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Company Notebook

Delcie Bean Turns Over 40% of Paragus Stock to Employees

HADLEY — After more than two years of strategic planning, in a deal valued at approximately $1.6 million, Paragus IT announced that its employee stock-ownership plan (ESOP), which distributes ownership of 40% of the company to its 40-plus employees, is officially a go. “There has been a lot of celebration around here,” said Paragus CEO Delcie Bean. “While this is an announcement we have all been anticipating for over two years, the time seems to have only contributed to the excitement.” While there have been a few recent high-profile ESOPs, including Harpoon Brewery and Chobani Yogurt, they are still fairly uncommon. What makes the Paragus ESOP especially unique are the reasons behind it. ESOPs are traditionally formed after the company has fully matured and when a major shareholder is looking to exit. For Paragus, it’s about fueling future growth by giving everyone a direct stake and a personal investment in the future of the company. “I knew this was the right decision for myself and for Paragus because Paragus is a company that owes 100% of its success to the hard work of its incredible employees, or partners, as I like to call them,” Bean said. “As the only shareholder, I knew that anything I could do to further that spirit and attract new talent would be a sound investment. That’s why it made sense to give everybody some skin in the game. Now they aren’t just growing a company, they’re growing their company. Which means Paragus is here to stay, and we’re only getting bigger.” Added Dennis Schilling, quality assurance officer, “it’s always been about us at Paragus. It’s never been one person pointing and the rest following. With the ESOP, Delcie has made official what has always been true. It’s a beautiful thing that he has taken his company, his dream, and carved off such a sizable piece of it for all of us.” While Bean has no plans to step down, he has shaken up the management structure a bit. Just before the ESOP became a reality, he appointed former Paragus Operations Manager Jim Young to be president of the company. In his new role, Young is responsible for overseeing all day-to-day operations and making sure everyone on the leadership team and across the company is working together to realize Paragus’ vision. This allows Bean to focus exclusively on growth, acquisitions, and moving into new markets. “It’s a brand-new set of responsibilities and challenges for me,” Young said. “But these changes will enable each of us to contribute to the greatest extent possible while ensuring decisions are being made quickly by the people best positioned to do so.” Added Bean, “we don’t believe in growth for growth’s sake. Our growth is fueled by one singular objective that is bordering on an obsession — we are all completely committed to being the absolute best at what we do while simultaneously being the best place to work. Ask anyone here, and they will all tell you that nothing is going to stand in our way when it comes to our relentless pursuit of being the best.”

Elms, WNEU Establish Law School Agreement

CHICOPEE — Elms College and Western New England University School of Law executed a ‘3+3’ agreement this month that allows students to apply for admission to the law school and begin their legal education during their senior year at Elms College. This could shorten the time for students to earn both their bachelor’s and juris doctor degrees from seven years to six years. This agreement is not limited to criminal justice or legal studies majors — any undergraduate student, regardless of major, can earn credits toward law school under this program. “This is a significant opportunity for students in all majors who are interested in attending law school,” said Assistant Professor Kurt Ward, director of Criminal Justice and Legal Studies and director of ABA Paralegal Education at Elms College.

HCC Gateway to College Program Earns Award

HOLYOKE — Holyoke Community College’s (HCC) Gateway to College program, which in 2014 was ranked number one among all the Gateway programs in the U.S., is the recipient of the first-ever Gateway Program Excellence Award. The inaugural award from the Gateway to College National Network recognizes HCC’s program for exceeding all four of the network’s benchmarks for success in 2014-15: GPA, one-year persistence, two-year persistence, and graduation rate. “Recognitions like this make us feel more important and shiny,” said coordinator Vivian Ostrowski said at Gateway’s June 1 graduation ceremony in the Leslie Phillips Theater, “but we know, we so know, that these numbers really mean that some kids with complicated and messy lives decided time and time again to show up and do their work.” Gateway to College is a dual-enrollment program for students who have either left high school or are at risk for dropping out. Gateway students take classes at HCC, collecting transferable college credits while also earning their high-school diplomas. Since 2008, 204 Gateway students at HCC have graduated from high school, and more than half have continued on to college. Twenty-nine were enrolled at HCC this spring and HCC’s Gateway graduates have so far earned 19 associate degrees and three bachelor’s degrees. Twenty students from six school districts earned their high-school diplomas through HCC’s Gateway program his spring: from Springfield, Korcan Atmaca, Amena Cooke, Melinda Diaz, Deikwon Duke, Ciara Garcia, Jamilee Gomez, Denisse Rivera, Mercedes Robare, Elmer Rodriguez and Jonte Toro; from Belchertown, Casey Beaudry, Christopher Chaffee, Shauna Driscoll, and Summer McLauglin; from Westfield, Emma Cowhey and Jacob Hartley; from Holyoke, Alexander Escalante; from Palmer, Bailey McDowell and Dylan Tallman; and from Agawam, Sarah Wyckoff. Gateway to College was founded in Portland, Ore. in 2000. There are now 41 Gateway programs in 21 states. The spring 2014 report from the national Gateway network listed HCC’s Gateway program number one in both persistence, or fall-to-fall retention (87% compared to a network average of 53%); and graduation rate (80% compared to a 27% network average). “Holyoke’s program is poised to build on its successes and can serve as an example for the rest of our network,” Emily Froimson, president of the Gateway national network, wrote in a congratulatory letter to Ostrowski. “You have not simply made a difference for students in Holyoke, Massachusetts; the work that your school district and college partnership has accomplished is a model for how we solve these persistent problems as a nation.” Ostrowski will collect the award on behalf of HCC at the Gateway to College National Network Peer Learning Conference in Minneapolis on June 28.

