, this summer AIC is offering a certificate program to try to expand its offerings in Institutional Advancement, Grant Writing, Fundraising, and Therapeutic Touch. “The programs are targeted at area professionals who want to get their certifications,” Bellizia said.
Matt Fox is director of recruiting and marketing for Western New England College, where summer enrollment has also held steady over the past few years. “We saw a significant spike in the summer of 2008, but since that time it has leveled out, and there has not been as much interest,” he said. “We feel it is due to the economy. Students are looking for more economical options. In the past, we had visiting students picking up courses, but we didn’t see the numbers last year.”
However, the school has six accelerated degree programs, which adult learners find attractive. The courses offer a mix of face-to-face, online, and hybrid courses, and adults like them because they have the ability to mix and match. “Some students prefer to take math courses face to face, especially if they have not been in school for some time,” Fox said.
But overall, there in an increasing trend toward spending a year or two at a community college and transferring the credits. “A lot of it is related to the cost of education; we do give discount tuition for part-time students, but the reality is that community colleges provide great opportunities,” he explained.
WNEC has seen an uptick in interest from adults who are thinking about returning to school. “They figure, if the economy takes a downturn again, more education will make them more employable,” Fox said, but most have a “wait-and-see mentality” because they don’t want to incur more debt. “If anything is changing, it’s that we are offering more and more online courses as people prefer them.”
The bottom line is that the demand for summer courses has risen. The economy and changing lifestyles are leading savvy consumers to meet their needs in a cost-effective and convenient manner, and those lazy, hazy days of summer have all but disappeared.

Sections Supplements
Make Sure They Fall Within the Parameters of State Regulations

Benjamin Bristol

Benjamin Bristol

An employee damages property while at work. The employer offers to waive disciplinary action for the mishap if employee pays for damage through wage deductions. Sounds reasonable, right?
As reasonable as this may seem, the Mass. Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) recently declared that one such policy, which had been used by ABC Disposal Inc. (ABC), violated the Massachusetts Wage Act.
ABC is a solid-waste and recycling trucking business whose drivers had, on occasion, damaged ABC’s trucks as well as property of third parties. To promote safety and discourage careless driving, ABC implemented a policy where it would evaluate each instance of damage to see if it could have been prevented. If ABC found that the damage was preventable, it would then offer the driver two choices: pay for the damage or be disciplined. The drivers who chose to pay for the damages would authorize the employer, in writing, to deduct payments from their wages. The average amount that was deducted was $15 to $30 per week. ABC’s policy successfully reduced its property-damage costs. In fact, ABC’s costs relating to damage done to company vehicles and third-party property dropped by 78%.
Apparently, at least one ABC employee did not like this arrangement, because the Mass. Attorney General’s Office received an anonymous complaint concerning the policy in 2006. In response, the attorney general launched an investigation and ultimately concluded that ABC’s policy violated the Massachusetts Wage Act by creating ‘special contracts.’
A special contract is an arrangement where an employee agrees to accept less than his or her total amount of earned wages, and thereby circumvents the Wage Act’s purpose: to protect employees’ right to their earned wages. After the attorney general arrived at this conclusion, a civil citation was issued ordering ABC to pay $21,487.96 in restitution and a penalty of $9,410.
ABC filed a lawsuit in state court to annul the attorney general’s citation and uphold the validity of its policy. ABC argued that it was not engaging in special contracts, but was instead making deductions that were ‘valid setoffs,’ which are permitted by the Wage Act. The attorney general disagreed, and argued that the valid-setoff provision of the Wage Act has a very limited scope and did not apply to ABC’s policy.
All valid setoffs under the Wage Act, according to the attorney general, “implicitly involve some form of due process through the court system, or occur at an employee’s direction and in the employee’s interests.” The trial court sided with ABC, and the attorney general appealed to the SJC.
The SJC gave deference to the attorney general’s interpretation of the Wage Act and found that ABC’s policy did not entail valid setoffs. The SJC explained that valid setoffs exist only where there is a “clear and established debt” owed by the employee to the employer. The SJC stated that ABC’s policy did not create clear and established debts due to the one-sided method of assessing whether the employee was responsible for the damages and how much the damages would cost. Instead of a valid setoff, the SJC viewed ABC’s policy as creating special contracts where the employee had to choose from two “unpalatable” options: wage deductions or disciplinary action.
The SJC agreed with the attorney general that this policy contravened the purpose of the Wage Act. As a result, the SJC declared ABC’s policy unlawful and required ABC to pay the restitution and penalty costs. Although the restitution and penalty that ABC was ordered to pay may appear costly, employers should note that this amount can be much higher, especially if an employee files a lawsuit on their own.
Indeed, not only does the Wage Act give the attorney general the authority to penalize employers who violate its terms, the Wage Act also allows employees to file lawsuits on their own and on behalf of others. If the employee prevails, the court will take the amount the employer owes for lost wages and benefits — and triple it. Clearly, these numbers can begin to add up quickly, particularly if multiple employees join in and institute a class action.
Now that we know how the SJC and attorney general view voluntary-deduction agreements like the one discussed above, employers must remain cautious when contemplating whether they can take such deductions, even when the employee assents.
The good news is that the SJC’s ruling does not prohibit wage deductions altogether; employers just need to make sure their deductions fall within one of the Wage Act’s narrow exceptions, such as a valid setoff. However, even if you believe that your policy may fit within one of these narrow exceptions, the safer course is to consult with counsel to see if your policy qualifies. Such a preventative measure is well-worth the time, especially if an employee questions your policy and contacts the attorney general to evaluate its validity.

Benjamin Bristol, Esq. specializes exclusively in management-side labor and employment law at Royal LLP, a woman-owned, boutique, management-side labor and employment law firm; (413) 586-2288; [email protected]

Sections Supplements
Department of Labor Puts the Pressure on Employees

Michael Leahy

Michael Leahy

Late last year, the American Bar Assoc. (ABA) announced what it called a “first-of-its-kind partnership between a federal agency … and the private bar.”
The federal agency, in this case, the Department of Labor (DOL), and the ABA have teamed in a bold initiative to pair potential plaintiffs with private-sector plaintiffs’ attorneys to bring lawsuits against employers under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
Currently, employees who bring an FLSA or FMLA complaint that is not resolved by the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division are referred to a toll-free telephone number that connects them with the ABA’s attorney-referral system. The Department of Labor will also share relevant documents from an employee’s case file with the private attorney to assist in any private lawsuit.
We expect this initiative to result in an increase in wage-and-hour litigation over FLSA and FMLA violations, including costly collective and class-action cases.
These cases are particularly attractive for plaintiffs’ attorneys, since attorneys’ fees are available if the verdict is in favor of the employee. In addition, since the DOL will share much of the employee’s case file, plaintiffs’ attorneys may be more likely to believe a case is strong, or may see more upside in taking cases where the DOL has already completed much of the investigatory heavy lifting. Given the current regulatory environment, it is expected that this practice will spread to both federal and Massachusetts agencies that oversee labor and employment law.
This DOL-ABA Referral Initiative is in line with a more aggressive DOL stance under the Obama administration. Last year, the DOL launched its ‘We Can Help’ initiative aimed at encouraging underpaid or misclassified workers to file complaints against their employers. The Web site for the We Can Help program includes a large banner which reads, “How To File a Complaint.” Employees who follow that link are walked through the process of getting a complaint against their employer rolling.
That’s not the worst of the problem: last December, the DOL’s Office of the Solicitor of Labor developed an aggressive operating plan for 2011 for the future, under which the solicitor will be taking a more active roll in the administrative and pre-litigation phases of DOL investigations. The solicitor is also undertaking a ‘liquidated damages pilot project’ to assist the DOL in seeking double damages. The solicitor even plans to identify egregious cases for criminal prosecution.
Massachusetts employers must be particularly cautious, given the active plaintiff’s bar here and the Commonwealth’s own aggressive regulators.
Earlier this year, the Mass. attorney general’s office was successful in a case it brought against an employer who deducted money from an employee’s pay to compensate for damages he caused to the company’s vehicle.
Meanwhile, the plaintiffs’ bar in Massachusetts is among the most successful in the country at suing employers. Just last month, Massachusetts attorneys were successful in their efforts to certify a class-action suit against Starbucks for its practices related to employee tips.
Wage-and-hour issues can be tricky, and the basis for legal determinations is not always intuitive. Many well-meaning employers mistakenly classify non-exempt workers as exempt, or mistakenly treat workers as independent contractors rather than employees. FMLA determinations can also be confusing. In light of the DOL’s unusually aggressive posture, it is recommended that all employers play it safe and call their labor and employment counsel to review their wage-and-hour policies.
This approach may well spread to other employment issues. A thorough employment practice audit now can save headaches and money down the road.
Given the DOL’s stance here, it’s not worth taking a chance.

Michael B. Leahy is an associate with the law firm of Skoler, Abbott & Presser, P.C., which exclusively represents management interests with regard to legal issues concerning labor and employment. He concentrates his practice in employment counseling and litigation. He is admitted to practice in state and federal courts in Massachusetts and state courts in New York. This column is not intended as legal advice related to individual situations; (413) 737-4753; [email protected]

Sections Supplements
Pediatric Dentists Stress Education, Prevention, and Fun

Drs. Laurie Brown and Vincent Trimboli Jr.

Drs. Laurie Brown and Vincent Trimboli Jr. say that, if decay is caught early enough in baby teeth, it can sometimes be healed with a combination of fluoride, proper hygiene, and new toothpaste and dental products.

Drs. Howard Kantor and Marie Tremblay have a brochure in their Northampton office titled, “If Only I’d Known,” and the pediatric dentists say educating parents about what they can do to prevent tooth decay is a critical component of their profession.
“It’s not necessary for tooth decay to be part of a child’s experience. Kids can go through their entire lives without having a cavity if their parents are proactive in terms of diet, brushing, and flossing,” said Kantor, adding that they have seen tooth decay in toddlers as young as 18 months.
Dr. Robert Matthews at the Kid’s Dentist in West Springfield agrees. “Baby teeth are building blocks for the future of a healthy mouth,” he said. “In the long run, it’s cheaper to treat children’s teeth early before they get extensive tooth decay.”
The American Dental Assoc. and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommend that children see a dentist on or before their first birthday. And, although many people might dispute the necessity of consulting with a professional when teeth are just starting to emerge, experts say a pediatric dentist is as important to a child’s health as a pediatrician.
“The idea is to establish a dental home. It’s not to fix teeth,” Tremblay said, adding that parents should start gently brushing their children’s teeth with a child-sized toothbrush as soon as they erupt, using water or children’s toothpaste to get rid of plaque.
During an initial visit to Pediatric Dental Associates of Greater Springfield in East Longmeadow, pediatric dentists Drs. Vincent Trimboli Jr. and Laurie Brown discuss nutrition, its effect on teeth, what to do if a child falls and injures a tooth, and even the importance of having children wear a helmet with a cage when they play sports such as soccer or teeball. They also explain the benefits and risks of fluoride and how baby teeth differ from adult teeth.
“The anatomy of a baby tooth is different. It has more nerve tissue and thinner enamel than an adult tooth,” Brown said. “So we are trained to treat these teeth differently.”
She added that dental decay is the number-one chronic disease in children. “But it is something that we can control with proper diet and hygiene habits.”
Clearly, dentists who work regularly with children educate their patients as much as they clean and repair teeth. But steering kids to a lifetime of good oral habits — and making the process fun for their often-anxious patients — is a rewarding challenge.