Berkshire Bank Employees Volunteer More Than 4,500 Hours on June 7

PITTSFIELD — Berkshire Bank completed its Xtraordinary Day on June 7. This event marked the first year the entire bank participated in community-service events concurrently from 1 to 4 p.m., closing the entire financial institution as a united effort for community involvement. During Xtraordinary Day, 95% of the Berkshire Bank team, 1,161 employees, completed 56 projects. From painting of elementary schools and cleanups of local parks to financial-literacy lessons, they contributed more than 4,500 hours of service, a value of $128,000. The projects helped 54 different nonprofit organizations and directly impacted more than 100,000 individuals across the bank’s footprint. Berkshire Bank’s goal with Xtraordinary Day was to affect the communities that support it every day in a significant way, by being active and immersed in projects that would have a meaningful and lasting impact on these communities. “Berkshire Bank’s Xtraordinary Day was intended to create a sense of unity through all of our employees and within our communities,” said Tami Gunsch, the bank’s executive vice president, noting that the day’s projects benefited nonprofit organizations and communities in Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, and Vermont. In Berkshire County, projects included painting at Stearns Elementary School, Egremont Elementary School, and Boys & Girls Club Camp Russell; downtown guide assembly at Downtown Pittsfield; cleanup of Pittsfield parks, Greenagers Housatonic River Walk, and Berkshire Athenaeum; a home build with Northern Berkshire Habitat For Humanity; tree measuring with Trustees of Reservations at Bartholomew’s Cobble; and fourth- to sixth-grade literacy at Farmington River Regional School. In the Pioneer Valley, projects included cleanup of Stanley Park, YMCA of Westfield, Southwick Rail Trail, West Springfield YMCA, Amelia Park Children’s Museum, Birthday Wishes, and Girls Inc. of Greenfield; a house build and restore for Greater Springfield Habitat for Humanity; a bike build at YMCA of Greater Springfield; administrative duties at Children’s Study Home; tree planting at ReGreen Springfield; and truck unloading at Community Survival Center.

GoodWorks Insurance Profiled in National Magazine

GREAT BARRINGTON — GoodWorks Insurance is booming while giving half of its growing profits to charities in Connecticut and Massachusetts, according to a profile in the May issue of Independent Agent, the national magazine for independent insurance agents. When Chad Yonker, a former minority investor, took over GoodWorks as CEO in 2011, it was struggling financially despite growing sales. He recapitalized the firm. “Since then, the agency has more than tripled in size,” the magazine notes. Based in Glastonbury, Conn., GoodWorks Insurance is an independent agency with additional Connecticut offices in Avon, Columbia, and New Milford, and Massachusetts offices in Great Barrington and Worcester. It’s marking its 10th anniversary this year. GoodWorks’ corporate charter requires that a minimum of 50% of operating earnings be distributed to nonprofits. Its community grants support local nonprofits that work in education, healthcare, public safety, and community development. They include medical clinics, fuel-assistance programs, visiting-nurse associations, special education, the YMCA, and more. GoodWorks’ 2015 sales were about $6 million, and the agency expects up to 50% growth for 2016. Yonker and the other agency owners decline compensation in order to boost the profit pool available for giving, according to the magazine. Its commitment to nonprofits has resulted in many growth opportunities. Besides insuring families and small businesses in general, GoodWorks has special expertise in nonprofits, fuel dealers, aerospace, manufacturers, and surety bonds. The full article can be read online at tinyurl.com/j9hua44.

HCC Expands Presence in Hampshire County

WARE — Calling it a great day for Ware and a great day for the region, business leaders, elected officials, and representatives from Holyoke Community College recently celebrated the opening of a new education and workforce-training center in downtown Ware. The center, called E2E, short for Education to Employment: Quaboag Region Workforce Training and Community College Center, is a collaboration between HCC and the Quaboag Valley Community Development Corp. “We are so thrilled to welcome Holyoke Community College to our community,” said Sheila Cuddy, executive director of the Quaboag CDC. “As a CDC, we are here with a focus on business development and to better our economic community. What better way to make that happen than to focus on giving the folks who live here the skills they need to become good employees for our local businesses?” More than 60 people attended the grand opening, ribbon-cutting and reception. HCC president Bill Messner told the crowd he was impressed by the persistence with which representatives from Ware courted the college to establish a presence there. “We’re delighted,” Messner said. “We’re Holyoke Community College, and we take the community very seriously, and you are part of our community, so we’re here. We’re here because of the efforts of a lot of people in this room.” Also speaking at the opening were John Carroll, chairman of the Ware Board of Selectmen; state Sen. Anne Gobi; state Rep. Todd Smola of Warren, a 2005 graduate of HCC; Vincent McCaughey, board chairman of the Quaboag Valley CDC; Paul Scully, president of Country Bank, who donated the space for the E2E center; Tracy Opalinksi of the Ware Business and Civic Assoc.; and Steve Lowell, president of Monson Savings Bank. The roughly 3,000-square-foot center located at 79 Main St. includes two classrooms, as well as private study areas and office space. Ten computer workstations will be available for community members interested in enrolling in credit classes at HCC as online students. The center is already offering non-credit classes in hospitality and culinary arts. The expectation is that course offerings will expand to include manufacturing and health careers. For some courses, classroom education will be supplemented by hands-on training at Pathfinder Vocational High School in Palmer. HCC will also offer academic-advising and career-counseling services. “This is a great day for Ware and a great day for our region, which has been lacking in sources of education beyond high school for so long,” Cuddy said, “so we could not be more pleased that HCC has shown the willingness to be our partner in this endeavor and to move the project forward.”

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