Knowledge Is Power
If teeth aren’t cared for, they can affect a child’s overall health. Baby teeth are present in the mouth during the years of growth and development. So if a child has a toothache, he or she may not get the proper nutrition to grow properly. Baby teeth also affect a child’s speech and hold a space for the adult teeth.
Pediatric dentists advise parents who fear dentists to let them do the talking and use their knowledge to make children comfortable. They are well-equipped to do this, they say, because they are required to complete two to three additional years of training in seven areas of specialty.
In addition to classes in child growth, development, and behavior management, Trimboli noted, they are trained in sedation techniques and must care for medically compromised children and adults before graduation.
The population ranges from individuals with seizure disorder to those with autism-spectrum disorders and cerebral palsy, so dentists must learn how to handle children with special needs. They’re also trained to deal with childhood fears, explain things in a way a child understands, and accomplish necessary dental procedures quickly.
“We are trained to know how our patients will behave and how to approach them as soon as see we them walking down the hall and talk to them and their parents,” Trimboli said, explaining that they pay attention to a child’s body language and how well they interact with people in the waiting room or their staff. “We engage them before we ever use any dental instruments because we want them to have a positive experience.”
Brown gives each child a toy to play with as soon as they are seated in pint-sized examination chairs.
In fact, pediatric dental offices are carefully designed to be inviting to the small set. Matthews’ office has child-sized chairs, and the equipment he uses is smaller than the adult version, which makes it easier for children to tolerate procedures. Computer screens are installed on the ceilings of his treatment rooms and continuously play Disney movies, while Disney posters add a cheerful ambience, and stuffed animals sit on counters for children to hold during treatment. Plus, they can choose a small toy to take home when they leave.
Tremblay and Kantor’s office is also filled with fun. “It’s almost like trick-or-treating when children come here,” Tremblay said. “We give them sunglasses to wear so the light doesn’t shine in their eyes, along with stickers, gifts from our treasure drawer, and a toothbrush and toothpaste. And they get a coupon for a free slice of pizza.”
Brown and Trimboli’s office is like a small village, with rooms for every age, from tots to teens. Each room has a theme, such as Disney or a jungle, and lightscapes on the ceilings feature glowing pictures of fish swimming in turquoise water. Trimboli loves the Beatles, so one of the teen spaces is filled with Beatles posters and a glass case holding a collection of guitars. The dental equipment is hidden beneath counters and pulled out right before use, so children don’t get frightened when they enter the exam rooms.
“What we do affects how the children act, so we try to make the office and our treatment as non-intimidating as possible,” Brown said, adding that she gives small children a stuffed animal to hold to take the focus off the dental procedure.
These extras — along with child-friendly terms pediatric dentists use, such as calling the suction device “Mr. Thirsty” — go a long way toward making a visit to the dentist enjoyable.

More Than Smiles
However, there is a lot more to pediatric dentistry than atmosphere and small treats. Dentists provide parents with valuable education and tell them what is normal, what to expect, and also to check to make sure a child’s bite is developing properly.
Kantor said babies who want a bottle at bedtime should be given water, as once they are asleep, saliva production is reduced, and the sugar in milk or juice remains on their teeth. This also happens when mothers breastfeed throughout the night. “The milk has natural sugars which bathe the teeth,” he said, adding that it can lead to decay.
Sippy cups can also lead to tooth decay if children carry them around all day. “Some children use sippy cups as a pacifier. The child’s teeth should be wiped off after they drink from one,” Matthews advised.
Parents should also brush and rebrush their children’s teeth, as the young ones’ limited dexterity makes it unlikely that they will do a good job. Kantor tells parents to stand or sit behind a child and have the child look up so they can see their entire mouth.
Dentists agree that it’s much easier for everyone if tooth decay is discovered early. “A cavity is a progressive disease and will continue to get worse if it is not taken care of. Cavities should be fixed while they are small,” Tremblay said.
Brown said that, if cavities are caught early enough, they can sometimes be healed or remineralized with a combination of fluoride, proper hygiene, and newer toothpaste and dental products.
He and Trimboli say it’s not uncommon to see 2-year-olds with 10 cavities. But the way a baby tooth is restored is different than procedures used on adults.
In cases where a cavity is deep or a child is very young, it may be necessary to use sedation or put him or her in the hospital to fill it so they can be put to sleep. And if the decay has progressed to the point where the tooth has to be pulled, space maintainers are necessary. If they are not installed, the baby teeth will shift, and the adult teeth may not come in properly.
If decay has reached the nerve and the child will have the tooth for a number of years, pediatric dentists may opt to do a pulpotomy, which is the equivalent of a partial root canal on a baby tooth. “We take out part of the nerve tissue and put in a little stainless-steel crown to protect the rest of the tooth,” Tremblay said. “We don’t want it to abscess, as there is a permanent tooth building beneath it.”
Early orthodontic intervention can also prevent problems. Matthews recently hired an orthodontist to address issues that can be seen as early as age 6. “We want to catch problems early, while the jaw is still developing,” he said.
Trimboli said X-rays and oral exams reveal problems such as extra teeth, missing teeth, double teeth, and cysts. The earlier they are identified, the easier it is to plan a course of action.
In short, there’s a lot more to pediatric dentistry than a small smile. “It’s the whole experience,” Trimboli said. “Most children don’t go to an internist, they go to a pediatrician, which is why they can benefit from a pediatric dentist.”

Sections Supplements
Telemedicine Virtually Connects Patients with Doctors and Nurses

Mary Thomas

Mary Thomas shows off a computer monitor that displays the results of daily readings of vital signs taken by patients in their homes via a monitoring system, which transmits the data to a nurse.

It’s been called “the stethoscope of the future,” but the future is already here when it comes to telemedicine. This technology, which essentially refers to any kind of remote monitoring of patients, is used in a range of settings, from home health care agencies and visiting-nurse associations that track the vital signs of patients with chronic diseases to hospitals that use telemedicine in their emergency rooms to diagnose stroke victims. Proponents say the technology is helping people live longer, and more independently, while reducing the overall cost of health care.

Last summer Edna Ogulewicz had triple bypass surgery. When the 83-year-old returned home from the hospital, she didn’t know how to monitor her own recovery.
But thanks to the home-based telemonitoring system used by Mercy Home Care, a member of the Sisters of Providence Health System in Springfield, a nurse was able to see the octogenarian’s weight, blood pressure, and oxygen saturation every day via a computer screen without having to visit her home.
Ogulewicz was given a special blood-pressure cuff, a clip to attach to her finger to measure her oxygen, an oversized scale, and a small base unit which was plugged into the wall and into her home phone line.
Every morning between 6:30 and 7 a.m., she took her blood pressure, weighed herself, and used the oxygen monitor. That information was immediately transmitted to a central monitoring station and then to a secure Web site where a Mercy telehealth nurse could see the readings and determine whether there were any signs of trouble.
“It was very convenient. I am a very nervous person, but I found myself pretty calm doing this,” Ogulewicz said. “I am not a professional, so I didn’t know if the results were good, bad, or indifferent. It was something new, but I liked it, and it made me feel more secure.”
One day, when the scale showed she had gained a few pounds, the nurse called her and, after discussing what she had eaten the previous day, determined it was the result of consuming too much sodium. “It’s nice to have someone watching you,” Ogulewicz said, adding she found the system so beneficial that she told her doctor it would be great for all of his patients.
Ogulewicz is one of many people in the U.S. who are becoming more confident about caring for themselves and their chronic conditions as a result of telemedicine.
The technology is used locally in several settings. Many home health care agencies and visiting-nurse associations have deployed home telemonitoring systems to track the vital signs of their patients who have chronic diseases.
In addition, physicians at Baystate Franklin Medical Center and Baystate Mary Lane Hospital are using telemedicine in their emergency rooms with stroke victims.
“Telehealth is the stethoscope of the future that enables people to get information in a quick and efficient way,” said Mary Thomas, director of Homecare Operations for Baystate Health System’s Visiting Nurse Assoc.

Heart to Heart
In November 2009, the Journal of the American College of Cardiology published the results of the largest analysis ever conducted to measure the effectiveness of telehealth monitoring in patients with heart failure. They found that using the monitoring systems reduced mortality rates by 28% on average and reduced the rate of rehospitalizations for heart failure by 26% on average. That figure is significant, since people with congestive heart failure typically undergo multiple hospitalizations.
And this year, the government launched a new initiative focused on congestive heart failure through home telemonitoring to keep people with the disease out of the hospital. “Congestive heart failure is one of the biggest reasons for hospitalization and rehospitalization in patients over 65, which adds to the cost of health care,” said Sheryle Marceau, manager of clinical practice for Mercy Home Health.
“Patients often don’t understand why they ended up in the hospital or what they need to do to to prevent rehospitalization,” said Thomas.
But they learn quickly with telemonitoring, as a nurse visits their home several times a week to talk about what their daily readings mean. In addition, they are called by the telehealth nurse whenever their readings fall outside of the parameters their doctor has determined is acceptable for them.
“One of the great things is the feedback the patient gets immediately. It’s a real cause-and-effect type of learning and helps them stay out of the hospital. Plus, most patients love it because it gives them a sense of security knowing that someone is keeping an eye on them,” Marceau said.
“People who tend to be non-compliant often see the immediate effect,” she added. “If they eat Chinese food or pizza, they may see a four-pound weight gain the next day, which can put them in jeopardy, as it means they may be retaining fluids around their heart or lungs. Plus, they can call us any time to talk about their readings or ask questions.”
Sue Pickett agrees that the system works to prevent problems and educate patients. “We are trying to catch things before there is a full flareup, and telemonitoring can give us a sign that something may be wrong,” said the registered nurse and executive director of Mercy Home Health Care.
Most patients assigned to Mercy’s system use it for an average of 60 days. If there is a problem, the nurse calls and asks the person how they are feeling. In some instances, the patient is asked to take their blood pressure or other vital signs again, and at that point the nurse determines whether the situation warrants a home visit, a call to their doctor, or, in extreme cases, a trip to the emergency room. Telemedicine also benefits physicians, as they can access two months of daily monitoring results, Pickett said.
Many patients have more than one diagnosis, which can be overwhelming for them to understand. But monitoring makes a difference.
“If this can help them learn how to manage their conditions, it empowers them to have better control over their lives, which means a better quality of life with more time spent at home and less in the hospital,” Pickett said. She added that elderly patients using the system are asking more questions, and the knowledge they gain allows them to become more proactive about their own health.
It also has a ripple effect by reducing the cost of health care. “We know how to get people to live longer, but this results in chronic disease that needs to be managed better in order to not use up our health care resources,” Pickett said.
Baystate has plans to grow its home-monitoring program and include other diseases. “It’s very cost-effective,” Thomas said. “In this economic climate, we are very challenged to provide care that is cost-effective, efficient, and promotes a good outcome for the patient, and this provides us with a lot of opportunity. We have an aging nursing workforce, and telemedicine allows us to monitor people without having a nurse in their home. It doesn’t take the place of an actual visit, but is an addition at no cost to the patient.”
Right now, Baystate is using its system strictly for people with cardiac conditions while Mercy uses its telemonitoring units for patients with congestive heart failure, as well as emphysema or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Mercy also has a patient using the equipment to monitor her blood pressure. “If it goes up, the doctor can adjust her medicine right away,” said Marceau. Additional equipment can be added to monitor low blood sugar or temperature, and even to allow people to do an EKG at home.

In the Hospital
Baystate Franklin Medical Center and Baystate Mary Lane Hospital are primary stroke centers. In order to earn that designation, a hospital must have a neurologist on staff around the clock. These community hospitals accomplish that through the use of telehealth technology at Baystate Medical Center.
If a person comes into the emergency room at one of the two community hospitals exhibiting stroke symptoms (which can include a sudden change in vision, garbled or slurred speech, numbness of the face, weak arms or legs, weakness on one side of the body, trouble walking, or dizziness or a headache that comes on without cause), and if the emergency-room physician thinks the person is having a stroke, they will be given a CT scan, and a neurologist can come on the scene if there is not one in house — remotely, through the use of telehealth technology.
“We have a special, giant TV screen similar to a large plasma TV which is interactive,” said Michelle Mortimer, nurse manager of the emergency room at Baystate Franklin. “The technology allows the neurologist to assess the patient by zooming in on them. They can see each other, and the neurologist works in conjunction with the emergency-room physician to do a full workup.”
This allows people who live far from major medical centers to access the options offered at one.
“Larger medical centers have more resources than community hospitals,” Mortimer said. “But telemedicine is an amazing advancement that allows community hospitals to provide services that would otherwise be out of reach. We use it to help us diagnose and treat patients, and we are able to collaborate and have an array of expanded services, which is always a benefit.”
Thomas concurred. “Technology of the future will enable people to get information in a quick and efficient way,” she said — no matter how far away they are.

Sections Supplements
The Ondrick Group Takes It ONE Step at a Time

Adam Ondrick

Adam Ondrick says it’s important in the construction industry to figure out where the market is moving next.


If you’ve been in the construction business for almost 75 years, chances are you’ve made some good decisions along the way.
Adam Ondrick is the latest generation to lead the company that bears his grandfather’s name, the Ted Ondrick Co., and he said that one way to move forward in this industry is by figuring out where the market is heading next.
Ted Ondrick started the firm back in 1937, when the operation consisted of a tractor to create gardens and a horse and scoop loader to dig foundations. Mechanization was the next step, and with more machinery meant more jobs — Adam said that his father, Tadj, joined Ted in the business around this time, and the pair was taking on more utility work.
“When my dad entered the business,” he continued, “they were building sewer systems — larger infrastructure-type projects. But it was my father who started the company in the materials and environmental side of the business.”
He said this while driving around the extensive Ondrick yards off Fuller Road in Chicopee, and from this vantage point, it’s easy to see how construction material is still the biggest facet to this family operation. With a large asphalt-manufacturing plant and environmentally-sound remediation for contaminated construction and landscape debris, the Ondrick Group is one of the area’s leaders for building materials.
But, like the generations before him that saw the necessity of keeping ahead in the industry by broadening the scope of the business and adding diversity, Ondrick is focused on the future as well as the present. And he told BusinessWest how the newest component to what may soon be called Ondrick Materials Group is all about the next big thing.
The latest business venture is called Ondrick Natural Earth (ONE), and when the family members opened the doors to this showroom and material yard across the street from the larger offices almost five years ago, they knew that the time had come to do more business by expanding both what they sell, and to whom they sell it.
He called this a “vertical integration” of construction materials, “so that we can provide material to any type of project, and fit the needs of any type of client.
“Before we opened up ONE, we were serving larger customers,” he continued, “and we had to turn away a lot people, homeowners, masons, small contractors, and landscapers. We didn’t have the venue to facilitate working with them. Now we do.”

Rock and Roll
“In my grandfather’s time, we were primarily focused on construction; he really built the business on that,” Ondrick said. “My father ushered in the era of materials and construction.”
In that time, he elaborated, the business didn’t become the largest construction or commercial-materials firm, but large enough to handle some pretty big jobs.
“Rock crushing at Gillette Stadium, runways at Westover, that’s just some of things we’ve been involved in,” he explained. “Over the years, my dad did runways for about eight different airports. We have been doing roadways across New England for decades.”
But, he continued, the business has changed over time.
“Over the years, we had to evaluate what our company was made of,” he explained. “We realized that there’s a lot of competition out there in the construction business. Not that we don’t have a lot of competition for the materials business, but not everyone has the facility and permits to operate, or manufacture asphalt, or to recycle contaminated soil, buildings, and property to facilitate the manufacture of materials.”
The primary components of the Ondrick business are still asphalt and material construction, and material remediation. These operations dominate the back landscape at the yards in Chicopee.
But Ondrick explained how his grandfather’s approach gives the business a competitive advantage, using proprietary methods in material production.
“We crush concrete and asphalt and make hard pack, which is then used in roadway construction,” is how he explained one process. “We’re recycling construction debris and reusing it instead of using product from a quarry. It’s very popular in urban areas, not so much in rural areas, but in urban situations where there aren’t as many landfills, and hauling debris is more of a necessity.
“And with the remediation of the petroleum-impacted soil,” he continued, “we put the soil through a proprietary process where we encapsulate the hydrocarbons and make a reusable, non-leaching product. My father was at the forefront of that industry back in the 1980s. It has stood the test of time, that business. It still goes strong today.”

Material Witness
When the company officially celebrates its 75th anniversary in 2012, Adam Ondrick said one of his big plans as president of the company will be in name only.
“Probably at that time I’m going to rebrand,” he said, “perhaps to the Ondrick Materials Group, to show the different extensions and the scope of the business.”
That newest addition to the Ondrick portfolio, ONE, officially started five years ago, but Adam said the venture was a few years on the drawing board.
“In driving around New England, we had a lot of exposure to different companies that had diversified their holdings,” he explained. “But we noticed, in our area, a lack of a true landscape-product supply yard. There were many older models of how to do business in that field, where people would take a masonry yard and adapt it, or a nursery, greenhouse type environment would have a small selection of hard goods. We noticed in the Boston and Connecticut markets that yards were popping up where all they sold were hardscape materials — stone, concrete pavers, concrete retaining-wall block.”
The property across the street from the company’s headquarters was coming on the market, and the Ondricks knew that the time had come for that business model they had seen elsewhere to come a little closer to home.
Fast-forwarding to the opening of the Ondrick Natural Earth showroom and sales yard, with materials ranging from bluestone to mulch to engineered concrete-building materials, the company president said that everything they had always wanted to offer their customer base was finally all on one property contiguous to the Ted Ondrick facility. Everything was falling into place … except the economy.
“I had a lot of people coming up to me saying, ‘you picked the worst time to be getting into business,’” Ondrick joked.
“At first I was kind of discouraged about that,” he continued, “but, really, it had taken us three years to get that division of the company on its feet. It took a long time in permitting, in negotiating the property purchase, getting it renovated. Getting into business when we did, it made us take a look at everything we did and really analyze it, because we couldn’t afford to make a mistake.”
ONE is a reinvention of the original firm’s founding, he said, and in keeping with the generations before him who helped the company evolve to what it has become, this new venture keeps the Ondrick legacy relevant, and ahead of current market trends.
The backyard do-it-yourself ethos has gained ground in the tough economy, and Ondrick said that reaching out to that demographic, as well as to smaller contractors, is a way to keep building the business.
“And we’ve been able to grow about 25% every year even through the down economy,” he said.
Prior to ONE, the Ondrick name was most likely seen on large commercial or state construction projects. “But we’ve fashioned our business model at ONE to attract homeowners into our store. There, they can learn about the product we’re selling and get educated by our staff with information on the products that we offer.”
At the beginning, he thought that natural stone materials — granite, bluestone, Goshen stone — would be the bulk of what people would want to use. “We were totally wrong about that,” he said, smiling. The wave of the future for homeowners, he explained, is in concrete-based products.
“People think of a concrete patio,” he said, “and the old model was a poured slab that over time cracks and heaves. With the new paver technology, you can install a patio that will last a lifetime. And if you need it to be free draining, there are permeable pavers where the water drains right through to an underground area. You avoid runoff on your property and have lifelong longevity.”
These materials aren’t just relegated to the DIY crowd, either.
“The DEP and EPA put increasing stormwater mandates into developing,” Ondrick explained, “and developers are looking for ways to control that storm water on their properties. The new generation of concrete pavers will help them with that problem.”
While the initial cost may be higher at this time, he said that the future of infrastructure construction will need to meet those tighter guidelines, and the products are going to address those constraints.
EZ Street cold asphalt is another product that he sees revolutionizing the industry, and the company is the local manufacturer and distributor, an introduction to the Ondrick portfolio made by his vice president and brother, Todd. “The process that we use to make EZ Street is contained in a safe environment,” he said. The product is also bagged for smaller applications, and the demand for this material has had the business sending it as far afield as JFK Airport, and even Ireland.
Unlike traditional hot-asphalt installation, or cold patch, “with EZ Street there’s never any diesel that comes in contact with the ground. There’s also a hybrid mix that we make which utilizes some recycled materials. Cities and towns that are looking for a green product, we have it.”
And that’s the message he wants the region to know — when it comes to hardscape products of all types, ONE will have it.

Paving the Way
Where the generations before him saw new ways to expand in construction, the latest Ondrick to head the family business says that ONE is the latest means to stay on top of the industry. “We definitely see a lot of growth with ONE,” he said. “There is potential out there that we haven’t captured yet.
“We don’t look at ONE as opening a new business,” he continued. “It’s more a continuation of what we already do.”
With his father still clocking in every day, the latest generation looks to the future grounded in the strength of its past. “My dad is still very active here, for which we are all thankful. He has so many years of industry experience, having ridden the ups and downs over the years — he’s a great resource to have.”
And, like any project that promises good results, Ondrick knows how important it is to have the best materials to work with.

Sections Supplements
Health Care Construction Poses Unique Challenges

Steve Killian

Steve Killian says the health care sector provides plenty of opportunities for contractors — who know how to work around patients.

Hospitals and other medical facilities have long been a key driver in the region’s construction industry; even during the past few years of recession, such projects kept many firms busy. But not every contractor can tackle a job in a clinical setting, say builders with experience in the field. From privacy and patient-flow concerns to infection and particle control, working around medically compromised individuals poses a set of challenges not present when building, say, an office or store. Still, gaining the skills to compete in this arena can be well-worth the effort.

Dr. Louis Durkin’s workplace never closes.
So when his department undergoes a major renovation, as it is now, construction crews have to work around the employees and the customers, and sometimes both get moved around to accommodate the remodeling.
That would be inconvenient at any business — except that Durkin is chief of the Emergency Department at Mercy Medical Center, and his ‘customers’ are patients, many of them in seriously compromised health, and some clinging to life as they’re wheeled in.
Not exactly the right crowd to bring into a construction zone.
“Imagine a patient who’s in severe respiratory distress and bringing them through a dust cloud where ER construction is happening,” Durkin said. Fortunately, that scenario is only an imaginary one, thanks to a complicated dance that medical staff and construction crews engage in every day to ensure patient privacy and infection control while renovation continues.
“We’re taking care of patients, and we’ve done a good job sequestering where we’re doing construction; we haven’t seen any dust in the patient-care areas,” he told BusinessWest. “We’ve done a great job keeping dust and noise to a minimum, and that’s a huge consideration; it hasn’t been an issue.”
To get to that point, though, a builder needs to know something about working in a health care facility.
“There’s a host of things to deal with in the clinical setting as opposed to the standard administrative setting,” said Stephen Killian, president of Barr & Barr, a Springfield-based general contractor that specializes in two traditionally robust construction sectors in Western Mass., health care and higher education. But in a medical setting — unlike school or college renovations, which can be scheduled when classes aren’t in session — there’s often no way to remove the patients from the picture.
With privacy laws strengthened under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) — and with medical centers more vigilant about infection control since a series of reports a decade ago detailing an epidemic of preventable deaths in hospitals — contractors and tradespeople working in that arena simply need to know more than ever before.
“Some people don’t succeed very well,” Killian said. “There are firms that say, ‘we’d love to go into that; we’d love to go work for Baystate,’ and they come in with a very competitive number. But in the end, they’re ill-equipped to do the job appropriately.”

Jason Garand

Jason Garand says hospitals see benefits in a construction crew trained in privacy issues, infection control, and other matters.

Jason Garand agrees. As business manager of the New England Regional Council of Carpenters Local 108, he is promoting a training program for members who perform work in a clinical environment. The union-created curriculum covers everything from controlling airborne contaminants to mold remediation to routing materials and personnel around patients and staff. Graduates earn certifications from the union in ‘best practices in health care construction in occupied facilities’ and ‘blood borne pathogens.’
“It’s a program designed to create awareness for tradespeople who come into an occupied facility,” Garand said. “There are many problems people might not aware of when they’re cutting into walls or opening up an old floor or ceiling; you’re releasing pathogens, mold, and mildew.
“As a carpenters’ union, we live in this community, and we want to have our membership trained, especially in an occupied setting,” he added. “So we started to ask where they’re vulnerable, where they have liability issues.”
For this issue’s focus on construction, BusinessWest talked to several professionals about what it takes to build, remodel, and upgrade in a clinical environment, and why hospitals are taking these efforts more seriously than ever.

Union Label
Karen Sprague, vice president of Holyoke-based builder A.R. Green & Son, said her company was among the first to have its employees (eight of them, to be exact) certified in the union’s program. She said changes in the health-insurance industry require hospitals to accept more liability for infection-related incidents, making this sort of education program even more critical.
“It also extends to nursing homes,” Sprague said of the insurance changes. “It’s not just hospitals, but other facilities; these insurance regulations trickle down to all of them.”
Garand said mitigating risks from airborne particles extends beyond erecting a temporary wall, but often involves blocking off a work area correctly and using negative airflow, so that dust, germs, and pathogens don’t get into a patient-care area.
“We think it’s important for our contractors to have an educated workforce, so they can walk into Baystate or other hospitals and say, ‘our guys are aware of these problems, and not only are they putting up a wall so a little child doesn’t walk through, but they’re keeping their air on this side and not letting it pass through,” he told BusinessWest.
“One of the benefits for employers is, instead of thinking of ‘best-trained’ in terms of physically skilled, we’re taking it to a new level, bringing another layer of education,” Garand continued. “Instead of a tradesperson saying, ‘I have to knock this wall down as fast as possible,’ it’s realizing that this wall could have mold and mildew behind it, from when the floors were washed and water leaked in.”
If a construction company doesn’t consider this possibility, it can create that liability that medical centers fear, he added. “So hospitals will see this [certification] as a benefit; they’ll know they don’t have to worry about someone coming in there and releasing polluted air into the hospital, where it can hit the most vulnerable.”
For builders, it’s potentially a marketing tool. If A.R. Green can get the word out that its employees are trained in hospital protocol and how to work in a medical setting, “it’s going to trickle down to me as a general contractor,” Sprague said. “If I can save the hospital money, they’re more likely to hire me than somebody who doesn’t have that training.”
It’s not just general contractors looking for an edge in the fertile health care market, though. Mark Kent, sales engineer at Springfield-based HVAC company Hurley & David, was recently certified as a health care facility design professional by the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE).
The ASHRAE certification program identifies individuals who have mastered a body of knowledge covering the successful design and operation of health care facilities, Kent said.
“Someone who successfully passes the exam for that certification has demonstrated an understanding of the specific codes and requirements and understands a health care facility’s specific needs,” Kent said.
“When it comes to infection control and patient privacy, the number of issues that exist in a health care facility is sometimes mindboggling,” he added. “The purpose of the certification is to assure our potential health care customers that we have a broad understanding of the issues they face, and that, when we design a solution for them, we have tried to assess as many of these issues as possible, and certainly we pass that on to our guys in the field who are actually executing the work.”
It’s an important point of differentiation for Hurley & David, which has done extensive work in medical settings, Kent said. “We are fortunate to have a couple of health care facilities as customers, and we oftentimes work directly for them, as well as working through general contractors and construction managers.”

Have Patients
Understanding how to work around patients and residents goes beyond infection and particle control, however. “The main issue is that things are always changing on a daily basis,” said Durkin of Mercy’s ED project, which is being conducted by Ludlow-based Raymond R. Houle Construction, another contractor that specializes in the health care field.
“The eventual outcome is ending up with more space and better flow, so things are more convenient,” Durkin said. “But when construction is going on, things are obviously less convenient, and it changes every day. One day you have a whole pod open with rooms and storage, and the next day none of it is available. You have to be ready to move different kinds of patients into different areas as needed.”
For example, when he spoke to BusinessWest, the ED was preparing for three days of work on its sprinkler system, necessitating the loss of its FastTrack area, which serves less-critical patients and handles some 40% of total traffic each day. “We have to see all those patients — close to 100 — somewhere else.”
Durkin said the renovation would go much quicker if the hospital could just close down the emergency room for awhile, but, obviously, that’s not possible. In fact, the effort was drawn out because of flu and pneumonia season, which typically causes a surge in patient traffic. “We had to add another phase to the project so we didn’t lose too many beds at one time. The project will take longer than anticipated, but having a small bed capacity at the busiest time of the year wasn’t going to work.”
Robert Aquadro, project manager for Barr & Barr, said disturbing patients who aren’t feeling well brings up a host of undesirable issues.
“It’s very hard to mitigate every aspect, and to do it, you have to be flexible,” he said. “To do construction in a hospital, you always have to be ready to stop, move on, and do something else.”
In addition, Killian explained that the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations has created the Interim Life Safety Measures program, which works with hospitals to identify and mitigate risks to patients during construction. “It may seem like overkill, but you have to have it in place,” he said. “You have to be mindful of these proactive safety measures.”
He should know; Barr & Barr has certainly forged a deep niche in health care, recently finishing projects at Mercy, Holyoke Medical Center, and Cooley Dickinson Hospital, among others.
“Our staff members are frankly cognizant of what it’s like to be around patients,” he said. “Someone starting out in this area may have the knowledge, but not the staff experience, and it’s a risk for them and the hospital. At the end of the day, we’re all about patient care. It’s not about getting a job done faster and cheaper; it’s about patient care, and how that’s being taken care of during the construction process.”
As for Durkin, he knows Mercy’s emergency area will eventually be more spacious and easier to navigate, and that’s worth what he admitted is occasionally a tight squeeze for staff working around the renovation.
“It’ll end up being an eight-month ordeal,” he said. But as long as patients aren’t the ones being inconvenienced — or worse — it’s a hassle he can live with.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Sections Supplements
Pioneer Landscapes Strives to Be a One-stop Resource
Pioneer Landscapes

Brian Campedelli says Pioneer Landscapes tackles a wide variety of projects both residential and commercial.

    Brian Campedelli once wanted to clear the landscape of crime. Life had another plans.
    He originally aspired to become a state trooper, but then his brother suffered a serious car accident and wound up in a coma for six days, followed by weeks of rehabilitation. The experience gave Campedelli a new perspective.
    “My brother was into landscaping; we have a family background in it,” he said. “I asked him what he wanted to do with the rest of his life, and landscaping was it.” So Campedelli decided he would rather do something with his brother than become a trooper, and he enrolled in the landscape contracting program at Stockbridge School of Agriculture. Pioneer Landscapes was born soon after, in 1989.
    “We started out as a general maintenance company, and we built it into what we have today, with multiple divisions,” he said. In fact, in the early 1990s, still enrolled at Stockbridge, Campedelli kept his business afloat by working as a co-op student at Mountain View Landscapes in Chicopee, and heading off to his own jobs after work. Sometimes, he would work late into the evening, illuminated only by his truck headlights.
    Campedelli, who initially ran the operation from a 240-square-foot garage in Easthampton, hired his first employee in 1992 and moved Pioneer to its current 2,000-square-foot space on Industrial Way in 2000.
    From its origins tackling basic residential tasks such as seasonal cleaning, mowing, mulching, planting flower beds, and small construction, the company — now employing about 30 people — has a much more extensive menu.
    “We have construction crews for hardscapes, custom outdoor areas and kitchens, and commercial installation; an irrigation division doing installation and maintanance of irrigation systems; and a fertilization division for anything from the smallest residences to school athletic fields,” he explained, not to mention driveway paving, cabana and shed construction, and, of course, a wide range of residential and commercial lawn care. “If it’s outside, we do it.”

    Seeds of Success
    Campedelli was buoyed by his early success. “The first 10 years, business doubled every year in gross volume, then we leveled out a bit,” he said, adding that business was starting to accelerate again a few years ago when the Great Recession hit, and “contracting came to a screeching halt. Usually we’re going from one job to the next, but we had an eight-month period with nothing.
    “But this year, we’ve got a couple of nice jobs going,” he continued, citing the Center at Lenox shopping plaza and Butternut Farm, a residential complex in Amherst, as two examples. “We’re noticing there’s a lot of new jobs coming down the pike.”
    He noted that schools are active in the landscaping market again, which in past recessions has been a reliable harbinger of recovery.
    While most of the industry’s pain has been on the commercial side, Campedelli said, residential work hasn’t been as badly affected by the economy, particularly when it comes to higher-income customers. “Rich people are still rich, and those jobs didn’t slow down. We’re still doing some huge residential installs — anything from custom decks to fireplaces and firepits to pergolas and pavilions.”
    The past decade has seen an upswing in reinvesting in the home, he said. “We’re trying to make it so that, when you come home, you’re on vacation. That’s definitely a trend.”
    While outdoor kitchens and other projects to create indoor-outdoor spaces used to be popular mainly in warmer climates — “in the New England region, it used to be a faux pas to spend that kind of money on a three- or four-month season” — that’s no longer the case, and outdoor fireplaces and firepits, which range from simple to very elaborate, have stretched the warm season to seven months or more for many families.
    “You can start as early and quit as late as you can stand,” Campedelli said. “Firepits are really popular; they’re one of the more inexpensive ways to get out and enjoy your yard. We see a lot of built-in grills, too.”
    Taken together, these improvements — landscaping, hardscapes, outdoor kitchens and fire features — are meant to give people the feeling of coming home, walking outside, and not feeling like they’re at home, he told BusinessWest.
    “There aren’t many words to describe that feeling. No matter what happened at work, whatever kind of day you had, you and your family can go out to this nice area, and it makes you feel like you’re not even in New England,” he continued, noting that one customer told him he feels like he’s having dinner in Hawaii. Another recent client, a well-known business owner in Northampton, told him, “I’ve used my backyard more in the last three weeks than I have in three years.”
    That sort of talk gratifies Campedelli, who strives to create such experiences. At a recent trade show, he said he was situated near about 15 other landscapers, all of whom offered brick and block hardscapes, “but what I want to give you is a lifestyle.”

    Growth Pattern
    At the same time, he’s looking to raise the profile of his company, expanding into a 5,500-square-foot office and storage building on his current property, as well as planning educational events to teach people various aspects of DIY landscaping. He’s also planning fund-raisers for charitable organizations, and donates mulch for annual cleanup efforts in Easthampton.
    Campedelli is also committed to work-life balance for his staff. “Our mission is pretty unique,” he said. “I believe in the safety of our employees and family first. A day lost with your kids can never be found again. I’m in a good place right now, and I want them to have the same quality of life I have as I grow my business.”
    And whether commercial or residential, he said he wants to be a one-stop source for customers’ landscaping needs, continuing to grow the company by creating more loyal clients.
    “We want to be the vendor for all your needs, whether it’s fertilizer, sprinkler systems, parking-lot issues, gazebos and patios, and other enhancements of the property, because the first impression is curb appeal.”
    Campedelli told BusinessWest that 2011 began on the right note, with a January for the ages when it comes to snow — and people needing snow removal.
    “We were going out every two days,” he said with a laugh. “Now we’re back to normal paychecks, but we really appreciated that month.”
    With the spring thaw well underway, Campedelli will soon see if the rest of this year brings as much green promise.

    Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Sections Supplements
Landscape Architects Say More People Are Investing in Their Yards

Bringing It All Back HomeIt’s a concept that gained traction almost a decade ago, in the wake of 9/11: the ‘staycation,’ the desire of homeowners to cut down on travel and instead invest in their homes. Well, area landscape architects are hearing that word again, but for different reasons, namely a lingering recession and high gas prices. In such times, they say, people are more likely to use their vacation savings on something more permanent. That’s good news for a landscaping industry starting to bloom after a couple of years in the rough.

Gas prices have been on the rise for months, with airline fares following suit. That has plenty of people on edge, from would-be vacationers who might stay home this year to the many tourism-reliant businesses in Western Mass.
But there’s a silver lining for one group — landscape architects, who are increasingly hearing that magic word ‘staycation,’ along with rumblings that homeowners might use their vacation funds this year to create a bit of an oasis at home.
“It’s not just the middle- to lower-income people; I think that applies to everyone,” said Bill St. Clair, president of St. Clair Landscaping and Nursery in Hampden. “Let’s face it, people are watching the dollars they spend, and they’re looking to get the most bang for their buck. And I see more people staying home this year, especially since they’re saying gas could hit $5 by midsummer.”
Stephen Roberts, president of Stephen A. Roberts Landscape Architecture & Construction in Springfield, is hearing the same chatter.
“Staycation is the catchphrase — stay at home and enjoy your house; have people over and entertain without the hassles of traveling. It’s huge,” he said. “We’re really focusing on that — creating a nice environment for people at home.”
The stay-at-home trend rivals what the industry saw in the years immediately following 9/11, St. Clair said, but it’s re-emerging for a different reason, namely lingering anxiety over the economy mingled with pain at the pump. These factors, he and others told BusinessWest, are persuading families to reprioritize their extra dollars, putting them toward something more permanent than a week at a resort or on a cruise.
“In the past two years, our industry has been hit as hard as some other industries,” Roberts said, specifically citing the struggles of general contractors and those involved in moving real estate.
“People aren’t purchasing new homes; they’re staying where they are and investing whatever money they have into their homes, for their personal enjoyment,” he continued. “I see that continuing to happen as long as the housing market isn’t doing much. And I see our industry benefiting from people renovating their homes and fixing them up.”

Green Days
When it comes to outdoor spaces, some types of improvements have become especially desirable.
“Outdoor firepits and outdoor, built-in cooking areas are really big,” Roberts said. “Water features are still pretty popular, but people are going more toward urns and sculptural fountains as opposed to fish ponds, just as a way to add quality and the ambience of water without the higher maintenance of a fish pond. Outdoor lights and accent lighting are also gaining momentum with people.”
St. Clair has seen some of the same trends. “We did a good amount of firepits last year,” he said. “In talking to our clients and prospective clients, their outlook was, ‘we’re going to spend more time at home.’ That was helpful to us. People were staying home, and they wanted to fix up their palaces, so to speak. We were doing lots of firepits and water features. We rode that for a good part of the year.”
Brian Campedelli, president of Pioneer Landscapes in Easthampton (see story, page 30), also reports an uptick in homeowners asking for both water and fire features, mingled with hardscapes and different plant materials; he’s also found interest in audio installation outdoors to create additional atmosphere for staycationers.
One growing request, Roberts said, has a back-end economic — and ecological — benefit.
“Rainwater harvesting is another trend that’s hitting our industry. Instead of sending water down the street, you keep it on your property and use it for your irrigation system and general outdoor watering,” he said, noting that other ‘green’ trends are on the rise in landscaping as well.
For instance, some clients, mainly those with larger properties, are converting some portions of their yard to meadows instead of covering every inch with sod or seed. “By making them naturalized areas,” Roberts said, “you reduce the maintenance of the turf; you cut it a couple times a year and add groupings of native shrubs. That reduces rain runoff, and you’re not using as much ferilizer or chemicals.”
The Landscape Management Network blog (lmnblog.com) places such efforts in a general category called ‘ecoscaping,’ which involves making use of green solutions to improve the look of the landscape without sacrificing the health of the environment.
“Some examples of green solutions,” the blog explains, “include rainwater harvesting; a self-contained water feature that recycles the same water; decorative hardscapes, such as more patios, paths, and decks that reduce the need for water and pesticides; retaining walls, which work to reduce runoff; as well as erosion from household chemicals leaking into the yard.”
Roberts said he embraces these trends. “Landscaping makes a huge difference, and it’s up to us to promote these ways of being kinder to our environment.”

Work and Play
While the business of residential landscaping seems to be moving in the right direction, progress on the commercial side has been more sluggish, said Steve Corrigan, president of Mountain View Landscapes and Lawncare in Chicopee, which performs about 90% of its work in the commercial sector.
“We were down last year; we had projects on the books for one to three years prior to that, and once they wrapped up, we didn’t have a lot of projects to fill the bucket,” he told BusinessWest. “If you talk to any of us in the commercial trades, we’re all in the same boat. It’s the same story; competition is so fierce and margins have gotten very low, and it takes more to fill that bucket the way you need to.
“Entering this year, though, I’m cautiously optimistic. We have a bigger backlog than we had in 2010, and I actually have a larger backlog for 2012 projects than 2011 projects,” he added, explaining that landscapers are among the last tradespeople in on a new-construction project, so it might be two years or more between the bid process and actually performing the work.
In the meantime, Corrigan said, “we do some minimal residential design-build work, and we’re seeing a little uptick in that from last year. I’m not worried; I’m optimistic that this year will be better than 2010. But I still think it’ll be even better in a year or two.”
Roberts is anticipating a growth year, too, and St. Clair said 2011 is off to a busy start just based on calls from customers whose landscapes were damaged by the harsh winter, or who have discovered drainage issues. “I think the spring forecast this year is a little bit different than last year due to the winter we had.”
Overall, he said, last year was slightly better than the year before, when the recession was at full force, and he’s encouraged by what he’s hearing this spring from residential customers, even though he knows the industry is not moving at full speed yet.
“People are being cautious with their money because of the economy,” he said. “But you can’t get bored when you’re constantly being challenged. We have work on the books, but it’s been too wet to start. Spring is here, but Mother Nature isn’t letting us out yet. If we can get the weather in our favor, we can get rolling.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

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Landfill Project Makes Amherst a ‘Green’ Leader

John Musante

John Musante says converting an old landfill into a solar-energy project transforms a brownfield liability into an asset for the town.

John Musante is excited about Amherst’s newest ‘green’ initiative.
It involves converting an old landfill into a solar electric-generating facility, which will provide enough power to run every municipal building in town, including the community’s schools, water and wastewater treatment plants, and even its street lights.
Part of the reason the town manager is so enthusiastic is that, three years ago, this wasn’t a viable option due to prohibitive costs. The idea for the project was developed in coordination with Department of Public Works Director Guilford Mooring, but initially didn’t work out.
“In 2008, we put out requests for proposals for the project, but we decided not to award the contract,” Musante said. “At that time, the cost of producing solar power was very expensive to the end user.”
But today, that cost has been reduced, thanks to advances in the industry and government credits designed to fuel the development of renewable energy.
Musante said the old landfill, which is on Route 9 and soon will be covered with rows of gleaming solar panels, has sat empty for 20 years. Using it as the site of a clean, renewable solar-photovoltaic system falls in line with the town and Select Board’s goal to increase the town’s production of renewable energy.
“We saw the landfill as a potential opportunity to transform a brownfield liability into an asset,” said Musante. “It was a trash dump and has been unused open space that we have had to monitor for environmental compliance. There was some talk about using it for recreation years ago, but it never panned out.
“And since the options for re-use were limited, we are really excited about this,” he continued. “In addition to being an environmental winner for the town and region, it is also a major economic incentive, because the taxes generated will be hundreds of thousands of dollars per year over the life of the system. Plus, it helps position the town as a leader in renewable energy.”
The project is also in step with efforts being made at UMass Amherst. “They are a major research university, so having the town of Amherst become a leader in the development of a renewable energy and research application complements their efforts,” Musante said.
BlueWave Capital, LLC of Boston has been selected to develop the facility. It will lease the land and get the benefit of the tax credit. The next steps in the process include the negotiation of a long-term power-purchase agreement between the town, Blue Wave, and Smart Energy Capital, which will fund the project through its solar-financing partnership with Duke Energy Systems and Intergrys Energy Group, which are two of the nation’s largest utility companies. Other details include creating an interconnection agreement with Western Mass. Electric Co. and obtaining state and local environmental permits.
But the project is well on its way to fruition.
“It’s the real deal. This is not a small demonstration project, and we are hoping it will generate at least 4.75 megawatts of electricity,” Musante said. “To go from fossil fuel to having everything fueled by renewable energy is a major leap forward environmentally. We could save as much as $25 million or more over the next 30 years, and we are eliminating the risk associated with volatile and unpredictable future energy prices.”

Lighting the Way
John DeVillars, a managing partner at Blue Wave Capital, told BusinessWest that the towns of Adams, Athol, Taunton, and New Bedford are doing similar projects. “But I can’t think of a better community in the Commonweath than Amherst to partner with to achieve both the financial and environmental benefits of solar power,” he said.
“Amherst has progressive leaders at all levels of society — in businesses, colleges, community organizations, and other institutions,” he continued. “We are very optimistic about forging a partnership with many of these leaders to reduce their electricity cost and environmental impact and establishing a national model for community-wide solar development and use.”
DeVillars formed his company in 2005, and has extensive knowledge in the field. He is the former state Secretary of the Environment and New England administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and also has experience in renewable energy and the redevelopment of brownfields.
His company calls its plan the Blue Wave Model. “It’s a new approach which is focused on community and economic development, while enhancing the town or city’s economic competitiveness and capacity to reduce its carbon footprint,” he said.
DeVillars added that, since the projects are financed through a third party, there is no upfront capital cost for the municipal government or for commercial and residential customers. “BlueWave and its financing partners provide all of the necessary capital and own and operate the solar systems,” he explained. “We sell the electricity back to the city, town, or customer at a cost substantially below other electric costs.”
One part of the program that creates added value is that it provides schools with curriculum tools for use in their classrooms that correlate to the project. They also set up special monitors inside schools, which allow students to see what is happening in terms of energy creation.
“Part of our commitment is to enhance educational programming. By having real-time monitors in the schools, students can see just how much energy the solar panels are creating and using in terms of carbon emissions and energy costs. It’s an interactive system,” DeVillars explained.
Musante provided an example of what the educational program will teach students. “Reducing Amherst’s carbon emissions by more than 6,000 tons per year is the equivalent of removing 1,200 cars from the road,” he said, adding that the educational component was one of the reasons the town selected Blue Wave.
Another benefit is that the project will create work for local companies. Tighe and Bond Inc. of Westfield is part of the Amherst team, which includes Alteris Renewables, New England’s largest solar installer, and TRC Companies Inc. of Lowell, which will lead the project’s engineering efforts.
DeVillars said Blue Wave hires local contractors whenever possible. “We are offering an integrated program and a key part of the mission is local economic and community development,” he said.
The project will also benefit the town’s home and business owners. “The curriculum and real-time monitoring in schools are only the tip of the iceberg,” Musante said. “Blue Wave also has some applications that will increase the use of solar panels in the town’s private and residential sectors. So there is lots of opportunity down the road for expanding solar installations throughout Amherst. We want to be on the cutting edge of that while growing our tax base at the same time.”
This summer or early next fall, Blue Wave will work to identify commercial and residential properties in Amherst where solar energy panels can be installed. “We will offer them the same deal that the town receives, but on a residential level,” DeVillars explained. “We are taking the concept and, in partnership with the city, will reach out to others with the same benefits — third-party financing and no money down.”
The selection process will be based on a number of criteria. But everyone who takes part will benefit. “It’s a giant partnership. But this is the future of our world. So that’s why we are excited as a town.
“We want to be a regional and national leader in renewable energy,” he continued, “and are doing our best to be a leader in saving the planet.”

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WMECO Projects Shine Light on Solar Power’s Potential

Manager William Blanchard; and Director of Business Development Carl Frattini

From left, WMECO President and CEO Peter J. Clarke;Project Manager William Blanchard; and Director of Business Development Carl Frattini stand in the field of solar panels at the company’s Silver Lake solar-power facility in Pittsfield.

On the heels of its first large solar-power installation in Pittsfield, built on land once owned by GE, Western Mass. Electric Co. is ready to build an even-larger facility on the site of a capped landfill on Cottage Street in Springfield. The projects are breaking new ground in terms of the size, scope, and cost-effectiveness of solar power, while also putting brownfield sites to new and productive uses.

Last fall, Western Mass. Electric Co. embarked upon a difficult and ambitious project.
In October, the Springfield-based utility completed the largest solar-energy facility in New England at the William Stanley Business Park on Silver Lake Boulevard in Pittsfield. The photovoltaic system contains 6,500 low-profile solar panels and produces 1.8 megawatts of electricity, or enough to power about 300 homes. And in January, the company announced plans to build an even larger solar-energy facility on a capped landfill on Cottage Street in Springfield. When it is complete, it will contain more than 15,000 panels that will produce up to 4.2 megawatts of solar energy, or enough to power about 700 homes.
Several objectives led WMECO to this huge undertaking, including the question of economy of scale. Not only did the company want to be a leader in the utility industry in terms of solar power, it also wanted to discover whether large installations would prove more cost-effective to build than smaller ones.
“Solar power is one of the more expensive types of green technology,” said Carl Frattini, director of business development for Northeast Utilities. “The price is declining quickly, but it costs considerably more than wind power. It is so new that it has been a riddle to solve how to make it less expensive for the customer. Our bet with these projects was that we could build them for less than in the past. We also wanted to act as a catalyst to the development of solar infrastructure because we are trying to help develop the market. We are very pleased with the progress that has been made.”
The construction of both of WMECO’s solar power facilities has involved a multitude of environmental, business, energy, and technical challenges. “We have developed a new type of project in an area where there was very little activity,” said Frattini. “We did it with a considerable amount of collaboration with the solar industry, the state’s indigeneous technical resources, the administrations and local communities.
“The only way these projects can happen is through an aligning of interests,” he continued. “It is exciting work and really gratifying to see it come together.”
The new project in Springfield will bring $22 million in construction work to the region and is expected to contribute several hundred thousand dollars in annual property-tax revenue to the city.
In this issue, BusinessWest looks at the challenges these projects presented and the impact they will have on future solar installations.

Powerful Arguments
WMECO’s decision to build a large solar-energy facility was groundbreaking, and the first time a project of this size had been built in New England.
“By 2009, 1,200 solar projects had been built in the state. But the majority of them were residential roof-mounted installations or consumer-based systems. There were only 11 on a larger scale and nothing in the utility class,” Frattini said.
WMECO decided to take on the challenge due to a 2008 state initiative.
“Gov. Deval Patrick set a goal of having 250 megawatts of solar power installed by 2017; it is a formidable objective,” Frattini said, explaining that, at the time, the entire country only had 475 megawatts of solar power. The bulk of that was in California, and Massachusetts was producing less than 10 megawatts of solar power.
“The state had a very ambitious agenda for renewable energy. But to help it achieve the goal, the Legislature passed the Green Communities Act, which put policies and mechanisms in place to help with the transition,” Frattini said.
One new provision allowed electric utilities to own up to 50 megawatts of solar generation. Prior to that, they could purchase solar power, but were not allowed to produce it. And in the past, incentives had always been targeted toward small, residential, roof-mounted systems.
The Green Communities Act provided new incentives, tax credits, and zoning provisions for all types of solar-power development.
“Solar is a very expensive renewable technology which is not cost-competitive, so it has to be subsidized,” Frattini explained. “But there was nothing in the utility class, and we figured we could add value by going in where no one had gone before.”
He explained that, since the cost of research and development is built into electric rates, it is utilities’ responsibility to do what they can to reduce their customers’ bills. “So if we can figure out how to lower the cost of solar projects, we will need less in subsidies, which will reduce the burden on our customers,” he said.
In August 2009, WMECO became the first utility in New England to receive approval from the Department of Public Utilities to build solar-energy facilities in the region.
Initially, it began looking at doing rooftop installations on a variety of sites. But as company officials continued to explore options, using remediated brownfield property made more sense.
“The state has more than 490 landfills with 5,000 acres of site potential whose uses are very limited,” Frattini said. And since building a solar-energy facility requires a lot of open space, the company realized it could build large projects that were less expensive on remediated landfills.
The Pittsfield property, which is now owned by WMECO and the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority, seemed like the perfect fit for their needs. The eight-acre site was once owned by General Electric.
The project became a collaborative effort as the Berkshire Economic Development Corp. worked with the city of Pittsfield, WMECO, and the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority to secure the project for Pittsfield.
After obtaining permits and financing to move forward, WMECO put out requests for proposals to the solar industy. “We wanted to use indigenous resources. A lot of the solar equipment wasn’t made in Massachusetts, but we had the technical services already here,” Frattini said, referring to construction equipment, electricians, civil engineering, and legal services.
The utility also wanted to inspire solar firms to develop a new infrastructure. Its work has paid off, and the $9.4 million Silver Lake facility, which was completed last November, proved that large-scale solar projects were less expensive to develop than small projects.
The cost to produce 1.8 kilowatts in the new solar-energy facility was $5,200, said Frattini, adding, “if you build solar into a house, the cost is $6,000 to $8,000 per kilowatt.”
And solar development is continuing.
“In the past year there was more development in Massachusetts than in the total three years before as a result of the new energy policy,” Frattini said. He added that National Grid has two solar projects underway in the eastern part of the state that will produce a total of 5 megawatts of electric power.
“Since we built Pittsfield, we have seen an influx of projects such as these and the one in Amherst,” he said (see related story, page 23).
After completing the Pittsfield project, the question remained as to whether an even larger facility would be even more cost-effective. So, WMECO decided to build again in Springfield. “We are trying to verify if economies of scale are achievable and make the projects worth doing,” Frattini said.
WMECO began looking at the capped Springfield 60-acre landfill in June. And by fall, it decided to move forward. Company leaders were pleased to discover that the solar industry had made advances after the Pittsfield project.
“We were very pleased with the progress we saw in the requests for proposals that were submitted, not just in terms of cost but in their level of preparedness,” said Frattini. “We were trying to help develop the market, and they all came in with viable, actionable proposals. The day we signed the contract, they were ready to go.”

Watt’s Happening?
WMECO is currently in the final stages of formalizing the project, and expects to begin work in April and have the solar facility finished by November. Frattini said it will provide jobs for about 120 union workers.
“It is exciting, and we are verifying our original theory that larger projects can be done in a cost-efficient way. Once it is built, there will be very little maintenance over its 25-year lifetime because there are no moving parts and no fuel costs.
“The excitement is to go where no one else has gone, and do it in a way that resolves a lot of environmental, technical, and business challenges with a variety of stakeholders,” he continued. “In the end, this benefits the community, the people who work in it, the state as a whole, and our customers.”

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Event Will Honor Companies that Have Evolved and Persevered

njbauMike Oleksak was talking about all the changes that have taken place within this region and its business community over the past 10 years, and how they can make one pause and reflect, not only on what’s taken place, but what is likely to happen next.
And in a nutshell, this is the unofficial purpose, and theme, of an event called Not Just Business as Usual, slated for April 26 at the Log Cabin Banquet and Meeting House. It comes as Springfield Technical Community College’s annual fund-raiser in support of the school’s foundation and entrepreneurship programs — centered around the Western Mass. Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame — enters its second decade. And, thus, it is an appropriate occasion for looking back and ahead, while also honoring two companies that are in that hall of fame — Balise Motor Sales and Smith & Wesson — that embody the perseverance and willingness to change needed to survive and thrive today, said Oleksak, executive vice president of Commercial Banking at Berkshire Bank.
“These are companies that have not simply responded to changes in the marketplace and evolved to become more competitive in a more global economy,” said Oleksak, “but they’ve expanded, assuming large amounts of risk in the process, while adding jobs and a measure of momentum to our economy.”
Recognizing these accomplishments will be one of many highlights of the evening, said Oleksak, noting that keynote speaker Al Verrecchia, chairman of the board at Hasbro and former president and CEO of the company, will have some insightful thoughts on business, the seemingly constant state of change, and how to thrive in this environment.
But the spotlight will also be put on Balise and Smith & Wesson, two inspiring stories for the region, said Oleksak, not merely because of these companies’ success in their sectors, but also for their leadership when it comes to giving back to the community.
“There are a number of companies that have weathered storms and done well, altering their business model and adapting to change in the process,” he explained. “What we wanted to do with this event is take a hard look at two companies that have done that while also giving back.”
Elaborating, he said that Balise has built several new dealerships over the past several years in Western Mass. and also in Rhode Island, while donating money, time, and energy to a number of regional programs, especially those involving education. Meanwhile, Smith & Wesson, another contributor to education-related programs, especially those involving the manufacturing sector, has expanded and diversified its operations, while recently announcing plans for moving one of its divisions, its hunting-rifle operation, to its Roosevelt Avenue complex, adding 225 jobs in the process.
Tickets for Not Just Business as Usual are $175 each, with tables of 10 available for $1,500. More than 300 tickets and several sponsorships have already been sold, said Oleksak.
To see more information about the event, visit www.notjustbusinessasusual.net

Fast Facts

What: Not Just Business as Usual
When: April 26
Where: The Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House
Honorees: Balise Motor Sales and Smith & Wesson
Keynote Speaker: Al Verrecchia, chairman of the board and former president and CEO, Hasbro Inc.
For More information: Visit
www.notjustbusinessasusual.net

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Understanding This Powerful Tool for Managing for Success

Kristi Reale, CPA, CVA

Kristi Reale, CPA, CVA

Performance management is an important component of running a business, and there are many tools available to help a company identify, measure, and manage its performance. The use of financial ratios is a time-tested, quantitative method of analyzing a company’s financial statements and provides a detailed, clear picture of the company’s financial performance.
Financial ratios are also utilized by bankers and other lenders to learn about a company’s health and determine its credit worthiness. This article will provide an overview of the standard financial ratios most often used by business owners, management teams and lenders.
The four basic categories of financial ratios discussed below are liquidity ratios, efficiency ratios, leverage ratios, and profitability ratios. Within these categories, here are the most common measures used.

Liquidity Ratios
Based on balance-sheet line items, liquidity ratios measure your company’s ability to meet its near-term obligations, or how much cash the business has on hand for immediate use. These are among the first ratios that are used by lenders when considering a company’s loan request.
Current Ratio: Current assets divided by current liabilities — the extent over which current assets cover current liabilities and a snapshot of the ability to generate sufficient cash to cover short-term liabilities. In theory, the higher the current ratio, the better.
Quick Ratio: Cash and cash equivalents plus net receivables divided by current liabilities — a conservative creditor’s view because it excludes the least-liquid current assets (inventory and prepaids). A higher ratio means a more liquid current position.
Working Capital: Current assets minus current liabilities — this measurement provides an indication of the company’s ability to generate resources.

Efficiency Ratios
Efficiency ratios come from line items on both the balance sheet and profit-and-loss statement and are typically used to analyze how effectively a company is turning over its accounts receivable, or inventory, and thus able to meet both its short-term and long-term obligations. These ratios are key indicators of how well a company uses its assets and manages its liabilities.
Accounts-receivable Turnover: Net revenue divided by average accounts receivable and days’ sales in accounts receivable: 365 divided by accounts-receivable turnover — the number of times receivables turn into cash in a year (turnover) and the average length of time from a sale to cash collection.
Inventory Turnover: Cost of goods sold divided by average inventory and days’ sales in inventory: 365 divided by inventory turnover — the number of times inventory is liquidated in a period (turnover) and calculates the number of days it takes to sell inventory. These ratios can help to determine if too little or too much inventory is on hand.

Leverage Ratios
Also based on balance-sheet line items, leverage ratios measure a company’s likely ability to meet its debt obligations by looking at its after-tax income, excluding non-cash depreciation expenses, as compared to the company’s total debt obligations. These measures of financial health are among the most important since the more debt a company has, the riskier its stock is.
Debt to Equity: Total liabilities divided by total equity — a measurement of how much suppliers, lenders, creditors and obligators have committed to the company versus what the stockholders have committed. A lower percentage means that a company is using less leverage and has a stronger equity position; the reverse means you are highly leveraged.
Interest Coverage Ratio: Operating income divided by interest expense — an indication of how easily the company is able to cover the interest expense on outstanding debt. The lower the ratio, the more the company is burdened by the expense of carrying debt.

Profitability Ratios
Profitability ratios come from data on both the profit-and-loss statement and the balance sheet. These ratios measure a company’s ability to generate a profit. They are most useful when compared to industry averages.
Gross Profit Ratio: Gross profit divided by net revenues — a measurement of the amount of profit as a percent of sales generated. It is a good indication of control over cost of sales and pricing and detects positive and negative trends.
Return on Assets: Net income divided by average total assets — an indication of how profitable a company is relative to its total assets and how well management is employing the company’s total assets. The higher the return, the more efficiently management is utilizing its asset base.
Return on Equity: Net income divided by average stockholders’ equity — highly regarded as a profitability indicator, net income is compared to average stockholders’ equity and measures how much the stockholders earned for their investment in the company. The higher the ratio, the more efficiently management is utilizing its equity base, and the better the return to investors.
The use of financial-ratio analysis can be beneficial in a number of ways. Utilizing ratios in the comparison of current periods versus prior periods provides a quick and accurate means of identifying trends, opportunities, and possible problems that may be emerging. You may also consider comparing your company’s ratios with ‘standard ratios’ within your industry to benchmark how your company is doing in relation to other companies.
These two views of your company’s performance can tell you a great deal about where your company is and where it needs to be. Your accountant and banker are also in a good position to help you identify those operational activities that impact each of the financial ratios. When you work with your management team, financial ratios can provide a focal point for strategic planning and execution.

Kristi Reale, CPA, CVA is a senior manager with Meyers Brothers Kalicka, P.C. in Holyoke. In addition to the tax, accounting, and consulting services she provides clients, she is also a certified valuation analyst.

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An Effective Way to Plan for Succession in a Closely Held Business

Julie Lackner, Esq.

Julie Lackner, Esq.

Planning for an estate that includes an interest in a closely-held business always requires special attention. Not only will the business likely be the culmination of a lifetime of work, it is usually a large part of the owner’s estate. If the business interest is in the form of S-corporation stock, even greater care must be taken to ensure that the benefits of S-corporation treatment are not lost.
An S corporation enjoys substantial income-tax benefits because its shareholders are subject to only one layer of taxation, instead of the two layers imposed upon a C corporation. In order for a corporation to qualify for S treatment, a number of requirements must be met as follows:
• The corporation can have no more than 100 shareholders;
• No shareholder can be a non-resident alien individual;
• The corporation can have only one class of stock; and
• No shareholder can be an entity other than estates, certain charities, and certain types of trusts.
The primary operating document in an estate plan is often a revocable trust, so care must be taken to ensure that the trust complies with the S-corporation rules and that the beneficiaries of the trust are qualified shareholders. If either of these conditions is not met, the disastrous result will be that the corporation will lose its S status and its favorable tax treatment for all its shareholders.
One type of trust that always qualifies as a shareholder of an S corporation is the statutorily created Electing Small Business Trust (ESBT). The ESBT was created by Congress in 1996 as a means of authorizing a discretionary trust to be a qualified shareholder. Prior to the creation of the ESBT, the only type of trust that was authorized to hold S corporation stock after the death of the grantor was the Qualified Subchapter S Trust (QSST).
The QSST has the drawback, however, of allowing only a single-income beneficiary, to whom all of the income of the trust must be distributed currently. The income beneficiary is also the only beneficiary of the trust principal while he or she is alive. These restrictions on the trust diminish its usefulness as an estate-planning tool. The ESBT, on the other hand, allows for multiple-income beneficiaries, among whom the trustee can distribute income and principal at the trustee’s discretion, as well as allow income to be accumulated within the trust.
There are only two requirements for a trust to qualify as an ESBT:
• All of the beneficiaries must be either individuals who are U.S. citizens or resident aliens, estates, or certain types of charitable organizations; and
• None of the beneficiaries can have acquired his or her interest in the trust by purchase or taxable exchange.
For purposes of determining whether an S corporation has fewer than 100 shareholders, all the potential current beneficiaries of the trust are counted. A potential current beneficiary is any beneficiary to whom the trustee is required or has the discretion to make current distributions of income or principal. A beneficiary who has only a future interest in the trust is not counted as a shareholder of the ESBT. On the other hand, for purposes of determining whether all the individual beneficiaries are U.S. citizens or resident aliens, all the beneficiaries of the trust, including those holding a remainder or reversionary interest, are taken into account.
To elect ESBT treatment, the trustee must sign and file a specified statement with the IRS. The statement must include:
 • The name, address, and taxpayer-identification number of the trust;
• The potential current beneficiaries, and the S corporations in which the trust currently holds stock;
• An identification of the election as an ESBT election made under the relevant Internal Revenue Code section;
• The first date on which the trust owned stock in each S corporation;
• The date on which the election is to become effective (not earlier than 15 days and two months before the date on which the election is filed); and
• Representations signed by the trustee stating that the trust and all the potential current beneficiaries meet the definitional requirements of the relevant code section.
The ESBT has the advantage of greater flexibility for estate-planning purposes, but it carries a higher tax cost than most other trusts. For the portion of an ESBT that holds S-corporation stock, the trust is taxed at the highest individual income-tax rate, regardless of whether it distributes the income from the S-corporation stock to the beneficiaries. If the beneficiaries of the trust are not in the highest income tax bracket, the ESBT can carry a significant tax cost. For example, in 2010, the highest marginal income-tax rate was 35%.
All the income of the ESBT would be taxed at that rate, even if was distributed to beneficiaries who were all in the 15% bracket. For a $10,000 distribution, that is the difference between paying taxes of $3,500 versus $1,500. Furthermore, the trust cannot take many of the deductions or offsetting losses that would be available to an individual beneficiary.
The trustee must weigh the options and determine whether the greater flexibility is worth the higher tax cost of the ESBT. Although the election to be treated as an ESBT is irrevocable, the ESBT can be converted to a QSST under certain circumstances to take advantage of pass-through taxation.
The ESBT can be a very useful tool in planning for an estate that will hold S-corporation stock. It provides greater flexibility, albeit at a higher tax cost, than other subchapter S-qualified trusts. Such trusts must be carefully drafted, however, because their many technical requirements can prove to be a trap for the unwary.
 
Julie R. Lackner is an estate-planning attorney with the Springfield-based regional law firm Bacon Wilson, P.C. She is a member of the Estate Planning Council of Hampden County and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys; (413) 781-0560; baconwilson.com; bwlaw.blogs

Sections Supplements
Mapping the Best Route for Higher Travel-expense Deductions

Kristina Drzal Houghton

Kristina Drzal Houghton

Some business owners and managers think of traveling for business as burdensome; however, others enjoy such trips and seek opportunities for additional travel. One reason is that the IRS business travel rules make it possible to obtain unique tax benefits. For example, the deduction for the round-trip cost of travel undertaken primarily for business can effectively subsidize a mini-vacation taken along the way, or result in a partially tax-free perk for an employee.
The deduction for travel expenses must pass various tests — in particular, whether a sufficiently direct connection exists between the expenses and the income-producing activity of the taxpayer and whether the expenses are excess or personal in nature. In addition to these controversial rules, the IRS limits deductions for business travel when involving foreign travel, including conventions, cruise-ship conventions, and when spouses accompany the business traveler. This article will explain the often-complex limits on deductions.
In general, deductions for travel expenses are allowed because the costs either are duplicative of expenses that the taxpayer must pay in any event (e.g., a taxpayer who rents a hotel room while out of town on a two-week business trip must continue to pay rent or other expenses for his residence even though he is away), or require the taxpayer to pay more for some expenses than he would if he were at home (e.g., meals). Nonetheless, the deduction allows somewhat of windfall to the taxpayer because, in the Supreme Court’s words, “at least part of what he spends … represents a personal living expense that other taxpayers must bear without receiving any deduction at all.”
Travel to a business convention is treated as business travel if attendance benefits the taxpayer’s trade or business. If a business convention takes place outside of the U.S. but within the North American area, the trip is treated the same way as any other form of business travel. In general, the North American area includes Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Bermuda, and numerous Caribbean countries such as Barbados, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, Trinidad, and Tobago.
If the foreign convention takes place outside of the North American area, then there’s no business travel deduction unless the meeting is directly related to the active conduct of the taxpayer’s trade or business, and the taxpayer can prove that it is as reasonable for the convention to be held outside of the North American area as within it. An example of this would be the residences of the active members of the sponsoring organizations and places where other meetings of the sponsors have been or will be held.
Even if a foreign convention satisfies the ‘as reasonable’ test, the taxpayer does not automatically get a deduction for all his travel expenses. Foreign-convention travel expenses remain subject to the allocation rules that apply to foreign business travel.
The foreign business-travel rules diverge from those for domestic business travel when the taxpayer undertakes a trip primarily for business reasons, but also takes some personal days at the foreign destination. In this situation, the transportation expenses must be allocated between deductible business activities and non-deductible personal activities, unless one of the tests is met. These tests include:
• The traveler had no substantial control over arranging the trip;
• The trip is for one week or less;
• Less than 25% of the time outside the U.S is for personal matters; or
• Vacationing was not a major consideration in arranging the trip.
If foreign travel doesn’t meet one of these four full-deductibility tests, the non-deductible portion of the transportation expenses — the cost of getting there and back — generally is determined by using a day-to-day allocation formula.
When a convention takes place on a cruise ship, another set of rules apply. A cruise ship, for purposes of these rules, is any ship sailing within or outside of U.S. territorial waters. No deduction is allowed for business or professional conventions held on a cruise ship unless:
• The convention is held on a U. S.-registered cruise ship;
• All ports of call during the convention are in the U.S. or U.S. possessions; and
• The taxpayer can establish that the meeting is directly related to the active conduct of his trade or business.
If the convention meets these rules, there still is a dollar cap on the amount deductible. This cap is $2,000 per person annually.
Some taxpayers take their spouses or other companions along on business trips. Although the rules are tough, in some cases it may be possible to deduct the spouse’s (or other companion’s) travel expenses, or be reimbursed for those expenses tax-free. In fact, there may be a benefit to the business traveler even if the spouse’s (or other companion’s) travel expenses aren’t deductible or reimbursable tax-free.
As a general rule, the IRS allows no deduction for travel expenses paid or incurred for a spouse, dependent, or other individual accompanying the taxpayer (or an officer or employee of the taxpayer) on business travel, unless:
• The spouse, etc. is an employee of the taxpayer;
• The travel of the spouse, etc. is for a bona-fide business purpose; and
• The expenses would otherwise be deductible by the spouse, etc.
This rule does not apply to a companion who is the taxpayer’s business associate (e.g., an unrelated fellow employee), makes the trip for a bona-fide business purpose, and could otherwise deduct the travel expense if he or she incurred it.
When an employee is away from home overnight on business, the employer may decide to reimburse the travel expenses of his spouse or other travel companion. If the travel does not qualify as an excludable fringe benefit, the employee must include in gross income the value of the spouse’s or other companion’s company-paid travel expenses.
Where a corporation fails to include the spousal travel in an employee’s W-2, the corporation can be disallowed the deduction. This disallowed deduction does not eliminate the employee being required to report income related to this benefit. This can be particularly burdensome where the employee is a shareholder owner.
An employer can avoid winding up with disallowed deductions for a spouse accompanying an employee on business travel by characterizing the travel as employee compensation on its originally filed return, and as wages for Social Security and income-tax withholding.
What is a bona-fide business purpose for the spouse’s presence? There is no detailed guidance on this question. IRS guidance states that the taxpayer “must prove a real business purpose for the individual’s presence. Incidental services, such as typing notes or assisting in entertaining customers, are not enough to warrant a deduction.”
Depending on the circumstances, however, a bona-fide business purpose probably would be found to exist where the spouse or other companion:
• Performed the duties of a secretary (scheduling meetings and appointments, writing up notes of meetings, checking and answering office e-mail);
• Acted as a translator for the business person (e.g., a spouse fluent in Spanish accompanies an executive on a Latin-American trip); or
• Went along to trade shows and assisted with running the company’s booth or display.
Even if the spouse’s or other companion’s travel isn’t deductible, the taxpayer may still be able to deduct a substantial portion of the trip’s costs. That’s because the rules don’t require the business traveler to allocate 50% of his travel costs to the spouse. The business traveler only has to allocate to the spouse any additional costs incurred for him or her. And if the business traveler drives their own car or rents a car, the cost will be fully deductible even if the spouse is along for non-business purposes. Of course, any separate costs incurred on behalf of a spouse for public transportation and for meals would not be deductible at all.
While the idea of traveling seems straightforward, it should be clear by now that it is almost mind-boggling how complicated the tax rules in this area have become. However, with proper planning and good tax guidance, a traveler can structure business travel to reap the greatest benefit.

Kristina Drzal-Houghton, CPA, MST is the partner in charge of Taxation at Holyoke-based Meyers Brothers Kalicka, P.C.; (413) 536-8510.

Sections Supplements
Green Monster e-Cycling Finds New Uses for High-tech Trash

Sam Galiatsatos

Sam Galiatsatos sits atop three days’ worth of dropoffs waiting to be broken down.

“Look at these dinosaurs,” Sam Galiatsatos said, prodding a hulking television console with his foot. “They come here to die.”
That mound of outdated TVs at Green Monster e-Cycling is one of many piles stacked on the warehouse floor, arrayed on shelves, or deposited in large boxes, all sorted by type: computer monitors, air conditioners, circuit boards, copper wiring, and plastic, metal, and glass pulled from hard drives, TV sets, and other equipment. And much more.
“We are an electronics recycling and processing company,” said Galiatsatos, whose brother, Joe, started the outfit four years ago in his garage in West Hartford, Conn. before moving to a 20,000-square-foot space soon after. Sam operates the just-opened Springfield site on Turnbull Street, the company’s second location — but likely not the last.
“From its inception, Green Monster has been an organic-growth type of company,” he said. “It’s evolved from being a service that only processes the electronic waste from the general population to one that also handles the environmental-health, safety, and sustainability directives that small, mid-sized, and large companies have to abide by.”
It also offers a line of information-technology services to customers, installing and servicing equipment that hasn’t quite reached the dinosaur stage yet. But the company’s considerable early success rests largely in showing people an environmentally friendly way to get rid of the equipment they can no longer use.
“It’s reverse supply-chain logistics,” Galiatsatos said. “We receive manufactured electronic goods of different sorts from different sources, and, typically speaking, we recycle about 80% to 90% of what comes in here. We take apart and sell the scrap metal to companies that use metal, plastics to companies that use plastic, and electronic components to companies that break them down further and extract whatever they want.”
A few pieces that arrive are actually usable with a little refurbishing; for example, an occasional discarded laptop has found a second life in the Green Monster offices. But for the most part, the computers, monitors, TVs, and phones that make up a large percentage of donations indeed comprise a high-tech Jurassic Park.

Waste Not
E-waste, as Galiatsatos calls it, can include just about any device with a battery or a power plug that’s no longer wanted, from computers and printers to televisions and monitors; from VCRs and DVD players to kitchen appliances and power tools. All have the potential to pollute the environment when tossed out, and all contain parts which, on their own, have value.
To create that value, Green Monster accepts dropoffs of electronic and computer equipment from residents free of charge, as well as partnering with businesses and municipalities to collect their outdated items. All electronics are torn down to their basic components, which are then sorted into batches of similar materials and sold to refiners, smelters, and other companies that can use them.
Joe Galiatsatos said the idea for Green Monster sprang from his realization that tons of electronics were being tossed into landfills daily, or else being exported in an unsafe manner. With the tide shifting in business toward more ‘green’ practices, he saw an opportunity in the recycling of such materials.
He was right; from its humble garage beginnings in 2007, the company has at least tripled its work volume in each subsequent year, serving Connecticut municipalities, transfer stations, businesses, and individuals.
Sam Galiatsatos — who learned a lot about electronics and avionics components while in the Air National Guard, stationed in Westfield — had been working in various types of energy consulting when Green Monster started to grow. When the opportunity arose to join the company full-time, he jumped at it, telling BusinessWest that he believes in the green economy and sustainable practices, and loves coming to work every day to live those ideals.
Sustainability comes in different forms, however, and Galiatsatos said he also strives to support the local economy by partnering with area companies in his recycling efforts. “I believe in Springfield,” he said. “And people have greeted me here with open arms.”
The timing for further growth seems right, as companies move toward cloud computing, or Internet-based computing, whereby shared servers provide resources, software, and data to individual computers and other devices.
“That’s a growth opportunity for our business,” he said. “Where a company once needed a room to do its computing, now it can do all that from a terminal at a desk. We can take all their antiquated electronics, break them down, and offer them to different companies.”
Green Monster’s Springfield facility now employs three people, with plans to increase that to 12. Meanwhile, the brothers have their eyes on future expansion, possibly in the Easthampton and Pittsfield areas. But they’re not moving too aggressively, opting instead for what Sam Galiatsatos called “smart growth.”
“That’s our business model; I believe in organic growth,” he said, noting again that Hampden County has been a good fit so far. The firm is gradually adding business clients, including the city of Springfield, Manny’s TV & Appliances, Savers, and also MassMutual, which will be holding simultaneous electronic-waste drives at its Springfield and Enfield locations on Earth Day next month.

Change of Habit
Galiatsatos said Americans toss in the trash out all sorts of things they shouldn’t, from old phones to used batteries, because they’re not thinking of the long-term effects of what winds up in landfills. That’s why he and his brother are trying to educate the public, realizing that what’s good for their business is also simply good stewardship of the earth.
“Don’t just chuck your stuff,” he said, admitting that he, too, used to throw out such items without thought. “If that trash bag is biodegradable, it’s designed to break down in five years, which is great. But then the [electronic] components will break down in 15 years. And they’ll contaminate the environment for 150 years.”
Unless those dinosaurs — or at least their various parts — find new homes.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]